I learned one thing when I started moving from Malacca towards Singapore: Always book a seat on the bus in advance. Busrides to Singapore from Malaysia are very popular, it seems. I'm not sure why, but there IS some entertainment on the ride into Singapore. I particularly enjoyed the crossing of the bridge to Singapore Island. The whole bridge was packed with motorcycles, cars, buses and all other thinkable and unthinkable means of transportation, and the traffic was moving VERY slowly. What kept me awake was partially the freezing air conditioning and partially a new, serious-looking warning to visitors to Singapore for every ten meters or so:

Carrying firecrackers into Singapore is a criminal offense - Possession penalized by jail and caning!

And so on... Finally, half an hour and 400 metres later, I could get off the bus, collect my baggage and walk to the customs. I had of course put on my nicest-looking clothes and had taken a thorough shower in the morning, so that I looked like the clean, honest young man that I am. It worked like a charm, and I just walked through the Singapore customs, with no hassle at all. So when I got onto the bus again, I could immediately open the package of Juicy Fruit chewing gum I had hidden in my shoes and start demoralizing the state of Singapore.

I had imagined Singapore as something pretty much like Manhattan; a crowded island with lots of skyscrapers. Therefore I was a bit surprised by seeing lots of rainforest along the 30km highway between the customs and downtown Singapore. The 2.7 million citizens have lots of space to enjoy themselves in, and they have room for importing a lot more workers if they should want to.

I actually managed to find a cheap place to stay in Singapore, very close to the legendary Raffle's Hotel. Lee's Travellers Club fills several floors in a large building in downtown Singapore, and you stay there for less than 8 Singa-dollar per night, in a 6-10-bed dorm. For a few dollars more you can get a room with a double bed, but there are few rooms of that kind available.

Other low budget tips are the every day pizza buffet at Milano Pizza, including soft drinks, pizza, ice and salad at S$12, and the 3-day all-island bus pass and map at S$17. Electronic equipment is not particularly cheap in Singapore anymore, so do your shopping elsewhere. An hour of high quality Internet connection will set you back about S$9.

Anyway, I got up early for my first morning in Singapore and bought a bus pass, starting the day with a trip to Clifford Pier and the Merlion. I was visitor number one that morning at the tourist center there, closely followed by 200 Japanese tourists and a major, tropical thunderstorm. Some of the buses used for city traffic in Singapore are really perfect for sightseeing, with two floors and panorama windows in the front. So I got into Air-Conditioned bus no 10 and watched the rain hit the city.

An hour later I found myself in Jurong, a smaller city further west in Singapore. What impressed me most here was the public library. It's got the latest books, videos, PC software and Internet connection, but it can only be accessed by locals, sadly. The only thing I could take advantage of was the toilet, which was really, really clean, and not flushing the toilet after use here will cost you a S$500 fine. Jurong is also the area where all the software and computer equipment giants have their Singapore headquarters, and huge buildings and factories were beeing built everywhere.

The attractions near Jurong are the Japanese and Chinese Gardens, which are really nice places to visit when it's not raining like crazy, I'm sure. In the same area you can find the Jurong Bird Park, which has everything; penguins, macaws (parrots, basically), kiwis, all kinds of hornbills, ostriches, puffins and even some Norwegian seagulls! And just outside the bird park there is a crocodile farm, which serves... yep, crocodile steak. Mind you, it's not VERY good crocodile steak, as they only serve crocodiles that have died a natural death, I suspect. But if you're into trying new stuff, just for the fun of it, I guess this'll be good enough for you.

On my way back to the hotel I hijacked the bus and demanded to be taken to the Norwegian Seamens' Church. It's THE place to go for Vafler&VG in Asia. Really. Well, it's a nice experience for Norwegians, at least. There's even a nice pool, so bring your swimsuit.

Another daytrip out of the city is to use buses 130 and 138 to get to Singapore Zoo. Although it'll take you at least 1h20m to get there from downtown, I'd say it's worth it. It's the nicest zoo I've ever been to. It's really spacious and has lots of interesting animals. And the animals are treated and located so well that this park is certainly not responsible for giving the word "zoo" a bad name. The two polar bears have plenty of icy water to cool off in, there are lions and lots of other big cats in a simulated small Africa, they have tapirs, deer in all sizes from cat to huge, orangutans, mandrills, llamas, snakes, the komodo dragon and many other animals. You can get combo tickets to the zoo and the bird park for S$16,40, and you can see the two parks on different days.

Back in town I got a ticket to Jakarta at a very good price (US$80) at Air Power travel agency in Arab Street. I definitely recommend this bucket shop. While it worried me slightly that I had never heard about the airline I was to travel with, I was happy to leave Singapore. It's mainly a city like most other cities, and a few days is enough to see it.

I spent my last day in Singapore on Sentosa Island, which is the closest you get to Disneyworld in South-East Asia. It's a strange place. It is built to provide the people of Singapore with a get-away place, so everything here is fake, from the picturesque beach with the coconut palms (the atmosphere being only slightly distorted by the hundreds of cargo ships waiting in line here to get into the harbor) to the rainforest with the giant trees and dinosaurs. Everything looks real from a distance, but wen you get close, you discover it's all concrete and plastic. Strange place, as I said.

The only real thing on the island is the spice garden. I seemed to be the only person being interested in spices, so being all alone, I decided to taste most of the things growing there. I shouldn't have. They had of course been sprayed with pesticides and insecticides, so for the next few days I visited the toilet uhm... frequently. But at least I had been to the place where the pepper grows.

Summing it all up, Singapore is a nice place to visit. The funniest part is listening to "Singlish", the local version of English, mainly spoken by the Chinese. First it seems as if the people you speak with do a lot of grammatical mistakes, but when you've spoken with enough people, you realize that they all speak correct, they just use a grammar and vocabulary that is different from standard English.

It is easy to notice how fast everything grows in Singapore. Being positioned just about AT the Equator and with plenty of water falling from above, plants naturally grow fast, but the city and even the country is also growing, they raise land from the sea several places. It should also be said that you feel perfectly safe most of the time you spend in Singapore. The only exception is when there is police visibly around you. Then ANYTHING can happen. Be very, very careful if you spot a uniform.

So, I like Singapore, but I doubt that I'll ever go back. I was quite happy to take bus no. 16 from downtown to Changi Airport for S$1,10, and spend S$7,50 on airport tax. I used my last few dollars on buying a Lonely Planet Indonesian Phrasebook and a water melon. I managed to grab four travel sickness bags from the Sempati plane that took me to Jakarta!

Last modified: Sun Dec 16 13:19:22 CET 2001