There is nothing like returning from a vacation to find you are going on another one! I arrived back in Jakarta last Wednesday night, after spending five wonderful weeks in the States. Before I could sit down and put my feet up or begin to think about unpacking Scott surprised me with the news that we were going to Singapore for the long weekend. Monday was a “red calendar day”, which means a public holiday, in honor of Chinese New Year. (Apparently there are 3-4 New Years celebrated in Indonesia.) Better yet, he had gotten us tickets to see the musical Wicked, which I have been wanting to go see for a long time.
Lucky for me I had had a 13-hour layover in Doha, Qatar on my way back and between that and sleeping on the plane I was almost back on time. There was no time for jet lag. I spent Thursday unpacking, putting away, and repacking since we were leaving Friday at noon. I did find some time to have lunch with Princess Mani and the Jamu Princess. It was a brief reunion but good to catch up.
Friday found us back at the airport and on our way to Singapore with only a short delay due to weather or traffic control or some such nonsense. No business class on this flight. The 1.5 hour flight felt more like being on a full bus. We flew Garuda Airlines, which is Indonesian. Despite the short trip, we were served juice before we took off and a meal and drinks during the flight. Hot food with utensils. What they lack in leg room they make up for in service.
After checking into our hotel we went in search of dinner. We didn’t want to go too far since I was still dragging a bit. Luckily we were staying in a shopping district. The streets were full of people. The weather was perfect and the air clean. It reminded both of us of Rome at night. We found an Italian bistro on the sidewalk and had some pizza and a bottle of wine. The wine was good and the pizza okay but it was such a change to be able to eat outside.
On Saturday we headed on the subway to the Botanic Gardens. It was not as either of us expected. Free to the public, it seemed more of a huge park than a garden. There were many people running/jogging, children riding their bicycles, and families sitting in the grass enjoying the day. The weather was hot but there was plenty of shade. It is the kind of place that makes you want to take up running. We stopped at the Visitor’s Center to get some cold water and take a breather and then headed for the Orchid Garden.
We had been to an Orchid House on our trip to Bogor last October and enjoyed the beauty of them. The Orchid Gardens in Singapore were not free but we willingly paid the entrance fee (after buying me a big-brimmed hat in the gift shop). The flowers were magnificent. Scott’s new camera got plenty of use as one area seemed more beautiful than the next. (Take a look at our photo album section for Singapore. There are far too many pictures to put into this post.) We enjoyed our time, walking all over to make sure we did not miss anything. When we finished with the orchids we decided that, although we could spend an entire day in the Botanic Gardens, it was time to move one.
We hopped back on the subway and headed to Chinatown. With the Chinese New Year on Monday this was definitely the place to be and the time to be there. Many stalls lined the streets selling everything from traditional foods to fireworks to good luck charms. (The year of the Dragon is considered to not be very good so there are many things to buy to ensure prosperity and good health.) We headed down a side street and found a restaurant that looked rather crowded. (It is how we pick places to eat when we are somewhere new. We figure it is safe.) This turned out to be a good stop. Singapore is known for “Chili Crabs.” Although not listed as such we did choose a crab pot and some fried spare ribs. It was a good combination. The crab pot was full of crabs, shrimp, and veggies (and something else that could have been a potato or tofu or some vegetable I have yet to come across but it was really good!) I try not to ask too many questions, I may not like the answers.
With our stomach’s full and a picture taken of the restaurant so that we can find it again sometime, we headed down one of the main streets on the edge of Chinatown. Here we found the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. Called Sri Mariamman Temple it is incredible in the decorations. (Once again check our photo album for more pictures.)The entrance tower has six levels of sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses. They are painted with bright colors. We removed our shoes and left them outside and entered the temple. We had to pay a small tax for Scott to use his camera and although the shrines are covered, for the most part it is an open-air worship site. We took many pictures of the painted statues all around the courtyard area. While meaning no disrespect to the Hindu religion, the colorfulness of the statues reminded me of the carousel horses of my childhood. Sorry, it is my only reference from which to try to explain how vivid the colors were.
After that we headed back into Chinatown to get some boxes of a famous barbecue pork and beef that is sort of like jerky. Intending to buy it for some Chinese friends, we now regret after tasting it that we did not buy it fresh and that we did not buy more! Yum! It was called Bee Cheng Hiang and will be a return stop next time we go! We have found an outlet here in Jakarta nearby in the meantime. The crowds seemed to thin out for a bit and allowed us to look past the booths to the buildings behind. These are Victorian in style and would be worth coming to see even if it was not Chinese New Year.
At this point it was time to make our way back to the hotel. We headed back down into the subway and found the trains we needed. The Singapore train system is really incredible. It is clean (no eating or drinking in the train or terminal) and well organized. It is brightly lit and easy to follow. We did giggle about the woman’s voice with the British accent saying “Please give way to alighting passengers before entering.” Another favorite was “Mind the platform gap.” We shouldn’t make fun. It was great to be in a country where we spoke the language and could read all the signs and didn’t fear getting lost but the auto-Brit lady was humorous! We hit the gelato stand at the top of the train exit on our way to the hotel. Just in time, as we got into the hotel the skies opened and it poured. We decided to wait out the rain in the lounge and have a drink and the complimentary “light snacks”, which are more heavy appetizers or light dinner. We got to see a double rainbow. (Nobody cried….but it was seen as a good omen.) At that point the day caught up with both of us and we headed back to our room for an early night.
Sunday morning was quite busy in Singapore with Chinese New Year’s Eve. After a full breakfast at the buffet downstairs we were back in the subway and headed for the Singapore River area. We walked along the river, following a guide Scott had printed about what to see and do. In a bit of a turn around we found ourselves at the Asian Civilisations Museum. Due to the New Year, it was free admission, so of course we headed in to take a look. We did not see all of it but what we did see was beautiful and breathtaking. One exhibit was the Tang Shipwreck. A 9th Century ship that was discovered off the coast of Indonesia. The museum has acquired many of the ceramics and gold that were recovered. The ship was coming from China probably to trade in the Middle East or beyond. There were over 50,000 small ceramic plates still intact. One of the displays let you touch three pieces of items found. Can you imagine touching something that was 1,000 years old? Crazy and awesome! After we saw quite a bit of the museum it was time to move on.
We headed back down along the river to a restaurant called Jumbo. It is one of the places known for the Chili Crabs. We shared a pot which were very good. Having lived in Louisiana were were familiar with the eating of crabs but the sauce made it especially challenging and the bibs were a huge plus. Although tasty, I was partial to the ones we had in Chinatown on Saturday. I have heard there is a place here in Jakarta that has good crabs. I think this bears a little more research! We wandered along the river some more, just enjoying the day. The plan had been to head to Little India but we decided it could wait for another visit. We headed back to the hotel to get ready for Wicked!
The Marina Bay Sands Resort in Singapore is an incredible complex. Convention center, shopping mall (super-sized), casino, restaurants, and two theaters along with a hotel and amusement complex sprawl along the Singapore waterfront. The hotel has three towers 55 stories high. Upon these three towers sits a ship….yes, a ship. It has an infinity pool, restaurants, observation deck and I am not sure what else but it is incredible to behold. We arrived several hours before the show began to pick up our tickets and to have a look around. We stopped at the TWG tea shoppe to buy my favorite tea (Paris-Singapore) and then headed to check out the casino. It was nice but small compared to Vegas standards. It requires a passport as Singaporean citizens are only allowed entrance if they join a club. We walked out of there even, which is not usually the case and went to find a quick bite before the show. Ironically we ended up at the TWG Tea Restaurant. We just wanted something small since we had a late lunch. Quiche and salads and Scott got to try the Paris-Singapore tea. Wonderful food, fresh, light, and exactly what we wanted.
Then it was time for the show. Scott outdid himself with tickets in the fourth row center on an end. (Those who know me well know how important an end seat is.) The show itself was performed by the Australian cast and was delightful. Everything I had hoped and more. When it was over we left the theater and made our way to the hotel to see if we could get to the observation deck. It was closed but one of the restaurant/bars was still taking patrons if you wanted a drink. We lucked into a spot on the railing overlooking the water where fireworks were ready to go off. Drinks were expensive….really expensive…. but how often can you say you were 57 floors up on a ship overlooking Chinese New Year celebration? And then came the rain. With 10 minutes until midnight the skies opened and the wind blew rain in that sideways way that cuts right through you. Eventually everyone was driven into the bar and the glass doors closed against the storm. Unlike regular New Year’s, there was no countdown within the bar. The music played, some people were dancing, others trying to get close to the glass. The first burst of red from the outside was an indication that indeed the Year of the Dragon had begun. Whether intentional or because of the weather, the fireworks were few and over practically before beginning. Scott and I beat a hasty retreat and lucked into an alternate elevator putting us in the taxi queue before the masses arrived. Our wait was at least 20 minutes. I cannot imagine how long some people waited that night. According to our driver the rain on New Year’s is considered good luck by the Chinese.
Monday morning we packed and had breakfast before heading to the airport for an 11:30 flight. The city was quiet as is usually the case on New Year’s Day. We felt like we had spent a week in Singapore, having packed in as much as possible. We do have a list of things still to see and the proximity to Jakarta will mean more visits in the future. We still have to see Sentosa Island, Little India, and the Long Bar at Raffles where the Singapore Sling was created. Although served at many places, I did not order a Singapore Sling while we were there. Maybe next time. For me, my Singapore Surprise was much, much better!