Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Splendid, squeaky clean Singapore

Goodness, I can’t imagine a bigger (reverse) culture shock than going straight from gritty Yogyakarta to the shiny, glistening metropolis of Singapore. Not a single person offered us a tuk tuk ride or tried to entice us into some dodgy store or another. Not even once. The squeaky clean streets, simple and easy-to-navigate rapid transit system, over-the-top architecture, anti-smoking laws, and potable tap water* at first seemed jarringly surreal and futuristic. With its well thought out city plan, and prominent public art and green spaces it feels like what every city wants to be when it grows up. Along with fully western prices–yikes!

We were charmed and delighted at every turn by yet another fantastic architectural wonder or public art installation. We chowed down on tasty things from the many hawker centres. We sought refuge from the heat in the various air conditioned malls (seriously, who’s shopping so much at Chanel that the city can support at least five of them?) and underground walkways throughout the city. We strolled along the beautiful riverside promenades, and felt both at home, and distinctly out of place (as stinky, increasingly disheveled backpackers).

Because it was so expensive just to be in the Merlion City, we wanted to make the most of it; flopping into our bunk beds only after cramming as much into a single day as we could manage. We braved a visit to freakishly perfect Sentosa island to visit one of Singapore’s two aquariums. As it is home to the city’s theme parks the whole island feels overly contrived and synthetic; we’ll call it the fake boob of Singapore. Manicured beaches made from trucked in sand look out over the pristine (polluted) waters of the Singapore Strait (and about 400 cargo ships). The whole place had a don’t-look-at-the-man-behind-the-curtain feel… And expensive too: if you went to all the attractions on the island, it would cost over $400 per person. And that doesn’t even include Universal Studios. Despite the high entry fee to the aquarium ($30 each! Damn, there goes our food budget!) and long queues, the aquarium had some excellent exhibits; I especially liked all the incredible jellyfish.

We debated whether or not to go to the Singapore Zoo or the Night Safari, but in the end it came down to price. The zoo was $22 each (still ouch for our meagre budget), and the other $35, or $49 each for a combined ticket. Yikes! The zoo was fantastic, with many open-air exhibits without ceilings or fences (moats instead), and some exhibits where the animals were free to roam. For instance, the orangutans were free to move beyond their created habitat, and had ropes, nets, and swings over pathways to other trees and areas. A colony of egrets had free range over the park, and had claimed one central tree to build their nests. We also managed to catch feeding time for the cheetahs and lions, and it was awesome to see them chase after and gulp down the raw hunks of meat being thrown to them. My favourite moment from the zoo was when, in one of the free-ranging pavilions, the fruit bat slapped at the ruffed lemur for encroaching on his chunk of papaya. The lemur was cool with it though, and they’re still buds.

There are lots of other ways that Singapore will help relieve you of your money, but there are a lot of great free things to do too, and the city is great for just walking around. As if all this sightseeing and walking around wasn’t tiring enough, Mark sought out some pick-up ultimate Frisbee games, and it was cool to meet some locals and expats.

*A good friend brought to my attention that Singapore’s tap water is reclaimed wastewater, treated through conventional means, with additional purification stages including microfiltration, reverse osmosis, and UV disinfection. It’s an innovative method to reduce reliance on imported water from neighbouring Malaysia, and also lower the impact on local reservoirs. Get on board! It’s tappening!

Beautiful Hindu temple at the end of our street in Chinatown.

Laksa, a spicy noodle soup; a merger of Chinese and Malay elements.


The giant Merlion on Sentosa Island.

Sentosa Island. Nary a hair out of place.

Deadly vermicelli...

Holy smokes! I'm in Singapore!

Construction site. Scaffolding is conspicuously not made of lashed
bamboo, and the workers are wearing both hardhats and footwear.

Harbourfront Merlion and us! In Singapore!

The ridiculously over-the-top boat-topped Marina Bay Sands Hotel, and on the left, the ArtScience Museum.

Another colourful Hindu temple.

Colours in Little India.

More colourful Little India!

Mark using his non-Asian height advantage...

A masala dosai bigger than I bargained for...

Swing, orangutans, swing!

Who doesn't love meercats?! Nobody I want to meet, that's for sure. Look how freaking cute they are!

Cheetahs ready for lunch. They're lookin' at you, toddlers.

Probiscus monkeys. I don't know, but I have a hard time trusting them...

Timid pygmy deer mouse.

Sleepy lemur.

Fruit bat.

Watch out, lemur! Fruit bat's about to slap you!

I think I liked this guy best. Leopard cat.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

Gardens by the Bay.

The Supergrove at the Gardens by the Bay.


  1. WTF!! We all just sat around at work googling the pygmy deer mouse. Is that a real thing!? So strange!!

    Beautiful shots of the animals though. And it does look so very clean there.

    How did you go about eating that masala dosai? Daunting.

    Katelin xoxo

    1. Hahaha, I know, right? What an adorable, freakish creature. We spotted a few of them in various spots around the zoo, but most of them seemed to be skirting the path in the free range pavilion. They're little legs are so spindly, and they're eyes so huge... I can't say I didn't want to pick it up and cuddle it.

      Now, as for the masala dosai... the middle third was filled with potato, so I worked my way to the middle, eating the curries and chutneys as I went, and by the time I got to the potato part, I was totally full, and had to give up. But he wrapped it up for me and I had it later for dinner.

      :) xoxo

  2. Love the jellyfish photos (and the rest of them). We really enjoy hitting up the local zoos and aquariums when we travel. What an interesting city.
    Chey xo

  3. The zoo! That's amazing! I also love the deer mouse and that you thought everything with the word "cat" in it was cute! haha

    of course Mark is using his height to his advantage! he does that here in Ottawa too ;)

    beautiful pictures! love living vicariously through you two!

  4. Pygmy Deer Mouse? What the heck? I've seen some strange animals, but...
    What an interesting departure from your normal vistas!