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2019 Trip to Singapore, September 15-24, 2019

by Jenny and Charlie Plesums


This is our third trip to Singapore. Why? We really enjoy the country and its people. But since this is the 200th Anniversary as a country, we felt we should help them celebrate. The travelogue of the previous trips are still available (and we still enjoy reading them). This trip we rented a great efficiency apartment on the riverwalk, in the center of everything. But one thing we had not counted on... the Singapore Grand Prix - a street race of F1 cars - was being held in the same area. Some of the streets were closed and walking routes were changed, but we survived and had a great time. It is a night race, but they practiced all day, all week. Locals couldn't believe we were merely tourists, not there for the race.

Getting there

We flew from Austin to Dallas on Sunday morning September 15, to catch a Japan Airlines flight non-stop from DFW to Tokyo Narita, landing there mid-afternoon Monday. Then another mere 7½ hours on JAL to Singapore, arriving after midnight (Tuesday morning). Since there was no "24 hour hotel desk" in our apartment, we got a hotel room near the airport for the first night. Then into the city via the MRT subway system.

Somehow the JAL flight attendants discovered it was Jenny's birthday, so many of them made a point of greeting her, and as she left the plane they had a gift bag for her that contained, among other things, a model of the plane with her birthday and flight number on it.

As usual, we recommend withdrawing about US$100 on arrival; We took out S$100 (about US$73) in Changai Airport with no problem or service charge. The taxi to the initial hotel requested cash, and the small MRT station where we bought our transit cards did not have a credit-card operated vending machine, so we spent about 1/3 of our cash immediately, but we still have plenty for the week. Most purchases were by credit card (or even easier, by Apple Pay).

Tuesday September 17

From the riverwalk outside our apartment we can see the landmark Marina Bay Sands hotel - three huge hotel towers holding up a "boat" with gardens and pools. Across the river is the National Gallery. The city hall was too small. The Supreme Court was too small. The two buildings were next to each other. No big deal, build a roof between them and make it a museum.

To support the new roof they made tree-like supports, reminiscent of the designs of Gaudi in Barcelona.

Neat idea, but in the process they found the foundation of the old buildings were inadequate, so basically they had to suspend the buildings, and hollow out under them for several floors of parking and proper foundations. And while they were at it, put an observation deck on the top floor. The couple million dollar project ended up costing S$532 million for a 600,000 square foot museum (the largest in the country).

Nearby was the new court building. The top court (Supreme Court) meets in the top "dish" largely glass for transparency.

From the observation deck we got a better view of the Marina Bay Sands. Fires in Indonesia/Malaysia created smoke that made many of our pictures uncharacteristically hazy.

We could also see the new "unique" building that look like durian fruit - which may be flavorful to but has such a foul smell that it is not allowed in most hotels (and I heard of an airline flight forced to land because of the smell of durian in the baggage hold.)

We also got a view of the historical cricket and tennis club, at the moment overrun by the F1 race preparations.

As part of the riverwalk set of restaurants was perhaps the smallest McDonald's we have seen. Open 24 hours. In addition to the familiar egg McMuffin combos, they also offered a bowl of porridge for breakfast.

Singapore has been trying to reduce the number of languages. In our first trip, most signs were in 9 languages. Second trip six languages were common. Now they are at four: English, Malay, Chinese, and Indian. We were always able to use English in any context, but eavesdropping involved many other languages - we rarely heard other people chatting among themselves in English.

In the museum, this chair was on exhibit.... if you stood at a particular point to look at it.

From a different angle, this is what you saw. There was a video taken from the viewing point, of a person walking out along the wall - and appearing to walk through the chair.

Some of the "art" was eclectic, such as this ceiling high stack of dishes.

We walked into a room and saw a lady admiring a picture. It seemed so pleasant that Jenny took her place when she left.

Part of the display was the original court rooms. They even had a few holding cells preserved for display. Those led to private corridors so that the prisoners never walked the public hallways, and finally entered the court rooms several floors above, directly up hidden stairs into the courtroom box where they stayed tor their trial.

