Day 5 | Last moments in Singapore and going to Ko Jum, Thailand the long way

Day 5 | Last moments in Singapore and going to Ko Jum, Thailand the long way

Today would be our last day of convenient, urban travel for a few weeks so we had to make the morning in Singapore count. We got an early start again at 7am with our last breakfast at Cocotte. Maurice did shake his head at me for sleeping through yesterday evening instead of trekking to Night Safari.

With only two hours before we had to head to Changi Airport for our flight to Krabi, Thailand, we grabbed our backpacks and set out into Singapore as if we were contestants on The Amazing Race. We still haven’t seen the Merlion yet, let’s go!

Took our obligatory poses in front of the Merlion after jostling through crowds of other shutterbugs. Maurice thought that’s it? Everyone is here for this statue? I mean, I told him it is the symbol of Singapore as the Statue of Liberty is the symbol of New York City. Maurice was immediately offended with my comparison. No it’s not! This tiny thing?!

Keeping hydrated at the Singapore Merlion

Then we rushed over to the Raffles Hotel to explore the grounds. The hotel’s Sikh doorman with his distinctive colonial uniform is so popular they sell a plush version of him at the gift shop!

The famous Raffles Hotel

We wanted to get a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar as every travel guide says to do but alas the bar was closed, it is 10am on a Thursday after all. Instead we wandered around the courtyard.

Different shots inside the Raffles Hotel complex

Then it was already time to take the MRT back to our hotel, pack up and take the MRT to Changi Airport. The airport itself is a kids paradise with interactive art like its Kinetic Rain sculptures and various gardens, a giant slide and an entertainment center.

At security check, Thai AirAsia staff stopped us since both of us carried small scissors in our carry-ons. They confiscated our scissors. Interesting to see that airlines back home care a lot about liquids but don’t have a problem with concealing sharp objects.

After a short (less than 2 hours) flight over the Malaysian peninsula, we landed in Krabi “International” Airport. Going through the immigration was a breeze: Thailand sure makes it easy for Western travelers as neither French nor American citizens need a visa to visit this tourism heavy country.

Thailand islands seen from the plane

After getting our passports stamped, we were picked up at the arrivals area by a taxi driver I reserved in advance online. He held up a sign with my name on it, we felt like true VIPs. The driver took us about 30km South to Laem Kruat, a small Muslim fishing village which runs a handful of daily trips to Ko Jum. Cost us 800 THB (22 USD), pricey for Thailand but the alternative was to flag down 2 different buses aka converted pickup trucks from villages in the area.

After arriving by taxi to Laem Kruat, we waited an hour to board the next leg of our trip, a longtail boat that would take us to Ko Jum, which is known for being a laidback island that’s not too difficult to get to.

For us this was quite an adventure since our afternoon flight was too late to catch the once-daily tourist-class ferry from Krabi pier, we had to go the long and slow way through Laem Kruat pier, 40km south of Krabi town.

We traveled for 45 minutes on the longtail boat loaded up with the day’s produce, a tuk tuk, a motorcycle, a fridge, random building materials and about 15 other tourists and village locals. We sat up top next to the stacks of eggs. 100 THB (3 USD) per person.

Taking the longtail boat with the Krabi province locals

Upon arrival at the pier we were offered a ride to our hotel via converted pickup truck. The older German couple who got in before us and got dropped off at a closer hotel than us paid 100 THB each after trying to negotiate the price but accepting it after the driver refused to bargain. Maurice asked the driver what the price was. 100 THB. Is that per person? Um together (he points at both of us). We only had to pay 50 THB each to go even further away. I guess that’s the benefit of both of us looking like young backpackers, we don’t even have to haggle to get a discount.

A short bumpy ride later through Ko Jum, we finally made it to our little island paradise at Season Bungalows.

Welcome to Season Bungalows

There was a mixup between myself, the hotel reservation company Agoda and Season Bungalows. I won’t get into the details but long story short, they gave away my reservation for the standard bungalow for the first of our three nights. Felt a little painful to scoff up 1,200 THB for the premium bungalow with A/C when I originally reserved for 500 THB / night. Realized later the A/C plus the larger room with nicer marble-like flooring felt great compared to the basic fan-only, no hot water bungalow, but I kind of like the back-to-basics approach. After all, the whole reason we came here was to spend time on this beach and not in our bungalow anyway.

The Golden Pearl beach of Ko Jum

We finally set our luggage down, kicked off our shoes and relaxed in true island-style. We’ll be here for the next three nights for some hard won relaxation.

