So that bit about wanting to "roast in the tropical sun blazing directly overhead" two posts ago? We took it a bit far. We returned from Malaysia today looking like that tropical sun got the best of us. In my case it just looks bad, but Dawn's feet got sunburned so bad they swelled up massively and she can barely walk. Last year we got mildly burned in Thailand but nowhere near this bad. Most of it happened in one long day on the beach where we didn't use quite enough sunscreen and didn't reapply quickly enough after snorkeling sessions. Oh well - it was still a good, relaxing trip. What little I saw of Malaysia interested me enough that I'd like to go back and spend more time there. Singapore was a pretty cool city, too, if a little freakishly clean and with more malls than you can shake a stick at.
I have quite a few photos to post; I'll break it up into a few posts.
Departure from Portland. The flight from Portland to Tokyo was wide open, but the flight from Tokyo to Singapore was oversold. We didn't know whether we'd be headed to Bangkok or Singapore until just a few minutes before departure. We got seats together the whole way, though.
We arrived in Singapore's Changi airport at 1:30am and decided to hang out there until the trains to the city started running in the morning. We tried to sleep but were mostly unsuccessful as we'd slept on both flights, so we got up and explored. What an airport! It's easy to see how SIN consistently wins "World's Best Airport" awards year after year. There are lots of comfy public lounges, dark corners with chaise loungers for sleeping, indoor and outdoor gardens like the Orchid Garden (top), tons of free internet terminals, and even free foot massage machines scattered about. Several gaming lounges (middle) offer free use of gaming PCs, X360s, and PS3s. Before heading into the city we refreshed by taking showers at the Rainforest Lounge (bottom) for about USD $5 apiece. I can only dream of such an airport in the US. I'm guessing it'll be built about the same time the US carriers start offering a Singapore Airlines level of service!
We took the MRT to the city at daybreak, rented a bunk at a hostel so we could stash our packs for the day, and headed out to explore. Our first stop was the Raffles Hotel, an oasis of colonial opulence built in the late 1800s. We even managed to hobnob in the lobby for a bit without getting thrown out. Perhaps the staff was feeling uncharacteristically egalitarian, as I don't think we look like the kind of people who are willing to plop down S$750 a night on a room, colonial opulence or no! Unfortunately the Long Bar was closed so I couldn't pass myself off as an alcoholic writer by ordering a S$18 Singapore Sling at 8am.
View of the Colonial District from Marina Bay. The building on the left is Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, a performing arts center that's a fairly new addition to Singapore's waterfront. Singaporeans themselves are rather split on the design's aesthetic merit - many refer to it derisively as "the Durian" - but I think it's about the coolest thing ever. Not only do the aluminum shades give the building its distinctive look, they have a very utilitarian purpose: without them, the building would cost much more to cool as the glass domes would create a greenhouse effect.
The CBD (central business district) is on the opposite side of the Singapore river from the Colonial District; it also fronts Marina Bay. At the river's outlet is the Merlion, commissioned by the Singapore Tourism Board in the 60s as a way to marry Singapore's "Lion City" moniker to its nautical heritage.
We took a bumboat ride up the Singapore River a few miles from Marina Bay. It was touristy but still a rather cool & relaxing way to see the CBD & the old quays. The warehouse in the first picture is about all that remains of the miles of warehouses that once lined the Singapore River. For years they were the very epicenter of the city; as the river's importance to commerce declined the quays became one of the city's seedier areas. Now they've all been razed for or incorporated into the development of trendy shopping & entertaining complexes like Clarke Quay (middle) & Robertson Quay.
There's not much room left to build anything new around the river so the cranes have moved. The bottom photo is of the west side of Marina Bay; the city rather understatedly says that it's in "redevelopment."
The British, either to tamp down racial tensions or foster obedience in the natives (or both), separated Singapore's various ethnic/religious groups into their own enclaves: Chinatown for the Taoist and Buddhist Chinese, Little India for the mostly-Tamil Indian Hindus, and Kampong Glam for the Muslim Malays. These communities survive today although they are not quite as segregated as they were in colonial days. Each is dotted with fine old temples and mosques, as well as more recent churches as Christianity has made inroads among the younger population.
Next post: Our trip through Malaysia on the Jungle Line and visiting the Perhentian Islands in the South China Sea.