The humidity, the food, the culture. Singapore is ground zero for the greatest success stories of south east Asia. The talkative cab drivers have their opinions as well:
“Unless you work here. You will die.” Aden told me. “There are strict laws and the high cost of living keeps the poor people out. I am second generation Singaporean, my father came here from China. I will drive a cab till I die, but I earn enough to send my son to a good school.”
I gave Aden a nice tip upon stepping out while thinking that is the way of most developed country’s attitudes towards the less fortunate. They give you just enough to get by, but never enough to escape.
Singapore is like ‘Naboo’ from the Star Wars franchise – modern, beautiful buildings intertwined with gardens everywhere you look. Even as we left the airport, we noticed the guardrails on the highway into the city were covered with flowering bushes, to give even the drab roads a splash of color and give drivers some eye candy. It’s not without it’s tradeoffs though. This island country has stiff fines for littering and some of the strongest laws in the world against drug trafficking, resulting in crippling fines and in even modest cases of possession, death.
We started by spending the first few nights with our friends Dick and Ollie and their little girl McKinley in their opulent apartment. I remember when I got my first apartment in college and thinking the $135 dollars per month was a bit high. Fast forward to our rent 4 years ago in Vietnam ($1,100), and my shock when Dick told me their current monthly rent.
“$5,500 US dollars” He said. “But, between Molly and I, we still have some money left over as we pool both of our rental stipends.” In international education, Singapore is the ‘white unicorn’ of teaching posts with high compensation, tons to do, and a great standard of living. Most friends that we visited while there, have a live-in nanny to help with childcare and they enjoy one of the best epicenters for Asian travel. With a two hour flight, you can be in Bali, 5 hours; the Maldives. The 11,000 islands of Indonesia are also at your fingertips which are a scuba divers wet dream. No pun intended.
Despite the high costs, there a lot of cheap things to do and public transportation is an app away. It’s best to do excursions starting mid-morning and go till 1 or 2 in the afternoon to kick back in the swimming pool for a siesta, nap or enjoy the air conditioner inside while the afternoon rain storms roll in around 3:00 pm.
‘Must see’ areas of Singapore
1.) Gardens by the Bay The Super tree grove, cloud forest, ‘Satay by the Bay’ and the views of the Marina Bay Sands are more than worth it and a ‘must do’ if you only have a weekend to spare.
2.) Arab Street Come down here to haggle for carpets, window shop, and have dinner at trendy upscale restaurants as the nightlife heats up.
3.) Sentosa Island Plan to spend a full Saturday or Sunday here as the city flocks to the beach for sand and play. Splurge on upmarket experiences such as zip-lining, the luge, or even the indoor skydiving center.
4.) The Singapore Zoo and/or Night Safari This was Ava’s first time to Singapore and for this trip, we had time only for the amazing ‘daytime’ zoo. The night safari can be done as an early evening activity for the kids and get them home for a reasonable bed time.
5.) Orchard Road The heart and soul of Singapore. High end boutiques, restaurants but with hawker stalls tucked away for the more budget conscience traveller.
Our Trick for Coming Home Refreshed
For the last couple of nights, we decided to treat ourselves at the Conrad Centennial near the Esplanade which has become somewhat of a favorite travel routine of ours. We started this a few years ago when we capped off an exhausting 3 week trip in India with the final night’s stay at the Radisson in New Delhi which sent us home feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. Since then, we’ve made it a habit for spending the last night or two of a holiday at a 4 or 5 star hotel.
High end hotels have always been out of reach for us financially, but since my wife and I opened Hilton branded AMEX cards, we’ve scored free anniversary nights, and racked up thousands of points just through everyday purchases that are redeemable for free night stays. During our stay, we relished 2 full days of complete bliss with a free room upgrade, complimentary breakfast, pool side service and staff falling over themselves to our obnoxious beck and calls. We were a middle class family, hamming it up around the pool and shouting scream-induced tickle tortures from our room while the well-behaved children of the southeast Asian glitterati looked on with jealousy and their parents with contempt.
It was legendary, treading water while the sharks looked on, wondering how people like us were allowed in such a fine establishment and if we’d be leaving soon.