Singapore – Day 4

Can’t believe it’s been 7 months since the trip! I finally had a chance to sit down and write this last post to conclude my 2015 winter trip in Asia…

Our last day in Singapore began with a breakfast at the famous Song Fa Bak Kut Teh. Bak kut teh is pork bones served in broth with different types of spices. This restaurant chain has 3 locations in Singapore and they have different operating hours. Please make sure you check the hours before going.

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We arrived at 9 a.m. in the morning and the restaurant was already very busy. We sat in the covered outdoor area with no A/C but fortunately the day was not too hot yet. There are only a few items on their menu but of course you must try their most famous dish, Bak kut teh. We each ordered one with a bowl of rice. I cannot do spicy so I found the broth to be very hot with the spices. However, the broth was very flavourful and I enjoyed eating the rice with the broth. The pork bones were very tender, with the meat falling off the bones. You could tell that they have been cooked for a very long time. Service at this restaurant was not that great but you would not expect much at a casual restaurant such as this one. If you enjoyed the bak kut teh, you could buy a box of the spices to prepare at home. It came with a pack of 4 for a decent price.

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After breakfast, we took a taxi to the Singapore Zoo. The zoo was approximately a 30 minute drive so we managed to catch some sleep on the taxi. The zoo is pretty big and they also have a night safari. There are more cost savings if you purchase the zoo tickets as a bundle with the night safari online. I’ve heard many good things about the night safari. However, given our time constraint, we decided not to go.

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The zoo is divided based on habitats. The key highlights for me at this zoo were the polar bears, koalas, elephants, white tigers and the kangaroos as these animals are not commonly found in all zoos. Also, it was interesting to note that the barricades at this zoo are very low, even for dangerous animals such as lions and tigers! I feel like if the animals did try to jump, they probably could get out…

When we were about to leave, it was pouring rain! We were waiting under cover hoping it would cease in a few minutes. However, after waiting for a little while, we realized that it was not going to stop any time soon. Therefore, we decide to dash for the entrance and catch a taxi to our next destination. As expected, there were many people waiting at the taxi stand. This was the second time we called a taxi in Singapore and it saved us so much time!

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After a 30 minute taxi ride, we arrived at our stop for lunch, Flock Cafe. Flock Cafe is a popular and trendy cafe in the Tiong Bahru area. The meal was very delicious but was more expensive compared to other restaurants in Singapore. We ordered their coffee and hot chocolate which came with very pretty latte art. For food, we had their cheeky eggs and eggs sally which are egg benedicts with pulled pork and smoked salmon respectively. We also ordered the chicken katsu burger. All their food was served hot from the kitchen and ingredients tasted very fresh. I highly recommend trying Flock Cafe out while you are in town.

With a full stomach, we explored the Tiong Bahru area. This area is one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore. It is nice to take a stroll in the area to see the older and traditional houses. There is also a market here you can check out. However, most shops are closed by 1 p.m. so it was pretty dead when we came by. 30 minutes should be sufficient for exploration.

With some time to spare, we decided to go to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum that we missed on day 1. After a 10 minute taxi ride, we arrived at this temple located in Chinatown. The temple was built in 2005 and holds the tooth relic of the Buddha. It consists of several floors and you can see the tooth relic on display on the 4th floor. There is no photography allowed on this floor and you have to take off your shoes. Overall, an interesting temple to check out even if you are not a Buddhist. You should allocate around 45 minutes here. From the temple, we went back to our hotel to grab our luggage and made our way to the airport.

CURRENCY

Singapore uses the Singapore dollar. You can do currency exchange at the airport or at kiosks in busy streets such as Orchard Road. Rates are comparable. Most venues accept credit cards except for hawker centers and local shops.  I found the Singapore currency to be difficult to carry in the wallet as the sizes of the bills are not all the same.

