A long good Friday

We had coffee in our room and finalised our plans for the day. Our first decision was to extend our room booking for another night. The alternative was to check out at 12 noon, hand our luggage in and have a shower later on. That all required too much effort, so we just booked an extra night and can use the room stress free until we’re ready to leave for the airport.

Our breakfast destination was only a few minutes walk from the MRT Outram Park station, just one stop over from our hotel.

The Populus Coffee & Food Co. has good coffee. Flat whites are back! And the food was tasty too. Populus wouldn’t be out of place in Hoxton.

From there, it’s a 23 minute walk to our next destination – Yong Siak Street. At first, it wasn’t apparent why you’d make the journey.

Yong Siak Street is in the middle of a residential area with high rises all around us. Yet, the small street is packed with cool things – great places to eat, a wine shop and a yoga centre. Some pictures on the wall tell the story of an old coffee stall that had lots of caged birds to entertain the customers. We had made the journey to browse the shelves of Woods in the Books (a children’s bookshop) and Books Actually, the latter has a book machine outside selling ‘mystery books’ and they publish books with a local slant such as mini guidebooks to each area of Singapore with hand-drawn sketches or short stories. We love it! Almost every single book we picked up captured our imagination and interest.

Our last stop was Plain Vanilla Bakery. They are famous for their cupcakes. Andy had a flat white and a raspberry breakfast muffin. I had an amazing strawberry custard tart and a carrot juice. This place is divine.

We were on a tight schedule so regrettably, we had to leave and so we got a cab to our next destination – Kampong Glam. This district formerly housed the Malay aristocracy and had a vibrant Malay population during the British colonial period. A man walking past us took the time to stop to tell us that Malay people had suffered ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Chinese. Nowadays, the area is known as the Muslim Quarter and the imposing Sultan Mosque dominates the area. The streets were busy with people making their way to the mosque; we’d arrived just as the prayer call started. We walked down a few streets – Haji Lane and Arab Street in particular. Many have original shop houses with boutique shops and restaurants. Kampong Glam is very colourful. It is one of the few areas in Singapore where graffiti is allowed.

We had lunch at Alaturka, one of 34 restaurants in Singapore to be awarded a Bib Gourmand award in the inaugural Singapore Michelin Guide in 2016. We shared some olives, babakanus, hallumi and an ispanakli pite. We took our time as the sunshine had given way to torrential rain.

After lunch, we sought shelter in Intersections, an art gallery currently exhibiting the works of Tania Nasr and Hanibal Srouji. Burning Landscapes – the exhibition – explores the themes of fire and landscapes. The works were aesthetically pleasing. Yet, in Hanibal Srouji’s case, his works symbolise the journey he undertook when he had to leave Lebanon (background).

The woman manning the gallery spent a few minutes chatting to us about Singapore, and travelling in general.

We took the MRT back to the hotel, and reluctantly made a start on packing our bags.

The rain let off. Time to head out for one last adventure.

We took the MRT to Bayfront and spent an hour or so walking around Gardens by the Bay. Lush greenery, exotic flowers and a great background – the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the business district. And of course, Supertree Grove. The supertrees have become a symbol of Singapore. I love that they are actually used to convert sunlight into energy for the gardens. The park is stunning and it absorbs a lot of people. We often found ourselves on our own. We walked to the other side of the Marina Bay Sands to look at the waterfront and the business district.

“Come on, let’s go home” said Andy.

We took the MRT to Chinatown station, got a deposit back on our travel cards and instead of heading to the hotel to finish packing and leave for the airport, we went on one last last adventure.

The sixth floor of the People’s Park Complex. It’s not easy to find, and this top tip – believe it or not – came from Booking.com.

LePark! is a ‘secret’ bar on the roof of the shopping complex. It has imported craft beers.

We’re not naive. We know that things can be tough here. Yet, we’ve had a great time.

We cheered to Singapore and headed into the night.

Time to go home.

Shiok

We both woke early this morning, our bodies are still on NZ time. We had a coffee in bed and made quite a slow start.

Singapore is only 100 miles north of the equator and it feels like it. When we left the hotel the heat was reasonable and the humidity was very high.

