Chinatown & The Bay of Singapore
Updated: Mar 1
This past January & February, before the global pandemic changed our world, James and I had the opportunity to travel to Asia! James competed in two tournaments in Thailand on the island of Koh Samui (Hyzenbrownie, & SamuiSwine), and the Asia Open in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
As a result of living & growing up overseas, I have been blessed with friends around the globe, so James and I decided to add Singapore and Japan to the adventure as well.
We left LAX at 10 p.m. the night of Tuesday, January 14th. The first leg of our journey was just over 14 hours into Xiamen, China & arrived there (because of the time difference and length of flight) at 5 a.m. Thursday the 16th.
The airport in Xiamen was practically a ghost town at this time of day, but we were able to find some steamed dumplings and Jasmine tea nonetheless. Our first meal in Asia.
It was not unlike every other airport I've visited, they're all the same and they're all different. Vending machines, passable cuisine choices, fluorescent lighting, clean & tidy.
As soon as we landed, I began my collection of photographs of fun English translations/slogans.
"Love is the honey"&"You pure little angel" cracked me up- possibly more than it would have normally, given the 14 hour flight, jet-lag, and it being 5 in the morning.
To save both time and money, James & I tried to pack relatively light. We were in Asia for a little over a month with one suitcase and our backpacks. Next time, I'm planning to pack a little differently but overall we did well. The one major thing I decided to leave home was my digital camera. I used my phone for all of these photos, and the quality isn't what I'd like- lesson learned!
We arrived at Singapore's Changi airport at about 2 in the afternoon and it felt like we had stepped into another world.
I had heard about the Changi Jewel as being the most beautiful airport in the world, but until I saw it for myself...
Singapore truly is a country and city and garden, all at once. Everything seems seamlessly connected, well thought-out, mindfully curated, and looked after.
The Jewel itself is an indoor garden/park/mall attached to the airport itself. It consists of gardens, an enormous dome conservatory, and of course, the world's tallest indoor waterfall- the Rain Vortex.
After more than 24 hours of travel plus arriving in the heat & humidity of a Singapore afternoon, it was a challenge to not jump right in the cool water.
A kind passerby took our photo in front of the waterfall.
Here you can see some of the Changi's internal transportation system, a monorail with a path right through the conservatory and next to the Rain Vortex.
Living walls or terraced gardens such as these are all over Singapore.
Every street, every block, every building has some perfectly manicured garden.
I was told that when a new building is erected, double however many trees are destroyed in the process are legally required to be in the building in some way. This leads to shared community gardens and parks even in residential or office buildings.
The currency used in Singapore is the Singapore dollar. The current exchange rate is 1 USD to 1.39 SGD.
Between Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, and Japan, we found our dollar went the farthest in Thailand, with Taiwan not far behind. Japan was the most expensive, and Singapore was slightly more expensive than the US.
Most of my travel experience comes from Europe where things are about equal to the US if not more expensive so travelling in Thailand and Taiwan where the dollar stretches farther was a completely new experience for me.
The Singaporean sun's glare in this photo makes it a little hard to read, but "Good things come to those who get a cookie."
We stayed at a family friend's apartment (more like family at this point!) though she was unfortunately & funnily enough- out of town for most of our visit.
The jet-lag definitely hit us harder than we had anticipated, and continued to plague us for the next few days.
After a night's rest, we headed out to explore.
We walked through neighborhoods then Clark's Quay, all the way to Chinatown.
It took us longer than it should have to recognize why everything was decorated with lanterns & little mice. It was nearly Chinese New Year! And the Year of the Rat!
Confusions of tourists, local families, and school groups were all flocked around Chinatown. Shopping for gifts of food or trinkets for friends and family members, running local shops, looking after their families; It was a cacophony of Asian culture on a sweaty Southeastern Asian afternoon and I was on the hunt for some knockoff Birkenstocks.
We bought a fresh coconut and a can of Tiger beer to cool off.
Coconuts are absolutely everywhere in SE Asia, and I lost count of how many coconut waters, fresh coconuts, and coconut shakes we had over the weeks we were there.
