Shiny, Happy Singapore

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Long known as a city of skyscrapers, safety and high-end shopping malls, Singapore rolls out the red carpet for visitors.  Gleaming, spectacular, gravity-defying buildings frame the skyline along the harbor.  Crowds of label-loving shoppers stalk the malls in air-conditioned comfort. Families safely enjoy Singapore’s many offerings day, night (and in the middle of the night).

Singapore especially rewards those who are willing to see and seek things beyond the malls and luxury hotels.

Old Parliament Building,

Old Parliament Building

Statue of Sir Stamford Raffles,

Statue of Sir Stamford Raffles

Raffles Hotel courtyard

Raffles Hotel courtyard

Singapore has an interesting history, one I knew very little about. I had a vague knowledge of British involvement saw vestiges of the city’s colonial past while walking through the Pedang and Colonial Core…the cricket club, St. Andrew’s Cathedral and the iconic Raffles Hotel

Five foot way, Chinatown

Five- foot way, Chinatown

Shophouse windows, Tanjong Pagar Conservation Area

Shophouse windows, Tanjong Pagar Conservation Area

Traditional shophouses

Traditional shophouses

I expected to see the blending of Chinese and colonial history as I walked from  Colonial Core into Chinatown. The architecture of colonialism gave way to winding streets lined with shops selling the wares of today in the beautifully restored shophouses of yesterday.  What I didn’t expect was the striking blend of different cultures and religions, all living harmoniously side-by-side in every area of the city.

Sultan Mosque, Little Arabia

Sultan Mosque, Little Arabia

Celebration at the Hindu temple

Celebration at the Hindu temple, Little India

Sri Mariamman Temple,

Sri Mariamman Temple, Chinatown

St. Andrew's Cathedral

St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Colonial Core

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, Chinatown

Singapore has, within its relatively small footprint (49km by 25km), mosques, temples, churches and shrines sitting side by side in every quarter of the city. Streets signs and shops post notices in four different languages. Singapore was clearly a city of  surprising cultural tolerance and diverse population, but how did that come to be? I was missing something and my ignorance was showing.  I went back to the National Museum of Singapore, where I should have started my trip…after all, you can’t understand a place unless you understand its history.

Things To Know

It’s hot in Singapore (at least in May).  Wear appropriate, lightweight clothing and prepare yourself for the arctic level of air conditioning present in the malls by tucking a sweater into your bag. Check the weather before you go.  Singaporeans are smart dressers, so leave those jorts and baseball hats at home.  Entrance to mosques and temples require suitable dress (shoulders and knees covered). If you are not suitably dressed to enter, you will be offered a “gown” at the door. 🙂

Walking along Singapore’s beautiful parks is a wonderful opportunity to see the tropical flowers and green spaces of the city. The heat, however, makes it advisable to take occasional advantage of the endless, air-conditioned connections through malls and buildings when going from point A to point B.   I also advise using a sun umbrella.  Really.

Singapore has great public transportation options.  The MRT (subway system) is incredibly clean, efficient and safe.  Everyone queues for the train by waiting in the marked-off green area until the train arrives.  Passengers disembark through the red/exit lanes. MRT maps current routes on the train by flashing upcoming stops so it’s easy to know where you are and when to get off.  I loved everything about their subway system, can you tell?  If you plan on using the SMRT and public buses throughout your stay, consider a purchasing a tourist pass , which allows almost unlimited travel (check for caveats).  Taxis are an excellent, although more expensive option depending on the size of your traveling party. The taxis are clean and the drivers are a wealth of local information.  

Yes, Singapore is safe.  Very safe, as long as you don’t do anything silly.  The Mister and I walked home from a movie at 1am and rejoiced at being able to do so.  There are rumors about Singaporean “rules” and subsequent harsh punishments for those who break them.  To dispel some of those rules….yes, you can chew gum.  No, you can’t spit it  onto the streets or stick it on a bus seat.  Smoking areas are restricted, as they are everywhere.  Defacing public property will bring a harsh fine.  Drugs are illegal and traffickers and users face harsh fines.  The only fine I risked in Singapore was a jaywalking fine.  It was stupid and deserved a fine if caught.  The near death experience was enough to convince me not to jaywalk twice.  Also, please do not stand on the toilets or pee in the elevator.  I don’t know if there are fines for either offense, but…really?


   

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A Tale of Two Cities: Singapore and Hong Kong, First Impressions

I feel like a terrible traveler today.  Plan A, B and C went to hell as the sky filled with thunder, lightening and torrential rain. My Plan D is sitting in a dim sum tea house, drinking tea and trying to “figure out”  this city  I want desperately to love.

From the untrained and inexperienced eye of a Westerner, Singapore and Hong Kong should be similar on some accounts.  Both cities have long, complex histories heavily influenced by extended time under British control.  Both cities are culturally diverse and harmoniously host people of  different nationalities and religions. Both cities are world-class financial and commerce hubs and have endless opportunities for good eating and shopping.  It seems natural to compare the two, yes?  Yet Singapore and Hong Kong are so very, very different.

Singapore skyline!

My initial impression of Singapore was it was all shiny-new, efficient, clean and green.  The airport itself was a study in good design with its free movie theater, 3 story slide, butterfly garden and rooftop pool and hot tub.  The ride from the airport to the hotel took you along palm-tree and garden-lined roads and bridges and deposited you at your hotel in full view of some of the most spectacular modern architecture in the world.  It was hot and steamy with a slight breeze (also hot).  Everyone was friendly, welcoming and willing to engage in lengthy conversations about anything/everything.

