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Singapore (Raffles Place & Marina Bay) November 22, 2011

Posted by Dru in East Asia, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Singapore (Raffles Place & Marina Bay)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-JL

The area on the south side of Marina Bay can easily be summed up as being Raffles Place Station and the Marina Bay Sands complex.  It is a vast area that is still being developed and will continue to change over the next few years.  It is a place where seeing the old traditional look of Singapore is being squeezed out by the new modern complexes.  Most businessmen will be heading to this area more often while most tourists will just pass that area and head straight to the shopping complex and casino in the Marina Bay Sands Hotel.  It may not be as varied as the Bugis and City Hall area but it is just as important.

Raffles Place Station feels like a misnomer to me.  It is a name of the station in the central business district of Singapore but the Raffles Hotel is not located near this station.  Most of this area is generally pretty boring.  You can head into the core business district and see many tall and architecturally interesting buildings.  It is a beacon of modern architecture, but that is about it.  Unless you are interested in taking photographs of these buildings and some of the art that is spread throughout the area, it won’t be interesting.  In fact, on the weekends, even Saturdays, the entire area is nearly shut down.  There is very little to do as many of the shops were closed, including the shopping malls during the F1 weekend!  The river and bay side is where most tourists will flock.  There is a bridge connecting the Parliament Building to the south side of the river.  Along the river, Boat Quay, there are dozens of small restaurants and bars.  It is a great place to get a meal, but be aware that the people there are very aggressive, especially around lunch time.  It was difficult for me to just walk around without someone trying to coax me to eat at their restaurant.  I couldn’t relax as much as I wanted and make my own choice, but the same time it is a great way to get information on the restaurants.  I learned that most of the restaurants had a happy hour in the afternoon.  In fact, most of Singapore has happy hour specials that last from noon-5pm.  Liquor is usually half priced, around $5 a glass.  From 5-8pm, it is usually 25% off and from 8pm, regularly priced.  The shops on the river are actually wonderful once you sit down.  The prices are reasonable for lunch and they offer outdoor terraces with riverfront views.  I enjoyed a nice Indian lunch while having wonderful views of an art gallery and the Fullerton Hotel.  Most of the restaurants and bars are almost exactly the same, aside from the food they serve, and they do have indoor areas that are air conditioned, but on a beautiful day, I couldn’t resist the riverfront view.

Marina Bay can easily be summed up as the area around the Marina Bay Sands.  The Marina Bay Sands is a huge hotel complex that includes a museum, future convention centre, future botanical garden, hotel, casino, and shopping mall.  It is a place of luxury for one of the most highly recommended hotels in the world.  The main sight for a tourist has to be the observation deck at the top of the hotel.  It is a little expensive but the top of the hotel has a large floor that is shaped like a boat.  Unless you are a guest of the hotel, you are limited to the bow of the ship which provides views of Marina Bay, the most important area.  The observation deck is a little sparse with just an open deck area.  There is a restaurant/bar at the top as well but from what I was told it is a little expensive.  You can enjoy a nice lunch there but that’s about it.  Unfortunately, you cannot go to the pool area or enter the pool.  It is limited to hotel guests only. Thankfully you can see the pool from the observation deck but you cannot get close to it.  The casino in the hotel is nice but very boring.  I found the casino to be very typical.  Bags are not allowed and you must show your passport or you’ll have to pay a high fee to enter.  While I’m not a real gambler, I wanted to try it out again but my experience was not good this time.  You definitely need to go with good friends and have a fun time with it.  I found the rules of the casino to be a bit strange compared to my trip to Las Vegas.  Las Vegas knows how to gamble and I’ll leave it at that.  The mall itself was good.  There are lots of high end shops and many things to see.  Unfortunately, if you don’t have the wallet to make purchases there, you won’t be able to do too much.  There is an indoor “ice” rink that is made out of some sort of plastic.  It wasn’t very popular but a few children did have a great time on the “ice”.  Other than that, the entire area is not very interesting.  The outdoor boardwalk was more interesting.

