A trip to Singapore

Ask any adult who balances work, family, friends and everything else in between how they manage to get friends together to travel together and he'll most probably answer with a laugh and say "It'll take a miracle!" and a miracle did happen to me and 3 childhood friends when we managed to clear our schedules to take a trip to Singapore to visit a friend who has been working there for 3 years. Well, it worked out as J, a teacher, was on her first week of school holidays; S, who was in the middle of a short break from a crash teaching course in Jakarta; J2 who just resigned from her job in Singapore and was packing up to leave for KL in a week, S2 who was clearing her leave and me whose time is still flexible as business is still new. So actually, only 1 friend was really employed during this period of time.

Despite some uncertainty from S who was waiting for her Aussie visa due to the slowness of action by her uni in Aust, three of us managed to ride together on KTM's Senandung Malam with S confirming her joining us on that day itself! S2 decided to fly in as she didn't realize that Senandung malam actually has beds for travellers at a really affordable price.

I've always loved travelling on the night train to Penang in the days when my family used to balik kampung during Raya. I loved the rocky ride which without fail rocked me to sleep. Tickets to Singapore are now are priced at RM43 for the lower bunk which is slightly wider than the top bunk which is priced at RM38. I like travelling during the night as you arrive at your destination early in the morning with a whole day ahead of you to do what you want.

We left KL Sentral at 9.45 pm after some unexplained delay and reached Woodlands at about 6.30am for the customs check. We already filled up the White Card prior to reaching. J whose uncle works in Singapore, advised us to get off the train at this point instead of continuing on to Tanjong Pagar and take a bus to Sembawang as this will shorten our travel time.

Once we stamped our passports, we found our way to the bus stop and hopped onto the bus which cost us SGD1.70 each. As we didn't realize that the machine on the bus does not return change, I got conned of SGD4.90 as I didn't have anything smaller than SGD10. Who dared to argue as it was rush hour and the bus driver didn't have time to answer questions. As the passengers got off at the industrial areas and the bus got lighter, I decided just to remain standing beside the bus driver and let him play tour guide for the extra money he took. (Lesson to be learnt: Do your research before travelling! To make it easier for anyone planning to travel by bus in Singapore, go to this link : http://www.visitsingapore.com/publish/stbportal/en/home/getting_around/transportation/buses.html)

He talked about the weather and the few interesting spots that we passed and finally stopped us close to the Sembawang MRT station where we called J2 to come meet us. It was just 8.00am in the morning and it looked like a beginning of a fun day. J2 met us at a traffic junction and lead us to her cabin up a slope after much hugging and squealing and my frenzied photo-taking.

Just a 10-minute walk from the junction was where her cabin is situated. The cabins are basically furnished containers (about 20 in the area) with air-conditioning and a wi-fi system and cozy enough for the four of us to spend the night. As you enter the cabin, you see a small pantry on the left, the bathroom with sliding door on the right and two single beds ahead of you. We started catching up inmediately and after freshening up, decided to have breakfast at the Sun Plaza mall before meeting S2 who flew in the night before and was staying at a hotel at Clark Quay.

Ah Mei Cafe was where we had our filling breakfast of a huge pack of nasi lemak, splendid tea, roti canai and kaya toast (toast tasted of fish though! Think they must have buttered the toast with a fish knife!). Price wasn't too bad as we spent about SGD5 each. After a quick visit to Watson's to purchase bottled water, we took the MRT to Chou Chu Kang where we planned to take a bus to the Zoo. J2 advised us to buy the EZ card at SGD 20 for easy getting around. SGD3 is refundable while SGD5 is the price of the card. Minimum top is SGD10.

While waiting for the bus at Chou Chu Kang, a lady approached us informing us that we could purchase zoo tickets at SGD35 which covers van transport to the zoo and entrance to the Day Zoo with tram rides. While contemplating whether it was really cheaper to buy tickets through her (She claimed that it was her company's first day with this offer), J2 made a quick call to the zoo asking for entrance and tram ride fares. It turned out that is was indeed cheaper to use this lady's services but the ticket didn't include the Night Zoo so we approached her and she made some calls and came back to us confirming that she could include the Night Zoo with tram ride fares for an extra SGD10.

Turns out that we saved about SGD10 each! We happily paid her and off we went to the zoo. The last time I visited the Singapore zoo was 4 years ago and I'm still impressed by how everything is so well organized and maintained. S2 met us an hour later where the White Tigers were. At noon, we decided to take a break at the restaurant before planning our route to cover as much area as we could. We managed to catch the white tiger feeding time and elephant show before taking a ferry ride at SGD5 back to the starting point. I must say that the Filipino guides speak excellently and keep you glued to what they say. S2 left us after the ferry ride and we continued walking until 7pm before having KFC for dinner. I simply adored the penguins but felt that the polar bear looked out of place.