OVERALL

The last 4 days in Singapore was eventful and was sufficient to check out the main attractions in Singapore. We enjoyed a good balance of the old and modern elements of the city. Furthermore, we enjoyed luxury cuisine prepared by Michelin-grade chefs but we also enjoyed the inexpensive local cuisine served at hawker centers. If I was to summarize Singapore in a few words, I would say…It’s safe, clean, hot and it is where the east meets the west!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Singapore – Day 3

I totally slept through my alarm after staying out late last night! After grabbing something quick to eat, we were off on our way to Sentosa Island for the day.

It is an approximate 13 minute taxi ride to Sentosa Island from the Central Business District of Singapore. Depending on where you are going on the Island, there may be additional levies (there are none for Resorts World Sentosa). There are many attractions on the island that will easily occupy an entire day (casino, Universal Studio, beaches, etc). There are many hotels on the Island but we decided not to spend the night here as the hotels here are more expensive than hotels elsewhere in Singapore.

To save time and money, I had purchased the DAY FUN PASS Play 3 online which allows you to visit 3 out of the 20 attractions specified on their website (https://store.sentosa.com.sg/main/packages/day-fun-pass-play-3/98#!/). This costs $44.90 SGD which allows you to save up to 70%. There are other options such as Play 5 or 20. The more attractions you visit, the larger the savings. The only downside of this is that you have to take the voucher to a Fun Pass booth to exchange for the actual tickets. They had a ticket printing machine but it was broken so we ended up standing in queue to exchange our tickets which defeated the purpose of buying the voucher online.

Although we went on a weekday, Resorts World Sentosa was very busy when we got there at 10 a.m. We were caught in line ups everywhere: taxi stands, washrooms and the attractions.  Even bottled waters were all sold out at one of the convenience stores that we visited…The signs are not that good and the place is huge so it took us, what seemed like forever, before we could go to our first attraction.

We started with the Trick Eye Museum. It is a museum where art pieces in 2D are given the illusion of being 3D. There were many people lining up at each art piece so you basically snap a quick picture and move on to the next one. My cousin and I were super efficient and not too picky about getting the poses right so we were able to get through the whole thing in an hour. They have recommended poses for each artwork so it was pretty easy to follow. It was a fun experience but it was also very tiring. I’ll spare myself the embarrassment by not posting photos of me doing weird poses…haha…

It was already lunch time by the time we finished so we went to the nearby Korean food court for lunch. It is self-serve so you place your own orders using a kiosk and then you take the receipt to the stations in exchange for a buzzer. Once your food is ready, your buzzer will sound. Food was decent for the price charged and were served quickly. The place was nice and cool with the air conditioning.

After we finished lunch, we were off to our next attraction which is the S.E.A Aquarium. Prior to entering the aquarium which is located downstairs, you pass by the Maritime Experiential Museum which showcases the crafts, supplies and artwork of different Asian cultures. The Museum is free and can take up to 30 minutes if you read all the exhibits carefully. You can also pay a fee to watch a movie on the big boat located in the main hall.

There is also a small booth with pirate props where you can take pictures against selected backdrops. We decided to give it a try. It was fun but the package was not cheap ($30 SGD).

We finally made our way down to the aquarium and frankly I was a little disappointed. The aquarium is not very big so we went through it pretty quickly. Plus there was a lot of people so you naturally got pushed from one spot to another. The only thing I really did like was the Christmas theme they had going on. It was interesting to see wreaths, presents and other Christmas decorations inside the tanks.

After the aquarium, we went outside to check out the main promenade. We decided not to go to Universal Studio as we had been to the one in US before. This one was much smaller but costs around the same price.

Then all of a sudden, there was a huge downpour. Anticipating that it was going to be a while before the sky cleared up, we explored the underground mall. There were a few brand name stores but nothing particularly interesting. We also went to check out the hotels which all had very fancy lobbies. When we ran out of things to see, we went inside the casino and played on the slot machines. Like the casino at Marina Bay Sands, entrance is free for foreigners. There are also free drinks inside!

After we finished venturing the casino, it was still raining outside. We did not want to let the weather ruin our plans so we decided to proceed with the next attractions despite the rain. When we got to the taxi stand, the queue was VERY LONG. I guess everyone was trying to leave Sentosa at the same time due to the rain. We ended up booking a taxi which saved us at least an hour of wait time!

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Next we went to check out the Merlion statute. This one was not half as nice as the one on the Singapore promenade. It was a lot smaller, more worn out and it does not spit out water! After snapping some photos, we went to our next attraction, Palawan Beach.

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I am sure if it wasn’t for the rain, this beach would be a very beautiful and scenic place. There are many beaches on Sentosa Island but the reason why I chose this one is because it is the Southernmost point of Continental Asia! It was still raining pretty hard and we were running late for our dinner reservation, so we left after snapping a few pictures. The suspension bridge was also pretty cool…

We were heading to Vivo City for our dinner at Nyonya & Baba. We heard there is a free monorail service called Sentosa Express that connects to Vivo City so we decided to give that a try. Since it was free and rainning, there were many people taking it. Luckily, there were only three stops before we got to our destination.

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Vivo City is a huge mall with multiple floors. It was a quite a far walk until we got to our restaurant from the entrance. The restaurant serves Peranakan cuisine which is a cuisine served by descendants of early Chinese migrants who settled in Singapore and Indonesia inter-marrying with locals. This was my first time trying Pernankan cuisine and it was quite interesting. We ordered popular items as recommended by Tripadvisor reviews. I found the food to be very flavourful and a little spicy in general.

After we finished dinner, we walked around the mall until they closed. Given the time constraint, we probably only gone through 1/5 of Vivo City. If you like shopping, I highly recommend spending at least a few hours here. As the mall was closing, there was also a long queue at the taxi stand. To save time, we booked a taxi again and we were off on our way back to the city.

As the night was still young, we took the taxi to Orchard Street to take pictures of the beautiful Christmas decorations. We had seen a stretch of the decorations while we were passing by on a taxi a previous night and made sure we made time to come back and see it.

Orchard Street is known as one of Asia’s most famous shopping streets with many high end brand stores and hotels. My Singaporean friend told me that only tourists shop here. It took us almost 1.5 hours to go through the area which stretches across 2.2 km. All the shops were closed at this point. It was quite nice to take a quiet stroll along this street which is normally very busy. I think these are the prettiest Christmas lights I’ve seen in my life!

 

 

 

Singapore – Day 2

After a good night of rest, we started our first full day in Singapore with breakfast at a famous local chain, Ya Kun Kaya Toast. There are many locations across Singapore. Fortunately for us, there was one right across the street in Raffle City on the ground floor. There are many restaurants on the ground floor here and there is a supermarket that opens until 10 p.m. This was our last stop before going back to the hotel when we still wanted to shop but everything else was closed…

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We ordered a good variety of items to share (Steamed bread, kaya balls, kaya toast with butter and french toast with kaya set). The set comes with a soft boiled egg. You are suppose to eat the egg with soya sauce and pepper. It has an interesting taste but I personally did not enjoy it so much. My favourite was the kaya balls because they were bite size so the kaya did not feel as filling. I also ordered the milo drink which was pretty good. You can’t go wrong with milo in Singapore/Malaysia…This place is very busy but the turnover is quite fast. We came here at 9 a.m. and the place was packed already.

 

First stop of the day was Gardens by the Bay. This is one of the most iconic attractions of Singapore so it is a must-see.

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The garden occupies 101 hectare of land so it is quite a bit of walking. In order to make a better use of our time, we purchased tickets for the Garden Cruiser Tram (costs $3 SGD) which takes you to all the major stops in the garden. This has to be purchased at the main entrance. There are designated tram stands along the garden where you can board. The tram runs in a loop.

When you come here you MUST pay the $5 to go on the Supertree Aerial Walkway. You get a fantastic view of the garden plus downtown Singapore from 22 metres above ground. You pay at the booth and take the elevator up. It is a short walk (approximately 10 min) but well worth the money because of the view.

They were also hosting the AIA Christmas Wonderland but this was only opened at night.

We also came back to the Gardens at night just to snap some pictures. The day and night experience are totally different. Highly recommend that you should do the same…Just look how pretty it is!

After being outside at 28 degrees in humid weather, it is nice to be inside where it is cool and away from the sun. There are two cooled conservatories inside the Garden, Flower Dome and Cloud Forest. Considering the time and cost ($28 SGD), I picked the Cloud Forest. We had purchased the tickets online so we bypassed the huge queue at the entrance. Highly recommended that you purchase your tickets for any of the attractions inside Gardens by the Bay online. There is no additional fees and can be purchased 30 days in advance. You will save yourself a great deal of time.

There are lots to see inside the Cloud Forest. It replicates a cool-moist climate found in high-elevation areas such as South America. Inside you will find a mountain, covered in a layer of luscious plants and complete with a 35-metre waterfall. There is a walkway at the top that also has a great view on the 5th floor. You should allocate at least 1.5 hour for this attraction.

 

Then we went to Marina Bay Sands for lunch. This mall is huge and probably one of the busiest locations in Singapore. The food court was located on the ground floor. It took us almost 30 minutes to walk there. You can imagine how big the place is. There are many luxury brands here so one can shop to their heart’s delight. After shopping, you can hit up the largest casino in Singapore. You need to show your passport here because only foreigners can enter for free. Locals have to pay a levy fee to go in  as a means of the government to prevent gambling addictions (quite a brilliant idea I thought!).

I was starving by this point so I gobbled down my lunch and forgot to take pictures…whoops…We ordered some Singaporean dishes which were very delicious. The food court was packed so it took us some time to get a table and order our food. It was here that I learned my first lesson. When the locals says it is NOT spicy, it is actually HOT. I ordered a dish based on the person’s recommendation and my lips were burning within a few seconds of my first bite.

We walked around inside the mall but since I am not really into brand names, we only spent an hour here. Then we went outside to walk along the promenade and checked out the Helix Bridge. The view along the waterfront is beautiful! It took us an hour to make a loop.

We then took the taxi to Merlion Park which was across the Singapore River. This is where the infamous Merlion is located. If you did not come here, you have not been to Singapore! It is also a great spot for capturing the Marina Bay Sands building.

We had booked the Singapore Flyer for 6 p.m. online ( to secure our time slot and to get the 10% discount!) so we headed there right after. It was not too busy when we went because I guess most people would wait until it got dark so they could see the night view of the city on the Flyer. When we went, the sun was just setting but the view was still gorgeous. Furthermore, since it was not busy, we had the entire Flyer to ourselves! Normally, the one Flyer would hold 12 people and you would have to share with other people. Most people would recommend skipping this attraction because of the cost ($33 SGD per person) but I thought it was well worth the money. It takes 30 minutes to make one round. Make sure you arrive 15 minutes before your booking time.

After a long day of sightseeing, we went for dinner at No Sign Board on Gelylang Road. This is another famous restaurant chain in Singapore known for their crabs. My friends told me there are better and less expensive places to eat crabs in Singapore so do your research as I do agree that this place was over priced ($50-60 SGD per kg). I made reservations online on their website before we went. This restaurant is quite busy so I would recommend doing the same.

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We sat in the covered area which was not air-conditioned. They do have a private room which has A/C but I did not find it too hot. They provide you with a bin to put your belongings which is a good idea as you do not want to get them dirty when you are eating the crabs! You also have to pay for water, peanuts and towelette which we were not informed about prior hand but was added to our bill.

When you go there, make sure you order the crab  with salted egg. Also order a side of buns to dip the egg yolk. The buns were very yummy on their own as well. In addition to the crab, we also ordered some dishes to share. The shrimp was not very fresh and not worth the price. Therefore, you can probably pass on this. We also ordered deep fried pork chop, a veggie dish and a tofu dish. The tofu dish was very good but I cannot recall what it is called…It has meat paste on top of a large rectangle tofu.

After eating, we were going to go check out the Geylang Serai and Joo Chiat Complex which were highly recommended on Tripadvisor as good locations to buy inexpensive souvenirs. However, when we got there after dinner, most of the shops were already closed. There were still some stalls open which were selling traditional Muslim outfits and miscellaneous items but we did not find it too interesting. Disappointed, we headed back to our hotel.

Since we were back earlier than expected, we decided to explore the area near our hotel. We came across Chijmes which is a Gothic style Chapel converted to a complex for dining, shopping and function hall. It was not too busy when we came here at 9 p.m. since it was a week night. I found this complex to be quite interesting as it is a clash between the old and new; the chapel was built in 1904 so the exterior looks very medieval yet the ambiance inside is very lively with the bar scene, bright lights and pop music.

After this, my family headed back to the hotel and I joined my friend for a drink. I haven’t seen this friend in years and was very excited to see him. We didn’t end up meeting until 10:30 p.m. after he attended his friend’s wedding. He took me to the New Asia Bar located in the Swissotel, The Stamford. The bar is located on the 71st floor. The night view of the city was spectacular from here! The prices here were not cheap however. I ordered a cocktail and my drink was $25 SGD. They also charge you for water and the snacks. We chatted here until they closed which was already 1:30 a.m. Picture below is a little blurry which I didn’t realize when I took it after a few drinks…

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Singapore – Day 1

After spending Christmas with the family in Hong Kong, we flew out early the next morning to Singapore! Our flight was at 8 a.m. so I had to wake up at 5 a.m. after a long Christmas party the night before. I think this was the first time where I literally “threw” my items in my luggage 30 min before we headed to the airport. I was also doing my make up in the taxi…

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TRANSPORTATION

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Our flight costs us $2,140 HKD (approx. $360 CAD) which is a pretty good deal given that we flew with Cathay Pacific. The flight was around 3.5 hours and breakfast was served. After a slight delay, we finally arrived in Singapore at 11:30 a.m!

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As we were traveling with an elder, our only means of transportation was taxi. Their MRT system is pretty convenient (most attractions are close to one) and less expensive than taxis in general. However, taxis are readily accessible in Singapore and are much cheaper than other countries (each ride was only about $7.50 SGD for 4 people). If you are feeling tired after walking for a long day or if you want to enjoy A/C on a hot day, I would highly recommend taking the taxi.

Be warned, however, that the calculation of taxi fare is SUPER complicated in Singapore. Calling a taxi in advance costs you an additional $2.50-$3.50. There is a 35% surcharge on metered fare weekdays from 07:00-9:30 and 17:00-20:00 plus 17:00-20:00 on Saturdays. Taxi trips from Singapore’s central business district (CBD) incur a S$3 surcharge from 17:00-00:00 Monday to Saturday. This surcharge is only applicable to taxi trips originating in the CBD, not if that’s your final destination.

Therefore…do NOT try to figure out how your taxi fare is calculated. Even as an accountant, I could not figure it out. There is some assurance on the calculation as I believe the formulas are already pre-set into their meters. Detailed breakdown is also provided on the receipts.

Another tip that we learned from one of our taxi drivers is, do not take the private taxis! They do not have the sign displayed in red at the top of the taxi. You may be approached by these drivers who will offer you a flat rate for going to/from the airport, especially large groups. These drivers are usually hotel staff who have some down time in between breaks and trying to earn some extra income. Their rate may be double of what you would pay with a metered taxi! Therefore, always ask your taxi drivers to turn on their meters.

