From Melaka, Cam and I got on a bus to Singapore. As this is our nth border crossing, we went through the motions. The Singapore-Malaysia border was probably the most organized and efficient one we’ve ever been through. So, we both got our free one-month Singapore visas, headed to the bus terminal where our bus was supposed to be waiting. In the distance, I see it driving away but then I thought that maybe it was just another bus from the same company. After about half an hour, we concluded that the stupid bus left us at the border along with six other foreigners. We found out which local bus to take though we ran into another problem—we had no Singapore dollars on us for bus fare. So, I cajoled the driver in letting us pay in ringgit. He asked for 12 ringgit each, to which I replied, “I only have 8.” Rolling his eyes, he motioned for us to just get on the bus to downtown Singapore.
Carmel spinning the Mani Wheel
We had previously arranged to meet our couchsurfing hosts at a different location. Upon explaining the situation, they graciously picked us up from the bus station. Kian Wee and his wife Lin welcomed us warmly and we got into their car. We learned that both of them were grade school teachers and worked long hours. So, we were even more grateful that they hosted us during their weekend. First, they took us for a delicious dinner. After we were full, we checked out Thekchen Choling, a small but colourful Chinese temple with a massive Mani (prayer) wheel. Cam and I took turns spinning the Mani wheel, visualizing our good fortune. We walked over to an unassuming cafe which roasted their own coffee beans. After months of instant coffee, we had the best latte (complete with latte art) that we’ve had in what seemed like ages. Afterwards, Kian Wee and Lin drove us to one of their favourite places—Marina Bay. It overlooked a dam that separated the freshwater reservoir and the salt water sea. Also, we could see the Singapore skyline in front of us. The distinctive Marina Bay Sands dominated the skyline with its three towers supporting the Skypark, which looks like a giant cruise ship. The Cloud Forest is visible on its right, a ribbed domed building that is part of the Gardens by the Bay. Further to the right is the blue-outlined Singapore Flyer, the tallest Ferris wheel in the world. Above our heads floated a few LED kites, fascinating in their neon flashes of colour. The night breeze was refreshingly cool. Not for the first time, I observed how totally clean Singapore was. There were heavy fines for spitting and chewing gum. Barely anyone smoked, a fact I totally appreciated after Indonesia. On the drive to their house, we passed by the Supertrees of Gardens by the Bay, an unearthly collection of vertical gardens. They looked like something out of the movie Avatar.
The Thrifty Trailblazers at Marina Bay skyline
Kian Wee and Lin’s condo is part of a low-rise building. At the ground floor, there is a hawker centre full of any kind of cheap food that you can imagine. It was the cleanest CS place we’ve ever stayed in. It looked like something out of a magazine with its glazed white stone floor tiles, modern appliances, and motion sensor lights. The best part was their large rain showerhead. They really utilized their space efficiently.
Cam is reluctantly eating a chicken foot!
The next morning, we all went downstairs to the hawker centre for breakfast. We ate chicken noodle soup and coffees. Lin even bought Cam chicken feet for him to try (he didn’t like it). After breakfast, Lin took us to the local mall to exchange our ringgit fore Singapore Dollars. She also showed us how to use the MRT to get around. It was a very easy system. You buy a SMRT card which you load up with money. When you take the bus, you scan the card to indicate you’re inside and scan the card again when you get off so you only pay for the distance that you have travelled. You also scan the card to get in and out of MRT trains. Their trains are so organized too. There are signs everywhere telling you where to go, including which side to get off when you are inside the MRT trains. Even the parking all around the city are electronically monitored so all drivers know how many parking spaces are left in any building.
Carmel with a Merlion statue
That day, Cam and I decided to go running at the Southern Ridges Walk, a 9-kilometre trail stretching across southern Singapore. We started at Marang Trail and started running west towards Mount Faber. Our first stop was the Merlion statue at Faber Point. It was a queer white statue with a lion’s head and a fishtail.
Cam at Henderson’s Wave
We ran to Henderson’s Wave. It was a bridge that looks like a wavy millipede, providing views of the gondola to Sentosa Island. We ran through the Hilltop Walk, and climbed some stairs to get to the top. Then, we got to our favourite part of the trail—the Forest Walk. The metal trail was elevated above the jungle at the same height as the trees. Cam and I sped through this section, enjoying the views of the natural world all around us. After crossing the Alexandra Arch Bridge, we got to HortPark, a gardening centre with different plots. There were stunning views all around, making you forget that you were in the middle of a city. There was even a children’s themed garden with colourful mushrooms and branches. It was the perfect time to end our run as it started raining hard. Cam and I got to the MRT just as a huge downpour started. We got back just in time for dinner with Kian Wee and Lin. We had a fantastic dinner of fish head laksa, crispy chicken, and sizzling tofu, probably the best meal we’ve had in a while.