The last area of interest is the Fullerton Hotel area.  It is nestled across the bay from the Marina Bay Sands and connected to the riverfront.  The Fullerton Hotel itself is a typical old high end looking hotel, but on the other side of the hotel is Merlion Park which has the famous Merlion.  The Merlion is a famous tourist spot that has the mythological lion-mermaid.  Positioned at the edge where a Marina meets the Singapore River, the Merlion continuously spews high pressure water out of its mouth providing cute pictures.  Having lived in Japan for a while, it is somewhat customary for people to open their mouths and take a picture as if they are drinking from the lion’s… spit…  Of course I did that and had a fun time playing around the Merlion itself.  Behind the Merlion is a mini-Merlion.  This one is less than 2 metres tall and made of tile.  It is a very anti-climactic model from the original.  In fact, the original Merlion is not very interesting, to be very honest.  I would rate the mini-Merlion as very disappointing but a good novelty.  There are other restaurants and cafes around the area as well as a connecting bridge to the north side of the bay itself.  While I’ll probably never return to this specific area, I do recommend it to those who visit the area for the first time.

The Raffles Place and Marina Bay areas are an essential area to visit for tourists, although I personally didn’t find it to be that interesting.  It has a lot to see and do and there are great things about the area.  I still prefer the old side of Singapore compared to the modern areas.  I can generally see architecturally interesting buildings in Tokyo relatively easily so seeing new modern buildings is not always interesting for me.  For others, it can be a very fun place to be.  For those who are visiting Singapore for business, it is probably necessary to visit this area and heading to the riverfront after work is a good idea.  You can relax a lot and enjoy the beautiful views.  It’s not the best but it is still a good place to be.

Singapore (Raffles Place & Marina Bay) is part of a series of posts on Singapore.  Please continue with the links below to read more about Singapore:

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Singapore in a Nutshell October 25, 2011

Posted by Dru in East Asia, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Singapore in a Nutshell” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-JE

Singapore is a small country that has been influenced a lot by history and outside forces.  It can be argued that Singapore was born in the early 1800s when England established a colony in the area.  It was governed by England, with a brief Japanese rule during World War II until the 1960s when Britain allowed Singapore to merge with other countries to form Malaysia.  This lasted only 2 years before it was made completely independent.  It has since flourished and grown as a distinct country on the southern tip of Malaysia.  Singapore is a very small country that can be related more as a city than a country.  It is well known for its crack-down on crime with stiff punishments.  Even so, Singapore is a very clean country that is very multicultural.

Singapore is well known for its airport, Changi Airport. It is touted as one of the best airports in the world, along with Seoul’s Incheon and Hong Kong.  It is a very large, magnificent, and beautiful airport with 3 terminals and lots of things to do.  It is also one of the strangest airports I have ever visited.  Upon entering, the method of entry was pretty standard, however it was more American in the fact that I exited the gate and I was in the security controlled area of the airport.  I walked past all of the duty free shops and straight to immigration where I had the typical passport check.  I then proceeded past all of the luggage belts and out the door.  There was no customs control for those who had nothing to declare and only one guard there.  They didn’t take anything such as a customs card. This was also the strangest departure of an airport in my life.  For my departure, I nearly had a typical experience.  The check-in procedure was pretty straight forward.  I had to get my GST rebate prior to checking in, but with everything prepared at the shop all I had to do was scan my barcode and that was that.  I passed through immigration control very easily and I was extremely surprised that there were no security checks to get into the controlled area.  In fact, Changi Airport only does security checks when you enter the gate area, which most people probably don’t know.  The shopping at all 3 terminals are all very similar with almost nothing to differentiate the areas aside from the fact that each building was built at different times.  The shops are all completely the same.  I probably wasted a little time going to Terminal 3 to check out a few of the shops when I didn’t have to.  I will say that the airport is one of the best I have ever visited, but an airport is still just an airport with nothing too special.

