Singapore Days 6 and 7: Winding down :(

By Monday, 25 February, there wasn’t much we hadn’t done in Singapore. Both Trevor and I were relieved that we were able to tick just about everything of our Singapore wishlist. There were really only two more things to do: go grocery shopping, and eat durian.

And yes we did.

Trevor and I headed to a nearby supermarket with our host, Jennifer. We went a little mad buying all sorts of things we couldn’t find in Korea, but it would have been a lot worse had we not been limited by the amount of luggage we could take with us (a measly 15kg). Among our loot was our favourite chocolate, Milo cereal, Maggi instant noodles, instant mashed potatoes, spices, vanilla essence, Colgate toothpaste and more chocolate. Priorities and all that.

In the evening we headed out in the worst bout of rain we’d had all week. It rains every day in Singapore (give or take), but usually only lightly and not for very long. But on Monday night it came down hard, which meant wet shoes, frizzy hair, and getting poked by lots of umbrellas.

We met up with Scott and some of his work colleagues at a fruit vendor. Trevor and I were both jealous to see how cheap fruit was in Singapore compared to Korea, and how much bigger, brighter and more colourful everything was. (Apples, bananas, kiwis and oranges are only so appealing, and then it gets old.) We watched a durian being chopped open and weighed, and then it was time. Yes, it really does smell that bad and yes, it really does taste that… strange.

And when in Rome! We made use of the opportunity to try a variety of tropical fruits. It was fascinating to see the insignificant insides of the massive jack fruit. Although I didn’t enjoy peeling the dragon fruit, the taste wasn’t bad at all. We had one or two other fruits too, all of which escaped me soon after.

On the way back, everyone stopped at a vendor for ice-cream sandwiches (literally). A block of ice-cream is folded in a slice of (coloured) bread. I passed on this due to my very particular relationship with bread, but those in the know said it was tasty. I was just too happy to take their word for it!

On the morning of Tuesday the 26th, it was time to face the inevitable – packing. With all the groceries and souvenirs, both our bags were full before we’d reached the weight limit, so we put our problem-solving skills to practice in order to fit everything into our check-in luggage.

Far too soon, we were on the plane and outta there. We arrived back to a cold, icy Munsan early the next morning.

Singapore stole my heart. If given the choice to ever return somewhere I’d been before, even if it means doing all the same things again, I’d pick Singapore hands down, no contest.

To see all the photos from Day 6, click on me:

Dragon fruit fingers!

Dragon fruit fingers!

To see the last few random photos from Day 7, click on my kitchen:

The loot!

The loot!

Singapore Days 4 and 5: A slower-paced weekend

Saturday the 23rd of February was not an easy day to get out of bed. Trevor and I were both exhausted from a week filled to the brim with excitement and new experiences. But there was more to see and do!

We headed in the direction of Chinatown and met up with one of Trevor’s friends, who’s currently studying in Singapore. She showed us around a bit and we visited a beautifully decorated Hindu Temple. We also discovered the Tin Tin merchandise store. Photos inside the store weren’t allowed, but we had some fun at the entrance.

Gardens by the Bay was next on the itinerary. We didn’t head to the Skyway, but we took a relaxing and enjoyable walk through the park. We parted ways with Trevor’s friend, and headed back to where we were staying, as an afternoon nap was high on the to-do list.

Our hosts were hosting a barbecue for Scott’s colleagues in the late afternoon, and they were kind enough to invite us. We headed down to the complex’s swimming pool and entertainment area, and spent a relaxing evening meeting some interesting people and comparing expat stories.

On the way back up to the apartment, I was amused to see that the vending machines held bread. And different varieties at that! But maybe that was just the tiredness showing through.

To see all the photos from Day 4, click on the Gardens:

Gardens By The Bay

Sunday the 24th was museum day. I’m not particularly cultured like that, but I traded Trevor a museum day for going on all the rides at Universal Studios. And I’m glad I did!

Our day started of at The National Museum of Singapore. We started off at the special exhibitions and came across one titled “Being Together: Being Together: Family & Portraits – Photographing with John Clang“.