Carmel is going to the Mushroom Kingdom!
We got up early the next day. Kian Wee and Lin had to be in school early and so, we left with them. Cam and I had a regular Singaporean breakfast of kaya toast, two soft-boiled eggs and coffee.
Cam reveling in Golden Shower arches 😉
We then went to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Again, we marvelled that Singapore, despite its high-tech modernity, made sure to keep abundant green spaces all around the city. The paved walkways curved around lakes and old trees. We made our way to the National Orchid Garden, which has the largest display of tropical orchids in the world. We paid S$5 each but it was well worth the entrance fee. There was a VIP orchid garden with orchids named after famous people who have visited Singapore, including Princess Diana and even, Jean Chretien, a Canadian prime minister. There was an Orchidarium where the orchids were more free-flowering and less showy. We went through a Celebrity Orchid Gardens and the Tan Hoon Siang Mist House, which had the rarest and biggest orchids I’ve ever seen. We ended our tour at the Cool House, which was indeed very cool inside, showcasing a few orchids that grew at a higher elevation. We were thoroughly impressed with the orchids and would highly recommend it to anyone who loves nature.
After the Botanic Garden, we walked all the way to Orchard Road, the main shopping district of Singapore. Everywhere you looked, there was a mall or shopping complex. We walked in and out of air-conditioned shopping meccas. We even came across Jewellery Street, an indoor complex lined with jewellery stores left and right. We admired some 19K purple gold designs, which is only available in Singapore. I was seriously tempted to buy myself a magnificent purple gold ring but was deterred by the high cost. The $3000 could last us almost three months of travel in Asia.
Flying swan statue at Swan Lake
After lots of window shopping, we made our way to Chinatown to buy some souvenirs. Nearby, there is a Hindu temple called Sri Mariamman Temple. We also passed by the Jamae Mosque. We found it interesting that they were both situated in Chinatown. Then, we went to the National Museum of Singapore, which was free after 6 pm. We were pretty tired at that point and didn’t stay long. However, we did go through a display of Singaporean history of cinema, from puppetry to modern movies. We also checked out a gallery that showed how Singaporean fashion has evolved over the years. We did a lot that day and our feet were dead by the time we got back.
We decided to go back to the Singapore Botanic Gardens again the next day so we can explore it further. We put on our running shoes to go all around the gardens. The beautiful paved paths made it ideal for running. We explored the Healing Garden, which carried many medicinal herbs and plants. Then, we went through the Evolution Garden, which showed the evolution of plants throughout Earth’s history. We also passed by the ginger garden (do you know that bananas are part of the ginger family?). Lastly, we ran around Swan Lake, which had some snow-white live swans and a black statue of swans in flight.
Various hand puppets
After lunch, we went to Little India. We went on a free tour guided by a Chinese local named Nancy. The most interesting point was probably the residence of Tan Teng Niah, a pretty, colourful building. It epitomized Indian style. Nancy also explained different aspects of Indian culture to the group. Having been in India, we didn’t learn much of anything new. The tour ended at Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, another colourful Hindu temple. We parted from the group soon and walked to nearby Arab Street. Suddenly, within two blocks of Little India, everything was suddenly Muslim. We visited the Sultan Mosque, which had a large impressive dome. We then hopped on the MRT to go to Chinatown. Nancy was giving a free Chinatown tour too. Since we already roamed around Chinatown the day before, we had visited most places. Nancy took us to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum as the last stop of the tour. The fourth floor had the tooth, allegedly from Buddha himself. It was encased in gold and behind glass windows. In the first floor, Cam and I chose our personal guardian deities based on our Zodiac sign. I doubt our prayers will be answered though as we didn’t contribute the S$88 to sponsor our deities.
Cam and his personal guardian deity Akasagarbha Bodhisattva
We left Kian Wee and Jin’s place by 6 am the next morning. We were surprised at how easy it was to get to the airport by MRT. In fact, the Singapore airport was the most organized and modern airport we’ve ever been to. We flew to the Philippines that morning. On our return to Singapore (after our 3-week visit of the Philippines), we just stayed in the airport for 12 hours, waiting for our next flight. There were a lot of places to sit down and relax. There was even a lounging area with actual beds. You can also get a free mechanical foot and leg massage though the queue was too long for us to wait for our turn. There was free WiFi, which made both of us very happy. Also, there were cheaper restaurants inside the airport too. As a final treat, Cam bought me a Charles & Keith purse, figuring our trip to Singapore wouldn’t have been complete without a tiny bit of shopping.