In this last part of Travel Geek: Documentary Singapore, I finish my journey by taking the sky-high cable car from Mount Faber to Sentosa Island to take a dip with live, man-eating sharks. The last thing I do is visit the world famous Raffles Hotel and have a sip of the famed Singapore Sling in the very place it was invented.
In the evening, I headed over to Little India to experience what all the fuss was about: the food.
Just past Mustafa Center is the section of town that leads to Arab Street, the famed location of many amazing restaurants and even the growing glamour of Kampong Glam (Glam Village). Here, you’ll find an array of delicacies – not the least of which is stingray sauté.
And of course, how can one eat out with friends and not share some “shisha?”
Shisha is a long time favorite item of restaurant goers here. After dark, younger adults to senior citizens group-order food and wash it all back with a bubbly brew of their choosing – much to the chagrin of the Muslim locals in the area.
The key ingredient, though, is flavored tobacco from a giant water bong known as a hookah. And because of the way that it is inhaled, it’s both incredibly addictive and extremely harmful. In fact, it’s about 200 times more dangerous than smoking cigarettes. But that doesn’t seem to stop these anxious smokers from indulging.
In any case, after some lovely eats and chats with others having a coke-and-a-toke, I ended my night by catching up on journals and planning for the next day. Which, of course, was epic.
Be sure to come back in a couple days and check out the video from indoor skydiving, swimming with man-eating sharks, a mile-high cable car and much more!
Today, I was in for another wonderful day of heat. But I won’t complain about that anymore than to just say that I sweat non-stop for every moment that I was not indoors. In fact, for the most part, If I was awake I was pretty much sweating the entire time.
That’s not to say that all places in Singapore are hot. In fact they love their malls so much that they air condition the sidewalks just so that people are comfortable walking around to buy things. Now that’s a generation of dedicated shoppers.
And amazing malls aren’t the only things that I’d see on my photo-walk through Singapore’s Bugis area. I must have walked seven or eight miles throughout the course of the day, too. And while incorporating old colonial era architecture with the new age design of the world’s elite planners, this region of Singapore is truly worth the work to see.
It was nice to see just how much of the old cultural influence still has a hold on this futuristic, artsy, progressive city.
I stayed mostly away from the myriad shopping complexes in the city. I know that Singapore is famous for its shopping. But because of that, I am sure there are other places to find documentaries and blogs about them. No, sir. This trip was more about squeezing the “real” Singapore out of this place.
And where better than cultural heritage spots, museums and the old quarters. In this tiny island nation, there are plenty of those. But luckily, while the culture is spread out all over, the museums and dedicated architecture has a centralized location and can be browsed at an even walking pace in one afternoon or so.
I eventually made my way around to the opulent palace-like hotel where the original Singapore Sling was invented and first served. There is a lot of history in this place as well.
In 1887, the Sarkies brothers, Armenian emigrants, opened this bar in its first form – a 10 room bungalow. From there, its success was certain.
It soon grew into what was known around the world as the classy-people’s diner. Ngiam Tong Boon invented the Singapore sling, which now costs a bewildering $26 and tastes like costs much less. The very last of the world’s Singaporean Tigers was shot dead underneath a pool table, having escaped from the zoo and finally cornered here. In 1991 it had a $160-million renovation which brought it to its present form. And if you’re in the area and have an extra $750 lying around, feel free to book a room.
After cooling down and taking a breather, I headed back out to continue my photo walk to check out what else there was. There are churches and cathedrals all over the place. And there’s no need for a guide to make it around to all these places. Anyone walking around in this area likely works or lives there. So they should be able to direct you to all the hot spots.
And speaking of hot spots, I stopped by the Cafe La Caire and made some new friends, ate some great food and made another wonderful memory for the second day of my trip.
When I woke up, I realized that I’d slept away a good part of what was left of the day. But I still had a couple of nighttime hours left. So I decided to do the night safari next to the Singapore Zoo.
It was amazing! Saying that it was up close and personal doesn’t really do this cage-free park much justice. I saw a pride of lions feeding on fresh beef from right across the street. There were wild giraffes, elephants and rhinos roaming free — no chains, no fences — nothing to keep them from leaving their little area.
I’ve included this video as an outtake. But I won’t give too much away. You’ll have to see the full video once it’s released to get all the goodies.
