We took some R&R earlier this month, heading south for warmer weather. Classes ended January 3rd, and since the official Chinese New Year holiday doesn't start until tomorrow (January 31st), we'd thought we'd go early and beat any CNY crowds also traveling. It was a good call.
Singapore was the vacation spot of choice, and it was a very good choice. What an amazing city! It's Asian and foreigner friendly. The official language is English, so everyone speaks English and all the signs are in English making it easy to get around and use public transportation. I had to keep doing double takes hearing so many Chinese speak in English to each other.
There were some other surprising things about Singapore. The first night we stayed in a budget hotel in an area of town that had a lot of budget hotels. I'm now fairly certain it was some sort of "red light" district (though no one confirmed that). What the hotel receptionist did confirm was that all those ladies (in the below picture, some with umbrellas) standing outside the hotel were prostitutes. So sad. They were in front of every hotel and almost on every corner. This was taken at 10am. For some reason I didn't expect to see this in Singapore - or at least see it so blatantly advertised.
Needless to say, our budget hotel room was a glorified closet and we ended up going to stay the rest of our time at a guesthouse - which was great! It was located just three bus stops from the North end of Orchard Rd, the main shopping and restaurant area of the city, and near the metro which made it easy to get around town. Our first day at the guesthouse, we ate lunch and then hopped on a bus to head to Orchard Rd where we found a movie theater online. After getting our tickets for The Hobbit (boo-yah), we had an hour and a half to kill before the movie started. We had three objectives: exchange money, buy a SIM card, get Steven a haircut. After living in China for over a year, we figured if we accomplished one of those tasks it would be success. Not only did we successfully do all three things, I also was able to purchase some beauty products at an import store and we got lost in the basement of a HUGE shopping center for 15 minutes which resulted in eating Krispy Kreme donuts. It all felt like a dream.
|View of downtown behind us, taken on the skybridge at Gardens By the Bay|
While in Singapore, we explored Orchard Rd, visited Sentosa Island and the aquarium, checked out Gardens By the Bay and the downtown area with friends, and went to a water park. We also ate amazing food (including fajitas which were super delicious), saw a few movies and became masters of the public transportation system.
I don't really understand it, but not that long ago the area that is now Sentosa Island was underwater. Singapore bought dirt from Malaysia and Indonesia and reclaimed land from the sea. Crazy, right? I guess this has also been done in Holland and other places, but I had never heard of it. Anyways, it resulted in Singapore creating this amazing tourist island called Sentosa. It has world class resorts, Universal Studios, beaches, Hard Rock Cafe, tons of shopping, an aquarium that was amazing and lots of other things to do.
|On Sentosa in front of the "Merlion" - Singapore's mascot|
I was so impressed by the beaches. This island sits in the harbor of Singapore and just around the corner is the shipping yard. There are large cargo ships sitting out in the bay in front of Sentosa Island. So I wasn't expecting the beaches to be nice. I wish we'd brought a few chairs and some sunscreen! The beaches were clean and the water was clear.
We ventured out to the "Southernmost Point of Continental Asia" crossing this crazy suspension bridge. It was so idyllic (the island, not the bridge). Yeah, there was turf grass on that island, but it was peaceful. We visited on a Friday and there was almost no one out there. Notice in the above picture how there's almost no one on the beach.
|Crossing the suspension bridge|
|Bird's eye view of the bridge|
See how clear the water looks? Ok, in this picture it looks a little green, but it was aqua blue and you could see fish swimming around. There was some debris (leaves, twigs, etc) on parts of the shore, but other than that it was clean. Singapore is really clean and their beaches are no exception (especially when compared to Thailand).
We wandered around Sentosa a bit, getting lost at one point and having to figure out on the not-to-scale map how to get back to civilization. The only attraction on Sentosa we wanted to pay money for on this trip was the aquarium. There are so many things to do on Sentosa (have you clicked on the link yet?) we couldn't do them all. And it could quickly get expensive. So we opted for the aquarium.
The aquarium was incredible. Very well done with lots of huge viewing tanks and the world's largest viewing panel! We really enjoyed taking our time in the aquarium. We even bought a tuna sandwich and sat in front of the viewing panel and had lunch. Quite appropriate, yes?
|The shipwreck tank|
|Mini squid that kept changing color|
|A pufferfish puffed up!|
Literally seconds before we saw the above pufferfish, Steven said "I've never seen one puff up before." Well, there you have it!
|That is one big fish|
|The world's largest viewing panel|
At the viewing panel, they had the coolest music playing. It felt like we were watching the fish do underwater ballet. There were two giant manta rays that were circling the tank and it seemed they had perfect timing with the music. I could've sat there for hours, except that it was only a five minute song on repeat. Twenty minutes ended up being long enough.
As you leave the aquarium, you walk through the shark tunnel. I think the below picture captures how most people feel walking through a tunnel of sharks.
|"Run for your lives!"|
|Cue Jaws music...|
One of the other cool attractions we saw while in Singapore was the Gardens by the Bay. It's newer, only a few years old, and is free to enter the main garden. There are two domes that you have to pay extra to go into, we chose not to do that. As you walk around, there is a lot to see. We wandered through the Heritage Gardens for awhile where they feature different plants from all over the world, including cultural appreciation for certain species.
The highlight was getting up on the Skyway bridge in the Supertree Grove. You had a great view of downtown and the bay area. Really cool. There is also a new hotel, the Marina Bay Sands, that has been featured on Discovery programs for it's unique features, and we had a great view of that from the skyway as well.
|On the Skyway bridge|
|Eventually, these "trees" will be completely covered by plants|
|The Marina Bay Sands hotel (the roof features an infinity pool and garden area)|
To wrap up, we would call this one of our favorite vacations. It was relatively stress free and Singapore is just a great place to visit! It's modern and clean and there is so much to do. We really hope to make it back, especially now that we know there is a budget airline that flys direct from Nanjing to Singapore.
I will leave you with some funny bathroom signs we saw while there. For the record, these might be funnier if you have previously visited or lived in Asia. :-)
|Seen at Gardens by the Bay|
|Seen on a university campus. Poor Auntie Mary!|