We cross the border easily. All European Union citizens have the right to stay 90 days in Singapore without the need of issuing a visa. Nobody checks our luggage and some short minutes later we enter officially in Singapore. Laws here are very strict, but we follow them closely – we don’t smuggle any drugs, don’t have hand-cuffs in our luggage and the most important: we don’t bring on us any chewing gum. Later we asked some people why is it illegal to have chewing gum here but nobody gave us an adequate answer. As far as drugs are concerned there is a death sentence, if you carry any, without the right to appeal. Another official punishment is beating. Thanks God we are just innocent tourists 🙂
Most of the people who live here are of Chinese origin and they are also the major part of the ruling elite. Indians and Malaysians are small percentage and are mainly workers. Here also live many foreigners from all over the world, most of them being Americans. Skyscrapers of various world corporations and banks poke the sky. We are eager to see this ultra modern city where the wonders of modern architecture and high-tech accomplishments abound.
Singapore has been declared a British colony in 1867. It has been part of the Strait Settlements that include Penang and Malacca. Once a simple fishermen village, now it is one of the most important economic hubs in the world. At a certain point there has been a plan for the city to be given back to Malaysia but this caused heavy collisions between the Chinese and the Malay and so it remained a sovereign country.
We hop on bus number 170 and head to the center. It is already dark. We hear mostly people speaking Chinese. There are no more women wearing veils. All is super clean. We feel like we are in China again – a future, modern, cosmopolitan China. The bus is full of people from Singapore and immigrants who come back from shopping at Johor Bahru to buy cheaper stuff. The standard here is so high that it is indeed cheaper to go to Malaysia for shopping. The bus leaves us at Queen Street and we are somehow shocked to see we are in a neighborhood with low, well maintained buildings. Skyscrapers here are built very far from one another and amidst them one can see preserved old houses.
Street at the old city
We always thought Singapore would be like Hong Kong. To our surprise it turned out to be quite different. One doesn’t feel suffocated by the tall buildings and there is a lot of space. At the same time all is calm, the traffic isn’t heavy at all and we don’t see many of the typical fast-pacing businessmen wearing ties and suitcases. Walking around the city is quite pleasant.
The Sultan’s Mosque
Soon we reach the Malaysian neighborhood and Arab Street. Posh restaurants offer rotisseries and other kinds of food. It smells like one is in the Middle East, but the cheapest meal here is 7-8 Singapore Dollars (around 5 euro). Sultan Mosque is so illuminated as if it comes from a 1001 Nights tale.
All exchange offices are closed so we have to use the ATM. We head to the subway which is supposed to take us to East Coast Park. Three, four stops cost around 1 euro per person. Obviously we will do a lot of walking on foot in the next few days. The subway is colorful – there are people from all over the world. This kind of multi-nationality always amazes us and we look around with curiosity.
The park is far from the subway station. As we walk we see Chinese Taoist ceremony that takes place under a huge shelter. Most people wear shiny, silver shirts. An old Chinese man, surrounded by followers, offers fruits and beverages to a deity. People bow periodically accompanied by the sounds of gongs and ancient songs. We’ve lived in China for three years and haven’t ever seen such a ceremony.
Soon we reach the park that stretches more than 15 km along the coast. We saw in Internet that there are many parks in Singapore that offered free camping. This one is closest to the center and that’s why we chose it. The area for pitching tents is 1 kilometer further and we arrive exhausted.
We pitch out tent under a huge tree just ten meters away from the sea. There are at least 30-40 tents spread across the lawns. The lights that come from the hundreds of ships in the sea near the horizon create the illusion that there is a long piece of land with many buildings in front of the beach.
Stone barbecue. The lights across – a city or hundreds of ships?
In the morning hundreds of people come to exercise at the park: bikers, joggers, Tai Chi practitioners, skate boarders… all dressed in sport outfits. American mothers run pushing their baby-carriages. Today is Saturday so many young people come to camp on the beach.
Here at the park one has all things needed: bathrooms and toilets are free and super clean and have toilet paper. The pedestrians and bikers have their own alleys. There are special isolated zones for barbecue and picnic. The park is divided in several areas – one for restaurants and shops, another for riding bicycles and so on (the rent for one bike for one day is 30 dollars, which is 20 euro) 🙂
The beach at the park
From time to time we see police cars on the alleys. The park is crowded only on weekends though. From Monday to Thursday the camp site and the park are empty and quiet. One thing here impressed us a lot: namely the park connectors which are alleys that connect all the parks in Singapore, so one can ride (or walk) for 50 km without the need to cross even one street with cars. The city is arranged in some really amazing ways.
At the camp site there are a few people who live here permanently. They inhabit some huge tents and obviously have permission to stay here indefinitely. One family who dwells in such a tent seem like they have Malaysian or Indonesian roots. They sit at the pavilion all day long. They have cats and birds and seem like they are mainly sleeping and sitting.
They don’t have a job but have money. They are our closest neighbors and watch our tent when we are sightseeing. A little bit further live some people who seem quite shabby.
After breakfast we head on foot to the center (8 km away). Walking here is nice and in an hour and a half we reach Marina Bay. This is the central bay for yachts. The marina is surrounded by land and there is just one tiny canal that connects it to the sea. Here we see the most impressive sky scrapers of banks and world corporations as well as the old administrative area with colonial buildings, theaters, galleries and high-end hotels.
Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the museum of arts and science
Before we reach the marina we walk on some very high bridge above the canal. From here there is a spectacular view to the whole Marina Bay. I am amazed. I can’t believe that such a thing exists. The scenery is like from another planet. Right in front of us we see the biggest high wheel we have ever seen. It is taller than most of the skyscrapers that are 50-60 stories.
We cross the bridge and we are downtown. We walk dazed by the cosmic architecture. For us the contrast is even stronger as we have spent the last several weeks only in jungles, forests and small towns. We are taken by some strange excitement, but we also feel some invisible alarm deep inside. How far ahead has mankind gone while we lived in ancient times and far away valleys?! Is this a cosmic station from the future?!
Here there is nothing that reminds us of Gaia (mother earth) and the real world. All is perfect, artificial and thousands, maybe millions, of mind structures away from the Truth. I think that someone who lives here won’t be able to perceive and understand the primordial nature of the world and the universe. But what we see, what people are capable of creating, still leaves us breathless.
The fountain of wealth
While walking towards the Fountain of Wealth, which is the biggest fountain in the world, we pass by an electronic store. I don’t know why but we decide to enter. After I became 18 I have always lived in houses without a TV set. To me this machine is turning people into zombies and no channel is more interesting than a book. If I want to see a good movie I go to the cinema. And I don’t even want to mention the (fake)news. So for me this has always been a useless thing that takes too much of your time.
We enter the store because we are somewhat attracted by the the big screen TVs. Suddenly I feel like I could touch the things being displayed. As if the mountains and the seas they are showing somehow materialize miraculously in the shop. The quality of the picture is stunning. We have been traveling for 1,5 years now and we have never seen a 4K TV, as there weren’t much when we left.
They are as big as a wall in an average apartment and the picture is more stunning and attractive than any scenery we have seen in reality. I start behaving like the guy in the movie “Borat” – jumping around like a mad person, watching the changing pictures on the screens in amazement. If one has such a TV at home one will leave the outside reality for good. You will never feel a need to travel as the pictures on the screen are much more alive and interesting. You will never read a book and will remain trapped by the digital realm. Scary!
We go out of the shop dazed and we find ourselves in a grey, uninteresting reality. I don’t have a TV set or a smartphone so I still have the ability to see and not just look at things, and I have strong connection to Gaia.
We continue to Espalande, which is the walking alley around Marina Bay. We want to see it all. Each building is very interesting to us. Around us we see Porches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis. The view of the skyscrapers is amazing. We see the alien-looking building of the museum of arts and science, the sixty floor hotel Marina Bay Sands, which consists of three buildings with a ship-like structure on top of it where we see gardens, bars and swimming pools.
On the other side we see the old Clifford Pier, the colonial high-end hotel Fullerton, the park Marillion and behind them the giant buildings from the future. We pass by the modern theater, Espalande called also “the durian” because it resembles the spiky fruit. Every evening in front of the open theater there are free concerts, street art and performances.
We enter the colonial area next to Singapore River with old theaters, the National Gallery, the museum for Asian civilization, the cathedral Saint Andrew, the parliament and many other administrative buildings – all with colonial British architecture. The old part of the center is very interesting. We haven’t seen so much galleries and buildings related to art for a long time.
We reach the Armenian Church and on the same street there is the Philately Museum. On the next street called Coleman is the Masonic Hall. Soon we are on Waterloo Street on which there is a 100 meters stripe of temples of different religions, each at least 100-200 years old. We pass by the synagogue, which is locked. A young Jewish person with traditional hat sits in front of the door.
Then is the church Peter and Paul, the Hindu temple Sri Krishnan where up to now Brahmins serve pujas in traditional bands and shaved heads… and the next temple is of the Chinese Goddess of Mercy Guan Yin. In front of it we see a dozen of Chinese fortune tellers. There is even one small mosque on the street. On the next street Queen Victoria there are four old churches and a Gurdwara (Sikh Temple). The combination of ultra modern and ancient is really unique.
