A Travellerspoint blog

May 2013



Prior to going on this trip, I cannot even remember how many times we hummed and hawed about going to Singapore. It wasn’t until about a month before the trip that we finally made an executive decision to make a stopover in Singapore for 2 days while travelling from Thailand to Bali. We also decided that because we were only going to be there for 2 nights and a hostel room can run you upwards of 100$/night with a shared bathroom, that we would splurge and book a room at the Marina Bay Sands; a nice change from staying in a guesthouse for the past 3.5 weeks. The interesting part about all of this is that even with all of the indecision about Singapore; it has ended up being one of the highlights of our trip.
For those of you that know me (Sean) well, this will simply be a review, but for those of you who know me but not that well, I am going to explain a few things to you. I, at times or quite frequently depending on if you talk to Lindsay, can be a little neurotic about certain things. I love cleanliness, I love order, I love rules and regulations and I always feel that everything has a right place. I am the type of person who likes to get “shit done”, with a plan, on time and done right the first time. I had heard stories about Singapore and its strict rules and regulations as well as its famous cleanliness. This sounds like my kind of city. However, I also heard some bad things like how their court system involves just a judge, no jury and if convicted of murder, drug trafficking or weapons smuggling, you are sentenced to death. There are also severe penalties for what we consider petty crimes such as graffiti or littering (i.e. jailed for up to 20 years or various forms of corporal punishment). I had also read that the cost of living is so high in Singapore (880,000$ for a condo) that we figured homelessness and poverty would be somewhat evident, especially in the downtown core. We must say however, everything that we expected to see was vastly different from our actual experience.
We landed at the Singapore airport, voted the #1 airport in the world. The airport was stunning, efficient and very clean. The bathrooms even had a TV screen as you exited with a picture of the bathroom cleaner and a touch screen review of the cleanliness of the facilities. Of course I gave the facilities a 10/10, as I have never been in a cleaner public bathroom. As most of you know, when leaving the Calgary airport, you are greeted with our brand new Airport Trail that leads to the “beautiful” Deerfoot Trail; a mishmash of brown open fields, industrial parks and concrete. Very appealing to visitors I’m sure. Since I live in Calgary and am so used to seeing this every time I head to or leave the airport, I didn’t expect much when leaving the airport in Singapore. I was very mistaken. I have never in my life seen a more beautiful road/highway. The middle median was made up of flower beds filled to the brim with brightly colored flowers, while the outside edges were strewn with gorgeous old trees whose branches extended over the road as if providing a roof in case it rained. Lindsay and I sat in absolute awe as we drove along this road. In fact it was actually a 6 lane highway that was more beautiful than Calgary’s own botanical gardens. It was honestly like being in Alice in Wonderland. Not one leaf out of place, not one dead flower and every hedge, trimmed to exactly the same height. It didn’t even seem real. We also found out from our cab driver that if there ever was an emergency at the airport, the city was attacked or their air force base was destroyed for some reason, within 10 minutes, all of the median flowers could be removed to accommodate the landing of fighter jets on particular sections of this highway. You know… just in case.
After the breath taking highway adventure, we finally arrived at the most expensive hotel we will ever stay at. You can see the enormity of this hotel while flying in the sky and as we drove the road of wonder we could see it towering in the distance. This hotel of course, if you haven’t googled it yet, is the Marina Bay Sands Hotel & Casino. The one with the infinity pool on the very top floor, overlooking the entire city, with cafés and restaurants bordering each side and a lookout that you can stand on which is basically floating on air…. yup that one. When the taxi driver dropped us off at entrance # 3, we were immediately greeted by 2 gentlemen who opened the doors and told us where to go to check in. This was a very nice gesture as once we entered this massive building; it was noticeable how easy it would be to get lost. The lobby extended so far that we could not even see the other entrances. Art work and sculptures filled the lobby with a modern décor and even though modern can feel cold, this was one of the most welcoming places we’d been. Our necks were sore from looking up, as the ceiling was endless, adding to the atmosphere of making us feel tiny. People were wandering about, the cafés and bakery shops bursting at the brim with people trying to get the last chocolate éclair; which, by the way, tasted amazing!


Once we checked in, we were taken to our room and asked if we were scared of heights, which we both are, but laughed and said no anyways. We soon found out that the view from the 47th floor was quite spectacular and that indeed, we were both still scared of heights! When we booked this hotel we of course took the cheaper option and picked the “Garden View”. This view actually ended up being the better of the two sides as we looked down upon the massive structures that lie within the “Gardens by the Bay”. More on those later.


As we settled in quickly to our new surroundings we both decided that the pool was the place to explore first. Up to the 57th floor and out to the deck we went. The view was incredible; skyscrapers across the little lake, huge hills behind miles of city structures, and the harbour with what seemed to be a thousand boats with the ocean that stretched on forever. It was hard to just look at one thing as our attention would immediately be drawn to something else off in the distance or down below. The pool extended almost the entire length of the hotel and there were trees and plants growing along the deck. It was quite hard to leave that view and eventually we had to come back later that night for some drinks and supper!


Our whole plan of when we arrived in Singapore went out the door once we went to the pool. We originally wanted to leave the hotel to try to see however much of the city that we could. However, after the pool, we decided to check out the rest of the hotel and that was where we ended up staying for the rest of the day. For those of you who have been to Las Vegas, this hotel was like any hotel on the strip, except way larger. There were 3 floors and some of the most expensive clothing and jewellery stores in the world. Louis Vuitton even has its own store that you have to walk through a tunnel, under the harbour, to arrive at their personal floating building.


Underneath the hotel there is a massive casino with multiple security checks. Since Singapore opened its first ever casino in 2010 (there are only 2 in the entire city) the security in the casino was as intense as it was at the airport. No fooling around there. I was told prior to going in that I could only wear my hat if I wore it forwards. Security is so tight we actually got in trouble for taking pictures inside. We never gambled though as the cheapest black jack table bet was $50.00 and we weren’t ready to spend that when it could buy us 3 meals! Instead we spent our 3 meal money on heading out to one of the world’s best nightclubs. Zouk; rated number 5 in the world only behind the massive legendary clubs of Fabric, Green Valley and a few that lie on that little island in Spain called Ibiza. We will simply end this by saying that I may have woken up with a bit of a headache and Lindsay with a stomach ache from eating all those very expensive pringles from the mini bar.


After leaving our friends for 3 days, we reunited with 2 of them on our last day in Singapore. After showing them around and allowing them to get their bearings, we headed out that night hunting for some foodhawker stalls. Not far from the hotel on the other side of the harbour we found ourselves gorging on delicious Singapore, Indian, Chinese and Mixed favourites at a place called Gluttons Bay. As the name suggests, we ate until we couldn’t force anymore food down into our bursting bellies. It was actually kind of disgusting how much we ate that night, but it was one of the best meals on this trip and so worth it.


Later that night we headed into the “Gardens by the Bay” (I told you I would get to it). The Gardens consist of 250 acres of reclaimed land just behind the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. The Singapore government claim that this park is part of an attempt to better the quality of life of its citizens by changing from a Garden City to a City within a garden. There is no other way to describe this “garden” but absolutely breathtaking. We had a great view of the entire compound from our balcony, but we never imagined that it would look the way it did on the ground. In the middle of the gardens are these structures called “SuperTrees”, which at night light up and illuminate this park. It literally makes you feel as if you just landed on another planet. I know that this blog is a way to describe our experiences and create a picture of what we have seen, but for once we both honestly cannot find any words to describe what we saw. It was a crazy sight and it didn’t hurt that the massive Marina Bay Sands Hotel along with a full moon were in the background. We will leave it up to you to decide upon seeing the pictures how to best describe this park.


Ultimately Singapore was a whirlwind adventure that unfortunately only lasted 2 days. The people of this city are some of the nicest and warmest I (Sean) have ever encountered on any trip I have been on. This city is immaculate in every way and something that the people of Singapore should be proud of. While heading out to the club in a taxi and while walking outside of the hotel grounds, we never saw any garbage or graffiti, no homeless people, no unattended gardens/trees or even a single pothole in the road. Throughout our entire stay we always wondered if this city of perfection came at a cost. We quickly realized that this high cost of living has its downfalls. We spoke with many cab drivers who are angry with the government over how lavish their life is, while they themselves suffer along. One also voiced his opinions fairly loudly telling us about the imperfections that lie within the justice system. He continued by saying that if you do anything wrong/break the law, the judges simply ignore your pleas, punish you and refuse to listen on a case by case basis. Everyone is painted with the same brush regardless of circumstances. We started to feel for these people. Yet, no matter how worked up they got while voicing their frustrations, all of them would always say that they still loved the city of Singapore. I feel there is so much more to see and to explore. So much that we were simply unable to see due to time constraints. The people, the architecture, the liveliness and simply the beauty of this city has drawn me in. I will see you again Singapore.