I was inches away from giant bats called flying foxes inside the exhibit. These guys had three-foot wingspans and I was so close to them, they were grabbing at my camera. One even flew over my head and touched down for a fraction of a second as he buzzed me!
I even saw a 7-meter crocodile-like Indian Ghavial from right underneath my feet as I leaned over an eerily low-built bridge. Never fear, however, because while these animals look like they’d make quick work of just about any size of animal, this is a fish-eating reptile.
The list of animals is a little too numerous to name here. But the video should be coming out soon. So keep an eye out for that. Suffice it to say that I was impressed and overjoyed to have had the opportunity to see this amazing, new part of Singapore. It’s highly recommended.
On the way back, I decided to hop off the bus at the Chinatown center and walk back from there. It was a hell of a walk (which ended up taking me from 11pm until 1am), so I would probably advise against doing this at night, since it traipses through a small red light district where plenty of drunks are stumbling about.
But the nightlife was cool to see. Singapore definitely ties one on in the wee hours.
One last shower would finish me off as I could feel my eyes getting heavy by the time I hit the bunk for the night.
To get to Singapore, I boarded the train at Bahau, Malaysia. They said it would be a nice, comfortable, air conditioned 5-hour trip. Instead, it was an uncomfortable, overcrowded, 8 hour trip with a rattling air conditioned unit that broke 30 minutes into the trip.
I was in good spirits, though, so I didn’t let that get to me.
There was a slight drizzle when I arrived at the station that turned into a downpour that only let up just before we got to the Singapore border. And all the while, I was shrugging off the unbelievably smelly, older Chinese man that kept falling asleep on me like I was his wife. Eventually, I found that it was a bit more comfortable (and hidden away from the slight smell of human bodies cooking in the humid air inside the coach) sitting at the opened door of the back of the train. Thankfully, the rules are much more lax on these third-world transit monsters.
I can say with all confidence that I was very pleased at my forethought to bring along food with me on the train. Something told me that it would be a non-stop train on which there’d likely be no in-transit food service. When the train left, 25 minutes behind schedule (6:10am), I figured it would be a bit longer than they told me. But the food (some plums, bananas, a couple ramly burgers and a hotdog cooked into a croissant) definitely stayed me over what would otherwise have been an uncomfortable, hot, elongated trip while starving – and therefore likely being very cranky.
The night before I left, I only got a couple hours sleep because I was busy catching up on things and packing for the early morning trip that left after a long day at work (when I was called in unexpectedly). So I actually wound up getting some sleep along the way.
Once aboard the train, I asked the coach official where I needed to go to find my seat because the ticket was written in Malay and of the 10-or-so words that I know in Malay, the ticket included none of them. He shrugged, not seeming to care that much whether I found my way and I brushed past him with my equipment in tow just to passively let him know that I was not in the mood to give him any more patience than he’d offered me.
I was panting and sweating all over the bags that I’d just finished organizing in a safe and out-of-the-way place (as much as possible on the zoo of a train car that it was), when the same coach official came to me and asked for my ticket. It was then that he began to care about where my seat was located. He then directed me to move from the slightly uncomfortable, air conditioned car that I’d slumped over in, to the very uncomfortable, hot one for which my ticket was designated.
I made little fuss and grabbed up my things to give him a second pass at the back of my tripod bag, ensuring that he knew I was still aware of his universally translating distaste for foreign travelers.
In any case, I spent the next 10 sweaty minutes wading through overflowing luggage, pushing open steamed glass doors to each next car and tripping over the little, Asian feet sticking out into the aisle to finally get to my seat.
Reluctantly, but with optimism, I made myself as comfortable as possible and positioned myself to catch some shut-eye after eating a little bit of my breakfast.
Once past customs, I found out that my train would not be continuing any further into the country. So I had to head for the taxi queue outside.
Next stop: Little India, to lock in my accommodation at the Shop House Hostel and take in the flavor and atmosphere of the Kampong Glam – the sauciest, hippest gathering of restaurants in the east-of-center downtown area.
Once I’d exchanged some money I checked in, locked up my things, ate the rest of my food and took a quick shower, I napped for a few hours in hopes of catching up to the non-groggy, non-agitated person that I strive to be. Then it was off to explore Singapore.