The cathedral of the good shepherd
At the end of our walk we find ourselves in the Indian neighborhood a.k.a Little India. We are amazed yet again how Indians manage to recreate exactly the same atmosphere as in India, no matter where they live. This neighborhood is the same as the other old neighborhoods we passed through and consists of small houses. But here it is a real madness on the streets. We see a vegetable shop for the first time since we are in Singapore and many vegetarian restaurants. (The rest of the city consists mainly of malls in which are all the shops and restaurants.)
Indian people dressed in colorful clothes clog the street, shop, shout. Loud music plays at all shops. Cars and trucks park everywhere. Loud noises and our favorite Indian chaos reign the street. We buy some vegetables as all other shops are very expensive – coffee is often 2-3 euro and street food is 4-5 euro. In the neighborhood there are also a big Hindu Temple Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple of Kali Goddess, two mosques of Indian Muslims and a church.
We reach the bus stop exhausted. Our feet pulsate with pain from the long hours of walking. We will take the bus and spend 3 euro as we are really tired. Prices for transportation here are higher than those in some capitals in Western Europe.
We are exhausted from yesterday’s walking and we caught the flu from the air-condition at the buses so we decide to use public transport to get downtown. We head to Chinatown which is located south of the river.
The neighborhood is 200 years old and has ancient but renovated houses and narrow streets – it resembles the Indian, Arab and Colonial neighborhoods. We start from the Hindu temple Sri Mariamman. This is the oldest centre of the Tamil community in Singapore. All immigrants from India used to arrive here and stayed till they settled some place else.
Sri Mariamman Temple
At this moment the improbable irony of the Universe strikes us: Mr. Shushtari finds a chewing gum stuck on one of his soles – this has never happened to us for a 1,5 year of traveling, but it happened here, the country where chewing-gum is prohibited!
This makes us think that the pragmatical Chinese are right for introducing such a law – maybe they calculated that too many efforts are waisted for scraping away chewing gum from the walkways.
Old buildings in Chinatown
We step on the walkway called Pagoda. As we expect all around us is in restaurants and souvenir shops. There are thousands of tourists and almost no Chinese people. We pass by an old venue for smoking opium and the beautiful building of the Chinese opera.
The old Chinese opera
The neighborhood consists of beautiful two-three storey buildings painted with Chinese hieroglyphs. We squeeze through the crowd and soon reach the main landmark here – the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple built in 2002.
The Buddhist Temple
We enter inside and are flabbergasted by the beauty, exuberance and power of the Buddhist spirit that emanates here. We become witnesses of a ceremony where monks read sutras together with followers. The air is filled by the divine sounds of gongs, Aarhus and Chinese music instruments. The feelings that engulf us are ripsnorting. Yet again we see that if one wants to immerse in traditional Chinese culture one has to look for it outside of China, at a place where Chinese communities reside since ancient times.
Video of the ceremony at the temple:
An interesting fact is that this neighborhood was divided in four main parts: Hokien, Cantonese, Hakka and Teocheow. Each of them had their own hall for gatherings and lived separately in different parts of the neighborhood.
The different communities in the past (and maybe even now) are closed and trust only their own members. First each community helped immigrants from China and then in turn they stayed loyal to the community all thier lives.
The interior of the temple
Our last stop in Chinatown is the Taoist Temple Hock Kens made for the Jade Emperor. Next to the temple there is a fiest for the Day of the Taoist and nice Taoist priests welcome us with smiles. The decoration of the temple is exquisite. In front of the main altar there is a wooden statue of the wise man Lao Tzu.
As on many streets in Singapore, here we also see buildings of different religious communities standing one next to another. Beside the temple there is an ancient Sufi tomb and a Dargah of an Indian priest. On the other side we see a mosque and a Methodist church a few meters away from it. This is a unique place where different cultures and religions co-exist in peace and harmony.
Dargah of the Sufi priest
After immersing fully in history now it is time for some hi-tech experiences. We decide to go at the “the ship” located on top of Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Everyone is allowed to enter and though we look quite different from the usual visitors nobody pays us any attention. So we teleport on the 57-the floor with the ultra fast elevator – it takes mere 20-30 seconds to reach the top floors. Our ears start ringing and a white man exclaims: “Wow, it’s pretty fast, isn’t it”.
The view from the hotel
The huge panoramic terrace has swimming pools, bars and restaurants that are only accessible for the guests of the hotel who enter with special magnetic cards. The view is breathtaking. The bars are full of westerners and the hotel itself is fully occupied.
The roof bar at the hotel
Swimming pool on the 60-th floor
We go down, just in time for the incredible light show. Beautiful images are being projected on the wall of the museum for art and science. Some moments later the laser show begins, water sprinkles and holographic images are projected on the water. There are fireworks and music sounds around the whole bay. It feels like we are in some kind of cartoon movie from the future! It is amazing the amount of money the government spends for free attractions and show programs for the citizens and the tourists
The light show projected on the wall of the Museum of Arts and Science
We meet a girl from Bosnia and this is the first time we meet someone from this country during our current traveling. She’s a very nice woman and works for the advertising department of Bosch. She points us to the best place from where to observe the show. Later that night we take the bus to the park. We’re exhausted but filled with new emotions from what we experienced.
