5000 Minutes in Singapore

In my last post, I explored how and why a rational individual might travel to the other side of the planet for a long weekend, using my recent trip from Scotland to Singapore as the case in point. I deviated somewhat from my regular travel-journal-with-pics style post, but don’t you worry, I’ve done that too. Here is what you can actually get up to with your 5000 minutes in Singapore, provided you don’t do a lot of sleeping (spoiler alert: it’s a lot).

Let’s fast forward through some of the early stuff:

>>> Land at Changi International Airport. Order an Uber. Get to Airbnb in Geylang. Hug long-lost friends. Chug coffee. Head to roof. Jump in pool. More long-lost friends. Change into something nice. Uber. Lunch in Clarke Quay >>>

We ate at The Butchers Club, which I’ll admit wasn’t exactly traditional Asian cuisine, but filled a hole. Afterwards, on our stroll around Clarke Quay, I observed the first of what was to be many indicators that Singapore is not actually of this earth and is instead some kind of alternate timeline sci-fi utopia (with really good asian food): this menacing-looking outdoor air conditioning system. At least, I presume it is air-conditioning. Could be happy gas or a death ray or something.

Clarke Quay Air Con

Clarke Quay describes itself as a “riverside festival village dedicated to good times” and that’s all you need to know really. It’s Disneyland for eating and drinking, which is a concept I feel could definitely be explored more in other cities. From there, we walked along the Singapore River for a bit, taking in the fancy apartment blocks, office complexes, lush vegetation, and the nice brown water.

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Friends were arriving from all over the world in dribs and drabs throughout the day, so we’d arranged in advance to rendezvous at a bar called Brussels Sprouts at neighbouring Robertson Quay and just drink there until everybody had arrived. It was around 30°C, and even our short saunter along the river had left us in dire need of a cold beverage or two, so it was pretty nice just to sit outside (beside a large fan) and watch the world go by. It turned out to be a perfect people-watching location too, with an excellent variety of folk walking past. Businessmen speeding on electric scooters, cute couples holding hands, people with great legs running, overly-attractive white families going for a stroll. If you’re wondering where all the good-looking caucasians of child-bearing age have gone, they’ve all moved here.

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We sat there soaking up the riverside buzz and having a jolly old time until well after the sun had set, but not all our friends had arrived, so we took an Uber to the Bay for a change of scene. We had originally just planned to find another bar to meet them in, but we spotted the Gardens by the Bay and decided  a small detour was in order. The Gardens by the Bay are another clue that you’ve been transported into a science fiction film – and that’s mostly thanks to the Supertrees. The complex consists of three linked gardens over 250 acres of reclaimed land. In the largest of these, Bay South Garden, is Supertree Grove, home to the iconic tree-like structures which are actually “vertical gardens”, covered in plants and fitted with photovoltaic cells to mimic the ecological functions of real trees. And they’re like 150 feet tall.

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Quite possibly one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. You can go up them (we didn’t – seeing them from the ground was already more cool that I could handle) and there’s an elevated walkway between the two tallest ones. At night they get illuminated all pretty with a music and light show, which we caught the last 10 minutes of, but really they look awesome enough without the extra fanfare.

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Continuing on the theme of completely batshit crazy looking sci-fi props… We wanted to get from the Gardens we were in to the bars and restaurants at the Bayfront. But there is something in the way. Something you’ve probably seen on the internet or in travel magazines, but really has to be stood directly under to be believed – the unmistakeable looming form of the Marina Bay Sands resort.

Who on earth designed this thing? (Moshe Safdie fyi) And what were they on at the time? It’s kind of just the right combination of outlandish eyesore and awe-inspiring masterpiece. On the roof is the SkyPark, with a 150m long infinity pool and apparenty a bunch of super-classy bars and restaurants. I want to be up there so bad, but it’s a bit too fancy for the likes of us.

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We did get to go inside the building, though, because get to the Bayfront we had to go through one of the legs, and Oh. My. God. Within each of these three giant legs is a cavernous, tapering atrium, up the sides of which are the landings giving access to the complex’s 2561 hotel rooms that some people somehow manage to be able afford to stay in. Also hairy sculpture thing. Very nice.

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There’s a mall inside and also about a million people. And a casual canal going right the way through. Arbitrary artificial waterways will be humanity’s salvation.

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And yes, there are boats on the canal. Because if you can’t float yourself and your credit cards from Armani to Dolce and Gabbana on a little wooden runabout then what are you even doing here?

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When we made it out the other end of MBS, we found another bar and finally made contact with the rest of our group. We watched a slightly bizarre water-based laser/video light show, the overarching theme of which seemed to be to encourage young Singaporeans to get down and procreate, then, appetites not completely stifled by all the baby imagery, we hit up Lau Pa Sat for some real Asian eats. This is a massive victorian food court slash market that has every type of Asian delicacy you could possibly want. I can’t even remember what exactly it was I had to eat, but it was local, it involved chicken, and it was mighty fine indeed.

