After a two-hour flight from Vietnam, I arrived in Singapore for a 24-hour layover. I was en route to Melbourne, Australia, and booked the ticket because it was cheap. I didn’t mind the delay because arriving and departing at 11:00 am would allow me to see a new country. I packed my carry-on backpack with the items that I would need for a one-night stay since my suitcase would continue to Australia.
Singapore has a fascinating history for such a small country:
- It consists of the main island and 58 other islets.
- Modern Singapore was founded in 1819 as a trading post for the British East India Company. After being controlled by the British and then the Japanese, they gained their independence and became fully sovereign in 1965.
- It’s a global city, ranked 7th highest GDP per capita in the world.
- The Economist has ranked Singapore as the most expensive city to live from 2013-2019.
- A Singapore passport ranks number one in the world, tied with Japan.
I walked through the airport and couldn’t believe how beautiful it was! I was greeted by carpet, marble tile walls, a lush garden, and clean restrooms. The restrooms had many options like a squat toilet, a baby-changing stall, a bidet, and regular stalls. Before leaving, there was a machine asking me to rate my experience. After spending two months in Thailand and Vietnam, I was in heaven.
After a short wait, I walked up to the customs window. It was a quick process, and the customs agent didn’t ask me many questions. The man told me I was free to go and on my way out, there was another machine asking how my experience was. I’d love these in the U.S.
To save on costs, I booked a hotel that offered a free shuttle, but it wouldn’t arrive for another hour. There was a Mexican restaurant near the exit and my mouth salivated. I had been craving Mexican food for two months and couldn’t find any in Thailand or Vietnam. In Los Angeles, there are many authentic Mexican restaurants that I clearly took for granted.
I took the shuttle to my hotel and noticed that the signs were in English, one of their primary languages. The roads were smooth with clean, freshly painted lines. The landscaping was well cared for and plentiful.
I also couldn’t help but notice all the signs with instructions. “Do not pull on road shoulder. Those are for emergency use.” “Do not smoke.” “Do not eat.” “Let’s make Singapore our garden.” I had heard about the rules in Singapore and was warned not to chew gum or spit because it is illegal and I could get arrested. The signs made it clear that this country wasn’t messing around.
I arrived at the Village Hotel Katong and walked through the grand entrance. The hotel was a high-rise, reasonably close to the airport, and I had a beautiful view from my room. It had two double beds, a beautiful bathroom, and so much space that it dwarfed my backpack. I wandered around the hotel to check out the pool and views. I ventured to the lowest level, which had a small mall where you could get your hair and nails done, work out, and get groceries.
I took a taxi to a starting point for the hop-on/hop-off bus. After buying a ticket, I met up with Joanne. We met in Ha Long Bay in Vietnam on a boat tour a few weeks prior. She was in her 30s, beautiful and elegant, and very kind. She had plans that evening but took the time to join me on the bus tour around the city. She had never done that tour there, and it would give us a chance to catch up.
It started pouring rain as we got on the double-decker bus. We sat on the top level, but under the section with a roof. The wind was blowing the rain onto the seats near the edge, so we quickly moved to aisle seats. Joanne said the storm would likely stop soon. We put the headphones on and learned about Singapore. The population is 5.5 million, and only 3.5 million are Singaporeans. 40% are foreigners, and debates are going on about how many migrant workers (mostly employed in construction) to allow in because of overcrowding.
The city was modern, and there was so much to see! I love architecture, and Singapore did not disappoint. There is currently an effort to preserve the older buildings in the city, but most were modern high-rises with extremely well-manicured gardens.
The bus drove past the famous casino with three towers and a platform on the top that looks like a colossal disc connecting them, almost like a surfboard. There are 1,000 hotel rooms per tower. When it first opened in 2011, people were angry because it took three hours to get checked-in. They’ve since fixed the check-in process, and other than the casino, the highlights are the infinity pool at the top and the seven celebrity chef restaurants. Joanne told me that she and many locals are irritated that the casino had become their iconic image because they’ve been a great country long before the casino was even built.
Joanne and I chatted during breaks in the commentary. She told me that her parents lived in a 20 or 30 square meter room with ten people (two parents and eight kids) when they were growing up. Her dad would tell stories about sleeping in the hallway because there was nowhere to lie down. I loved getting to know more about Joanne. It was so special to see her again after almost a month. She gave me lots of tips on how to spend my time there. I told her about my travels in Vietnam, and she described a volunteer trip that she was about to leave for that would last a few months. We got a little wet from the intermittent rain. After about an hour, she had to get going to her appointment, so we hugged goodbye.
I put the headphones back on to listen to the commentary while looking around at the city’s sites. Singapore receives 16 million visitors a year. When the overview stopped, jazz music played. The country has an ERP (electronic road system) on certain roads that will deduct money from a cash card depending on the time of day the vehicle is on the highway.
There is a 100% tax on imported cars. To have a car, you need to get a permit. Because they’re limited, it’s a bidding process and could cost $50,000 for a permit. The government continues to invest in public transportation because it’s two to three times more expensive to drive a car there than in most major cities.
Singapore gets half a million medical tourists every year. They are mostly there for plastic surgery for rich Asians. Months later, I saw the movie Crazy Rich Asians, which was based in Singapore!
The rain brought cooler weather, and it was only 82 °F (27 °C) with a real feel of 93 °F (33 °C). Singapore is only one degree from the equator, so they receive 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of darkness year-round. My allergies were doing much better than in Vietnam, even with all of the plant life.
I was enjoying the bus ride on the top deck, and the rain cleared up. I saw a building with so much green plant life growing all over it that I could barely see the concrete. There were so many unique shapes and designs. The last of the commentary said that after riots in 2013, they banned liquor sales from 10:30 pm – 7:00 am, except at bars.
The sun had set, and the bus tour ended. I walked two kilometers (1.2 miles) to the Marina Bay Sands Casino. The walk was beautiful, the streets were incredibly clean, and there was a refreshing, cool breeze. I was sure to follow all the signs and crosswalks because I didn’t want to get arrested.
I arrived at a lookout point near the water just before crossing a bridge, and the views of the city lights were incredible! I was in love with this city. I could see the casino and a huge circular building that opened up like a flower. They carefully thought through every detail. The lights reflected off of the bay, creating a picture-perfect setting. I enjoyed the views for a while before crossing the bridge.
On my way to the casino, I passed through a multi-level mall. It was so elegant and elaborate that it reminded me of the five-star hotels in Las Vegas. The ceilings had giant water features that flowed into the ground. It all seemed very out of my price range.
I finally arrived at the sky deck, but it cost $23 to go to the top and see the infinity pool. I was hesitant to pay, so I took the woman’s advice and took the elevator to a restaurant at the top. I couldn’t see much and the prices to eat were too high, so I left. Some friends had given me a tip to try Level 33, which has unobstructed views and a more reasonable menu.
I walked around the city another kilometer to get to level 33. Singapore felt like an upscale Chicago with people running around the bay. I felt safer there than in any city in the U.S. I was exhausted and hungry by the time I arrived at the restaurant on the top floor. The restaurant just closed, but the woman told me that I could get food in the bar area. I sat at a bar facing the window and ordered a burger, sweet potatoes, and a beer. It was delicious! There was a wait-list for the section outside with the best views.
I enjoyed the views of the city from my table and ordered another beer. Eventually, I was able to squeeze myself outside to take some pictures in the cold wind. When my bill came, I was shocked! They included a 10% service charge and tax, making the total $74. Coming from Vietnam, this was a significant sticker shock. It was a good thing that I was only there for 24 hours.
It was 11:00 pm when I walked outside to get a Grab to take me back to my hotel. It wasn’t that far away, but the prices ranged from $9-$24 (depending on if I did a pool option). I ordered a car and I saw it across the street, and then the driver canceled the ride. I tried to get another car, but it said there were no drivers available. I asked a taxi that was sitting there how much it would cost, and he said around $20 but would use the meter. Maybe it was because my dinner just cost me $74, but I didn’t want to pay that much.
Using Google Maps, I found a public train that could get me close to my hotel. I walked for ten minutes outside and then found the entrance to the train station. Only it wasn’t the actual entrance, and I ended up walking down a very long hallway underground that had shops and restaurants that were closed up for the night. There was one guy in front of me and nobody else around. It was starting to get a little creepy being alone.
After taking a few more escalators down several levels, I arrived at a ticket booth. I asked the man which train I would take and how to buy a ticket. He looked at my phone and couldn’t figure out which train Google was trying to tell me to take. Then, the man realized that the map was showing me buses, not trains. He told me that I’d have to take a train to the bus station, get off and walk to the bus station, and then take a bus for 20 minutes to my hotel. I sighed in exhaustion and told the man there was no way I could do all of that. He warned me, “Taxis go up 50% at midnight.”
I looked at the time – 11:30 pm. I found an exit to the station and walked for ten minutes, trying to find a spot where a Grab could pick me up. There were too many road restrictions and one-way streets. Finally, I found a taxi, and he said it would cost around $15.
On the ride to my hotel, the taxi driver told me their taxi rates are very cheap compared to the U.S. He has ten friends living in New York, and they all told him that a very short cab ride costs $30 USD. I explained that I lived in Los Angeles, and we don’t use taxis very often, just Ubers.
I told the driver that I came from visiting Thailand and Vietnam, and he told me Singapore is not a third-world country like they are. They are advanced; they are the future. In his 60 years on this planet, he’s seen their dollar conversion go from $3.30 to every $1.00 USD to a conversion rate of $1.30 to $1.00 USD. The man described Singaporeans as being there to make money. They’re not there to have fun, that’s why there are so many laws. If you drink or smoke there, you will pay extra for it.
I asked the man if it was true that I could get arrested for chewing gum because that’s the rumor. He confirmed that I could be fined $300-$500, and explained that they might not let you in through the airport if you have gum. I confessed that I had brought gum in by accident, and he warned me, “Ony chew it at your hotel. Police will wear regular clothes and stand right next to you, and you won’t know it. Then they’ll ticket you.”
The driver was proud of his country and told me that I could have $5,000 on me and walk down the street, and nobody would bother me. He was pleased that Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un met there for the first time. He believed that they did so because they know it’s the safest place in the world. Then he said, “North Korea is so poor because they keep shooting rockets.”
I pointed out that there weren’t any motorbikes in Singapore like there are in Thailand and Vietnam, and the man said there is no comparison between Singapore and those countries. He proudly pointed out, “Here, you get a handsome man with a clean car.” The driver was proud that he is not able to tamper with the meter because the government locks it. He told me that I’m fearless to travel alone around Asia. Twice, he said it’s not like Morocco and that I shouldn’t go there as a solo female. Then, he said, “Morocco tampers with their meters.”
We arrived at my hotel, and I paid the man $20 and thanked him for the friendly conversation. After taking a shower, I snuggled up in my bed to get a good night’s sleep before my final flight to Australia.
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