I always wondered how future cities will look like? And then Singapore happened..
My passion for travel took me to the entire length and breadth of Indian subcontinent. I have been to the exotic places within India which doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world to realize India has so much to offer for the adventure junkies, nature lovers, faithful devotees & casual travelers too.
However, I wanted to cross the borders to know what lies beyond. The urge to travel a foreign land forced me to book my first international flight to the island nation – Singapore.
Foreign trip was a long pending item on my bucket list. Time and money were the important factors. When I got both, I started looking for the country which will fit into my budget and time frame. After spending hours browsing the internet, I couldn’t find any better option than Singapore; a little red dot at the tip of Malaysian Peninsula.
From futuristic skylines to the vertical gardens, from the religious sites to the central business district, from pristine white sand beaches to the amazing fun parks; Singapore has everything you will ever need.
The first thing I did was to start looking for the cheapest flights to the most expensive city. Tiger Airways in association with ICICI bank offered me a good deal on international flight bookings and I grabbed the offer right away. I had to book another flight from Mumbai to Chennai in order to board my first international flight from Anna International Terminal.
After flight booking, the next thing will be to get a visa prior to the visit. Unlike other Asian countries, on arrival visa facility is not available for Singapore. We need to apply for a visa to the Singapore Embassy through the authorized agents listed on their official website.
Now that I got my visa approved within a week, I needed to exchange my money into Singaporean dollars. Instead of going through unauthorized channels, I exchanged my money with ICICI bank and took the receipt of the transaction. Apart from cash, I had international debit and credit cards also.
When it comes to travel to unknown country, It’s safe to book a hotel in advance. Booking.com helped me to get the affordable stay in Singapore near little India locality. With the help of internet I prepared my itinerary carefully, so that I won’t miss anything. I was ready and eagerly waiting to board my first international flight.
Singapore Visa is valid for 2 years and will cost around S$30 i.e. 1500-2000 rupees including agent fees etc.
Changing Time Zone
24 March, 2016
Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, also known as Terminal 2, is India’s first and most advanced vertical passenger terminal situated in Mumbai, from where I was going to board domestic Jet Airways flight to Chennai. I checked in earlier to get some time to explore the iconic world-class Airport, which is home to India’s largest public art program. The beauty of Indian heritage and art is displayed on 3 km multi-storied Art Wall.
The flight touched down the Chennai Airport in the evening, where I got 3 hours layover before flying to Singapore. As soon as I stepped out of Airport, I felt the warmth of the city and its humid climate. I couldn’t leave Chennai without having a South Indian food there.
Tiger Airways is a budget carrier from Singapore and operates in South East Asia, China and India. At midnight, the flight took off from Anna International Airport, crossed the bay of Bengal and Strait of Malacca within 4 hours and landed on Changi International Airport at dawn. I had to adjust my watch 3:30 hours earlier.
One thing you will love about Singapore is that, the travel guides and maps are freely available at all public places.The neatly given information about the Metro Transport helped me to reach my hotel without any confusion. Bus transportation is also linked with Metrocard, which is cheapest and most efficient mode of transport in Singapore.
Changi Airport is Skytrax’s World’s Best Airport for 5 consecutive years (2013-2017)
From BIG India to LITTLE India..
25 March, 2016
So the first thing I did after check-in into the hotel was to get a hot shower and prepare a tea for myself using a tea maker. Kam Leng hotel is in the vicinity of little India, so I thought it would be great if I get some Indian food for breakfast in foreign land.
Few minutes of walking took me to the famous Mustafa Centre in buzzing ethnic neighborhood. For a moment I felt like, I was standing somewhere in Chennai after seeing famous brands like Saravana Bhavan, Anand Bhavan, Kalyan Jewelers and many more. I got Idli Dosa for the breakfast along with hot cup of tea.
Little India is Singapore’s most vibrant districts. The short walk along the Serangoon Road can give you glimpses of Hindu and Chinese temples, mosques and churches. I got into one of the oldest and historic temple dedicated to goddess Sri Veeramakaliamman. Not only Hindus but people from different faiths were visiting the temple. The cleanliness and peaceful environment was something that I liked most. This small temple complex packed with hundreds of deities, colorful sculptures and priests performing Pooja. The atmosphere was filled with religious vibes that we can’t get anywhere in modern cities.
Indians constitute 7.4% of total citizens, making them 3rd largest ethnic group in Singapore.
Finding Buddha’s Tooth!!