Getting into the city is very easy.  Some people take taxis which are affordable but I decided to take the train.  A word of advice; be very aware of the limits of the IC card that they use.  The EZ-Pass is very useful but the cost of it is not really worth it.  I was surprised to learn that I needed a minimum $3 to use the train system and if you top it up with $10 just before going to the airport, you still have to wait 2 or so hours before you can get a refund on the balance.  Plus, a refund means you forfeit the card, which I didn’t know at the time.  Otherwise, the IC card and the train system is very efficient.  Getting downtown, I stayed at Bugis Station, was very easy as Bugis Station is on the main line to the airport.  There are buses that you can use to get around the city but they can be a little difficult to use as you have to calculate how far you need to go.  With an IC card, there is no thinking.  Just tap and go.  It is no different than in other East Asian cities that also use IC cards.  The other plus is that downtown Singapore is such a small area that you can easily walk around the city on your own.  There is no real need to use public transportation unless you decide to head to Sentosa Island or to some of the more distant areas.

Singapore is a very multi-cultural city.  My impression that Singapore is a multi-cultural city could have been due to the Formula One Grand Prix that was happening at the time as well but from all of the workers and what appeared to be local people, I noticed a lot of different people.  While Chinese people are the largest group, I saw a large and healthy group of Malays and Indians.  This can easily be reflected in the architecture of the city.  It is easy to see Hindu temples next to Taoist temples, mosques next to churches and so on.  Many of these religious buildings are a beacon in their respective blocks as if to say that their religion is more important than the other, yet there seems to be a great respect for each other.  I can’t say that this is true in real life but that was my brief view of the city at the time.  The common language in Singapore is English, and while Chinese is the most widely spoken native language, it is not the common language.  I have heard time and time again that Chinese will be the most spoken language of the world and that we must learn it in order to survive in business.  I highly doubt that is true.  While it is true that Chinese will become the most spoken language in the world, it won’t be the common language.  People need a unifying language in order to communicate with each other and I think English will continue to be that language.  If you ever visit Singapore, you will notice this easily.  It is quite easy to notice that while speaking Chinese is an asset in communicating smoothly, Indians and Malays don’t speak Chinese or if they do it is very limited.  Even if they did speak Chinese, there are many different Chinese languages.  Hence English will continue to be the unifying language of the world and Singapore for the indefinite future.

Singapore itself is an every growing country.  You can see change everywhere you go.  It is similar to Tokyo in that respect.  Many of the older buildings are being torn down to make way for new high rises.  The central business district near the Fullerton Hotel is an expanding region.  You can find many businesses there.  You can see the huge development in the Marina Bay area with the new Marina Bay Sands hotel and the huge gardens that are being constructed behind the hotel.  The entire area is undergoing its last push for development and should be finished in the next few years.  While there are many new developments happening around Singapore, I also noticed that a lot of historical buildings are being maintained or restored.  It is wonderful to see the Raffles Hotel and how it hasn’t changed much since it was originally built.  It is great to see the old Fullerton Hotel as well as other historic buildings being maintained.  There are also various buildings that are being modernized and restored.  The Custom’s House complex was modernized while retaining the original façade.  Even the famous Arab St. looks historical while being modernized inside the buildings themselves.  It is an amazing sight to see and something I feel Japan can learn from.

Singapore is a wonderful city/country to visit.  I would love to visit this city again in the future.  While it wasn’t a perfect trip, I was impressed by everything I did and everything I saw.  It has the modernity of Japan with the historical feel of Hong Kong or Macau.  It also has a lot of unique aspects that give it its charm.  While I cannot tell whether my visit was influenced by the F1 event that was happening at the same time, I did thoroughly enjoy the visit.  In the following posts on Singapore I will go into greater detail on the different areas specifically.

Singapore in a Nutshell is part of a series of posts on Singapore.  Please continue with the links below to read more about Singapore:

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