Friday, January 4, 2008

Chapter 4: Back Home (SGP-CMB-MUM)

January 4, 2008 – Hi guys, we touched down at Mumbai Airport in the morning today at 2:15 AM.

Well let me catch my breath here. Hmm the total travel time was around 12 hours with 7 hours transit time at Colombo Airport. Seriously I got sick on the flight.

There was another pain, at Singapore airport they just wouldnt allow extra Kgs in your hand luggage (mandate is 7Kgs, 1 bag/per person), when I was coming here the same airlines allowed 9-10 Kgs. Nonsense. Dont carry gel/liquids/toiletries in hand luggage. But you can carry (in plastic bags) any perfume/spirits you buy from the Duty Free shops (I know thats strange). Thats about it.

As I had mentioned I was planning to get some stuff from the Duty Free Shops and so I did, a Swatch watch, a Jack Daniels bottle (for friends...I dont drink) and lots of chocolates. Point to note, liquor is cheap in Colombo and so are the chocolates but the variety in watches was mostly in Singapore Airport. If you are not stingy, you will do just fine.

Looking back, the only thing I can say is if you have arrived on this planet, you cannot leave it before experiencing Singapore. It is just a dream city and getting better with time. I would love to go back anytime and hopefully this time with my own family. I suggest this place strongly for newly weds and couples with young
children, just make sure you are the adventurous types and not intimate types coz really this place is flooded with people from around the world and at times I saw some couples embarrassing themselves in the crowds , I’m sure such couples can find a more suitable place.

The people are warm and very cheerful and chinese girls are quite something, very polite, decent (thought their dressing maybe provocative, don’t judge the book by the cover) and damn can they drive. They were driving some of the most expensive cars in the world and also they are very very very tech-savvy. Well no prizes for guessing that Indians are everywhere and from a people perspective you wont find yourself left out on the streets. Food is edible on the street or hotel (they have something called set lunches that are reasonable). Go easy on shopping and do it in different trips, everything in one go can burn your pockets. On your first trip just go sight-seeing. What can you buy is a no-brainer in Singapore.

On a parting note, I just want to reflect back on my impulsive decision to make this trip and feel so good that I did what I did, except for minor inconveniences. Go ahead guys, make a new year resolution (foreign trip, if you like) and see it through, the satisfaction is unbelievable. Thanks for reading and sticking along, Cheers!!

Pictures of Last Day:

Chapter 3: The Trip (Day 6 - Marina Boulevard, Siloso Beach)

Oh man had such a splendid evening at the Siloso Beach (Sentosa Island). Earlier in the day, I headed to the Microsoft office located at the Marina Boulevard, NTUC building. I met my man and over some chocolate coffee I gazed at the bay views from their cafeteria, you can check that out on the pictures. He told me Singapore is going to host the first F1 race soon and its going to be on the lines of Monaco(street race). Wow that I have to see.

Bid him goodbye and decided to head to the Siloso Beach around 4:30 PM. That was like 15 Mins drive from the hotel. You know I haven’t been to a place that’s more than 20 Mins in a cab from my hotel in the last 7 days. Either the hotel is located centrally or their roads are just too good, no prizes for guessing, it’s the latter.

On to the Siloso Beach, god it felt like the West Indies or the Hawaii Islands, acres of virgin coastline, palm trees, clean water, rock formations, you name it you had it. The crowd was considerably less and I had guessed that since New Years Party was just over on the 31st. Lots of parents and kids having fun splashing in the water. There were quite a few ships docked at a distance since this place was also close to their Harbor. Now there are cafes lined up at the shore and you can chill on their resting beds, order a drink and watch the sun and sand. We saw one place that had a very interesting name, Bikini Bar and sure there were waitresses in Bikini tops and Jeans shorts serving drinks, obviously I got hooked and ordered a drink  I took lots of Beach pictures, feast your eyes on them. I didn’t take pictures of girls in Bikinis coz that’s disrespectful (at least not when they are watching you)

Now coming out of the beach, I saw something called the Jungle Trail and it was leading up to a central point to the Sentosa Theme Parks. There is also something like Bicycle Trail that you can choose to ride around the Park. We go on to the Jungle Trail and man was it spooky or what, thick forest cover and there is only footprint trails, birds chirping loudly, if it had rained, that’s it, we would have to runnn. No animals running wild presumably. It was quite a walk in the wild, havent done that in a while.