As described on The National Museum of Singapore website:

This exhibition explores the theme of the ‘Family’, the central building block of Singapore society, by looking at Singaporeans’ sense of identity, rootedness and connection to their families both in Singapore and abroad, in cities such as London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Being Together: Family & Portraits – Photographing with John Clang draws from the artist’s personal experience of being separated from his family, and touches upon a predicament that many Singaporeans of various ethnic groups face today. It is a journey of appreciation of who we are as a people, in the context of today’s globalised world.

Being an expat myself, I identified with the photographs and stories, and by the time we were done, I was far more emotional than I ever thought I could be at a museum! I only realised after that I didn’t take any photos, but I found them all on John Clang’s website. Click here for photos of Clang with his own family, and here for the photos featured in the exhibition.

Museuming made us hungry, and we found a restaurant where I could have my steak fix.

Tummies full, it was time to get our art on! The Singapore Art Museum, split into two buildings, was our next stop. I don’t recall every visiting an art museum before, and I enjoyed this new experience so much! We took a few photos here, but mostly we just allowed ourselves to be swept up by the interesting and impressive art around us.

Despite not particularly looking forward to culture day, I had to admit that this day was just as much fun as any other!

To see all the photos from Day 5, click on art:

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Singapore Day 3: Fun on Sentosa

On the morning of 22 February, we set off early for Sentosa, an island resort with lots of exciting things on offer. We had only one goal: Universal Studios.

Source: travelandbeyond.org

Layout of Universal Studios Singapore

I love me some thrill rides, and even though it took some convincing to get Trevor to go on all the rides with me, we had an absolute blast. We chose to visit on a weekday, and arrived just as the park opened, so there were only short queues, if any.

Each of the themed sections of the park were so spectacularly designed and decorated, with restaurants and kiosks that matched each theme perfectly. It felt almost impossible to take it all in!

We started the day off in “New York“, with a mild but super fun ride where we joined the Sesame Street characters find spaghetti in space. Next up, without having any idea of the awesomeness about to ensue, we headed for the Transformers ride in “Sci-Fi City“. And all I can say is this: it blew our minds so much that we returned to it at the end of the day, and stood in an endless line, just to experience it all again!

Despite having not yet seen Madagascar and missing a lot of the references in the “Madagascar” theme section, Trevor took a liking to the penguins. And yes, we watched the movie shortly after returning to Korea. “Ancient Egypt” was a lot of fun to walk through, with its oversized buildings and statues, and some rather intimidating Egyptian gods. We had just as much fun working our way through “The Lost World” and “Far Far Away“, taking in the impressive decor and design as well as having fun on more rides than I can remember.

Battlestar Galactica: Human vs. Cylon in “Sci-Fi City” was pretty awesome. At 42,5 metres high, it’s the tallest duelling roller coaster in the world. Two separate roller coasters are intertwined and run simultaneously on different coloured tracks – red for humans and blue for cylons. We started off on the red track, which has traditional cars where your legs and feet are secured, but your neck is left unsupported. I’m not a fan of these, but it was a great ride regardless. After catching our breath, we headed over to the blue track, with typical thrill ride seats where your feet dangle but your head and neck are supported. It had been a good while since a ride had properly left me breathless, and I was super impressed by the experience. I would have gone a second time, but the lines were getting long, and there was still plenty ground to cover.

On our way through “Hollywood“, we came across a really interesting attraction called “Lights! Camera! Action! Hosted by Steven Spielberg”. A special effects display is set up on a sound stage. Steven Spielberg narrates a little something about special effects and just how awesome they are, and then you get to watch a strong hurricane tear up a boat house – complete with breaking windows, explosions, and water splashing the audience to add to the experience.

When our hosts heard of our plans to head to Sentosa, they recommended we head to the far side of the resort and seek out the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia. After bussing over and watching the sunset from the beach (where we also had a lovely view of the lights of the more than 1000 cargo ships lined up to enter the harbour), we made our way over to the area. It was a really cool moment!

Before heading back, I let my inner voyeur out and read some of the Chinese New Year’s wishes that were hanging on the nearby trees.  I was struck by how many of the wishes were for other people – partners, friends and family members.

