Our KL hotel told us the trip to Singapore would take approximately four hours, so we decided to take the 10 a.m. bus, thinking we would be in Singapore in the late afternoon, giving us plenty of time to discover the city, eat some amazing food – Michelin star hawkers! – and still be able to get enough sleep to rest our recovering bodies. Turns out, that either four hours means something other in Malaysian than in English, or the estimate was ever so slightly off: it turned out it would take eight hours!
Arriving early – and late
Because getting to Singapore required us to get to another hotel in rush-hour traffic first, we leave the hotel around 8:30 a.m. Remarkably enough, there appears to be no rush-hour at all – at least not at this time – and so we end up at the bus stop an hour early. Oh well, we have our books and my backpack is high enough to serve as a desk so I can work on a blogpost.
When the bus finally arrives we realise it is a special kind of bus. Not special as in, we are going to bring you to a nice fuzzy place where you can do no harm to either yourself or others, but special as in that it is meant to approximate flying. We get lunch served and drinks, we’ve got big chairs and even screens in the back of the seat in front of you – that should have been our first clue.
Because no bus that takes a mere four hours would necessitate a screen. Even plains that take about four hours haven’t got in flight entertainment in my experience. But this bus does have “in flight” entertainment. I decide not to use it at first and spend my four hours learning how to be happier by listening to the brilliant podcast happier! However, once we go into our third hour nowhere near the border yet, Erik and I begin to see that covering 350 km in four hours is a bit of a stretch – in Malaysia that is, back home we speed enough to make it in three hours tops.
So, we watch movies – James Bond saves me from boredom – and talk and read books – well, Erik does, I can’t read in a bus without wanting to throw up – and eat snacks until finally, after about 6,5 hours – and a little traffic jam – we get to the border. Crossing the border takes a while and we entertain ourselves – shock is more accurate – by watching a three-year-old Michelin man constantly defying his parents and walking around where he is not allowed. This kid has clearly never – NEVER – heard the word “no” in his life and I find myself hoping that the small pole he is pulling will topple on him so at least he learns something from the consequences of his actions if not from his parents! (I am normally more child friendly)
Then, finally, after eight hours in the bus, we make it to the drop of point. From there we get a taxi with the worlds most cheerful taxi driver – or the worlds most stoned taxi driver, we are still not sure. He continually laughs or giggles as we tell him where we are going and where we are from and regales us with stories about what he calls the F1-mosquito. It takes a while for us to understand that he is not talking about some hilarious super-sized super-quick and dangerous mosquito, but the actual Formula 1 racing cars. Apparently the next race is coming to Singapore and our taxi driver is not a big fan.
Real food again, finally
In this manner we pass a happy if slightly weird half an hour until we get to our hotel. It is a good hotel according to our taxi driver, but we are mostly happy that is is an affordable and clean place to stay in the vicinity of one of the two food hawkers of Singapore that managed to be awarded a Michelin star in 2016. We have to go try that food!
We dump our stuff in the room and laugh at the bathroom that has a window looking into the bedroom with a pull-up curtain. Apparently you can give a shower show for the room to see, should you wish such a thing. We don’t wish for such a thing. All we wish for by now is some good food. It has been hours – HOURS – since we ate anything but snacks or airplane food and days – DAYS! – since we had any decent food whatsoever. But now, are stomachs are fine – although our energy is still lacking a bit – and we are on the hunt for Michelin-star food for some 5 euros.
Getting to the building that houses the first hawker is easy enough. It is a fifteen-minute walk and the roads are easy to navigate – if you’ve got Google maps and are walking that is. However, once we get in the building, we realise finding this particular hawker might be more difficult than anticipated. The building is essentially a parking garage were stalls of 3 by 3 meters are build in a shocking amount of “alleys”. While we are looking for the anticipated long lines, we get lost a few times and find ourselves circling back more often than we would want.
In the end we find a man who know this particular hawker – Hong Kong Soy Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodles – but he tells us that sadly, this week the stall is closed because the proprietors father in law passed away. We are gutted – not as gutted as that family, obviously – because now we will not be able to say that our first proper meal after a week of being sick was Michelin-food. Can’t have everything in life I guess and even the best laid plans can go wrong.
That just means we get to enjoy another stalls food (soy sauce duck with noodles) and after that meal we don’t feel so sad anymore. It may look like exactly what it says – noodles with some duck covered in soy sauce on top – but it is so much more. It is the most delicious thing I have eaten in Asia ever! It has the right amount of salt sugar and something not so easily identified and it has that sticky feeling you can get with soy sauce food, but is still liquid enough to slurp in and the noodles are cooked to perfection and honestly all I am wandering if this food can be as great as it is – or if it is just the fact that it’s the first real food I am getting in about a week. Either way, it is heaven!
Gardens by the bay
After dinner we are still not tired – yay! Finally getting back to normal – and so we decide to take a taxi to the gardens by the Bay. Our taxi driver is another happy soul, although not quit as cheerful as the last one. We are wondering by now if being happy is a prerequisite for being a taxi driver in Singapore.
We are dropped of at what seems like a back entrance, but what turns out the be one of the entrances to the park. The gardens by the bay are a big park overlooking the river – or bay – and are located just across from the Marina Bay Sands. It is a futuristic park that mixes botany with technology. The feature we are after today are the gigantic glowing trees. These objects are made from material that stores sunlight during the day – well, 11 of them do – and then at night they are lit up – suits flashback anyone? – to provide a stunning scene. Walking amongst these giants feels a bit like walking around in a kitschy futuristic fairy tale.
The park is fun to walk through, but after a while we have had enough of the many tourist and the slightly tacky statutes that are placed in it. I mean, you can only look at a weird massive white stone baby before you get bored right? Just as we are leaving the park, a disco show starts up in which the trees provide a lighting show. It all becomes a bit to theme-parked for me – I prefer the quiet awe of the beautifully lit trees – and we are happy to make our way back to the hotel.
Walking around as we do
The next morning, we find out that my planning skills have taken a plunge during our illness. I had planned to plan – yup, I know, but it is what I do – the sights we were going to see while we were in the previous cities. However, at that point I felt more like just lying around being miserable and tired than like planning what we would possibly not visit because we would still be too ill. Happy than as I am to be on the mend and fully capable of exploring a city, I am just slightly annoyed with myself for not having psychic powers to predict our future.
Turns out though, that Singapore is not all that big and that there are some nice walks in the bay area, so that is where we head off to – after visiting a beautiful temple just around the corner. At first we walk along the bay, but sadly the walk is nothing like we imagined. It might have something to do with the building up of the racing circuit, because it doesn’t look very much like the pictures either. This does however provide the opportunity to stand on the asphalt that in a little over a week – then, by now it is more like a week ago – will be burning with fastest racing cars on the planet. We even manage to borrow a chequered flag so we can stand there like professional pit girls – a derogatory term if ever there was one and the women and photographer we borrowed it from looked like the stereotypes you’d imagine, but who am I to judge, I stand waving the silly flag every bit as much, just in a less revealing outfit with less make-up and the knowledge I am more than just my looks. (Ok, rant over).
We then find that Singapore and KL have at least one thing in common and that is that one of the best/worst things about the city are the shopping malls. They are amazing for cooling down after walking around in the humid heat, but a bit of a strong reminder that consumerism is everywhere. Perhaps more so here as I have never seen so many people actually buying the high-end (as in Gucci and Burberry high-end, not Zara) clothes.
We then decide to walk to the Marina Bay Sands hotel and further indulge in watching the rich and richer walking around their hotel. The best things are the patisserie where we eat some wonderful macaroons – what is it with Asian people being so damn good at producing classic French baked goods? – and the view from the top of the hotel. Although we are not allowed to eat at the restaurant – for hotel guests only, what a stupid way of loosing out on more clientele! – we do enjoy the expansive view over Singapore and its skyline.
