Monday, April 30, 2018
After 5 days in Bali, we took a short flight to Singapore. Our flight was a bit late, but lines weren’t too long and the luggage came out quickly. We looked into whether it made sense to take the train into the city, but for 4 people and luggage, a taxi seemed to make most sense.
By 7:00 PM we were checked into our Chinatown hotel, The Inn at Temple Street, and were looking for dinner. Within a couple of blocks, we came across Chinatown Food Street. We looked at the various stalls and selected one that looked like it had food the kids would eat and delicious looking seafood. We ordered a large plate of pork fried rice, an order of sweet and sour chicken for the boys, some pepper beef, and a mixed seafood platter with a little curry. Delicious! Some of the best basic Chinese food I have ever eaten. When someone says that you should go to Singapore for the food, it appears to be true.
We wandered a bit, hoping to find a Chinese bakery, but they must have been all closed. We did find 2 different McDonald’s and decided to see what was special about the Singapore McDonald’s. A first glance didn’t reveal anything, then we spotted the Mudpie McFlurries. Great for an after dinner treat!
We went back to our hotel which is in an awesome location, but otherwise doesn’t have a lot going for it. When we booked, we thought we had reserved 2 connected rooms, but apparently an adjoining room is different than a connecting room and we have to use our key cards to get between rooms. We knew the rooms would be small, so that was no surprise. What was a surprise was the puddle of water on one of the beds where the AC was dripping. We talked to the front desk, but since the hotel is full, the best they could do is give us a towel and change us into a different room the next day. Since the second room has a small drip, our guess was that all the rooms have the problem, so we decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. There is also a slightly funny smell, mostly concentrated in the lobby, but is still faint in the rooms. It is odd that our amazing villa in Bali was less expensive than this place. Despite the problems, we are happy to be in such a great location.
Tuesday, May 1, 2018
Our morning started at 2:00 AM with a fire alarm. Luckily we didn’t need to stand outside for long since they figured out that it was just someone smoking in their room. Sigh. We slept in a bit, then went out to find food. We discovered that the Chinatown Complex Food Centre and got a mixture of fried dough and bakery items from the various stands. My favorite was the fried dough stuffed with lotus paste.
Clouds were looming, so we decided to walk towards the National Museum of Singapore.
About halfway there, we heard our first thunderclap. Luckily we had umbrellas are were in the middle of a ton of skyscrapers, so we felt safe using them and didn’t get too wet.
Everyone enjoyed the museum. My favorite exhibits included ones on the various people that claimed Singapore, the colonial days, and WWII.
After we were finished, we stopped at a food court a few blocks away and got some nice soup. James and I got the Laksa, which is a noodle soup with a spicy coconut milk curry base, and Jeremy got the Mee Rebus, which turned out to be a noodle soup with a peanut base.
The rain had cleared up, so we decided to explore the nearby Colonial area, combining the Lonely Planet suggestions and suggestions from a friend. The first thing we came to was the Cathedral of the Good Shepard, which was small and somewhat simple as far as Cathedrals go, but still worth a quick walk through on your way to other sites. Across the street was Chijmes, which used to be a convent, but is now a retail center. Unfortunately, it was closed for a private event. We continued on to St. Andrew’s Cathedral, but since May 1st was Singapore’s Labor Day, it was closed. So disappointing, but the outside was nice.
We continued on, past the National Gallery, past the parliament buildings. The boys were happy to recognize the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall from a picture in the National Museum of Singapore. We got some nice views from the water.
The oddest was a pair of buildings that looked like a hedgehog. When we got closer, we discovered they were shaped like durians, a notoriously stinky fruit that people either love or hate. From walking by a durian stand, I smelled a very sweet, almost overripe fruit smell. Jeremy, on the other hand, smelled sweet, yet stinky socks. We haven’t tried it, or gotten the full smell from an open one, but I can imagine that summarizes the love/hate relationship.
Next up was the merlion, an unofficial mascot of Singapore. For those of you wondering about pronunciation, it is a creature that is half mermaid, half lion. There were swarms of people taking pictures, but fortunately the severely inappropriate ones were over the boys’ heads.
We walked a bit on the esplanade and since the boys were getting sick of city stuff, we decided to take a cab to the Botanic Gardens, a World Heritage Site.
I love gardens and this proved to be one of the best gardens that I have ever been to. I could spend days wandering around this amazing site. Too bad the rest of my family has less patience for this.
