I have been living in Asia since 2008, and in that time I have travelled around most of the countries in East, Southeast, and Southern Asia. However, until this past weekend I had not visited Singapore.
“Why not?” you may well ask.
Well, for one thing it is regarded by many as one of the most boring countries on earth. William Gibson called it “Disneyland with the death penalty.” In Singapore, almost everything is illegal, it seems, and punishments are meted out with the fanaticism and frequency of a Middle Eastern nation rather than an advanced, modern country.
I was never really interested in Singapore for these reasons. I love Asia, but it’s Asia’s Asianness that attracts me. Whilst there is something to be said for places like Hong Kong and Shanghai, which are very much international zones, they are a bit boring. You could walk around and not know whether you were in New York or London… The same big buildings and big businesses litter the streets, and men in suits walk quickly with briefcases… Who cares?
Last year, I read a novel by Paul Theroux, one of my favourite writers. It is called Saint Jack, and it’s about a man living in Singapore in the 1970s. Even back then, he was bemoaning the loss of all that made Singapore great… or at least interesting. Still, the book was good enough that it made me slightly interested in seeing this city.
Then, of course, there is that mindless, pointless, weird drive that pushes me just to see a place for the sake of seeing it. I have visited all of Singapore’s neighbours, so why not Singapore? What if I one day leave Asia and start exploring South America? Then Singapore would be far away and would never get seen…
So I made the choice. Whilst living in Phuket, which is only an hour and a half flight away, I would go and see this tiny country and spend three days in Singapore.
Walking Around Singapore
I arrived in Singapore on Saturday afternoon and made my way by the airport’s shuttle bus (for a very reasonable $9) to my hostel in Little India. It is called InnCrowd and it seemed alright from the HostelWorld profile, but in fact it was small and generally crap. Ah well, what is a hostel but a place to lay one’s head in the evening?
I set out walking across the country/city in search of a bar to watch the Rugby World Cup final. I was horrified to find that there were no bars anywhere near me… or at least none that I could find… or that were showing the rugby.
It was a full hour’s walk to a swanky modern district near Chinatown where I found a sports pub called the Lion’s Den. Here, I drank two eye-wateringly expensive beers as I watched England being beaten by South Africa. I missed the first 20 minutes due to the excessive walking involved, but it was worth it. As a Scottish person, my sports affiliations generally work on the principle: “Anyone but England.”
After the game, I wandered around the town as darkness fell. I hadn’t known what to expect, but actually Singapore was quite pleasant at night. I meandered rather aimlessly and spent some time shooting photos:
The next morning, I set out for a full day’s walk around Singapore. I hopped a subway train headed north for the botanic gardens, expecting that to be the first of many stops. However, the gardens were huge and attractive, and I somehow spent a whole day there. Partly, this may have been due to the heat and the amount of walking I did, which caused me to stop often and rest on the many park benches.
The botanic gardens were certainly impressive. Founded (like most things) by the British, they have been well-maintained. They once acted as an area for genetic experimentation, which resulted in the proliferation of rubber and other important cash crops around Asia. Nowadays, they are home to a wide variety of plants, from beautiful, colourful flowers to unimaginably high trees. There are also a great many lizards, turtles, and birds to see.
After my walk around the gardens, I decided to stroll home, but soon grew tired and stopped off in another pub. Good lord, beer is expensive in Singapore. A single drink can cost as much as US$8 even at happy hour!
As with the previous evening, I stopped for dinner in Little India, which offered good and relatively cheap food at a number of restaurants frequented both by locals and tourists. Then it was back to the miserable little hostel that I had booked.
On my first day in Singapore, I had walked 15 kilometres, and on the second I somehow managed 14km. When I woke up on day three, my right foot and ankle were purple and swollen. I had planned another long day of walking, but evidently age was catching up with me. It was my thirty-fourth birthday.
I walked from Little India to nearby Kamgpong Glam, which is the Muslim district. It was beautiful and I spent some time strolling around, shooting photos. I stopped off for a cup of tea at a little restaurant. In India, several years ago, I fell in love with the chai culture, and this was my first return to it. It was wonderful. The owner pushed me to have breakfast but I declined and said I’d return for dinner, which I did, many hours later.
I saw the Masjid Sultan and explored the adjacent tourist/shopping streets. I was surprised that there were several bars. Of all the places to look, I hadn’t suspected the Muslim district would be the place to find booze.
Somehow, on a swollen ankle, I walked from Kampong Glam to the Gardens by the Bay – a swanky, upmarket area where many of the famous photos of Singapore are taken. This is where you will find the exotic gardens, those big weird fake trees, and the Marina Bay building that has become an icon of the city.
By this time, the pain in my foot and ankle were getting unbearable and I walked and sat in short intervals, before taking the subway back to Kamgpong Glam and settling in at a bar for several drinks. It was, again, shockingly expensive, even at happy hour, but it was my birthday and I didn’t have much else to do except knock back a few.
After dinner, I hobbled to the restaurant I visited earlier, ate some Nasi Goreng, and then made my slow way back to the hostel.
It had been a good three days in Singapore, and I was glad to have finally visited. Although it had never been on my list of countries to see, Singapore proved an interesting destination for a few days. There was plenty I hadn’t seen, but with my foot hurting and energy dwindling (not to mention the expense of nearly everything), I didn’t bother. Besides, I was content to have enjoyed the botanic gardens and the architecture. I highly doubt that I will be back, but I am glad I went.