Singapore? Singa-rich? Don’t Forget your Credit Card!

Feature, Singapore, Travelogue — By on March 19, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Singapore is wonderfully maintained, clean, safe, modern and efficient.  It’s reminiscent of Hong Kong in many ways, except for the price tag.  Many brand names, particularly electronics, are reasonable and sometimes negotiable.  But if you want to go for a couple drinks, be sure to bring your credit card.  Even the locally brewed and readily available Tiger Beer can be $9SGD for a bottle, and mixed drinks, forget about it!

Business is the name of the game here and disposable income is the result.  With that income comes a demand for the finer things, but the government (borderline fascist according to some) keeps the fine folks in check with a lengthy list of rules and regulations: no chewing gum, no littering, no spitting, restrictions and fees to drive within the central business district (CBD as it is known) and surcharges galore!  Taxis have surcharges on top of other surcharges it seems. Expect to pay extra during rush hour, for a pre-arranged pick up, at certain locations and hotels, traveling from the airport, and anytime between midnight and 5am, which comes with a whopping 50 per cent surcharge (curious, as most budget airlines arrive after midnight). Indeed, while this island/city/country has a lot to offer the affluent traveler, it will strain the thrifty backpacker’s wallet.  There are some hostels with reasonable rates in the Little India district, but book ahead.  English is the official language of Singapore so making a reservation isn’t difficult.

Orchard Road is where the shopping gets done with mall after mall of almost every name brand you can think of.  These are not malls by North American standards but iron and glass architectural marvels, nay, works of art, that house fashion outlets, restaurants and gourmet coffee kiosks. Outside, however, is where we longed to be.  The weather in Singapore remains fairly constant year round with temperatures always reliably close to 30C.  Rain comes in short bursts almost equally reliably before disappearing until the next day.  Other than shopping, one can enjoy the spectacular Marina Bay Sands Hotel, or take a trip round the Singapore Flyer giant Ferris wheel, which is apparently larger than its London cousin and offers a bird’s eye view of the harbour.  A trip out to Sentosa Island is a popular past time as it is now home to Universal Studios Singapore as well as a plethora of fine resorts with man-made beaches, although swimming in Singapore’s dirty water is not recommended.

A trip to the world-class zoo is definitely worth a visit, as is the Night Safari.  The safari is a glorious opportunity to get up close and personal with some exotic animals.  If standing mere meters away from a Malaysian tiger, a laughing hyena or the majestic Asian elephant with its gleaming white tusks isn’t your thing, at least go to see the flying squirrel. This fascinating creature looks and acts very much like a larger version of your neighbourhood squirrel, but this one has an ace up its sleeve:  Bat wings!  That’s right, you can stand inside the enclosure and watch as they spread their bat wings and glide above you up to 400 meters from tree to tree!  Those furry freaks of nature are worth the price of admission by themselves, but the park does host over 1000 other species (many are endangered), including hippos, lechwe, bongos, red river hogs, flying foxes, hog badgers, scimitar-horned oryx, mouse deer, and some others that maybe you’ve never heard of as well!  It’s very well run, well organized and they do a great job of educating.  There is a tram and some walking trails all organized into mini geographical areas.   Although they are two separate companies, combined passes are available with the zoo, which is right next-door.

If a nightcap is in order after you nature encounter, tell your taxi driver to take you to the Raffles Hotel, the birthplace of the Singapore Sling cocktail. Created in Raffles’ Long Bar by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon circa 1912, the fruity cocktail will set you back a wallet gouging $25SGD, but includes all the free peanuts you can eat!  This historic hotel is the namesake of Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles, the forward thinking and ahead-of-his-time founder of Singapore.  The hotel is now a landmark five-star hotel renowned for its luxury. And if all this luxury is just a bit too much for you or your budget, take a short bus ride across the causeway to Johor Bahru, Malaysia.  The city is the gateway to peninsular Malaysia and much easier on the pocket book!

The Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore

Singapore Harbor View, Singapore

Along the Harbor, Singapore

Along the harbor, Singapore

At the Raffles Hotel, Singapore

The fruity cocktail itself, Singapore

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