13.09.2015 - 18.09.2015 30 °C
Our journey from Greece to Singapore was long, but tempered by an enjoyable day in Madrid where we felt very confident navigating the city for the third time in twelve months. We arrived in Madrid on Friday September 11 around midnight and stayed in a hotel close to the airport. As our flight to Singapore via Dubai was leaving at 10pm on he Saturday night, we had the whole of Saturday to sleep in, enjoy a late breakfast, then head into the centre of Madrid for the afternoon. We visited the Thyssen museum, where we spent three hours enjoying a wide range of art works, but particularly the Impressionist paintings. On our way we noticed a very heart warming banner on one of Madrid's heritage buildings.
Our flight to Singapore was broken into two 7 hour sectors, interrupted by a two hour stop at Dubai. Finally we arrived to a smog laden Singapore; the result of fires in nearby Indonesia. Our Air BnB apartment was in an Art Deco apartment block in the trendy suburb of Tiong Bahru, only a few MRT stops from the main Singapore attractions, and with its own large number of cafes, restaurants and hawker food market.
Singapore was cloudy and smoggy; that night watching the news we discovered that it was a result of fires in nearby Indonesia. They were hoping for rain to clear out the smog.
We had booked to stay in Singapore for five days in order to obtain our visas for Nepal and Cambodia. The morning after our arrival; Monday September 14, we awoke late at 10.30am, jet lagged from the change in time zone and lack of sleep on the flight. We breakfasted in a local cafe, then did some internet research to plan the rest of the day. I had inadvertently booked our forthcoming flights to Kota Kinabalu from Johor Bahru, which is in southern Malaysia not far from Singapore, but not as close as I had thought. So our first destination was back to the airport to Air Asia's service counter, to change the flight to depart from Singapore. Once we had done that it was back into the centre of town to the Nepal embassy, to begin the visa process. We successfully figured out the MRT and navigated our way to their tiny office, which was located on the fourth floor of a shopping plaza. The office was only open for visas between 3 and 5pm each afternoon, so after paying $180 for an 'express' (3 day) processing fee and completing the forms, we left our passports and were told to return on Thursday afternoon. I suspected the inflated price for the rushed visa was a scam, however we had no choice but to hand over the money. Of course they wouldn't accept credit card, so that took care of most of our cash. In our jet lagged state, with brains functioning at 50%, we realised much later, that we couldn't apply for our Cambodian visas without our passports. And we were flying to Kota Kinabalu on Friday. So that evening I sent the Nepalese embassy an email, explaining that we would have to collect our passports the next day. Once again, the response was we could pick them up, and pay an extra $20 each, but after 3pm, and the Cambodian embassy closed at 4pm.
We decided to spend the next morning at the Botanic gardens, which also house a beautiful orchid garden, as there was nothing we could do about our visas until after 3. David has an app on his phone that accurately predicts the weather, so he informed me that it was going to rain between 12 and 3pm. This sent me into the depths of my suitcase for my umbrella, which hadn't seen the light of day since we left Scotland over a month ago. We set off and caught the MRT, noting that the clouds were getting darker. When we emerged at the Botanic Gardens station it was pouring; the quintessential tropical downpour, complete with thunder. We waited for about 30 minutes under shelter, until the rain had diminished to a fine occasional drizzle, then set off into the beautiful gardens; me with my umbrella, David with no rain protection except for a small towel he discovered in his backpack.
The gardens are vast and we walked for about 1.5 km, past brightly coloured bougainvillea, lush tropical plants and huge trees, before we reached the orchid garden. Just as we were about to enter it started to our again, so we waited a while in the entry pavilion, before again setting off once it had died down to a thin drizzle.
After an hour of perusing the magnificent orchid collection, we began the return trek to the station, and again it started to pour. So we just walked as fast as we could in the downpour; me under my umbrella, and David with a small towel over his head. Needless to say he was soaked by the time we arrived at the station, and from the bottom of my skirt down, I was also pretty wet.
From there it took an hour to get to the Nepalese embassy. We marched in at 5 minutes to 3, and I was all prepared to argue against paying any more money for our visas. But no argument was needed; he just handed over our passports, with visas completed!
We shot out of there, photocopied the front page of our passports at the photocopy centre one floor down, then caught the train to Orchard MRT, to find the Cambodian embassy in Orchard Rd. This closed at 4pm, so we had less than an hour to get there.
Fortunately our powers of navigation were much better by this stage, and we managed to locate it by 3.40pm. Also being in the upmarket Orchard Rd area helped significantly, because there are underground shopping malls everywhere, which you use instead of crossing the street. So we were able to stay out of the rain, which also made our passage a lot easier.
We charged into the embassy, filled out our forms, handed over another $130 cash and 5 minutes later it was all done!
Our remaining two days in Singapore were spent discovering the many parts of Singapore we had not had time to visit on previous short stays there. We walked all around Chinatown, visiting the temple and Chinese museum. This historic part of the original Singapore was so fascinating, and beautiful, with the old colonial buildings lining the streets, surrounded by the tall gleaming glass towers of modern Singapore. This juxtaposition of the old and new is what makes Singapore so unique; it is dominated by the modern office buildings, but sandwiched below are the reminders of Singapore's origins and colonial past.
We wanted to visit some of the memorials to WWII, but most of these are located in parks which were cordoned off for the Grand Prix, which was beginning on September 18. We did manage to see this monument to the civilians killed during the war, but navigation around the Grand Prix site was fairly tricky.
The rest of the time we spent eating cheap meals at hawker food markets, and drinking coffee at our local cafe 'Forty Hands', which I think is possibly the only cafe in the whole of Singapore that makes soy lattes. Everywhere else that I asked if they made coffees with soy milk, the response was "No!" As if I was asking them chop off their right hand and make soup with it!
All in all we enjoyed our time there, although it is not really a 'holiday' destination, in my view. Unless you consider being in a fast paced, dense city with lots of shopping malls, a holiday. Which I do not. The smog was of concern to the locals, and schools were closed because of the poor air quality. Hopefully the fires can be extinguished soon.