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Day 20: Singapore (14th cruise day)

Singapore, Singapore


Day 20: Thursday, December 31st, 2009

14th cruise day: Singapore

Happy New Year's Eve!

Today was a busy day as we started our adventure in Singapore at 7:45am and walked and explored different districts, and shopped until 5 min before the “all aboard” time of 4:30pm. Boy, is it getting harder and harder to pick our favorite cities! Several people had told us prior to our trip that we would love Singapore as it is a very livable city with much to do. And the city certainly didn't disappoint. However, it was a very different city from the others that we've toured on the cruise as it reminded us of a big American city. The whole day we did not feel like we were in Asia, but rather back in America. For this reason, I am ranking the city below Shanghai but above Taipei.

Singapore was the only city that we didn't plan out thoroughly in advance because I was tired of all my trip planning by time I got to that city, and because the city is so large we thought we would ride the Hop On-Hop Off bus around the different districts to get a feel of the city before starting our exploring. But after listening to our port lecturer and talking with other passengers, we decided the Hop On bus might have too many delays and that we would be better off taking the metro. So during one of our days at sea, we took out our guidebook and a map and planned an ambitious walking tour.

Our day started early and we were cleared from the ship at 7:45am vs. the 7am docking plan originally scheduled. Princess has been off about a half hour for disembarking at every one of their ports and has also requested passengers to be on board 30 min earlier than the original schedule in every port. We got off the ship at HarborFront, which is a big shopping complex at the southern tip of the city. We found the attached Metro easily and bought a single-trip pass as the ticket office (where you buy the all day pass) was closed until 10am. We were a little disappointed in the metro. Everyone said Singapore is the cleanest large city in the world because of all the heavy fines they enforce on littering and graffiti and spitting and chewing gum, so we expected the city and the metro system to be sparkling clean. It was pretty neat – especially compared to the NYC subway – but we wouldn't say the metro sparkled. The cars were modern and fast and had signs that told you when the next train would pull in, and we never had to wait more than 5 min for the next subway. The ride was smooth, but we hated the ticketing system. Because Singapore doesn't want littering or garbage, they issue metro cards that have to be returned/fed back into the machine in order to get back a $1.00 deposit. This was a pain, because every time we wanted to buy a new ticket, we couldn't add value to the card but had to take the time to first return the card to get our money back and then purchase a new card. This created long lines at the ticket booth. As an alternative, we could have bought an all day metro pass for $18, which had a $10 deposit, but the ticket booths were never open for us to buy one, and for some unknown reason, the ticket machines didn't sell all day passes. We are actually glad we never purchased one as the line at the ticket booth to return the all day pass was so long by the end of the day that we would have missed our ship if we had to stay in line. Singapore is so modern we expected it to have a much more efficient metro system and were surprised at the problems their metro ticket issuing system caused. But the metro was fast and could take us to any part of the city, so it was the best form of transportation.

The first hotspot on our list was to check out the Chinatown district. Singapore is a melting pot of cultures and has many Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Arab influences. As such, there is a district representative of each culture – Chinatown, Little India, Arab Street, etc. – similar to such little districts in NYC. We decided to check out each one to get the full flavor of the city. The metro dropped us off in Chinatown and we followed one of the walking tours detailed in our tour book. It was a nice walk and we could see how busy the area would be, but all the market stalls were still closed because it was still before 9am. We really liked the setup and thought it would have been the least hectic, and most easily navigable of all the Chinatown districts we've seen as each market vendor and food vendor had its own distinct space, not just movable carts. We visited the flashiest temple in Singapore which had a room with 1000 mini Buddhas, organized around larger Buddha shrines. It was very pretty and reminded us of the prayer candles that are organized around statues of Mary in a Catholic Church. Someone could purchase a mini Buddha for $88 Singapore Dollars (~$68 USD). We also visited a Muslim mosque, and we had to wrap shawls around our bare legs or wear a robe provided by the mosque and also remove our shoes before entering. We heard we will have to do this a lot in Thailand too.