Our plan today was to explore the Chinatown area just south of our hotel. We had an online walking tour and a list of sites and cafés to guide us.

We started with breakfast at Tong Ah Eating House. This is quite a basic no frills place that has been open since 1939. It’s one of the few places still serving kaya toast – toast with coconut jam, we ordered coffee but received tea – very stewed tea with condensed milk.

Fortified for our walk, we hit the streets.

The Chinese make up the largest ethnic group in Singapore. There are records of Chinese settlers in the area in 1330. Chinatown itself was created as part of Sir Stamford Raffles’s plan to organize the city in 1820. Most of the development in the area took place between 1830 and 1850. Until the 20th century, Chinatown was on the waterfront but ongoing land reclamation has moved the water at least 500 yards away. Most of the buildings are three stories high with shops and restaurants on the ground floor and accommodation with shuttered windows above. Many are painted in bright colours and patterns; a lot of streets are strung with lanterns. In between the houses are Hindu and Buddhist temples, mosques and churches.

The largest is the four storey Buddha’s Tooth Temple. We were lucky enough to arrive when a ceremony was going on. The large prayer room has a huge Buddha statue at the end; the walls are covered with hundreds of other figures. The dominant colours are gold and red; the smell of incense hung in the air along with the sound of drums and chanting. On the upper floors, there is a viewing gallery over the prayer hall, a museum, a rooftop garden and the shrine with the Buddha’s tooth relic.

Across the street, Florence spotted Hawker Chan’s restaurant. She went to investigate. She’d told to me the story of Mr Chan – who was the first street stall vendor to get a Michelin star.

If you haven’t heard of Hawker Chan, read this and watch this.

The restaurant is very unpretentious. We queued for 10 minutes maybe. There were a couple of vegetarian options on the menu. We had Thai tofu, noodles and vegetables – it was really tasty and very cheap. Hawker Chan won his Michelin star in 2016 for his soy sauce chicken served with rice – the only dish he made at the time. The original stall is three minutes away from the restaurant.

We walked down streets named after the activities that used to happen there and the original residents. Many of the brothels were filled with Japanese ladies so the red-light district was centered on Japan Street. In Chinese culture, it’s bad luck for somebody to die in your home so Death Street was created to house those known to be near the end of their lives; there was little comfort or care for them in this arrangement.

We explored the largest of the food halls in the area. This one has hundreds of stalls selling food and drink from all over Asia. Some stalls have long queues, others are deserted.

Next was Telok Ayer Street – the former waterfront street’s name in Malay means ‘bay water’. The street is now overshadowed by the office blocks of the business district. Chinese arriving in here in the 19th century liked to give thanks for their survival as soon as they arrived; the street has a variety of temples, churches and mosques. The walk took us down a number of streets that have become more gentrified in recent years with upmarket cafés, bars and restaurants.

We thought we’d almost finished our walk when we came across The Company of Cats – a cat café. We paid for an hour with the cats; there are ten of them – all rescue cats – sharing a large room. We joined in feeding them their afternoon treats.

Finally, we walked around a few streets we’d seen earlier in the day that weren’t specifically on the walk. We found a very good bookshop and a craft beer bar – more of this later. The sound of drums took us along Duxton Road – outside a sweet shop a number of Chinese dragons were dancing while two figures with large heads of old Chinese men came out of the shop.

The food hall we went to last night had a vegetarian stall that had closed when we arrived so went back to try again. It was open but we had a very confusing conversation with the owner – nothing from the menu was available, only what was left. They may or may not be open tomorrow.

We went back to the hotel for a swim and a cup of tea then went back to last night’s food hall to try some more dishes. We both had a potato dosa, very tasty. The last stop for the evening was the craft beer bar we saw earlier- The New Harbour Café. Archipelago is the only craft beer made in Singapore; they had six brews on offer – we tried four between us, all very good.

Shiok: a Singaporean and Malaysian expression denoting sheer pleasure and enjoyment. It sums up our day.

On boarding the plane, we turned left and kept going

We got to the airport hours before we needed to, which is very unusual for us. The check-in was strangely more chaotic than we’d expected due to a shortage of staff.

After clearing immigration, we went up to the lounge. There was an array of complimentary food and drinks – soup, sandwiches, cakes, biscuits, tea, coffee, juice, wine, champagne and spirits. We chatted about the next leg of our journey; it soon became apparent that following our initial research months ago, we remembered little about what we’d be doing in Singapore.

Apart from eating.

It’s going to be a food-fest. We’ve only got a couple of days and have a list of twenty places to check out 🙂

We left the lounge as our flight was ready for boarding. Once aboard, we settled into our seats and familiarised ourselves with our surroundings. We watched a bit of TV, had dinner (with proper plates and cutlery!), a couple of drinks and then asked the stewardess to make up our beds. We slept relatively well and watched more TV after a comprehensive breakfast.

We landed in torrential rain and it took us a little while to get our bags from the carousel due to possible lightening. The taxi from the airport to the hotel was incredibly cheap and we even managed to see a few sights on the way. The heat and humidity are staggering after New Zealand. I love it!

As our room wasn’t ready, we had tea and coffee in the hotel restaurant (oh, the quality of flat white has already deteriorated) and used our time to plan our visit. Our hotel seems to be well located, nothing’s going to be too far away. Sadly, we had to strike a few things off the list as they’ve closed down (Jungle Beer – a local craft brew and Tian Kee & Co where I hoping to try the rainbow cheesecake); are closed for renovation (the Long Bar at Raffles so no Singapore Slings for us!) or de-installation (Singapore Art Museum).

We took a short walk to the Chinatown MRT station to buy our three-day transport cards. Our room was ready by the time we came back; it has a great view of the outdoor terraced garden – one of the hotel’s distinctive features. It prides itself on being sustainable.

Our first port of call was Little India – we followed a self-guided walk around markets and side streets. The place has so much energy; it was buzzing. Colours, sounds, smells. We ticked off one of our places for lunch – Kailash Parbat. We ordered the Bhatura Platter (four flavour Bhatura) with cole masala, Mirchi and Achaar and Masala Cheese marvel. We were about to order a portion of Paneer Butter Masala (a house speciality) when the waiter told us ‘no’. We had enough. It was all incredibly tasty and of course, our waiter had been right 🙂

The city-state of Singapore is located in a tropical rainforest climate. It gets 92 inches of rain every year. Turning into a side-street, I found the art installation I was looking for. The Umbrella Trees – created by local artist Marthalia Budiman – offer colour and protection from the elements. Each of the five trees rises up from a large green cushion that you can sit on to escape the rain and/or sun. The umbrellas were being replaced whilst we were there.

We continued to walk around the area until 4pm, when the temples opened. First, we visited the Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple – dedicated to Vishnu the Preserver. The temple has a 60-foot-high monumental gopuram. Devotees were making offerings of fruit to one of the manifestations of Vishnu – mostly bananas.

Our second temple was the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple which is dedicated to Kali the Courageous, a ferocious incarnation of Shiva’s wife, Parvati the Beautiful.

The Mustafa Centre nearby is open 24 hours a day and it allegedly sells everything — if Mustafa doesn’t have it, you probably can’t find it anywhere else in Singapore!

We took the MRT back to the hotel for a well-deserved R&R. And then we took off again. Back on the MRT. Our destination this time was the Marina Bay Sands hotel for sunset – one of the most iconic buildings in Singapore. We had to buy two vouchers worth 20 SGD each. These we swapped for cocktails once we got onto the outdoor bar on the 57th floor. We managed to find some seats and had a good view of the pool. It was like a zoo – too busy and full of selfie sticks. We’d thought of staying there but the price is prohibitive and looking at how busy it is, we felt we had a lucky escape. There wasn’t much of a sunset after all that, but the cocktails were nice and the panoramic views are a sight to behold.

Back down to earth, we took the MRT to Telok Ayer Market – known as Lau Pa Sat by locals. This is one of the most popular food markets in the city, surrounded by the tallest buildings in the heart of the financial district. The market is apparently open round the clock. Andy had Indian (bhel poori and samosa poori) and I opted for Japanese (a small curry udon). The market was busy, and spilled onto the streets outside. We will need to go back… as we spotted a vegetarian stall which only opens during the day.

By the time we got back to our room, it was close to 9:30pm – that’s 1:30am New Zealand time. We’ve done well today.