Arrival at Singapore was on time, and the airport must be the fastest we have ever visited for getting luggage and going through customs.
The first impression of Singapore was that it was very, very hot and humid - even in the early evening. The heat hit as soon as we left the terminal building, but fortunately the minibus to our hotel was air-conditioned. The Copthorne Orchid Hotel in Dunearn Road was the cheapest of the Austravel stopover options. It is a typical Copthorne international hotel with enormous reception area, lounges, restaurants, outdoor swimming pool and garden, and even a few shops. Overall the arrangements with Austravel worked very well.
Tuesday 13 March Singapore : Chinatown and Clarke Quay
We used the shuttle bus service from the hotel to Liat Towers on Orchard Road. Orchard Road is a wide street of luxury hotels, eating places and shopping malls. We headed in the general direction of the waterfront, and found a MRT Underground station. Fares are cheap and the stations are exceptionally clean, as well as being air-conditioned. We alighted at Raffles Place, and then began a walk through Chinatown.
Redevelopment and restoration work of what is now called Far East Square was completed in 1998. The area is between China Street in the west, Pekin Street in the north, Cross Street in the south and Telok Ayer Street in the east. The Far East Square is based on the traditional Chinese concept of yin and yang - in which the universe and life is kept in balance by the five elements : water, fire, wood, metal and earth. The Square has four Gates - the Metal Gate, Water Gate, Wood Gate and Fire Gate, and the Pavilion which represents Earth.The Heritage Trail is based around the Fuk Tak Chi Museum, which was the first Chinese Temple in Singapore built in 1824. In 1854 the nearby Chui Eng Free School in Amoy Street was set up. It now houses a restaurant, and we had an excellent buffet lunch for just under £4 each.
We continued down Telok Ayer Street to our first temple - Thian Hock Keng (Temple of Heavenly Bliss). This is the oldest Chinese Temple in Singapore, and was originally on the seashore. The temple was completed in 1842, and contains the statue of Ma-Zu-Po, the Goddess of the Sea.
We retraced our steps to Cross Street and then turned west to the Sri Mariamman Temple. This is the oldest Hindu Temple in Singapore. We were impressed with the statues and decorations and purchased a permit to use our camera.
The walking tour through Chinatown continued along Trenggann Street. We walked up and down the street several times, looking unsuccessfully for a museum, past all the clothes stalls, before turning to Chinatown Centre and Sago Street. Here there was a busy local food market, and other shops selling Chinese products.
Eating out at Clarke Quay
Having seen a variety of interesting eating places, we went back into the centre for dinner. We walked along the Boat Quay but got tired of the incessant pestering by the restaurants. At the end of Boat Quay we crossed the Elgin Bridge, heading for Clarke Quay and more restaurants. Here it was quieter and we could browse menus without being pursued. We liked the choice of local dishes at the Café Lotus, but decided to eat at her sister restaurant, Lotus on the River, which is aboard two beautifully restored Chinese junks. As a starter, the Laksa was a memorable spicy soup with rice noodles. This was followed by two local dishes black pepper beef and chili crab.
Wednesday 14 March Singapore : Botanic Gardens, Little India, Cheng Ho cruise and Boat Quay
The Botanic Gardens are near the hotel,
and the shuttle bus dropped us off. The present gardens date from 1859 and are looked after by the National Parks Branch. Entrance is free, but there is a small fee to get into the National Orchid Garden. This is the largest orchid showcase in the world, with an extensive orchid breeding programme. Over 700 species and 2100 hybrids are found in the collection, with a number of special orchids named after celebrities.( For example, Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela and Princess Diana.)
The Botanic Gardens are on the route used by the Singapore Airlines Hop-on bus, and this took us along Orchard Road to Sungei Road, for Little India. Our guide book had a route for us to walk, but we seemed to be the only tourists in the area, and did not like the narrow dirty streets. We walked as far as the Hindu Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, which is dedicated to Kali, a powerful and destructive deity, whose black statue is at the centre of the temple. We decided to miss the other two temples, about half a mile further on.
We wanted somewhere quick for lunch, and found a FoodCourt in the basement of some shops near Fullerton Square. There were lots of different stands around the edge of a large room , with tables and chairs in the centre. Food was ordered by pointing at the picture on the wall, then sitting while the food was cooked freshly to order. We preferred local specialities so approached a stall which sold Mee Goreng (fish and noodles) and seafood fried rice. As we were leaving we saw someone with a dessert. It was a large mound of coloured ice, and made us curious about local puddings. We chose a Chegn Tng to share. We have no idea what was in it, but there were a number of sweet and jelly bits, covered with a slushy caramel liquid. The total was about £4.
Afternoon cruise on "Cheng Ho"
We decided to take one of the afternoon boat trips, on the Replica 15th century Imperial Chinese Junk "Cheng Ho".There were two reasons for taking the trip. Firstly we like boats and being afloat. But secondly, Queen Elizabeth 2 should have docked that morning in the Container Port, and we hoped to get a glimpse of her. The cruise left Clifford Pier, passing the mouth of the Singapore River, and giving a good view of the skyline of Singapore City. We were disappointed to see no sign of Queen Elizabeth 2, although we glimpsed the yellow funnel of another cruise ship. Nevertheless the 2.5 hour trip was very enjoyable, including the stop at the holy island Kusu. This small island is a tortoise sanctuary, as well as having a famous ancient Chinese temple.
Eating out at Boat Quay
We strolled along the Boat Quay trying to decide between the competing restaurants for dinner. We chose the Java restaurant at 40 Boat Quay, partly because it was the sort of food which we liked, and partly because they had won prizes for their cooking. We were hot and were lucky to get a table on the edge of the river. We began with Satay chicken, which was brought to the table with a little grill flame to keep them warm. Then, for our main course we had two different types of spicy beef, fish in a banana leaf and special fried rice, all washed down with locally brewed Tiger beers.
Thursday 15 March Singapore : Botanic Gardens and QE2 Embarkation
We still had a full morning before checking out of the hotel, so we walked along Bukit Timah Road to the Botanic Gardens' Nursery Gate. It was only 10 minutes walk, and meant we could see the other half of the gardens, including the Eco-lake with its black swans.
Overall we very much enjoyed our brief visit to Singapore, and hope to go back again in the near future. There is so much more which we would like to see and do, and just three days is far too short a visit. As we looked across from the Singapore Cruise Centre, waiting to board QE2, we could see the Merlion statue - the symbol of Singapore which has the head of a lion and the body of a fish.
I could swear that it winked its eye at us !