Asia ’24 #1: Starting in Singapore

Read this blog: The one where Robert is given the forceful thumbs down

Monday 4th to Wednesday 6th March 2024

Having travelled for almost a decade on a passport with a malfunctioning chip which never seemed to work in the biometric gates at airports, on landing at Singapore Airport, Robert once again found himself in possession of a defective piece of equipment. This time it was his right thumb.

He had dutifully completed the online electronic visa passes to let us enter this historic city state and these scanned successfully. Matilda then stood on the footprints as directed, took her glasses off for photo-recognition, placed her thumb firmly on the scanner and was allowed to pass. Robert however was stopped at the barrier. The immigration official first cleaned his thumb with a spray. When this had no effect, she then told him press down harder, and then resorted to pressing his thumb down very firmly on the scanner herself, all to no avail. Finally Robert was told to use his left thumb and eventually the barrier opened and he was allowed to enter Singapore but we are not sure whether this means he has a fully functioning left thumb or the immigration official lost patience and simply pressed an override button.

We caught the metro into the centre and took a short walk to our hotel where we changed out of our cold weather layers before heading off to see something of the Clarke Quay area. 

We were not very successful. Walking along the side of the Singapore River we quickly came upon Brewerks where the selection of the beers available is displayed on a rolling electronic noticeboard and we failed to progress any further.

TravellingHerd: some of the beers available at Brewerkz, which are displayed on a rolling electronic noticeboard

The 12 hour flight combined with very little sleep and an eight hour time difference meant that although it was still quite early in the evening we were tired and it felt as though we were having beer for breakfast. 

Brewerks offers quite an array of ale and beer including an oatmeal stout; a probiotic raspberry sour and an IPA with notes of pineapple, mango and pine resin to name just a very few. Matilda was sufficiently intrigued that she wanted to order four 125ml samplers. Unfortunately two of her preferred options were unavailable so she changed her mind. Our body clocks had not yet adjusted to Asian time and the barman here very helpfully informed us that the kitchen would be closing so that we could order some food before it did [see Dish of the day]. We did not have the energy to go in search of more local cuisine and our order included KFC which in this instance stands for Korean Fried Cauliflower.

Matilda had a better night’s sleep than Robert, despite suffering from cramp, and the next day we walked through Chinatown. Within Chinatown lies Trengganu Street. A sign tells you that at one time Japanese prostitutes worked here raising money in aid of their country’s war effort which seems to show true devotion to the home country.

TravellingHerd: Chinatown, Singapore

We continued on to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, which is so called as it is home to Buddha’s left canine. This four storey temple is relatively new but was built in the style of the Tang dynasty with some Japanese and Tibetan influence.

TravellingHerd: rear of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, Singapore

Matilda had bought her modesty scarf with her to cover her shoulders, but she was also told to cover her legs as she was wearing shorts and was leant a long, brown wrap-around skirt.

The interior is extraordinary with several chambers including the Universal Wisdom Hall and the Hundred Dragon Hall while the tooth is displayed in the Sacred Light Hall on the fourth floor of the temple. Although only monks are allowed inside this hall, visitors are usually able to see the tooth relic from a public viewing area. Unfortunately a message on the website states that ‘All tours are ceased until further notice’.

According to Japanese Buddhism, there is a Buddha or Bodhisattva to protect you upon birth. There is a corresponding Zodiac Protector for each Lunar Zodiac animal and these can all be viewed in the Universal Wisdom Hall where visitors should be able to identify the ones relating to their own birthdate.

Although the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple was finished in 2007 our research failed to discover exactly when the tooth was discovered and where it had been kept while the temple was being built. The tooth measures an incredible 7.5 cm because it is continuing to grow because of what are believed to be its special powers.

The Hundred Dragon Hall is 27-feet high to accommodate a 15 foot statue of the Buddha Maitreya flanked by two bodhisattvas. The walls are lined with 100 further statues of Buddha and monks were leading prayers here with the aid of amplification [see Video of the day.]

TravellingHerd: monks lead the prayers in the Hundred Dragon Hall, Singapore

Our route towards the Sri Mariamman Temple took us past some fine Art Deco buildings including the Eu Yan Sang Medical Hall. Built in 1910 it has been refurbished and is Singapore’s most famous traditional Chinese medicine centre with an inventory of more than one thousand herbs.

TravellingHerd: the Eu Yan Sang Medical Hall

Further along the street we came to the Sri Mariamman Temple, which was constructed in 1827 and is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. Here visitors are required to remove their shoes but since the monks are shirtless and bare-chested, there was no need for Matilda to cover her shoulders.

