Round the World – SE Asia Days 13 to 15

Round the World – SE Asia Days 13 to 15

The next flight, to Singapore, would only take just over an hour. That left some time in the morning for a leisurely breakfast, and a little more sightseeing; I elected to take the boat tour that ran back and forth on the diminutive Malacca river. I sat next to a Malaysian family who were surprised to see a westerner, and asked me how I had heard about the tour. Given that it was on Google Maps and close to my hotel, it hadn’t been hard to find, but perhaps most western visitors don’t take it!

The boat tour started just upriver from my hotel, and ran down to the center of the town and back. It was relaxing to just sit back and watch the sights pass me by, narrated in English and Malay, and learn something of the history of Malacca. In keeping with much of the rest of the city, many of the buildings backing on to the river were covered with well-executed and brightly coloured murals. At one point I spotted a large Iguana, easily a meter long, swimming along the banks of the river; once I had seen one, it became easy to spot more and more of them. Although I’d seen one or two in the water in Langkawi, swimming in the mangroves, I hadn’t really realised how aquatic they can be.

The tour concluded a little before noon and I called a “Grab” to take me back to the airport. The driver was talkative, and peppered me with questions once he found out about my trip; apparently his son was a huge fan of airplanes! I gave him a card showing the website, and encouraged them to keep in touch. It is always gratifying to see how many people are interested in the trip; being in the middle of it, it’s easy to forget that to most people it probably seems a little eccentric!

Getting through the airport was as easy as ever. The added step of immigration, as this would be an international flight, was a breeze; the three ladies handling security and passport control teased the youngest one about how this pilot was alone, and she should go with him! The airport was fairly busy, and ATC had a just-landed airliner turn off the runway into a turn-around and hold there while I took off, before allowing him back onto the runway to backtrack to the terminal.

Cruising along the coast to the city state of Singapore

I was vectored around to the south, and out over the coast, to join the airway running along parallel to the beach. As I drew nearer to Singapore, the controller took me away from my flight-planned route and vectored me inland, sending me on a wide loop around to line up for the south-westerly runway at Singapore’s Seletar airport. The closer I got to the straights separating Singapore from the mainland, the more built-up and industrialized the land below me became.

With hazy conditions, it wasn’t until I was over the water that I was able to spot the runway at Seletar, which is on the north shore. I was cleared for a straight-in landing, and directed to taxi to one of many open spots for light aircraft such as mine.

I parked up alongside a locally registered PA28, and tied the aircraft down; for once, there were actually tie-down rings to use! I was met by the agent from the Wings of Asia handling company, and threw my bag in the back of their very plush van for the short ride to the Business Aviation Center. I arrived in the middle of some kind of disciplinary session; one immigration officer was being soundly berated for not following some procedure. I waited quietly for them to finish, not wanting to draw unwanted attention! Happily I was waved through without fuss, and was soon in a “Grab” with my overnight bag, and a bulging bag of laundry (a permanent challenge on these trips) on my way to the hotel.

My regular flying companion Juvy was to be joining me in Singapore, and had taken charge of most ground based activity for the next few stops. This was very welcome, leaving me to concentrate on the flying side of things. She had set us up at the Carlton City Hotel near China Town, within easy walking distance of many Singapore attractions and, importantly, plenty of good food! I set myself down in the hotel for a quiet few hours to update the website, and check on the status of the plans for the next few legs, before Juvy’s flight landed at 5pm.

Juvy arrived at the appointed hour, and after settling in her room we met up to plan dinner. Nearby was one of Singapore’s “Hawker Centers”, the Maxwell. These are a very Singapore solution to what was seen as the problem of untidy, sometimes unsanitary open air food markets, which are now consolidated into purpose-built centers with a myriad of stalls selling all kinds of food and drink. Some of the stalls were clearly overwhelmingly popular, with lines snaking off around the center; the majority were far easier to get served at! Much to Juvy’s dismay, I ordered from the stall set up in the style of a British pub rather than interesting and authentic local cuisine. What can I say – sometimes after flying you just want something easy and familiar!

After eating we took a stroll around Chinatown. It didn’t disappoint with its throngs of people, bright lights, and stalls selling everything you can imagine. There were celebrations ongoing to mark the lunar festival with dancers and singers galore. We stopped to take a look around inside the Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple which was founded in 1827 by Naraina Pillai. Pillai was one of the key individuals in the birth of Singapore, arriving in 1819 with Stamford Raffles, and spending much of the rest of his life contributing to the development of the young city. Today, as well as being a center for worship, the temple plays a central role in various social, cultural and educational activities for the community. When we visited, a large celebration was both being prepared for, and apparently already started, limiting the visiting opportunities.

