Singapore nature trek & the reason why I travel alone

Having only limited time in Singapore, time optimization is key… and it’s what I try to do with everything, it often drains some of my energy with short nights of sleep but hey :)… I just have to remind myself to eat from time to time (that is not a joke, yesterday I noticed not have eaten for 14 hours).

The macRitchie reservoir is a huge domain with several nature treks. The nature trail is the most famous one. Sidenote: google maps wrongly indicates the trail. Get off at the named busstation (you cannot get there with the subway) & follow the signs.

It’s also a very popular spot for runners and one of the closest places to go kayaking (as adviced.

Armed with one small bottle of water and a ticking watch, I was in a hurry to complete the ‘mission’. What mission? I did not know yet…

At first, I thought… it’s just a nice walking trail.

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Example of the nature trek, surrounded by jungle

Example of the nature trek, surrounded by jungle

Sign warning for snakes on the trail

Sign warning for snakes on the trail

At some point, it became clear, you can find the very famous treetop walk I’ve seen pictures of. However, it closes at 5 pm (with last entry at 4:45).

It was already past 5pm but as you might know me, that will not stop me… Worst case it would just have been a nice walk (in the dark). I’m often carrying some survival tools with me just in case, such as a battery pack & petzl light with charged batteries. To avoid them being drained, I reverse the batteries in the casing. Putting batteries just like that in your backpack can go badly wrong, if they make contact they can become hot / melt / discharge.

After a good hour and stunning nature walk (note you remain in the forest) and cool jungle sounds (I have a recording, but cannot do the upload yet), sun was already set and I arrived at the starting point of the trail. I was out of luck, a cabine blocked the entrance. I was still very determined to see what this was all about, so tried to find a way around.

 

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Ranger cabin blocking the entrance

Getting down, I found a cable going up several metres to get past the cabin. As we are still in Singapore, it’s very humid and the cable was a bit slippery.

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Cable running past the cabin

However, bad luck. After getting right after the cabin, another fence was blocking the entrace. It was very dangerous and tricky, but I climbed across. I would NOT recommend doing this by yourself without any safety belt. If you bring one, you can ‘easily’ do it.

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After the second fence. You can see the lock at the other side

Finally I got one the bridge, and it’s pretty awesome but very small.

 

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I did not expect any more challenges, but had unexpected some visitors. Monkeys! Cute you would think? Not really, I was alone on this bridge, it was almost dark and it was a difficult way back. These type of monkeys are known to ‘steal’ from visitors and are not afraid at all. They have very sharp teeth and sometimes attack humans in groups. I did not want to loose any of my material (such as my phone) so tightly put everything away and moved confident to the other side.

 

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unexpected visitors: killer monkeys!

 

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By the end of the bridge, it was already too dark to get down without any lights.

Getting back on the trail, I was hoping to find a shortcut to avoid going all the way back in the dark. After some time, I was lucky to find a concrete road going crossed the domain, and even more lucky to find a tourist bus (no idea what it was doing there, I believe maybe for the golf resort nearby). I flashed several times with my torch and the driver realized I was not supposed to be there. He did not speak any english, but offered me a ride back to the ‘real world’. Now I had some time left to get into the city by night!

The story above is maybe not that ‘extreme’ but it demonstrates my need for some adventure. I don’t like taking people on risky and impulsive trips of this kind, and that is one of the reasons why I prefer to do this alone 🙂

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Singapore at night

Singapore at night is just stunning.

Some landmarks you cannot miss:

The Merlion. From here you can normally watch the lasershow over the Marina Bay Sands (the 3 towers with a infinity swimming pool on top) hotel, but due to the passing away of the minister these shows have been cancelled.

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Gardens by the Bay. This park has several landmarks and is accessible and beautiful at night. There is no need to be afraid to go walking in a park, as in Singapore, everything is relatively safe (it’s within the core culture). When clicking on the second picture you will see some people to imagine the size of these huge ‘trees’.IMG_2373 IMG_2404

For a vivid nightlife, you can visit clarke quay or boat quay, which offers many bars.

People gather around at the bridge of clarke quay to drink and have a good talk, without going to the pubs (which are extremly expensive, I remember prices between 7 and 10 Singaporese dollar for a beer).

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Marina Bay Sands – Infinity Pool (& how to get in 🙂 )

To have an amazing view over Singapore at night (or during the day), you can try to get into ‘Jen hotel’ and act as a normal guest (suggested by the frenchman Charles, I did not have the time). Make sure to suit up like one :).

If you want to biggest kick you might get during a night out in Singapore: try getting into the Marina bay sands hotel swimming pool. The infinity pool gives an amazing view over Singapore but is only reserved for guests. You can get up to the restaurant, but not into the pool. When I was 2 years ago in Singapore, I observed everyone had ‘bracelets’ and decided that this time, I would just ask someone for his bracelet. Armed with a scissors and tape, I waited for a very long time at several strategic hotel exit points. After some time, I got to know the system was changed over the years. Nowadays, you need your personal keycard to get access into the pool. Everyone needs a keycard. The only glitch I can find is that you + someone else both go into the pool with each a card, and that one of you goes out with both keycards. However, I believe this means that those 2 keycards cannot be used for 30 min (dunno if that is the case) to avoid abuse. It however, can get YOU in :). I tried my luck with a bottle of Gin Bombay (costs a furtune in Singapore because of all the taxes, I managed to buy it tax free in the transit zone). It was already very late so changes were slim. Several times I attempted to make this ‘trade’ to fairly young and rich kids (a room costs easily 400 dollar a night), but for some reason none of those took the trade. I believe this type of people just don’t want to do you the favor and keep it all (the exclusivity) to themselves… Next time I’ll just try to get in another way 🙂

But here is a pic from 2 years ago (I made another deal at that time, but forgot my swimming gear!!) with a very simple smartphone 🙁

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Singapore – Founding prime minister died – hours of waiting lines

It’s all over the news. The Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew died who was Singapore’s first Prime Minister when the country gained Independence in 1965, has died on Monday (Mar 23) at the age of 91. The queue is currently (as of 1am local time) 8 hours to pay tribute to at the parliament. It must have been thousands and thousands of people, waiting for their turn (and from what I could see with limited supplies such as water & food with them) in the very humid and hot conditions of Singapore.

It’s difficult to describe, but you feel everyone is deeply touched since he made Singapore as what it is today. Everywhere in Singapore you can find billboards, TV-screens and announcements from all etnic groups. Services are all adopted, e.g. the subway lines exceptionally run 24 hours.

From the S.E.A. Aquarium, the subway till the area Little India.

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I did not see this type of tribute to anyone, ever!

 

Singapore – 2 days of wandering

In a previous post, I already made it clear that everyone in this country is very kind to eachother. In the tubes for example you have reserved seats for elderly, pregnant and people with other needs. They present these signs is a very ‘friendly’ and inviting way. And it actually works too! Several times, I’ve seen people getting up and offering their seat.

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In Singapore, it is totally OK to wear sandals 🙂

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On my way to Little India, I met a french guy (Charles) and had a quick but very tastfull Indian meal with him. He made a very interesting comparision. Little India in Singapore is like Paris in Africa: everything is so chaotic with mostly only Indian people (compared to good mix, structure & cleanness elsewhere). The mustafa center is a very good example of this. Notice that before getting into this mall, the security sealed my backpack, just in case. I bought a pair of sunglasses there for 1.9 dollar, I almost forgot I was in Singapore 🙂

During the wanders, I also found a special Vitamin drink. The vitamins are on top, but not yet mixed with the water. By turning it over, shaking it, the vitamins are resolved.

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Singapore also hosts many parks and regions where people can getaway, especially for little children here and there you can find playgrounds of a very high quality.

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We all know that China is very cheap, but here the commercial they use goes one step further. TigerAir (airline) promotes their flights to buy things in China for a low budget airline ticket, which will still be cheaper as buying things in Singapore. I believe it’s true. I asked for a camera battery and the shopkeeper asked me 45 Singaporese dollar, where I can get in China below 10.


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Alcohol regulations are also very strict, as you can see the sign below ‘no drinking zone’.

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Singapore – Arrival

Just arrived in Singapore around 11pm local time,

Right after customs (free visum), it’s a good idea to get some liquor as the taxes in the city are extremly high! To give some examples, here you can get absolute vodka for 26 singaporese dollar or bombay gin sapphire  (1l) for 25 dollar. A real bargain for here! There are of course some limits to avoid abuse, for example you cannot arrive from Malaysia (to avoid smuggling). Without realizing I exceeded the amount because of all the duvels and kriek I’m carrying as presents… but they didn’t notice any of it 😉

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My first impression was the kindness of all the people here! Including no hassling of taxi drivers or travel agencies.

