by Kerry Tolson @kerrytolson.com
It was a long flight on Scoot, well it felt that way yet we arrived twenty minutes ahead of schedule at the very respectable hour of three o'clock in the afternoon. I swear Changi Airport gets more amazing each time I step into it.... which makes me wonder what that must say about what wow's me if I put an airport in this category. We locate bag drop to leave our backpacks for the night as we don't fancy lugging them through Singapore for just 24hours, then just as we're about to step onto the metro I see a café in the terminal called Paris Baguette. Well I don't actually see it so much as smell it.... and before you can say "bon appetite" we are sitting and chowing down on ham and cheese baguettes. This is just too ridiculous when you consider we will be staying in Chinatown, of all places, and I want to eat at the airport!
It's almost two hours after landing that we finally jump on the MRT. Singapore's MRT is fabulous, fast and efficient, but absolute hell at peak time, which two hours after landing, it is. Everyone is in a hurry, no-body is giving way and absolutely nobody is looking where they are going as most are on their phone which means they have become absent minded steam rollers. Thank goodness we're not trying to lug two whopping great backpacks along with our daypacks.... we wouldn't have fitted into the train, let alone got out of anyone's way.
As we step out of the Metro tunnel I realise why I love Singapore so much. She stinks! There's no one scent about her, and there's definitely not a subtly to her fragrance. It's a powerful punch of swirling aromas - musk, turmeric, garlic, orchid, coconut and that most pungent odour of all, durian. It greets us with a vengeance as does the kaleidoscope of colour. Swathes of lanterns hang overhead, attached to pastel coloured terraces graced in arched timber shutters; lush green palms overhang bright delicate blooms and clash with the bold red and gold of Chinese good luck symbols adorning walls and shop fronts. The streets of Singapore's Chinatown are teaming with people, women in sari's, in head scarves, and in elegant heels and skinny jeans; men in white loose fitting shirts and those in business suits. Cars fight for space with hawker barrows in the narrow laneways whilst busses thunder past on the larger streets. Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam are my favourite haunts of Singapore and although I've lost count of how many times we've been to this vibrant city, we never fail to find a hidden treasure that will delight and blow us away.
For this visit to Singapore, our digs for the night will be the Lai Chun Yuen - the famed Chinese opera theatre that is now a hotel. We head up Pagoda Street and it's full of market stalls selling everything from cheap souvenirs to tailor made shirts and up-market cameras. At the end of the street is a Hindu temple with maddening chanting emanating, whilst pigeons flock and squat on the temple's multi-god pyramid and leave their own offerings. The corner is teaming with tourists, clicking away at the chanters and worshipers, children run amongst the statues and a tour group gathers at the front door to listen intently but most probably inaudibly to the guide who will explain that Pogoda Street was once a den of inequity. This moniker may now belong to Mosque Street, next corner up as it is chock full of bars and pubs.
Mal and I traipse along the street to two corners up and find the boring named Smith Street which is where our digs are. It might be called Smith but as we turn the corner, to our delight we find it's unofficially known as Eat Street with a capital Y for Yum! Row upon row of hawker stalls producing sumptuous mouthwatering fare lead the way to our Hotel, Mal's mouth is salivating at the culinary sensory overload.
We've already eaten.
Mal say's he doesn't care, he'll find some room.
We step into the foyer and are blown away by the dramatic presence that greets us. This is not some posh cement box with no character, nor is it some backpackers dosshouse with oodles of six-legged characters crawling the floor, no, this is perfect - the Lobby and exterior oozed pure elegance.
Built in 1887, this was once the pinnacle in Asian opera venues, stars from China and Hong Kong would flock to perform in the Lai Chun Yuen giving two performances a day to 800patrons each time. Falling into rack and ruin after WWII, the theatre was in an appalling state by 1987. Thankfully it was rescued and restored by a major hotel group.
I am beside myself as I look up at the beautiful wrap around balconies with arched timber shutters and terracotta tiled roof. Inside deep rich red carpet cover the floors, walls and extends to the ceiling.... four stories high! A massive polished timber 'cage' houses the reception area, and the timber slats extend to the rafted ceiling. Behind the reception counter is a heavy stage curtain hanging in swathes and covered in beading that sparkles in the dim light. It almost verges on the bordello look but thankfully just misses and instead winks opulence and luxury to you. We check in with much excitement and anticipation, thinking WOW! if this is the common area, our room is going to be amazing.
I get over my performance, and we head out to explore Chinatowns steamy streets. Eat Street is packed with diners and the next street over is full of market shoppers. We cross the main road and discover a street I've been wanting to see for ages - Ann Siang Hill and Club Street - said to be the best preserved colonial architecture in Singapore.
It is gorgeous....
and absolutely crowded with the gorgeous set.
Suits and Stilettoes gatherer together in the posh-nosh establishments lining the hill and there's a buoyant party atmosphere. One place on the corner is so packed with suits, I surmise that it must be the cool hip place to be, but it turns out that this night is jelly-wrestling night and we've just missed the action by about half an hour. I spy in the dim light, tiles adorning the walls of the shop fronts and I'm excited to find that they are vintage. I tell Mal we are coming back in the morning so I can view them better. Funny thing is he's not so excited. To cheer him up, we head back to Eat Street and wrap our tastebuds around sumptuous vintage Singaporean cuisine.
