After a quick stop in the central market in Kuala Lumpur we headed for the south bound bus terminal and got aboard the first bus to Singapore. Things got a little fancier from here on in as our coach came complete with reclining massage chairs which we took full advantage of for the five hour journey. A quick stop at the services gave us the opportunity to purchase some lunch, which seemed to really annoy our driver, so much so that he drove off without us after immigration instead of taking us to central Singapore as he was supposed to. Luckily we had our bags with us and a nicer bus driver took us the remainder of the journey after we made it through the strict immigration.
Singapore presented itself as a milestone in our travels thus far, it is by far the most expensive place we have been and it also represented the point at which mine and Sarah’s paths would part (geographically speaking, no more) as she flies home and I continue on to Manila in the Philippines. Until then we had a week to enjoy the bright lights and expensive nights of Singapore, coincidentally celebrating its 50th anniversary since its was unceremoniously dumped out of Malaysia to become the booming independent nation it is today.
Paying more for a dorm bed than we would spend in a whole day in some places was of course painful, but it did at least afford us a nice little hostel where we could relax and tune out as Sarah prepared for the hustle and bustle of everyday life back in the UK, something I’m not quite ready for just yet. Having seen countless capitals we tried to spend our time in the cultural quarters of Singapore, splitting our time between little India, Arab town, and hunting for the array of modern architecture Singapore has to offer. Our first day in Singapore showed us what we should expect from the weather in the country, which was a lot of rain! Once it had eased off we spent our first afternoon strolling down Orchard Road, Singapore’s answer to Oxford Street. Our second day was spent at the NTU campus on the fringes of the city centre in search of two interesting structures, one recently complete by a favourite architect of mine; Thomas Heatherwick and another that regularly popped up on my screen back at Liverpool when I was searching for inspiration on a project. Slightly strange to be back walking around a deserted uni campus we had a good day nonetheless, especially looking around “the hive” that was having its interiors done leaving us to roam around freely discussing its suitability as a university library with its unusual fragmented floor plan. On our way back we had a quick stop at Chinatown which was surprisingly beautiful, full of old colonial workshops drizzled in Chinese lanterns and fairy lights. We spent the evening chatting with a couple of girls (Hollie and Jamil) who were on a placement year from Manchester Uni, their stories of trying to sort out digs and student life in general brought us both back to happy years gone past.
We hopped on the LRT and coasted in the direction of Marina Bay to spend the day amongst the super trees and climate domes of ‘the gardens by the bay’. We got off a stop early to walk through the bay and see the famous Marina Bay Sands hotel, with its three connected towers. Unique yes, but I had never really thought it to be a particularly nice piece of architecture, perhaps hideous is too strong but close up it was certainly not the building I would be choosing as Singapore’s iconic structure. On the other hand the gardens over the road were spectacular and the super trees, another project of Heatherwick, were quite something. Rising way up into the sky connected by long curving bridges. Not knowing that most of the park was free we had bought tickets which afforded us entry to the flower dome and cloud dome, both were representative of the domes found back home at the Eden Project for which the gardens had obviously taken their inspiration. The only differences being that in hot, humid Singapore, the climates being simulated were cooler than the outside temperature. I particularly enjoyed the cloud dome and its raised walkways through the unique climate of a cloud forest which we had trekked through in parts of Malaysia. As like most evenings we dined in one of the many affordable food courts serving up Singapore’s best value food to locals and tourists alike. After dark we had a walk to nearby Hajid Street in Singapore’s Arab Quarter which is full of quirky shops, quaint cafes and noisy bars playing the first glimpse of the premier league.
The next day was primarily spent horizontally on bean bags, we did eventually venture out having moved our bags to a neighbouring guesthouse, to explore yet more gardens. This time of the botanic variety as it was free entry over the weekend with food markets and stages set up throughout the park. Having secured our free picnic mat which Sarah insisted I also queue up and obtain as free things don’t come often in Singapore, we strolled to Dempsey Hill, an old British army barracks that had recently been gentrified into plush bars and some of the cities (countries) best restaurants. Needless to say we skipped them and their hefty price tags in favour of the food courts again. Sunday was the big day as the independent celebrations reached their peak, we observed flyovers from thunderous fighter jets from the comfort of our rooftop garden, we did venture down to the harbour but only caught the last few minutes of their display. We met up with the girls from Manchester in the evening to revel in the celebrations, missing the firework display by minutes but managing to sneak into the VIP seating to see the entertainment on a festival stage set up in the shadow of the harbours skyscrapers and marina bay. Cringe-worthy dancing from the locals aside it was an enjoyable night, finished off with beers and friends back at the rooftop garden. We had a great time in Singapore but we both agree that compared to other cities we have visited its misses that certain grittiness, something that is lost when everything becomes so ordered and organised.
With just days before Sarah departed we enjoyed a quiet lead up, I had booked my flight so that we could both go to the airport at the same time catching the last MRT and waiting for our early morning departures. We played some suitcase bowls game to pass the hours before my time came to leave for terminal 2. Farewells ensued as I waved from the bus window, it will certainly be a different experience without Sarah having spent almost every hour of every day for the past 11 months together but we were both in reflective moods, happy to celebrate what an incredible time it’s been rather than dwell on the fact we were going our separate ways.
Wishing Sarah a safe flight back to the UK I boarded my plane and headed in the direction of Manila, expecting chaos and the high probability that without Sarah’s organisation I am going to lose half of my meager belongings before I even arrive.