Fun fact: Like everything else made from metal at the turn of the 20th Century, the steel frame was made in Glasgow and shipped over piece by piece. I could dedicate an entire blog to the things I’ve seen round the world that turned out to have been made in Glasgow. Maybe I will.

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Our first night in Singapore would not be complete without a visit to a bar of the rooftop variety, and one member of our party said he knew just the place. It was indeed just the place. LeVeL33 had phenomenal views over Singapore, of Marina Bay Sands, of the Supertrees, and of everywhere else we had just been. They also had a brewery inside, which was nice and all but what I wanted was a Singapore sling. I’m not actually a real fan of the Singapore sling cause I don’t like cherry, but it’s gin and it’s the national drink and I’m going to put my cherry qualms aside for a bit and enjoy it. All £22 of it. GROUP PHOTO!

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We spent a while at the bar staring out over the city, enjoying the warm night, and telling each other about what it is we now do with our lives. The top of the world is a good place to tell stories, because with that view, everything you say sounds that bit more awesome. You already made it, right?

When we got home, the rest of the night was spent in our rooftop pool, which also turns out to be a pretty good place to people watch as nobody shuts their curtains. There was definitely a group of men in the apartment over the street playing naked poker, but who am I to judge. It’s hot.


IT’S TIME FOR A WEDDING!

We had to be at the Pan Pacific at 10am for the solemnisation ceremony, which was somewhat of struggle since it was after 3am when we finally got to bed, we’d all had a bit to drink, and there was eight of us sharing two showers. But against all odds, we did all manage to make ourselves look beautiful and Uber ourselves to the hotel on time. No breakfast for us though.

The ceremony was unlike anything I had ever witnessed. Right from the start it had the atmosphere of a television chat show and, although the whole thing was in Mandarin, which I don’t understand, I definitely got the idea that the bride, and particularly groom, were getting comedy roasted by the compère. And I loved it. There were some heart-warming moments, and the whole thing contained just the right combination of humour and seriousness with a decent amount of glorious matrimonial awkwardness thrown in. It’s not often you get to experience such a ceremony from a completely different culture, and of course it was great to see my very good friend Fish tie the knot with his beautiful bride in front of many of our friends.

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The drinking began in the upstairs lobby at around 11am.

It’s nice being presented with all-you-can-drink Bombay Sapphire when you haven’t so much as glanced at a piece of toast yet. We drank and mingled and nibbled on crispy-coated peanuts for around an hour while the rest of the 500+ guests arrived, during which time the wedding photographers took many pictures of us. No more than two minutes after each photo was taken, everybody in the picture was presented with a cute wee wallet-sized souvenir printout of it, which we all got very excited about. The photos were also instantly made into a “live slide show” that was played during the meal.

Speaking of the meal. 8-course Chinese banquets are definitely the way forward when it comes to wedding catering.

8 course chinese banquet

Although a lot of the food definitely took me outside of my culinary comfort zone, it was generally a positive experience. Plus, I can now add jellyfish and sea cucumber to the list of things I’ve had in my mouth and swallowed – a personal milestone ultimately rendering the whole trip a success.

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Throughout the meal there were speeches by the bride, groom, and other key members of the wedding party, and multiple slideshows with romantic pictures of the happy couple in on their “proposal visit” to Iceland. After a glorious three hours of eating, desert was consumed, and that was that.

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At this point it’s about 3pm, and the next part of the wedding celebration doesn’t begin until around seven.

What do you do in Singapore when you’re nicely ginned up and have 4 hours to kill?

POOL PARTY

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So we pool partied under the tropical sun on the roof of our hotel for a good three hours. And there was gin. And beats. And awesome company. Perfect time to sit back and take a moment to think about how on earth you got so lucky to be in this pool on this island with these people… people who haven’t even been in the same country as each other for over two years and have somehow all converged, thousands of miles from where any of them live or work, and are splashing about on this here roof as if this is the sort of thing we do every day. My wee GoPro finally got some proper use, and even though nobody was very sober and there’s no screen I managed to piece together some frames.

After we’d got out of the pool, back into our wedding outfits, and attempted to various degrees of success to recreate our pre-swimming hairstyles, wedding frivolity part two begins. And when I found out where we were going I legit squeaked with excitement.

The newly-wedded couple had reserved out the entirety of the bar area belonging to Spago, which just so happens to be on the flipping SkyDeck of Marina Bay Sands! Just when I thought I’d never get to go up there, I find out that not only do we have the whole place to ourselves, but the drinks have all been taken care of. Is this real life? It had been so tantalisingly out of reach when took the shortcut through the lobby yesterday, and here we are, 57 stories up, walking out of the elevator as the faint smell of chlorine hits you along with the subtle chatter of the privileged having a good time. This is the pool bar from your dreams, ladies and gents. Mind officially blown.

