The Durian
        Building


Arrival   Hong Kong   Halong Bay   Sanya, China   Nha Trang, Vietnam   Phu My, Vietnam  

Sihanoukville, Cambodia   Life at Sea   Laem Chabang (Day 1)   Laem Chabang (Day 2)   Koh Samui, Thailand  


Docking in Singapore




As the Zaandam pulled into the huge port of Singapore, we made ready to disembark. Thanks to Holland-America's superb organization, disembarking was orderly and went off quickly. We easily found our guide and then we were off to the Hotel Carlton, where we would spend our final two nights in Asia.

Touring the City

Singapore has a population of slightly over 4.6 million, made up of a variety of races, with Chinese Malays, and Indians forming the majority. Modern Singapore is essentially a Chinese city with strong Western influences. Situated only 86 miles north of the equator, the climate rarely gets below 70º F and usually climbs to near 90º during the day. Humidity usually hovers around 75 percent. Rain, when it comes, tends to be short and sharp. Although Singapore is wettest from November to January, we got caught in a downpour the next day while on a walking tour of the city. Luckily, the shower was short and sharp, as described in the brochure.

After getting settled in our rooms at the Carlton, we met our guide in the lobby at noon for a city tour. We started out with a walking tour of Little India.

Little India

The shops and the smells and the people seemed very much like a part of the real India. Gold merchants displayed their wares in every block. The smell of curries wafted through the air, reminding us that we hadn't had lunch.

 
Indian Temple in Little India

Temple in Little India

Our guide explained the originally the races were separated in Singapore. But now they have merged and live together, except for certain enclaves that remain, such as Little India and our next stop, Chinatown.

Chinatown

A short bus ride brought us to our destination, which was near a big market. Since people expressed a desire to take a lunch break, our guide led us to the absolute worst, hardcore Chinese fast-food mall imaginable. We had 20 minutes to find a booth with something appealing, wait our turn to order, wait for the food to get cooked, choke it down, and get ready for the next leg of our tour. The top floor was so hot and humid that it was tough to breath. Seating was in the middle of the aisle and uncomfortable, far from relaxing. I chose to skip lunch.

Our next stop was a museum in Chinatown that showed us what life was like when the first settlers tried to eke out a living. Some of the displays show actual artifacts from that time and others showed reconstructions of workshops, sleeping quarters, beds, cooking facilities, and so on. Those people had a rough life, but business went well enough to keep them and attract other immigrants. Unfortunately, I got no pictures because signs asked that we not take them.

Next we threaded our way down a crowded street choked with people and vendors and a band playing traditional Chinese music for the Year of the Dragon, the new year celebration that never seemed to end! Beginning in Hong Kong, the Chinese New Year (and Tet in Vietnam) kept getting in the way of our visit with too many local tourists and too many places closed. Oh, well, we had only one more day.

Singapore River

After threading our way through the crowds, we caught up with our bus, which next took us to the former governor's house and parliament building from colonial times. The governor's house is now the city hall.

Governor's House

Governor's House

These buildings sit near the beautiful Esplanade Park by the Singapore River. Along the river, we noticed a line up of various restaurants and made a note to return for dinner, since it was going to be a beautiful night out and a seat by the river along with a fine dinner sounded perfect.

Singapore River

Singapore River with Restaurants on Opposite Side

Later that evening, Dean and I walked back to the river and found a nice restaurant and had a pleasant dinner at a table by the river, just as we'd hoped. After spending a long time over dinner, we leisurely strolled back to our hotel and went to bed early in hopes of getting an early start the next morning, our last full day in Singapore.

Across the river the other way in the distance loomed the gigantic Ferris wheel, the largest in the world. You can buy a lunch and eat it in one of the cabins as the wheel makes its circuit. It takes one hour to make a complete trip around, and so with lunch along for the ride, you essentially can have the vertical version of the Space Needle restaurant, with a room all to yourself.

Ferris Wheel in Singapore

Largest Ferris Wheel in the World (Courtesty of Ralph B.)

Walking Tour

After cleaning up, we found the Mosaic Cafe, where breakfast awaited us. Luckily, breakfast was included in our prepaid room rate. The buffet was sumptuous, with an accent on Chinese and Indian delights, as well as typical Western fare. Most of us sampled a little bit of each ethnic group.

Our leader, Bob McQ, mentioned something about he thought we'd get a farewell dinner. But our guide the day before said he knew nothing about it. I told Bob that I could e-mail Linda from Cruiseworld, our travel agent, and ask her. I found a free e-mail spot at Starbuck's in the Raffles Mall across the street. So, after breakfast I went over and e-mailed Linda. Then Dean and I took off on a walking tour of the city.

Dean had three goals in mind to see. First, the mosque in the Arab part of town, a part we didn't cover on the day before. Second, the big temple in Chinatown that we got to see only fleetingly after that misbegotten lunch from the day before. Finally, we wanted to return to the Indian temple in Little India to see the inside. So off we strolled.

Arab Street

As we approached the big, gold-domed mosque, the sidewalk narrowed because it was cluttered with shops that sold everything from clothing to food. The smells of the food would have tempted us except that we'd had a big breakfast at the hotel. We got separated at an intersection when the stoplight turned red. Since our guide had warned us that cops give fines for jaywalking, I stayed on my side of the street. And I waited. And I waited. And I waited! Finally, the light turned green. We both vowed we'd never complain about Seattle stoplights again. At least not for the first few days back home.

After crossing the street and walking a bit farther, I got into a good position to check out this mosque. Unfortunately, it didn't look open to the public, so we never got inside.

Mosque in the Arab Part of Singapore

Mosque in Arab Part of Singapore

We turned down the next street and headed back to Little India, where our guide had taken us the day before. We'd seen an Indian temple and wanted to check out the interior. But suddenly, it started to rain and rain hard, so we ducked under cover to wait it out. After a few minutes, the rain stopped, and the weather became more hot and humid than it had been before. Undaunted, we headed off toward Little India.

Little India's Temple

After a lot of zigging and zagging to avoid street construction, we arrived at a main street where the temple should be. But we couldn't spot it. So, Dean asked directions and the guy said it was only a couple blocks down the main drag. Soon we saw it and ran over. Unfortunately, it too was closed, and so once again we had to settle for exterior pictures.

Temple in Little India, Singapore

Temple in Little India

After checking out this temple's exterior and all the detailed sculptures that decorated it, we headed back to our hotel for a much-needed break from the heat and humidity.

Farewell Dinner

Before going up to the room, I ran across the street to the Raffles Mall and Starbuck's inside to log into my e-mail to see if Linda had gotten back to me. Sure enough. She told me that we had more than enough money left for the farewell dinner. When I got word to Bob, we decided to all meet in the hotel bar and figure out where to go. We all decided to try the huge buffet at our hotel in the Mosaic restaurant. The meal worked out well, because we could sample dishes from most of the ethnic groups that inhabited Singapore. We had a good time and a great dinner, talking over our experiences in this magnificent trip of a lifetime.

The next morning, we got up and checked out and headed for the airport. After three weeks of being on the go, ten worn out, happy, fully enriched Mature Friends were more than ready to face the long flight home.

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