A Travellerspoint blog

Shopping, walking and eating

sunny 38 °C

On Tuesday night we went to the Thai restaurant which is opposite our hotel. The waitress struggled with understanding what we wanted and a lady who was sat near to us started to translate and advice us on the menu. Bill asked for his curry to be very hot and the lady said it would be too hot, but British pride was still intact as he ate it with no trouble. The lady introduced herself as Lakshmi (she said her name was the most common name in India) and she told us that she had lived in London for two years and had lived in Singapore for the last three years, but was from Mumbai. We sat for a long time talking to her, she told us that Indian people identify with British people because they grow up reading British classics, but traveling to somewhere like Singapore is more of a culture shock than going to Britain. When her pudding of sticky rice and mangos arrived, Bill looked so longingly at it, she invited him to share it. Since we have been traveling we have met some amazing people who stop and spend time with us, we find out about their lives and we talk about ours and then we part and never see them again; but we don't forget them, they become part of our travels.

The next day we headed to the Botanical Gardens, after getting a picnic. The gardens are 186 acres and Bill marched me around every single acre of them. We went in the Foliage Garden (lots of leaves), the Medical Garden, Ginger Garden, Eco Garden and lots of other gardens! The Orchid gardens were beautiful, I was a bit shocked when we got to it as I had been expecting a hot house, but they were all outside naturally in this climate! There was even a cool house for orchids that grow in rain forests, we wanted to walk through it again as we were so hot, and there was no shade outside and the cool house was heavenly it was so cold. We did have our picnic next to a beautiful lake, surrounded by about a hundred pigeons who watched our every move. We both wanted to go in the Children's Garden and walked a fair way to get to there, but when we got there, the member of staff was very suspicious of us wanting to go in without children and turned us away with our tails between our legs (and we nearly got hit by a branch falling on us on our walk there).

Yesterday, we went to Orchard Road, which is the main shopping street in Singapore. This long avenue is lined on both sides with shopping malls (twenty two, in total) each one enormous, like a separate world packed with stores. All along the road are massive screens showing fashion shows and films, we love standing and staring at them. When we came to Singapore last time (twelve years ago, not three weeks), the road was lined with shops, now they are all malls. Most, if not all of the malls are high end stores, and we didn't even go into them and just walked up and down.

One of the doormen at the hotel is very young and sweet, he always tries to speak to us to use his English. He was telling us that he is from China and hasn't been in Singapore very long, so needs to practice his English (although it is very good.). When we were going to Orchard Road, we had waited in the wrong place for the free bus and he 'walked' us to the correct stop, well I say walked, I was jogging to keep up with him, and even Bill was struggling to keep up. We had to go through a shopping centre and the crowds all parted as we made our way through as they stared at the spectacle. When we got to the stop I couldn't talk for about three minutes; Bill asked me if I still thought the doorman was so sweet.

Today we decided to go to Little India for lunch, we could smell all the spices as we came out of the subway. We wandered through this massive market with stalls all selling food, but we eventually went to a restaurant hidden behind a street. The restaurant was packed with business men having lunch, but they squeezed us in. We went through what we wanted on the menu, but every now and again, the waiter would exclaim that you could only eat that on an evening (Including naan bread) and look at us as if we didn't know anything, shaking his head in disbelief. I did manage to get the food we were allowed, all down my front. After Little India we headed for China Town and strolled through the market there, which was selling 'Chinese' souvenirs. There was a lot of rubbish, but we had a lovely walk, even with the constant shouting to us from people, wanting to make Bill a suit in twenty hour hours.

We came across Sri Manmatha Karuneshwar Temple, which is Singapore's oldest Hindu temple. The temple has a gopuram, which is the tower that rises above the main entrance, and has six layers of very brightly painted Hindu deities. The temple was on the street next to a busy road and you had to leave your shoes outside, I put mine in my bag as I was unhappy to leave them in such a public place, but Bill left his outside in the street (which I was a little shocked about, at the beginning of our travels he wouldn't leave them). When we left the temple, I saw that he had left his shoes right in the very middle of the main entrance (rather than in the designated place) and everyone had to step over them to get into the temple.