Day 4 | Hiking Southern Ridges Trail in Singapore

Day 4 | Hiking Southern Ridges Trail in Singapore

We decided to wake up real early today to have plenty of time to hike the Southern Ridges Trail (a recommendation from Mimi’s friend Ajitha). We were out of the room by 7:00am and started the day with another tasty breakfast at Cocotte, our hotel’s French restaurant.

Breakfast at Cocotte
The food there is very good but also pretty classic breakfast food: OJ, milk with cereals, yogurt, muffins, croissants and made-to-order entrees such as kale & eggs benedict or savory bread pudding. The one excitement was provided by the presence of dragon fruits aka pittaya among the fruit basket. I think I definitely heard of those before and probably even tried them at work but had no memory of their taste. However, we quickly realized that it is the fruit version of a “butter face” aka “butter taste”: for how pretty they look, they taste disappointingly bland.

Pittaya - the butter face of fruit
Once our stomachs were filled, we hit the town, starting with City Hall and its surrounding museums, performing arts centers and bridges. Here I am auditioning for the Victoria Theatre. They did not accept me, so I had to continue my trip.

Victoria Theatre
Next, we took the MRT to Harbour Front, where the trail begins. Exiting through the VivoCity mall (seems like every mall is directly connected to the MRT network in this city), we posed in front of the outdoor Lunar New Year display with twelve stands, one for each Chinese zodiac sign. Mimi was born in the year of the tiger. Me? I am a pig!

Mimi the Tiger
Maurice the Pig
We started the 9km hike in Mount Faber Park, climbing on a hill that looks over the cable cars going to Sentosa Island. The view from up there is impressive.

Mount Faber view over Sentosa
We did not take the cable car, but I did find a way to capture the memory nonetheless.

My big head barely fits
The hike brought us to the Henderson Waves bridge, the highest pedestrian bridge in the city with a wave form based on some mathematical function.

Henderson Waves bridge
Next we kept going through the Forest Walk in Telok Blangah Hill Park where we could hear many birds singing in the dense forest, while still being surrounded by tall buildings. Supposedly  there are even monkeys living in the trees around that trail but we could not spot any, despite our best efforts.

Concrete and jungle?
The Forest Walk ended at HortPark, a large gardening hub with many themed gardens (fruit and vegetable garden, butterfly garden, vertical greenery, Balinese garden to name a few).

Water garden
Balinese garden
HortPark view from their Vineyard restaurant
HortPark led us to the Canopy Walk, a short but winding trail up a steep hill. Sweaty and tired, we finished the hike at a former mansion converted into a small World War II museum called Reflections at Bukit Chandu. The friendly staff invited us into the A/C building, an offer we were not able to refuse.

Reflections at Bukit Chandu
Inside, we learned a lot about the Battle of Singapore and how the Japanese troops were able to conquer the city after fighting British and Australian regiments as well as groups of relatively untrained and untested overseas Chinese and Malay soldiers. Fun fact, the Japanese troops disguised themselves as Punjabi soldiers, trying to take control of the Bukit Chandu area. Little did they know that the Malay soldiers were familiar with the distinct Punjabi formation and did not take the bait! Eventually, the Japanese overpowered the Malays and conquered Singapore. The museum commemorates the bravery and resistance of the Malay troops.

The museum guests consisted of the two of us plus about 80 Malay Singaporean school kids. Upstairs, where we were watching the animated film of the battle, Mimi overheard one of them saying:

Do we really have to share the room with these old people!?

Little brats.

This is me giving a high five to Lieutenant Adnan outside of the museum.

Me and Lieutenant Adnan
Done with the hike, we took the MRT to Orchard Road, a busy shopping district centered on a large avenue cluttered with luxury stores that has little to envy to the Champs Elysees. We finally had lunch at one of the food courts, trying kaya toast, a Singaporean specialty. Kaya toast is smothered with a green spread made up of coconut and pandan. Yummy.

Orchard Road
We headed back to our hotel in 小印度 (that’s Little India for you Chinese noobs) with the intent of “just taking a quick nap” before heading back out in the evening. The neighborhood really comes alive in the evening with shopkeepers selling produce and flower necklaces and Indian music blasting out loud. Here’s just one of the many colorful houses in Little India.

Xiao Yindu
More importantly, I really wanted to check out the Night Safari, a top Singapore attraction. However, Mimi completely zonked out and categorically refused to get back on her feet. I’ll admit I was pretty beat as well and the prospect of taking the bus for over an hour one way did not sound too good. We called it a night.