One of the highlights of the Chinatown area was stopping at the free admission City Planning Center. We walked through a 3-floor exhibit that showed the history of Singapore and how the modern city was developed. The exhibit included several miniature models of the whole city so we could gaze at the skyline and different districts and see how much of the land was covered in beautiful parks and water ways. This helped form our overall impression of Singapore as a very “balanced city.” There are tons of shopping malls, different culture districts, official “city centers” with government buildings, but despite all the concrete buildings, the city has a beautiful, relaxed feel to it because interwoven among all these buildings are peaceful, green parks and lots of trees and flowers planted on walkways and around the buildings. The other reason we think it is “balanced” is that even the architecture is a great mixture of old Colonial and new, modern chic. Shanghai was all modern, slick “wow factor” buildings, but Singapore has the nice balance of the Old English Colonial presence with its columns and shuttered windows.

Leaving Chinatown, we took the metro up to Little India and followed a walking tour from our guidebook. We were pretty disappointed in Little India as it was more rundown than the other parts of Singapore and we saw a lot more street garbage and rough roads – potholes, narrow street sidewalks, etc. The district was filled with eateries and markets and had a distinct aroma of Indian cuisine. However, we felt that there was a much more vibrant Indian community in other cities, like NYC, and this was a small one. The buildings that house these food markets had apartments above which were brightly colored blues and oranges and had brightly painted window shutters which made them look so pretty! We then walked from Little India to Kampong Glam, which was the Arab section of town. There we walked through rows and rows of tailor shops and silk merchants that made us wish we had more days in Singapore so we could get some dresses and suits tailor-made. The materials were gorgeous – we can see how Holly got such a beautiful wedding gown made here!

From Kampong Glam, we were able to walk down to Raffles Hotel as the distances in the city are quite close. We had a good map and were afraid things were very far, but it was all walkable if you had the time. The weather was holding up although it always looked like a downpour would start any moment. The thick humidity made the heat seem much worse, as it was only 86 F but felt like over 100 F with the humidity. Because Singapore is so hot all year round, the shops all have large awnings and the streets are covered in huge arching trees to provide shade, so even when the sun peaked out, we always felt protected from the intense rays. It is just another example of how the city is so well planned!

We LOVED Raffles Hotel! I wanted to sit there all day as I felt like I was in a movie, transported back to the early 1900s, living in the tropics under colonial rule. The hotel is still as beautiful as it probably was at its debut. It is a large crystal-white building complex with pointed roofs and large window shudders and colonial columns. There is a shopping arcade around the hotel with high end stores and boutique shops, but they were all closed as it wasn't quite noon yet. We ate our sandwiches in the Garden, sitting in white painted cast iron garden lattice chairs, facing the fountain. We then went up to the 2nd floor Long Bar and had a famous Singapore Sling drink ($24 Singapore dollars!), which was created by a bartender at that bar. It was sweet but very refreshing in the hot climate! It was such a romanticized atmosphere, sitting in the room covered in dark wood panels, sitting under spade-shaped bamboo fans moving rhythmically from the motorized poles suspended from the ceiling. Again, you felt like you went back in time. It was my favorite spot in Singapore!

After the short break, we kept moving and walked to Orchard Road, the busiest shopping street in Singapore. This one major thorough-fare had no less than 10 distinct shopping malls! Of course we went into one of them and were amazed at this 9-story mall as it was all decked out in glittery sparkling streamers to celebrate the New Year. The whole Orchard Road was covered in New Years lights and red and orange decorations. Inside the mall, there was not one great toy store for Hunter, but 6 in a row! However, we didn't buy much in Singapore as the prices were extremely high. We talked to another cruise passenger who was in Singapore 4 years ago and was shocked at how high prices for everything had risen – from hotel rooms to food to clothes. It is a very expensive city. We'll keep our money reserved for Thailand!

