Singapore Story – A Little bit of China

Marina Bay ViewWell, continuing on from my previous post I was standing on the southern side of the bay where I had just taken a couple of selfies (and that part of the bay I must admit offers the best panoramic view of the Downtown Core and the Marina Bay Sands hotel). However my next task was to cross over the harbour to visit the arts centre (which sticking with tradition is an oddly shaped building). To get there I had to unfortunately walk the long way around (since the area had been closed off due to preparations for the practice parade – yep, they were actually having a practice parade this weekend), which took a bit of time, but not much – anyway the walk was quite nice as I passed some more gardens.

Waterfront Greenery (pic - Story) Singapore - Marina Bay Greenery 02

Anyway, I made it to the footbridge that crossed over one of the narrower sections of the bay, which is called the Helix Bridge, namely because it is made to look like a double helix.

Helix Bridge
Tis the Double-Helix

The ArtScience Museum had three offerings, two of them carried a fee (The Deep and Dreamworks Animation) while the third (Singapore STories) didn’t. I wasn’t particularly interested in the paid exhibitions (at least I wasn’t interested in paying to see them) however the third looked interesting. It was a look at the story of Singapore through the major daily newspaper – The Strait Times. After spending some time taking in that exhibition I decided to make my way to the Marina Bay Sands, that huge luxury hotel that looks like it has a ship straddling the three pillars, however to get there I have to pass through another shopping centre (well, I didn’t have to but I did anyway – as it turns out it offers much easier access).

The ArtScience Museum
They have to look strange, don’t they.

The Marina Bay

Well, this particular shopping centre was a really high end shopping centre (not that the others aren’t, it is just that this particular shopping centre is the next level up from all of the other shopping centres scattered across the city – remember Singapore is not a cheap city). So, I made my way around yet another shopping centre, but since I wasn’t actually interested in doing any shopping I simply had a quick wander through, mainly making my way towards the hotel since my next task was to get to the top and have a look at the view. However as I was heading towards the hotel I did notice (actually it was the second time I passed through here, but that is beside the point) that there was a canal running through a part of the shopping centre with some guy drifting down it in a gondola.

Marina Bay Shopping Centre Gondola Marina Bay Shopping Centre

I found the casino, which is in the heart of the shopping centre, however I noticed that there were two checkpoints at the entrance – one of the natives and one for the foreigners. I thought that was a bit odd, but in the end I really don’t like casinos that much, and certainly didn’t want to go to all the rigmarole of passing through security, so I simply took note and moved on to my next destination – the Marina Bay Sands. In any case casino’s aren’t cheap – even the ones in Macau weren’t cheap – while I don’t mind a game of blackjack, I do mind paying a $20.00 minimum to do so.

Well, the Marina Bay Sands certainly is a high-end hotel. As I was wondering through the lobby it took me a little while to realise that the rooms opened onto balconies that looked out over the interior. The lobby was massive, in fact it was one of the largest that I had ever seen. A quick check on Webjet has revealed that to stay one night at this particular hotel will set you back over $500.00 (Australian) – though that is by booking months in advance. Sure, it certainly isn’t the cheapest option available, but at least you get access to the pool up on the deck (something that I unfortunately discovered wasn’t available to me – not that I wanted to go for a swim anyway).

Marina Bay Lobby Lobby Gardens

A trip up to the deck set me back $25.00 and while the view was magnificent (and probably worth a lot more – which you could say is why the hotel is so expensive) it did have its drawbacks. The deck had two levels: the lower deck was the viewing platform and the upper deck was a restaurant which offered a three course meal (for a price – around $45.00 for one). However the while there was a cafe on the lower deck, it didn’t really have any place where you could simply sit with a beer and a book and enjoy the view. As I have mentioned, there is no access to the pool from the deck either (and while I would suggest that it is to separate us plebs from the moneyed class, in reality I could afford to stay here for a couple of nights – I simply can’t justify paying that much for a hotel).

Skydeck Kiosk Skydeck View - Harbour

Skydeck View - Waterfront Skydeck View - Gardens by the Bay

Skydeck View - Flower Domes Skydeck Vide - Boats on Standby

Off to Chinatown

So, my next stop was to have some lunch, and you are always going to find some decent food in Chinatown (if you like Chinese food that is). Mind you, one of the things that I discovered about Singapore is that people pretty much come here for the food, and while there are a lot of restaurants and cafes scattered about, the place you find the real Singapore food is in the hawker’s centres. One of the things that a friend of mine did when he visited Singapore about a month before I arrived was to flood his Facebook profile with pictures of food. Anyway, here are pictures of some food that I had in Singapore:

Duck from Chinatown Complex Soup from Hong Lim Markets

I’m really don’t consider myself a foodie, however one thing that I realised with the hawkers centres that are scattered about the place is that you order yourself a number of dishes and then sit at one of the tables. In fact you generally don’t eat all of the food yourself but rather share it with your companions (if you have any). While the individual dishes are quite small, and inexpensive, you are generally supposed to buy multiple dishes (which does eventually add up).

