Head’s up, this post is LONG. I didn’t mean for it to be, but I started writing and it somehow got away from me. I will try to make future posts a little less lengthy.
After leaving my friends in Ho Chi Minh City it was time for me to fly to Singapore. The city-state had been on my radar for a while, but a few months earlier I had learned that a famous drag queen would be making a stop in the city, and since the show fell over the holiday I figured why not!
I was a bit nervous as I boarded my flight because, while I would consider myself fairly well-traveled and am generally comfortable with the ups and downs of exploring new places, this was the first time I would be truly on my own. In the past I have always had a travel buddy, a friend I was visiting, or someone to meet me on the other side. Even coming to Vietnam I knew that I would be received by people from the English Center once I made my way to Can Tho. But this time it was just me. I didn’t know anyone in Singapore, and didn’t even really have a plan beyond going to the drag show, and I had four days to fill. This was both scary and exhilarating.
Getting off the plane it was obvious I wasn’t in Vietnam anymore. Singapore is one of the wealthiest countries in Asia, and their airport is one of the nicest in the world. The national languages are Chinese and English, so everything was easy to navigate, and I quickly made my way to the airport MRT station. After a friendly stranger asked where I was going and pointed me in the right direction, I was on my way. Riding the train I got a glimpse of the city, which is extremely modern, but has tons of green space. The views weren’t particularly exciting, but that didn’t really matter. Once I made it to my stop I found my hostel with no problem and began plotting what to do next.
For the first day I set out for lunch a bit late, and was disappointed that the local Hawker Market was closed for the Lunar new year. After settling for a small Chinese restaurant I took a quick nap and decided to walk around and see what was close by. While I was only a 10 minute walk from an MRT station, the area surrounding my hostel wasn’t particularly interesting. After a bit of walking I found myself in the Arab Quarter, which had beautiful mosques and interesting shops. This part of town is supposedly known for its boutiques and coffee shops, but I figured I would come back later to explore a bit more in depth.
Next I found myself in the Bugis area, which is my kind of place – shopping heaven! It had been so long since I saw a mall, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen malls quite as big as these. Once again, a lot of places were closed for the new year, so I resolved to come back in a few days when everything would be open again.
After walking around I hopped on an MRT to Chinatown to see the fireworks for the first day of the New Year. It was so crazy crowded! I wandered through the night market, enjoyed the displays and bought a few trinkets and finally found a place to eat. A mix up with the server left me with more food than I needed, but it was very tasty and I was feeling happy, if tired. I decided to head home before the fireworks because the crowds were a bit much for me, and on the way a friendly stranger told me about a less-crowded MRT station nearby, then walked with me to make sure I didn’t get lost. I made it back to the hostel without a problem and learned how useful the red bulb setting on my headlamp is – if anyone out there is planning on traveling to hostels, I highly recommend getting one. The red light is less intense and wont wake your new roommates. So great!
The next day I ate my free hostel breakfast and went down to the marina to see the Gardens by the Bay. You may have heard of the Singaporean Supertrees, and this is where they are. The gardens are free, unless you want to visit the two bio-domes, which are a bit on the pricey side. I decided to splurge and visit the “Cloud Forest” which ended up being pretty cool. The whole structure reminded me a bit of a Ghibli monster (Castle in the Sky, anyone?) and the cool temperatures were a nice break. I also met a trio of women from Chicago who were doing almost the same trip as me, but in reverse. They offered suggestions for my time in Hoi An (which I’ll tell you about next time) and were very friendly.
After lunch at a tourist trap I visited the Asian Civilizations Museum, which is pretty interesting and also free. I sort of wished I had gone there first, since I was a bit tired, but I learned a lot about the history of Singapore and the various ethnic groups that call it home. And their gift shop was nice too.
I walked back through Bugis and the Arab Quarter again, and this time I walked through the famous “Haji Lane” which is known for street art and boutiques. After snapping some photos and drinking some delicious (but expensive) coffee, it was back to the Gardens to see the light show. The show is free and happens twice a night, and there are plenty of great places to sit and watch. It was really cool to see the “supertrees” light up, and the music was fun. At one point they used an instrumental version of a popular Korean Pop song, which was funny.