We had hoped to go to the river today, but the heat and the humidity meant we headed back to the hotel, so that is still on our list of things to do in the next few days.

Posted by mulliganward 04:28 Archived in Singapore Comments (2)

Take a ride on a bus to Singapore town

We heart Singapore

overcast 36 °C

Yesterday, was Sightseeing on the Bus Day, which allowed us to look at the sights in one easy go, before sight seeing on our own.

We used the subway to get to Orchard Road (we enjoy using the subway), which had signs around saying, that there are 'On the spot' fines for eating or drinking on the subway.

When Bill and I were in Singapore twelve years ago, we both became interested in the social policies which surround the lives of Singaporeans. About eighty five percent of Singaporeans, or seventeen in twenty (you would never guess that I look at stats for a living would you) of the resident population live in public housing which are flats (some are more upmarket than private housing). These flats are located in housing estates, which are self-contained satellite towns with schools, supermarkets, a clinic and sports and recreational facilities. However, ninety five percent of residents in public housing actually privately own these flats with something like a mortgage they get from the government. There are lots of rules and regulations around the housing, such as you have to physically live in it for five years before selling. The very very rich people in Singapore live in houses with gardens, we saw them on our travels and they are beautiful.

The population of Singapore is 5.3 million, seventy four percent are Chinese, one in four of the population is said to be 'foreign', with ten percent of the population from India, this is quite evident as you walk around, Singapore is the most Westernised city we have been to, and unless you go to particular areas (like China Town) everybody speaks in English. Interestingly enough Singapore is advertising the times of the England games in the World Cup for those living in Singapore. The land mass of Singapore has increased by twenty five percent since 1960, as they have previous purchased land from other countries particularly Malaysia (Bill explained it to me that they buy it and then import it over?).

Everybody talks about chewing gum when you come to Singapore; there is a chewing gum ban in the country. In 2004 the law was changed to allow chewing gum for therapeutic value (for smokers?) and can be purchased from a doctor, but has to be prescribed. As a tourist we can bring in two packs for your own consumption. Littering is also policed well in Singapore.

Now as a person who will only cross the road with the 'green man' and for all of you who have moaned at me for doing so, Jay walking is an offence in Singapore. Jay walking is commonly policed here and the police do spot checks across the City, in 2011, 8,650 people were caught jay walking and fined twenty dollars on the spot. They can also be jailed for up to three months. Repeat offenders may be fined two thousand dollars or jailed for six months. I heart Singapore.

There are plenty of cars in Singapore but there are no bottle necks and the traffic freely flows. Singaporeans say there are three reasons why the traffic is better in Singapore than any other world City.
1. They have a Certificate of Entitlement scheme, which has been one of the most controversial and hotly debated public policies ever implemented in Singapore. In short, anyone wishing to buy a car or motorcycle has to bid for a COE. Each month, a certain number of COE's are released for bidding and if successful, it is valid for ten years from the date of registration of the car. The scheme aims to keep the vehicle population growth at three percent. I think this is awful as only those with money are going to win the bids.
2. All cars imported into Singapore are slapped with forty one percent tax and there is also a Registration Fee to be paid, plus some other taxes.
3. Electronic Road Pricing is like our Congestion Charge and Singapore is very proud that it was the first country in the world to introduce it.

Sorry, I did tell you we are fascinated with their social policies in Singapore and we haven't even started on education and health yet.

So.....we got on the Hop on Bus and sat upstairs, everybody else can just sit on these buses and look and take pictures, not Bill, he is jumping from one side of the bus to the other and taking pictures with two cameras and fails to get the best pictures even with all this effort (and everybody needs to see more pictures I am sure). I am sat on the bus moaning at him to sit down and everyone else is glaring at the man who won't sit still and the woman who is moaning at him.

