If you come across another backpacker who’s been to Singapore, he might tell you that it’s VERY expensive and there isn’t much to do…but that wasn’t the case for me. I got a fabulous break from the life of a backpacker thanks to some very generous friends and an extremely generous dad! (And actually, I reckon there’s lots to do there- museums, the zoo, etc., plus it’s super safe, very clean and there are no mosquitoes because of laws about standing water. Brilliant!)
I left Melaka on October 30th and hopped an afternoon bus to Singapore ($7 for a five-hour ride from one country to another- not bad!). As has happened to me before, I was dropped off at an entirely different place than what I’d been told. Singapore is so small and easy to get around however, that it was easy to hop a cab to Dan and Jen White’s apartment. Upon arrival, a bed sheet was thrust my way and I was informed our Halloween costumes would be togas- easy and fun.
Some have been surprised to learn that Halloween is indeed celebrated in Singapore. This has much to do with the massive ex-pat population, but there were many native Singaporeans dressed up as well- the sexy lady cop and dead sexy lady cop being the most popular costumes of the night. We went down to Clarke Quay, a central hub of bars, restaurants and shopping, and met up with a few of the Whites’ local friends. It was absolutely RAMMED with people down there, with lines out the door of every watering hole. We wandered through the crowd for a while, checking out some of the crazy costumes and looking for a decent place for a drink, and it wasn’t long before we were asked by some locals to be in a photo. No problem, we said. Oh, another one, sure. OK, one more. Oh, you’d like a photo too? Sure thing. Yep, you can have one too… aaaaaaand on it went! I estimate we were asked to be in about 100 photos that night, we couldn’t go a step without someone running up to us. I imagine it’s the closest I’ll ever come to knowing what it’s like to be famous. Sigh.
Eventually we settled on a place called Cuba Libre that had a live Latin band and we boogied there for a while before moving on. It was really hard to get into places, however, so we settled on grabbing a drink at an outside cafe and watching the millions of people in crazy outfits walk by. Later on, Dan ventured back into a club for a drink and Jen and I went back to Cuba Libre to get our dance on. We tired out after a while, and having no concept of time, decided it must be at least 3am and we should probably go home. We went wandering for a taxi (Singapore is ridiculously safe, even for two girls alone in togas) and eventually got in one, where we learned it was actually 4:30am!
As you might imagine, the following morning was not productive at all- in fact it was well into the afternoon before Jen and I ventured out of the apartment. She showed me around Little India (almost like the real thing!) and Arab Street, we had some henna painted on our hands and browsed in some adorable little boutiques. Later on we met Dan for a little snack and a sit down, and then it was time for me to get my stuff together to go and meet my dad, who had just arrived in Singapore on business.
I’m a super lucky girl, because my dad was staying at the Mandarin Oriental and was happy to have me to stay with him for three days. It’s a very posh hotel, and the folks behind the check-in desk seemed a bit surprised to see a smelly girl in dirty clothes, a backpack and flip-flops (they ask guests to refrain from casual footwear- ooh so sorry!) walk in. I’m pretty sure they thought I was in the wrong place at first, but they did in fact let me go up to the room where my dad was waiting. It was great to see him, as I’ve been missing my family loads, and after I was settled and changed into slightly less smelly clothes, we went down to one of the restaurants in the hotel for dinner, and then out for a wander around the city. I’m such a city girl- I often get more excited about huge, lit-up skylines than I do about gorgeous natural panoramas- so I insisted on stopping every few minutes to get some shots of Singapore’s brilliant skyline.
Afterward we went back to our room, as my dad was exhausted from jet lag having just arrived from London, and I was exhausted from Halloween-lag! Funny thing was, at about 2 or 3am, both my dad and I were wide awake, unable to sleep for various reasons, so we turned on all the lights, turned on the telly and just hung out for a few hours until he went out for a run and I went back to sleep. I said to him, “Daddy, I don’t know what other daughters do with their dads, but we hang out at 4am in Southeast Asian cities in fancy hotels. And I like it!”
