Sunday, May 22, 2016

Singapore Travel Tips

Planning - 

Two months in advance would be standard like any other place to get a reasonable flight ticket fare. I normally use Lonely pLanet guide book rather than sitting in front of the internet for hours to plan my travel. It helps to read this book once before you leave so that you can decide what to see and what to skip. However, I am always lazy to do that and end up reading about an area the day before I head there. 

Accommodation - 

There are a few cheap hostels in Little India and Chinatown. They account up to S$ 20 for dormitories. I found less hostels offering private rooms. Your next best option would be some cheaper hotels in the same location around  S$ 60-100. I chose Hotel Ibis in Bencoolen street for its location. I wanted to be away from places concentrated with certain communities and be located centrally. Surprisingly, Ibis was walkable distance from Little India, Downtown, Arab Street and many other central locations and thus made it the perfect place to stay. I would highly recommend this place if you are okay to spend a little more on accommodation. 

First thing to do after Landing - 

Like always, I withdrew money from ATM instead of going for an exchange counter. SIM cards are easily available at the airport. There are good tourist packages available. No matter if it is Singtel or Star hub, all have comparable rates and offers. Make sure you get some good data package to use it while you are traveling. 

The next very important thing would be to go to an MRT station and buy a EZlink card. This is a card used in Metro and buses for paying.  They are available in any MRT stations and you can top them up there. A non-refundable S$ 5 is charged and then a top up of your choice can be done. I would recommend about S$10 or 15 for the first few days. 

Traveling within Singapore - 

Bus is the most convenient and cheapest mode of transport in Singapore. The connectivity is too good. If you want to get to some place quicker, then MRT is preferred. There are bumboats and ferries to some of the islands like Pulau Ubin and Sister Islands. You may want to check the timings for the later. 

Hotel Ibis was offering free Bamboo bicycles for guests to travel around the city but there is no point bicycling there. For bicycling, I would recommend Pulau Ubin or some other islands. 

Exploring an area by foot has its own charm as you get to observe a lot. 

Surprisingly, taxis are not very expensive as well, as compared to other developed nations. Of course they are distance apart from buses or MRT. From and to the airport by Metro is your best option. I spent S$2.5 oneway to get there. A taxi would have cost me S$ 25. 

Food - 

Singapore is a heaven for food lovers. There are all kinds of food, available in all kinds of ranges. There are high end restaurants, mid range pubs and food joints and inexpensive Hawker centres. You will always find a Hawker centre very close to where you are. Here, you could find a lot of stalls selling really good food at an inexpensive price. Many Singaporeans eat here. It is also easy to find a few stalls that sell only vegetarian food. If you walk to Little India, you can find a lot of Indian restaurant. Almost any place in Singapore, would have at least one Indian option. However, to find pure vegetarian food could be challenging. 

I strongly recommend Kaya toasts in several Kaya toast joints. This Malay jam made of egg and coconut is yummy. Try Kopi, the local coffee. Also, the ice-cream sandwiches and of course the rice balls with interesting fillings. For non-vegetarians there are a lot of options  but unfortunately, I cannot be of much help. 

If you wish to have food from other countries, those are always available. KFC, McDonalds, Mexican restaurants, food joints  and several Italian restaurants are easily available.

Communication - 

Wifi is available in the hotels. The country is very well connected, network wise so your data package will have no issue. You can get to any place you want with the help of google maps. I would not recommend any other local apps. Make sure you put your iPhone (Assuming you are using one) to the "Low battery mode" if you use the google maps extensively while traveling. It works like magic. 

Culture and People - 

I found Singaporeans very friendly and warm. They are also more interactive than the people of HK. Almost everyone speaks English, including old people so it is not a problem to get around here. Since the country heavily relies on tourism, the people are extremely friendly to the tourists and travellers. 

There are a few Buddhist or taoist temples where you are expected to behave in a certain way. There are no signboards telling you anything, but I think its common sense.

What to buy - 

I found Singapore extremely expensive. I would rather buy in the US. I bought a few art material but not that they are popular there or anything. I would strongly recommend buying some bottles of Kaya jam and the local Kopi powder if you are a coffee fan and even if you ar not as it tastes brilliant and is not acidic. 

Daiso and IKEA are two places that would be of interest if you are a shopping freak but then they are not unique to this country anyways. I would recommend the stalls in first level at Lucky Plaza on Orchard road for the magnets and other gift items. They seemed of the best price and quality. 

There were lot of discount sales at every mall. So, you could pick some real good stuff for  a reasonable price. Electronics are also a good shopping option here. However, I prefer to buy all my electronic gadgets from the US; for it's reasonable pricing, variety and assured quality.

But, for me, it is impossible to return from anywhere without buying anything.

What not to miss - 

Bicycling in Pulau Ubin Island
Kaya Toast and Kopi
Eating at a Hawker Centres
View of the Singapore Skyline at night from Marinabay Sands
Gardens by the bay light show

Links to all my post related to Singapore -   All posts with Label Singapore  

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Last Day In Singapore

I continue From Here 


So, here was our last day in Singapore. We had explored almost all corners of this island. I am sure there is more to do but I think we got a descent experience of the country in this 10 days. This day was dedicated for all the pending shopping. We relaxed till noon and checked out from the hotel. Left our bags at the baggage counter at the hotel and left for some shopping. 

