Travel Diaries – Singapore (Our 3rd Gap Year Visit)

Gap Year Days 379 – 382

It was a little sad to be getting on a flight in Paris that was our first step in heading home but I was ready. All good adventures must come to an end sometime, and after a hectic couple of months in Europe, I was tired and looking forward to not unpacking and repacking my backpack every couple of days.

But first, we have three days in Singapore, one of my favourite places in the world!

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We landed in Singapore early in the morning, and rather than rush off to our hotel which we knew would not have our room ready, we hung around the airport for a couple of hours. If you know anything about Changi Airport, you will understand that this is no hardship, and it was easy to find a place to relax for a while.

This was our third visit to Singapore (read about the others here) since we had left home, and this time we were using points to stay at the Hilton Garden Inn in Little India.

We arrived at our hotel, and as expected, our room was not ready. We used the showers in the pool area to freshen up, and went back to store our bags – to be told our room was now ready. Not bad since it was only about 10:30 am.

A view across a pool to a daybed and the city skyline beyond
The view from the pool on the 8th Floor

We had full intentions of going out and exploring, but in the end we napped, lazed by the pool and grabbed food from a nondescript place nearby. We may have flown business class, but it was still thirteen hours on a plane and our body clocks thought it was night time.

I’ve never suffered much from jet lag, but even once home, this time it took me a week to get my body to realise it should be asleep when it was dark!

A brightly coloured two-storey building in Singapore's Little India
One of the amazingly colourful buildings in Little India
Little India Singapore
Little India easily has some of the most colourful buildings in Singapore
Little India street art
In the little laneways of Little India were some great street art pieces

I’d like to say we woke up all rested the next morning – but see my comments above about my body not realising when it should be asleep! I refused to waste another day, even if I hadn’t slept much, so we were up and out right after breakfast to get some exploring in before it got too hot and we got too tired.

The first thing on the agenda was Haji Lane. I was excited to see the street art in this area, and the get a selfie coffee at, well, Selfie Coffee! We were too early for the coffee though, as Selfie Coffee was closed.

We were in the area until almost 11 am and we didn’t see any signs of it opening or any hours listed on the front of the shop. In the end we had coffee somewhere else.

The front of two different coffee shops in Singapore
Selfie Coffee was closed, so we had to go elsewhere

The street art and cute little shops in this area are worth a visit. One benefit of our visiting in the morning was that there weren’t too many people around, but I can see this area becoming crowded in the evenings. I think it would have a nice, relaxed atmosphere and be a great place to cool down with a drink.

Haji Lane Shopfronts
Colourful shopfronts line both sides of Haji Lane
Haji Lane Street Art
Haji Lane street art
Black and white mural of a man in a turban on a building
Some buildings were colourful, others were covered in more serious art
Haji Lane signs
Some more of the colours of Haji Lane
Brightly coloured mural of a person's head
Street Art near Haji Lane

Since we were not too far away we decided to go to Raffles. In all our visits to Singapore, we had never visited this iconic hotel. Isn’t a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar one of those experiences that everyone ticks off in Singapore?

Well, it’s still to be ticked off my list, because I had completely forgotten that Raffles is being renovated.

There is a pop-up Long Bar set up around the corner a little, but it is tiny. I would prefer to have the authentic experience of throwing peanut shells on the floor once the hotel is open for business again, especially since one Singapore Sling is $31SGD ($31AUD/$23USD).

Two signs at Raffles in Singapore. One saying it is closed until mid 2018, the other is a menu board in the popup Long Bar.
No Raffles Singapore Sling for me this trip.

Once I recovered from my disappointment we continued to wander along, stopping for some lunch before visiting another Singapore icon that had eluded me until now.

On my very first trip here we went on a boat ride from Clarke Quay specifically because I wanted to see the Merlion. We sort of saw it – or at least, we saw all of the scaffolding covering it while it was being refurbished.

Since then we just didn’t seem to make it to the Fullerton area to see it again. Luckily this time we had success! There she was in all her glory. I think the area has changed a bit since we went past in the boat too, with a great viewing platform built out into the river for better views.

A statue with a mermaid tail and a lion head shoots water our of its mouth.
Finally, the famed Merlion up close.

After leaving the Merlion, we did a little snooping around the Fullerton Hotel. This place is seriously posh, old school style, and we were not even remotely dressed well enough to go inside. Now that I have stayed at Marina Bay Sands, this place is the next Singapore accommodation on my bucket list. First I just need to win the lottery…..

We jumped on the MRT and got off one stop along the line at Clarke Quay. It was fairly quiet at this time of the day, since really it is a night time area, but we could hear some music.

We made our way into the centre court and found a temporary stage set up and a band rehearsing for a show later on that night. We lingered for a while, enjoying this casual performance, where clearly the band members were relaxed and having a lot of fun.

Clarke Quay
Clarke Quay and some of the colouful shophouses
Clarke Quay Centre
The temporary stage set up in the centre of Clarke Quay

We eventually moved on, crossing the road into Fort Canning park to enjoy one of the green areas of the city. Singapore always seems to have quite a bit of green open space compared to many of the other big Asian cities so it’s not hard to find somewhere to walk amongst the trees for a while.

Fort Canning Singapore
For a large Asian city, Singapore is surprisingly green. This is Fort Canning park

By now my body clock was saying it was time for sleep, and the pool at the hotel was sounding very inviting in the heat. Temperatures were into the thirties, with high humidity and I was well and truely melting, so back to the hotel for us!

The following day I was on a mission – I wanted to get my fill of fantastic Singaporean food before we went home. So we were heading to some hawker centres to eat with the locals The first once we visited was Chinatown Complex Food Centre.

Like all good hawker centres, this one is loud and busy, full of locals slurping up delicious Asian food. I was originally thinking we would get chilli crab, but after looking around we changed our minds.

One of the things we do – mostly in Asia, but in other places too – is look for the stalls with the longest lines filled with locals. They know what is good and what isn’t. I ended up with Hainanese Chicken Rice and Simon had his staple Fried Kway Teow.

They may not look like the most attractive meals ever, but boy they tasted good. We had arrived just before the lunchtime rush, and by the time we had eaten, the lines at both places were three times as long as when we got there.

Chinatown Food Complex
Chinatown Food Complex hawker centre had some good fried kway teow
One plate of chicken breast in a thin sauce, another plate of rice and a small bowl of broth
Hainanese Chicken Rice may not look like much but it is really tasty.
A plate of Asian flat noodles
Fried Kway Teow

We worked off some of the food while browsing the shops and stalls of Chinatown, but soon we came to Food Street, a covered area lined with restaurants and filled with seating. We were feeling the heat again, so stopped for a Cendol, a popular shaved ice style dessert.

Often these can be found with all sorts of strange toppings that we would consider as savoury, such as corn and red beans, fruit that are not necessarily to the western taste like durian, and various gelatinous bits and pieces.

I have tried many of these before, and while not terrible some flavours need to be acquired I think. I played it safe this time and went for Green Apple Mango, and even Simon reluctantly admitted it was pretty yummy!

Chinatown Food Street
Chinatown Food Street. Perfect for picking up something delicious to eat.
A bowl of green and yellow ice cendol
Cendol. The gloopy topping of mango, green apple and some other bits covers shaved ice. It’s actually really tasty

Just around the corner is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. We had been past this many times before, but had never been inside, so this time we went in.  Rather than a quiet temple, this one had many people – some monks, some not – seated at desks collectively chanting. The sound resonated around the room, giving that chill-down-the-spine feeling only religious sounds like these can. We followed the crowd into a rear room, where there are statues of each of the guardians for the Chinese year of birth.

Red, multi-story Buddhist Temple
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
The interior of the temple with all of the people chanting.

The temple was quite crowded during our visit, which makes me think that it was a special religious day. If there weren’t so many people around we may have also visited the museum and had a look at the Tooth Relic, but since I know we will be back, we will do that another time.

We also noticed that volunteers offer free tours through the temple, so I will look into that further for my next visit too.

We made our way around the construction site opposite the temple (a new MRT line is being constructed and there will be a station here in a year or two) to visit another hawker centre. Maxwell Food Centre is the first hawker centre we ever visited in Singapore.

Back then it was my first time in Asia, we landed early in the morning and made our way here for lunch. I’ve not been back since, so I was surprised this time to see that it was quite empty with only about half of the stalls open.

I am not sure if that was because it was about 4pm, so not a proper meal time, or if it is quieter here now. One thing that was not quieter was the famous Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice stand. The line up was around the corner and out the door. Clearly these guys are still popular and delicious.

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice
The Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice line goes off the the right, around the corner and out the door for about thirty metres.

It was an early dinner, but our body clocks were catching up with us again, so we picked up some snacks to keep us going if we could stay awake and made our way back to the inviting hotel pool and our air-conditioned room.