One of the things I love about Singapore is not only how clean it is, but how free it is from graffiti. I'm a lover of street art, but random scribble just doesn't do it for me, and of course not for the local authorities, but it was quirky to find how some calligraphers had found a way to 'thumb their nose' at the establishment and get their tag out there - naturally.
Just before reaching the end of Club Street we find a small patisserie and come out with a croissant and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Perfect! my morning was made I thought dreamily. A few steps further I am launched into another realm. I stopped dead in my tracks and find myself reeling as I watch a man come towards me.
Tall with baseball cap, suit jacket over jeans.
That face! That stance!
There was no mistaking it.
And absolutely no mistaking the walk.
This was a man I'd grown up watching, laughing at, sometimes with tears streaming down my face. I felt tears now prickling at my eyes and the look of recognition must have shown on my face, for he looked at me directly and seemed to stiffen, as if waiting for me to utter the words -
"You're John Cleese".
But nothing comes out of my mouth. I'm dumbfounded. As he walks past he smiles and nods. I grab Mal's arm.
"Oh My God!" I whisper "That's John Cleese".
Mal looks at me as if I've gone mad then realises it is the John Cleese. We watch him walk up the incline of Club Street. He stops, takes out a map and checks it against his surrounds. He appears to be lost. Mal suggests we go offer assistance. Yeah right, as if we'll be much help with directions - we're both notorious for getting lost. I clearly remember our Clueless in Singapore act of last year and remind Mal of it. John Cleese disappears up Club Street and we head towards Mosque Street.
One of my favourite temples in Singapore is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, a massive complex in traditional Tang Dynasty style and houses tens of thousands of tiny Buddhas and some very large Buddhas. It towers above the surrounding terrace shops and today, it's adorned with colourful paper lanterns and garlands of silk fluorescent flowers. Inside a chant is about to start as monks in mustard colour gowns take their seats in rows in front of the large Buddhas.
I've been wanting to visit here for some time. The gardens were open back in 2011 and each time we've been to Singapore we've missed finding the time to visit. I was determine to see them this time. Mal took one look of the ticket price and said he'd sit in a café and read - "seen one garden, seen them all" he declared. I buy a ticket at the ferry terminal and we take a boat ride across the bay. I'm super keen to see the Supertrees I'd heard so much about, massive metal sculptures with plants entwined on them, they reminded me of something out of the movie Avatar.
It turns out that viewing the Supertrees and the cultural gardens is free - the paid tickets are for access to two enormous domes which house a 'flower garden' and a 'cloud forest'. Mal settles himself with a book whilst I tackled the Flower Dome first. Theres a "Tulipmania" display on at the Flower dome so the line up to get in exceedingly long. Finally I get inside the dome and I can't believe what I see.
No it's not amazing and spectacular....
quite the opposite!
The noise is horrendous, the crowds are unbelievable, so packed is the dome it's hard to get even close to a bud, but most unbelievable is that the flowers in the dome as extremely ordinary - they are everyday garden flowers like daisies, geraniums, and pansies.
There's a display of Tulips on the lower floor with small dutch-like windmills in the middle of the display but theres absolutely no way of getting anywhere near them for the crowds. I can't wait to get out of the dome as the noise from the people yelling is deafening.
I leave as fast as I can and head for the "Cloud Forest" dome. My disappointment plummets. It's a cement mountain with water pipes jutting out spewing water to represent a waterfall. People are rushing over to it to get their photos taken near it. Hanging off the concrete walls are begonias, orchids and pitcher plants. Nothing at all unusual for Singapore. These are gorgeous blooms normally found in their gardens throughout the city. I'm far from impressed that I've paid considerable dollars to see these domes. Again, here too the crowds are enormous and there is a long wait to use the lifts to reach the cloud walking platform. I forego the experience of walking above a fake mountain, take the lift down to the exit and escape out into the fresh air and where the true amazing structures are - the Supertrees which sit in the middle of the ourdoor garden area.
Mal and I spend a few hours wandering the cultural gardens and the lake area - these are stunning and very beautiful and I would highly recommend a visit to this.... the domes in my opinion are not worth the money. Unfortunately on this visit, Mal and I will miss the light show that is put on the Supertrees every night but we both declare that on next visit to Sin, it's on our must do list.
We leave the gardens and take a walk across the Helix Bridge - another wonderful piece of structural art that graces this beautiful city, then it's on to Changi Airport to fly out to our next destination. The deliciously delightful Turkey.
Hello! I'm Kerry
. . . a plan-nothing, have no idea where I'm going travelholic.
A daughter of the gypsies and the wife of a workaholic, I'm forever wondering 'What's over there?' and devising ways to squeeze through the barbed-wire fence of small-business ownership responsibilities and every-day life tangles to discover it.
and this is my book.