Just one station ahead of little India, there lies a Singapore’s heritage district Chinatown. As I came out of the underground metro station, the colorful lanterns and bustling market suddenly surrounded my senses. The smell of quintessential street food makes you feel hungry. The vibrant dresses, antiques and many other souvenirs tempted me to open my wallet, but I escaped quickly from this deceiving market in the quest of peace.
In the heart of Chinatown, there lies a beautiful Tang-styled Chinese Buddhist temple. The five-story impressive structure is sharp contrast to rest of the city. As I entered the main entrance of the stunning hall with high ceiling, the aroma of incense sticks engulfed my senses along with the hymn in the background. These intricately designed interiors and rich cultural elements exhibiting Buddhist Art were telling the stories of centuries old religion.
The mail highlight of this temple museum lies on fourth floor – a solid gold giant 2-meter Stupa weighing 3500 kilograms consisting of 320 kilograms of gold. The sacred tooth relic can be viewed from the public viewing area. After exploring each and every floor, I reached the rooftop garden with its Pagoda and giant Prayer Wheel. From the top, you can get the glimpses of surrounding locality.
The heritage of Buddhist arts, culture & relics are preserved beautifully at this temple.
Now that I visited historic Little India and heritage of Chinatown, next thing on my list was to explore the Downtown. The Metro terminal subway opens up amidst the cluster of neck-hurting skyscrapers. This central business district has all modern and super stylish structures. I was surrounded by not only architectural masterpieces, innovative structures but also people and artists from all over the world.
At dusk, the natural light was getting fade and artificial lights started lighting up the skyline. The 3.5 km long waterfront promenade was crowded by the joggers pounding the pavements, cyclists whizzing the al fresco cafe & couples having photo-shoots around iconic landmarks.
My legs froze as I heard the tune of Hindi festival songs. Then I realized that I was standing in front of the open theater of Esplanade and the Indian artists were singing and dancing on the songs to celebrate the color festival Holi. The atmosphere was filled with energy and enthusiasm as many people were dancing on the tune.
The waterfront promenade offers stunning views of the Marina Bay and guarantees that every day will be different and interesting.
i Light – In Praise of Shadows
Along the Bayfront Bridge, there is a pedestrian Helix Bridge which links Marina Centre to the Marina South completing Marina Walkway. This double-helical structure is inspired by human DNA and the nucleotide sequence is lit up at night on walkway. At the other end of the bridge, stands a tall and lavish Marina Bay Sands, an iconic structure with amazing Sky deck.
While strolling on the waterfront promenade with my Camera, I was fortunate to witness the Asia’s leading sustainable light art festival held every year in a month of March. There were around 25 innovative & environmentally sustainable light art installations scattered across the iconic marina bay presented by renowned International Artists. The creativity and innovations were awe-inspiring.
In addition to the light fest, the Laser show at Marina Bay was a bonus. This one hour light show presented with the help of lasers mounted on skyscrapers was a visual delight. I mounted my camera on tripod to capture this amazing display of lights.
i Light has shown a different way to adopt sustainable habits in our everyday life in a beautiful and innovative way.
Sentosa – The fun island
An easy way for me to reach Sentosa island was to catch a North East line Metro from nearest Farrar Park to the Harbour Front. As I came out of the Metro Station, the huge and luxurious VivoCity mall greeted me with its branded stores. However, I was not in a mood for shopping. So, I found a way out to the Sentosa Boardwalk.
The Sentosa Island can be reached by Causeway (Cable Cars), Sentosa Express Monorail or Sentosa Boardwalk. I chose eco-friendly and off course pocket-friendly option to reach an island through Sentosa Boardwalk which is a covered pedestrian walkway with various sustainability features. In Singapore, people are encouraged to walk as it leaves minimal carbon footprint.
If you have Master Card, you will get discounts everywhere in Singapore. Unfortunately, I had a Visa card so I was not able to avail the privileges. But there are agents who will book the tickets on behalf of you in discount prices. I got two such tickets, one for the Maritime Experiential Museum and the other for Universal Studios.
I appreciate the Singapore Government’s attempts to reduce the carbon footprint by encouraging use of efficient public transport and creating amazing walkways.
Stepping into the SEA
26 March, 2016
A giant life-size boat at the entrance will tell you the tales of sea adventures. Then you will pass through the Maritime silk route exploring various cultures and traditions. On the right hand side, you can see a Jewel of Muscat, a 9th century Arabian Dhow reconstructed from the wreckage. The ship gifted by the Sultanate of Oman, made its official voyage from Oman to Singapore.