We continued walking down Orchard Road until the next metro stop, which we took to Clark Quay. This was Hunter's favorite spot in Singapore! It was a riverfront promenade that was filled with outdoor cafes and gelato stands and shops. The shops were brightly painted in pastel colors and there were large overhangs the provide shade on the outdoor eateries. It was so nice to just walk up and down both sides of the river – the Boat Quay and Clark Quay. On the Clark Quay side, one block in from the river was a pedestrian only street of more restaurants and cafes, with a big musical stage in the center. If we lived in Singapore, we would come here to eat all the time and listen to the music! We walked down the river to the Raffles Landing Site, where the founder of Singapore landed. After the requisite photo opp, we headed north to the “Civic Center” to see the Supreme Court building and St. Andrew's Cathedral – the first church we've entered in these last three weeks! It was pretty but stark compared to the cathedrals of Western Europe. By this time, it was approaching 4pm and we decided we needed to get back to clear immigration, so we took the metro back to Harbor Front and poked around the market stalls before heading back on the ship.

Overall, we really enjoyed Singapore and think it is a beautiful, balanced, city. It doesn't have the impressive skyline of Shanghai, but has old world charm mixed with modern comforts. Aunt Kathleen remembered a big disparity between the rich and poor sections of Singapore, but in all our walking, we did not come upon any portion of the city that we would consider to be “poor”. Perhaps the city planning department has really cleaned up those areas, and if the rising prices in the city are any indication, Singapore is only going to get more upscale as the years go by. Granted, there was still so much of the city we couldn't see in one day and we would enjoy a second visit, adding the Botanical Gardens/Orchid Garden and Sentosa Island. We would love to come back on business! The city had so much of an American feel to it because English was everywhere, English chain restaurants were everywhere (remember Swenson's ice cream shops?), and the locals dressed and acted more American than any other city.

It is probably a good time to recap our list of favorite cities, from our favorite to our least favorite. We are both in agreement with this: Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei, Beijing, Saigon. Okinawa and Hue aren't included because they were such small ports of call. We are looking forward to seeing where Bangkok slots in to this list! Hunter later changed his list to tie Shanghai and Singapore in second place.

We had a really fun New Year's Eve, once back on the ship. We attended the 6pm dinner seating and actually enjoyed the New Year's Eve menu and then retired to the stateroom for a quick 1-hour nap before returning to the Cabaret Lounge to watch the “Motor City” motown dance show (fun!) Then it was time for my 2nd nap, until 11:45pm when we went back to the Cabaret Lounge and ordered champagne-based drinks just in time to clink our glasses and toast to the New Year. They had a large screen projecting a countdown clock, and we all threw confetti and streamers all over. Shane was dressed as Old Man Time an Ian as the baby in a full fledged diaper. We stayed there watching the dancing until 12:30am when we switched to the Tahitian Lounge and realized that was where the real action was. We stayed there until 2:30am, dancing the night away with the crew and Jim and others and also enjoyed a second drink. We packed it in right as the Captain was heading out – he was there partying alongside us into the wee hours of the night! Side note on our captain, Stefano Rivera. He is great and a lot of fun. He is always out and about, mingling with passengers, and every day makes a shipboard announcement that he hopes we have a pleasant day on board “the beautiful white lady, your home away from home, the Ocean Princess.” We and our other passenger friends joke that the Captain never takes command of the ship as he is too busy socializing with the passengers!

We had such a great time today – it was the best New Year's Eve we have ever celebrated! How are we going to top this next year? We crawled into bed after 2:30am and watched a little TV to try to unwind and then turned off the lights at 3:15am!!



permalink written by  mohicanfan on December 31, 2009 from Singapore, Singapore
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged Singapore, Asia and Cruise

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At the time I am writing this bio (Jan 2010), I, Meredith, am a 28-year old woman living in Virginia Beach, VA with my husband of almost 6 years, who works in New York 4 days a week. We are both avid travelers and beach lovers and I enjoy writing and reading. I am also a fastidious recorder of...

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