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SINGAPORE | Monday, 16 March 2009 | Views [1813]

Riverside Pointe, Singapore

Riverside Pointe, Singapore

Singapore is a city and an island and a country of 4 ½ million people.  It is sparkling clean (spitting carries a hefty fine), restaurants and bars are smoke-free and traffic jams just don’t happen.  Like Georgetown and Melaka in Malaysia, Singapore is one of the Straits Colonies and the influence of Brits like Raffles is still present.  Christian churches nestle next to Hindu and Buddhist temples and skyscrapers somehow fit nicely among pastel-colored colonial buildings and shophouses. 

Everything is expensive, it is one of the world’s ten most expensive places to live.  Our S$110 room at the Southeast Asia Hotel – the cheapest mid-price in Lonely Planet – would have cost less than $20 in Hanoi.  We expected to pay a lot for our first meal at the deli in the Raffles Hotel but it doesn’t really matter where you eat; it costs a lot even at the Chinese food stalls.          

The public transportation system is clean, efficient and economical.  We have used the MRT trains to go to the Wetlands Reserve and the Singapore Bird Park.  The 45 minute rides cost about $1.50 and the connecting buses half that.  The signs and announcements are in English so we had no problems figuring out the system.  Once the train emerges from underground you see countless blocks of high-rise apartments but they somehow seem livable, nothing like the ‘projects’ of Chicago or NY.

The Wetlands Reserve feels larger than it actually is due to the meandering trails.  There are several hides and a couple of towers for viewing the birds but most people seemed to come just to escape the city.  This is the first time on the trip when we have seen shorebirds – curlews, plovers, sandpipers, redshanks and such – plus a number of herons and kingfishers.  The Bird Park is one of the best in the world, with 600 species from around the world.  It is a real pleasure to visit.

We have a birds-eye view of the pedestrian mall beneath our window.  It is packed with flower vendors and carts selling incense to the thousands who stop to pray and make offerings at the Hindu temple next door.  There is a lot of bowing and the smell of sandalwood incense fills the air.  The booths come down and everyone disappears at dusk and things quiet down nicely.

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