The trail brought us to something called a Earth Dragon and this was a stone structure with two RED eyes bulging out. This was looking equally scary. We climbed up to civilization and headed straight to a Pizza Corner. Guys, I highly recommend this place, Sarpino’s Pizzeria. We ended the tour with a hot, spicy, crispy Pizza under the Singapore moonlight. Last time I’ll see this place (Sentosa) and it has given me some wonderful memories to take back. Now there is no cab stop in and around the park and you have to travel a distance downwards and while we were doing that we saw the other attractions, Sky Tower (that gives a birds eye view of the Island), Luge Go-Karting, 4-D CineMagix (4-D Movies) and the list goes on…you don’t want to miss the Sentosa Island on your Itinerary.

Time to packup the bags and fly. Same Itinerary, first to Colombo and then Mumbai. I might shop at the Sri Lanka Duty Free shop not sure but lets see and hopefully if we have Night Stop they are putting us at the Browns Beach and hopefully there is enough light to take pictures of the beach.

Well it’s a wrap here in Singapore guys and now the next post is after reaching home on Friday 01/04 to put down my thoughts on what a blissful journey this has been, I hope this is not the last I see of Singapore. Damn I even know their neighborhoods now. Ciao.

Pictures of Day 6:

Chapter 3: The Trip (Day 5 - Chilling out, Off-day)

Well for a change the weather was pleasant. So the only thing we did was chill by the pool and take walks around the hotel and capture the images of streets, buildings, restaurants and side-walks. Our hotel is just opposite to the Raffles Hospital and man the hospital itself looks like a 5-star hotel. It is HUGHEEEEEEE and has a beautiful pond at their entrance with those colored BIG Japanese fishes. It was very soothing to the nerves. Watch it here...

I have a pit-stop to the Microsoft office here to meet someone I have worked with before for the Exchange account. I will then head to either the DHL Hot Air Balloon trip or the Siloso Beach (on Sentosa Island) or both. Will keep you posted.

Pictures of Day 5:

Chapter 3: The Trip (Day 4 - Marina Square/Esplanade Bay)

Trying to flex my body here after a lazy late night sleep and rigorous workout walking to and fro the Marina Square/Esplanade Bay Theater, this is where we witnessed the arrival of the New Year amidst hordes of people around the world and some electrifying fireworks that lit up the bay. It was magical indeed. You can see the pictures. Walking back to the hotel was quite a rigorous activity and you have to be careful with your purse and girlfriend, with so many people walking alongside, no cabs, all roads are closed in the vicinity. You have to walk a distance before you can get a cab, for us it was not a problem, it was like a 20 Mins walk to our hotel.

Like I had mentioned, the choice of this place was good since it was open fresh air all around. Now some things you guys need to note down, first, you need to go these public places early, like we reached 3 Hours before the countdown to the New Year, after my experience you can make that 4 so that you get a good place to sit and have a good vantage point to the fireworks. Also, traffic in these places was shut down when we started out, so there was no cab facility and we had to walk. Now coz you are going so early and probably going to return late, you got to fill your tummies, once you reach the place you are going to have a tough time walking back and forth. We carried a pack of chips and some cola but now on hindsight we should have had dinner coz we were starving when we were returning with no restaurants open. But like they say, where there is a will there is a way, we did not famish last night, read on...

Earlier in the day, we went to have lunch at a restaurant, Chandni (North Indian food) close by, now the thing that irked me is that they guys didn’t serve regular water and insisted on Mineral water, which like everything else in this country is pricey ($ 4 SGP). It’s ridiculous that essential commodities are not served in public places free of charge. With so much money they are minting, now I’m starting to get a feeling how they keep up in shape

After lunch, I headed to the Sim Lim Square which is only Electronics and Computers mall, it was at a walking distance, I purchased media for my DVD handycam. I witnessed the same thing I saw in Mustafa Shopping Center, 4 floors for choices of electronics but the prices are either high or almost the same in India. Now when coming back from Sim Lim Square, I saw the McDonalds Burger joint and it mentioned it was open 24Hrs on Weekends and Public Holidays. And so my friends, after we reached hotel late night, we got the toll free number from the reception and ordered and ate Burgers & Fries at 2:30 AM. Hmm delicious... We zonked off instantly after the meal.

