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Fun In Singapore

Posted on | March 17, 2010 | No Comments

Now that I’ve had enough time to recover from our recent vacation, I may as well write about it. We took a well deserved family break this past weekend for a short holiday in Singapore. Like most vacations that we  take, it was too short. My general rule for travel is, plan to spend at least one full day and night for every hour you are on the airplane one way. For the three hours we were in the air getting there, we spent only two full nights. I really could have used the extra day just to relax. On to it, for whoever may be interested.

I was a little nervous about going to Singapore. Any American citizen who was not in a coma in 1994 will remember Michael Fay who received four strokes of a cane for vandalism. I wasn’t worried about that per say, I’m not one to cause / get into any trouble. In the back of my mind, however, was a nervousness that I might inadvertently and unwittingly break some local law and end up with a hefty fine to pay (or worse). I hate to admit it, but I’m a smoker and I read in many places that Singapore is a very strict non-smoking country.

I could not have been farther from the truth. Upon arrival, we spent less than ten minutes getting out of the airport. The immigration officer that processed us was extremely friendly and gave our daughter some candies in exchange for a smile. I do a lot of traveling and I was surprised when we weren’t asked the typical “How long do you plan to stay, what is the nature of your visit” sorts of questions. I was also impressed at how well organized the airport was, everything you needed is just a few steps away from wherever you might be standing.

My wife and I had agreed ahead of time that we’d make this a budget trip, so that we could spend the bulk of our vacation bucks on attractions rather than food or transportation. This meant figuring out quickly how the trains work, figuring out how to get to our hotel using the train, and figuring out how to walk from where we alight to where we were staying. We did pretty well, we got within a few blocks of our hotel and encountered some construction that set us off on  detour, where we promptly got lost. A $4 cab ride and a few blocks later we were checking in.

If you ever go to Singapore, I highly recommend staying in Little India at The Perak Hotel. The rooms are quite modest but the service is well beyond what you would expect from a four star resort. The showers are hot, the beds are comfortable, the free breakfast is great and the ambiance of the surrounding neighborhood is priceless. If you like curry, come hungry, you’ll find plenty of great places to eat just a few meters away from the hotel. You are also a few minutes away from most of the malls and shopping.

Singapore has a few kinds of weather: hot, hotter, hotter and rainy. After being in Manila for so long I thought I had grown impervious to tropical climates. I hate to say it, but the equator kicked my butt. If you explore on foot, take a pack and bring water. A small umbrella is also a good idea, rains begin suddenly. Additionally , the umbrella can provide some shade.

Shopping is fun if you  go to the right places. Avoid the malls, go to the wet markets where you can bargain and negotiate. There are deals to be had in electronics and clothing, but take your time to shop your best price. Additionally, beware knock off goods – if something is too cheap to believe, its probably a fake. We spent the first full day mostly getting lost exploring. Fortunately, my wife remembered that she had a map in her backpack, which she picked up from the airport .. several hours into being lost exploring.

Day two was spent mostly at Singapore Zoo, which was really impressive. Our daughter loved the elephant show and tigers, I had fun looking at the monkeys. The zoo is basically a jungle with some asphalt paths and is very well maintained. The entry fee is a little steep but its worth it, plus you know your money is going to a good cause. We originally planned to visit Singapore Flyer, currently the tallest ferris wheel in the world. Unfortunately, the skies were so cloudy that the view would have been anything but spectacular and we were completely beat after hiking around the zoo.

Back to what I originally said about being afraid of unwittingly breaking some law. My usual motto served me well, when in doubt – don’t. I found plenty of places to grab a few puffs, though I did notice that most people just smoked wherever they pleased. I can’t stand litterbugs to begin with, so naturally I’m used to pocketing my trash. Don’t jay walk, avoid heated exchanges with the numerous people who are going to bump into you and not excuse themselves and don’t overstay your visa. Beyond that, the average person who isn’t prone to getting into trouble should have a pretty good time. Yet, there is no excuse for not doing your research if you plan to travel to other countries. Everyone I encountered there was either outwardly friendly or just kept to themselves, its not hard to blend in and get along.

We left just before the grand opening of Universal Studios Singapore, if and when we return we’ll probably go just for that. Even if it puts us an hour away from what we want to do, I still plan on staying in Little India.

I keep waiting to take a vacation that doesn’t require another vacation to recuperate. At least nobody came down with chicken pox this time :)

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