Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Making love out of nothing at all: Singapore 2004, 2008

I thought I’ll follow up my post on KL with Singapore. The same person who had asked about KL had put up a query on what to do over a day at Singapore too.

I really admire and envy Singapore. Their vision is fantastic. In a way they are the Vegas of the Far East. They have made this amazing city out of nothing. They are very clear, London has the eye? Make a bigger one. It snows in Christmas? Make artificial snow here. Australia has a Coral Reef? They have Sentosa. And so the story continues.

In India we have the British colonial buildings at South Mumbai and Kolkata’s Dalhousie, a historical monument in every second road of Delhi, a Chinatown (Tangra) at Calcutta, a pub crawler’s trail at Bangalore…yet these guys at Singapore go to town and make tourist attractions out of their Chinatowns, Little Indias and colonial hotels and cricket clubs. Hats off to them. We have our swamps such as the Tolly Nullah at Kolkata, the Mithi River at Mumbai, the Yamuna at Delhi and yet these guys at Singapore make hot party spots out of their river dumps at Clark Quay and relaxed riverside café joints at Boat Quay. We have a rich history going back to the Stone Age and a freedom struggle which has thrown up leaders the world admire. Yet these guys have built lovely museums – places where you feel like going even if the ‘history’ is at times younger than one’s age.

I have made two work trips to Singapore so far. And can think of enough things to do. And I have not even been to the famous amusement island of Sentosa!

Well first things first. Singapore in my opinion is truly the food capital of the world. You get all cuisines and at all prices. The people speak English so it’s not that difficult to get what one wants even if one has food restrictions (vegetarians rejoice). And for those who don’t beef, pork, fowl, venison, quail… you will get it all there.

A visit to the food courts or hawker centres is a must. These are the most economical places to eat. You have myriad stalls – Chinese, Thai, Philipino, sandwiches, Indian (dosas, mughlai). You place your order and then eat at the plastic tables in the centre. You will find these all over the city but Lau Pa Sat and East Coast are some of the nice one’s to go to.

For something more exciting and glitzy, go to Clark Quay, the river front, especially at night. This is the food Ibiza with laser lights, modern steel and chrome restaurants, belly dancers and even Bollywood lighting up the night. The food spread here is even broader with German, Italian, Mongolian, Indian, Persian, Tibetian and what have you.

Boat Quay, the other river front, is slightly more relaxed and frumpy compared to Clark Quay. They have quite a few pubs too based on the pubs of English. Plus nice river front sea food joints.

A visit to the Night Safari is worth it. Coming so close to animals, though in a typically antiseptic environment, is quite cool. Going to a zoo is one thing but seeing the creatures of the night lose, separated by a glass pane from you, is quite cool. They had a nice live show also. You can walk the trail or go on a little train inside the safari. It’s an hour’s bus ride from the city centre. You get food there too though its slightly more expensive than the city.

Singapore has its share of glitzy malls and of course the famous shopping street of Orchard City. Shopping is expensive here but walking down these streets and the malls can be a nice experience especially if you are into window shopping. The variety is still more than what you get in India. And they often have sales going on.

The trick is to go the famous Mustafa Shopping Centre at Little India if you are on the lookout for a good deal. This place is open 24X7 and is crowded as a Virar local or a Kolkata private bus. It used to be very popular for buying cheap branded stuff. Frankly not that a big deal if you live at Mumbai now with Alfa, Circuit City, My Dollar Store and the Gujarati food imported food shops. Still it’s worth a visit for the sheer range. Quite a Singapore icon.

The Chinatown is interesting – Chinese temples, houses, trishaws. I went there in the morning so was in and out in half an hour. I reckon that it makes more sense to go at night when the food courts and the road side trinket shops open.

A walk down the City centre, Raffles Square, is nice for its manicured roads and interplay of colonial buildings and modern towers. It looks almost like a lego set or a doll house as do most of the tourist portions of Singapore. Very unreal. At least if you live in India.

Little India, Chinatown, Arab Quarter, Raffles Square... the way Singapore celebrates and packages its multi ethnicity is reallly admirable.

Would I specifically plan a holiday to Singapore? No I wouldn’t. It’s not the cheapest of Far Eastern destinations. Nor does it really have any exotica. Bangkok scores on both (is the Thai tourism board listening). But Singapore is definitely a place where I wouldn’t find it difficult to spend a few days without getting bored.

Traveller's Notes

- The Singapore public transport, especially the subway, is pretty good. You can go to most places such as Chinatown and Little India from the city centre using this
- They have night clubs called K TV or karaoke bars. I think they are pick up joints too. Now who will tell Mr Patil that our dance bars could have been tourist attractions

- Singapore has double decker buses, Duck tours, which are nice ways of getting acclimatized with the city. The actual ‘Duck tour’ is an amphibian vehicle which goes into the river


legallyalien said...

really well written. i've never been to Singapore but this gives me a feel of the place.
and the duck buses - known as Aquaduck on the Gold Coast are very popular here too!

Scarlett said...

They really have to be admired for their ingenuity. They have so little in terms of natural resources but they've made so much out of it thanks to their ingenuity & innovative thinking.

The knife said...

Hey Legallyalien. Thanks for writing in. Particularly encouraging to know that the post gave you a feel of the place. I am sure a Singapore trip would be in the offing for you soon.

The duck in Singpore is supposed to be an amphibious vehicle from WWII

Sneha Divakar said...

good one there! i write some travel too. do hop by..

The knife said...

Hey Sneha thanks for dropping in and telling me about your blog. Would love to check it out. All the best. Cheers, Kalyan

Rupinder said...

A hill station famous for its natural beauty, charm, cool and calm climate. Shimla has a unique culture and history which no place can place can have.

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