In the skyline we kept seeing these two wonderful towers, which are called Gateway Towers, which at certain angels just looked like a sheet of glass, they definitely get my vote as the best towers we have seen. Singapore has so much green space around and all the high towers we saw had something unique about them, there are no 'basic' towers here. We decided to get off the bus in Little India and have a meal, all the restaurants were vegetarian so we really enjoyed looking around deciding where to eat. Our favourite Little India is still in Penang. Getting back on the bus we went passed Sultan Mosque. This Mosque was rebuilt in 1928 and was built from donations from the Muslim population. Around the bottom of the domes are dark rings, these are made up of the bottom of bottles, to signify the Mosque was built by the money from the people. We then got off the bus at St. Andrews Cathedral, which looked colonial. I sat at the front of the church and Bill walked around taking pictures, when he came back to get me, I stood up and marvelled at the stain glass, which he hadn't seen at all, although had spent the previous ten minutes walking around taking pictures. Just outside the Cathedral in the grounds, was a Temple for 'All People", but it was closed!

Our hotel and the surrounding area, which has a lovely little park outside, is great for relaxing and that is what we did last night. The television channels here are strange, there is a channel called something like TV Singapore and one of the things that they do is to get people to sing this song from the 1960s, about a ride on a Bus to Singapore Town, which we keep finding ourselves singing.

Our plans for today were to go for a picnic in the Botanical Gardens, but the weather was a little rainy and it has been overcast most of the day. Looking around the hotel the other day, we found a washing machine and dryer for customer use, so I had such a lovely morning doing the washing. We then went for a walk in the local area, where there are two Chinese Temples and a Burmese Buddhist Temple. Across the road from us is a museum to the memorial of Sun Yat Sen, who was a revolutionary who spent his life devoted to over throwing the Qing Dynasty in China and the museum (which had had a lot of money spent on it), was dedicated to him and the Chinese in Singapore who had fought for the revolution. I hadn't read up about it before and looking around I was quite confused what I was seeing, especially as there were a lot of Chinese people there who we could see that the museum really meant something to them. At one stage I sidled up to Bill and whispered "I have no idea what I am looking at" and he whispered back ' Nor have I, you keep looking interested and I'll keep taking pictures".

We were not too sure if we were going to stay in Singapore the whole time before our flight to Sri Lanka (yes, another one) next week, but we have so much more we want to see here and life is so relaxing, that we have decided to stay. I have just about persuaded Bill we can stay in the great hotel at Changi Airport again on the last night, I keep telling him how cheap everything is we buy and he believes me! (Whoops)

There is so much more we would like to tell you, but will have to leave for another blog.

Posted by mulliganward 01:40 Archived in Singapore Comments (1)

Life on the run

sunny 33 °C

When we left Singapore at the beginning of May, we put in our blog, that we knew we would come back to Singapore one day, but we just didn't expect it to be three weeks later.

We were both very sad to leave Thailand; when we told the man at our hotel that we were leaving early he was very upset especially because we were leaving early because of what was happening in Thailand (although he was quick to say we wouldn't get a refund). We walked to the local Temple in the morning and I added gold leaf to a Buddha. I added gold leaf to his feet, to let him know we would travel back to Thailand one day, some gold leaf to his heart , to show our love for Thailand and as a bonus I added some to his ears (I had a lot of gold leaf!). We then went to Bill's favourite restaurant so he could have his last authentic Thai green curry.

The airport at Chiang Mai was very ornate with beautiful silverware around columns, but it didn't fool me, it was still an airport. We also noticed a military presence there, who were all armed. We both went to duty free and put loads of perfume/aftershave on, which felt a total luxury. I also asked if they had Champagne and got very excited as the man lead me across the shop to show me a bottle of Prosecco! The flight was with Silkair and was only about a quarter full with loads of spare seats. As soon as the cabin crew were out of their seats, they were plying us with food and drink (Bill :- "is it free" "yes, sir" " well, then I will have some"). The flight was only just over three hours but we also had a main meal, well we didn't as they don't do a vegetarian meal, but the lady went away and came back with a big plate of biscuits and some fruit and several glasses of wine (by now Bill was reminding me I had had Valium and maybe it wasn't such a good job to drink and maybe he should have it!).

