Thursday, January 10, 2013

Day 1: Singapore in 36 hours!

We struggled to stay awake as we were feeling very tired. Originally the idea of taking an overnight flight seemed to make a lot of sense. We could maximize our time in Shanghai and then rest on the plane ride to Singapore. Now I was beginning to second guess that assumption!

We managed to stay awake and boarded the plane around 11:30 pm. The Business Class section was almost empty! I think there were about seven of us in this area. We have seats 14 J & K which is the second row of Business. Singapore Airlines is famous for their service and the late departure time made little difference. The crew were fantastic and very professional. If you got up to do anything two people immediately came over to see if they could assist.

Our Seats in Row 14 J & K

A few others joined the flight after this photo was taken
The aircraft is a 777-200 and the seats have been upgraded but they are not the newest version. It was still a huge improvement from the Club World seats on BA. My mother didn't find the SQ seat that comfy but I was very happy. I liked the Christmas decorations on the side of the plane.

They announced they would be serving supper and not dinner. I was not that hungry but had to sample the food to get the full SQ experience! I asked to skip the appetizer of scallops but they brought it anyway. I also had a cocktail with some of Singapore Sling mixture but also with lychee. It was great!

The screen seemed a little far away
The dumpling soup I ordered was excellent and was a good choice. I tried to watch some of the movies but the screen seemed so far away. Would have been great if I was farsighted. The flight duration is only 5 hours and we will arrive in Singapore about 5:50 am.

Dumpling Soup
My mother slept most of the way. It was still dark when we landed in Singapore Changi Airport.

The Changi Airport is one of the world's best but we hardly got to experience it. Probably better for a departing flight. We had a short transit through immigration and then went to collect our luggage. We exchanged some US dollars for Singapore currency and then exited to get a taxi to the Central Business District (CBD) which will cost about S$25.


The sun will not rise until 6:45 am today so it is still dark outside. Singapore welcomed us to slightly overcast skies and drenching humidity. The two seasons in Singapore are wet and wetter. We are in the wetter season with December being the month with the greatest amount of rainfall.

Singapore is a nation of 5 million people. The island is 683 sq miles long with 120 miles of shoreline. Stamford Raffles arrived on these shores in 1819 looking for trading sites for the East India Company. Like Shanghai it has both an Eastern and European heritage. Singapore became a British Crown colony in 1867. In addition to a colonial past, Singapore was occupied by the Japanese Army. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 the Japanese bombed Singapore. The occupation lasted three years until 1945 and the Japanese surrender.

Singapore Economic Development

Singapore is one of the original Four Asian Tigers. The others being Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong. The 2011 Index of Economic Freedom ranks Singapore as the second freest economy in the world after Hong Kong. It also has the highest percentage of millionaires in the world. Singapore is ranked as the world's fourth leading financial center, the second biggest casino gambling market, one of the top three oil refining centers, the world's largest oil-rig producer and a major ship repairer. The port is the fifth busiest in the world. To top it off the World Bank named Singapore as the easiest place in the world to do business.

Singapore Leader Lee Kuan Yew
The development of Singapore skyrocketed with Lee Kuan Yew who became the first Prime Minister and "father of the nation" in 1959. He stepped down in 1990 and now his son Lee Hsien Loong runs the country.  Lee's bold strategic planning for Singapore is a model for many developing nations. The diversity of Singapore is also a contributing factor to its success. 74% of Singapore's population is ethnic Chinese. Malays make up 14% of the population and Indians 9%. It is also interesting that in this capitalist utopia that 86% of the population live in subsidized public housing.

We exited the airport and grabbed a cab for the relatively short 20 minute drive to our hotel.

Fullerton Hotel

Although we can check in to the cruise ship around 2:00 pm today and sleep in our stateroom, due to our very early arrival this morning we will stay at a hotel in the financial district. The taxi drove up to the beautiful Fullerton Hotel where we thought we would be sleeping. More on that later. We deposited our bags with the concierge until check in.

Fullerton Hotel
The Fullerton started its life as the general post office until its transformation into an elegant historic hotel located on the edge of Marina Bay. The Fullerton Building officially opened on June 27, 1928. The Singapore Chamber of Commerce, Imports and Exports Department and the Marine Department were all located on various floors. However, the ornate art deco main floor was the main attraction. In July 1996 Singapore's Urban Redevelopment Authority announced the sale of Fullerton Square and plans to redevelop the property into a luxury hotel. The Fullerton Hotel opened in 2001 and offers luxury accommodation in 400 rooms and suites on 10 floors surrounding a central atrium. The hotel takes its name from the first governor of Singapore, Robert Fullerton.