Because we cannot eat at the hotel restaurant as we’d hoped, we decide to go and find the other hawker that has earned himself a Michelin-star. We ask the taxi driver to take us to yet another building filled with stalls, but this time we are easily able to find the stall we want, because it is the one with easily the longest line. It almost makes us feel bad for the other stall keepers, but not bad enough to forsake the line.
After about an hour wait, it’s finally our turn to watch as the chef prepares his signature dish of Tai Hwa Pork Noodle. It appears to be an elaborate dish of broth, pork (eater in meatballs or very thinly sliced pieces), noodles, vegetables and dumplings. The kitchen appears to be utter chaos with pots and pans being used to fill one bowl and then tossed aside, sometimes with a remnant of the broth that is being tossed around ending up somewhere on the floor or cooking board. I am not sure how most kitchens work, but I can’t imagine it is anything like this chaos. Not one to judge on appearances – or at least trying to be, I fail miserably at this most days – I decide to just hope for the best. After all, the Michelin people must have had a reason to give this guy one of their precious stars!
Filled with anticipation we make our way to one of the tables with a plastic cover and matching plastic seats and dive into our dishes. I have to say, the dish is somewhat complex with a lot of flavours going on and I quiet like it. However, we are both unsure as to why exactly this would merit a Michelin star as it is no different from a lot of dishes we have eaten in Asia. Really, to be 100% honest, the dish we ate last night tasted a lot better than the dish we are currently eating. Just goes to show, there is no accounting for taste and high expectations will only leave you disappointed. Better to have no expectations and be surprised!
After we have eaten enough we take a taxi back to the hotel to rest a bit. We can tell that our energy levels are not yet up to normal, but by now we are feeling confident that we will recover fully pretty soon.
We get a taxi and it’s the first Singaporean taxi drive that is not all that happy. Sourly he asks us where we want to go and then tells us about a Facebook message that a woman gave birth to ten children – a message he then tries to find while driving. Apparently we are not enthusiastic enough about this, because he relapses to silence. After Erik gives me a little kiss on my forehead – yes I know, we are disgustingly cute together – he asks me if Erik is my boyfriend or husband. I honestly tell him he is my boyfriend after which he grunts and looks away and won’t say a word to me for the rest of the ride.
I don’t mind the silence for once and cannot be bothered about being judged by someone over this, but since it is the first time this question was brought up during our stay in such a way, it does stick with me. I am just happy most people seem to either assume we are married, or don’t care about our private choices.
We make it to the hotel and have a nice rest while trying to figure out what to do with our night. Eating dinner will probably be a small bite as we are still full from our very late and very filling lunch, but we don’t feel like just waiting until we go to a club. For starters we are both sure that we will fall asleep before the party get’s started and neither one of us is a big clubber anyways – although we had thought to go to a club in KL and/or Singapore before we got sick.
In the end, we google a bunch of recommendations a colleague of mine gave us a few weeks ago. Some are a bit far away, some are clubs and some are closed, but Clark Quay seems like a fun place to visit and not to far away – within walking distance even. So, off we go, Erik in a city outfit, me in the one dress I have brought along for this trip.
Clark Quay is a block of restaurants that comes alive at night with live bands, clubs, soccer to watch, a big water fountain to play and and just a generally fun atmosphere very well suited for people watching. There is a football match on and since it appears to be the most fun and lively restaurant at that time, I say to Erik that he can watch it while I just people watch.
We have a fun time, eating nachos (in Asia, I know, I should not be allowed to travel), looking at the people and enjoying our six glasses of water – apparently asking when it would finally arrive turned into us getting a glass from every server in the area. It is simply one of those nights where you have a great time, without any one part standing out. So, after a few hours and a walk around the various live bands we head back to the hotel. Ready for an early morning to start our Indonesian adventure!