Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Singapore first day

We got to Singapore's airport at about 10am local time. I think I managed about 4 hours' sleep on the plane, and was pleased that a light breakfast including coffee was offered, meaning I was only about half asleep when we landed.

A fast, efficient and very clean airport. We had to fill in immigration slips then our visas were issued free with no problems. Luggage came around the conveyer belt as we arrived to claim it, and we were waved through the green channel. Richard exchanged some American dollars into Singapore's currency (also dollars) since we hadn't been able to get them in Cyprus. One Singapore dollar is worth about 65 American cents, or a little over 30 Cyprus cents. It makes conversion easy in our heads - just divide Singdollars by three to get the price in Cyprus pounds.

Taxis were waiting outside, no clamouring for custom. We got in the first one and were driven efficiently to the Sloane Court Hotel where we had booked for a couple of days. The driver was silent - very different from the chatty and inquisitive Cyprus taxi drivers who have driven us from Larnaka airport - and in my half-awake state I was quite glad of that. My first impression of Singapore was surprise at how green it was - nothing like hot Middle Eastern countries, or even Cyprus. But then it gets rain all the year round. Beside the highway were trees of a wide variety, some recognisable from Cyprus, some looking like British trees. And some which I can only describe as full-sized bonsai trees! That distinctive shape must be some kind of standard Asian tree, rather than the result of breeding in a tiny pot.

The hotel was, as described in the 'Lonely Planet' guide, mock Tudor. Fake panels, and a sort of clean shabbiness. Richard had booked it after much research online, to find somewhere affordable but not in the red light district. The rooms are larger than expected, the bathroooms old-fashioned but, as everything else, very clean. We managed to sleep for an hour or so before being awoken by loud claps of thunder followed by torrential rain. Good thing we brought our kagoules!

When the rain eased a little we set out to walk to the Orchard Road area where there are all the shops and restaurants anyone could want. Along the way were high-rise flats - no houses at all, as far as we could see, but the flats weren't too close to each other, and were less ugly than those in our home town of Birmingham. And very clean...

After a detour in the wrong direction, courtesy of Tim's map-reading skills, we found the mall centre of the island. All air conditioned, busy, full of interesting and not-so-interesting shops, and (you guessed it) clean. Singapore has strict laws governing littering, and it works. Even the open drains next to the roads contain only water and fallen leaves from the many trees. We saw several cleaners while shopping, even though the floors looked almost spotless.

It was 2pm by the time we got to the malls, and although our stomachs were a bit confused by the time change (it's 5 hours ahead of Cyprus during winter time) we were hungry. So we didn't do anything adventurous. When we saw an American-style Subway selling good quality sandwiches, we stopped there for lunch and coffee.

Then we spent a couple of hours looking around two of the malls, something Richard always enjoys and even Tim and I didn't mind as there was so much to see. We found the Apple centre, which Tim wanted to see, and he found - as he expected - very good value iPods, on a special offer. So he did as planned and spent some of his recent birthday money on buying one. We found a second-hand bookshop as well, highly disorganised but some good bargains. We were restrained and only bought three books but might return at some point.

By 5pm we were even more tired, but decided to return to the hotel even though its restaurant isn't open on Mondays so we knew we'd have to go out again to eat in the evening. Without getting lost, it was about a 20 minute walk from the Orchard Road malls. Despite the temperature outside being around 30C, I was fine as the sky was overcast and there was occasional drizzle. No fear of sunburn or sunstroke!

After some discussion we managed to book a couple of extra days at this hotel, since it does seem to be the best value for money around. The Doulos arrives on Thursday, and we'll be staying on board from then. We hope it arrives on time, anyway, since this hotel is pretty busy and we almost certainly wouldn't be able to book another night at short notice. Richard asked the staff if there was anywhere nearer than Orchard Road to buy a meal, and they suggested the Newton Hawker Centre. Our 'Lonely Planet' guide told us that hawkers used to be people who took food stalls around the streets (as we see in Cyprus, perhaps) but that's too untidy for modern Singapore, so they're now organised in one place. Customers sit at tables in the centre then go around and buy whatever they want from the various stalls.

We ordered some fresh pineapple juice (excellent!) and also some Chinese food - a sort of spinach (or maybe vine leaf) salad, some noodles, and a couple of chicken dishes. They came in small, medium or large sizes and we asked for medium... which turned out to be a lot more than we could eat, so we could have had small. Still, the entire thing including drinks came to 50 Singapore dollars, which is around £16 Cyprus pounds (or 33 American dollars) so although not cheap, it wasn't bad value.

Oh, and we're not sitting in McDonald's using their free wireless networking. Ahem. This hotel doesn't offer free Internet access, but last night when Richard switched on his Mac notebook, it told him there was an unsecured network available if he wanted to use it. Since it doesn't cost anyone anything, and we're only checking email (and me blogging) he figured that if they haven't bothered to secure it, they shouldn't mind who uses it.


thamkngw said...

welcome to singapore!

there is lots of good food here, looks like you r enjoying yourselves, you can try to eat from food courts that can be found within malls, the food is good and I am sure you can get it at a fraction of $50.

Newton is famous for ripping off tourists, so no points the hotel staff for recommending that place.

Just hop on a cab and ask for chong pang, or you can enjoy seafood at geylang, hot pots at bugis, indian at little India! enjoy ...

Anonymous said...

welcome to singapore!!
If you want to find out about the real singapore,why not venture into the heartlands..eg
1.Ang Mo Kio
4.Toa Payoh
Travel time will not be above 1 and 1/2 hours.You can also try the metro instead of taxis when travelling.Hope that this piece of infomation is useful to you..xD

Jax said...

wow, a real welcome online too!

Glad to hear that you're having a good time.