When I got off the train at Chinatown I walked straight into a standard shopping mall. I really wasn’t interested in eating at any of the restaurants here, so after wandering around a bit I eventually discovered my first hawker’s centre (the Hong Lim Market and Food Centre), which was a line of food shops with benches out the front. I was pretty impressed, and in a way it seemed to be what I would consider an authentic food court. As I have mentioned, unlike the food courts back home in Australia, here you purchase multiple dishes from multiple stalls and then sit down and eat it as a banquet. What was even better was that the juice stalls sold some really exotic juices – in fact Watermelon juice was a stock standard (though watermelon, while I love it, really doesn’t make a decent drink). I ended up having a really nice juice which I believe was a mix of dragon fruit and mango.

Hong Lim Market Drinks Hong Lim Markets

Oh, and if you don’t know what a dragon fruit looks like here is a picture:

Dragon Fruit
They are actually quite nice – just a little hard to peel

You can get them in Australia but they are notoriously difficult to find. I have eventually discovered them at some of the Chinese Fruit & Veg stalls in the Preston Markets and along Victoria Street in Richmond.

So, after a rather decent meal (even though it was quite small, but then again I really don’t eat all that much) I decided to go and explore Chinatown a bit more. Unfortunately I headed in the wrong direction and found myself in a park that simply did not look like Chinatown, so I turned around and headed in the opposite direction (I really should have paid attention to my phone) and walked past a craft beer bar. No, actually I walked into a craft beer bar (simply because it is very hard to find craft beers in Singapore – and they are non-existent in Phuket, but more on that latter) though they only had one brand of craft beer on sale. After a quick pit stop I continued and almost walked into a mosque thinking that it was a museum or something – the sign on the door gave it away pretty quickly.

Anyway, I finally arrived at Chinatown, which happens to be next to this Hindu Temple. I have never seen such a temple before in my life, but then again I have never been to India (I have been to Bangkok, but they aren’t Hindu, they are Buddhist – for some reason there is something cool about saying that I have been to Bangkok).

Hindu TempleAnyway, after admiring the Hindu temple I plunged into the experience that is Chinatown. Well, to say it was an experience is probably an exaggeration because it is basically Chinatown in Singapore – it isn’t the night markets in Hong Kong. Still it is pretty cool, with these narrow alleys all crowded with stalls selling all sorts of things from clothes to food to souvenirs.

Chinatown Markets Kite Stall

Food Hall Market Stall

However as I was wandering through there I discovered something that was completely out of place:

Tintin Shop
They don’t like you taking photos inside

Don’t ask me why, of all places in Singapore, it is located in Chinatown. Oh, and if you don’t know where Chinatown is, here is a map (though it is pretty easy to find – get off at the Chinatown MRT station):

Anyway I wandered around the place for about half-an-hour and then decided to look for a couple of bars that were recommended to me by Yelp – The Smith Street Taps and the Good Beer Company. It was really difficult to locate them because as it turned out it was in the middle of the Chinatown Complex, a huge building full of stalls that pretty much sold everything that you could get in Chinatown. It wasn’t all that chaotic because the groundfloor contained clothes, the basement was a fresh food market, and the first floor was a massive food hall. When I finally managed to work out how to find them (Yelp helpfully gave me the stall numbers and once I had worked that out it was quite easy) I discovered that they were closed. Unfortunately they wouldn’t open until 6:00 pm. However I had located them and stored the location in the back of my mind to return later.

Chinatown Complex Chinatown Complex

Opposite the complex was a Buddhist Temple which was referred to on Google as the Buddha Tooth Relic Museum (and temple). However before I talk about that I will say a couple of things about those two bars (which I ended up visiting). The Good Beer Company and Smith Street Taps are apparent owned by the same people (and are very close to each other). The first sells bottled craft beer (and there is a pretty good selection, though most of them are American micro-brews) while Smith Street Taps, as the name says, has a rotation of craft beers on tap. From the reviews I read on Yelp people literally rave about these two bars (though the biggest problem is that it is located in a huge hawker’s market) and I must say that I was pretty impressed. In fact if you are unsure of what you want, they will give you some good recommendations (there were so many beers that I had a really hard time choosing just one). If you like beer, and happen to be in Singapore for a couple of days, I highly recommend visiting these two places.