By this point, we’d been on vacation for exactly a week, and we could definitely feel it! All that go-go-go was taking its toll on our bodies and our patience, so we headed back and vowed to have a laid-back day the Saturday.

To see all the photos from Day 3, click on us:

It's Universal Studios, baby!

It’s Universal Studios, baby!

Singapore Day 2: ALL of the colours!

The 21st of February started of slow and relaxed, which was great after the previous night’s outing. Jennifer had some errands to run, so Trevor and I accompanied her and her son Wyatt to Little India. Nothing could prepare me for the explosions to my senses!

A feast of smells and colours awaited us. We walked through the food market, me gawking at the interesting and colourful fruits. South Africa has its variety, but I’d become used to seeing nothing besides apples, oranges and bananas in Korea. And even those suddenly looked bigger and juicier at this market. I saw my very first jack fruit, and yes, it really is that big! The jack fruit happened to be displayed right by the watermelons, just to drive the point home.

Past the food market was the clothes market, which was just a feast for the eyes. The patterns and colours of the traditional Indian clothing was just beautiful. I had to fight the urge to stop and touch just about everything, as the fabrics all looked so luxurious, and the embellishments were so striking.

We worked our way to the souvenir area (I’m such a tourist!), where we discovered Psy on a t-shirt (it appears there really is no escaping Gangnam Style) and where I had some henna tattoos done (when in Rome…). While walking through the souvenir stalls, I was transported back to home by the vendors who bombarded us to tell us why their products were so much better than the exact replicas at the very next stall.

Jennifer and Wyatt had finished their errands and we parted ways. Trevor and I decided to tackle the streets of Singapore on foot. Jennifer directed us to temple, which we never got to, as there was just so much to take in on the way. Trevor found paradise in a little store selling Bollywood DVDs. We enjoyed the beautifully colourful buildings along the way.

I had discovered that Singapore had a Nando’s, and convinced Trevor that this was chicken worth trying. When we got hungry, we set off to find the shopping center that housed said Nando’s, and yes! yes! yes! it was everything I had hoped it would be. After getting stuffed on chicken burgers with cheese and pineapple, chips, garlic bread and corn on the cob, we killed some time doing some more souvenir shopping at a nearby market. The fun discovery of the day was the transport card stickers. We picked some out for our friends in Korea. Choosing our favourites were easy: I chose Paul Frank’s Julius, and Trevor chose Chopper from One Piece.

The day wasn’t done yet! It was time to head over to the Singapore Night Safari, which to my disappointment was no more than a night-time zoo. (I don’t like zoos. I don’t like what they represent and I don’t like what happens in them. I come from a country where there’s plenty of opportunities to see plenty of animals, and none of those involve sad-looking animals in too-small cages.) It was a fun evening nevertheless, and we had fun taking photos at the various displays. I also had my first Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream (for the record: way better than any zoo!). We hopped on a safari van and was taken on a “safari” through the “jungle”, which was kinda cool I’ll admit. I, spoiled Saffa that I am, wasn’t too impressed by the animals on display. I’ve seen my fair share of elephants, zebras and giraffes. Trevor was amused at how excited I was to see deer, as that was the one part that bored him. I explained that we don’t have any deer, so these were my first live sightings. (Even if they were in glorified cages. 😦 ) The evening was fun, all in all, as there was plenty to see and do and learn. By closing time, we were relieved to have an excuse to leave, as it had been a long day, and the next day would be chock-full, too.

To see all the photos from Day 2, click on Psy:

Psy t-shirt

Singapore Day 1: A walk in the clouds

I’m feeling nostalgic today, so what better time to write about experiences passed. It’s been six months since Trevor and I went on our amazing Singapore holiday, and I still think about it so often.

After our glorious but anxiety provoking long weekend in The Philippines (which you can read about here), we arrived in Singapore on Tuesday, 19 February. What a contrast! It’s not hard to see why it was voted the World’s Best Airport at the 2013 World Airport Awards.  Trevor sorted out getting a SIM card while I used one of the countless free Internet stations to catch up on some correspondence.