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As the critically acclaimed flagship chain of culinary hotshot Wolfgang Puck, Spago had some damn good food, even though we were just snacking. Posh snacking. They also had a gin menu as long as my legs which made for some very happy campers.

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And can we talk about the view? Actually we don’t need to talk at all, just look…

SkyPark View

We obviously didn’t get in the water, having only just dried off from the other water (it’s a hard life [also it’s probably for hotel guests only]), but I don’t think that that detracted from the experience at all. Having unlimited Monkey 47 and world-class miniature burgers brought to you by ultra-attentive waiters as you sit by the world’s most famous swimming pool in an air-conditioned outdoor bar, gazing out over a city of five million souls is hard to detract from. And our smiling faces will attest to that.

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We had our own swimming pool anyway, which we obviously jumped right back into when we got back at the end of the night.


I would be lying If I told you I was completely non-hungover in the morning… but god, was it worth it! We were all in the same hangover boat and so, because a hangover is really just an excuse for a massive brunch, a trip to Common Man Cafe back near Robertson Quay was in order for some good coffee and a plate stacked with eggs, bacon, avocado and toast. Then another wee walk around the Quays because they’re quite pretty.

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Nor forgetting to stop off for some classic Asian hydration in a canbottle. Because one of my favourite things about travelling is sampling unusual carbonated beverages. This one had enough sugar in it to fully destroy whatever hangover remained and probably keep me hyper for the rest of the week.

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The stroll continues, and there’s no shortage of  fun things to see. It’s not every day you discover a new favourite multi-storey car park, but I did today, and it belongs to the ParkRoyal Hotel. I really hope that this is the future for car parks all over the world.

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Next stop, Chinatown!

I try and get to Chinatown in every major city I visit, and I had high hopes for this one given the huge Chinese influence here. If you like markets selling every kind of souvenir tack you can imagine, Chinatown is usually your place, and Chinatown SG delivered on this whilst somehow still managing to look charming. We browsed the markets until we found the the best souvenir we could possibly find (a Singapore Sling recipe fridge magnet).

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It was then that we stumbled upon the first temple of the day – the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. It’s a massive building designed in the classic Tang Dynasty architectural style, and contains a museum as well as a place of worship. Apparently it houses the tooth relic of the historical Buddha, and even after reading all of the information on the plaques inside, I still don’t know what that is or what it means.

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Inside was all ornate in red and gold, and the walls were liked with thousands of tiny Buddha statues. Some type of chanting ceremony was in full swing, which was reasonably fun to watch.

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Also in Chinatown is the Dravidian style Sri Mariamman Hindu temple, which was built all the way in 1827, not long after the East India Trading Company first established their settlement in Singapore. We 100% need more of these in Scotland.

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We had to cover up to go inside. I will never know why they made me cover up substantially more than the other girls I was with, but I just rolled with it, and I like to think I pulled off the look pretty decently.

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Rather liking the religious theme that seemed to be going on, we decided we would very much like to visit a drinking and dining complex in a former catholic convent. Conveniently, one of those can be found a short Uber ride away, it’s called CHIJMES, and it looks like this:

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Somebody in the group who had been to Singapore before said that for actual eating and drinking it was better to go to Loof Bar, because a) the views are better and b) it’s got a hilarious name based on the classic Asians-can’t-pronounce-R stereotype. In fact, much of the menu was based on the same stereotype (and others) – they had fried lice, various different varieties of flies, and menu headers like “Die Die Must Try”, which is apparently classic Singapore speak for “delicious stuff”.

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We ordered a couple of portions of flies to go with our beers, one of which came with the classic Singaporean delicacy chilli crab. All the flavour of the famous dish but with less mess and fewer reminders that you’re actually eating crab, which is good since I kinda feel a bizarre spiritual connection with crustaceans and try not to eat them unless absolutely necessary (like when you’re in Singapore and need to try the national dish).

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On the subject of food, the next stop was a wondrous place that was legit called Gluttons Bay. It sounds like the best place in the world, and it pretty much is, being just a shit ton of food huts specialising in different types of local fare and then a massive seating area where you can grab what you want from whichever huts take your fancy then sit at a big table and binge on it. UH.

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I tried too many dishes to even count, but I want to draw attention to two things in particular: The chicken/beef satay because it’s a benchmarking staple and this was genuinely the best I’ve ever had in my life (I don’t know where that prawn came from). And the desert because it had beans and some typa green goo in it and that’s always worth a mention. Could I tell you what it was? No.