Walking back to the MRT proved to be a bit more complicated than I’d anticipated, and I found myself a bit lost. A man walking the same path was in the same predicament and we decided to try to find an exit together. Once again I was surprised at how friendly people could be, and I ended up talking to this man the entire long walk and train ride back towards the hostel. We said our goodbyes and I ventured out in search of a late-night Thai dinner, which was amazing. Sitting at the restaurant enjoying my pad thai, I made a decision to come back to Singapore again sometime, as I was already positive my time would be cut too short, and I was loving it.
Day three was quite eventful, as I had decided to make the long journey to the zoo to see MANATEES. Yes, the Singapore zoo has manatees, and as soon as I learned this I made up my mind to go see them. Now, if anyone is going to Singapore and wants to go to the zoo (it’s a nice zoo) you should know that it’s pretty far outside of the city. To get there I walked 10 minutes to an MRT station, rode for maybe 15-20 minutes, then caught a 20 minute bus ride to the Zoo itself. Luckily all public transportation in Singapore is super easy and well labeled, and they all take the same EZ card (which I unfortunately lost as I got off the bus. Whoops!) Also, you should buy your tickets ahead of time. I had to wait almost an hour to get my tickets, and they were almost $30 for just the one park and boat ride. I was a bit irritable when I actually got inside, and then had to walk the whole distance of the zoo before I got to the manatees, but it was all worth it. I spent over an hour in the manatee enclosure, fighting kids for the best viewpoint. In case you were wondering, yes, I still love manatees. I walked away feeling very happy, and bought myself a little keychain to remember the experience (sidenote – the gift shop devotes way too much of its space to panda memorabilia, which is a big mistake in my opinion. Those pandas looked so sad…)
Anyway, I bought myself a new EZ Link card and slowly made my way back to the hostel to change and decide what to do next. Eventually I went for a walk and found a burger place for dinner and walked around some shops before calling it a day.
The next day was my last full day in Singapore, and my designated shopping day. I slept in until 9 but still made it out a bit too early for most of the shops in the Arab Quarter. To kill time I decided to visit a nearby cat cafe, and spent an hour petting cats and sipping on overpriced apple juice. The cafe was much nicer than those I had visited in Hanoi and Phnom Penh, but the owner was determined to spend the whole time talking with me, and all I wanted to do was write in my journal and pet some cats. This is pretty much the downside of how friendly people were overall to me as a single female traveler. I was never lonely, but I sometimes wished I could sit in the hostel lounge without people trying to strike up a conversation about where we had been and where we were going. But in any case, the cats were cute, and when I left I was finally able to check out the shops.
I won’t bore you with the details, but the shops were mostly very cute and I bought entirely too much. I even found a Kinokuniya bookstore and bought new books since my Kindle was sadly lost en route to Guam (but has since been replaced – thanks Grandma and Mom!)
By the end of my shopping spree I was feeling a bit down, I guess all of the solo time had finally gotten to me. But there was no time to dwell on sad things – I had to pack up my stuff and go to the drag show! I put on a new dress and got a bit lost in an underground MRT station/mall before finding the venue with a huge crowd lined up to get in. I found my place in line between two groups of very flamboyantly gay expats, and I spent about 20 minutes listening to their conversations. It was amusing, but also kind of lonely. I’d never been to a show by myself before, and I found myself missing my friends.
Once inside the club was pretty small, and people were standing around tables in groups, and I wasn’t quite sure where to go. I stood on the side of the stage awkwardly waiting for the show to start when a nearby woman asked me if I was alone. I said I was, and she said that was unacceptable, and promptly invited me to join her table right in front of the stage. The woman I talked to was there with her cousin, and two other solo show-goers were there as well. All of them were from Singapore, and I had a great time talking with them before the show.
The show itself was a blast. Adore Delano is fantastic live, very funny and personable, and she really can sing! I was so close I could have reached out and touched her, and she frequently walked by my table. I was so glad to be there.
After the show I went out for coffee with the girls at my table, and it was really nice sitting and talking with new friends. They were all big drag race fans, and we talked about the local drag scene, life in Singapore and their time spent abroad. I think this was my favorite night of the whole trip, just talking in that coffee shop.
I went back to my hostel feeling great, and spent some time reflecting on the wonderful experiences I’d had over the past few days. I decided that Singapore was a fascinating place I’d love to see more of, and that solo traveling was more fun than I had anticipated. As far as I could tell, the only real downside was that meals couldn’t be shared, and that occasionally it was a bit lonely. But what they say is true, if you leave yourself open to new people and new experiences, you’ll find them.
I left Singapore the next morning and made my way back to Saigon, and the next leg of my trip: Central Vietnam.