Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!!
And welcome to Singapore, another one of our favorite ports!
Since we didn’t get in to Singapore until 2 p.m, we had a free morning. The ship hosted St. Patrick’s Day festivities during the morning which neither Doug nor I were much interested in. And the dining rooms were decorated all in green with gold coins in big pots on the counters. However, we did attend the Explorations Series lecture with the speaker we have enjoyed. Today’s topic was “Why Tyrants Survive.” It was very interesting.
At one 1 p.m. we went on deck for Barbara’s scenic sail in commentary. However, all my pictures were taken with a fine mist and then a big rain as a backdrop, so they didn’t come out very well. At one point, she asked everyone to clear the decks due to lightening.
Singapore is now an independent island just off the south tip of Malaysia. It is a very compact city and country all in one. It has a population of 5 million people. It is considered a melting pot with a wide variety of diverse ethnic groups. It is also one of the busiest seaports in southeast Asia. To come by ship, you have to be in a traffic lane that is pre-assigned to your ship. We saw lots and lots of big freighters long before arriving here.
We have been here before, but we decided to do a tour we had not done before. So, soon after we were docked at Harbor Front and our ship was cleared, we began our “Singapore by Riverboat and Trishaw” ship’s excursion. Jack and BJ were on this tour with us.
We took a bus through part of the downtown area with its modern high rise buildings. I have better pictures of what we saw from our boat ride, so will include them in that part of this entry. Our first stop was in the Bugis Village area where shops sell everything from souvenirs to clothes at bargain prices. It was there that we visited the Kwan Im Temple whose top half was covered because of restoration work being done. But you can still see the ornate painted porcelain figures on the outside. Because is was a Sunday, it was packed with local worshippers. Here you can see some with their incense looking upward in prayer before entering the temple. We were able to walk inside for a few minutes. People were on their prayer rugs with this container of sticks (lots) that they shook until one came out. Our guide explained that there each stick has a number that corresponds to a “message” in this prayer book. So, when the person prays and asks a question, he looks at the stick that falls out and finds the “answer” in the book. It is a form of Taoist worship which does a lot with fortune tellers, etc. While we were not allowed to take pictures inside, our guide took this picture of me holding the fortune sticks and book. It was fascinating to hear about.
As we walked down the street, we saw lots of little tables set up with two seats. These were the street fortune tellers. Here is a picture of a man selling “medicinal powders” to cure cancer. We also passed a Hawker Center. This is where there are stalls after stalls of different ethnic foods. It is usually hot and very crowded. But they abide by the “tissue code” which is a way to save your table by putting the little box of tissues on your table while you go to get your food.
From here we boarded our trishaws (a bike with a little carriage for two) while our guide biked us through the busy city streets. It is amazing how much we saw and how we didn’t get run over by the traffic! We saw some new modern high rise buildings (great architecture here as well as in Hong Kong) as well as some more unique design. We went by the Raffles Hotel, known for the original Singapore Sling drink. And in the middle of all these buildings, there is the Esplanade Park curving around the Marina Bay.
We disembarked our trishaws at the Raffles Landing Site where a white statue of Sir Stamford Raffles stands. Next we boarded small riverboats to take us down the Singapore River to see the sites from this perspective. Across the river was Clark Quay – the city’s earliest commercial center near the mouth of the Singapore River. Today this five-block area is an eclectic mix of “godowns” (warehouses) and shops restored to their original 19th century style, and home to specialty restaurants, bazaars, boutiques and pedestrian streets. And in a different direction you see the more modern Singapore along with a picture of one of the riverboats we took.
To get on our riverboat, we crossed over the Cavenagh Bridge where at one end are some fun sculptures of Singapore cats and little boys jumping into the river. They all look so real, you have to take a second look. There were other bronze statues on both sides of the bridge depicting earlier times. We also saw this wedding party! The bridge turned out to be a highlight instead of just a way to get across the river!