I went back to that little art store to grab some more material. 

Later walked on Bugis street to buy some magnets for a colleague. Tried some iced coconut water and Kaya buns, freshly baked at the street stalls on Bugis street. At a fair price and a store near our hotel, we bought some yummy Kaya bottles. I stopped at a Kopi Tiam (A local coffee shop) to try some hot Kopi. It tasted great. 

We returned back to the hotel at around 4 PM and collected our bags. We took MRT to Tanah Merah and changed to the airport line. We were at the airport by around 5:45 PM. At the airport there were several Indians from Singapore who had this really funny english accent - the Singlish accent. I tired some cold Kopi at the airport. It was brilliant too. Kofi is made of roasted coffee beans and some other flavours. It is not acidic and not as strong as the coffee found in other parts of the world. Thus is makes it easy to have this drink in larger quantity. That suits me well. I love the coffee taste but fear the after effects like acidity. 

The flight was uneventful. Next to me sat the Marketing head of Lenova who lost his business class seat due to some delay in the connecting flight. He was basically from Australia. We discussed a little about our work  and he told me how he uses our bicycle lock products to secure them after a recent theft in his apartment. He was very down to earth. He was hooked to this mobile game called Risk and he explained the entire game to me. 

The flight was on time. I will not say that I missed Singapore even though I enjoyed my stay there. I was happy to be back having experienced yet another country and look forward to experience another one soon. My over all impression about this country is that it’s a beautiful place to live in. There are a lot of stuff you could do while living there. There is a lot of scope for out door activities like Bicycling in an island or several trekking options within the city. Or, if you would just like to relax by the sea you could got to one of the quays or board walks which are easily accessible by metro and bus. You do not even have to drive. Hence living here would be really awesome. But, then everything is perfect here. 

The bus arrives at the same time every single day. The buildings look just the same every single day and everything seems to happen just the way it is meant to happen. I think, thats why, always, in the end, I like to return to India where nothing is constant. Even though it can be frustrating at times that there are no rules, the same can be interesting and adventurous sometimes. Mundane life can drive me crazy. 

Singapore Skyline

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Today, the day was to do some shopping and then head to the Marina bay sands to view the skyline. We checked out a near by shopping centre for an art store. I did not find anything interesting there so we headed to Orchard road to shop some fridge magnets. You can find magnets or key chains in many places but we found the ones in Lucky plaza on Orchard road to be of good quality and of reasonably priced. I had bought postcards from the same store, earlier that week. 

Our next stop was IKEA - an interesting furniture store that has some great compact design. The products are very creative and easy to assemble and install. If it were in India, I would have walked out of this store with several items but unfortunately I could not. However, I settled in for a much needed paper box that I could come home and assemble. 

At Chinatown MRT, we tried some Durian pancakes. The pancakes were good but the Durian paste tasted really bad. It has this pungent smell and taste that makes it hard to eat if you are not used to it. 

In the evening, we took a metro to the MarinaBay sands. We headed to the skypark directly. It was around 6:15PM when we reached there. A super fast elevator took us to the observatory desk at the 57th floor. 

Being up there at twilight, we got to view the city in day time and at night. We watched the light show at the gardens by the bay and the light and sound show at Marinabay sands from the top. As the day turned night, we saw the city gleam with lights. I think these pictures would speak better. 

For dinner, we tried the famous Raj Restaurant in Little India. The food was good but the place was crowded hence the service was a little affected.

Continued Here 

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

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Day-08... 06-May-2016

We headed to explore the western side of Singapore. However, there were a lot of parks, ridge walks and farms on this side. We decided to skip the Jurango bird park and couple of other southern ridges basically popular for walks. I dropped Preethi off at the Science centre and took off on yet another trek in the country. Sung Buloh wetlands is in the north western tip of Singapore.

I took the metro till Kranji and then boarded bus number 925 to get to the wetlands. At the wetlands there are several trails. I did the entire stretch - Coastal trail and the bird trail in about a 2 hours. I think it was about 9kms.

On this day, the reserve had attracted a few photographers who installed their gadgets in the best spot and awaited the migratory birds to show up. I did spot a few herons, orioles, kingfisher and lizards. 

The walk was refreshing with lots of greenery and sea of course. You could clearly hear and see the activities in the neighbouring Malaysian town.

There are a few farms close to the wetlands but there are no public transport to these places. The area also boasts to be the country side of Singapore. 

I headed back to the Science centre and waited for Preethi to finish her viewing. While, I waited, I began and completed yet another urban sketch. 

At a nearby McDonalds, I had a cheese burger without the patty. A hungry me found it to be very tasty. 

In the evening, we headed to the NUS museum. The museum has some neat collection of art works from the country. 

At night, we headed to Little India for dinner and walked into a Daiso - a Japanese store that sells everything for S$ 2. They have some interesting collection of things. 