At times the Fullerton also served as a hospital for wounded soldiers during World War II. In February 1942 Singapore surrendered and the Fullerton became the headquarters of the Japanese Military Administration until the end of the war. After the war the Fullerton reverted to serving its primary function as the general post office.

Fullerton Atrium
The quay rooms have great views to the Singapore River. The hotel has an interior courtyard which looks down at the lobby below.

After admiring the hotel and visiting the lobby, shops and a small museum we departed by taxi around 8:30 am. Our first stop today is the Singapore Zoo and breakfast with the Orangutans. As very little would be open this early it seemed like a good choice to visit the zoo and see these amazing creatures.

Singapore Zoo

The cost of the breakfast is S$29 plus the zoo admission of S$18.

Public transportation to the zoo is not very convenient requiring buses so the taxi is much easier. Taxi fare was S$25. I reserved the Orangutans Breakfast online in advance. The zoo opens at 8:30 am. The shopping malls don't open until 11:00 am so it was an easy choice.

The Singapore Zoo is home to 3,200 animals who live in enclosures designed to represent a natural habitat. There are wet and dry moats which separate them.

At the Zoo we got in line to pay the entrance fee. A visitor started talking to us and said we had to see the new Panda exhibit. He works for Goldman Sachs and has been living in Singapore for the last 14 years. He appeared to be around 40 years old.  When we purchased the tickets it was just $5 more each for the pandas so we added that on. The charge for breakfast would be processed at the restaurant.

We made our way along the path and passed some flamingos along the way.

The Ah Meng Restaurant was just a short walk from here. The breakfast buffet consists of western dishes and some local fare to enjoy before the primates arrive.

I was hoping to try laska which is noodles in a prawn and fish cake sauce. They did not have that. They did have Kaya toast which is a sweet jam from coconut milk and eggs spread on toast. Sort of a cholesterol nightmare. I also had the Roti Prata which is an Indian fried bread stuffed with onions, potato and egg. I also had noodles and a two types of dumpling.

My selection
The menu below:
The Singapore Zoo has both Bornean (darker) and Sumatran orangutan. There are a total of 20 of this endangered species in residence. The trainer arrived and then one by one the 4 large primates and one baby walked along the rope way to join us. The baby is 3 years old and is named Salome. She is adorable! They ate some bananas and melon while we finished our meal. We learned a lot about their natural habitat and that the live quite long.

The dining area is named for Ah Meng, a Sumatran orangutan who passed away in 2008.  She lived to be 48 years old. She was kept illegally as a pet until she was eleven when she came to live at the Singapore Zoo. Prince Philip and Michael Jackson were among the celebrities who visited her. In 1992, the Singapore Tourism Promotion Board conferred Ah Meng a "Special Tourism Ambassador" award in recognition to her contribution to tourism in Singapore. She was the first non-human recipient of the award. She received a certificate and a stack of bananas.

Ah Meng
Once they got settled we were invited to line up for a photo with the creatures in the back. I didn't do this but almost everyone else did. It was fun watching them interact with one another.

Getting Settled

They appear very well behaved
Salome, the baby was very active and climbing all over the place. She really wanted to play! She pretty much stole the show.


It was fascinating watching them. They appear so gentle but I would not want to encounter the larger ones alone in the wild.

Salome in the center and her mother is on the far right
The Singapore Zoo is quite well done with open enclosures and it appears like the animals have a lot of open space to wander and swing from. We could have spent a good part of the afternoon here. However, due to a very short visit in Singapore we need to limit our time to just a couple of hours. We exited the restaurant and made our way to the Panda area.

New Panda Exhibit
We had received a viewing time of 10:10 am when we purchased the ticket. After a short wait we were lead down a walkway to the panda exhibit. There was a gate that they opened this to access the viewing area. We were a little disappointed that both pandas were sleeping. I think the bamboo can make you very sleepy!

Sleeping Panda
We made a quick exit and departed the zoo by taxi for the Arab Quarter.

Kampong Glam and Little India

Kampong Glam got its name from the gelam tree that used to grow here. Kampong in Malay means village. Bark from gelam trees used to build boats. I had read in advance that Haji Lane has some great boutiques and restaurants. However, when we arrived the taxi driver pointed to the little street, Haji Lane which didn't seem very interesting.

Haji Lane
I asked the taxi driver to take us around the corner to Arab Street. This one didn't seem worthwhile either.

Arab Street

The taxi driver told us that the fabrics they sell on Arab Street are expensive and not many people know how to sew anymore. It is easier just to go to the shopping mall!

