Crossing Uneven Ground

Singapore Dreams

Super Trees in Singapore
Singapore’s Super Tree Forest in The Gardens By The Bay sparkle to a light show every evening.

As a kid when I dreamed of escape, the image I had in my mind was always of a place like Singapore.  I grew up land-locked in a small town in Central Wisconsin.  My parents, hell everybody’s parents there, were about as likely to have the means to travel as they were to fly to the moon but that didn’t keep my imagination from walking the earth. There was this thing called the Vietnam War going on at the time which kept my mind on Southeast Asia and the certainty of going there to get shot. Luckily, it turned out, I would be a year too young to get drafted but that part of the world continued to fill my head with dreams of the exotic, maybe of danger and certainly of adventure.

There is another, albeit more pragmatic, dimension to Singapore.  Flights to Singapore are inexpensive now.  At the time of this writing United Airlines has been offering round-trips from Chicago for around $750.  That’s less money than to most places in Europe and if you have a need to escape Midwestern winters, Singapore is almost as far away from here as you can get. 

The downside of a trek that prodigious is that going to Singapore means around 30 hours of time in the commercial transportation system. That’s the home-to-hotel rub from Milwaukee.  I never let a chance to over-think things go by so, in preparation, I try to get on West coast time a week ahead of the trip and then on Hawaiian time a few days prior.  This serves to make me so miserable before we leave that the “tomorrow plus 13 hours jet lag” tends to feel kind of normal.  There is good news though.  On the run from San Francisco to Singapore United Airlines is flying a Boeing 787 Dreamliner that sports a couple extra inches of leg room in Economy.  That makes a big difference for me! My wife, Joanne, and I actually slept for about half of the 17 hour Pacific crossing. Singapore found us on a somewhat dopy, travel high, overjoyed at not being totally miserable.

The Parkroyal on Pickering Hotel in Singapore
The Parkroyal on Pickering was our hotel during our stay in Singapore. It is an eco-hotel, whose exterior is dripping with vines and terraced with palm trees.

Joanne and I figure if you’re going to blow money on a really nice hotel, do it when you’re suffering the aforementioned jet lag.  Normally we stay in places where thread-count is measured in single digits but when you’re doomed to walk the earth zombie-like for a time, then why not be pampered in a five star palace?  We went whole-hog and tossed our bags at Singapore’s Parkroyal on Pickering.  It is in a central location in Chinatown so gentle, brief forays into the urban jungle are doable either by foot or by Singapore’s spotlessly clean, air conditioned subway.  When one feels one’s ex-time zone casting a shadow on one’s hypothalamus, signaling the approach of a paralyzing jet lag coma, it’s nice to know that there’s a lounge chair next to the Parkroyal’s fifth floor infinity pool with your name on it.

The infinity pool at the Parkroyal Hotel.
The Parkroyal’s infinity pool. Early risers get it all to themselves.

Our swanky hotel’s charms notwithstanding and trying to keep my puppy-like excitement at being on the verge of another Asian adventure, Joanne and I wandered out into the tropical heat and humidity to explore Singapore.  If there is a better place for a holiday or for a basecamp for further exploration I don’t know of it.  Here are a few reasons:

It is safe and clean.  Petty theft, mugging, pick-pocketing…are virtually nonexistent.  On the downside, some will say, is that Singapore has gone overboard. It is too much of a police state…too strict. Maybe, but people aren’t spitting all over the streets and the sidewalks are clean.  There aren’t many traffic jams and, unlike some countries I’ve traveled to, traffic laws are a thing.  I don’t mind waiting for the signal at crosswalks and I hear that tourists may now possess chewing gum in small quantities, without a prescription. (Fines are still quite strict for spitting out gum in public places.)

It is a city of the future.  I’ve been to Singapore three times.  It gets better every time.  I’ve watched it transform from a city of sprawling slums punctuated by a few hoity-toity neighborhoods to one of the most uniformly coolest places I’ve ever been to. There is always something world-shakingly new here. The Gardens By The Bay are a recent city upgrade that attracts a lot of attention .

It is a mixture of cultures. Singapore is famous for being a place where diverse people get along. Cultures include Malay, Chinese, Indian and European. Official languages are English, Tamil, Mandarin and Malay. It is an opportunity to learn about diverse peoples in a small space.

Food.  When I asked the flight attendant on United Airlines Flight 01 what she does in Singapore, her eyes widened and she spoke one word, “Eat!”  Singapore is a food city; for some, THE food city.   Expectations are very high.  Singapore has “hawker food centers” (think armies of food trucks without wheels in a mall) some with Michelin ratings.  That means you can spend about US $5.00 and get world class, amazing food.  Hawker stalls are regulated.  That means there are hygiene requirements. Enjoy.

There is a good subway system:  The Singapore MRT is clean, easy to use, pretty cheap and air conditioned.  If you get overheated (did I mention it was really hot there?) a cool refuge is not far away.  

Singapore’s Chinatown is brightly decorated and a great place to explore.
Tasty to some but abhorrent to others, durians are offered up for sale in the streets of Singapore’s Chinatown.
The Gardens By The Bay is a huge horticultural park that features the Flower Dome and the Rain Forest Dome. The Super Tree Forest is lit in lavender at dusk.
Visitors can walk around and into a vertical botanical display in the Rain Forest Dome.
Women posing
Women posing for a selfie in the Rain Forest Dome.
Flower Close Up
Fuchsia blooms in the Rain Forest Dome
Super Trees
Super Trees tower over the gardens. Check out the people standing on the bridge between the two trees to get a sense of scale.
Waterparks are especially refreshing in Singapore’s heat and humidity. This cooling off spot is for kids at the Gardens By The Bay. Too bad there wasn’t an adult version.
Marina Bay Hotel
The 55 story Marina Bay Sands Hotel stands out against the evening sky. There is a pool and observation deck on the surfboard-looking top span.
Singapore River Architecture
You can see a bit of the old architecture contrasted with a backdrop of the new along the Singapore River.
People eating chicken rice
Singapore is a food city. In my opinion the best and often the cheapest venues are the hawker food stalls. Here a couple dives into some Hainanese chicken rice. It is one of the most popular dishes and quite tasty.
Its easy to order food at hawker stalls. If descriptions are not in English there are pictures. Look for long lines. That’s where you can often find the best food. This is the Famous Sungei Road Trishaw Laksa at the Hong Lim Hawker Center.

I like travel because it shakes me out of my comfort zone. I love new, weird experiences.  A trip that goes smoothly, for me, is a trip devoid of stories….forgettable.  Where is the romance in safe, predictable, lawful, sane Singapore?  It may be a little “sanitized for your protection” but that means freedom from worry…freedom to explore without looking over your shoulder. You can roam around to your heart’s content and it is still exotic. It is a rich mixture of Asian cultures in an environment of warmth, hazy amber sunsets and wind in the palms. It’s interesting, I think, to be both comfortable and enjoy exotic, new experiences. Maybe I could get used to it.

16 thoughts on “Singapore Dreams

  1. Margo

    Tom- AWESOME photos and descriptions of places I will never get to but still enjoy thru you. You’re quite the writer !

    1. Tom Post author

      Thanks Margo. And thanks to Joanne for cleaning up my writing. Much of what I write makes a lot of sense to me but Joanne helps it make sense to others. It’s great to hear from you and stay tuned for more blogs.

    1. Tom Post author

      I’m looking forward to hearing about your Egypt trip. That is on our list too. Joanne enjoyed Singapore a lot. We were concerned that we’d be troubled by the heat and it was hot and humid. We countered the heat by not running around so much. When we got overheated we sat around. This may sound like common sense but I don’t usually do that. Maybe I’m learning.

  2. Mike

    Boy – thought I knew you most of my life, but my idea of escaping growing up was different than yours. Good story – great pictures – the durian pic made me smile – on the road to Valhalla with a Durian should be one of your blogs. Anyhow, keep up the travel and work – – Mike

    1. Tom Post author

      Well when I did escape our hometown I only got as far as Milwaukee. My dreams were bigger though and fueled by Life Magazine and National Geographic. Also, regarding durians, yes it was the season in SE Asia. For a major city Singapore doesn’t have much air pollution. Subsequently you can catch aromas as you walk around. I smelled the street where they sold durians before I got there. Tasty!

  3. Craig

    Great storyline and pictures. Were you 55 stories up to take the shot of The Gardens by the Bay?

    1. Tom Post author

      Yes, we went up on the “surf board” top of the Marina Bay Sands at dusk. First there is the Super Tree light show, then on the other side of the roof, you can see a light and water show that happens on the river. Joanne and I were surprised to see that the observation tower wasn’t very crowded so it was a nice, breezy place to watch night fall over the city.

  4. Katie

    Great post, Tom! Singapore has never been high on my travel wish list, but now I’m intrigued. Can’t wait to see India!

    1. Tom Post author

      I don’t think a lot of people consider Singapore and its really a nice place. I think geography is one of its best features as it is a great jumping off point for other SE Asia destinations. I’m working on India photos now so should have a blog in a week or two. Thanks for reading!

  5. Tami Quinlan

    Fantastic! Your earlier blog and photos from Heron Island and Milford Sound convinced us to go to both places. Now I want to stay at that eco hotel in Singapore. I guess we should just follow you and Joanne around the world.

    1. Tom Post author

      I think you would love Singapore…so much new cools stuff there and also great food. I hope you get a chance to go. Thanks for reading!

  6. Linda Connor

    I’m thinking Singapore has just climbed up the ladder in my bucket list. Thanx for sharing such wonderful pictures and your insights into the world..

  7. ilona szeifert

    Hi Tom, What wonderful photo’s of Singapore. I never had much knowledge of the city but now I feel like an armchair traveler having read your story. The images are vivid and I feel like I’ve been there. I would submit this article/images to a major paper for their travel section. Anyway keep them coming! Let us know what your working on now. Take care, ilona

  8. ilona szeifert

    Tom – Do you know a photographer by the name of William Lemke? I saw his black and white photo’s in a gallery in Fish Creek, Door County. Looks very similar to your work.

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