Last day in Singapore

15 March 2014

After a morning chat with my parents and putting away our laundry it was time to start the day with some coffee from Chye Seng Huat Hardware.  This was the first time we had walked in and had to wait in line to order as the place was packed. As per usual the topic of the day was where to eat.

Such a delicious cup of coffee

Such a delicious cup of coffee

Well, since we loved the noodles so much today we went back to Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle.  As it was the weekend, it seemed that a few other people had the same idea.  After waiting in line for about an hour, which is well worth it, we were finally able to enjoy the delicious noodles. Once again we were the only white people at this small hawker center, and the older couple who collects trays, checked in on us a few times to make sure we were enjoying our meal.  As Adam said, “I think the old dude has mad respect for us,” as we could barely stop slurping our noodles to get out and “excellent” and of course give a thumbs up (yeah, ‘merica).

Our destination for the night was Chomp Chomp Hawker Center to search out some good seafood. Once we got off the metro, it was a short walk thru part of the mall (shock, not!) to the bus terminal which was smartly set up. There were signs on the floor and above the tapped markings on the floor of the bus numbers inside a nice air-conditioned section of the mall, so once the bus arrived the doors opened and you walked on, now if only every city could have such civilized bus stops.DSC_5044

After a quick lap around the center we found two seats and soon ordered what we had come for, stingray.  I was a bit hesitant but Adam had been talking about it since we arrived and to my surprise I really did enjoy it.  The texture was different from normal fish with it almost being a nice combination of fish and chicken.  And the taste was phenomenal with a sweet spicy sambal sauce that went perfect. DSC_5050

Our table mates were also enjoying a nice meal and we had struck up some friendly conversation, when one dish came out I had to ask what they were having, after they told me that they were deep fried prawns and without hesitation they offered us two to try.

You really can't go wrong with fried food

You really can’t go wrong with fried food

We had to add some veggies to the mix

We had to add some veggies to the mix

And the milk pudding place next door provided a great dessert too!

Happy BBQ, home to great stingray and fried prawns. And the milk pudding place next door provided a great dessert too!

It took just one bite and a look of agreement and we had a plate on its way to our table. And next they were offering us a few other items to try, one of them a very tasty noodle dish which they had waited over an hour to get. This was also where we found the best sugar cane juice.  You would think it would be way too sweet and just taste like sugar water, but it was surprisingly fresh and refreshing and not overly sweet at all.

A surprisingly refreshing drink, sugar cane juice

A surprisingly refreshing drink, sugar cane juice

Plus the sign says it's healthy

Plus the sign says it’s healthy

After dinner at Chomp Chomp, we hopped back on the bus, but since we only read the number and not the direction it was heading, we took a lovely self-guided tour of the neighborhood. And about 30 minutes later we were back at the bus stop for Chomp Chomp and then continued on our way back towards the metro.  We then headed off back down to the marina to take in the last of the iLight Marina Bay exhibits that we hadn’t been able to explore previously (the display was massive and clearly we keep getting side tracked).

Tall people problems, I stopped counting how many times I hit my head on these. And this car didn't have the very low handles

Tall people problems, I stopped counting how many times I hit my head on these. And this car didn’t have the very low handles

We got off the metro at the Marina Bay Sands hotel and walked outside to start our way up the west side of the bay, but got distracted by a concert we were hearing off in the distance.

The light displays seemed endless and Adam probably could have stayed and snapped pictures for hours, but I wanted to check out the source of the tunes in the distance

The light displays seemed endless and Adam probably could have stayed and snapped pictures for hours, but I wanted to check out the source of the tunes in the distance

We could hear some Rolling Stones songs being played and at first thought there must be a really good cover band playing at one of the outdoor stages, but once I looked up and saw the tongues projected onto the bottom of the spaceship that is the Sands, I thought, there must be copyright laws there is no way a cover band could get away with using that logo. And sure enough as we got closer it was clear that it was the real Rolling Stones playing a live concert right in front of us……sorta. The Stones were in fact playing a concert inside the Marina Bay Sands and the hotel was live streaming the show on big screens and speakers outside for everyone to see. It was great because with the sound system and sizable crowd it really felt like you were actually at the concert. It was a great surprise find and we couldn’t have asked for a better ending to our last night in the city.

Mick and the boys doing their thing

Mick and the boys doing their thing

DSC_5080DSC_5082After the Stones finished up their encore we continued on our way to take in the remaining iLight exhibits that we hadn’t seen.

Watch out for the gators

Watch out for the gators

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Put your dukes up

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After walking around the western end of the bay we ended up checking out the Fullerton Hotel, which if you have the money, stay here and not the Sands, this place is way classier. Plus the Fullerton Bay Hotel lobby smells like a flower and the structure itself is the old dock, so you can actually feel some history in this town! After wandering through the lobby we wanted to get in one last sight and see the infamous Merlion fountain which acts as Singapore’s mascot. However as we walked up to the Merlion it was covered in scaffolding with a sign saying that it would be for cleaning starting today for the next two weeks. I guess that’s what we get for waiting until our last day before trying to see the sight.  Oh well, at least now we have another reason to come back to Singapore, that and all the food.

