A Celebratory Send-Off from Singapore

Apparently I had told Joe and Freya that we were having an early start. I was staggered when Freya knocked on our door, fully dressed and ready to go at 6.30 am. Chinatown was our first stop and we were there by  8.30 am. The MRT had been crowded with commuters, as it had been at 10.30 pm the night before. Standing room only.

 A practical point worth mentioning is that you cannot get a $10 day pass easily. I had read on TripAdvisor that it is a good idea to get one of these, but the reality is tricky. They are only available at certain stations (though quite a few) which means you have to use the MRT to reach the station in the first place, then actually pay $20. You get the $10 back from a place at the airport when leaving, but who knows if that would be convenient? So we faced having to queue at ticket machines and go through a rigmarole to obtain a ticket each. The machines also didn't take credit cards, only Singapore dollars in the form of $2 and $5 notes or coins. This was to become an irritation as we had to do it about seven times. You could top up the tickets and got a small discount after six uses.
At least the MRT was cheap, but it did add up. About $1.50 each per journey. 

Chinatown has temples worth taking a look at and we returned to show Freya one of the oldest ones - Thian Hock Keng. Although the Hokkien temple itself had not changed of course, a route through Telok Ayer Green to reach it was pleasant. Always a good plan to have greenery in a city as it is calming.

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Chinatown Heritage Centre appealed to Henry but before we went in, hunger drove us to a cafe (takeaway or eat in) next to it where some confusion arose over pricing as the woman running it spoke English rather badly. Somehow we ended up inside (lovely air conditioning) eating pasties and drinking iced tea and coffee, but were charged an extra $5 once inside. 
Then I noticed through a window, the entrance charge for adults to the heritage centre - $49 each. We weren't having that, so made for our next destination, the island of Sentosa. 

This time the plan went well. Instead of paying $4 per person on the Sentosa Express, we walked across to the island on the Sentosa Boardwalk, a lovely wide walkway with flower borders. We later found out that you don't get charged on the train returning to the city, so we did it the right way round.
Sentosa has changed massively and oh boy was this not our thing. Universal Studios Singapore, a theme park where you get the chance to interact with movies like Jurassic Park, Adventure Cove Waterpark, animal encounters, Madame Tussaud's Singapore, an indoor skydiving centre, a luge, a sky tower, in all over 30 attractions.  A walk though all this mayhem gave us the chance to see queues of people, people with selfie sticks thrust about, excited visitors posing for photos in front of the giant Merlion statue, all surrounded by a choice of fast food outlets.

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Passing through as quickly as humanly possible, we found one of the monorail stations, Imbiah, and got on a train (free) to Palawan Beach. Again, another change: the monorail no longer encircled the island which last time had given us great views of different parts we couldn't walk to and it also went right over the beach. I think buses had replaced it. One change for the better was nice: clean toilets and changing rooms, outdoor showers too.
Palawan Beach was just as alluring as last time. A suspension bridge leads across to the furthest point on the Asian continent, after which there are small beaches. We found a private one and enjoyed it for more than an hour, delighting in swimming in the lukewarm waters, despite warning signs for jellyfish and stone fish! Other more predictable danger lay in sunburn which was hard work to avoid.

We seemed to have oodles of time and didn't know what to do next as the last thing on the itinerary was Gardens by the Bay, illuminated at night so we were going later. The promised thunderstorm had not materialized so leaving Sentosa by the monorail we wandered about looking for somewhere to eat and found a brilliant place called Food Republic where street traders had effectively come indoors and were all around the outside of a huge seating area. There was a wide range of food choice - we had Singapore dishes, noodle-based with sauce that resembled soup there was so much of it. On the side was pureed garlic, a hot chutney and vinegar. More iced tea to follow.
Joe became agitated by the sight of a huge, black cloud and so we went straight for the Gardens by the Bay. It was not even 3 pm.

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On emerging from the MRT station, we saw rain hammering down and people sheltering from it. We stood in an area as close to the gardens as we could get and watched a series of thunderstorms pass through, dashing hopes of walking outside. We would be soaked in minutes. A group of Indian construction workers stood next to us, chatting. An hour passed and we were getting edgy. Still torrential rain fell, with flashes of lightning and loud cracks of thunder. We began to get desperate. Joe suggested going back to the hotel but Henry and I are more determined than that! As a gap between thunderstorms arrived, we prepared to make a move. The construction workers, who were supposed to be laying concrete, suddenly went off and re-appeared wearing bin bags. They had a couple spare which we cadged and went off, somewhat equipped for the weather.

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I was wearing a thin shift dress and only Henry and Freya (who now wore the bin bags) had hats. It began to rain heavily after a bit. We scurried from one shelter to the next but Joe and I got soaked. My dress would dry out quickly - well that was the theory. Not in these temperatures. 

These are no ordinary gardens. They are exceptional, dramatic, totally over the top, totally Singapore. The main attraction is the 'supertrees', up to  50 metres tall, with an elevated walkway called the OCBC Skyway, between two of them and a restaurant in one.  They are purple and green constructions and have plants growing part-way up. And they light them up when it gets dark, which would be at 7 pm. Two hours away. We had already been here that long.

Joe was especially fed up with the idea of waiting. We tried a cafe but apart from it being over-priced at $5 for a coffee, it was so cold in there I would be shivering. I walked out and the others followed.
Down on the lower level there was a much cheaper alternative, takeaway coffee at half the price. After that we gave in and paid a large amount of money to go into the huge conservatories (The Flower Dome and The Cloud Forest) similar to The Eden Project in Cornwall. Described as containing tropical plants - that raised my hopes of a warm-up. No chance. It was cold in there and there was a simulated mountain environment so it would get colder as we climbed upwards. The first feature was the tallest indoor waterfall in the world, 35 metres of it. Spectacular but not something we wanted to get close to. A young bride and groom were posing for photos by it.

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Onward and upward, past flourishing plants, sculptures in among them; different country themes (we whizzed past New Zealand), then suddenly we found ourselves in a mini LEGOLAND. A display of carnivorous plants - the real ones and the LEGO ones side by side. This place was something else, a great aerial walkway snaking around the Cloud Mountain. It was the most fascinating experience of its kind we had had.
The other conservatory was less interesting - unless cacti and olive trees are your bag. It worried Henry how they had transported ancient olive trees to their new position. When we got to the temporary tulip display we had to run the gauntlet through a crowd of photo-mad people. Like something out of a nightmare, every way you looked you could see excited, happy folks smiling for the camera or behind a phone. I thought I took a lot of photos but not compared to this and it was the vanity that got us, who wants hundreds of selfies on file, you would surely not get time to look at them all!

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Blue sky was now visible outside and the Skyway was open, which there had been a possibility of not happening, they don't open it if lightning strikes are a risk. We gladly shelled out $8 each for this and were told the queuing time was 45 minutes. In fact it was half that time. We all ascended in a lift, then marvellous luck was on our side -  a magical event occurred. The sound and light show started! There were only two that evening and people were only allowed 15 minutes on the Skyway. Our allotted time coincided with a fabulous display of flashing lights on the supertrees accompanied by stirring classical music, including Can Can music and Rossini's William Tell Overture. Behind us was a view of Singapore lit up including a modern feat of engineering - the Marina Bay Sands hotel complex, three skyscrapers topped by a 340-metre 'SkyPark' with palm trees growing on it and a swimming pool. You could hardly believe what you were seeing and I wouldn't sleep a wink if I stayed there.

As we walked back through the gardens we were excitedly discussing what we had just experienced  and knew there was no doubt that this was a grand finale to our holiday, a celebratory send off from Singapore, the garden city...
 

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