The flight in the scheme of things wasn't a bad flight, we went up fast, no turbulence and straight down and we landed in Singapore thirty minutes early. Getting off the plane we were talking to an Australian man about deciding to leave Thailand and he said he had lived there through the last coup and he felt this one was more serious, so it made us feel a little better. Chiangi airport is voted the best airport in the world and it is (loads of shops and restaurants and rest areas). Our luggage came out really fast, as Bill pointed out there was hardly any body on the plane. We were just asking directions to the Skytrain to our hotel and a man from Customs came over to us and asked us to follow him and asked Bill to open his bag (we did notice they had yellow custom tickets on the bags). The man put the bag through the X-ray machine again and pointed to something which appeared to look like a pen, although he was saying it was round. Bill is very particular about his clothes so he was very organised in moving them out of the bag, I would have in the circumstances just grabbed them all in a pile. Bill got his penknife out of the bag and that was x-rayed, but was the wrong shape, the electric toothbrush was x-rayed, wrong shape, in the end Bill pulled out a bicycle lock he had in the bag (for locking his bag onto furniture) and the man became very excited and said that was it. He was very apologetic for stopping us, I told him we add him to our blog.

I chose the hotel at the airport because it was so close, although Bill wasn't so keen as it was expensive, but it was a good choice. The hotel from the outside looked like it was in a metal cage of flowers, but inside was very pretty. We had a roll top bath and we both had our second bath in over four months and it was marvellous. Bill went for breakfast this morning as it was in with the room price, but we wished we could have stayed at the hotel longer as it was so big and luxurious.

After we booked out of the hotel, we headed for the Skytrain to take us into the City. We went to get some money out and the machine refused us, which was a little worrying. It took a change of trains to get to get to the station where there is a shuttle bus which takes us to the hotel (after failing to get money again), a couple on the shuttle bus were laughing at Bill carrying all the heavy bags whilst I just had the light ones. It is most probably a fifteen minute walk to the hotel, but it is too hot to walk. We were a little worried booking into the hotel, but she said they had already taken the money for the hotel and they just needed a deposit for extras as most hotels do, I handed the card over with some trepidation but it went through ok. This is a good hotel, hotels in Singapore are mega expensive but this one was fairly cheap for Singapore, we were aware it hasn't got a swimming pool and asked if there was a local one we could use and she said that the Ramada next door was their sister hotel and has a pool we can use, which looks good.

Getting into the hotel room, we rang the bank, who told us that they were currently undertaking maintenance which he stressed several times was pre arranged and the system should be working again within the hour, fingers crossed. Tomorrow we will be heading for a tour bus to have a look around, something we didn't have time to do last time we were here.

Posted by mulliganward 23:51 Archived in Singapore Comments (2)

It's an early night

sunny 33 °C

Yesterday was the ultimate lazy day, we got up late, went out to brunch, sat next to the pool and read and went out for a meal in the evening. About ten thirty in the evening we heard a knock on the door and I ran into the bath room and Bill answered the door, with a towel wrapped around himself. It appears that the girls in the room next to us had locked themselves out on the balcony and had locked their main door so nobody could get in. The hotel man passed them a key from our balcony to them, but they still couldn't get in. The man then disappeared, but about ten minutes later he was back knocking on our door. I decided to stay in bed, so the hotel man came back in apologising profusely to me and went out onto our balcony. The key he gave them still didn't work, but by now he was losing his patience and he told them they had to stop laughing and take things serious, they still didn't get into their room. The man by now had had enough and stormed out of our room (with me still in bed) and told them as they were not taking it seriously they would have to stay out on the balcony all night. About ten minutes later the man returned, again apologising profusely to me as he walked through our room and the key he gave them this time worked and all was quiet.

All of this did give us some light relief as about eight thirty the film we were watching (not sure what it was called but did have Bill's all time favorite actors in it; Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver, so he was not too pleased) suddenly stopped and a picture of several Army Majors came onto the screen, talking/shouting about something we had no idea about, but all the channels on the TV were either Army Generals or children singing patriotic songs from there on in. We were aware that the Army had declared martial law the day before, but now this had grown into a full grown coop and they had shut down TV channels (including BBC News and CNN)!, and they had also imposed a curfew from 10pm to 5am across the country. We weren't so sure if the curfew would have been adhered to in the north, but it appears everything in Chiang Mai was closed by 10pm., (let's not pretend that Bill and I are very often out at 10pm at night).