Continued Here 

Eastern Singapore

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Day-07 (Contd…) 05-May-2016

After returning from the Pulau Ubin island at around 5PM, I had some Chapati and sabji at the Banana leaf restaurant in Changi village. Before heading back to the hotel, I decided to complete the eastern Singapore while I was already there. I was looking for a bus to get to Geylang when a lady at the bus station asked me if I needed any help. She told me that she was heading that way and I could travel with her. We took bus number 2 and began our long journey towards the city from the north eastern tip of Singapore. 

Maria is basically from Philippines but has lived here for more than 15 years. She is fifty years old and has a son and a daughter. She works at a hotel in house keeping department. Her husband works as a technician in a factory. She was very excited about the new apartment they have bought. Her son is working in an IT company and her daughter is studying engineering; piping design. I tried to enquire a little about their life style to get a flavour of the life in this country. Maria was very friendly and she opened up a lot about her life. She told that on weekends they normally preferred to stay at home. Her children though, loved to go out. They would even party on weekdays and return as late as 1 AM in the night. And at 9 AM the following morning, they would be ready to head towards work or college. Both her children had partners and she awaited their marriage so that she could play with her grandchildren. No matter where you go, some matters never change after all. 

She invited me to visit Philippines and she also warned me that it could be a little unsafe there, unlike in Singapore. It was great talking to her and getting an idea of the lifestyle  here. 

I got off at Geylong and walked to some of the attractions listed in my Lonely planet book. The streets were packed with tiny pubs and shops. 

A few blocks on Joo Chiat road, you find these beautiful Perkanan terrace houses. They are very colourful and intricate in design. Perkanans are descendants of immigrants who married local women who were mostly of Malay origin.

Next, I walked to Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple. When I reached there, Pooja was in progress. A few devotees religiously attended the pooja. The feel was very Indian here.

I also walked to see one of the murals by Ernest Zacharevic. 

And passed by a stall that sells Singapore's most favourite fruit - Durian. A flavour of which is offered in most of the dishes.

During my day, I also completed my first urban sketch. A gift from this country that I take back happily. 

We dined at a resutaant called Gandhi Restaurant in little India. Cheap food but they had both Vegetarian and Non vegetarian food. Many restaurants in Singapore claim to be vegetarian but surprisingly they serve both veg and non-veg. We had typical south Indian meal.

Continued Here 

Pulau Ubin

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This day was meant to be a getaway from the city. We wanted to take the bumboat from Changi ferry terminal and head to a much tranquil and untouched Singapore. However, a late start and a confusion drastically delayed our plans. One has to take a boat from Changi point ferry terminal but I confused it to be the Changi ferry terminal. See, the difference is in only the word "Point". Well, these two are separated by about a kilometre but the catch is that you cannot walk from one place to another. There is a Police check post that prevents you from doing that. And in the middle of these two ferry terminals is the airport. So to get to the other side, you have to go around the airport for almost more than an hour. So, by then it was noon. Preethi was tired, so she decided to head back to the hotel and catchup with some sleep and explore the neighbourhood markets. I dropped her off at the Tanah Merah MRT and headed to Changi point ferry terminal on bus number 2. 

I reached the ferry terminal at around 1PM, just in time to see a ferry leave. While waiting, I decided to start my first urban sketch with the material I had bought last evening. In about 15 minutes, the next ferry was ready and there were enough people to board. You pay S$ 2 to the driver directly and there is not ticket or anything. The ride was for about 10 minutes and it was enjoyable. A postmaster was carrying a lot of letters to the island. That was a familiar sight from back home. There were other youngsters excited about the ride.

At the island, there are several shops that rent out bicycles. I rented one for S$8 and as it began to rain heavily, I bought a raincoat for S$ 2. The rent is usually for the entire day and you could explore the complete island. The island is well marked and there are signboards everywhere. I saw a map and planned my route. 

It poured heavily for about 10 minutes and that turned this ride into a memorable experience almost immediately  I headed to the Maman campsite and was all alone there. It is one end of the island. 

I headed back to the main road and took the route to Chek Jawa wetlands. There is a oneway mud track to get there. The island is filled with tall trees and  glimpses of the sea at places. I got to see a few animals. Obviously the macaws, wild boars and some birds.

There is a nice boardwalk built around the wetlands with several viewpoints. The views from here are spectacular. 

Apart from a few shops along the entrance, the island is almost a ghost town. There are a few shops elsewhere but they also seemed abandoned. A few small chinese shrines are also seen on the way.

There is also a strange shrine of a german girl who died during the second world war. 

I bicycled all the way to the west end of the island thus completing the entire stretch in 3 hours. (1:30-4:30). There was one nice chap from Singapore who welcomed me to his country and enquired about my travel. 

I handed the bicycle back and headed back to the ferry terminal. As the boat pulled away from the island, I began to already miss it. It did remind me of the Cheung Chau island in HongKong. However, the later was very crowded and you could walk around. Bicycling here was an interesting experience. 

Continued Here