We woke up the next morning and realised that this was it. The last time in over 54 weeks we would pack up our backpacks. The last time we would check in for a flight before we got home. The last time we would be in a foreign land for probably a year. It wasn’t quite over yet though, as our flight wasn’t until around 11pm, so there was time to squeeze in some more delicious food.

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast by the pool, stretching checkout as late as we could. We stored our bags and made our way to Gardens by the Bay. This was another attraction we had been to on one of our visits a few years ago, but I had seen that they had a tulip display in the Flower Dome and wanted to go and have a look.

Gardens by the Bay
Those famous giant trees at Gardens by the Bay. There was still some blue sky as we arrived.
Flower Dome dragon
A wooden dragon looks over the cactus garden in the Flower Dome
Flower Dome Head
Another large head in the tulips
Flower Dome Tea Cup
Tea cups throughout the Flower Dome were filled with bulbs. These ones not quite in flower yet
Flower Dome Tulip House
Little houses were decorated with flowers
Flower Dome Windmills
Windmills and clogs to add to the Dutch theme

We enjoyed wandering the Flower Dome. It was busy, but not too busy, so we had plenty of space and time to look around. The good thing is the dome is temperature and climate controlled, so we escaped from the humidity in here.

We also went into the Cloud Forest. I love it in here, the waterfall as soon as we walk in the door is breathtaking – and cooling. As we made our way to the top of the garden to work our way down, we could see through the glass the skies outside getting greyer and greyer. We also started to hear the rumble of thunder.

Oh no! The last thing I wanted to do was to get wet, with all our clothes packed up, and an overnight flight coming up. I started to dawdle through the Cloud Forest, as I know these afternoon tropical showers are usually short, but this time it just didn’t seem to happen.

Cloud Forest waterfall
The waterfall that greets visitors at the entrance to the Cloud Forest
Cloud Forest Lego Flowers
Almongst the actual plants were many sculptures of plants, flowers and insects. Even some made of lego like these flowers
Cloud Forest Boats
Boats filled with animals and a a lego rafflesia flower

As we left it got darker and darker, and the rain was just starting to fall. We walked very quickly past the giant trees, seeking refuge in the shopping mall below Marina Bay Sands, called The Shoppes. This mall is quite fancy, and has mostly high end stores and restaurants. It even has a canal through the middle of it with gondola rides is you so wish to take one.

Click here to read my blog post: Is Marina Bay Sands Worth it?

Marina Bay Sands Singapore
The storm clouds over the top of Marina Bay Sands
A flower clock in front of gardens with storm clouds behind
The dark clouds gathering over Gardens by the Bay

We made our way down to the bottom floor, to the food court. We had eaten here a few times before, and knew prices we reasonable, even though they were not as cheap as the hawker centres. This is one of our budget tips in more expensive places, head for the food court in a shopping centre. we ate and dawdled a bit, as all we had left to do was pick up our luggage and make our way to the airport.

We were getting there early though, so we could go to the lounge and have a shower after the hot, sweaty day, before meeting Simon’s cousin Tricia for a drink. She works at the airport, and it was lovely to be able to squeeze in a catchup between when she finished work and when we had to board. The perfect way to while away the waiting time.

And then we were boarding for the final time! I am yet to count up exactly how many flights we did throughout the year, but lets just say I had become very familiar with many airports. I was not sad that I would not be seeing another one for a little while, and I was eager to get home and recover from what had truely been a trip of a lifetime!

The Verdict

I almost don’t even need to write this, because it has not changed since my last visit to Singapore in December. I STILL really enjoy spending a day or two here as we travel to or from Australia. It breaks up the trip, we get to catch up with Tricia, and, well, the food! Need I say more.

Wifi is readily available. This was the first time I had tried to connect to the MRT wifi, and I have to admit I had limited success. If you do want to try to use it, take down all the details and set it up elsewhere, as I found I needed to receive a code, which I couldn’t get once I was underground with no phone signal.

I think the Singapore MRT is one of the best public transport systems around! It is so cheap, only a dollar or two per ride, sometimes less. We used less that $10SGD in our three days, including to and from the airport.

While Singapore is not known as a budget location, there are definitely ways to keep the costs down, such as eat like the locals do in hawker centres. Of course there are also many ways to splash out, and I am seriously going to do that on my next visit with that Raffles Singapore Sling.

Read more of my Singapore posts here
Haw Par Villa

Top Tips for Singapore
Things to do in Singapore on a Budget

Accommodation

Hilton Garden Inn Singapore Serangoon
3 Belilios Road, Farrer Park, 219924 Singapore, Singapore
Paid in points

Looking for more accommodation options? Check Booking.com for prices and availability here.

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