In the early days this area was used for ranching and cattle raising. It was a nice transition from the modern Singapore we will tour this afternoon and this evening. I did get out of the car to take a photo of the Sultan Mosque.

Sultan Mosque
It is closed on Sundays. Perhaps she doesn't know?
This mosque is a blend of Persian, Moorish and Turkish design. It was designed by an Irish architect working for a British firm. It is surrounded by roads with Omani and Afghan names. The gold colored dome sits on a ringed structure made of glass bottles. The rich donated their gold stash to building the mosque. The poor raised funds by collecting and selling used glass bottles. The building combines elements from Indian and Islamic traditions. It is not open on Sunday.

I considered asking to stop at the Bussuroh Mall which is the home for antiques and crafts but we decided to pass on it.

I asked the taxi driver to take us to  Serangoon Road where there are goldsmiths and two beautiful Hindu temples. We only saw a very small section. The main part of the street is pedestrianized and very busy on Sunday.

Serangoon Road
Jasmine garlands are strewn along the shops. A Garland offering at the temple is part of the Hindu worship. Indians love color! Bollywood has a large following and the music is played outside. I considered checking out a shop called Tushiv at 123 Serangoon Road that sells decorative arts and collectibles. However, we kept going.

We passed by the Sri Veermankalimamman Temple (to fast for a photo) which is statue of Hindu gods built in 1881. Before entering the temple they smash coconuts to shatter obstacles to spiritual concentration.

We drove along Beach Road and past the park with the  Civilian War Memorial. It is known as "Chopsticks" due to the four pillars representing Chinese, Malay, Indian and other races that suffered under Japanese occupation. Unidentified remains are buried at the base.

Civilian War Memorial
Seventy -one years ago on December 7th - 8th the Japanese bombed Singapore. On February 15, 1942 General Percival surrendered to General Yamashito and the Japanese occupation began. Singapore prisoners worked on the Burma - Thailand railroad where many died. On September 12, 1945 Japan formally surrendered to Lord Louis Mountbatten the last British viceroy to India.

It was now getting time for lunch so we had the driver leave us at Raffles Hotel.

Raffles Hotel

We arrived around 11:30 am at the iconic Raffles Hotel. In 1887 a bungalow was built on this site which eventually evolved into the elegant three story hotel. Raffles underwent a two year major renovation in 1989. The famous Long Bar was moved to an outdoor arcade and the hotel rooms were spruced up. The new shopping arcade has over 40 brand name and specialty stores. The current nightly rates confirm the exclusivity. The hotel is a tourist attraction which might be somewhat irritating for overnight guests. Many famous writers have been guests of the hotel including, Joseph Conrad (1888), Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward (1931) Rudyard Kipling and James Michener.

Raffles decorated for Christmas
I decided to book the Tiffin Room for lunch since I knew we would be in this area at lunch time. The Tiffin Room is the hotel's principle dining room and dates back to 1892. Tiffin is a midday meal like lunch. Sunday tiffin curry was a tradition of British colonial life.

Raffles Lobby
The restaurant is just off the lobby and looks quite opulent. There are large widows and teak wood tables. Black and white photographs on the wall add some dimension to the all white theme.

Tiffin Room
The lunch is a buffet and is priced at S$60. Lunch is served from 12:00 noon - 2:00 pm daily. We arrived a little early and there were only a few people. By the time we left there were several tables with other guests. There was salad, chilled seafood, potato patties, lamb skewers, Palak Paneer (spinach with cottage cheese), Baingan Bharta (eggplant with spice), sea bass in a tomato stock, chicken tikka masala and lamb curry. They also had steamed rice and chicken biryani which is one of my favorites.

Indian specialties

Biryani in the right back
The waiter brought an assorted basket of freshly baked naan breads. The desserts did not disappoint either.

Two types of Naan
It is a good thing we were hungry! I think I ate enough for lunch and dinner.

My selections and a blueberry Lassi

For dessert they had Kheer (rice pudding) and Sewai (vermicelli in milk) which tasted better than it sounds! The pistachio ice cream was also fabulous.

Dessert. Pistachio ice cream in the silver bucket on the right

My dessert
After lunch we spent about an hour looking in the shopping arcade. This is a fairly new addition to the hotel and was added during the 1989 - 1991 renovations. They had some interesting items which came as a surprise for such a touristy spot. The Jim Thompson store was very nice. They had a selection of clothing and gift items. They had some high end jewelry stores as well.

Raffles Hotel Arcade
Two story arcade building
I took the stairs but my mother found the elevator

Perhaps because we are getting tired we didn't make any purchases. We left the arcade and make a final stop before going back to the hotel. The Peranakan Museum is located on Armenian Street and is just around the corner from Raffles Hotel.