When the rain clouds decided to open up on us, we ducked into the rainforest. The wonderful canopy of leaves provided a great protection and we were even able to walk without umbrellas for a bit. Once the worst of the rain had passed, we continued towards the National Orchid Garden, which is well worth the very low entrance fee.
The colors were amazing. The regular Botanic Gardens were nothing compared to the lushness of the Orchid Garden. Again, I could have spent much longer in this area than we did.
We decided to take a taxi back to the city, but after 10 minutes, not a single cab had come to the taxi stand and there were several people in front of us. We decided to try out the Grab app. Success! Within 6 minutes, we were on our way back to town.
We thought about going to Little India for dinner, but we were all tired, so decided to try the food court in the mall closest to where we were staying. Big mistake! The claypot place we picked ended up being not good. So disappointing after all the amazing food we have had here. We should have just gone to one of the hawker stands.
On the way home, we stopped by the grocery store to get the boys some milk. They were very hesitant, but when they saw the cartons of strawberry and chocolate milk, they were very happy to try those. John downed his in a couple of gulps, where James savored his and told me it tasted like candy. Probably not a good long term thing to feed him.
Wednesday, May 2, 2018
This morning we woke up at 8:00. Given that we are usually much early risers, we were disappointed that we had wasted so much of the morning. We got ready and went back to the Chinatown Complex for a very small breakfast since we were planning on a large lunch. Only one small bakery item each. I enjoyed my flakey bean pastry. John hesitantly tried a spring roll, but ended up enjoying it.
Next, we caught a cab to Little India. We have thought about taking the MRT, the local trains, but for 4 people the cost isn’t that much more to take a cab, less hassle, less walking, and more restful for the boys. You also have the benefit of getting to see the city while traveling from place to place.
We started at the Tekka Centre, which had delicious looking food, but since we wanted to be hungry for lunch, we didn’t try anything. Continuing on, we discovered that Little India at 10AM isn’t great. The heat was baking down on us. We tried the Lonely Planet self-guided walk, but most things were closed. We went over to the 24 hour Mustafa Market, but since we didn’t particularly want to buy anything, it wasn’t a lot of fun.
We wandered back to the Tekka Centre, suffering in misery from the heat, finally appreciating that we had overslept. Once there, we looked around for something delicious to drink. A nice, old man came over and told us that we should get the Chendol, a coconut milk drink with dark syrup and green things that look a bit like worms. We talked with him for a few minutes, decided to take his advice, and got a delicious drink. James was happy with his Mango Lassi, John with his Strawberry Lassi. Jeremy got another Ice Lemon Tea, which is apparently different from Lemon Ice Tea since the vendors keep correcting us when we reverse the order of the words.
After finishing our drinks, we continued on to Orchard Road, where we met a friend for dim sum. She brought us to Taste Paradise and we had the most amazing dim sum that we have ever had. There were some super flaky baked pork buns that melted in your mouth. The steamed lava custard buns were also delicious. The wrappers were super thin, the filling the perfect blends of ingredients. There were some carrot cakes that were actually radishes that were quite tasty. Overall, a very good experience.
Our friend walked with us around Orchard Road. The way that one mall connected to the next reminded us a bit of the way the Las Vegas casinos are all connected. You could shop for days without ever setting a foot outside. She took us to a favorite ice cream stand where John, who doesn’t particularly care for dim sum, got a cup of chocolate ice cream. She continued on, showing us some of her favorite food and various shops that she liked.
Walking around with our friend was a fun way to get insight into both the food and shopping culture of Singapore. With the amazing Chinese food that Singapore has, I completely understand her comment that she rarely eats at Chinese restaurants in the United States. I remember when I moved from Alaska to the lower 48, I went to a very nice sea food restaurant with some college friends. When our food came, it was some of the worst fish I had ever had. When I said something, my friends all said the fish was quite good. This continued until I went home and my parents were about ready to throw out last season’s, year old, frozen fish. I brought this fish back with me to college, and my friends told me it was some of the best fish they had ever had. Year old reject fish. It took about 10 years to forget the flavor of good fish and to start enjoying the fish that everyone else eats. I am sure that many Singaporeans have similar experiences when they leave the delicious food regularly consumed in their country.
We decided to continue on down Orchard Road towards the Peranakan Museum. The walk was quite miserable due to the intense heat, even though we ducked into the AC of various malls on the way. Towards the end of the walk, we saw a vending machine and got some cold drinks. It was enough to make the rest of the walk much more pleasant.