Day 3 | Catching Lunar New Year in Singapore

Day 3 | Catching Lunar New Year in Singapore

Our first full day of our trip in Southeast Asia. While checking in late last night at the Wanderlust Hotel, the receptionist mentioned that since this Tuesday is the second public holiday for Lunar New Year, the city would be quite sleepy with many businesses closed. She suggested our best bet is to go to Sentosa Island.

We had heard that the beaches in Sentosa pale in comparison to those in the islands of Southern Thailand, our next stop for two weeks, so we hobbled together our own itinerary instead in quiet Singapore city proper.

Started the day off in Chinatown resplendent in year of the monkey style. Mischievous monkeys, plump peaches and red lanterns bobbing along everywhere.

Where's Mimi among the Chinatown folks?

However, the hotel receptionist was right in that many of the shops and food stands were indeed closed and it seemed like only tourists (like us) were walking around…

We were drawn to the Sri Mariamman Temple which was where most of the action was on this sleepy New Year’s holiday. The colorful Hindu temple towered over us. Inside worshippers lined up to observe the service. Musicians played loudly. Neither of us had seen anything like it before. Made us even more excited about going to India as the last leg of our trip!

Sri Mariamman Temple

I was excited to have worn a sleeveless dress today, knowing that of the countries we were going to Singapore had a lax dress code for women. However, I did have to cover up both my arms and legs here with some loaner clothes and was downright about to get heat stroke in the humid tropical heat. We are 1 degree above the equator after all. I think I’m still calibrated for the NYC winter. (Sorry NYC friends, if you’re reading this, we heard this weekend will be brutal!)

A peek inside Sri Mariamman Temple

We later wandered around Chinatown some more, took a quiet stroll up Pearl’s Hill Park for some greenery and views and even got in a workout.

Maurice working hard for that body

Followed the action to the area around Buddha’s Tooth Relic and Temple where many Chinese retirees spent the day playing games and chatting.

Buddha Tooth Relic and Temple

The temple itself was buzzing with people, many of which were tourists, but we can’t know for sure. Again I had to loan a pashmina and wrap skirt to cover up more modestly. The inside of the temple was air-conditioned, thankfully. The space opened up into ever larger rooms covered audaciously in red and gold.

Inside Buddha Tooth Temple

Walked up and down Ann Siang Hill later which again like most of Chinatown (except the Hindu temple) was very sleepy so didn’t see many people there or businesses open.

Left Chinatown and walked Northeast to the Marina Bay area stopping for lunch first at the Lau Pa Sat hawker center. Sticking with the theme of the day, most of the food stands were closed. We wandered around for a while before deciding on an Indian food stand with a short line forming which included other Indians, usually a good indicator. The food was good and cheap but on the heavy side.

In this business district area, we started to notice that there seems to be a competition of “green” buildings. And when I say green I don’t mean eco-friendly / LEED-certified, I mean glass skyscrapers with actual trees growing out of the building floors themselves. Singapore is a very clean and manicured city with a lot of parks and street trees after all, why not extend that ethos vertically.

Look closely at the trees on each floor

We then walked around the Marina Bay area, now this is where everybody seems to be hanging out. Maurice and I noticed many Chinese and Malay families (probably more tourists than locals) and groups of Indian guys (probably more locals than tourists), almost always four to a group. Thinking between here and the Little India neighborhood where we are staying, the Indian men seem to outnumber the women 20 to 1.

We gravitated towards the Marina Bay Sands mall aka The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, you know it’s upscale when they spell it “shoppes.”

This mall has its own canal with gondolas! What kind of Las Vegas-style wizardry is this? We got some fresh fruit juices at the food court and rested our toesies for a while. We had been walking nonstop all day.

Ciao bella!

Then continued walking through Gardens by the Bay, a family and kids paradise if there ever was one. Well laid out with picture-perfect gardens and water features for photographs in front of the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel with its cantilevered rooftop infinity pool. After leaving the Gardens by the Bay area, I regretted not going into the Cloud Forest since I later read online that it’s quite impressive with a giant indoor waterfall.

Maurice in the Chinese Garden

Went back to the hotel, our feet hurting the whole way. Took a long nap (still jetlagged) and then went to Clarke Quay area for a late dinner.

Night skyline at Clarke Quay

We walked up and down the strip of riverfront restaurants (many of which were closed!) and finally chose a Asian-style seafood restaurant which had an ample amount of diners eating there. The restaurant staff must have thought we were the most American people ever since we ordered pineapple fried rice and fried noodles at a seafood restaurant. Neither of us eat seafood and I don’t eat meat so we didn’t have much choice! As expected the food was just OK and pretty overpriced, understandably for the location.

Hoping that tomorrow when the public holiday is over, we’ll have better and more local food at this Southeast Asian foodie paradise.