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My first impression of Hong Kong was…different.  The airport was practical and efficient and the vibe  intense.  Everyone seemed intent on getting from point A to B in the most expeditious manner.  Efficiency was the name of the game.  The taxi ride to the hotel took us through a series of tunnels and overpasses framed by towering, glowing apartment blocks and glitzy office buildings.  We arrived at our hotel in time to see the nightly laser show sweeping Hong Kong’s waterfront skyline.  I didn’t realize how much of Hong Kong is tucked into the high hills above the harbor until the sun rose the next morning.  The lush, green hills and soaring skyscrapers make Hong Kong a study in contrast.

dim sum yum

The rain stopped and I’m off to The Peak for a little hiking and picture-taking.  It’s amazing what an afternoon in a steamy tea house can do for the soul.  The lovely ladies sitting next to me told me “dim sum” means “touch the heart.” After my afternoon sitting in a steamy tea house, stuffing my face with dim sum and tea, I can already feel Hong Kong working its magic on mine.   Let me know if you have any great travel tips for Hong Kong.  I don’t want to miss anything…

How To Swim in the Dead Sea…

view from mp room to dead sea

Rachel and I vowed to make the most of our last day in Jordan.  We rose with the sun, slipped on our bathing suits and headed down the stone path to the Dead Sea.

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No one else, save the hotel cat, was out and about.  We had the beach, the mud and the Dead Sea all to ourselves.

mud jar

We rejoiced at being the first people to scoop the cool, slippery mud from the clay pot that morning and took turns covering each other from neck to toes with black goop.  The wind was warm and the water calm.  A perfect day for a last day.

No, you're right...that isn't me and it isn't Rachel. Did you really think I would subject to you a picture of me covered in mud in a bathing suit?  Silly readers. This gentleman should give you an good idea of what to expect. You're welcome on all counts.

No, you’re right…that isn’t me and it isn’t Rachel. Did you really think I would subject to you a picture of me covered in mud in a bathing suit? Silly readers. This gentleman should give you an good idea of what to expect. You’re welcome on all counts.

We tried to wait the requisite 20 minutes for the theraputic mud to dry before deciding that 15 minutes was “good enough” and walked down the dock to the water.

This is really one of us...just not me.

This is really one of us…just not me.

Unlike the day before, we were now floating-in-the-Dead-Sea experts.  No crashing and splashing around today, no slipping, giggling or ungainly flopping about as we entered the water.  We just stepped in, turned around to face the shore and sat down.  It truly is a surreal experience, this inability to sink (or swim for that matter) in the Dead Sea, but that is completely the point.  One does not swim…One bobs, floats, drifts. One luxuriates.

Me, floating...

Me, floating…

The Dead Sea is a hypersaline (33%!) lake located between Israel and Jordan at the Earth’s lowest point on land (1388 ft below sea level).  It’s referred to as a “dead” sea since the only things living in the sea are minuscule amounts of bacteria and fungi.  I chose not to think about bacteria and fungi and instead celebrate the fact I didn’t have to worry about jellyfish or sharks. I also celebrated that I, a known aqua-rock, can float effortlessly while reading a book/newspaper.  It really is quite an experience and quite justified as the restorative properties of a swim in the Dead Sea are legendary.

So, that’s how we ended our time in Jordan…bobbing on the quiet waters of the Dead Sea, serenaded by a gently flapping Jordanian flag at sunrise and reflecting on the wonders and ancient history of Jordan, the generosity and hospitality of the Jordanian people,  the thrill of seeing Petra and our magical night in the Wadi Rum.  Can’t wait to go back.

Things to Know

We stayed at the Movenpick Dead Sea Resort.  There are a number of other hotels and resorts located on the strip of land adjacent to the Dead Sea.  We absolutely enjoyed our stay at the Movenpick.

Movenpick

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The location was excellent, the access to the Sea was convenient and it had a number of pools and lounging-about areas throughout the resort.  The breakfast buffet was spectacular and the resort had a number of dining options for lunches and dinner.   The resorts along the sea have a definite “self-contained” feeling, and guests are apt to swim, dine and sleep at their particular resort as the public beach options along the coast aren’t particularly well-suited for non-locals.

A few rules…

1.  Wear and old bathing suit.  The combination of mud, salinity and sun is not kind to fabric.

2.  Consider wearing swim shoes.  The bottom of the Sea is filled with rocks and crystals that cut tender feet. Cuts on your body, no matter how tiny, will sting when you enter the water.  Be ready.  It’s tolerable, but noticeable.

3.  I was told the lower elevation protects you from sunburn.  Wear sunscreen anyway.  Trust me.

4.  Do NOT shave for 3 or 4 days before you enter the water.  Do you remember that scene from Home Alone?  Yes, it hurts that much (see rule 2).

5. There is an art to entering the Dead Sea gracefully.  Walk into the water, turn around and sit down.  Imagine you are sitting on a swim noodle when you sit down…same process, just without the noodle. Enjoy!  Bring a book or newspaper for posing your “Look! I’m floating in the Dead Sea” photos.

6. When you try to go from place A to B, use your hands as rudders.  Steer. Flipping over on your stomach and trying to “swim” to shore is inefficient and ineffective.  You essentially end up looking like a demented sea horse, rocking back and forth in one place and getting absolutely nowhere.  I know this because I tried.

7.  Refrain from splashing water on your face or into your eyes.  It hurts.  The lifeguards often keep eyewashes just for this purpose.

8.  Don’t drink the water.

9.  The mud feels fabulous and is great for the skin.  Try it!  Try it multiple times.  It is best to try multiple, short “sessions” in the Dead Sea…interspersed with trips to the showers and pools.

10.  Enjoy the view.

Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions!