A very last minute trip to Singapore by bus from Kuala Lumpur. What a fantastic city/country/island, which was quickly added to my ‘favourite places’ list!
Friday 26 – Sunday 28 January 2018
Accommodation: Private double room in 5footway.inn Project Bugis, booked on Booking.com. S$216.30 for two nights including breakfast. I would highly recommend that you avoid this hotel as it was very disappointing and I complained to Booking.com about it. I now see that booking it is temporarily unavailable through them so maybe I wasn’t the only one to complain!
A last minute adventure to Singapore
We were planning to spend the weekend at ‘home’ in Cyberjaya and had a Saturday trip booked with the uni to visit a Malaysian village. Then on Thursday I had a panic about how quickly my time was flying by and now, with my multi entry visa, we didn’t have enough weekends to explore all the places we wanted to in Southeast Asia before I left at the end of February. Queue cancelling the trip and planning a weekend adventure to Singapore!
The bus to Singapore
Due to our trip being last minute, flights were really expensive so we decided to get the bus. Just before I left for work the crazy Malaysian rain started which makes the traffic awful. I told a couple of colleagues that I was off to get the bus to Singapore and got the responses of “why!?” and “the bus now!? Well…may god bless your journey…”. Worrying! Undeterred, we got an Uber to the bus station. The Uber took longer than expected because of the rain but we made it in time for the bus.
When the bus arrived there was only one other passenger so there was plenty of space. On the recommendation of my friend Marlysa (48 Hour Wanderer) I had booked with First Coach and we were super impressed! The chairs reclined, with footrests and there were plug sockets and individual TVs with movies and games! The journey was 159 MYR return. No toilet which worried me a bit for a 5+ hour journey but the bus made a rest stop about half way. The service stations also have fruit stalls and our fellow passenger (who it turned out also works at an international uni in Malaysia!) shared some rambutan with me – my favourite if the Malaysian fruits I’ve found!
Just before the bridge to Singapore, our bus pulled into the Malaysian immigration office where we got off the bus and our passports were checked. We got back onto the bus and crossed the bridge into Singapore then stopped at the Singapore immigration office. All off the bus (with luggage this time) the three of us walked through immigration and security checks with no queue. We did the same, in reverse, when we returned to Malaysia on Sunday but it was much busier.
Arriving in Singapore
With no data on our phones, we weren’t able to get an Uber so took some Singapore dollars out of the ATM and got a taxi to our hotel. The 15 minute journey cost about 15 Singapore dollars which was our first taste of how expensive Singapore is in comparison to Malaysia. The same trip in Malaysia would have cost about three Singapore dollars.
We checked into our hotel, which had cost about 50% more than our lovely hotel in Melaka and were disappointed that it was pretty much a hostel with a not very nice private room. Towels could be hired, though were meant to be included with our private room booking – but they had none left! Towels seem like a pretty basic hotel requirement to me! After drying ourselves with our clothes, we got towels the next evening (complaint sent to Booking.com!). We grabbed some food at a little Chinese restaurant around the corner from the hotel (angry to find shark fin on the menu) and then climbed into our stupid bunk bed to sleep.
The next day and a half were spent exploring Singapore and I totally fell in love with the place! You can’t get around the fact that it is way more expensive than other places in Southeast Asia but it’s so worth splurging to visit for a few days. Singapore is colourful, vibrant and multicultural. It’s safe and clean (even chewing gum is banned!) and there is so much going on across the island/city/country.
Here’s what can be achieved in a brief visit…
We didn’t actually plan to visit Sultan Mosque (aka Masjid Sultan) but it was very close to our hotel and the big golden dome caught our eye. Visitors are very welcome (see visiting times) so we took off our shoes and donned a cloak (me) / skirt (David) and went inside. We were lucky with our timing – a couple had just got married and were sitting for photos with tourists surrounding them like the paparazzi! As we were looking on, I was handed a little pot of flowers. Our first glimpse into an Islamic wedding! (and a few weeks later we were invited to a Muslim wedding reception on Langkawi!)
When I said that Singapore was colourful, Little India is the place that I was thinking of. I had seen photos of the former house of Tan Teng Niah on Instagram and it was so different to the image I had of Singapore in my head. We took a wander through Little India, admiring the colourful buildings and food markets. I bet we could have got an amazing lunch in Little India but had timed our trip just after breakfast. Tan Teng Niah’s was built in the 1900s and restored in the 1980s. It’s the last surviving Chinese villa in Little India and probably the most colourful building in Singapore. Tan Teng Niah was a Chinese businessman who owned sweet-making factories. I don’t think you can actually go inside the house but it is amazing from the outside and well worth a trip to Little India to visit.
From Little India, we hopped on the MRT (Singapore’s metro) to Bayfront. Bayfront is the image I had of Singapore in my head before visiting – the Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay. I’m a big fan of cities with a central point of water and the waterfront area of Singapore is lovely. Standing looking over the water, you have Marina Bay Sands behind you and the downtown Singapore skyline in front. The sun was shining and we enjoyed a leisurely walk along the Bayfront. As well as the massive Marine Bay Sands building, there is an impressively arty Louis Vuitton shop/island and ArtScience museum. There’s also lots of art dotted about along the way and Olympic Walk (I think built after the inaugural Youth Olympic Games hosted by Singapore in 2010), with trees for each nation.
Lau Pa Sat
Often led by our stomachs, our leisurely walk along the waterfront took us in the direction of lunch. Lau Pa Sat (aka Telok Ayer Market) is a one storey colonial building, surrounded by skyscrapers and full to the brim of food hawkers. There is so many cuisines to choose from that we spent ages looking at the stalls before deciding on what to eat. I had noodle soup and dumplings and David decided on banana leaf-style curry. As with food courts we had visited in Malaysia, all the drinks were served from a separate drinks counter in the centre.
Gardens by the Bay
A walk back along Bayfront (while discussing how much we loved Singapore), we found Gardens by the Bay. Definitely a must visit on any Singapore itinerary, Gardens by the Bay, is a massive park instantly recognisable by the huge futuristic ‘Supertrees’. As I mentioned earlier, Singapore is an expensive place but you can spend a lot of time exploring Gardens by the Bay without spending any money.
The outdoor gardens, which are open 5am-2am (!) have free admission. These include the Supertree Grove, Sun Pavilion, Heritage Gardens, World of Plants and two lakes. The Far East Organization Children’s Garden is also free admission and has a fun fountain area for kids to run through and cool down.
For paid attractions within Gardens by the Bay, there is the OCBC Skyway. This is the high walkway through the Supertrees and is S$8 for adults. There are also two cooled conservatories – Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome – which will set you back S$12 for one and S$20 for two. As we were starting to melt by this point, we decided to go into Cloud Forest. As we entered we were met by the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, which quickly cooled us down with mist. We followed the route through the conservatory and ended up in a big queue to wait for a lift up to the top. The place was packed (Saturday afternoon), which made the experience much less enjoyable and I wish we had picked to do the OCBC Skyway instead.
My favourite part of Gardens by the Bay was the Supertree Grove. The Supertrees are huge, measuring between 25 and 50 meters tall. They are covered in over 200 species of plants and have a canopy, which harvests solar energy. The Supertrees are impressive enough by day but at night they come to life during the Garden Rhapsody light and sound show (free to watch). The show runs at 7.45pm and 8.45pm daily and has a different theme every month or so. We came back to Supertree Grove in the evening to see the show and I was mesmerised to be surrounded by these massive tree-like structures, with their lights dancing to the music.
After we watched the Garden Rhapsody show, we followed the crowds through Marina Bay Sands and back to Bayfront for the Spectra light and water show. If I was mesmerised by the Supertree show, I was absolutely flabbergasted by Spectra! Ahead of the show starting, a huge crowd gathered in front of Marina by the Bay to sit down on the steps to watch. I sat open-mouthed watching the amazing 15 minute show with lasers, fountains, projections and music.
Explore by bike
While sitting in Gardens by the Bay on Saturday afternoon, we spotted some ‘sharing bikes’ lined up and decided to explore on two wheels for a while. The sharing bike companies (such as Mobike, Ofo and oBike) are very common around Asia and easy to access. You download the app, set up an account using a credit card (you’ll probably need to pay a deposit), find a bike, scan the QR code on the bike and it unlocks. When you’ve finished you stop wherever you want to, tell the app and the bike locks again. Prices are super reasonable, e.g. S£1/hour. You can also use the app to find your nearest bike. We used bikes on both Saturday and Sunday to cycle across the city, which is very bike-friendly. The only challenge that we had was lugging them up the steps of the Helix Bridge to cross the water. It was a great way to quickly and cheaply get from one side of Singapore to the other without missing any of the sights.
Get a Singapore Sling
We spent ages debating with ourselves over whether or not we should splash out on a Singapore Slight at the Long Bar of Raffles Hotel. The cocktail was invented at Raffles Singapore by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon who created the drink ‘for the ladies’ when it wasn’t socially acceptable for women to drink in public. A Singapore Sling from Raffles now costs over S$30! We decided on the ‘When in Rome’ approach and cycled to Raffles…only to discover that it was closed for refurbishment! The hotel closed in December 2017 and is due to open in the second half of 2018. In the meantime, they have a small pop-up Long Bar where you can buy a Singapore Sling. It wasn’t opened when we went so we popped across the road to a bar where I had not a Singapore Slight, not in Raffles, not quite as planned!
Marina Bay Sands
Marina Bay Sands is definitely one of the most iconic buildings in Singapore. Spotting it from our taxi on our first night was my ‘Oh my God, I’m in Singapore!!’ moment. I didn’t realise the building was so new and only opened in 2010. Classed as an ‘integrated resort’, it includes a casino, hotel, mall and the Sands Sky Park which crowns the three towers (and looks like a ship to me). If you’re feeling flush, you can stay in the hotel for about £300, which actually isn’t tooooo crazy if you’re celebrating for a night – and about five times what we paid for our rubbish hostel/hotel (I bet they have towels!). Staying at the hotel is the only way to access the world’s largest rooftop infinity pool. If you’re not staying, you can walk through the lobby and also visit the SkyPark. Entrance to the SkyPark observation deck is S$23 for adults and gives you an amazing bird’s eye view of Supertree Grove and across the ocean. I couldn’t believe how many ships were sailing by.
We visited China Town on Saturday evening for a wander around and dinner from one of the food vendors on Chinatown Food Street. It was only a couple of weeks before Chinese New Year and the streets were buzzing and the shops were full of decorations. We got some tasty noodle dishes from one of the stalls.
On Sunday afternoon, we got the bus back to KL, very happy that we’d made the last minute decision to visit Singapore for the weekend. If you are visiting Southeast Asia, I highly recommend squeezing in a few days to explore Singapore. It is such a fantastic city/country/island and everyone that I’ve spoken to who has visited has loved it. If you’ve been to Singapore and have any other recommendations of places to visit, please comment! Also, if anyone would like me to work there for six months or so, please get in touch!