Friday, November 6, 2009

Singapore Trip Report, Part One

For Melbourne Cup Weekend, Shannon and I decided to stand by for a trip to Singapore. Here's how it went.

We listed to stand by for the nonstop Qantas flight from Melbourne to Singapore. Just like when we flew Air NZ, and the one other time I’ve been on Qantas, they gave us boarding passes straight away. They even sent us to another desk (and called to tell them we were coming) to see if there were any better seats available (exit, etc.) There was only one exit, so we opted to stay together in 66A and B (scary numbers, no?).

I really can’t say enough about the flight. This was my first time on an international flight with an Asian (more or less) carrier. The service was fantastic. I’ve had service that was certainly no better on certain other carriers in business class. As with all carriers that are with the times, there is in seat video, and in this case, free, on demand content. There was actually fairly ample leg room. My knees didn’t hit the seat in front of me (unlike my domestic Qantas flight – but this was a 747, not a 737), and there was significantly more legroom than on certain US based carriers that fly 747s.All in all, very impressed. The food was pretty reasonable, there were hot towels for everyone in coach, free booze, free ice cream, free hot chocolate (more free booze on request). I think the Qantas coach product would be doable for the flight to the US. Is it business (or even premium economy)? No, of course not. But still, impressive.

By the way, we got some great views of the real, dead center of Oz, outback. And damn, that’s impressive. I think going there just slid up the list a bit.We had a painless arrival at the Singapore airport. A lot of stuff was under construction, so it was tricky to find the toilets, but otherwise, easy. We took the train directly from the airport (as all major airports should allow you to do) and were quickly near our hostel, which we found with very few problems. We were greeted with a free beer, as our room had been double booked, and we had to move to the twin room, instead of the double room. But, since it’s basically just mattresses on the floor that were already pushed together, and they gave us the lower rate, it didn’t matter. They told us we could move to the larger room at night three for the lower price, but it wasn’t worth the hassle, in the end.

While the hostel we are in has free breakfast every day, they also have something extra on offer (not just cereal and coffee). Today, it was Singapore style deviled eggs. They weren’t totally different from what we would be used to in the US, but there was curry and chili in them, making them extra yummy. Also, they have coffee sachets that are pretty excellent here. As I write this, I don’t know if we will be able to take any back to Australia, but if we can, they will be great for backpacking. No more freeze dried sewage.

But, we barely ate at the hostel, because while free, the word is that the local food here is too good to pass up. So we started walking towards town. (Note: the hostel is only two subway stops from City Hall, so it’s not a long walk). We started off with fried pork noodles and fish dumpling soup at a hawker market, along with two cups of kopi – one with milk and one without. The milk for the kopi is condensed, so it’s hyper sweet. Coming from me, who drinks it black – yum.

Onward to downtown we strolled. We meandered down Bras Basah Rd./Raffles Ave. and checked out the huge hotels and fancy malls before winding up in Marina Bay. We checked out the river for a bit from a bridge, saw the Singapore Flyer (their answer to the London Eye and the Southern Star in Melbourne – just kidding – the Southern Star is being torn down). We walked a bit along the F1 course. It would be a pretty epic one to watch. Cool scenery.

We had (and really, continued to have) a break from the weather all day. It was cloudy, so it wasn’t nearly as hot as I could have been. But, by now, it was about 10:30, and it was getting hot. So, we stopped in the Esplanade mall for a sit and a drink. This mall looks like two giant durians on the outside. Once cooled, we walked across the river to the Fullerton Hotel (very swank) and then walked along the river, on a quest to get out of the weather a bit. We walked past Boat Quay to Riverside Point, where we first had slabs of ice cream from a cart, and then hit a local microbrewery, Brewerkz. Turns out, their air conditioning works really well, so we had a couple pints. Pretty good beer, too.

Onwards to Chinatown, where lunch was most definitely in order. Here we had our first bowl of laksa curry, which while over priced (this is the second highest concentration of white people we’ve seen anywhere yet) it was quite tasty. We did some shopping, with mixed results. Some gifts were purchased. Some kitchen trinkets were obtained, not because they were special, but because they were so much cheaper than in Oz.

More food! We had some kind of almond cream dessert, followed by dim sum and sugar cane juice. I was pretty stunned how much liquid you could get out of a foot long piece of cane through a press that would make an OSHA rep cringe.Walking south, we went down a street with more bridal stores than I have ever seen. Ever. And they were all on one street. Bizarre. We were also looking skyward, and seeing some clouds that looked rather ominous, so we hit the subway to Little India.

