A friend and I just returned from exploring South East Asia in June and I wanted to provide a just-back-report. It’s a bit long, but I wanted to share the great things we found. First impressions of Singapore were how green things are. Streets in the city are wide enough that you find trees and lots of landscaping everywhere you look. It feels less like a concrete jungle and a little more like a real one!
On arrival into the airport we took the Airport Shuttle we’d read about online. You purchase tickets in the airport at a desk. The van only does 9 passengers, so generally there shouldn’t be many stops before yours. Depending on the size of your group, this may be cheaper than a cab at S$9 per person. On the return trip, you can have them pick you up at your hotel with 2-3 hours notice by phone. The concierge desk at the Marriott took care of this for us. On the return, you just pay the driver S$9 /person.http://www.visitsingapore.com/publish/stbportal/en/home/getting_around/transportation/airport_shuttle_service.html
ATMs were available in the airport. We used the ODBC machines and were charged no local fees.
We stayed at the Singapore Marriott, but I've done a separate review on that.
On our first day we took the Singapore Airlines hop-on, hop-off bus to see the city. It’s the perfect way to get around to most of the major areas, and if you are making multiple stops, it’s definitely cheaper than cabs. You also see more along the way than on the subway. Most of the hotels have brochures / maps and can tell you where the nearest stop is. There was a stop right outside the Marriott on Scott and Orchard Road. Cost was S$12 for adults or S$6 if you had a boarding pass from Singapore airlines. The narration is good – not too much. The maps give a good idea of what you’ll find around each of the stops, but it doesn’t hurt to have an idea of what you want to see in advance. Trying to explore from all stops in a single day is probably more than most people will want to do. The timetable is published and they generally run on time. Depending on the time of day, many of the buses do a 30 minute transit stop at the Botanical Gardens where you must get off the bus and wait for the next one. Depending on how late the bus is running there may be no wait time. This gives their drivers a break, but also helps get them back on schedule in case traffic has been difficult. http://siahopon.asiaone.com.sg/ We stopped in Little India and Arab Street to experience some of the ethnic neighborhoods. The sights, sounds, and smells were very different from neighborhood to neighborhood. Since it was Sunday, we saw many of the locals out shopping in addition to the tourists. Little India is a definitely must! The sights, sounds, smells etc. all took me back to my last trip to Delhi. If you’ve never been to India, it’s a great taste of what it is like. You’ll find jewelry, saris, custom made clothing, intricate beading and needlework and the like. If you have the time, the prices for custom suits are very competitive and quality was top notch. Arab Street was much quieter than Little India, but the silks, the beading on fabrics and the carpets were worth seeing. Chinatown had some significant road construction going on near the Hop-On stops, so it made it a little difficult to see that area.
Our next stop was the Raffles Hotel, an old colonial landmark opened in 1890. We had lunch at the Long Bar and tried the "Singapore Sling", a beverage that started at Raffles many years ago. The décor is very colonial – down to the ceiling fans. Overall, it’s a pricey experience, but worth doing at least once. The Slings were S$23 and a beer was S$18.
A stop at the Singapore Flyer – a giant ferris wheel – brought a whole new perspective on the skyline. At 165 meters (equal to a 42 story building), it was the largest of its kind in the world for a short period before Eye on Malaysia opened in KL. How much you enjoy the 30 minute trip is largely dependent on how many other people are in your cabin. There were probably 15-20 people in our cabin, although they will accommodate up to 28. At about 20 minutes, everyone starts getting restless. The views are wonderful, and the audio guide is worth listening to (included in cost) as it gives you a good idea of what you are seeing. It helped me get more out of it. Additionally, there is a compass map in the cabin that shows the 360 degree view and labels the major sites so you can identify what you see --- the map is also good enough it helps with navigating some of the areas near the flyer. There is a lot of construction on the waterfront, and that will be a big part in the view of that area. Cost was S$29.50 / person. There are lots of shops and restaurants in the complex under the flyer. The souvenir shop will be crowded. You can find many of the same items in other locations in Singapore, so if you aren’t up for the crowds, you won’t miss out. Restrooms are western, clean and free. If you know when you want to go, you can often get discounted tickets if you book online in advance.
Our next day was a little more relaxing. We spent the morning exploring the Botanical Gardens and the National Orchid Gardens. It was hard to believe this oasis of park and colorful flowers was still in the middle of the city. Rather than find another alternative, we caught the Singapore Airlines Hop On / Hop Off bus again. At S$12 each it was cheaper than a roundtrip cab and dropped us off right at the entrance! The Botanical Gardens are free, and the Orchid Gardens is S$5. The orchids are amazing – lots of colors and variety. Don’t miss the cool house and section of exotics (I know some orchids are more rare, but they are all exotics to me!). The ginger gardens are also worth some time. The gardens themselves are huge, so it’s a good day to wear your walking shoes! Restrooms are split between the squat and western types. They were clean and Balinese in design --- 1 of the walls was open and looked out into a little garden area.http://www.sbg.org.sg/visitorinfo/openinghours.asp
We took some time to enjoy the rooftop pool at the hotel. One of the oddest parts was realizing that you were on the roof, several floors above the street, and when you look out across the pool umbrellas, you see more skyscrapers!
Our evening was spent at an attraction unique to Singapore – the Night Safari. Think zoo – but in the dark. You wander the dimly lit paths between habitats and when you get there, you look carefully for the animals. It’s a neat way to see nocturnal animals you don’t normally see. Although there were animals from around the world, the Asian creatures were the highlight. Our favorites were the bats and the flying foxes. I’m not sure why, but we had the habitat to ourselves. You walk into their enclosure which is basically a mangrove forest. The trees are filled with bats and flying foxes (which look like really big bats). It gives you an up close and personal view of the critters! Shops, restaurants and shows start around 6. The tribal dance show is worth seeing if you have some time before the park opens at 7:30. It is definitely worth doing both the walking paths and the tram. If you do the walking paths first, you can avoid the biggest crowds on the tram. Sometimes it takes some patience to find the animals in the habitats if they are hiding. It works best if you take your time and enjoy. As we approached the wolves in the dark, they were all howling --- a very surreal feeling! Once again, restrooms are split western and squat, very clean and the sink area is open little gardens. One of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to get there is to take the attractions express shuttle bus. I’ve included the link below. Depending on time of day, you can use this to get to the Bird Park, Zoo or Night Safari. Takes about 30 minutes to hit all the pickup stops, and is then about a 30-40 minute drive. Cost is S$4/person each way, and you pay on the bus. On the way to the safari, they also gave us the option of buying the safari / tram tickets from them. It was a couple dollars cheaper and saved the time you would have waited in line. Cost was S$32 for the Safari and Tram if you purchase from the Night Safari or 31 on the bus. You purchase return bus tickets at a desk at the Safari where you were dropped off.
Overall it was a great trip!
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