Later that day, my dad was out doing businessy things, so I took myself to the hotel gym (damn this travel chubbiness…), then out for a bit of sightseeing and then to the fantastic hotel pool which has a brilliant view of the city. In the evening I went to the gym AGAIN (it’s true!) and then we went out for an Italian meal- it’s said that eating is the national sport in Singapore, you can literally get ANYTHING you want, anytime!- and then wandered back to the hotel and to one of the bars, where I had the MO Singapore- a lychee-flavored, overly sweet cocktail thing- before bed.
The next morning I went to the gym yet again (yes!) after a delicious buffet breakfast where I had to physically restrain myself not to eat every morsel of free (well, for me!) food! After that, Jen came over for a pool date and we thoroughly enjoyed the cold towels and fresh fruit brought to us as various intervals! Later in the afternoon, I went to the gym AGAIN (no, really!) and then got ready for dinner out with some of my dad’s work people and the Whites to celebrate my birthday early, as I was to be alone on my actual birthday two weeks later. Seven of us met up and went out to Din Tai Fung, an excellent Chinese food spot that’s actually a chain around Asia and has restaurants in NY, LA and Sydney as well- I highly recommend it for a group thing, delicious!
Afterward my dad, his work buddies (Richard and Ian) and I decided we would walk back to the Mandarin to burn off our dinner. I discovered that on the way, we would pass the famous Raffles hotel, home of the equally famous Long Bar. Somehow, I managed to wrangle the old folk (er, I mean, you know..) to join me for a Singapore Sling, the drink the bar is famous for and something one just HAS to try when in Singapore! It’s a bit of a cheesy place, the Long Bar, but fun to see, especially as the thing to do there is eat shelled peanuts and then just toss the shells on the floor. We were almost ankle-deep in these shells, I kid you not, and the addictive nature of these snacks is that the four of us managed to tear through the whole huge box of nuts on our table in about three minutes!
The next day my dad was out on business again, so I had a nice pool loungey day before saying goodbye to him in the afternoon when he left for Kuala Lumpur- thanks so much for the treat Daddy, it really was a fabulous few days!
In the evening I packed up the backpack (sigh) and hopped a taxi to my friend Tom’s apartment. Tom is a family/childhood friend that I’ve known for years and he’s lived in Singapore for ages, so it was brilliant to catch up. We went for dinner at the Singapore Cricket Club (ooh la la, I know!) and then met up with a few of his rugby team buddies and proceeded to get rowdy with them, first at a bar called Altitude- the highest in Singapore. It’s nine million stories off the ground or something and offers INCREDIBLE views of the city. Well, of the whole country really. Then it was back to Clarke Quay, of Halloween night fame, for a couple more drinks before we went back to Tom’s apartment, as he had to work the next day. Ah yes, I remember what that was like…
The following day while Tom was at work I took myself for a mosey about, sightseeing and visiting the Asian Cultures Museum. Later on, when Tom was back from rugby practice, we threw our gladrags on (well, I did my best with what I had in the backpack!) and went out with two of his friends to a VIP Johnnie Walker promotion party, thanks to his roommate who works in PR and represents the brand. I’m not a huge fan of whiskey, but I AM a huge fan of free drinks (well, I’m a fan of free ANYTHING at the moment) and I had a nice time meeting Tom’s friends and just being fancy for a bit! After the party we went down to Clarke Quay again to a club/bar place called China One- a super rowdy spot with a live cover band and a packed dancefloor full of revelers. Although it was Thursday, the following day was a public holiday, so hardly anyone had to work and the party went on ALL night. I don’t think we stumbled out of there until 4am-ish!
The next day (or should I say, later that day) was another of those unproductive ones owing to such a late bedtime! There was just enough time for brunch with Tom and one last catch-up before I had to pull the backpack together again and head back to the Whites for our trip to Bali.
Thanks to all who showed me such a fabulous time in Singapore- I’ll be back. But only if you’ll pay for everything.
Susie Hughes is a UK transplant to the United States, moving from London to Connecticut as a teenager. For five years she worked in technology public relations in San Francisco, quietly putting money away into “The Travel Fund”. In May 2010, Susie left San Francisco to realize a lifelong dream of an extended trip around the world – seven months visiting more than 20 countries on four continents.