This morning when we went out, there was a very subdued feeling in the streets and it was very quiet. Walking along the road I saw a man who was advertising henna tattoos so decided to have one on my arm again. The man (who looked like a hippie, so I decided he had all the credentials) started to do the tattoo, I should have known there was something wrong when all the people from the nearby stalls came to watch and offer encouragement and at times laugh at my new henna tattoo. Whilst he was doing the tattoo he told me in faltering English that the man who does the tattoos was not there yet, so he was doing it for me, although he usually sold dream catchers! It was very hot, but the thickness of the tattoo is fairly evident in the lines! Thank goodness it is only henna. When he had finished he asked Bill to take a picture of us, with me with my thumbs up, looking happily at my tattoo!

We had booked a trip to Wat Phra That Soi Suthep, which is on the mountain over Chiang Mai. After driving around and around winding roads, the Wat was reached by three hundred and nine steps (it was only when I got back down, did I discover there was a tram to the top!). All around the temple were little bells that people had added, I did buy a bell at the bottom, but decided the temple had too many bells and my bell would look nicer at home. Inside the temple there was a gold stupor, where monks were walking around it three times, reciting 'something' to show their respects to the stupor. There was also a Buddha in the temple who had wonderful bling. We were both rather disappointed in the Wat as it appeared quite commercial and had no spiritual feelings for us. Outside the temple was a man shouting through a loudspeaker, we asked a lady what he was saying and she said he was talking about politics.

On our way back down the mountain, our driver turned off the main road and drove us down an even windier road, but at the bottom was Wat Pha Lad, which was a real surprise (especially as we passed a monk in his underpants). The Wat was deserted except for ourselves and was so beautiful, it was next to a waterfall and was spread over a large area. There were chickens scratching around the Buddhas and it was extremely peaceful. Bill said it was the best temple we had ever been to and we both wished we could have spent the day there, relaxing and looking around, but we had the driver waiting for us. It was a real antidote against the commercialism of Wat Phra That Soi Suthep.

Tonight we went for dinner in a restaurant which was near our previous hotel. The restaurant is called 'Very tasty, but without a view' which we both disagree with as it is opposite a Chinese temple and a roadside stall selling food. The lady behind the stall is super moody and falls out with all her customers, but is great to watch. We find it very interesting that all the staff who work in McDonalds just up the road, come to this stall for their food. We got a tuktuk there and back. We have noticed that a lot of the tuktuk drivers here, often have their wives next to them, this was great tonight for me as our tuktuk driver's wife was telling him off for driving too fast. We did see an increase in military and police on the streets tonight, including soldiers on bikes with rather large guns.

We had decided this morning, that although we felt safe in Chiang Mai, we were not so sure what the situation would be in Bangkok next week (and we found out the night sleeper we had booked would not run due to the curfew). So we decided it was time to leave Thailand , the curfew doesn't bother us as we are usually in bed by ten, but the Army is threatening to freeze internet interactions (if they continue to be negative to the take over). Chris helped us this morning book flights to Singapore for tomorrow night (there was a problem with the site). Bill was rather aghast that I had chosen possibly the most expensive city in the world to go to, but this was due to me only looking for places that had a direct flight from Chiang Mai and no flight changes. We are both very sad to leave Thailand early but we both feel it is the right decision (even if I have to get in a plane earlier than I had prepared myself for).

We were talking, when we were out tonight about how much we have enjoyed Chiang Mai and Thailand. Each time we visit somewhere we think we couldn't possibly beat the experience we have just had and every time we move on we do come across something just as exciting; in Chiang Mai we will take the elephants and the Monks being ordained with us. Walking along the road tonight, this man who got in Bill's way and said "Sorry, Pappa" and this is something we have loved about the Thai people, their politeness, their respect and of course their marvellous food.