And it’s a good thing, too. Almost as soon as we entered the market closest to the train station, all hell fell from the skies. I’ve never really been caught in a tropical thunder storm, but I was duly impressed. We had been laughing at how deep the drains were beside sidewalks, and how they would eat a person if they fell in. They all overflowed. Sidewalks were flooded, serious lightning, thunder right over us. Epic. So, we did what anyone else would do. We ate.

Being in Little India, we had… Indian food (and Singaporean beer). We started with chicken biryani on rice, which was really amazing. Still raining. Wandered around a little more, and had some mee gorang and roti prata, the later of which we learned later is a Singaporian twist on roti. Both were really good. All the dishes we had here were new to us, so it was great fun to try them. After dinner, it was still raining, but not nearly as hard, so we decided to walk back to the hostel through Little India. To some degree, it was what you’d expect in any ethnic neighborhood, small shops with goods that were significantly cheaper than mainstream. There were very few tourists here though, and I’m not sure if it was because of the weather, or because of where we were.

We ran across a shopping center along the way that really caused us to take pause. We walked into the Mustafa Center, and it was like a whole different world. It’s like Loft in Japan, only it makes Loft look like a joke. It was four or five stories, each at least as long and wide as the biggest Wally World you can find, but packed so much more densely, you can’t even imagine. If you can’t buy it there, you truly don’t need it. There was a grocery store as big as a Wally World inside this monster. And, on a Saturday night, it was absolutely packed. This place completely blew my mind.

Today’s special breakfast treat was marble cake. It went very well with my coffee.
We had breakfast near Bugis St (which we later found out is a big deal for food in Singapore). Today, we had some kind of fried noodles (Shannon tried to order (“Hello you!) something, but when there was a communication breakdown, accepted “standard”) and three pancakes, one each stuffed with peanuts, coconut, and red bean paste. Oh, and kopi with condensed milk.From there, we walked to Fort Canning, which was used as a base by both the British and the Japanese during World War II. It was a nice park, but a bit thin on history at this point. There were a few relics, and an underground bunker that we opted to not pay for, but more than anything, it’s (seemingly) a place for expats to run, and couples to get wedding pictures taken.

Today, we had clouds, but not like yesterday, so it got hot fast. By 10, we were ready to be inside. Luckily, that’s just when the National Museum opened. Even luckier, this weekend, the whole museum was free, because of some kind of Filipino heritage celebration (I'm still not quite clear on how that connects). The bulk of the museum (or at least what we saw) was Singaporean history, and I thought it was pretty well done. There was a good mix of fact and anecdotes, and it really moved along quickly. My only real complaint was that I thought the separation of Singapore and Malaysia was really glossed over. But, considering that I never knew that Singapore and Malaysia had ever gotten together so that they could split, I’d say I took something away. Also, this all went down in the 1950s and 60s. Wow.

Because of the festival going on, there were Filipino food vendors on the lawn of the museum. So we had a few Filipino dishes, all of which were good, and none of which I can recall. One was like a veggie crepe, and one was some kind of egg noodles with perhaps pork. Since coffee was S$6 at the museum, we went across the street and had kopi o (coffee and about a pound of sugar, but no milk) for S$1.20.

We did make another stop in the museum for a final gallery, which had a great exhibit on local foods and how some of them are made. Also, we learned that we can’t stand the smell of durians because we are… white. Who knew.After all that learning, it was about time for a drink. We walked down to the Raffles Hotel, where the Singapore Sling was invented. It seemed appropriate to have one at the Long Bar, the spot where it was done. While the hotel was pretty swank, and it was cool to take a pass through, we opted out of the drink. We could have looked past the price (S$26.50) for the history, but everyone having one looked horribly disappointed, as if they had gone by obligation, and were let down. So we went across the street and had an ice cream slab for a buck instead.

We walked past city hall, the old and new Supreme Court buildings, and parliament before needing another break from the heat, and heading to Clark Quay to make our second microbrewery stop, the Pump Room. Reasonable beer, and it was happy hour, yet we still only stuck around for one. We did however, then make it to the third stop on the microbrewery tour, Archipelago. Good beer, but the prices were way too high, so we left after one.

We grabbed a late dinner to try to avoid the heat, had some beers, and called it a night. More hawker fare, so it was cheap and tasty.

More to come.

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