While I’m pondering what I’m going to do next, let me share some experiences which are uncommon in India. Spitting, Begging and Honking on the street is a crime. Not a single street dog . Twice my bro lost something while we were in one of the theme parks and got it back every time he approached the helpdesk. When we used to return from our trip, the house-keeping guys used to do their thing (without requesting and suggesting a time) and you will find every personal and precious thing of yours intact. The cabs cannot be availed on the road from your standing position, you have to walk to the cab stop, same for crossing roads, it has to be done only on the crossing marked near the traffic lights. The cab guys do not entertain you if you jump the queue. No one pays tips. You have to use the side-walk to commute on the roads, it is common sense since vehicles speed at more than 80 mph and you are most likely to end up in the hospital and the driver will be left scot free, if they find that you were in a place, you were not supposed to be.

Another shocker today when I received my laundry, $ 43 SGP for 7 pieces of regular clothing. You know how it translates, carry one pair of clothing for each day of stay. No Laundry. Period. Not sure if you have come all the way to this point reading my blog but if you have, I hope you have enjoyed reading, you can suggest my name for a Pulitzer. Good-bye for now and yes do something nice and good on your first day of the Year.

Pictures of Day 4:

Chapter 3: The Trip (Day 3 - Jurong Bird Park, Snow City)

Before I begin, I have to tell you that you might be overdosed with pictures of Singapore roads, vehicles plying and general infrastructure. I just couldn’t help it, its so beautiful. Oh yea, I saw a Lamborghini, Alfa-Romeo, Jaguar up close and personal.

Back to the tour, Jurong Bird Park was like 15 Mins from my hotel, while we were driving, the driver suggested we definitely go to the Science Center and Snow City, we were intrigued already. Now the Jurong Bird Park is like paradise (see the pictures), I have never so much greenery, forests and the thousands of bird species all at one place. The tickets are $ 22 SGP per Adult for Admission + Panaroma Rail and $ 18 SGP for Admission only. We took the former but the ride was not useful, I suggest you take the latter and walk through their park instead, if you plan on taking pictures of the setting or the birds

First stop was at Penguin Expedition, the penguins looked amazing in their natural setting. They were swimming, singining, and watching the visitors enjoying their play. Pretty good. You can see the video. Next we stopped to pose with the beautiful Macaws for a picture op. $ 5 SGP per person (if it is your camera) $ 10 SGP, if not.

Now we headed to the Panaroma rail and though it took us all around the park and gave us good scenic views, it was not possible to take good pictures at that speed and from inside the glass cabin windows. We got down and headed to the Pools Amphitheater. Now they have different bird shows every hour, we caught up with two of them. Man, I thought the dolphins were smart animals after my visit to Sentosa but these birds are one notch higher, one of them actually sang the verse…“We wish you a very Merry X’Mas and a Happy New Year”. She also introduced herself, Amina.

Next, we strolled along the park and checked out the longest man-made waterfall in the world, Waterfall Aviary. It was breathtaking to say the least. You have to just close your eyes and take it all in. Well apart from that we just hung around in different sections and took pictures of different species of birds, you can see them all in the pictures.

I got myself a souvenir t-shirt from the Park and headed to the Snow City. Now I have personally heard very little of the place (not even on their official Web site) but as it turned out, it was a complete oh-my-god-moment, as we stepped in. You basically have a hughe enclosure encapsulated with snow (artificial) and the temperature is -4 degree Celsius. When you buy the tickets ($ 12 SGP per Adult for an hour), they ask you if you wearing snow gear like tracks, gloves and jackets. Obviously, you don’t so they rent it out for you and then starts the fun. Don’t bother to take any gear, they have everything (of course bring your money)

Inside the enclosure, thers a hughe snow slide, a fake Igloo, fake snow all around, even reindeers riding. Well you get to be a kid all over again, sliding through the high slope was fun and of course throwing snow at anyone you can find in the striking range. Photography is not allowed and they have official photographers who will take your pictures and later put them in a postcard and hand it out to you. $ 15 SGP per picture postcard, if your order more than 5 copies, it comes to $ 10 SGP per picture postcard. Phew!! what a welcome relief from the heat outside.

We headed to the hotel and had lunch at an Oriental Restaurant and then proceeded to the DHL Hot Air Balloon, they said the weather was not looking good and the trip may be delayed and sure enough it started raining in a few minutes (have heard of accurate weather forecasting in your country ???). So we headed out to our final destination for the day, Mustafa Shopping Center in Little India. Now ladies and gentlemen this is where every Asian shops for EVERYTHING. Not many Westerners here, one of the reasons I think is the crowd, phew!! very difficult to navigate

Now let me give a Disclaimer to all you shopping wannabes, no matter what you heard of this place, this place is NOT CHEAP at least for your daily wear. There are other things you may find cheap but really it was about the choices more than the price. The choices are overwhelming and so even if you were to go looking for cheaper items to buy, you would scour all day and still not be able to find it. You will finally feel like the exercise is futile and end up buying items with their price tags. Of course, no bargaining here. All items bought in Singapore attract a 7% GST (Goods and Services Tax). You can claim this at the Airport Customs Counter when you leave, check this out.

That’s about it, retired for the day, had dinner and crashed in the bed. Today is the last day of the year and New Years celebration, as you can imagine is going to be HUGHEEEEEE across this country. You have beach parties, club parties, mall parties, hotel parties and the list just goes on….you can see their ads across the street, choose the one you think suits your taste. I chose the one basis open fresh air to breathe (coz the crowds are going to be crazy) and display of fireworks in the sky besides the waterfront; it is the Marina City Park. Also, its free. No other plans during the day, just chill by the poolside, sleep and take enough rest and then look forward to welcome the New Year, 2008. Ciao.

Pictures of Day 3:

Chapter 3: The Trip (Day 2 - Merlion Park, Little India, Sentosa Island)

Allright, so this was the SOTC sponsored tour of the city, first stop was at Merlion Park at 9:30 AM. This is were the city originated from and like all city tour, you start the tour from the place where the city was born (kinda like Gateway of India). The place didn’t disappoint us. See the pictures to feast your eyes on the city skyline, the river, the bridge and of course the Merlion, the face of Singapore. There is also a Mini Merlion. You can read the history of the Merlion on the official Singapore website.

Our guide was a local man, very well informed, in fact he said he is the only guy around who could give you information on World War II events and sites. Hmm, he did impress us with his knowledge all along. Point to be noted, there are so many guides and tour operators, it is advisable you chose them in advance coz its mad rush out there.

Next stop Chinatown around 10:30 AM, from Merlion Park to Chinatown you have a horde of things that you can click pictures from your tour bus while the guide is highlighting the importance of each place. Places to see in Chinatown are the flea market and the Hindu Temple of Lord Mariamman. For us the temple held significance since it was like our own deity we worship back home. For those of you who don’t know already, I was born in Tamil Nadu, India and this deity is associated with Tamilians. That brings me to the fact that every second guy you bump in to Singapore is first an Indian and then in all likeliness he is a Tamilian. They are settled here big time so much so that Tamil is one of the official languages of Singapore.

Chinatown flea market is cool, just like any other market, bargaining is essential to get good stuff. Not everyone who smiles at you in the shops there have your best interest in mind.

We then drove to the Singapore Gems and Metals Co. Here we got to see the Singapore artisans doing their thing and that too in hard metal. Their showroom put up their work on display. Some metal works were worth more than $ 1mn SGP. Ladies will refuse to come out without buying a piece of jewel or gem from here (as I saw them nagging with their husbands/b’fs) and so men, you know where not to or take your lady when in Singapore.

Next stop to Little India to have lunch around 12:00 PM, again this place is famous for fabric, eateries, places of worship and shopping, India style. We had the SOTC sponsored lunch at a restaurant, the Ganges, the place is pure vegetarian.