Posted by mulliganward 06:35 Archived in Thailand Comments (4)

Day of Institutions

sunny 33 °C

Our plan for this morning was to have a massage. We had seen before we left home that the Women's Correctional Centre did massages and we had laughed, but someone the other day told us it was a must if you come to Chiang Mai. We walked around and around in circles (technically we walked around and around in squares) and the map we had had the wrong directions on it too. We did eventually find it; the prison officer was sat behind the desk, whilst one of the women gave her a pedicure! Bill had said that he would only have a foot massage, but whilst he was in the toilet I told them he wanted a full Thai massage, the women got excited about this and giggled together. All the women are serving relatively short sentences for minor crimes and are allowed to participate in such projects when nearing the end of their sentences as rehabilitation schemes. Most of the women are there on drug convictions and most come from the poorest sections of society, with hill-tribe women being particularly well represented. Inmates are taught cooking and massage skills as well as English.

Bill was a little shocked when he came back as he thought they were telling him to get changed for a foot massage, but I explained to him he was having a full massage. He was given these gowns and when he came out of the changing room he looked like he had prison robes on! I had a marvellous foot and leg massage, but it was far more fun watching Bill. For those that have never had a Thai massage, there is a lot of manipulation of the body and less massage. At one stage this little lady was pulling Bill's leg and was hanging off the bed. She walked up and down his body and Bill kept laughing with the pain. The best bit was when she manipulated his back because he was trying not shout out and was moaning, the whole room was laughing at him. When he got off the table though he said he felt very relaxed and would have another Thai massage.

Whilst we had been looking for the prison in the morning, we had seen a young monk in white robes. When we were walking passed a Wat, we asked one of the monks (Bill told me it's not Monk's Chat everyday), why a monk would have a white robe (surely nothing to do with the washing), his English wasn't too good but he told us that he would have been a novice monk. Still looking for the prison, we also talked to a man (he thought we were Australian) and he told us that some young boys were going to be 'ordained' as novices and there was going to be a procession that evening between five and seven. Well, we ensconced ourselves in a coffee shop between five and seven, which would be on the route and waited and waited. It wasn't totally in vain, because we watched a group of very attractive Thai kick boxers leafleting the street. After seven we decided to walk towards a Wat we had seen that morning, which looked like it was preparing for something.

Wat Phan Tao, was beautiful in the day time, but the scene we saw when we came around the corner was out of this world. There must have been at least five hundred candles lit and all the boys were sat under a tree next to the Buddha chanting, surrounded by these candles. In this most beautiful vision (it was the most beautiful spiritual sight I had ever seen) there was the Thai equivalent of Timmy Mallet and Dawn French in loud matching clothes, being filmed for Thai TV, it was all very surreal.

The novice monks were all dressed in their orange gowns, so we had missed them arriving in their white gowns. The first part of the ordination procedure is called the “Going Forth in Homelessness”. This is where the young boy (seven years upwards) requests to become a novice. He is instructed about the Triple Gem (the Buddha, the Teaching, and the Community of Monks) and the purpose and benefits of the ordination. He is then told the five basic objects of meditation which are: hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth and skin. The shoulder cloth is then put over his head. After this, all of the candidates are taken outside to change from their white clothes to their robes, which is where we came in.

They next request to take Refuge in the Triple Gem and the Ten Precepts. They say: “I go to the Buddha for refuge. I go to the Dhamma for refuge. I go to the Sangha for refuge.” This is then repeated three times. The abbot then tells them that they are now “samanen”. As a novice monk, they have to obey the ten precepts. He then reads them out in Pali which is the ancient language of the scriptures. The novices have to repeat them after him, they are all very similar to the Ten Commandments; Refrain from killing living things, refrain from stealing etc but there is refrain from taking food at inappropriate times (after noon), refrain from singing, dancing, playing music or attending entertainment programs, refrain from wearing perfume, cosmetics and garland (decorative accessories) and refrain from sitting on high chairs and sleeping on luxurious, soft beds. Bill said these were all things to make monks humble, I wasn't so sure if refraining from some of these things would make me humble...more like miserable.

We are still tuning into the news to see the situation in Bangkok, as there is no sign of any military at all in a Chiang Mai and there is nothing to report. However we did send another parcel home, the previous parcel sent nearly two months ago has still not arrived in the UK, but we needed to thin down our bags again.

Posted by mulliganward 06:26 Archived in Thailand Comments (4)

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