There are several ways to quickly get to the city center. You can take a shuttle bus for around 6 dollar or just take a subway for 2,50. The last subway connection is around 11:16pm. The shuttle bus agents are even very honest by stating that the subway is cheaper if you ask :). The (very modern) connecting network is very good from what I can tell right now.

Before boarding the subway, I had issues at the ticket machine using 50 dollar bills, a random stranger offered to give me help and payed for me (which made me feel very uncomfortable, he even refused to accept some Belgian chocolate!). It just confirms that first impression 🙂

On the subway, I got to talk to a retired couple (they looked very young! But it’s Asia right…). Apparantly this week the first minister died at the age of 91. He was the godfather of what is singapore today, the full week Singapore will be mourning.

Another fun fact: people often don’t have car, since it can easily cost 40.000 dollar a year (depening on the CO2 emission). Buying a car will cost you at least another 40k for a simple model.

2 more full days to come!

My 11 basic travel tips

To kick-off this blog, I would like to share several basic travel tips based on my personal experience from the past. I’ve wrote these down as they came to my mind, another list might follow in the future. I hope it can inspire you!

  1. Make a checklist and pack at least 1 day before. That way you can sleep over it 🙂 It will make you feel comfortable that you have everything you need, and if not you can still buy it. Buying stuff for most things can also be done at the country of destination. You can also make a template out of your checklist, so it can be re-used for other travels.
  2. Make copies of all your documents, and keep those copies separated. Same goes for your cash & plastic money, spread & hide it. Money for example you can put under your shoe soles. About making copies, it’s not a bad thing to give all your accounts & passwords to someone you trust… just in case. Personally I’ve distributed everything in my family, and they need to contact each-other to match all the information.
  3. Get guidebooks, apps, etc… when still at home, download some specific apps for the cities / countries you’re going to visit. It can help you plan during your transportations and dead moments. Also, it can be wise to ‘cache’ for example google maps of that region, it helped me a lot in the past to find addresses. Keep in mind: some (physical) guidebooks you cannot get where you are travelling, and they can become bulky. When using apps, your battery drains. So think about getting a battery pack (compensates for the bulky weight of a book). I personally love Lonely Planet & TripAdvisor.
  4. Earn miles! Keep your (physical) boarding passes to be sure, or make a picture of them as soon as you receive them. Earning miles can help you to get free flight segments (at a fixed number of miles) and for example free extra luggage, and if you fly frequently enough, upgrades :). There are multiple alliances, and you should choose a specific mileage program for multiple airlines. Personally I have Miles & More (Lufthansa, Star Alliance), Flying Blue (Air France, Skyteam), Executive Club (British Airways, OneWorld) and Etihad Guest.
  5. Do couchsurfing (www.couchsurfing.org)! One of my highest recommendations. Don’t be mistaken, it’s not about accommodation, it’s a full experience. It will enrich your travels & mindset. Be kind to your hosts, bring them for example a gift from your country. For this reason, there is no age limit on surfing. This also benefits a lot if you’re travelling alone. You can also find couchsurfing events in the big cities, where you’ll find a mix of locals and travelers.
  6. Find out if you have (old) friends abroad. Maybe a bit strange since travelling is mostly about new experiences, but if a friend now lives abroad (short or long while) it’s good to stay connected and there is no better way to just pay them a visit! They might understand the best the cultural differences if you’re from the same country and offer specific help if highly needed.
  7. Just as with your own country, you can find many discounts on sites as groupon. This is particularly interesting now as a traveler since it offers serious discount accommodations, events and amusement tickets.
  8. Getting advice from locals. Just be careful who you ask: know that for some information providers, when asking for information, some people will only refer to those places they have partnership with. This way they can get commission or referral fees (or something else in return). It doesn’t hurt to double check things before booking. When getting advice before your travel, an obvious idea is to get to know whom from your friends did part of your itinerary (just don’t forget to do so in time).
  9. Almost every big city has ‘free tours’. These tours operate on voluntary basis and on tips. It’s often not just any classic tour, depending on the city you’ll hear not so common anecdotes, things that came in the local newspaper, etc… Be kind to your guide 🙂
  10. Before flying, think about the airport screening. It can be more comfortable to avoid wearing lots of things such a watch, belt and shoes with metal. I put these things in my backpack before arriving at the screening.
  11. Enjoy and be open minded! Don’t plan everything as it will only limit you. Be kind to people and the world will be beautiful!