Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Arriving in Singapore

Leaving Laos was quite a significant milestone on this journey of ours, as it marked the end of our overland journey through Mainland Southeast Asia and the start of our trip to the more southerly, coastal regions of Maritime Southeast Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and potentially the Philippines (though it's likely we'll have to skip the last one due to money constraints). Flights out of Laos are generally pretty expensive, so in order to get down to Singapore we crossed over to Thailand, took a flight from Udon Thani to Bangkok, then took a connecting flight to Singapore.

After spending around 3 months travelling through some rather grimy, underdeveloped countries, we were really taken aback by the polished, first-world futurism of Singapore. It's world-renowned for its cleanliness and hyper-modern cityscape, so in some ways we knew what to expect, but when you've become accustomed to dusty, potholed dirt-roads, old world markets, tuk-tuks, and people living in wooden shacks, it really makes a place like Singapore seem like a utopian fantasy. If cities like Seoul or Ho Chi Minh resemble a dark, cyberpunk future reminiscent of films like Blade Runner and Akira, then Singapore is that glossy, perfectionist future found in films like Minority Report and Elysium (or the Citadel in the videogame series, Mass Effect). The buildings and roads are immaculately clean, which for some gives the city a sterile, bland appearance, but to us those sleek modernist structures are just as aesthetically pleasing as quaint, ancient temples (especially when you've started to grow tired of the latter!). As much as we loved those less-developed countries that we travelled through, we can't help but feel refreshed by Singapore's futuristic perfection.

Another thing that stands out about this pretty little city-state is its diverse population, with noticeable Chinese, Malay, Indian and European populations (to name a few) calling it their home, and numerous different languages being spoken on the street and in the subway. This makes it a delight to explore, as there are foreign influences everywhere, and the colourful ethnic enclaves prove there's more to Singaporean architecture than apartment blocks and shiny skyscrapers. Because of the multicultural population, pretty much everyone can communicate in English as it's used as a lingua franca, and many of the under-50s can speak it fluently, which is convenient for us visitors.

I should also mention that Singapore is very significant to this blog, as it's actually the country from which I've received the most page hits. For some reason, this blog receives more traffic via Google Singapore than it does via the regular I'd be curious to hear from any Singaporean readers why this is so. I can only assume that Korea is a popular destination among Singaporeans, which has led many of them to my blogposts on that country.

In any case, without further ado, here's our first bunch of pictures from beautiful Singapore.

Our route from Vientiane to Singapore required a bus ride to Udon Thani in Thailand, a flight to Bangkok, and another flight to Singapore.
Crossing from Laos into Thailand was pretty simple and hassle-free. Finding our hotel in Udon Thani was a little trickier, however. This small, unremarkable city is way off the tourist trail, and unlike everywhere else we've been to in Thailand, there are few people here conversant in English. So we had a tough time trying to find our hostel, and in the end booked a different hotel for the night. Though the city is dull and lacking in sights, it was actually kind of refreshing being in a Thai city with hardly any other foreigners around. Before, the country felt like one giant tourist resort, but this city helped us see a more authentic side to Thailand.
The next day, we took a plane down to Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport.
From there, it was a short flight south to Singapore Airport, which is often rated as one of the best airports in the world.
We booked into a really cool hostel called Happy Snail, which felt like living in a shared apartment with a bunch of backpackers. The next day we went for a walk along the clean, tree-lined avenues of downtown Singapore.
Passing a Sikh temple.
The ever-reliable Singapore MRT.
I don't think I mentioned this on my blog, but back in Laos, my Nikon D-40 - which has been my trusted photographic companion for over five years - finally broke completely, after several months of technical problems. Consequently, for the last few posts (including this one) I've been using photos we took on Angela's cellphone. However, since Singapore is famous for its cheap electronics, I decided to buy a new camera here. We went to Sim Lim Square, a popular electronics market, and I bought a Canon Powershot SX510. It meant reverting from a DSLR back to a simple point-and-shoot camera, but that's okay, since the pictures it takes are actually pretty good quality, good enough for me at least. In the next blogpost, I'll start posting pictures from that camera.
The first ethnic district we explored was Little India, the centre for the large Indian community in Singapore. Its colourful buildings are a nice change from the monochrome tones of downtown Singapore.

For lunch we ate at a vegetarian restaurant, enjoying some delicious South Indian cuisine. I'm not usually a fan of Indian food, but this may have converted me.
Next we explored the marina, which is dominated by skyscrapers and futuristic architecture.

One of the most impressive buildings is Marina Bay Sands, a hotel-resort that resembles a ship. Opened in 2010, it is the world's most expensive building, costing a whopping 5.7 billion US dollars. We would be seeing more of this building during our time in Singapore, and yes, we took a lot of photos of it.
The marina was probably our favourite place in Singapore, just a perfectly relaxed, breezy place to go for a walk and escape the heat (a little).

This is the city's national mascot, the merlion. The "mer" part represents the city's origins as a fishing village, while the "lion" stems from its original name, Singapura, meaning "lion city."

Next, we headed for another ethnic enclave: Chinatown!

Surely this should have been in the Little Belgium district?

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.

Another sight that seems a little out of place in Chinatown is this Hindu temple,  Sri Mariamman. Nevertheless, couldn't resist going inside to see its colourful figurines and deities.

Also in Chinatown was the world's largest coin, a "yap" stone made by the people of Micronesia. The hole in the middle was for a pole so that people could carry it.
In the evening we walked along Orchard Road, an area famed for its malls and fashion stores.

That's it for our first full day in Singapore, but don't worry, there's lots more to come. In the next post, we visit some of the greener areas of the city, including the Chinese Gardens and the incredible Gardens by the Bay.


  1. Singaporean here! Came across your blog while trying to find my from Luang Prabang to Hanoi, from the comfort of my home (before doing it for real on the ground)! To answer your question, I suppose there's a growing trend of young backpackers here? (like myself) and your journey through Southeast Asia came up from the search naturally.. great stuff, cheers!

    1. Thanks for your message and information! much appreciated :D