We are so tired that today we don’t want to go anywhere. We meet an Indian who is a construction worker at the park. After tens of negative replies from different restaurants and shops he is the first man who is happy to help us charge our camera’s battery. He tells us how he works 7 days a week for the mere five hundred Euro which he sends to his family in India. At least he has a place to sleep, provided by the company he works for, otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to survive here with so small amount of money. Now we know how the skyscrapers of Singapore are built – with the poorly paid hard work of immigrants…
We also talk to another neighbor from the park who says that life here is so expensive that he can’t even pay a rent, let alone buy an apartment as the cheapest ones cost 250 000 Euro.
We head to the close by library. Singapore has a lot of libraries with the most modern equipment. When we enter we see that there are almost no free places not at the children, nor the youth, nor the adult department. Everyone has a book and reads. All the copies are new, have shiny covers and smell amazing. We are so eager to read that we stay up to 9 p.m. when the library closes down.
It’s our last day in Singapore and we still have things to do and see. We start walking through the park towards the Gardens by the Bay. The Gardens have been awarded many international prizes for design and architecture. There are two giant greenhouses inside the park that in fact keep lower temperature, not higher. The entrance costs $38 (25 Euro). Behind it we see the so-called Super trees – these are towers made of metal that are covered with growing plants. To us this seems like a grotesque combination of technology and nature.
The Super trees
The gardens outside are free to enter and we start walking around. 5-6 otters come from the sea and we see a giant lizard. Every step of the way there are information signs. Trees here are from Asia and South America, there are also many kinds of palm trees, interactive entertainments, things to touch, smell and listen to.
The lizard at the park
We finish our walk at the thematic gardens: colonial, Malaysian, Indian and Chinese. We are amazed when we see that the bus that drives on the alleys is driverless and consider that the alleys have many curves and there are many pedestrians crossing.
The Chinese Garden
Later we enjoy one last hi-tech amusement: we enter the ultra fast transparent elevators of the high-end hotel Pan Pacific. The view is breathtaking. We are lucky to enter as the place is only for residents with magnetic cards.
In the late afternoon we head back to the Arab neighborhood where we went the first day. This time we want to see it more thoroughly. The pedestrian street behind Sultan Mosque is filled with Turkish and Lebanese restaurants .To our amazement it turns out that the mosque is designed by an Irish architect. Next to it is the Sultan Palace, a small, modest building that is now transformed into a museum of the Malayan culture. Once here lived the sultan of Singapore – that is before the key person Thomas Raffles moored at this lands.
The so called Strait Settlements: Penang, Malacca and Singapore own their prosperity namely to him. The British Empire colonizes them and turns them into the most important ports for spice trade. Some time ago spices were more valuable than gold. They came mainly from different Indonesian islands and the trade resulted in huge profit for the empire as well as for the former colonizers – Portugal and Holland. One can say that the financial consequences of colonial times long passed by are very real even today – putting some countries in a better economic situation than others.
We pass through Little India for one last time to buy some milk and chocolate. We will celebrate the fact that we could visit Singapore – The City of Lions (from Sanskrit: sing – lion, pur – city). Sometimes we treat ourselves like this 🙂
The same bus that we came with costs 2,5 Singapore dollars to leave the city, compared to 2,5 ringgit to arrive – which is three times higher. We pay with the last remaining dollars and soon we are back on Malaysian land. When we get off we see a cheap Indian restaurant at the bus-stop and we buy some food right away. We are so full we are gonna explode as our bellies are not used to so much food these recent days. For 4 ringgit (0,80 Euro) one gets a pile of rice and as much curries as one wants.
The gardens by the bay
Johor Bahru is a big city so we hop on a bus to reach the outskirts. The last stop is Kulai Town which is quite a distance (more than 30 km.) but the bus costs 4 ringgit (0.80 Euro). We get off at a small bus-station on the road itself.
It is already dark so we look around to find a place to sleep. We see a pathway that crosses the railway and leads to several shabby houses without electricity. In front of one of them there is a wooden platform and we pitch our tent on it. Then we see that the house is actually inhabited, but the fact that somebody pitched a tent 2 meters away from their house doesn’t seem to bother the people living there at all.
Anyway we ask fo permission from the them and they agree right away without even giving it a thought. I don’t know where you live, but what will you do if someone pitches a tent 2 meters away from your house in the middle of the night? In my oipinion there aren’t many people from Europe who will trust a stranger in similar situation. It is so sad when normal human behaviour disappears and is replaced by fear, bias and prejudice.
Old pawn shop in Chinatown