Breakfast the next morning was something of an abortive effort; Juvy led us to another nearby Hawker Center but sadly almost all of the stalls were closed and her search for something spam-based was in vain. The streets of this part of the city were almost deserted at this time of the morning on a weekend. We cut our losses and jumped in a car to head to the island of Sentosa, off the southern shore of Singapore. Once a British military base, and then Japanese prisoner of war camp, it is now a holiday resort island welcoming more than 20 million visitors a year, and hosting attractions such as Universal Studios, a water park, aquarium, and many others.

We had another go at breakfast, with Juvy finding some kind of spam sandwich, and me contenting myself with Dunkin’ Donuts. If you’re wanting any kind of a food blog, you’re definitely in the wrong place. We wandered through the multi-level mall by the casino until finding the exit that led us up to the island proper; when the taxi dropped us, it had done so underground below the mall and resorts. We soon came across the Sentosa Merlion. Not a moment too soon, it turns out, because in late September it was announced that the Merlion will be demolished! This mythical creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish is the mascot of Singapore, and the 37m Sentosa version dwarfs the 9m original on the main island.

Sentosa island has a network of cable cars spanning part of it, and also connecting it to the mainland. Despite loving small aircraft, Juvy is terrified of heights in all other situations, so naturally we bought a day ticket and glided serenely at high level to the western end of the island while Juvy clung to her seat and gibbered quietly. The views out at the mainland, and the other way towards the oil facilities such as Bukom, were spectacular.

The cable car disgorged us in front of the Shangri-La hotel. At this end of the island sits the restored British coastal gun battery of Fort Siloso, now a military museum focused on Singapore in the Second World War. Contrary to the myth, these guns were indeed turned 180 degrees inland and fired on the rapidly approaching Japanese troops, but to insufficient effect. When hope was lost, the guns were tipped into the sea; the fort ended up being used as a prisoner of war camp during the Japanese occupation.

From the fort, we walked back down the hill to the Shangri-La hotel, and enjoyed some Pina Coladas. I had been trying out Pina Coladas at each opportunity so far through Asia and much to my chagrin, it seems that the region has great difficulty in producing a good one. One can’t complain too highly about this failing, given all the other positives of the area however! Outside the hotel, on the beachfront, was a sand modelling exhibition themed around, and clearly promoting, the upcoming Star Wars movie.

A short cable car ride took us back to the center of the island, where we wandered around, visiting the “Malaysian Food Street” and checking out the large sailing ship docked there. Then it was back up the hill, and on to the main section of the cable car to take us over to the main island, enjoying spectacular views over the city as we did so. The car route actually passes through one of the skyscrapers on the way to its terminus! It terminates on top of Mount Faber, where we enjoyed Singapore Slings in the restaurant (much better than the Pina Colada), before taking a “Grab” down towards the Marina.

The car dropped us off outside the famous Marina Bay Sands hotel, and we disappeared straight into the cavernous and luxurious shopping mall underneath it. Every imaginable high-end brand was represented, as would prove to be the case with many of the other malls we visited!

We took the opportunity for a lunch of pasta before crossing the bridge towards the Gardens by the Bay; this nature park covers 101 hectares of reclaimed land, and is a real green oasis in a city that does green space very well. We had both visited before, but this time would stay for sunset, and the light and music show that is put on on and around the Super Trees.

The next morning was a lazy one. I took the opportunity to take care of the large backlog of laundry, while Juvy took care of some work. We met late morning and took a “Grab” to a sports shop near the city center. Juvy bought a buoyancy aid, to wear when swimming in Indonesia, so she could float around to her heart’s content! This done, we re-positioned to the top of the famous Orchard Road shopping street and wandered down it, dropping in to some of the malls and enjoying a meal of sushi as we went.

At the bottom of Orchard Road we continued past a couple of parks, and arrived at the National Museum of Singapore which had recently undergone a major reservation. This preserved the beautiful colonial architecture, but added huge amounts of extra exhibition space. We spent several hours exploring the exhibits, including a giant audiovisual technology demo, and then multiple exhibits on the history of Singapore. This museum is well worth a visit for anyone going to Singapore.

After exploring the museum, I headed out the back door to check out Fort Canning Park. The site of many fortifications through Singapore history and earlier, this was where the British surrendered Singapore to the Japanese. I had hoped to go up and view the reservoir that sits atop the hill but sadly it was fenced off with barbed wire, and signs suggesting that any attempts to get close would be met with being shot. I revised my plans, and headed back to the hotel.

That evening I met with a friend of my colleague Caroline. Caroline was sadly at work in Iraq, but had set me up to see her friend CP. We met at the hotel and headed to the downtown core, for a delicious dinner in the very traditional Violet Oon satay bar. After dinner we explored Clarke Key a little, taking in the bright lights and heaving bars, until going our separate ways. It would be an early start the next day to fly on.

Click here to read the next part of the story.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *