So, the long awaited adventure began.
A quick note on the pictures used in this post. Basically, they were captured off my video, so please excuse the poor quality. Maybe if Megan posts, you might see some decent quality shots. There are also some more pics by clicking here.
It began on a pleasant Thursday night, near the end of February at Auckland International Airport. We were joined by my Auntie Margaret who we had not had a chance to say goodbye to and the ever-sleepy (this time with good reason) Dave.
We weren’t sure whether we were going to make it onto Business Class as we had been wait listed for economy. However, the list didn’t clear and we were bound for Singapore in luxury. The food and service were probably a touch better, but the only real differences were the great lounge at Auckland Airport and the ability to lie flat and sleep for at least a few hours.
The main reason I was so pleased to be on that flight was the arrival time. It got in at a very civil 6am local time, which left us with the entire day to enjoy Singapore.
We got a taxi from the airport to the hotel (you should always do this unless you’re travelling light as taxis are very reasonable, for us (to the M-Hotel) it was $16) and were fortunate enough to be able to check in early (about six hours early) and shower before heading off to Sentosa.
We spent most of the day at Sentosa. In hindsight, we did very well considering how far we’d come. We had decided before hand to get the gondola/cable car/whatever you want to call it to get to Sentosa (we also could have got there by taxi, bus, monorail or ferry). Before we got on, we enquired about how to buy tickets to different attractions on the island and were sold a package which was about NZ$90 for both of us including entry, cable car, underwater world, dolphin lagoon, butterfly centre and guided tour. I felt that I was being swindled (my first reaction when being sold anything as we will see later) but in hindsight it was good value, and paying the money up front meant that we could forget the cost and just enjoy the day.
When I had been in Singapore last time, my tutor Alan Prouse had told his class not to go to Sentosa. It turns out he’s a better SAP tutor than he is a tour guide. His opinion was that it was a fake, contrived, tourist trap. My opinion? He’s exactly right.
But that’s not the point. The point is, that it’s attractions, despite being contrived, are of amazing quality and are genuinely enjoyable. We went on a weekday, and were very glad we had, as I’m sure the place swells with locals on weekends.
The underwater world was easily the highlight. For the kiwi readers, think of Kelly Tarltons but seemingly heaps bigger and with heaps more fish, sharks etc. The Dolphin Lagoon and Butterfly Centre were also cool, but at least in my opinion didn’t quite reach the heights of underwater world.
Upon getting home from a busy day at Sentosa we realised that we hadn’t contacted New Zealand and they would soon be asleep (if not already). Unwilling to use the hotel internet, we went out on a fruitless search for an internet cafe which we later found (next day) was pretty much on the other side of town. Having not found it, we returned to the hotel and used their internet and it ended up not costing that much (a lesson learnt here, maybe).
After we got the email off, we found enough energy reserves to head off down to the river front (Boat Quay) for dinner. I had spent a romantic evening here with another woman some years ago, and since my memory of the place was tainted by spending it with her (sorry Sara, you were a much better work colleague than dinner guest), it was nice to replace the memory with the woman I would rather have been with.
We rounded the evening off by crossing the river and walking past the Fullerton Hotel, the Raffles Hotel, Singapore Cricket Club, a building which may or may not have been the town hall and a random Chinese New Year festival before returning to the hotel.
Saturday morning. Shopping day! “Oh yeah”….”Oh no.” Sorry, in-joke (watch the video below (guy catching on fire) if you want to be in on it too).
Having experienced problems the previous day with Megan running out of memory card space on her camera and me running out of battery life on my video camera, we decided to make China Town our first stop for some electronics purchasing. The day began ominously as we walked into the first shop to find a bunch of arguing Russian Sailors disputing a failed purchase.
At this point it’s probably worth me mentioning my strategy. Basically I had a list of items and I went from shop to shop getting quotes before returning to the best priced shop. They didn’t like this, as there was very little room for them to ‘pull one over’ on me.
The first guy somewhat happily gave me prices. To be honest, I think he wasn’t paying any attention, expecting the Russians to ransack his store at any moment.
We were directed to the second store by an Indian tailor who used to be in the army and who had spent time in Waiouru (New Zealand). The guy in the store (not the tailor) wasn’t enthusiastic, but managed the occasional smile and had pretty reasonable prices.
From here it went downhill fast. The third guy started smoking as we went to talk to him. I asked him if he would put it out and he told us (somewhat understandably) that he didn’t let customers tell him what to do. We left.
The fourth guy wasn’t smoking, but he wasn’t interested in us from the start. The first item I asked about was memory cards. He gave us a price and I asked what brand it was for. He refused to tell me. “What?” I thought. “Why wouldn’t he tell me?” So I persisted. He flat out refused to tell me anything about the products, and he got pretty rude. We left.
The fifth shop I walked into, the guy seemed ok, but obviously wasn’t happy about me comparing prices with other sellers. When I went to look at a tripod I almost knocked over one next to it, but caught it. I was greeted by this comment, “Careful, you’ll break my whole shop. That one is worth more than what you want to buy,” in a snarky derogatory voice. I walked out.
By this point, Megan had had enough, seriously stunned into culture shock with how these guys were treating us when compared to someone from a New Zealand store.
However I had the information I needed to corroborate the good prices we had received from number 2, so we went back and bought all that we’d wanted. I think Megan gave number 4 a nasty look as we walked back past his store with all our purchases.
Just a note to kiwis. Some things can make sense to buy in New Zealand, but not memory cards. We got a 2gb Toshiba SD card for about $40. We would have paid more than twice that for half the capacity in NZ.
Having gone through China Town we caught bus 80 to Bugis Street. Our destination here was the famous Sim Lim shopping complex. Five or six floors of purely electronics. Some people’s dream. In reality, it can be a bit overwhelming. This is the reason that we had done our serious shopping at China Town and were here for more of an experience. We did end up buying a very reasonably priced leather Lumix case for Megan’s camera.
After we were done with Sim Lim we walked across the road to Little India. It was quite amazing as it really was like India (at least in my memory and what I’ve seen on tv). I guess the change was quite striking as Chinese culture is more expected in Singapore, so going into Indian culture is quite a shock.
We had a good walk around and then had lunch at the air conditioned food court. While we were eating, an interesting Indian guy came and ate lunch with us. In hindsight he was ultra suspicious, and I should have been more careful of our belongings, but fortunately it either turned out that he was genuine or his accomplices were incompetent.
We left, with the next destination being Orchard Road. On the way I bought a shirt at a department store, OC, OG CJ? Something like that.
We walked to Orchard Road, don’t do that, I think there are buses or MRT routes that can get you there. We walked through shops until about four. Megan bought some clothes and we caught the MRT back to hotel. On the way I bought another shirt and Megan got some shoes (it was the same store where I got my suit last time). I think his stock probably falls off the back of trucks. His name’s also Peter, so that explains a lot.
Being a couple that makes the most of our time, we’d planned to go out to the famous Singapore Night Safari in the evening. Before going out we tried to find somewhere to eat, but because it was Saturday, and we were in the CBD, all the food courts were closed.
To get out to the Night Safari, we needed to catch the MRT and then a bus. However after getting off the MRT we were accosted by a dodgy looking guy who used the typical Singaporean trick of telling you that you would get something for free. “Something free!” Pete heard, grinding to a stop like a sheep hitting a wall.
Turned out he wanted to sell us tickets to the Night Safari, give us a free shuttle there, and for $5 each give us a shuttle back to our hotel. There didn’t seem to be a downside, but I felt swindled. In fact, I wish I hadn’t taken his offer as at every stage I thought the worst. I thought the shuttle wasn’t going to take us to the Night Safari, but to some tourist butchery. When we got there I was sure our tickets would be turned away. Once inside I waited for someone to tap me on my shoulder and drag me out, and even once we were finished I was sure that we would never get home.
All my fears were in vain. So if you get accosted by Mr Dodginess Personified, take his deal, because it is legit, but don’t spend the night worrying about it.
But seriously, the Night Safari was great. It didn’t film at all well (I don’t know why I didn’t try to use low light mode), but the animals are great. It’s particularly good value if you can hack a bit of extra animal action and go to the Zoo as well (during the day) and get a joint pass.
The final day dawned with nothing on the drawing board. It was nice. We got up, had breakfast and leisurely packed up our stuff.
Sometime during that period we decided to spend the day at Singapore Science Centre.
Out in Jurong East (the last station on it’s line), the Science Centre is a fairly average attraction, but a great way to spend a third day in Singapore.
The centre had lots of interactive exhibits across a broad range of scientific areas. However, it has seen better days. Many of the exhibits were out of order, and this gave the place the feeling of being just slightly decrepit.
On the other hand, after two busy days, we were ready for something a bit quieter. We happily wandered around the Science Centre and watched an excellent IMAX movie for about four or five hours. Apart from the movie, the highlight was the massive Tesla Coil. When I eventually get the video edited, you should check it out just for the Tesla Coil. Awesome.
When we were finished at the Science Centre, we headed back to the hotel, got changed and headed out to the airport for our flight through Paris to Manchester.
When we arrived at the airport there was a huge queue outside the Air France early check-in counters. There was no business class line (we were travelling business class) so we decided to just sit and relax until the proper counters opened in 45 minutes. Eventually the normal counters opened up and after 0 minutes of queuing we walked up and checked in. There were quite a few agro people around that had queued for hours for no reason. Oh well, that’s life.
Our final hours in Singapore were spent in a fruitless search for moisturiser for Megan (her desired product was over the EU liquid quota so it stayed in Singapore) and DS games (nowhere had the ones I wanted) for me. Just in case you ever felt a sense of loss at not getting access to the “skydeck” business class lounge at Singapore airport, don’t. The food wasn’t wonderful and the atmosphere (which I suppose they can’t really control) was pretty tense. It was a relief to leave and go get on the plane.
But the story from here on will have to wait for another post.