Singapore 101, Podcast #18


Singapore 101 is the ultimate survivor’s guide to travel in the island nation. From tasty eats to nightlife, to currency matters and more, this Travelcast covers everything you’ll need to know for the best time in Singapore.

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Top Ten Photography Tips for Singapore


Okay, so this is wa- haa-hay more than ten tips. But I thought I would round it down and save some title space.

1. Depending on which time of the year, Singapore is a bright city. Take full advantage of the golden hours outside. But the rest of the day should probably be used for indoor photography.  This won’t be a difficult decision, though, since midday hours are the hottest time of day.

Highlights:

2. You will probably get some great aerial photography taking the cable car over to Sentosa Island during the day. But at night, there are definitely some great photographic opportunities from inside the Singapore Flyer.  Other good high points will include the Marina Bay Sands Hotel & Casino, the university library and any tall building that you can gain access to.  These will be good for day or night shots.

3. Landscape shots can be achieved from just about anywhere in the city from rooftops. But the city also hires out helicopter rides over the entire area starting around $300/half-hour. Check with singaporeheliservices.com.sg/ for booking. And call well in advance.

4. As far as architectural shooting, I would choose a downtown location for evening shooting, depending on where you want the sun. Scouting the morning and night before you shoot will afford you a solid shooting schedule to fit into the very tight window of golden hour light.  Remember, this place is pretty close to the equator, so those dramatic light shots are limited to less hours than, say, somewhere farther north or south in the mid-latitudes.

5. For street portraiture, stick to the heavily trafficked times. The rail system and bridges, as well as public buses, may be off limits due to heavy regulations on filming or stills.  Check with other public works spaces for regulations on this as well.  You will get your kookiest characters at night in and around the Geyland Red-light District and along Arab Street.

6. For nature photography, you can’t go wrong heading into any one of the many public gardens and parks throughout the city.  These places are well kept, manicured daily and almost always free.  And you’re sure to find some rare plants and insects abound.

Gear:

7. Singapore is a city in which you can run-and-gun to your heart’s desire. A tripod may as well be a ball-and-chain for much of what you’ll want to shoot here. The heat is also going to be a factor in how long you will want to stay outside. So unless you’re shooting time-lapse off a bridge (which may be illegal anyway), just go guerilla-style.

8. Fisheye and wide angle lenses work great downtown. It’s colorful enough in the evening that it might justify bringing the sticks out for a nice, panoramic shot.  30-50mm prime lenses will do great in capturing nice, fast action on the sidewalks for your street photography.  But if you head up to the cable cars, helicopter rides or find a nice perch at your rooftop hostel lounge, don’t forget your 200+mm telephoto. There is enough action to justify bringing the extra weight.

9. As I mentioned before, there is no shortage of light during the dry season. This means you’ll probably want a set of Neutral Density filters. In the rainy season, a polarizer might work nicely for cleaning up those later evening high-humidity shots.

10. Weather can be a bit tricky from September to January as the rainy season throughout the region is in full effect during this time.  So if your travel plans have you going there in these months, be sure to bring a zippered raincoat to quickly stow a camera as the rain comes on quite quickly. It might not be a bad idea to carry a large umbrella (though I can’t even count how many of these I have left leaning against a fence because I was so focused on shooting that I forgot about it).  If you can find a way to attach it to a tripod or your backpack, that’s probably the best way to go. And of course, you’ll definitely want to have a cover for your gear bag. This should be with you anyway. But it’s worth a mention.

11. As for wind and dust, you should already have a dust rocket and fiber cloth. But if you don’t, add them to your pack.  You’ll also want to be mindful of changing lenses in the wind here. There is all manner of microscopic wind-borne debris floating around Southeast Asia. And Singapore is no exception.

12. One note about this region that you may either love or hate (but will otherwise still want to know about) is that around August every year, there is a country-wide burning session that takes place in the rice fields of Sumatra. And because of the trade winds pushing west-to-east from Indonesia, the haze that it creates causes havoc all the way up to northern Malaysia.

You could either use this haze to add drama to your shooting style, or it could quite possibly be the bane of your shooting experience here. It all depends on how you prepare and what you’re trying to shoot.  And in either case, you’ll also want to be mindful of your health as the experience of being here during that time is a lot like standing in front of a campfire for three straight weeks.

Safety:

13. Your gear will be safe here. Don’t leave it sitting around, of course, and you’ll leave home with everything that you haven’t personally lost or broken by yourself.

Clothing and the rest:

14. Singapore is non-stop. So whatever you bring, make sure that patience and stamina are right there with you. You’ll be sweating, too. So a handkerchief and loose, light clothing would also be helpful. You won’t have to climb anything that isn’t made of concrete, either. So a light, breathable pair of tennis shoes will do the trick over the heavier hiking boots that other Southeast Asian countries might require.

15. Singapore has some strange laws. Among them are No Spitting, No Swearing, No Drinking in Public, and, sadly, No Filming on Public Lands. What does this mean for you, the photographer?  Well, it could mean many things. I personally have a home office in the U.S. and lawsuits across the pond normally die before they get started due to money, time and effort. But if you’re photographing a business with contacts in your home country, this could spell trouble. Model releases normally quash any question of future legal hassles. Keep them on hand. I’ve actually gotten to the point where I just have one copy on hand and have people sign a list indicating that they have read and understand the model, talent and property release that I can show them upon request.

Having said all this, it is strongly recommended that you do not publish any work that has not been released. If it can be construed as defamatory, fraudulent or otherwise piss someone off in general, you will be at the mercy of a court system you likely know nothing about. And you don’t want to end up in that situation. Get home before you publish your blogs. Singapore is not that big of a place. So you probably won’t be there that long anyway. And I wish I could say that I have never heard of anyone getting in trouble for what they publish in this part of the world, but I have indeed. And most of the time, this results in stiff fines and even imprisonment.