The main focus of the Peranakan Museum was on the Chinese immigrants to Singapore and how they blended into the community. Even though the museum was small, I enjoyed it, particularly the part where we learned about the wedding customs. Definitely a better value for Singaporean residents (who get in for free), but still a fun way to wait out the heat.
As we stepped out of the museum, we realized that the clouds had moved in. It was a bit cooler, so we decided to walk though the Colonial area of town. When we heard the first thunderclap, we were overjoyed. Oh, what wonderful rain! In hot climates like Singapore, the daily rain-showers have to be a blessing. We pulled out our umbrellas and enjoyed our walk. We walked down to Boat Quay, and enjoyed the atmosphere. Beautiful river views, nice architecture, lots of tourist trap restaurants. Quite nice.
We continued on and the boys saw a McDonald’s and wanted another Mudpie McFlurry as a snack. Since they haven’t been getting enough calcium, we agreed. While there, we saw the brand new Hokkaido Salmon Burger, which looked interesting, but we were way too full to try it. We also saw that they have Red Rice Porridge for breakfast, but it looked quite gross.
We rested a bit at the hotel. Jeremy and I were still stuffed from dinner, but the boys were hungry, so we took them back to the hawker stands at the Chinatown Complex. They selected the sweet and sour chicken that only cost $1.50. Not nearly as good as two nights ago, but quite good for the price. I had seen a soup stand at breakfast time that had zillions of people eating delicious looking soup, so I decided to try that and ordered the Mee Siam. It had vermicelli noodles with a delicious broth with amazing flavor. Spicy, sour, bursts of flavor that I couldn’t pick out. Yum! For $2.50, I can see why the seats near the stand were packed in the morning.
The boys also decided to try some new drinks. James got the sugarcane juice, which is exactly what it sounds like. They took a piece of sugarcane, ran it though a press, and poured it into a cup of ice. As much as he likes sugar, I was surprised that he didn’t like it. John got the Milo Dinosaur, which is a chocolate drink that he loved.
Thursday, May 3, 2018
After breakfast at the Chinatown Complex, on the recommendation of a friend, we headed out for the Singapore Zoo. It was very impressive and reminded us a bit of San Diego’s Safari Park. Both allow you to get very close to the animals. One of the first animals we saw was the White Tiger, which I had never seen before and was quite impressed.
There were a lot of school group, so we headed in the opposite direction that they seemed to be going. We saw a lot of monkeys, but the baboons with the bright pink bottoms are always the kids’ favorites.
We had a brief scare when a 2-3 foot lizard popped out on the path in front of us. The kids were insistent that it was a komodo dragon and told us all about how someone was killed at a zoo by one. Sure enough, the next exhibit was komodo dragons. We are pretty sure that one of the babies escaped. Yikes!
We continued on to see the elephants. At this point, it was close to time for the sea lion show. It definitely wasn’t Clyde and Seymour quality, but we still had a lot of fun. We wandered a bit, then went to the elephant show. We got there too late, didn’t get seats, and had a mediocre view, but it was still fun, if much less circus-like than we were expecting.
We had a surprisingly nice lunch. The zoo had a restaurant that served Indian food and we got Thali style plates with fish or chicken curry. It would be nice if American zoos had both tasty and inexpensive food like we had today.
The boys were disappointed that we didn’t see any kangaroos in Sydney, but were happy that they finally found them in Singapore.
We continued on to the Fragile Forest, where you got close and personal to the animals. The favorites included the red lory, the ring-tailed lemur, and the mousedeer. Least favorites were the flying foxes, since we have a fear of bats and rabies. One managed to poo on John, or maybe it was one of the lemurs. Gross! Still, it was one of the highlights of the zoo.
We passed by many of the big cats, which John loved. The zebras and ostriches were also nice.
Our grand finale were the white rhinos, which John was also particularly excited about. At first, all we saw was the zoo keeper cleaning the cage, but then he closed the gate and 6 or 7 rhinos started marching out of another gate. John managed to use the last of his camera battery taking this picture:
Even though the zoo was quite shady from all the trees, we were quite warm and decided to head back to the hotel to rest until closer to dinner. We decided to go back to Chinatown Food Street and got some black pepper soft-shell crab. Delicious!
We ended the evening with a wander around the Singapore River.
Tomorrow, we are on to Taiwan!