Night views of Singapore landmarks

The Singapore Flyer was the world's tallest wheel (541 feet) until the "High Roller" opened in Las Vegas at 550 feet in 2014. Each capsule carries 28 passengers. Regular Adult tickets are S$33 (US$24)

The flower shaped building on the right is the ArtScience Museum. When it was first built, the petals were to hold special exhibits. We were anxious to explore the building but were disappointed (more below).

Each night the Marina Bay Sands has two or three light shows.

Lasers from the top move around the bay. For a bigger show than we caught, see this page.

Singapore Zoo

On our first trip we drove ourselves to exhaustion at the two zoos (Day Zoo and Night "Safari" are separate), and did not have enough energy to do all we wanted. On our second trip we did not make time for a zoo trip. This trip we did both the day and night zoos. They were good but not as dramatic as 14 years ago. For example, on our first visit we saw 3 elephants casually walking down the same path we were on; today they are in a fancy enclosure. I would not say it was worth the US$96.90

Of course, this white Bengal tiger is a feature at the zoo.

The pigmy Hippo was also a popular feature. It can stay under water for extended periods, so had an enclosure that we could see it there.

I am not sure but I believe this is a ring-tail cat

One of several lady elephants, kept apart from the far larger male elephant.

There was a show where a large snake was brought out to be held by a couple kids. Neither kid was eaten.

Some colorful birds were part of the show

Some small apes were set free to play in our area

But when an ape gets tired, they need to rest.

Exploring the tourist landmarks

The Esplanade - Theaters on the Bay - are the twin structures making a performing arts center. The rounded glass domes are fitted with over 7,000 triangular aluminum sun shades, giving it the appearance of the spiky durian fruit, and leading to the nickname of "The Durian."

Since we first saw the flower shaped ArtScience center during trip 2, with promises that the unusual shape would lead to unusual exhibit spaces, we have been anxious to see the inside.

We entered here, and had to choose one of three exhibits (no building tours). The exhibits were oriented to kids, but we tried anyway

One exhibit gave you an outline to color (ours was a turtle). Then it was scanned and swam around the large screen with other colored "animals." Wow. I can't imagine how they did that. I might have been impressed 70 years ago.

Another was a simulation of a rice crop with workers, etc. If one of my students had done this, they would be lucky to get a passing grade - the animation was not impressive.

We also got to walk through a path surrounded by sparkling reflectors. Gee. This building should be admired from the outside, but as an ArtScience Museum it failed for me.

View from the top

Some of the reviews of the Marina Bay Sands Skypark (on the 57th floor) were disappointed, since you could not play in the pool. The S$20 admission fee is to the observation deck only (2 floors) but the pool is reserved for hotel guests. If you want to see the pool look at YouTube. We did enjoy the observation deck.

Singapore has a floating soccer field. The F1 route goes between the field and the stadium, and then cuts under the stadium (green seats at the right)

Louis Vuitton has a store on an island in front of the Marina Bay Sands. Jenny did have to visit, but didn't buy anything.

The Seaport is part of the reason Singapore exists, but it is seldom seen by tourists.

The original post office (and milepoint zero for further surveys) has become the iconic Fullerton Hotel.

The combined old city hall and old courthouse are clearly seen in front of the new court house with the supreme count in the disc at the top of the building.

The Art-Science Museum (the flower shaped building) is unusual from the top as well.

The Merlion (Mermaid-Lion) has been the symbol of Singapore for Decades. On our first trip it was on the waterfront, but it is now just on the river since there has been so much construction (including huge amounts of reclaimed land) in front of it.

The outdoor botanical garden is free and open to the public, but the tropical weather prevents most plants from other climates from growing. Therefore there are two very interesting botanical garden buildings (not free), even providing cooled soil for the temperate climate plants. We really enjoyed them on the last trip.