But of course this is the first day it is covered for repairs

But of course this is the first day it is covered for repairs

 

But at least we found this cool bridge and lighting just to the left of the Merlion

But at least we found this cool bridge and lighting just to the left of the Merlion

 

And this adventure also lead us to this lovely bridge

And this adventure also lead us to this lovely bridge

Today’s Travel: Around Singapore: iLight Marina Bay, Chomp Chomp Hawker Center

Accommodations: Kam Leng Hotel. Room 216

Walk till you drop

14 March 2014

So, after our marathon eating session last night, we surprisingly didn’t have much of an appetite for breakfast (ha!) and instead spent the morning enjoying a nice chat with my brother and his family.

By early afternoon we’d manage to digest enough food to have some room for lunch so we headed out to Little India to get some Indian food at Komala Vilas which turned out to be a fantastic choice (thanks Yelp! for still being reliable here). We ordered up a few different dishes and everything we had was excellent.  After lunch, it was back to the hotel to catch up on some blogging.IMG_1095

Later in the evening we decided to head back down to the Marina area to take in more of the iLight Marina Bay exhibits as well as to explore the Gardens at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

Making our way out of the metro. And this wasn't even a very busy time.

Making our way out of the metro. And this wasn’t even a very busy time.

And since it made a convenient starting off point we decided to head back to Makansutra’s Gluttons Bay for dinner. After filling up on a few different dishes (and of course we got the fried bananas for dessert again) we were off exploring the different exhibits that we hadn’t had a chance to see the other night.

The  Esplanade Theater, just behind it you will find Makansutra’s Gluttons Bay

The Esplanade Theater, just behind it you will find Makansutra’s Gluttons Bay

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Taking in a summer time  concert just outside the Esplanade

Taking in a summer time concert just outside the Esplanade

 

One of the exhibits that we wanted to capture was a light projection broadcast on the Art Science Museum (which is shaped like a giant lotus) that told the history of Singapore. As soon as we got everything set up and were waiting for the show to start (it would run about every 15 minutes), all of a sudden it changed and the light show changed to lights being shined on the Marina Bay Sands Hotel that wasn’t that impressive.  We assumed the other light show was over for the evening, but kept telling ourselves, let’s give it a few more minutes and it might change back.  Well after waiting for a while we decided to pack up and move on and as we started walking on to the next stop Adam asked “What are the odds the it goes back to the show we wanted to photograph?” to which I replied “A 99% chance” and what do you know after a few more steps of course the light show was back on so we returned and captured the different reflections on the building.SingaporeDSC_4869DSC_4872DSC_4850DSC_4882

It was then on to the Gardens by the Bay at the Marina Bay Sands. Of course the hotel entrance we were close to was also an entrance to a mall so once we figured out the maze and managed to exit, we were outside a few stories up from the waterfront.  It was the best view of the city skyline that we have found.  And since we are cheap and not shelling out the $25+ to go to the top of the sands, I am going to just assume the view is probably better here!

Not a bad view

Not a bad view

After stopping for a while we continued on our way to reach the gardens. The highlight of the gardens is giant metal structures shaped like trees, which are filled with vines and then lit up in different colors.  It creates quite an impression, especially at night to walk through the ‘trees’ some of which reach 16 stories high.  After wandering around the gardens for a while it was time to head back to the metro before it shut down and make our way back to our hotel.DSC_4986DSC_4991DSC_4997DSC_5026DSC_5027

Somehow it was 11:30pm and we were still awake and walking out of the metro station when the Wendy’s at the top of the escalator caught our eye.  The thought of a frosty after walking around for the last five hours sounded heavenly.  So we walked in and ordered one.  We took turns grabbing bites and only stopping when we would get a brain freeze.  It definitely hit the spot and was an excellent late night find.

Today’s Travel: Around Singapore: Little India, iLight Marina Bay, and Marina Bay Sands

Accommodations: Kam Leng Hotel.  Room 216

Food tours are awesome

13 March 2014

This morning we continued catching up with the family having a nice chat with Adam’s sister and family. Then it was off to our now usual coffee shop, Chye Seng Huat Hardware, before beginning our major activity of the day, eating mass quantities of food.

Our lunch target today took us out to the far suburbs of Singapore, we took a trip out to the Bedok neighborhood to try the Hill Street Fried Kway Teow, which is the hawker stall owned by the brother who runs Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle. It was a nice stroll in the mid-day heat of 91+ from the metro station which started at block 207 to block 16 where we arrived at appropriately named 16 @ Bedok.  Really it was not a long walk, we have taken longer treks in this heat, but I do enjoy being dramatic.

Along the way I even found an elliptical in the exercise park for the building, so I managed to try to fake a workout, which would prove to be beneficial as we will be taking a food tour this evening, but more on our gluttonous ways later (Don’t you like how we’re talking about going on an evening food tour right in the middle of discussing lunch? This has pretty much become our new normal).

Look at the crazy white girl trying to work out in 90+ heat

Look at the crazy white girl trying to work out in 90+ heat

The short walk did not disappoint, these two brothers sure know how to cook and both of their hawker stalls have been a highlight of eating tour of Singapore thus far.  While enjoying our delicious meal we couldn’t help but think why hawker centers are not popular in the states, we were surrounded by school kids, young workers and seniors from all types of backgrounds, so it seems like a perfect solution for the current foodie trend in the states. Sure we have food trucks and food truck gatherings, but they really don’t deserve the comparison as these hawker stalls are legit.  These stalls feature one maybe two dishes and are made to perfection, sold cheap, $2 to $5 for a meal that could easily be your one meal of the day without any frills.

I love food; food, food, food

I love food; food, food, food

DSC_4770On the metro ride back to our hotel, it did strike me as very odd when we went by a section of town that was all two to three level story homes and it looked very similar to a neighborhood you would see in the west.  As I astutely pointed out it looks really ‘neighborhoodly’ (it’s now a word since I said it and Adam understood the context).  In the land of ‘let’s tear down and rebuild’ it really stood out. Unbeknown to us at the time, this was the exact area (formally known as Joo Chiat) we’d be exploring on our food tour later in the evening and learn that this area has a historical designation and because of this very strict new build/building modification codes.

After a short break at our hotel it was on to the Joo Chiat/Katong food walk. We have previously been on a food tour in Rome and felt that it was one of the highlights of our time there, so we felt like this tour would have a lot to live up to.

On our way to start the tour

On our way to start the tour

This street was just too photogenic

This street was just too photogenic

And the local cake shop features gremlin cakes!! Sara, can I put in an order for one of these when we get home?

And the local cake shop features gremlin cakes!! Sara, can I put in an order for one of these when we get home?

Little did we know what we were in store for!  Calling what we went on just a food tour would be a severe understatement.  The tour covered everything from the history, culture, laws, business, geography, public policy, as well as sex, drugs, and rock & roll.  Oh yeah, there was also the main reason we were there, the food. So much food in fact that it made that nauseating full feeling you get after a Thanksgiving dinner (if you don’t feel like throwing up you obviously didn’t eat enough pie) seem like nothing at all. Just to give you an idea of the amount of food we consumed on this tour take a look at the photo below and look at all those empty plates.

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Looks like a decent amount of food right? That was our reaction as well until our guide told us to make sure we save room for the next few places as this amounted to only about 30% of what we’d be eating that night. Needless to say we should have worn stretchy pants.

Before we got to eat all that food though, our tour started off with our guide giving us a history lesson on Singapore, covering everything from being established as a British colony, development, independence, cultural background, challenges facing the country (mainly water, food, and land supply) as well as some unique facts of the country. It was all thoroughly entertaining and provided a great overview of the country.  After wrapping up with the overview it was off to our first stop of the night, the tallest public housing complex in the neighborhood to take in the last bit of the sunset and discuss the housing situation in Singapore.  Some of the more interesting facts we learned (or at least the ones we remember) include:

  • It was only about 30 years ago that people in this area still lived in homes made of bamboo erected on stilts over the water
  • 85% of the population in Singapore lives in public housing
  • Each floor will have the same breakdown of ethnicities as the general population.  For example if there are 10 units on the floor 8 will be Chinese, 1 Malay and 1 Indian, and if these people want to sell their unit they have to sell to the same ethnicity which due to supply and demand issues can result in different prices for identical units right next to each other.
  • There is a wait list of over 3 years for new public housing
  • At the bottom or now on the seventh floor of public housing developments there are void spaces.  These are open areas so that people in the community can use the area for all sorts of functions and not have to worry about renting a hall or restaurant.  Our guide mentioned that on some days you can see a void wedding going on next to a funeral.  People here are just used to living on top of their neighbors so personal space isn’t really a thing here.
  • While homelessness wasn’t really addressed as the focus of the tour was on citizens, we have seen in the Little India area shopping carts filled with personal possessions but no one around, so we could only assume that there is a population of working poor in this very expensive city, where only citizens can own homes (or rent out to non-residents) in public housing, which is the most affordable housing option
Take note of the now empty space that was once home to a Malay culture center. In just a few short years in will be a mall, hooray!

Take note of the now empty space that was once home to a Malay culture center. In just a few short years in will be a mall, hooray!