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Then it was pretty much some G&Ts by the bay, and then a slightly cheesy but highly necessary group photo in front of MBS.

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You probably already guessed what we spent the rest of the night doing. Yes, it involves swimming.


Early rise number three, and I now have only six hours left in futureland. So we naturally started it off with brunch. If you think that a place called Chye Seng Huat Hardware may not sound like it does a good brunch, you would be very much mistaken. Fish recommended this place, which is kind of off the tourist track near Little India, and he also suggested a bunch of things off the menu that we might find enjoyable. So we ordered them all and there were zero regrets.

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Fish and his new wife then took us to Bugis Street Market, the city’s most famous, and formerly most notorious, undercover market – and it was here that trying local foodstuffs got real interesting real fast. In the form of fruit.

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First up was the Jackfruit, which kinda feels like chicken and smells mildly of sock and stale vomit. Isolated, the taste was actually quite nice, but once you’ve sniffed it it’s hard to get over the aroma and enjoy it, as you can tell by my face. 7/10 for weirdness.

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Next was the notorious Durian. You’ve probably heard stories of this fruit, which is famed for being the world’s smelliest and is banned on planes, trains and in most hotels for that very reason. From the outside, it doesn’t look too different from any other spiky skinned fruit, except for being huge…

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…But it’s quite the different story once it’s been peeled – full of bulbous, irregular, squishy segmenty things. All the boxes were covered with cling film – which didn’t bode well for the stench that was about to come. We were also given polythene gloves by the stall owner when we informed him we were planning on eating the things there and then.

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Whooft. I thought the jackfruit was a bit stinky, but that tame wee guy had nothing on this. Never smelled anything like it. Gloves well and truly on, I tucked in to one of the squishy nuggets and braced myself for the worst… but again, while texture was not really my thing – kind of buttery and stringy which is a weird combination – the flavour was not actually horrendous. Still gets a solid 9/10 for weirdness.

By this point we’d apparently earned the right to try some fruit that didn’t smell of last semester’s forgotten cheese slice. Although, when Fish presented the mangosteen to us, peeled off the purple shell and showed us the insides, which look like goopy garlic, I didn’t have high hopes (and judging by the faces of my travel companions, they didn’t either). But the mangosteen tastes, and more importantly smells, gloriously sweet, and did a lot to restore my waning trust in fruit. 10/10 for not smelling of garlic poop.

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We took a stroll around another food market, where our friend Jonas ended up manning a dumpling stall…

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… then we explored some kind of architectural museum (we only went in because somebody had to pee, but it was actually pretty cool). Finally, fish drove me back to Changi Airport, with its nice old-school flippy departures board, and that was the end of my Singapore adventure.

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And what an adventure it was. From the length of this blog post (and the length of time it took me to write it) it seems like I spent far more than three nights there. Looking back, the amount of things I saw and did was quite remarkable – especially considering nothing was planned and that at no point did I feel like I was rushing from one thing to the next, despite the tiny amount of time I actually had. We truly ditched the guidebook here and just did what we felt like doing at the time, whether that be visiting temples, discovering bizarre fruits, or just lazing around the pool. This approach was a first for me, but I don’t think I could have had a better time in Singapore if I tried.


Epilogue: The Saga of the Forgotten Jackfruit

I had been wondering why, occasionally during my walk around the airport, I kept getting ever-so-slight whiffs of puke, and in my over-tired state put that down to some plane-sick child vomming on the carpet (the whole airport is nicely carpeted) and it not being properly cleaned up. I then sat down on the plane, and kept getting stronger whiffs of the same smell, intermittently, for over seven hours through the flight, but only when I sniffed to the right hand side (by the window) (i was doing a lot of sniffing at this point). Only 30 minutes before landing, as I was thinking it was pretty unlucky that I’m sitting in a seat that somebody’s obviously spewed down the side of, I had the horrific recollection of being in Bugis Market and wrapping a chunk of uneaten jackfruit back in the cellophane it came in and putting it in the back pocket of my shorts (to put in the next bin I walked past). But I hadn’t found a damn bin, had I? And had completely forgotten about the little piece of stink right up until that moment. And I had been sitting on it for nearly eight hours. Warming it and squashing it. And because it wasn’t properly sealed, it had all oozed out the sides. And into my shorts. And probably into the aeroplane seat. I have never been so grateful to have had a whole row to myself so that no other human had to sit through a long-haul flight with that aroma (and judging me for it). I disposed of the jackfruit in the toilet, sprayed myself with as much Boss Orange as I could, and changed my shorts and leggings in Abu Dhabi, but still couldn’t get the smell out of my nose. Even after I got in to work, took a 20 minute shower, and changed into new underwear and fresh clothes that had never been near a jackfruit, I could still smell jackfruit. I think I will always be able to smell jackfruit. The end.

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