From there we proceeded to Mt Faber where we take a cable car ride to Sentosa Island around 1:30 PM. From Little India, we passed around Orchid Road, famous for shopping malls for the exclusive and the budget traveler, check out the pictures. The malls were breathtaking. We also passed the Presidents residence and lots of Embassies. The guide informed as later that the President of Singapore is originally from Sri Lanka.

Mt Faber is a small hill from where they operate the cable cars to take you to Sentosa Island. So Mt Faber has only cable car as their main attraction and of course all hill views of the city. The cable car ride was cool and gave us a bird’s eye view of the city harbor, cruises lined up, traffic below and finally the Sentosa Island.

Sentosa, my gosh, where do I begin. Before that let me highlight that your timing has to be precise when reaching to Sentosa coz one of their main attractions is a Dolphin Lagoon Show that takes place at 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 PM every day. We arrived just in time for the 3:30 PM show. That was our first stop in Sentosa. Second attraction is Songs of the Sea at 7:30 PM and that’s the only show they got.

You can buy a single ticket worth $ 19 SGP and take a tour of the Underwater Park, Dolphin Lagoon show and Songs of the Sea. This was also SOTCs choice.

Guys and girls please strip yourself to the bare essentials when travelling in Singapore in this time of the year, I cannot even begin to tell you how hot it gets. Primarily coz it rains for like 20 Mins and then stops and then rains and then stops. Humidity can be as high as 80%. Contrary to the belief, this doesn’t provide relief. Get loads of refreshing tissues, water, shades and sunscreen

Now the show has 3 dolphin stars and their trainers. Get a handycam and keep it ready for the job exclusively. This has to be seen LIVE. The dolphins as usual turned out to be smarter than the people watching performing tricks and mimicking the trainer actions. The main attraction is when they let volunteers from the audience to touch and feel the dolphin, girls in their shorts in chest height water kissing, cuddling, hugging, feeding the dolphin is quite a show. And you guys thought they did that only to you huh ;) Watch this babe get cozy with the dolphin...

Next stop the Underwater Park at 4:30 PM , like the name suggests, there are hundreds if not thousands of marine species and they are right in your face. Don’t miss the Shark trail, see the pictures and you will see it to believe it. Also, the whole ambience is a testimony to their engineering marvel. I’m floored one hundred percent.

My main moment of truth was when I let a Burmese Python over my shoulders and took a snap with it. There is this guy who sits just outside the entrance of the Underwater Park and urges you to have a picture with his…ah well he calls it his PET. No I’m not crazy, I think the snake doesn’t prefer asian meat living in Singapore ;)

Well the Songs of the Sea show was going to start only by 7:30 PM, so we strolled around taking in the beauty of the place, watching this whole MELA of people around me coming from all around the planet. There are plenty of shops where you can dig in and keep yourself away from starving. While strolling we saw another Merlion statue and this was HUGHEEEEEEEE like a Big Daddy in The Lion King standing on the cliff watching the jungle. No water coming out from this one but visitors can travel inside the statue and watch the city from its eyes (kinda like Statue of Liberty). The base of the statue is surrounded by lush manicured gardens and cascading fountains. A perfect picture op.

It was time, time for the magic (as a I realized later) to begin at the Songs of the Sea show. Basically, people are subjected to the open sea with some structures made of wood like a Pirate Show. The show revolves around the theme that all boys and girls grew up hearing, a Sea Princess-in danger-from evil-waiting for her man-to rescue her. You may think that’s it? That’s not it coz this show will put life in your grandmas story. It’s a laser light-water-movie-song-dance-show. When the show begins, jets of water are strewn in the air and the laser movie is projected on this water-screen. There are a bunch of kid performers and they are your actors and actresses. They communicate with the characters that come on the water- screen and therein lies another engineering marvel waiting to be experienced. On the shore, there is fire, water, laser lights and a complete thrill to the whole show. Kids will never forget it, as a matter of fact, I don’t think I’m going to too. Watch it here...

It was time to bid goodbye to Sentosa but you guys can treat yourself to other attractions like 4D Movies, Butterfly & Insect Kingdom, Sky Tower ride etc…(you can check on their counter)…Reached the hotel at 9:30 PM. What a day, downloaded all the snaps and videos and played them again and again on my laptop to marvel the pleasures of being in Singapore. Today, I’m planning (that’s all SOTC has to offer you) to go to the Jurong Bird Park, probably the Zoo in the day and shopping to wrap it up. I’ll keep you posted, Sayonara!!