And in the very far distance the orange-ish lights from Indonesia

And in the very far distance the orange-ish lights from Indonesia

From the top of the housing complex we were afforded a great view of city below as well as Indonesia off in the distance.  It was very hazy tonight (due to the slash and burn farming happening in Indonesia), but even with that you could clearly see the orange-ish lights out in the distance and it really put it into perspective how close Singapore is to its neighbors. We learned one other interesting fact on our elevator ride down to the bottom, our guide pointed out a plastic strip that went all the way around the base of the elevator.  Interestingly enough, they were sensors that were there to detect urine. Since it is illegal to pee in public, if these sensors go off the elevator will stop, an alarm will sound and the police will be dispatched.  Now this all started because as people moved from the rural suburbs to the city, in the rural areas you went to the bathroom where no one could see you.  So logically an elevator was a nice secluded spot.  But in true Singapore style, explaining to the people why that was not right is not enough; they have to create a punishment.  And therein lies the reason why you are fined if you get caught peeing in public.

Now that we’d worked up a decent appetite it was off to our first food stop of the evening, a local hawker center for a variety of different foods.  You already saw the outcome of that meal, and there are far too many dishes to list, but we had everything from soups and curries, to fish, bone marrow, different drinks, and desserts and there was not a bad dish on the table.  It was great (outside of the discomfort from our waistbands) to be able to try so many different and unique dishes in such a short amount of time.

After finishing up at our first stop it was time to get moving and create some room in our stomachs for our next restaurant where we would shovel more food into our mouths savor more unique flavors.  But first we had a quick stop at a fruit stand to pick up some dessert and learn some history about offerings at Malay religious ceremonies.DSC_4820

We arrived at our next restaurant and sat down for what would be our main feast.  The restaurant started bringing out dish after dish filling up the lazy susan in the center of the table, while our guide announced that he had to go off and pick up more specialty dishes (because obviously we didn’t have enough food) from some other restaurants close by.  Again I won’t try to list out all the dishes mainly because I don’t remember them all, but the highlights were definitely the salted egg crab (essentially a crab covered in a seasoned egg batter and then fried to perfection) and the chili crab (crab doused in a sweet spicy chili sauce).DSC_4824

Look at that happy group

Look at that happy group

Now who is ready for dessert, especially that durian the "fruit of the gods"

Now who is ready for dessert, especially that durian the “fruit of the gods”

After somehow managing to get through the main course without throwing up it was now time for fruit and desserts.  We managed to find some additional room in our stomachs and eat the various fruits including a few that we’d yet to try (one tasted like caramel), as well as sample the nine different desserts available.  It was great fun though watching the first person take a bite from one of the desserts which contained durian.  If you’re unfamiliar, durian is a fruit that for lack of a description tastes and smells horrible (it smells so strongly that it’s actually illegal to bring onto the metro, and this description from Wikipedia sums it up nicely ‘The smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust, and has been described variously as rotten onions, turpentine, and raw sewage’).  We had heard previously that durian can be an acquired taste and had sampled some durian a few nights prior in a durian pancake thinking it would be a good introduction, I mean its fruit in a pancake, how can it not be good? It wasn’t. It’s impossible to describe the taste, there is simply nothing to compare it to. The only description I can give is that your first reaction when it hits your taste buds is a slight revulsion followed by a millisecond of a sweet taste, then followed again by bitterness. We now got to sit back and watch this process play out in whoever tried the dish.  It was great fun watching the reactions go from ‘oohhh dessert this looks good’ to ‘oh my good what the hell did I just put in my mouth.’

After finally finishing up with the eating portion of our tour it was off to another housing complex to relax in the common area and discuss some more interesting facts about Singapore.

  • Brothels are legal, but prostitution is not because it is considered solicitation
  • The country makes its money thru investments; they take the money from their version of a general fund and have purchased companies such as the London’s taxi cabs, telecom companies in Australia and a variety of others which has allowed for such rapid growth in the last 30 or so years.
  • Singapore has 4 official languages (English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil) with all signs in those languages and everyone learning 2 languages in school, English and the language of their descendants.  Sorry Indian kids, even if your family does not speak Tamil, the government has decided that is what you are learning….And fun fact, before a cop can shoot at you he must yell stop in English and the assumed language of said soon to be victim.
  • In the 1970’s long hair for men was inappropriate and while that hasn’t completely gone away you will not find many people with long hair (just those being slightly rebellious)
  • You can drink/carry a beer around in public spaces
  • To keep a cap on the number of vehicles on the road you need to purchase a permit in order to be able to purchase a car.  As these permits are in limited supply and are sold in an auction setting the price can sometimes be astronomical.  For example you can go to a Toyota dealership and purchase a brand new Toyota Corolla and said permit for the car for the small sum of roughly S$130,000.  That is just over 100,000 U.S. Dollars.

Another great thing about these group events is they make it very easy to meet fellow travelers and have conversations with others.  As much as we enjoy each other’s company it is refreshing to chat with others! It was quite remarkable that most of those on the tour this evening were from the US, we met a couple from DC, who also ‘retired’ at 25 (clearly smarter than us as they beat us by 5 years) and live in Australia for the last four months and supported themselves working on a farm and other odd jobs.  And now they were off to Indonesia to dive before heading on a roadtrip around the US.  They too will have to come out of retirement, the guy got a 9 month LOA and the girl quit her job, and they loved farming so much while in Australia they just might start their own back in the US.  It is just so much fun to have conversations with those on a similar path and just become inspired by them.  We also had an older couple from Michigan and the guy had really retired at 42 and traveled extensively and was so encouraging and proud of what we were both doing.

With our heads spinning with so much information about such a young and prosperous city in the heart of SE Asia and our bellies asking us why we had to eat so much our tour came to and just after 1:30am. Needless to say, we had an absolutely phenomenal time on our tour and would recommend it to anyone who comes to Singapore.

As we were dropped off by the cab (who gave us a slightly different perspective on the ‘yes sir’ culture of Singapore as he was an immigrant from India) on the opposite side of the hawker center across from our hotel, we wandered thru the packed hawker center at 2am on a Thursday night.  Clearly this is a night loving town and now explains why nothing opens around here until at least 9am.  And another funny thing happened as we crossed the street; we jaywalked right in front of a cop.  I thought for sure we were going to get a ticket, I mean this is Singapore after all, but luckily the cop did not care and we were on our way. As it was way past our bed time you would have thought we would be sound asleep, but nope that little 8 oz sugar free Red Bull that we decided to split to keep us up was working overtime and we just lied in bed in a bite of pain and waiting for the caffeine to wear off.

Today’s Travel: Around Singapore, Bedok area and the Joo Chiat area

Accommodations: Kam Leng Hotel.  Room 216 – Since we decided to stay longer we had to switch rooms and we got a bit of an upgrade.  The room is much larger, just a little smaller than an average US hotel room, but that came with a $20 increase.  But the ease of just moving upstairs and knowing how to navigate the neighborhood was worth it.DSC_4766

Way to keep it weird Singapore

12 March 2014

Our breakfast mission was another fail.  We were in search of a well-known peanut pancake stand and Adam had even double checked to make sure the place would be open, but as we arrived we found the stall closed up.  So it was a stop at the bakery near the MTS station for a waffle.  They do know how to make great on the go food as the waffle has the toppings placed on, then folded and placed in a bag for easy eat as you go.

From here we were off to what we knew would be a weird “theme park,” the Har Paw Villa.  Har Paw Villa was created by the owners of Tiger Balm as a homage to Chinese folklore and was a popular place to take your family back in the 30’s and 40’s to enjoy a nice Saturday afternoon while at the same time scaring the crap out of your kids so they behave better (talk about a win-win, as long as you ignore the nightmares it was sure to cause). It started out innocently enough with friendly sculptures of dragons and Tiger Balm caricatures, but quickly digressed to deranged and nightmarish by the time you reached the Ten Courts of Hell.   DSC_4691DSC_4758

So cute, so fun...

So cute, so fun…

 

DSC_4695DSC_4696I think Adam said it best when he noted, “it’s like someone took way too much acid and in order to try and calm them down someone had them start doing paper mache and they never stopped.” We obviously won’t post any of the photos from the Ten Courts of Hell, but just know that the photos below of the placards that describe some of the different courts and the punishments were shown in their full creepy paper mache-esque glory.

And so it begins

And so it begins

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The least creepy image in the courts section

The least creepy image in the courts section

If corporations are people there are a few banks that should be worried.

If corporations are people there are a few banks that should be worried.

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After briskly walking through the Ten Courts of Hell we finished taking in the more ‘normal’ part of the park.  Just keep in mind as you’re looking at the photos below, these are the friendliest and most ‘normal’ sculptures in the park and there are too many that were far too deranged to even consider documenting with photos.  If you want to read more on this place then check out this article.

And such a friendly image as you exit the courts area

And such a friendly image as you exit the courts area

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Hello, this is Fox. Oh, you want to speak with Dear, one moment please he is with turtle

Hello, this is Fox. Oh, you want to speak with Dear, one moment please he is with Turtle

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I'm pretty sure these guys will haunt me for years to come

I’m pretty sure these guys will haunt me for years to come

And obviously since nothing works up an appetite like being scared by a tourist attraction, it was off to lunch where we headed back to Chinatown to the Maxwell Hawker center for Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice.  After waiting in the long queue the meal did not disappoint.  Chicken rice is often considered Singapore’s national dish so we had to give it a shot while we were here.  Essentially it’s just boiled chicken and rice, but what makes it special is that the chickens are boiled in stock that contains various spices and seasoning and then after the chickens are finished cooking, the rice is cooked using that same stock.  So while it may not look like anything more than plain chicken and white rice it actually is packed with a bunch of different flavors which you then can top with some great spicy sambal. While I thought the star of the show might be the chicken, it was really the rice which had a beautiful fragrance, like you were floating through a flower field, and then the as you finished chewing, the sambal hit the back of the tongue and added a nice kick of spice.DSC_4760DSC_4759

After lunch we went on another mission to check out GoPro accessories. I guess I should have known that a new toy means more money to spend on the accoutrements. So it was back to the DigitaLife Mall just to check out the accessories and of course their prices. We felt things were a bit overpriced, plus they didn’t have the items we wanted so I see more adventures in finding stores that sell the accessories we want in our near future (these are the times I do miss Amazon or knowing Target is a mile from my house and Best Buy is just two miles away). Stay tuned…

Between the heat and the errand running of the day (or maybe the last few days), I was in no mood to search out or try a new dish. So as the party pooper of the evening I picked out a sit down restaurant in the mall near us for dinner. It was just an okay meal and now realizing that is one less hawker dish, I probably should have just sucked it up and gone on another food adventure. And the look I got from Adam pretty much said it all, “we came here to eat hawker dishes and we are here, really.”

Today’s Travel: Around Singapore from Haw Par Villa to Chinatown back to DigitaLife Mall

Accommodations: Kam Leng Hotel.  Room 107

Finding the old Singapore

11 March 2014

Now that we’re back in a country with reliable internet speeds we made sure to make time every morning for catching up with the family via skype/facetime. After spending this morning catching up with Adam’s parents we were off to eat well and see some sights.

We started our day off right today with a nice cup of coffee from Chye Seng Huat Hardware (CSHH), while it isn’t a hardware store, but in honor of the area and building’s history it is merely the name of the building and thus the coffee shop inherited the name.  Clearly we are on a mission to find all things super hipster on our travels as this shop had all the makings of classic hipster coffee shop.  But the coffee was damn good and the muffins were tasty, plus they even make their own cold brew so I will back here.

On our walk to lunch, we heard the call to prayer from the Mosque, which happened to be just across the street from where we were heading.  Again it was so interesting to be walking through different neighborhoods and feel like you transported to an entirely different country.  Lunch was at Singapore Zam Zam (according to the sign the best Muslim food in town) where we had our first murtabak which is  a stuffed roti with curry dipping sauce.  Adam had the mutton version while I stuck to chicken and both of were very happy with the outcome.

The tiles of a mosque in the Bugis area

The tiles of a mosque in the Bugis area

 

Some very colorful government housing

Some very colorful government housing (oh and after two months of no rain this is what grass will look like)

 

A little toasty, but we made it to lunch

A little toasty, but we made it to lunch

 

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Adam really loved his murtabak

Adam really loved his murtabak

After lunch we headed to pick up our Thailand visa’s, and then it was off to the ion Orchard mall to pick up a few new clothes.  After searching thru H&M and TopShop, which is pretty pricey here, we found Uniqlo.  This is pretty much my new favorite store since my wardrobe staples are solid color t’s.  Adam actually did most of the shopping as he needed some new clothes and I just lustfully looked at all the clothes wondering what I would have to give up to purchase something new.  But alas I will have to wait until all my current clothes are destroyed and it will be time for something new.  By this point, I thought we had seen a good portion of the mall, but I decided to walk over to the touch screen directory to see what else the mall had to offer.  After scrolling thru four pages of categories, with each category having between 10-300 stores, I realized you could probably spend two days wandering just this one mall and not even see everything.  And there are probably 20 or so malls just like this one around town.

And since our time searching thru malls was not complete it was back on the train to head to the Funan DigitaLife Mall (in typical Singapore fashion, they have a mall specifically for all things digital). We have been thinking about getting a GoPro after we started our travels and with the GST refund and good currency conversion, we went ahead and purchased one here.  With our shopping done, we dropped off our bags before heading out to Chinatown for dinner.

Typically Singapore fashion, out with the old and in with the new. In two years I probably will not recognize the neighborhood we stayed in.

Typically Singapore fashion, out with the old and in with the new. In two years I probably will not recognize the neighborhood we stayed in.

After getting down to Chinatown, we started wandering around the streets taking in the sights and taking pictures of things along the way.  We apparently spent a little too much time wandering around as when we finally got to the Maxwell Road Hawker Center to get Chicken Rice at Tian Tian Hiananese Chicken Rice we were just in time to see them closing up shop for the evening.  Having struck out there, we made our way back to the Chinatown Food Street to grab dinner from one of the hawker stands there. DSC_4647DSC_4664

A nice shop that had some beautiful chopsticks. These of course our the ones for the tourists!

A nice shop that had some beautiful chopsticks. These of course are the ones for the tourists!

