Singapore

The land of luxury, city of the future, and home to the Merlion (my new favorite animal hybrid) – Singapore. We spent more money here in 3 days (being frugal) than two full weeks in Thailand, but it was totally worth it.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Fortunately, we were able to save quite a bit by staying with our friend, Tamy, in her posh high-rise apartment. Without free lodging, our trip expenses would have doubled. She also served as our personal expert and ‘Trip Advisor’ to everything Singapore.

Special thanks to Tamy for letting us crash at her pad, taking us out, and showing us a fabulous time. We miss you already!!!

GETTING AROUND

I loved the Singapore MRT (Mass Rapid Transit)! It was so easy to get anywhere in the city riding their clean (and air-conditioned trains). Rideshare apps, Uber and Grab, were super cheap and easy to use when we didn’t feel like walking to the MRT station in the humid, midday heat. Taxis are also an option if you don’t mind paying a little more. Apparently it is extremely expensive to buy and own a car in Singapore. This forces most people to take public transportation and leaves the roads traffic free.

FOOD

Hainanese chicken rice is the Singaporean specialty. We had seen the dish served throughout Thailand but never were tempted enough to order it. It seemed necessary to finally try the boiled chicken and broth rice in the place where it was invented and made  famous.

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The chicken rice at Boon Tong Kee tasted like it looked – bleh. Everyone around us had ordered the same dish and seemed to enjoy it immensely. We didn’t really get the appeal. The chicken was served cold and the rice wasn’t anything special. I’d be willing (but not enthusiastic) to try it again. On the other hand, the crispy beancurd and all of their in-house sauces were incredible.

Singapore is home to many high-end restaurants. Famous celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Mario Batali, and Wolfgang Puck all have high class eateries at the Marina Bay Sands. Since we were traveling on a budget, we opted for cheap eats instead.

The mall food-courts became our goto for most every meal and they did not disappoint. There was a wide selection of cuisines from around the world at reasonable prices.

My most notable meal was the chili crab and Satay by the Bay. Spicy, messy goodness.

DRINKS

Getting drunk in Singapore was impossible. While there were bars everywhere around the city, the drinks were extremely expensive (especially when coming from Chiang Mai where you can get a beer for $1-2USD or a gin and tonic for $2-3USD). On our first night out we spent about $75USD on THREE drinks. Granted I had an insanely good Bloody Mary topped with tiny pickles and baked beans, it was definitely not worth the price.

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When we tried to be thrifty by purchasing a “pre-party” bottle of wine at the gas station, we were turned down because their liquor law prohibits shops from selling booze after 10:30pm.

On the upside,  the bars were swanky and we were in good company so a buzz was not necessary to have a delightful evening.

SITES

Singapore is unlike anyplace we’ve ever been. Stand almost anywhere, take a look around, and you will be transported to a place of futuristic beauty – clean streets featuring hip restaurants and bars, unique skyscrapers garnished here and there with abundant gardens, and water shows displaying light projections and floating bubbles.

Orchard Road, Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay, the Cloud Dome, Flower Dome, Merlion, and Art Science Museum – we covered quite a bit in 3 days. I’ll be writing another post on our adventures in the Lion City.

 

 

Chinatown Letdown

Hot, crowded, smelly (good and bad),  and stressful – a few words to describe Chinatown in Bangkok. We really wanted to love it but ended up a bit disappointed.

Maybe it is because we went in the middle of the afternoon when the sun was blazing down fiercer than usual. Sweat dripped down our backs (and cracks) as we maneuvered through the cramped, narrow alleyways, dodging motorbikes and men with dollies full of produce.

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It was here that we tried our first satay – the tasting experience that ruined the day. What we first assumed to be chicken, remains unknown, but what Sean now refers to as dog shit on a stick. My stick of [meat?] was tough and chewy. I took two bites before I had to toss it. Sean’s was even worse. After one bite, he immediately snatched the coke bottle from my hands and downed the few sips that were left. His face turned ghostly with disgust and rage. Whatever he had consumed put him in a bad mood for the next hour or so.

Needing a break from the crowds and a familiar taste in our mouths, we popped into Starbucks and refreshed our pallets. There we did some research on must-try eateries in Chinatown and decided on some crab noodle soup from Odean.

The soup was tasty but not worth the 300Baht per bowl. Definitely not worthy of all the praised it had received online, especially when compared to other soups we’ve had for a fraction of the price. The shrimp wontons were crispy and gratifying.

The highlight of the day turned out to be our discovery of Uber in Bangkok. It is about the same price as taking a metered taxi but you can get an estimate before your trip. Tuk tuks are rip off and only worth taking for a short trip at night when they have their lights flashing and music blasting.

Bangkok shopping

The malls here are INSANE!  A  shopaholic dream come true and a great foodie getaway, not to mention the lifesaving air conditioning.

We haven’t purchased a single item in any of the malls (besides food and drink) but we have already spent countless hours exploring them.