Peranakan Museum

Peranakan is also the name for "Straits Chinese". The term Pernakan is for a person born in Colonial Southeast Asia to a Chinese father and a non-Chinese mother. The museum was very interesting but we only spent about 10 minutes. They had a section on Food and Feasting, Religion and Weddings.

Peranakan Museum

Our jet lag was starting to catch up with us so we took a taxi back to The Fullerton Hotel. We arrived back and were checked into our room. Our bags were brought up and we changed into our swimsuits. One of the reasons for booking the Fullerton is the pool. We walked down the hall to look for the pool but were told that it is closed! They started renovations in November and the pool will be closed for several months. This was so disappointing. We went downstairs to speak with someone at the desk. I noticed who I thought was the manager walking by. I explained our disappointment to him about the pool closure.  I said that was my main reason for booking this specific hotel was for the pool. I also added that we are joining a cruise and could actually check in today. I am well aware that any major renovations need to be communicated to guests when making a hotel reservation and this was not done.

The manager was very helpful and responded that he would like to have us move to their sister hotel, The Fullerton Bay. This hotel is only a few years old and has a great pool on the roof. He said we would pay the same rate we currently have. I am aware that the Fullerton Bay rooms cost a lot more so this was an excellent compromise. The two hotels are connected underground through a walkway but with our luggage it made more sense to drive us over. We went upstairs and got our luggage and loaded it into the Fullerton Hotel car and in 2 minutes we were across the street at our new hotel.

Fullerton Bay Hotel

While I would not want to go through what we did with changing rooms and the pool fiasco, the change in hotels was worth it! The Fullerton Bay is even more beautiful and spectacular than its older sibling.

Fullerton Bay Reception
We we checked in and given room 407. We popped into the elevator and arrived at our room which had a great view and a terrace!

Fullerton Bay Hotel Room

Our View
We were still wearing our bathing suits under our clothes so quickly became more "pool ready" and took the elevator up to the roof. The pools was large and had seating both in the pool itself and also around it. The loungers in the pool were a little weird because if you had a purse or book you had to be careful they did not get wet. I swam around for a good 25 minutes. The water was great!

Pool on the roof
They offered us a drink or snack but we passed for now. We relaxed on the loungers and enjoyed the view. There was a young couple doing a photo shoot and they were all over the pool doing poses. It was actually quite funny some of the stances they were asked to make. The girl was almost falling over backward at one point while the guy tried to look down at her with a mesmerized look. They were very attractive models.

After a second swim we went back to the room to relax for a couple of hours. I took a nice hot shower which helped tremendously. With only 36 hours in Singapore I felt like we covered quite a bit in our first day. However the day was not quite over yet and we still had a lot to see. While we will be passing on Sentosa Island and the zip line, flight simulator and indoor parachuting, I do plan to visit Orchard Road for some retail therapy.

My mother was still tired but I convinced her that we should go the the Marina Bay Cruise Center and check in for the cruise and then after that she might enjoy seeing one of Singapore's newest attractions, Gardens By the Bay.

Marina Bay Cruise Center

We got in a taxi and had to explain to the driver which cruise center we wanted to go to. Most of the taxi drivers are still used to the old Harbourfront center and not the new one. We could have waited to check in tomorrow but I primarily wanted to find out what the cut off time was to be on board the ship tomorrow before departure. We arrived at the beautiful Marina Bay Cruise Center which still has a lot of construction going on along the road.

There is an MRT stop there but it is not directly connected to the cruise center building yet.  It will be completed in 2014. The check in line was not long. They had a dedicated line for Aquaclass, Concierge and Suites. The local staff were excellent and we were very impressed with their efficiency. They even made a copy of our photo page in our passports without even asking. We were processed in 15 minutes and decided to take a quick look at our stateroom on deck 11. This may have been a bit of a mistake as the hotels we have been staying in are so much nicer than our rather sparse and drab looking cabin. We have been in Aquaclass on the Solstice but the new Aquaclass rooms on the Millennium were not as nice. The red sofa in the corner and the orange drape certainly didn't help. We quickly left the ship and headed to Gardens By the Bay.

Gardens By the Bay

This attraction opened in June 2012 and has been very popular with both locals and tourists.

Super Trees which are lit at night
It was not dark yet as the Super Trees would look a lot more interesting. We decided to visit one of two domes, the Cloud Forest. We passed on the flower dome. We purchased the ticket for just the Cloud Forest which I think was S$15 per person. Before we went inside I was getting really hot in my knit top so decided to take a look in the gift shop. I found a t-shirt that would be more comfortable. I purchased it and changed in the restroom. Felt so much better!