To reach the aquarium, I stepped down the stairs and entered into the ocean floor. Soon I was walking through the glass tube, gazing at the colorful aquatic life flourished inside out on the ship wreckage. In the Shark Seas, the majestic predators were moving right above my head. I was confused, who is watching whom?
Are these 1 lakh creatures living freely in 45 million litres of water are ogling at the humans from the other side of the glass??
Open Ocean Habitat gives a chance to peek into the ocean ecosystem through the 250 tons spotless glass panel. The feeling of sitting at the bottom of ocean without any equipment was amazing. These habitats are grouped under 10 zones which I had completed before coming out of the aquarium.
SEA Maritime Museum and Aquarium is one of the largest Oceanarium in the world.
Easter Eggstravaganza at Universal Studios
What could be a better time to visit Universal Studios than Easter Sunday, when the whole park was filled with colorful Easter eggs symbolizing empty tomb, to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. The rotating Universal Globe at the entrance welcomes to the one-of-it’s-kind theme park in Asia, promising to take us to the world beyond the screens.
Due to Easter Sunday, I had faced long queues in Universal Studio from Tickets to Rides. Once I got into the studio, it was like the world is completely transformed into a giant Hollywood set. Universal Studio has seven major zones. I began my fun ride on Madagascar island with a river boat ride using state-of-the-art animatronics, digital projection and surround sound, everything housed within the hull of displaced Cargo Ship.
Then there comes a Far Far away Castle, inspired by the DreamWorks Animation’s hit Shrek franchise. The main highlight of the zone is 40m tall Far Far Away Castle where I saw my first 4D movie show ever. Later comes a Puss in Boots giant journey, which was twisted roller coaster along the giant castle.
Universal Studios is Southeast Asia’s first Hollywood Theme Park on Sentosa Island.
Tallest Roller Coaster in the World !!
The first ever hollywood film I saw in my childhood was Jurassic Park. And now I was standing at the entrance of the Lost World, the exact replica of the Jurassic Park. It has a roller coaster ride as well as an amazing boat journey through the amazing park.
After Jurassic Park, Battlestar Galactica dueling roller coasters, the tallest coaster coaster in the world with 42.5m (139 feet) were challenging me. Among these dual coasters, one is for Humans (Red) & the other is for Cylons (Blue) which is inverted and more thrilling. The Humans ride was tolerable but Cylons ride was hell of a ride with zero-g roll, a Cobra roll, corkscrews and vertical loops. Screaming out loud was the only thing I did until it comes standstill.
It was late when I reached ancient egypt, the next amazing ride through the cursed world of Mummies. Due to lack of time, I missed few more rides in Sci-Fi city. Moved ahead towards New York and visited Steven Spielberg’s amazing set where the hurricane was about to hit the whole city.
It was amazing to spend a whole day packed with fun and thrill on this tiny island of Sentosa. Especially, I enjoyed my time spend inside the Universal Studios.
The separate queues for single riders in Universal Studio which worked well for me.
Day in a Zoo..
27 March, 2016
I got a discounted ticket from my hotel for Singapore Zoo. As suggested by the guy at the reception, I left early to catch a Metro till Ang Mo Kio, from where, I can get a bus to Singapore Zoo. I don’t need to bother about money as same metrocard will work in buses also.
Singapore Zoo houses around 315 species of animals in 69 acre area on the margins of upper Seletar Reservoir. The animals are displayed in naturalistic and open exhibits with hidden barriers, moats or glass between the animals and visitors. The Zoo consisted of the most distinctive wildlife habitats from savannah grasslands of Wild Africa to the rugged canyons of the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia. Also, it houses largest captive colony of orangutans in the world.
While watching these extant great apes, I got involved into the conversation with a lady who is looking after them. She considers these rainforest dwellers as her own children and enjoy her work in the Zoo. Her passion for the work she was doing was inspiring.
Whole day I was roaming around the Zoo and visiting each and every habitat on foot. I also attended 2 amazing shows in between. One started with the mischievous primates and ended with the dance of Indian Leucistic Peafowl. Another show was a display of strength and humour of Srilankan Elephants and their funny masters.
During my day long exploration, I came across many amazing animals like white tigers, polar bears, swimming hippos, colonies of Baboons, australian kangaroos, african penguins, venomous snakes and lazy rhinos. While returning, the Zoo arranged a free bus to the nearest metro station.
Singapore Zoo is one of the World’s best zoos & first to breed Polar Bear in the Tropics.