There are large markets indoors in Chinatown (and Little India) in Singapore.
This bright yellow building was filled to the brim- clothing and housewares on the second and third floors, a cafeteria looking food court and vendors on the ground floor, and the basement floor was entirely taken over by the largest indoor fish market I've ever seen.
I was rather amused by the statues that decorated the public spaces, these little piggies in particular were endearing.
We were exhausted by the jet-lag & melting in the humidity but having one of the best days of our lives.
From Durian fruit to fish heads, to fresh peanuts and dried seafood, the basement fish market had a little bit of everything!
The cafeteria looking food courts and hawker centers in Singapore are where you find the best (and cheapest) authentic cuisine.
The Singaporean population is made up of mostly Chinese, Malays, and Indians. The rich culture of the people only adds to the diversity of flavor and selection of food. Since we were in Chinatown, all the food in this particular building was Chinese but traditional hawker centers are that of mixed cuisines. We were told that there are actually regulations as to maintain diversity in hawker markets! For example, if an Indian food stall wants to sell and move somewhere else, they can only sell their spot to another Indian type food stall to maintain specific ratios of Malay, Chinese, Indian (and some Thai) cuisine.
The average height of the American male is 5'9" and the average height of the Singaporean male is a little over 5'7", so at 6'3", James towered over the vast majority of people we saw on our trip.
Preserved meat is a classic traditional gift given and eaten around the New Year in Chinese culture. One of the most famous shops in Chinatown had a line over 200 meters long that wrapped around the building.
James tried the delicacy at this shop about a block away and said it kind of tasted like bacon.
Traditional decorations for Chinese New Year in Chinatown. It took everything in me to not buy them all.
Red is considered the luckiest of colors in Chinese culture, and as the Chinese New Year is all about bringing good fortune into the upcoming year, it is a consistent theme in the decorations.
Rush hour traffic under Chinese lanterns. All the streets around Chinatown were decorated for the holiday.
The Lantern Festival takes place at the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. Lanterns decorated with symbols (or in the shape of characters from cultural myths) symbolize joy, celebration, good fortune, and ward off evil for the coming year.
This is one of many Hindu temples we passed on our way to downtown Singapore (near Chinatown).
A variety of cultures come together in Singapore, which is not only displayed in the food but also in the architecture, clothing, and religious houses. I was shocked and amazed at the architectural diversity.
Bay of Singapore
Marina Bay Sands is one of the most recognizable hotels in the world. Three enormous skyscrapers topped with one long piece consisting of gardens, restaurants, and a pool that looks like something out of a sci-fi film.
The large structure in the foreground is a high-end mall complete with full sized casinos and an indoor canal where you can pay to ride gondolas. Dolce & Gabbana, Tom Ford, Bulgari, Coach, and more I'd never even heard of, mixed in with swanky restaurants on their enormous multi-level indoor boardwalk.
We finally made it to the Gardens by the Bay, home of the electric trees, cooled conservatories, and the largest & most mindfully created and cared for garden I've ever seen.
The Flower Dome
There are two cooled conservatories at the Gardens by the Bay, the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.
We first visited the Flower dome, decorated for Chinese New Year, and their wide collection of species from all over the globe.
The Gardens by the Bay is one linked system of science and ingenuity, sustainability and education being at the forefront of its ideals.
Both conservatories had art installations of creatures made of wood. Some in the Flower Dome were based off the Lewis Carroll tale Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but the rest seemed to be representations of different Chinese zodiac characters or other mythic creatures.
The Cloud Forest
A crossroads between the jungle and modern science, the Cloud Forest is now one of my favorite places I've been.
The variety of plants, care of each specimen, mindfulness of assembly, & sustainability mentality is absolutely intoxicating. Not to mention, more humidity!
After hours of walking and absorbing as much culture & nature as we possibly could, we grabbed a cab home and slept soundly. (Until about 3am. Thank you, jet-lag!)
Thank you for reading! The rest of the Singapore stint will be out next week! I can't wait to share more of my travels & experiences with you.