We walked over to the Cloud Forest Dome and stepped inside. Our visit was memorable as much for its brevity as for the damp air that greeted us.

Cloud Forest
Inside the Cloud Forest
My mother who was already tired got a huge blast of the tropical air and was ready to go. It was not hot and steamy but it very damp. I wasn't in need of staying either as I felt like I could get a good idea of what the Cloud Forest was about from the ground. We made a beeline for the taxi stand. We had the taxi drop my mother first at the hotel and then I continued to Orchard Road so I could do some shopping and view the fabulous holiday decorations.

Christmas in Singapore

Singapore has a long tradition of showcasing fantastic Christmas light displays along Orchard Road. They actually have a competition each year where they award the best decorations. I was thinking of taking the  Hippo open air bus if I could find it but decided to go inside the Ngee Ann City Mall where the taxi dropped me.

Ngee Ann City Mall

Takashimaya & Ngee Ann City Mall

Takashimaya is the anchor tenant located at Ngee Ann City shopping mall. This mall is one of the nicest in Singapore and has an Oriental exterior and a very western modern interior. There are a total of 7 levels in the granite and marble building. The Ngee Ann City mall officially opened in 1993 and now has over 130 specialty stores that range from Zara to Cartier and Christian Dior. There are over 30 food outlets serving cuisines from Western to Cantonese to Indonesian and Thai. Kinokuniya has a very large bookstore here too. I am familiar with Takashimaya in Tokyo and also the one in New York City. The store in Tokyo has the reputation of being historic and is targeted to an older customer. The one in NYC which no longer exists was very trendy. I took a quick look around Takashimaya and the food court. I ended up purchasing a few things in L'Occitane and Zara stores.

Takashimaya Singapore

Map of one of the floors:
Ngee Ann Shopping Mall & Takashimaya

I was amazed at how crowded the mall was and how many people were shopping! I walked around the mall for about an hour and then walked outside to view the decorations. It was now dark and the lights were beautiful.

Xmas Lights on Orchard Road
Beautiful Christmas Lights
I walked up the street to the Ion Orchard Mall and took a look inside. I stopped at the restroom but the toilets were all "squatters" and I decided I could wait.

Ion Orchard

Ion Orchard
The MRT is also located in this mall so I was killing two birds with one visit. After several escalator rides down to the basement I made it to the MRT. Now I needed to figure out how to purchase a ticket and where I wanted to go. Purchasing the ticket was easy but I wasn't sure if Raffles City was the closest stop. I decided to try that anyway. I think it was supposed to be a 5 minute walk from this stop to the hotel.

The train came and was not that crowded. It was only about 3 stops to Raffles City. I exited the train and walked outside but the surroundings did not look at all familiar. I also could not make out any of the buildings. I asked someone outside how to get to Fullerton Bay and he said to go back inside the building and walk through the building. It was now dark and the thought of having to go back inside and go down several levels was not appealing. I decided to ignore his advice and try to walk to the hotel outside.

Singapore Flyer
I walked for about 10 minutes and was trying to make my way toward the river. However, I was not having much luck.

Singapore Flyer

On my way to find the hotel I could see the Singapore Flyer in the distance. It is the largest observation wheel in the world. It rises to 541 feet has has 28 air-conditioned capsules which each hold 28 people. I knew the general direction I need to go but had no idea how far it was.

I spotted a taxi and asked him to take me the rest of the way. In 5 minutes I was back at the hotel and were happy to be "home".

A view of the Marina Bay Sands across the water
I had promised my mother I would be back at 8:30 pm at the latest. It was now 8:45 pm and I knew she would start to get worried.

Fullerton bay Hotel
As this was the only night we had in Singapore I wanted to get a few night time photos before going up to the room. I walked over to where I could get a photo of The Fullerton Hotel.

Fullerton Hotel
I rushed back to the hotel and went upstairs. Just as I turned the corner heading toward our room she was walking toward me!

Fullerton Bay Hotel Hallway
Lucky that I came back when I did. She had planned to get a taxi and try to find me at Takashimaya, not understanding it was huge mall and that was not going to be possible!

After being admonished for about 10 minutes due to my tardiness, she calmed down. I was not hungry so we decided to call it a night. I took some photos of the hotel view of Marina Bay before going to bed.

Tomorrow we will have just few hours to explore the Colonial Historic District before boarding the cruise ship.

1 comment:

  1. The Christmas lights are gorgeous. So, glad you were there this time of year.