Super Tree Groves
Getting out in Night and experiencing the amazing shows of Lights is one of the best thing I would love to do again in Singapore. The skyscrapers with all possible geometric shapes were illuminated by colorful lights. The Laser show was the cherry on the cake. The iconic structures like Marina Bay Sands, Esplanade, Singapore Flyer and Helix Bridge were lightened up artistically. I was not in a hurry, so I set my tripod at Fullerton Pavilion and captured some amazing shots of the city lights.
The Merlion is widely used as mascot and national personification of Singapore. This 8.6 m tall statue stands at the mouth of Singapore river & at the tip of Fullerton Waterboat House garden. The less crowd at this time allowed me to get nice snaps of this Mythical Creature with Lion’s head and a body of Fish.
Behind the three 55-storey towers of Marina Bay Sands, there lies a sprawling gardens by the bay. As I stepped into the massive Supertree grove, I felt like being transported to the world of fairy tales. These 25 to 50 meters tall self-powered super trees came alive with an exhilarating display of light and sound at night. Each SuperTree consists of a trunk core made of reinforced concrete wrapped with a steel frame. There are 12 such trees in SuperTree Grove.
Super-Tree grooves are solar powered vertical Gardens capable to generate enough power to provide lighting and aids water technology within conservatories.
That was my last day in Singapore. I did check-out in the morning and headed to Chinatown to try some Chinese street food. I ordered something like Chicken Bowls but honestly I didn’t like it at all. Before leaving Chinatown, I bought some cloths from the market.
Before leaving this amazing country, I wanted to have a 360-degree view of the whole island. So I boarded a Singapore Flyer Capsule which can take me to the height of 165 meters (541 feet). It was World’s tallest Ferris Wheel, until High Roller (2.6 m taller) is opened in Las Vegas. But still it is competing with Marina Bay Sands Skypark & other Skyscrapers in Downtown.
There are 28 air-conditioned capsules from which we can have stunning views of Singapore skyline. It takes around 32 minutes to complete one rotation. I was alone in my capsule so I utilized my space to click some panoramic shots of the Skyline. On that clear day I was able to see some Indonesian islands across the Singapore strait.
Singapore Flyer offered best possible views of Singapore Skyline, Indonesian islands, Malaysian peninsula and Marina Barrage. One thing I observed was the greenery sprawled across the concrete jungle. And may be that is why Singapore is called as garden city.
Singapore Flyer is now Asia’s Largest giant observation wheel & second in the world.
Garden of Dreams
Again I came to the Gardens by the bay but this time it was not for Super Trees. I wanted to explore cooled conservatories including Flower Dome and Cloud Forest. Among them Flower Dome is world’s largest column less glasshouse, so I decided to go there first.
These conservatories are designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects, using sustainable building technologies. The Cloud Forest is a 35-metre tall mountain covered in lush vegetation having world’s tallest indoor Waterfall. It showcases plant life from tropical highlands up to 2000 metres above sea level.
A stroll along an elevated walkway gives an aerial view of the canopy and mountainside below. The mountain is densely planted with fascinating orchids, delicate ferns, colourful bromeliads and carnivorous pitcher plants. All of these epiphytic and live on top of other plants in nature.
It took so much time to fully explore the cloud fores that I had to skip the Flower Dome and catch the next metro to the Changi Airport. Food in Chinatown left me hungry, so I had my last meal in McCafe before leaving the gardens.
2577 Glass Panels of 690 different shapes and sizes used to cover the whole 12000 square meters surface area of Cloud Forest.
Back to India
Changi Airport is the largest and busiest Airport is Southeast Asia and also the single entry point for the air travelers. The terminal is connected to Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) with underground station.
Before coming out of station, I returned my metrocard to get back the deposit amount. Then I got a boarding pass from Tiger Air counter, went through the security check again. The terminal has shopping mall, restaurants & cafe and many other shops selling duty-free items.
I had few Singaporean dollars left in my wallet, so I did some shopping there.
Soon, my flight was announced and within four hours the aircraft had crossed a massive ocean underneath and touched down the Indian soil at Anna International Airport. Another early morning flight took me back to the Mumbai.
While the plane was hovering over the Mumbai, my mind was comparing Mumbai’s Skyline to that of Singapore. Although there is huge difference in both cities, Mumbai is where I belong and feel homely. We can learn many things from advanced countries like Singapore. But during this process, we should preserve out cultural values, something which distinguished India from rest of the world.
Travelling alone will give you ample time to experiment with photography & introduce you to the amazing world of strangers.