Anyway, after planning my return trip to the complex (which included dinner) I then headed across the plaza to the Tooth Museum, which in fact it isn’t a museum (so I am unsure why they call it a museum) nor do they have any teeth on display. In fact no matter how hard I looked I simply could not find any teeth. Basically it is a Buddhist Temple, and the thing with these temples is that since I am a Christian I always feel really uncomfortable walking into these places. I won’t say it was any different this time, but the thing is that I do have this interest in foreign cultures, and since Buddhism is actually more of a philosophy than a religion, I do find it interesting. However, as I said, I am a Christian and find that too many of Buddha’s teachings conflict with my own. Also I tend to find that a lot of these temples tend to piggy back on other religions, meaning that Buddhism in Thailand has a very distinctive Hindu flavour while Buddhism on Hong Kong has a much more Taoist aspect. From my experiences in Hong Kong this temple was Chinese.

Buddhist Tooth Museum A Taoist God

Gardens of the Bay

Okay, I didn’t head straight to the bay, rather I went to Raffles Place in what Google Map has listed as the downtown core – its the place where all the really tall buildings are located. In fact the skyscrapers in Singapore are literally the tallest that I have ever seen, and not only do I live in Melbourne but I have also been to Hong Kong. For some reason those buildings in the Downtown Core dwarf even the buildings in Hong Kong (and I tell you what, Hong Kong has some pretty tall buildings).

Core Buildings Core Buildings

Anyway, once again I wanted to check out a couple of places, one of them being a pub called Altitude – and the name suits it because it happens to be at the top of one of those huge buildings. Unfortunately it didn’t open until about 8:00 pm (though there was the beginnings of a line outside) so I decided go somewhere else. However I did notice that it is not a bar that caters for the young and hip, namely because the sign out the front indicated (from what I can remember) that the minimum age was 25. That was beside the point because I wasn’t going in there anyway. Instead I made my way through the core to discover, unfortunately, that the next bar that was on my list was also closed, however to get there I had to walk past a couple more bars, one of them called the Boomerang Bar. As the name implies this is an ex-pat Australian bar and not only can you get Australian Beers (though I must admit that the Coopers Pale Ale simply did not taste all that right) but they also showed all of the Australian Rules football matches. Well, I did sit there for one beer and watched a random game on the television (West Coast Eagles v Gold Coast, which surprisingly ended in a draw – something very rare in an Australian Rules Football match, and even more surprising because West Coast is a team that is in really good form this year, while the Gold Coast hasn’t been travelling all that well).

Boomerang Boat Quay Watching the Football

So, after my beer I decided to go and check out the Gardens by the Bar (well, I had worked that out a while before hand). However, instead of taking the train I decided to walk – and walked slap bang into the middle of the SG50 practice celebrations. Fortunately it wasn’t that crowded, but there certainly were a lot of people crowded around the bay (if that is what they call it because to me it looks more like a harbour, even though the harbour is elsewhere). Okay, there weren’t any fireworks, but they did have some of their jets and helicopters flying over (which made me wonder, for such a small country, where they would keep all of their jets, especially since you could fly from one side of the island to the other in probably a couple of seconds – it turns out that they are actually based in allied countries such as Australia and the United States).

I finally reached the Gardens by the Bay which is basically one huge park. I didn’t spend a huge amount of time there simply because I wanted to get back to my hotel via the two bars in the Chinatown Complex. Anyway, they are quite large, and it isn’t just a lawn with trees (though their certainly are places as such) but rather a huge collection of gardens. I wandered through a couple of the gardens before making my way to the super trees. They aren’t really trees but rather artificial structures made to look like trees with have plants growing all over them, and they also have a suspended walkway between them where you can look over the gardens as well as the city. Unfortunately I had arrived there at dusk so they weren’t in their full night-time glory (they light up at night), and I’m not sure if the view from the walkway would have been as impressive if I had went up there.

Chinese Garden A Lion's Head

Passage to the Super Trees The Super Trees

Anyway, it was starting to get late (and my cameras were running low on power – I travel with two cameras for that reason) so I turned around and headed back to my hotel via the Chinatown Complex. It was a shame that I didn’t have time to explore this place a little more, especially to visit the Flower Dome, however maybe when I am down here next time I can spend a bit more time here. However, my experience here made me realise that Singapore is truly a city of gardens – but that is the subject of my next post.

Creative Commons License
Singapore Story – A Little bit of China by David Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

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