Today’s Travel: Around Singapore, from the Bugis area back to the Thai Embassy and Chinatown

Accommodations: Kam Leng Hotel

They should really call this place mall-ville

10 March 2014

The mission for today was to get our 60 day visa for Thailand.  After grabbing a waffle at the Lavender hawker center which is directly across the street from our hotel it was off on the MTS to the Thai Embassy.  At one point while we were walking from one line to another, the massive crowds made it impossible to even see the ground, but it was so silent all you could hear were the sounds of an occasional heel of flip flop hit the ground.  I could not believe how streamlined the whole operation of people moving from one place to another is.  Once we got on the train, we just looked at each other in disbelief and almost at the same time stated, if only we didn’t have to catch the train that would have been a great picture.  So until next time peeps!

Once we made it to the Orchard St stop, which is the heart of the very high end shopping area, and traversed thru the first maze of shopping centers we arrived with just under an hour until they stopped accepting applications.  While waiting in line we were both a bit nervous that we might get denied as we did not have an exit flight, since we will be taking a bus to Laos, and the women at the counter were pretty harsh to those that did not have all the paperwork.  After seeing applicants get turned away, we walked up explained our situation and were told we would just need to bring a copy of a bank statement, pulling it up on the phone would not do, showing we had at least $1,000 each (really random, right?).  Well with less than 30 minutes and having no clue where to find a printer, I remember seeing a Marriott as we walked from the metro, so hopefully they would let us use their business center.  Well they did us one better, since they charge $10 for internet access, they pointed us in the direction of Lucky Plaza where we could find a place to log on to our bank and print a statement.  So it was a power walk down the street and around the second floor of the mall where we found a small shop that was a catch all of digital services.  And we even saw a Bitcoin ATM machine here.  With our statement in hand it was an Olympic style power walk back to the embassy to drop off the paper.  Luckily they still let us in after closing and we now just cross our fingers.  But from the way we were treated compared to those from other countries, I feel like for American’s if you just follow the process and pay the money you will get your visa without any issue.

Since Adam had already given me a hall pass to drink at Starbucks (they aren’t known for their coffee here so it was okay), after the morning of running around, I took this opportunity to cash that in for an ice coffee.  And lucky for us the Starbucks was just across the street.  And as it turns out it was the first one to open in Singapore back in December 1996, so it was like we were visiting a historical site in the city, so really it was a two-fer!  After lingering to enjoy the air con and wi-fi to figure out where we wanted to go for lunch we made our way back thru the maze of the mall to the metro station.

The one thing about the shopping areas and public transportation is that they are seamlessly integrated.  So even if you didn’t want to burn a hole thru your wallet they at least tempt you.  That and this city reminds us of Las Vegas, where the buildings, due to their size look like they are just a few feet away, but after walking for 10 minutes you don’t feel like you are any closer to your final destination.

Since it was now time for lunch, we decided carrot cake would be a great lunch option so we were on the line to Redhill where we were in search of the best carrot cake (which is completely different from the American version).  And as our luck would have it as we approached the center, we saw the giant sign Closed for Spring Cleaning on 10/3/2014.  Ah crap so it was back on the metro to the Lavender hawker center (or official know as New Century Food Paradise) across from our hotel for some wonton noodle and anything else that looked appetizing.DSC_4515DSC_4507DSC_4506

And the dumplings just looked too good to pass up

And the dumplings just looked too good to pass up

And just for fun, we headed back to the Mustafa Center to pick up a few items now that we knew what we needed. We started at the area we had seen from the street as we left last time, since we completely missed it.  It was Monday afternoon, the place we pretty empty and was much easier to get around than the day prior.  And as an added bonus with fewer people it was much cooler too.  We decided with phones being super cheap here that we should pick up a pair of sweet Nokia’s.  Now we can just buy SIM cards as we go which will hopefully make it easier to set up bookings and meet up with friends.  Oh and I can finally play snake once again, jealous much?

I guess Jackie Chan needs a few more dollars

I guess Jackie Chan needs a few more dollars

Ron Burgundy loves Tango, whatever that is

Ron Burgundy loves Tango, whatever that is

Because I always enjoy chips with breakfast, 'Merica

Because I always enjoy chips with breakfast, ‘Merica

Taking a break from the heat we lounged around before getting ready for dinner.  We picked the Old Airport Hawker Center as our destination for the evening.  Once we got there and could see the empty stalls from a distance it was an odd sense of déjà vu, so we walked around to the front of the building and again there was the big banner touting spring cleaning.

One of the many old alley ways on our walk to the metro from our hotel

One of the many old alley ways on our walk to the metro from our hotel

DSC_4531So it was on to dinner plan B at Makansutra’s Gluttons Bay.  Makansutra is the name of a food critic and app on all the best hawker stands in the city and Gluttons Bay is where those that are rated well are invited to set up shop for a period of time and sell their specialties, it is essentially a best of the best hawker center.  Since we missed out on the carrot cake for lunch that was the first stall we made it to.  And damn was that good.  The carrots were so sweet and just melted in your mouth and the sambal was pure perfection. It was then time for more so we choose to grab hokkien mee which is a beautiful seafood noodle dish. And the meal would not be complete without dessert which was a.maz.ing. A simple deep fried banana with a coconut sauce that was not over battered like many we have experienced was pure perfect. If for nothing else we will back here for these again.DSC_4539

Carrot Cake, yum!