And the most useful tip I learned on taxi 101 is to book your taxis on a rainny day! Trust me! Spending that extra $2.50-$3.50 could save you at least an hour of waiting in line. When we were at Sentosa Island and the Zoo, there were sudden downpours. We quickly scrambled to the taxi stand, only to find that there was already a huge queue (at least 100 people).

If you book your taxi, they will send you a text message notifying you your driver’s license plate, name, phone number and estimated arrival time. Reserved taxis stop at a different location at the taxi stand. You just need to confirm your name with the driver and off you go! Make sure you have the taxi reservation number handy!

TELECOMMUNICATION

The first thing we did after picking up our luggage was to get our local sim cards. There is a small Singtel booth located at the airport. We bought one that was $30 which includes local airtime minutes (applied against your $30 balance) and data. Make sure your phone is unlocked to use their sim card.

HOTEL

We stayed 3 nights at the Carlton Hotel Singapore (76 Bras Basah Road). The hotel was $193 CAD per night (2 people per room) which is on the pricey side. However, I think it was well worth it because the rooms were very comfortable and spacious. Also, it is a 2 min walk from Raffle City (a large shopping mall) and walking distance to the MRT station. It is one of the older hotels in the downtown area so the rooms are bigger. We had a small issue with the front desk however. They had promised to put us in three rooms side by side but that did not end up happening. Also, our rooms were not ready for us, even when we went back at 4 p.m. (check in time is 2 p.m.). Other than that, the stay was fantastic.

Lobby and swimming pool:

Hotel room:

 

ITINERARY

As our flight was delayed and we were very tired from getting up so early in the morning, we only got through 50% of our itinerary on the first day.

Our first meal in Singapore was at the Chatterbox restaurant inside the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. It was recommended as one of the best Hainanese chicken restaurants in Singapore on Tripadvisor. The chicken rice was good but frankly I do not think it was worth the price. A set costs $25 SGD. You could probably get something just as good at the local hawker centers for 1/5 of the price.

 

By the time we got to the Singapore Botanic Garden, the National Orchid Garden had already closed. The last entry is at 5:30 p.m. and keep in mind that the Orchid Garden is a 10 min walk from the entrance of the Botanic Garden. Despite being bummed about missing out on the Orchid Garden, we did enjoy our stroll in the Botanic Garden. It is a very nice park in the middle of the city where people can look at flowers, take a stroll or play ball.

I would highly recommend coming here after sunsets as I can imagine it being very hot here during the day. We made a reservation at Corner House after reading good reviews on Tripadvisor (done online on their website). I must say, the signs and maps in the park are not that great. It took us some time to locate the restaurant. The restaurant is about a 30 min walk from the entrance.

The restaurant is situated in a heritage house and the decor is very nice. Service is superb. We were greeted by every single server as we were taken to our table. No one on Tripadvisor had mentioned that they only serve set menus. I felt bad because the restaurant was quite expensive  and not everyone in my travel group appreciate fine dining. Nonetheless, I must say the experience was well worth the price.

Corner House serves gastro-botanica cuisine. The head chef here is Jason Tan who had worked at a 3 star Michelin restaurant and represented Asia at the Bocuse d’Or world cuisine contest.

We each ordered the 4 course meal ($108 SGD) which came with two free courses (salmon roe served on chips and a citrus mousse).

Appetizers: Salmon roe served on chips, Japanese buri-oh and carabinero prawn (extra $22) 

 

Starters: Oignon doux des cevennes (62 degree egg)  and cuttlefish. 

 

Main course: Citrus mousse, Japanese A4 Toriyama beef (extra $42) and New Zealand cod “crispy scales”

 

Dessert: Chocolat “Early Grey yin Zhen” (extra $8), My kaya toast and artisan cheese platter (extra $12)

 

From the taste to the presentation of each dish, everything was perfect! There was also unlimited supply of free bread (3 types) so you were guaranteed to be full after the meal!

After our fancy dinner, we headed back to our hotel. It was still early so we walked around the area briefly before we went back to our rooms.