TravellingHerd: entrance gate to the Sri Mariamman Temple

The gopuram or entrance tower was added in the 1930s and although it is highly decorated and said to be the highlight, we felt that the interior was just as impressive.

The Sri Mariamman Temple was established by Narayana Pillai who arrived in Singapore with Sir Stamford Raffles. It opened in 1827 and initially provided shelter for Indian immigrants and was the only temple whose priests were authorised to solemnise Hindu marriages.

TravellingHerd: inside the Sri Mariamman Temple

The goddess Mariamman is known for her healing powers. The detailed, painted carving is quite unique [see Selfie of the day].

We continued our walk down to Raffles Place where we stoped for a soft drink to rehydrate.

TravellingHerd: Raffles Place looking across to the Marina Bay Park Hotel

From here our route took us to the Cavenagh Bridge which was conceived in 1867 to commemorate Singapore’s newly awarded status as a Crown Colony. It opened in 1869 and is the only cable-stayed, suspension bridge in Singapore. Named in honour of Sir Orfeur Cavenagh, the last Governor of the Straits Settlements it was manufactured in Glasgow, then shipped to Singapore where it was assembled. It is the oldest bridge in Singapore to survive in its original form.

TravellingHerd: the Cavenagh Bridge, Singapore

Along the waterfront there are several sculptures including some highly polished silver spheres which play the sounds of the city and is called 24 Hours in Singapore.

TravellingHerd: the sculpture 24 Hours in Singapore

The imposing Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall comprises two buildings joined by a clock tower. The oldest part of the building dates from 1862 and the complex was completed in 1909.

TravellingHerd: Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall

In 1910 the Anderson Bridge [below] was opened  to ease congestion across the Singapore River and the Cavenagh Bridge [above] became pedestrianised.

TravellingHerd: the Anderson Bridge, Singapore

From here we walked towards the Merlion statue. The Merlion is a mythical creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish which is widely used to represent Singapore.

We were told that the Fullerton Hotel [below right] offers the best brunch in the city but since breakfast is included at our hotel we will not be putting this to the test. It does however, hold a significant place in the history of Singapore. In 1919 the then British Governor, Sir Laurence Guillemard, proposed to build “a monument worthy of the city.” Although now rather dwarfed by the surrounding modern buildings and skyscrapers, its fluted Doric colonnades are still impressive. Completed in 1928, it housed not only the General Post Office but also the Exchange and various government and port offices. Allied soldiers sheltered here as the Japanese army marched into Singapore in 1942 and locals rallied here during Singapore’s battle for Independence from the British after WWII. 

TravellingHerd: Merlion statue with the Fullerton Hotel in the background

From the Merlion we walked across the Helix Bridge, officially called The Helix. Also previously known as the Double Helix Bridge, it was partially opened in April 2010 and fully opened on 18 July that year. It provides a pedestrian walkway between Marina Centre and Marina South and provides views back towards Raffles Place and Singapore’s financial district.

TravellingHerd: The Helix and the Marina Bay Park Hotel

The Skypark Observation Deck is 56 storeys up on the top of the Marina Bay Park Hotel which has been designed to resemble a long boat perched on top of three towers.

TravellingHerd: Marina Bay Park Hotel and the Skypark Observation Deck 

From here you can look down on the Gardens by the Bay and the Supertree Grove . . .

TravellingHerd: view of the Gardens by the Bay and the Supertree Grove from the Skypark Observation Deck

. . .and across to Singapore’s iconic cityscape. 

TravellingHerd: view from the Skypark Observation Deck

There is also an infinity swimming pool at this height but this is understandably more select and is reserved for guests at the hotel.

TravellingHerd: the Skypark Observation Deck

Back on solid ground we walked to the Gardens by the Bay.

TravellingHerd: the Supertree Grove

Unfortunately the OCBC Skyway linking some of the Super Trees was closed for routine maintenance so we contented ourselves with a stroll through the free sights.

TravellingHerd: the flower clock in the Gardens by the Bay

By this time, the heat, humidity and sore feet made the prospect of a dip in the rooftop pool much more enticing than entering an even hotter, more humid biome or further sight-seeing.

TravellingHerd: rooftop pool at the Holiday Inn Express

So we returned to the hotel to lower our core body temperature by a spell in the jacuzzi before the rain came. And come it did. The skies looked threatening while we relaxed and later we had to delay going in search of a meal until the rain stopped.

TravellingHerd: enjoying the rooftop jacuzzi

Video of the day:

Selfie of the day:

TravellingHerd: at the Sri Mariamman Temple

Dish of the day:

TravellingHerd: Nachos, sweet potato fries and KFC [Korean Fried Cauliflower, far right] at Brewerks

Route Map:

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