The night tram guide seemed to be like a narrator from National Geographic! No umms..no uncertainty just plain entertaining and informative as we travelled pass deer a few feet away from us and through marshy areas. She knew everything by heart! What a treat it was after walking about an hour through 3 trails. The Flying Squirrels I found fascinating (and so did the other visitors who kept encouraging them to fly with chants of "you can do it!") and the unison of swaying and whistling otters melted my heart. We thought that the otters were serenading us when we realized that it wasn't us they were swaying for but the zoo keeper who was standing behind us waiting to feed them!

We left the zoo at 10pm with exhausted feet and tired minds. It wasn't long before there was a bus to take us to the Ang Mo Kio MRT station where we continued the journey by MRT to the Sembawang station. J's uncle met us there and treated us to drinks near J2's place. After about 30 minutes, we called it a night and walked back to J2's cabin. A mattress and a comforter was laid onto the floor for S and me to sleep on while J slept on a mattressless bed and J2 on a proper bed after much fuss. The cabin was really just nice for the four of us and we slept fitfully till 8am the next morning.

After taking turns using the bathroom, we packed up and made our way to Swissotel where we planned to store our bags in S2's room for the day while we do a little shopping after breakfast with S2 and her companion. We took the MRT to Dhoby Ghaut and switched tracks to Clark Quay where we got off. The station is connected to the hotel so it was very convenient.


After leaving our bags in her room, which we were to collect later in the evening using her extra card while she goes out for dinner with some friends, we made our way by taxi to Vivo City where we had brunch at the halal food court. J2 said that she had a "must see" place to show us so we followed her to the rooftop overlooking the Harbour. It was a splendid sight indeed with the waterfront and interesting coral looking architecture. A ship was docked at the harbour and we could see the cable cars to Sentosa Island on the right of us as we stood in front of the enclosed gym area.

After the mandatory photo taking session, we made our way down to do a little shopping at Charles and Keith (well, it was me who bought a bag-the others gave me valuable feedback). I simply love their shoes too but I had a tight budget to keep so I sacrificed my desire to buy 2 pairs of shoes from the same shop and another shop. J was disappointed to not have found any bags she liked despite us pointing out a few nice designs to her.
S2 had to leave us to join her companion so J, J2, S and I decided to go to Chinatown with J2 as our guide. We took the MRT to China Town and enjoyed walking down the road with well maintained and colourfully painted shoplots on either side of us. The wafer and ice cream found at a stall proved too tempting for us to resist so we each bought one before a throng of people decided that the treat was indeed too tempting to resist and swamped the stall.















We slowly made our way past a few shops and I managed to get a cute dress for SGD30 and a few nice scarves. J who commented that it was too hot to wear scarves bought 3 in the end! At 5pm, we made our way back to S2's hotels after bidding a hurried goodbye to J2 at Dhoby Ghaut when we realized that it would be a waste of time and money for her to go back and forth just as our trains on separate tracks arrived.

After leaving a thank you note in S2's room, we locked the room behind us leaving the extra key card in the room. As we made our way to the MRT station to go to Tanjung Pagar, S realized that I only had my shopping bag and handbag with me sans my backpack! In my hurry to leave the room I had left my bag behind and we had no way in!! Never have I felt so foolish!

We went to the reception to explain our ordeal much to the disinterest of the woman on duty. She insisted that there was no one with S2's name registered and we told her the name of her companion and again she said that there was no such person. We couldn't reach S2's phone and we didn't have her companion's number! What an ordeal. Before any more panic could settle in, a gentleman at the reception sensed us being in trouble and asked if he could assist us. We told him the predicament we were in and he cooly called S2's companion's mobile phone which he had in the book and managed to get though without any difficulty! After verifying that I wasn't a burglar, he held the lift door patiently for me (there would be no mobile reception in the lift) while I explained the situation to S2 who called me as we entered the lift.

Before we entered the room, he asked me to describe my bag and couldn't help but laugh when he saw my backpack which was big enough to NOT forget! I foolishly put my backpack on and we got to making small talk on the way down. Turns out that he has a Malaysian grandmother living in Petaling Jaya (this explains his willingness to help compared to the Singaporean woman earlier!). J was envious that I got to talk to him as she found him cute! After thanking him profusely, we took a cab to the Tanjong Pagar train station as the Tanjong Pagar MRT station is not linked to the train station.

On the train, S found a couple from India sitting comfortably on her bunk. The man explained that he had bought tickets from an agent and wasn't told that their beds were not next to each other. They were also uncomfortable with the fact that there wasn't enough room on their beds to store their huge luggage bags. S managed to regain her bunk after much small talk with them and the couple settled on one bunk after eating their homemade food from India.

After about 30 minutes after departing, the train stopped for a really long time. We were about to doze off when an inspector asked us what we were doing on the train when we were supposed to be stamping our passports! There was no announcement! We looked around and realized that only we were on the train with the Indian couple. We hurriedly made our way to stamp our passports and finally had a restful trip back home after that.





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