We caught a taxi to our hosts’s apartment, and the whole way I was like a kid at Christmas. Look how green everything is! We’re driving on the left side of the road! The driver speaks English! And he isn’t driving like a maniac! The buildings are so beautiful! Everything is so modern! The air is so clean! The flora reminds me of Cape Town! Sheesh, I’m exhausted!

The first evening was spent just relaxing and planning the week ahead. Our hosts, Jennifer and Scott, suggested some fun activities to squeeze into our itinerary.

Day 1 in Singapore started off with the Singapore River Cruise. We boarded a bumboat and were taken around the river. It was interesting to see the contrasts between “old” and “new” Singapore from the water. Pre-recorded video commentary was used to point out significant structures and landmarks, and a general history of the area was also given.

After the cruise, we headed to the Singapore Flyer. We decided to be proper tourists and, instead of taking public transport to our next destination, we’d just walk. Luckily Trevor had a SIM card and Google Maps, and after an hour of somewhat directed aimless wandering, we arrived at the Flyer.

There was a nifty food court at the entrance, so we sat down to some grub, and fed the scavenger birds (which you don’t see in Korea). There was lots to see in the courtyard of the flyer, and Trevor had fun matching up his tribute tattoos to the Chinese Zodiac displays. Eventually we made our way up to the Flyer, and this is where I first learned that Trevor is – shall I say – sensitive to heights. The kid was a trouper though, and we had lots of fun seeing Singapore (and Indonesia, as a matter of fact) from above. The tinted-glass capsules meant we were sheltered from the unforgiving sun, and it was a beautifully clear day, so we could see everything we needed to.

In the evening, Scott and Jennifer treated us to a night on the town. After supper we got all dressed and pressed, and made our way to Raffles Singapore, the hotel that houses Long Bar, which is where the Singapore Sling was born. And yes, that’s exactly what we had! After a round of drinks we hopped on a bus and headed over to 1-Altitude, the world’s highest open-air rooftop bar. Oh my word, the view! The bar is 64 stories up, which is no joke. I remember looking down at the ground, but not feeling so high up. I suppose my body had no point of reference for just how far off the ground it really was. After dealing with popping ears and jelly legs, we took in the view. Scott and Jennifer pointed out some of the significant buildings around us (all far below us!), and we also got to see the long line of cargo ships waiting to dock at the port. Apparently some of these ships wait around a month for their turn! It was really cool to see Indonesia’s lights in the distance.

Definitely a great first full day in Singapore! I had a feeling it would get even better…

To see all the photos from Day 1, click on the Merlion:

The Merlion as seen from the River Cruise. Click on it to see the Flickr album of the whole day.

The Merlion as seen from the River Cruise. Click on it to see the Flickr album of the whole day.

Denim ditching, airport prancing, and other holiday build-up-ness

I’ve been avoiding this long enough now. I need to write about my holiday. It’s been almost two months, and there’s so much I want to write down and remember.

This one’ll be a dull post about the planning bits.

~~~

I knew that coming to Korea would mean having the opportunity to travel, but travelling alone didn’t appeal to me at all.

My friend Trevor and I are both public school teachers, so we have a fair amount of vacation time. Unfortunately, our vacation dates don’t correspond so travelling together seemed unlikely. When we figured out that our “spring vacation” (it was still snowing then) dates would correspond by all but one day, the possibility of having a travel buddy seemed more and more real. In December, we started circling the issue, neither of us sure what type of travelling the other would be interested in.

One night, we were hanging out and looking at options. Trevor has a friend who is studying in Singapore, so he seemed to favour this destination. My preference was “not Korea”, so we agreed to look into it some more.

Flights to Singapore connect through Manila (the Philippines) and in a moment of spontaneity, we entertained the idea of a longer layover. Two countries in one trip? Excellent!

Accommodation in Singapore is pricey, so the reasoning was that we’d literally be saving money by spending part of our holiday in the Philippines. And so a plan was born. The plan was to spend a long weekend on Boracay, an island in the Philippines, and then a week in Singapore.

We had two months of planning ahead of us, and at times it felt so inconsequential. There were days when I got bored of looking at landmarks and tourist attractions online.  I had one rule: no set itinerary. We agreed to list things we’d like to see and do, and take it one day at a time. Trevor took to Google Maps to plot everything we wanted to do in Singapore. This would be the main part of our trip and it required a larger investment of time and energy. It was a unanimous decision to see the weekend as total R&R time. Eating and being on the beach were the only things on our to-do list.SAM_0145

Foreign currency! This was probably when the trip started feeling really-real. Having foreign currency and knowing you’re going to use it is a flippin’ awesome feeling.

Trevor’s mom got us in touch with a former colleague of hers. Scott and his wife, Jennifer, and their three children are currently expats in Singapore. Trevor started mailing Jennifer, and she kindly and generously offered that we stay with them during our time in Singapore. Oh my goodness! What an absolute gift! This tremendous saving made me look forward to the trip even more.

Soon all the necessary accommodation in the Philippines was booked and paid for, and all that remained was counting down the days, and packing.

Packing. I only had 15 kg of check-in luggage, so this would be quite the challenge. I knew I’d have to leave room to bring shopping back, and really, I didn’t want to be weighed down by luggage (geddit?!) – we had 6 flights and some ferrying ahead of us, so the lighter, the better.

I bought a travel hairdryer and a few travel-size bottles to decant my favourite products into. Korea is not big on variety, and cosmetics are sold in bulk, so it wasn’t as easy as back home where I could pop into Dischem and buy a range of smaller sized products. I decanted and repackaged and prioritised like a champ.

About a week before, I summoned my good friend Cindy to help me pack. Cindy is a seasoned traveller – she’s travelled to almost 30 different countries. She applied some tough love and my luggage was halved within minutes. And just as I thought we were done, she’d make me shed more. Thankfully, both were tropical destinations so I wouldn’t need any heavy/warm clothing.

Now, if you’ve known me for any period of time, you’ll agree that I’m very seldom seen leaving the house without (not make-up, but) denim. Denim is the basis around all my wardrobe choices. I’m just that girl. During the packing process, I decided not to take my jeans. I’d only be wearing them out of and back into Korea anyway. Tights would do. Next up, my denim 3/4 pants were ditched. And when I had to choose between denim shorts and black ones, I chose the more lightweight black pair. At least I’d still have my denim jacket, right? Think again. Cindy gave me one look and pointed at the “reject” pile. No denim. None. How would I make it? (I made it just fine, by the way.)

I settled on two pairs of shorts, three shirts that could be worn with both pairs, a skirt and two dresses. And of course lots of shoes, right? Nope! I wore my trainers and packed one pair of beach sandals and one pair of more smart-looking ones. Singapore is a classy place, so one dressy outfit was necessary.

Proof that I can, in fact, pack light.

Proof that I can, in fact, pack light.

All in, my luggage came to a whopping 8 kg (beat that! 10 days in 8 kg, baby!). Next up was hand luggage, which was nothing more than my travel documents, mp3 player, cellphone and a book (I’m yet to embrace this kindle business). Lots of shopping room!

Trevor snuck in this shot of me prancing about.

Trevor snuck in this shot of me prancing about.

Cindy helped me pick out a “travel outfit”. I’d need something that would keep me warm in Korea (temperatures were still in the negatives), but that I could shed off as we reached warmer destinations. I’d also need to be comfortable while flying, as we were flying with budget airlines. Everything would need to fit into my luggage during our time in the tropics. I’m not an overly experienced traveller (especially not an international one), and I told Cindy that I felt like “one of those seasoned travellers who prances around airports in ridiculous outfits”.

And then it was time to go! Trevor and I braved the cold to catch the bus, and then the train, to the airport. It was nice to experience the airport, not as a terrified newbie to a new country, but as a leisurely traveller. As Trevor put it:

“Well, we’re out of the cold and neither of us is emotionally traumatising ourselves by moving to Asia.”

That summed it up well.

Check-in and customs were a breeze, and soon we were off.

Next stop: Philippines!