Four years ago we stumbled upon a giant baby sculpture suspended above the ground in one of the public gardens. I found it totally charming as well as an engineering challenge. It was still visible from overhead (I had to zoom in a LOT).

This is the picture from the previous trip - this huge sculpture - about 30 feet long and weighing 7 tons, balanced over the ground (no visible wires or aerial support; the only support is the right hand, but you have to look closely to see how it touches the ground). It is by UK sculptor Marc Quinn, who used his infant son as the inspiration.

We could also see the riverwalk with the countless restaurants. Our apartment is on the third floor of the building on the right. Look closely and you can see the 7-Eleven in the ground floor - serving beer on tap with seating across the sidewalk under the red roof.

Our address was 80 Boat Quay. Note that a draft beer at the 7-Eleven is S$4.70, which is less than US$3.50, but only available 6 am to midnight. (only?)

Walking around after church we encountered this red gentleman. Like other visitors, I had to match his pose, but not his state of dress.

Singapore has an attractive 200 acre botanical garden, accessible with a direct stop on the MRT (subway). Admission is free except for the orchard garden.

I would primarily call this an attractive city park for kids and families to picnic and play. The Gardens by the Bay is a 250 acre park that is much more fun to walk and explore. Most of it is free except for the two huge air conditioned buildings (that we visited last trip).

We took a Segway tour - and had a blast

We rode through many of the tourist areas we had previously walked, but it was still fun.

This video provides evidence that we actually survived the moving Segways, but most of all look at the scenery behind us. We chose this from the several taken by our tour leader because of the great view of Singapore. Jenny and I were both wearing blue shirts and crash helmets.

Outside the Asian Civilizations Museum is a series of statues of the key people in Singapore's 200 years history.

The Tang shipwreck was featured - from 1100 years ago and just discovered in 1998. It was carrying a precious cargo of ceramics, gold, and silver. The countless bowls recovered were displayed in a way that represented the waves of the sea.

How did the bowls survive? They were packed in ceramic vessels, layer after layer, like this.

They also found an octagonal 7th century gold wine cup - the largest known example from the Tang dynasty. Why would a cargo ship bound for Java and the Middle East carry such precious gold objects? Could they have been gifts for foreign rulers? Or were they smuggled goods for sale on the black market?

As a woodworker, I have to bore you with some pieces of furniture. This is from the 1900s, European in form, but with two serpents at the top to symbolically protect the contents of the cabinet.

The inlay work on this piece really caught my attention.

Note the detail in this ivory carving.

There is no race in Singapore - no white and black - because there is every shade and color of skin. Not just white with tan or light/dark black people but every shade. Nobody notices color at all. And the cultural background of people is as diverse as the skin color. There was an exhibit in the museum of the primary places of worship of each group. Such a vast list that I made a separate web page.


Chinatown is a modest walk from our apartment, so we returned for another visit as we have the previous two trips. (We also visited Little India, but were engrossed with the huge Mustafa department store, and didn't take pictures). The plant growth on this apartment building caught our attention.

We love sidewalk sculpture. These folks were rather unresponsive to Jenny.

The Marina Bay Sands hotel with three towers connected at the top has become such a landmark, that I suspect this complex is trying to capitalize on the idea.

What would Chinatown be without at least some streets covered with colorful banners.

A wedding hall for one of the temples.

This was made especially amusing since it was on sale near the wedding hall.

And there has to be a bar with a catchy name.

September 24 - return home

Our departure was an easy start at 8am Tuesday, Singapore to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific. We had planned to take the MRT to the airport, only to discover that the train didn't start running until well after 6 am for an hour trip. Taxi to the rescue! (We will try to ignore the fact that 8am Tuesday departure was 7pm Monday at home). No problem at the Hong Kong airport despite unrest in the city. Then a non-stop 15+ hour flight from Hong Kong to Dallas, and a short hop to Austin, arriving at 7:45 pm - far more than the apparent 12 hour trip.

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