This goes for Malaysia as well. North of that all the way to China, you should be fine. But do not think that just because your blog only has a thousand followers, you won’t be picked up here. Play it safe and publish later.

That’s about it. If you have any questions or want to keep the conversation going, head over to travelgeekmagazine.com and comment on the post.

Thanks for listening and happy shooting!

Singapore 101: A Crash Course in Cheap Travel, Food, Lodging & More


The Republic of Singapore has Southeast Asia’s best economy. So if you visit at the end of your trip through the region, it may come as a shock to find out that it costs a bit more than its regional neighbors.

It’s also an island city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, 137 kilometers north of the equator. So you may be finding yourself spending a little more time in restaurants and attractions to escape the heat. And these have a way of costing money.

First off: Transportation.

Getting to Singapore by air is up to you and I can’t speak to costs there. But if you’re coming from Malaysia, there are two options (outside of renting your own car): the bus or the train.

I have taken both on my various trips. And I would recommend either. Both will cost anywhere from $10 to $25 depending on your level of chosen comforts. If I had to choose between the two, I’d go with the bus, however, because they are newer than the trains (which, in my opinion, sorely need overhauling).

I’ve never rented my own car, but I have heard that it is not an issue, coming from Malaysia. So for those of you who are brave (and wealthy) enough to afford this option, off to the forums with you!

While you’re in Singapore, transportation won’t be an issue. It’s a small place packed to the brim with fun stuff to do. For my top ten list of things to do in Singapore, see below or listen to the podcast here.

Hands-down, the cheapest way to get around Singapore is the public transportation system. The buses are safe and super cheap. And the same thing goes for the train. Both of these will get you to just about any place in the city for less than US$3 (one-way). But most hop-on, hop-off rides will cost less than US$1.

I won’t go into the mapping details. But you won’t have a problem asking locals which bus goes where. Everyone speaks English fluently throughout the city. And I was never given the wrong information. Also if they don’t know, they won’t send you in the wrong direction to save face, they will just tell you they don’t know.  For rail transit system, just ask the on-duty safety officer, if an actual transportation agent is not at your stop.

Secondly: Lodging.

As in most places, the cost of lodging will swing widely based on your minimum expectations.  I am a budget traveler, so I probably have the best advice for the shoestring visitor.

In a place like Singapore (and by that, I mean in a place where there are a lot of millionaires), the hotels even on the mid-range will likely match that of higher-priced hotels in other Southeast Asian countries. Remember, Singapore has Southeast Asia’s highest economy. So they hold themselves to a higher sense of class.

Now, this doesn’t mean that they are uptight (okay, some are — like the Singapore Art Museum, for instance). But it does mean that you’ll have to spend a little more of your budget on hotel and hostel stays.

The good news is that you will likely find yourself in much cleaner accommodations than in the other countries in this region. If you’re okay with low-to-mid-ranged budgets, you might want to shoot for Little India or Chinatown. These locations are known for their cheaper and livelier centers of attention. They are also surrounded by restaurants and attractions. So what you might lose in your lodging budget, you might make up for in saving taxi fares.

I was able to secure a three-night stay at the Shophouse Hostel on Arab Street (which represented the norm at the time I researched it), for US$12/night.  This was not only the most competitive price; it was also the very good for the money. It was clean, the staff was super nice, and the owner even came out to help me film on my documentary at Sentosa Island.

Lastly: Food.

While traveling through Singapore, you’ll find that you have a lot of options in the food department. So it follows that you’ll have a wide price range as well.  And depending on your level of courage, you may just end up saving money in this department.

All in, eating from food stalls all day will cost less than US$10.  Restaurants will double that sum. But this includes non-alcoholic drinks and three meals a day.

Alcohol is very expensive once you go south of Thailand. Singapore is no exception. A pint will set you back as much as US$5 and forget about the club prices. Just buy a few cans and dance in the hostel’s upper lounge.

Much of the food in Singapore is fried. So if you’re a health nut or if your system isn’t that forgiving, you can add $10 per day to get away from the more easily and quickly cooked foods.

Some amazing delicacies and local favorites here include stingray soup and nasi lamuk (coconut milk rice) with chicken and veggies. The closer to the Geylang Red-light District you venture, the more adventurous the food gets (think cow tongue and pig penis).

Some important facts:

Dialing code: 65

Weather: 31°C, Wind SW at 11 km/h, 62% Humidity

Local time: UTC+8

Currency: Singapore Dollar

Official languages: English Language, Malay Language, Tamil, Standard Mandarin

Currency conversion:

100.00 USD         =             125.511 SGD

US Dollar              ↔          Singapore Dollar

1 USD = 1.25511 SGD      1 SGD = 0.796746 USD

Travel concerns:

Safety isn’t too big a concern here. Lock up your stuff in lockers, be attentive of your belongings and don’t go and do something stupid like hang your money out of your pocket and you should be fine.

Women: you will be stared at by Indian-Malays and Muslim men.

LGBT: Don’t announce too heavily in the conservative areas.

Travel Geek: Documentary Singapore, Part Four


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.

Travel Geek: Documentary Singapore, Parts One & Two


Thanks to diligence and hard work (or more like luck and having a blast), I have finally finished the next edition to the Travel Geek documentary series.

On the first day in Singapore, I walk all throughout the city and eat tasty dishes,  go skydiving in the world’s biggest indoor wind tunnel and coast above the city on the world’s tallest observation wheel, the Singapore Flyer.

Below, enjoy the introduction (Part One), and “Day One” of the trip that I took the last week of March (Part Two) below.