Terminal 21

A 9 story shopping center with a different city theme on each floor – Rome, Paris, San Francisco, Tokyo – just to name a few. This mall is not as large or fancy as some of the others but it does have a good mix of higher-end stores and boutique shops.


The top story is dedicated to nothing but food. It was here that we had our first papaya salad (som tam).

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BTS: Asok station

MBK

This shopping center is 8 stories high and houses over 2,000 shops, a 4 story department store (Toyko), and a foodcourt with ridiculously cheap and good eats. It offers many Thai gifts, clothing, electronics, and jewelery shops. A good place to go for bargain shopping and buying souvenirs.

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Also home to the MBK Food Island foodcourt and the insane beef noodle soup mentioned in a previous post (Getting our footing).

BTS: National Stadium station or a short walk from Siam station

Siam Paragon/Siam Discovery/Siam Center

You can spend an entire day at these three adjacent shopping centers and still not even scratch the surface.

Siam Paragon is the 3rd largest mall in Thailand complete with a wide range of specialty stores and restaurants, a multiplex movie theater (15 screens), the Sea Life Ocean World (largest aquarium in South East Asia), a bowling alley, karaoke center, and an opera concert hall.  It is the place to go for high class shops and gourmet food. The foodcourt was, by far, the busiest section of the mall with the longest line belonging to BAKE – known for their cheese tarts.

 

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Siam Discovery looks more like a modern art installation than shopping center. It has an open floor plan with a clean, sleek feel unlike anything we’ve seen before. Cash registers are hidden to create more of a hang-out vibe. This is a great place to window shop and people watch.

Siam Center is the closest thing to your everyday US shopping center and the least impressive of the three malls. Here you can find Victoria Secret, Sephora, Bath&Bodyworks, etc.

BTS: Siam station

EmDistrict – EmQuartier/Emporium/Helix Quarter

This was my favorite of all the shopping centers – specifically the Helix Quarter. We spent hours drinking and touring the rooftop garden.

We also stumbled upon a BAKE stand with no line (!!!) so we tried on of their must have cheese tarts.

BTS: Phrom Phong station

Getting our footing

Our first full day was spent figuring out how to navigate through the city and visiting our first temple, Wat Pho – the oldest and largest wat in Bangkok.
We started with a less than mediocre breakfast at the hotel restaurant. For 200 Baht a meal, Sean ordered the standard eggs, sausage, toast, and hash browns while I opted for the American club sandwich.
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American Breakfast at our hotel in Bangkok

 Needless to say, we won’t be going back the rest of our time here.
After breakfast we walked to the BTS station and took the SkyTrain to Saphan Taksin for 25 Baht per person. From there, we hopped on the tourist boat (40 Baht per person) up the river to Tha Tien. There is also an express boat that can be taken for less than half the price (14 Baht per person) but we figured we would go the touristy route for our first trip.
We made it to the temple by noon and explored for a couple of hours. Admission was 100 Baht per person and included a small bottle of cold water. There were a considerable amount of people but the temple complex was big enough that we could to get away from the crowd from time to time.

Pictures around the temple grounds.

The most hectic area was, by far, was the temple with the Reclining Buddha. Upon entering any of the temple rooms you must take off your shoes and make sure that your shoulders and knees are covered.
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Reclining Buddha

 The temple was beautiful and did not disappoint.
We then decided to explore more of the city by foot. Attempting to make our way to Wat Saket, we got lost and ended up roaming the streets, heading in almost every direction with no clue of where we were. It took about 2 hours of walking and a stop in a coffee shop before we gave up and hailed a Tuk Tuk to the MBK shopping center.
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Our first tuk tuk ride in Thailand

MBK is more like a flea market than a mall, with tons of vendors filling 8 floors with everything from jewelry, shoes, sunglasses, clothes, and more. We haven’t had a chance to compare the prices to other markets but it seemed pretty reasonable for what you could buy.
We weren’t too impressed with the shopping center until we got to Food Island, a food court on the 6th floor consisting of a multitude of amazing looking and smelling delights. For 80 Baht we devoured a delicious bowl of beef noodle soup. Easily the best thing we’ve eaten since leaving the states.
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MBK Food Island

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MBK Beef Noodle Soup

With happy bellies, we jumped on the SkyTrain to Sala Daeng to hit up the Patpong night market – a small alley with street vendors and night clubs. There you can buy knockoff Berkinstalks, Nikes, watches, sunglasses, and more. Or, if you are feeling extra adventurous, you can head into one of the clubs for a “ping pong show”. I won’t go into detail but I know that it involves female genitalia and ping pong balls. We had heard stories of these shows and were a little too frightened and not drunk enough to check one out.
We capped the night off with much needed Thai foot massages (250 Baht for 1 hour and well worth it). Feeling both refreshed and completely exhausted, we walked back to our hotel and crashed for the night. Learning a new city can take some time but I think our first day was a success.