Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Final Chapter- Singapore

After a hectic few days in Bangkok, we flew into Singapore and to be honest, I had very few pre-conceived ideas about the country, having always thought of it as more of a transit city than an actual destination. The only reason we opted to visit was because it was where we could fly home from for a reasonable price.

To be honest, I was very underwhelmed. For a country with such a diverse population situated in between Malaysia and Indonesia I was expecting it to have a similar vibe to these countries- something of a cultural fusion. I was disappointed that I didn't get anything from Singapore. It's incredibly clean with huge skyscrapers, malls, neon etc - what you'd expect from a big Asian city. I think what I missed though was the chaos- the hustle and the bustle, the street corners filled with street carts and people going about their daily business. Obviously Singapore is incredibly developed with one of the highest GDPs of any Asian country, but it didn't have any charm- I felt completely disengaged with it as a destination and found it to be almost sterile in it's serenity.  Unlike Japan, which has a similarly strong economy, it hasn't retained any of the charms of the East and that was what I found lacking.

Of course, the experience of any country is completely subjective, and I can imagine that if I were to live as an expat in any of the countries we had been to, Singapore would probably be the place where I would be most comfortable. It's clean, everyone speaks English, it's got everything you would need to live comfortably. As a tourist however, it doesn't offer a huge amount! It was also one of the most expensive places we had been to, after Japan and Hong Kong, but it didn't offer the same value as these amazing places.

I feel like I've had a bit of a rant there, and to be honest, with the end of the trip approaching and the excitement of going home paramount in our minds, perhaps I didn't give it a fair shot. My mum and I also got really severe food poisoning while we were there which completely obliterated one of the three days we had there. This again really marred our experience, as ironically it was the only time I've been ill over the last 5 months (ironic that it was in one of the cleanest cities in the world).

Here are some of the things we did enjoy though during our limited time:

1) Gardens by the Bay

Directly opposite the glitzy Marina Bay Sands (a luxury hotel, shopping and casino complex) lies Gardens by the Bay. It's a gorgeous set of gardens complete with man-made 'supertrees', separate gardens with plants from different countries, and some very strange sculptures! It's pretty to have a wander around, and free entry to all the outside spaces. The conservatories are apparently the best place to see but due to the rather sizeable entry fee, we gave these a miss.

One of the many plants in the gardens
An 'unusual' sculpture
 2) Raffles Hotel

Raffles is a Singapore Institution, and unable to afford the £300+ price tag for a room there, we visited for dinner and drinks one evening. We went to the Italian restaurant (mostly because it was the only reasonably priced option) and while the food wasn't anything amazing, it was lovely to sit in the courtyard of the huge colonial building, observing the well-heeled clientèle and passing the multiple designer shops within the hotel's interior! We then went for Singapore Slings (a cocktail invented at Raffles) in the Long Bar and appreciated the history of the bar where so many famous faces have frequented!

The façade of the hotel decorated for the festive period! 
The Famous Sling 
3) Singapore Zoo

Consistently voted as one of the best zoos in the world, Singapore Zoo definitely lives up to its name. With no cages and very few man-made enclosures, the zoo looks like a rainforest and the animals are cleverly separated with streams or other natural barriers. There's a huge range of animals including white and Malayan tigers, Asian elephants, proboscis monkeys, free-ranging orang-utans and even a polar bear! We had a great day here and it's definitely worth a visit!

All in all, there is interesting sights in Singapore. It definitely wasn't my favourite city but I love the chaos and the challenges of other destinations we have been to and this isn't what Singapore is about!

Flying home and thinking about everything we have seen and done over the last five months, I can't believe how lucky I have been. From seeing endangered species in the wild to visiting spectacular temples, from eating gorgeous food to meeting amazing people we have managed to experience so much and are both truly grateful that we have had this opportunity. Since we got home everyone has asked us where our favourite places have been and we want to get it down in writing, so once Christmas is over, we're planning on doing a mini-series on highlights etc. This should take us through to the middle of January when it'll be back to more of a solo blog as I'm going on my next exciting adventure (more on that to follow) so keep reading because it's not over yet! 

Monday, 16 December 2013

The Bangkok Bonanza

Hi all,

A lot has happened in the few weeks since I last updated this blog. Rob and I are now home safe and sound and have even managed to recover from jet-lag. We've both spent the last week catching up with friends and family and basically haven't got round to finish documenting our adventures in the midst of all the excitement of being back on home turf!

Leaving Chiang Mai was the end of a part of our travelling experience. We flew into Bangkok Don Muang Airport to meet my Mum, June and brother, Adam and from then on it was a different, although no less enjoyable, last two weeks. For a start, we left cheap guesthouses and hostels behind and checked into a luxurious (for us) 17th floor apartment in Downtown Bangkok. We were also reunited with some home comforts which they kindly brought in their suitcases for us! We had a great time in Bangkok and not one to leave anything unfinished, I thought I'd update you on some highlights from the week which we spent there!

Bangkok is an amazing city. We'd heard so many mixed reports about this 'marmite city' (you either love it or hate it) so we were pretty apprehensive about visiting (particularly with my brother who isn't one for new experiences)! Travellers talk about the chaos, the pollution, the seediness and it's all there in spades but if  you get through that there are some fantastic sights and experiences to be seen and had including:

1) Perusing the market stalls at Khao San Road

Bangkok is the main backpacker hub of South-East Asia, and it seemed that everyone we met travelling was due to or had spent some time here. Khao San Road is a Traveller's Mecca with everything you could possibly need. It attracts a really 'interesting' crowd and was a great spot for people watching. We went once during the day and once at night and in the evening it really comes alive with so many bars, cafes and stalls that you don't know where to look. Even if you choose not to stay there (and I'm glad we weren't) definitely head along for the evening!

At the edge of Khao San Road and it was already manic
Quite the USP
One of the more interesting stalls
2) Visiting the Grand Palace and Wat Pho

Bangkok has a lot to offer in terms of culture and while we were thoroughly 'templed out' by this point, my Mum and Adam were keen to take in some of the larger historical monuments. Wat Pho is home to the worlds largest gold reclining Buddha and it is gigantic.

The reclining Buddha at Wat Pho
The Grand Palace is in a similar style to the Palace we saw in Phnom Penh and it was just as spectacular. One the memories which I will always have of Thailand is the gold which you see everywhere and the Grand Palace was one of the most concentrated examples of this. It is so quintessentially Thai and a definite must-see if you only have a few days in Bangkok!

The golden stupa at the Grand Palace
3) Checking out the infamous Patpong Night Market

Unfortunately, Bangkok is one of the sex tourism capitals of the world and it's reputation is definitely lived up to in it's multiple red light districts. Wanting to see a taster of this (you can't really not when in Bangkok), but not wanting to be hassled to death by touts, we opted to visit Patpong 2 (yes it exists) the less seedy, younger sister of the original Patpong Road. Patpong 2 still has the sex shows, the men offering 'fire breathing shows' and 'ping pong shows' but there are less of them. It's still a red light district but there's also a great market there with some good souvenirs and it's not as in-your-face as Patpong 1.

4) Seeing the view from above at one of Bangkok's many skybars

There's not much better in Bangkok than sitting on the 70th-odd floor of a skyscraper at night with a cocktail and seeing the view below. Bangkok is a really flat city so you can see for miles and miles and it makes you feel as if you are in a movie. We went to the Banyan Tree Hotel's Vertigo Bar and it definitely lives up to it's name. It isn't cheap but a cocktail will set you back about £12 and a beer about £6 and it's worth it for the view alone! Even if you're on a tight budget, fit this in.

5) Sampling some of the many culinary delights

Thailand is definitely up there with Japan for my favourite cuisine and Bangkok has some amazing food! On Khaosan Road there are a huge number of street stalls selling classics like Pad Thai or Pork with Holy Basil. There's also hundreds of budget cafes selling great currys for a couple of quid each. Outside of the cheaper areas every mall (of which there are hundreds) tends to have a food court with great, cheap food. Bangkok also has some amazing restaurants serving other types of cuisine and we went to a great one called Above Eleven (above Sukhumvit Soi 11- one of the major party districts) which served Peruvian food- would highly recommend!

6) Doing some shopping...

There are some amazing shops in Bangkok selling everything from the usual array of tourist souvenirs, to amazing knockoff bags, watches and DVDs and pretty much every brand name in the world! We went to quite a few indoor malls including Siam Paragon, MBK and Terminal 21. Siam Paragon is huge and one of Bangkoks major new landmarks with thousands of shops, loads of restaurants and even a luxury car showroom on the top floor. MBK was better though as this was essentially an outdoor Asian Street Market, but indoor. It sold anything and everything for cheap prices but with the luxury of air conditioning which was much needed! We also visited Chatuchak Market which is the largest outdoor market in the world spanning 27 acres, but to be honest it was so big it was impossible to find anything and MBK was far better!

Apart from that we just wandered around the streets of Bangkok (it's a great city to just sit and watch the world go by), visited the different districts and essentially had a great time catching up and making the most of some of our last days in Asia! After Bangkok we spent four days in Singapore before flying home, so that will be the next entry.