Carrot Cake, yum!

Hokkien mee

Hokkien mee

Get in my belly, fried bananas

Get in my belly, fried bananas

After putting on a good 5 lbs for dinner it was time to wander the bay.  As luck would have it the iLight Marina Bay exhibition had just started a few days prior so we took full advantage of the sites. However we didn’t make it all the way around the bay since the metro was about to close but with almost another week here we will have time to check out all the displays, plus Adam needed his tripod for one of the displays so of course we will be back for that:)DSC_4542DSC_4553DSC_4580DSC_4601

Today’s Travel: Around Singapore, from the Thai Embassy to the Redhill hawker center, the Old Airport Hawker Center, the Makansutra Gluttons Bay and the iLight Marina Bay

Accommodations: Kam Leng Hotel.

Hello Singapore

9 March 2014

Sometimes a super early flight is really a crazy idea but at $40 a ticket ($20 flight and $20 baggage fee) this one we could not pass up.  Once we arrived at the airport we were hoping to grab some food, but at this hour only Frank’s Go Go, the hot dog stand was open.  So it was breakfast of champions for us that included golden Oreo’s and two Maxx bars (a crispy wafer covered in chocolate).  After the sugar rush it was time to board the plane for the 2 hour and 45 minute flight to Singapore.

Ever since we started planning our travels we knew that we would have Singapore in our itinerary for one simple reason, the food. Singapore is well known as one of the best locations in the world for great cheap food. The city is filled with Hawker centers (essentially food courts) that contain restaurants that specialize in making one dish and making one dish incredibly well. It would essentially be like having a food truck gathering every few blocks in San Francisco and everyone in the city would eat their breakfast, lunch and dinner there.  With the massive amount of competition and Singaporean’s being discerning foodies, only the best of the best continue to survive. Pretty much our only objective in Singapore is to eat at the best of the best hawker stands…so get ready for a lot of pictures of food.  Helping us in our quest we’ll be relying heavily on the Makansutra food guide which is kind of a yelp for hawker stands.

Landing mid-morning, we still had most of the day to explore the neighborhood we are staying in.  Since our ‘breakfast’ really wasn’t cutting it, not surprisingly our first stop was to get food. After checking in, we dropped our bags and made our way down the street to Bismillah Biryani.  We were so damn hungry that as Adam was taking his last bite of food he stated, “Oh, I forgot to take a picture of this.”  Oops, so you will just have to take our word that it looked and tasted very yummy.

Now experiencing a borderline food coma, we decided since we were in the middle of Little India now, to walk around the neighborhood.  As it was a Sunday afternoon, the streets were crowded with everyone doing their weekly shopping and the vendors touting their goods to anyone within ear shot.

After walking thru all of the street side shops we decided to head into the Mustafa Center which essentially is a Target, grocery store, Costco, Macy’s, Best Buy, and Sports Chalet all rolled into one.  The store is absolutely massive easily covering a whole city block all while being anywhere between 4 to 6 floors depending on where you’re at in the store.  Needless to say it has almost anything you could possibly want or need and lots of things that you don’t.  After wandering around aimlessly through the crowds (apparently Sunday was not the best day to come to one of the busiest stores in Singapore) we decided to try and locate and exit and find our way back outside.

That evening we headed down to Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle which was a few blocks from our hotel and would be our first hawker meal. As we walked up to the hawker center it was abundantly clear which stand was the one we’d be eating at as it had a line 15 people deep while the other stands only had at most one or two people.  After managing to communicate, with the help of some hand gestures what we wanted, we sat down and dug in.  I’ll let you salivate over the photo below and let it do most of the talking, but the dish was a perfect combination of sweet, salty and spicy and was unlike anything we’ve had before.  After we finished slurping up the last of our meals we looked at each other with big smiles on our faces and agreed that we think we’ll quite enjoy our time in Singapore.  DSC_4495DSC_4498

Today’s Travel: Flight from Bali to Singapore on Air Asia and a trip on the MTS to our hotel

Accommodations: Kam Leng Hotel.  Located just outside of Little India in an area known for its hardware stores, this small boutique hotel has great charm and an even better price (it was cheaper than most hostels for a double room!).  With a lengthy history (what seems to be a rarity here) the building features sections of unfinished floors and old tiles and the accompanying décor is a hipsters ultimate dream.  While the rooms are tiny, there is just enough room for two to sleep and get ready (think the Roosevelt in Hollywood), but a $66 USD a night in this city you can’t complain.  DSC_4499

If only it had a bird on it, oh wait the tiled peacock was on the second floor

If only it had a bird on it, oh wait the tiled peacock was on the second floor