Posted by BlondeandCurly 07:48 Archived in Singapore Tagged marina singapore bay sands Comments (1)


Koh Samui, Koh Phangan & Phuket


Islands and beaches….yep, that pretty much sums up 2 weeks! We were lucky enough to be able to explore 3 of Thailand’s popular islands and although the weather was not quite in our favour, we still made the best of it. The first island we went to after leaving Krabi was Ko Samui; with the cutest airport ever. Once the plane landed, a shuttle came to pick us up and we were dropped off at these bamboo huts with fans in the ceiling. Everything was open air and there were more plants and flowers in the airport than what we see on our walks to work. Ok, that might be an exaggeration, but you get the picture. We stayed at this hotel called Ark Bar, which was basically one big party on the beach. Music was playing almost the entire day and there were copious amounts of young people dancing and drinking their days and nights away. Even with so many people at this resort, it was actually quite easy to find chairs on the beach and join in with the obnoxious crowd. Cheap booze and good music is hard to say no to. Don’t get me wrong though; there definitely were certain times when we needed the quiet and cool environment of our hotel rooms, simply to get away from the debauchery that was Ark Bar. When these times arose we reverted back there to play some cards and continued our trip long card playing tournament. Even though it seemed like a dance party day in and day out, one Friday night there was an “actual” celebration. It was crazy. People were milling about everywhere, there was a DJ with a live saxophone player and they even had fire dancers performing amazing stunts. It was hard to know just what to look at. What was even more amazing, the fire dancers asked the two girls we were travelling with if they wanted to hula hoop with them while they were performing. The glow in the dark hoops looked amazing and the girls did a great job dancing with the music. All in all, a fun place to stay and party. However, if we go back we may find a more quiet and relaxing hotel…Or not!


Ko Samui was the perfect amount of busy. There were people walking along the streets as usual, taxis honking to try to get some money and street food vendors at every corner, but you could walk down little side streets to find yourself immersed in the local life. It was a nice mix of loud and quiet.


We were able to rent scoots again, this time without the drama! We travelled around the island to places Sean had been before, so we knew exactly where to go. We visited a temple (Wat Khunaram) in which a mummified monk is sitting in a meditative pose inside a glass coffin. He sat there with sunglasses covering his face where his eyes would have been and was draped in an orange sarong. He has been sitting there since his death in 1973. I (Lindsay) was slightly disappointed because Sean had told me that when he was here last, he had an opportunity to be blessed by a monk. This was something I have always wanted to do. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the monk was no longer at this particular temple, or maybe wasn’t there that day. It was still quite amazing to see a temple like this and to see a real person preserved so well for so long.


The rest of the day we spent scooting around the south, west and north part of the island, stopping at waterfalls, and places like Fisherman’s Pier and Big Buddha beach. The temple Wat Phra Yai sits towering above Big Buddha beach and the rest of the island. This temple as many stairs that must be conquered before reaping the benefits that lie on top. Sitting at the top is a Gold Buddha standing 15 meters tall, shining in the bright sun with endless views of the tropical sea and sky just beyond. As we walked around the temple, we noticed that there were many tiles sitting around for the roof. Each one of them had names of people, where they were from and what year they had visited. We quickly figured out that people paid money to write on these tiles, which they were re-using to retile the entire roof. Forever (well, at least for a very long time) your name would be part of this Buddhist temple. The only problem was that the tiles were still sitting in piles on the floor, not in nice patterns on the roof! What an amazing place to visit though.


After scooting around Ko Samui and listening to music non-stop, we travelled by ferry to our next island destination, Ko Pha-Ngan. For those of you who don’t know, this is the place where the infamous “Full Moon Party” is held, but we’ll get to that in a minute. We have to explain this ferry ride first because it was stomach churning. The weather was quite poor and it had started to rain just before we loaded our bags onto the ferry. The waves were a little choppy on the shore but it didn’t look too bad as we started our supposed 45 minute journey to this little island. Once we passed the safety of Ko Samui and ventured into the Gulf of Thailand, we were hit by the ferocity of this storm. Rain was pounding down on the ferry, which by the way, had minimal railings on both sides, so one wrong step and you are forever with the ocean. The boat was tossing and turning from side to side. We were all being jarred each time a wave hit the front of the boat. There were people puking into garbage cans, if they could make it, and if you stood up, heaven forbid it, there was no way you were moving anywhere unless you had a strong grasp on something to keep your balance. If you’ve ever watched “Deadliest Catch” when the huge storms come in and the waves are crashing over the sides onto the deck while the crew is trying to fish, this is what it felt like. The waves never actually made it to our deck, but there was one wave that rolled the ferry so far that people’s luggage came undone and almost slid right into the water. So after about 1.5 hrs we rolled into the harbour, a little shook up, but no worse for wear. Quite an experience to say the least.


So, once we finally made it to the little island, we spent the next two days here. Two very rainy days. As we mentioned before, this is the Full Moon Party beach and during the week before and the day or two after the full moon, this place is out of control. It’s like Ark Bar, the hotel we stayed at in Ko Samui, but with way more people, way more bars, way more alcohol and way louder music. We had decided that we were not going to head there for a full moon party as in order to stay on the busy beaches you need to book a hotel for an entire week; an entire week for one night. We figured that we would rather see other parts of Thailand and give up the full moon party. We quickly realized that in between each full moon party, the island is basically deserted. There literally were only a handful of tourists at Haadrin Beach. This was actually a very bizarre feeling, having a beach that has parties upwards of 30,000 people all to ourselves. It had a sense of calm, tranquility and was actually quite relaxing. The quiet was something we needed after Ark Bar.
We had timed our trip, without even really knowing it, during Songkran, or Thai New Year. Songkran is basically a week full of festivities that includes buckets filled with water, hoses, balloons and most commonly, the water guns. Locals and tourists both participate in this celebration in which getting soaked and trying to soak others is the main intent. In Thailand, Songkran is the washing away of ones bad luck and sins to make way for a new year filled with joy and happiness. It is actually disrespectful to get angry or upset if someone gets you wet, so if you’re going outside, you’d better be ready!
We thought that Ko Pha-Ngan island would be busy because it was known for its parties and rambunctiousness and Songkran would be a perfect time to celebrate and party. However, as mentioned earlier, we were a little disappointed, as the beach was almost empty that night except for one bar that was packed to the brim with the small amount of tourists that were on Haadrin. It was also raining so that might have put a damper on things a little. However, we were still able to participate in some festivities during the day. As we were sitting eating lunch in a restaurant, the corner was occupied by a group of locals with buckets of water and hoses galore. Every time a scooter passed by or someone tried to walk along the street, they would unleash the fury. They soaked absolutely everybody, even getting it on themselves and dumping water on each other’s heads. We decided that we might as well jump right in and experience the New Year the way the locals do. Finishing lunch, we ran out into the street with arms wide open, egging on the locals. We. Were. Drenched. Head to toe, not a body part was spared from the water! And so, we were cleansed of our bad luck (oh wait, Sean doesn’t have any!) to make way for a prosperous new year. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for the rest of 2013.


Our two day rainy trip to this little island was over and we were on to our next adventure in Phuket. We stayed on Patong beach, which Sean says was much busier than he remembered. It was like a mini Bangkok with a beach! Like every place in Thailand, souvenir stores, street food and tuk tuks were everywhere. We discovered our love for an amazing dessert, banana pancakes (mine was pineapple because banana’s = gross) and explored as much as we could while the weather permitted. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and rainy for 4 of the 5 days there. Not the way we planned to spend our island and beach time. We decided in the beginning of the trip that we were going to do the cliché trip to Ko Phi Phi where they filmed “The Beach”. How could we possibly pass up a trip to walk where Leonardo DiCaprio once stepped? We booked the trip the day before and were told we would be picked up at 7am. The day we booked it, I (Lindsay) got super sick and pretty much was up all night, told the other two girls in the morning that I couldn’t make it and tried to go back to sleep. I was very upset that I wasn’t able to enjoy this day with the others and that I had lost out on a bunch of cash, no refunds in Thailand. When I finally woke up later that day, I found out that the boat had actually cancelled because it was raining too much and the waves were too large. The girls didn’t even leave the hotel. The company had rebooked us for the next day and once again, we got our hopes up for an amazing day.
We woke up that morning and the grey clouds were covering the sky again. We waited in the lobby; the van picked us up and drove us to the other side of the island. As we were listening to our guide about the day’s itinerary, it started to pour. This was a torrential downpour and it was so loud we couldn’t even hear the guide speaking with a blow horn as we sat just meters away from him. It lasted about 10 minutes and stopped briefly enough for us to load the boats. It was going to be a wet day, but as least we were getting to see the places we wanted to see. As we were driving to “The Beach” beach (Phi Phi Leh), it was almost as if the sky was parting. One side was miserable and cloudy; the other was filled with blue sky and the odd white fluffy cloud. From then on, the day was perfect. Once we reached the island and we held our breath as the scenery took hold of us. The crystal clear water, the soaring cliffs, the white beach sand; it was everything we had expected and more. And yes, we walked the same path as Leo did…maybe I should have stolen some of that sand? As there was tour boats lining the shore and tourists crammed every which way, it was not a completely peaceful place but we enjoyed every minute we had there. Beautiful and stunning. Especially with the sun shining down on us, the sun that we hadn’t seen in three days.


We spent the whole day boating from island to little island, stopping to see the Viking Cave, Monkey Beach (some man gave a monkey a full can of Heineken, the monkey cracked it open and chugged it back like it was water, which he probably thought it was…poor monkey), Phi Phi Don (where the wave of the tsunami in 2004 cleared the middle of the island making it two separate islands for a few days) and a small tiny island that jutted out into the ocean. Each place we stayed for less than an hour, but they were all interesting in their own way. This was one of the best “girl days” I’ve ever had and I think my company would agree on that. What a great way to end our time in Phuket and the Thai islands.


We now split off into our own groups, some of our travel mates are heading to Malaysia, some are going home and we are off to Singapore. Thailand, you’ve given us some amazing memories and each one of us will be back to visit you in the near future, I’m sure of it. Goodbye for now.


Posted by BlondeandCurly 22:43 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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