Singapore – now who would have thought that it is more than just Orchard Road. Singapore is not one of the city that I have in mind to stopover for a visit on the way home to visit my family in Penang. But, I have been proved wrong on this visit. 10- 20 years ago, all I know about Singapore was the Orchard Road, Sentosa Island and Haw Par Villa. I will hopped across the Singapore channel on the Malaysian train from the southernmost Malaysian city – Johor Bahru to the tiny prosperous island of Singapore city. The Malaysian railway network system – KTM (“Keretapi Tanah Melayu”) connects 3 countries from Bangkok in Thailand to Penang and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Singapore city in Singapore, stopping at several of Malaysian state’s capital cities. It has been more than 20 years since I was a passenger on the KTM. I believe it is time to use the train again to see what it is like. Perhaps a trip in 2014 from Bangkok to Penang.
Before I arrived in Singapore, I was tossing around whether to book a room in one of the big hotels or a small, trendy boutique hotels in the suburbs. This trip was a short 2 nights stopover. I ended up choosing one of the big hotel centrally located in the cultural precinct near the harbour, away from Orchard Road. One of my key requirement is a well matched price for the location. Singapore is a very expensive city. The boutique hotels are as expensive as the larger 5-stars hotels with full facilities. I decided on the Fairmont Hotel in Raffles City Mall after an extensive research on the net. It is ideally located within walking distance to the harbour, Bugis Street, Arab district, Little India and Chinatown. The public transport system is world class with an underground mass rapid transport (MRT) system. The hotel is in an integrated complex of a shopping mall – Raffles City and an MRT station – City Hall. Singapore is a well planned city with landscaped gardens and canopy tree lined boulevards. To escape the heat, there is an extensive air-conditioned underground network system complete with shops, food outlets and supermarkets that connect several of the buildings. It will be a perfect escape or sanctuary for human if there is ever a nuclear disaster on the island! The only problem – there is no sunlight with vitamin D deficiency. The view from my hotel room at Fairmont. It is a good room with a high speed wifi connectivity.
Like it or hate it, I am not a big fan of Singapore. I spent my first day avoiding the Orchard Road and took the SIA double decker Hop On and Hop Off bus touring around the city. It costs $8 for a full day fare if you have an SIA boarding pass. The weather was perfect – sunny and hot, but not too humid.Seating on the upper deck may be too hot for some who are not used to the heat. But, it has the best seating view of the city.
Passing through rows of overhanging branches shaped like green canopy from both sides of the street brought welcoming sigh of relieve from the heat.My destination stop is Little India. I could have walked there from the hotel, which may take 20 minutes, but the Hop On and Hop Off bus tour is a quick way of seeing the city.Singapore’s Little India isn’t quite the Little India I was expecting. It lacks the vibe and atmosphere of the noisy streets with sari clad Indian women, blaring loud music from giant black loud speakers outside CD shops, the scent of herbs and aromatic spices filling the air. There is a small Indian arcade, which is as interesting as it gets for me. A couple of blocks away is the neighbouring Arab district, which is more interesting than Little India. It was an easy 10 minutes walk. Arab Street and Haji Lane are really colourful with interesting shops and restaurants. Haji Lane is a small lane with little boutique clothing shops on both sides of the lane. I went into some of the boutique shops. They are interesting, but I am wondering how long they will last. And, this was a Saturday. There was hardly anyone in the shop buying. Most people were browsing and looking at the colourful Haji Lane.
I saw a couple of colourful street art mural painting. Though I find both streets are interesting and colourful, there is something not quite right. I think it’s too clean and clinical. It is like the whole street is being sterilised with mock up stage set of shops and stalls with colourfully painted facade and timber shutter windows. It is too Disney like. I think Singapore is trying and trying too hard to be something which is not. It is a too organised city. It is a man made island in every proportion. The interesting part of my city tour today was the surprise findings of the coffee shops, peeping through the colourful windows of the building. Singapore can boast that they have the best Hainanese chicken rice than Malaysia. And they are probably right after I have tried one of their chicken rice stall on my way back to the hotel. The chicken was silky smooth with a thin layer of coated gelatine. It was absolutely divine.