Pictures of Day 2:

Chapter 3: The Trip (Day 1 - Night Safari Park)

Had a quick breakfast, stepped in our room and had a splendid view of some high rises and down below was the swimming pool and boys, this is a BONUS, trust me on this one too..Room was neat and had all the basic facilities. Water is not cheap and we were advised you could consume tap water, coz its potable.

Me and my new friends (father-daughter duo) decided to head out for the Night Safari to the Singapore Zoo. I’ll include a separate sheet on what the package included and where we went on our own at a later time. The choice of Night Safari was natural since we all need some sleep during the day after the transit ordeal.

We got ready and boarded a cab and headed out to the Zoo, now this cab was not over the top and these are operated by private owners but prices are governed by the govt. Now I could see the traffic and pedestrians and their civic sense in its full glory. No heckling, speeding, lane-cutting, overtaking without the obvious. Highlight was the smoking rules on the street, nothing doing in bus stops etc…but the one that caught my eye was the restaurants that had tables laid out on the side-walk, they were inside yellow squares and it seems only if you sit in this section, you can smoke. Hmm intresting.

Oh yea how can I forget the joke of the day, the taxi driver tells us traffic is bad on Fridays and I asked him how long will it take from the hotel to the zoo with that kind of traffic, he said..30 Mins  Imagine how long it would take on non-traffic days. Mind you the distance as I checked on Google maps was quite considerable but the roads, they make it look like cakewalk.

Arrived at the zoo, we were starving (no Lunch in our package), got in to a KFC (yea they got every US fast food joint) and headed to the ticket counter. Now point to be noted, it was so damn humid and the Weekend crowd of tourists and locals made it even worse. Singapore in December is HOT. Period. Wear something really light, just apply some cream on your body to not attract insects, flies, mosquitoes. Today I saw some of the most amazing kaleidoscope of people from around the world. Also, I have never been surrounded by so many of the most alluring ladies. It was a delight even before the Safari started

Now I suggest you buy what they call a Park Hopper Ticket, its $ 30 SGP for Adults. That gives you access to the Night Safari Trip and also a regular Day Trip to the Zoo, yes both are different. You get a choice of Tram ride or Walk Trail inside the Zoo, I got the Tram ride and suggest you do too. The ride was through a rainforest type of setting, all natural and the animals looked fabulous from close encounters in their wild habitat.

Then we headed to their famous “Creatures of the Night Show”. By the way, you can take pictures with some animals there for $ 5 SGP. The show was a sell-out, they had an additional show that night. There multiple shows starting from 7:30 PM. Show is for approx. 45 Minutes. The highlight besides the animals doing their thing is their host, her name was “Gini”, she was an Asian. Man was she a wisecrack or what, she took a jab (in good humor) at anyone she could find in the audience. She can keep talking about animals all day (and I keep watching her all day ;)) The show was both educational and entertaining, kids will love it. The only minus point (and thats in the animals best interest) is no photography of animals with flash on and so most of the pictures (taken in the night) will turn out darker than usual. You can however take pictures of friends and families with flash on, no hassles.

Headed to their Food Court, Indians can head straight to a place called Indian Tandoor, again everything you can relate too in the menu. You can relish on Chinese and Singapore delicacies too. Boarded a cab and retired for the night. Now let me tell you how much I blew on the first day itself, hold on to your chairs, $ 200 SGP (approx. 5800 INR), for what, heres the list…anybody still has a doubt if this place is not-expensive can give me a call and I’ll express my true feelings

Cab To-Fro to the Zoo $ 30
Safari Tickets $ 60
2 GB Memory Card $ 60
Food in KFC and Zoo $ 50

Anyways, next few trips we are planning to experience the MSRT (Mass Rapid Transit Systems). These are public transport systems here. Also, on my second day it is SOTC sponsored tour of the city. I look forward to it. Enjoy the pictures on my Albums. Have a good weekend ahead.

Pictures of Day 1: