After ten weeks of living on the island of Penang, it was time to get back into traveling mode and continue my adventures. My hostel venture had been up and running (legally) for the last three weeks. Everything was working smoothly, freeing me up to continue my travels as I had discussed with my partners before starting the venture. It was a bit sad leaving such an amazing project just when it was falling together, but the road was calling me.
Taking an overnight bus from Penang to Singapore, I settled into my reclining seat and enjoyed the night lights flashing by as we drove south.
Immigration to Singapore
Singapore is known as an incredibly clean city with strict laws. Buildings are repainted every two years, selling chewing gum is illegal, and hefty fines are quickly handed out by police for littering and smoking in public. Drug smuggling is punishable by death and every bottle of alcohol from Malaysia is heavily taxed. The Chinese New Year was approaching and I was given some small firecrackers by friends back in Malaysia. I looked online and saw fireworks (and possibly firecrackers) were among the items that are illegal to bring into the country, but what is life without a bit of risk.
The bus I was riding dropped us off in the front of the Singapore immigration building and the driver said he would meet us on the other side. I quickly filled out the immigration form and found an empty line, ahead of the rush of commuters following close behind (many people live in Malaysia and commute into Singapore every day). I was anxious to see if they would catch the firecrackers in my bag and what would happen if they did. After walking through the metal detectors, the immigration officers were only concerned about cigarettes and didn't care or notice that I had the firecrackers in my bag.
Walking out of the building, my bus was nowhere in sight. Forty minutes later my bus was still missing and no one else from my bus seemed to be in the area. After taking a look around I decided that I had probably made a mistake, but I had no idea what or where I went wrong. Luckily local public buses pass through the area and with the help of a few locals I was soon on my way.
Singapore has many similarities to George Town in Malaysia. There is a cultural mix of Indian, Malay, and Chinese and that means the food is amazing. Singapore is stricter about having food stalls on the street, but they have hawker centers full of great food and at a cheap price. I was warned that everything would be closed because of the Chinese New Year and that it would be a horrible time to visit. Yes, many places were closed for a day or two, but I had a great time wandering the city.
Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year in Singapore consists of a lot of lights, sculptures, a few performances and about three minutes of fireworks. Vastly different from how we celebrate the New Year, the Chinese New Year is a time for family, prayers, and ushering in good luck for the coming year. No one that I saw on the street was drunk, but apparently all the old men stay at home drinking and gambling.
At midnight, there was a lovely albeit short display of fireworks over Marina Bay. Afterwards, the crowds immediately broke up and began to head home or possibly to the temples, which open at 11:30 pm to allow prayers, offerings, or general good luck wishing to happen at the start of a new year. We have entered the year of the monkey where everyone will face financial success or ruin, blossoming relationships or heartbreak, and potential injury depending on the actions you do or do not take. I think it is basically the same every year, but it never hurts to take a look at your life and be intentional on how you move forward.
My favorite part of Singapore was the Gardens by the Bay. I wish I had spent more time exploring the space, but I mainly just saw the light show in the evening that reminded me of the movie, Avatar.
I ate delicious food in the hawker centers, but the food highlight of my trip was when my lovely Couch Surfing host took myself and other surfers out for frog porridge. From the sign in front of the restaurant, I thought we would have to eat the frogs alive, but they were nicely cooked in some dark sauce. The frog was pleasantly tasty, easily coming off the bone, and definitely tasted like chicken.
The craziest sight in Singapore is the sculpture theme park depicting the ten courts of hell at the Haw Par Villa. If you ever want to scare children into developing certain morals, the sculpture depictions of the courts of hell may be a good family outing.
Singapore is beyond expensive, especially for the average South East Asia backpacker. However, the fact that Singapore was expensive was not a surprise. Everyone mentions it all the time. Prices aside, Singapore is a lovely place to visit. Singapore has incredibly friendly people, a superb public transport system, pretty neat architecture, delicious foods, and a charming night time skyline.