As we boarded our boats and began our river cruise, we passed many famous Singapore landmarks such as the beautiful Fullerton Hotel in the British colonial architecture style similar to the Raffles Hotel, the large and beautiful Asian Civilizations Museum, and the icon of Singapore – the Merlion, the half fish, half lion fountain that welcomes visitors to the harbor. Other sites included the relatively new Marina Bay Sands. This complex was still being built when we were here in 2010. It is an unusual structure that looks like a ship on top of three towers. It is a hotel with a killer view, especially from the infinity pool which you can no longer go up to see without being a guest in the hotel. For $20 per person, you can ride the elevator up and see the view from another part of this complex.
Next to this is an amazing structure. Who would guess it is the ArtScience Museum??! And next to that is the Singapore Flyer, similar to the one in London. It takes 30 minutes to go around once. However, you can book private parties and dinners in one of the cable cars. Or you can just enjoy champagne or high tea in one during your 30 minute ride! And that is before you take into account the grand view both day and night.
As we approached our disembarkation point we saw a couple of other unusual looking buildings. The first looks like the very smelly fruit that you are not allowed to take on public transportation in Singapore due to its terrible odor. The next building that looks like an outer space saucer is the Supreme Court. A more traditional City Hall is in front of it.
That was the end of our tour and after the bus dropped us back off at the ship we quickly got ready to go meet Barb and Charlie for dinner at a restaurant at the top of the mall next to the port terminal. It had come recommended to us by Barbara, the ship’s travel guide as a great place to get chili pepper or black pepper crabs – a Singapore signature dish. This restaurant retains its original name – the No Sign Board Restaurant because in its former location, people would just point and say “the restaurant down the way a bit with no sign.”
We got there a bit early which was good because the mall is so large, it was a bit difficult to find. And we were astounded at the “top floor” of this mall. It was a kid’s paradise with the hugest water pool/park I’ve ever seen in such a place. At first look, we thought the water was all muddy, but it turned out the cement bottom was a muddy brown color – the water was crystal clear actually. In addition, if you walk down one level, there is a toddler car track for kids to drive on. It’s one of the most kid-friendly places I’ve seen.
At the restaurant we decided to order the “dinner for four” so we could sample more food items. They said they did not have black pepper crabs, so we settled on the chili crabs as one of the dishes. The service was really slow, but once the dishes started coming out, we were inundated with food. We had Tiger beer (the local Singapore beer) to begin our meal and then followed with the appetizer platter with four different items to sample. Next came the braised shark’s fin with crab meat, followed by a huge chili crab in this red sauce. It was one of the messiest things we had ever eaten, but quite good – even with a bit of a spicy flavor. We had to wear bibs and use what seemed like a hundred napkins! My favorite was the next dish called a crispy cereal prawn. There were four huge prawns covered in what looked and tasted a bit like a sweet crisp cereal. It was delicious. The last dish before dessert was a braised Yee-Fu noodle which was basically a bowl of large noodles with a hint of sweetness. Dessert was almond bean curd with longans (a white fruit) It sounds worse than it was. It was basically a pudding in some kind of liquid with the fruit on top. Needless to say, our tummies were more than full at the end of this feast.
While the meal was very good and the company even better, we realized later that they took advantage of the fact we were tourists. Only when they brought the bill did they tell us that the credit card machine was “down” and we would have to pay cash. Luckily, we all had enough Singapore money to cover it. After we left and looked at the bill more closely, we also saw they charged us for the small dish of peanuts that was on the table when we arrived and for the Wet Ones like napkins they gave us even without our asking for them. So, while the meal was good, it left a bitter taste in our mouth to have been treated that way. So, in the end, I would not recommend it. We found chili crabs lots of places the next day for a more reasonable price.
Despite the last little disappointment, this was a GREAT day in Singapore. We saw some things we had seen before, but not that many. Most everything was new to us on this tour. And we saw both new and old from different perspectives – a bus, a river boat and a trishaw. It was great! And, while it poured rain on our sail in, by the time we started our tour, it was a sunny, pleasant day! And it ended with a clear beautiful night.