We’d arrived in one of the world’s last remaining city-states and a central hub of global commerce. Originally a part of Malaysia, Singapore broke free in the mid-1960s and has remained a beacon of multiculturalism, trade, and exceptionality in one of the most bustling regions of Asia. Teresa, Mary, Desiree and I only had a few days in this spanning urban metropolis and we intended to make the most of it.
Bussing from the Singapore-Malaysia border, we arrived in Little India where we’d heard we could find some decent budget accommodation options. After disembarking, we began walking around town lugging our backpacks in search of something affordable. We came to realize very quickly that Singapore was the most expensive place we’d travelled to thus far, thereby forcing us to evolve our mentality as to the definition of budget.
After inquiring at just about everywhere, including a spot that we’d selected, settled and unpacked in only to realize there’d been a miscommunication in pricing and that we’d be spending four times more than we’d originally thought, we finally found a hostel next to a 7-11 that wound up costing us $25/head. The Inn Crowd only has dorms available, but luckily we were able to find a room that the four of us could have to ourselves. All washrooms were coed, something I certainly wasn’t used to besides a few overnighters at a friend’s dorm in university, but it didn’t really bother any of us. The guests staying at the hostel all seemed really cool and down to earth.
We met a few backpackers down in the kitchen area that we exchanged stories with. A couple of guys had come from the direction we’d be heading after Singapore and were essentially travelling through Southeast Asia in the reverse order as us. It really emphasized how Singapore is a central hub in the region and how people tend to cross through regardless of where they’d be heading next. Everything seems to pass through Singapore at some point.
That day, and the following morning, we explored the city. There was a great food market about a ten minute walk from The Inn Crowd that served up a variety of local cuisine. Singapore is similar to Malaysia in the multicultural sense; there is a strong Indian, Chinese, and Malay population which is heavily reflected in the cuisine in addition to other aspects of local culture. The markets had a lot of the same kind of food we found in Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Luckily, these markets were just as cheap as anywhere else we’d been, with entire plates of food rarely costing more than $5. Considering how pricey everything else is in Singapore, including our often sought-after Magnum Bars which had jumped from about $1.50 to $4, we were beyond pleased to find food courts with products this cheap. Biryani was my favourite for several days and I was constantly ordering heaping plates of this filling Indian specialty. Of course, I couldn’t say no to roast duck on jasmine rice or egg noodles, either.
The next morning, we decided to spend the day at the Singapore Zoo. We took a lengthy bus ride to the outskirts of the city and a massive outdoor locale. Typically, I’m not a huge fan of zoos; I hate seeing animals caged up and depressed. I understand that there are some positive conservation aspects correlated to zoos, but I have rarely ever left a zoo in my adult life without feeling very down afterwards. This feeling tickled me a little bit in Singapore, but the enclosures were often open and spacious. It was so big that we barely had time to see everything while it was still daytime.
Above two photos courtesy of Desiree Shillingford Photography
Above four photos courtesy of Desiree Shillingford Photography
We saw all variety of exotic animals, but my favourites were the orang-utans. It’s difficult not to feel a connection with a creature that is so similar to your own species. When you look them in the eye, you can see a level of humanity that you might not always see with another animal. I watched a young male orang-utan gathering leaves and putting them into a pile and compressing it down into a makeshift pillow. Then, he grabbed a brown sack, similar to a potato sack, and use it as a blanket, creating himself a sleeping area out in the open. I often hear about different levels of intelligence when it comes to certain animals, or hear the topic discussed in nature documentaries. To actually see evidence of humanlike intelligence, to see the intent and capability in a creature that is not human but acts so much like one is very moving for me, and for Teresa as well. A few weeks after leaving Singapore, we would be extremely privileged to be able to spend time with orang-utans in one of the few remaining natural environments in the world where they still exist. I’ve been reading news reports lately about the forests of Borneo and Sumatra burning due to fires created in palm plantations that have gotten out of control, to the detriment of the orang-utans and their already scarce habitat. It’s extremely troubling, and something that everyone should be aware of. I’ll touch on this tragedy more, further down the road.
We had a bit of a lull between day and night where we headed over to the outdoor restaurant area of the zoo, which offered a variety of local cuisine, albeit for an inflated price. Our zoo adventure wasn’t over yet; we still had a night tour to take part in, something I’ve never done before at a zoo.
In the evening, there is an entirely separate area with multiple walking trails as well as a series of trains that take guests on emceed tours through various enclosures of nocturnal animals. It gives viewers an opportunity to witness the behaviour of these animals after dusk. The walking trails were my favourite as they provided very close-up views. We even got to stroll through a bat enclosure with the winged creatures swooping overhead. The kids loved it.
Above photo courtesy of Desiree Shillingford Photography
The following morning we checked out of The Inn Crowd and took Singapore’s intricate and very well-designed subway system to the marina. Here, we’d be strolling into the Marina Bay Sands, one of the highest rated hotels in the world and our chance to soak up a bit of luxury after months of living on the cheap. Teresa and I bought a digital change jar back home in Canada and saved hundreds of dollars in loose change over the course of a few months in order to pay for a night at the Marina Bay Sands. It was beyond worth it for all four of us.