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23 December 2010

Champagne Brunch and High Tea

Singapore is known for being a place to visit if you are seriously into food and I've had the opportunity to sample a couple of local food luxuries recently.

Before I talk about those I must quickly mention the Lantern bar at the Fullerton Bay hotel, it's lovely and worth a visit.  It's another rooftop bar by the hotel pool and offers great views across Singapore.  I believe it is only open in the evening as the pool is for residents only during the day but in the evening it is worth a visit.  Going there was one of many moments when I've stepped back and had to pinch myself to remind me how lucky I am to be living here.

Anyway back to the food ..... firstly we took in a champagne brunch.  Champagne brunches are fairly common here, lots of the hotels offer them (everyone from Raffles hotel down) and it is usually as much as you can eat for a set price often with free flow champagne.  I've written about one we went to before at a restaurant called Mimolette which we had originally hoped to go to again but it is not currently offering brunches so this time we thought we'd try a hotel.

We went to the Mandarin Oriental hotel and to the restaurant Dolce Vita which offered an Italian themed brunch with yes, you've guessed it, free flow champagne!  Accompanying us on the brunch was another fellow Singaporean blogger and I'd recommend you take a look at his blog, http://singaporechap.blogspot.com/

The food was excellent and the brunch was very well managed in that you had the option of trying a taster of all the dishes for each course and then after that if you wanted to you could have more of anything that you really enjoyed.  This certainly stopped me overindulging on the starters so by the time the desserts came I couldn't eat any of them.  As you can probably imagine there were lots of hams, antipasto, pasta, meat and seafood dishes.  As those who follow this blog will know I'm not a massive seafood but I tried some new dishes again today, caviar, sea bass, barramundi and snapper.  All of which I have to say were really nice, I'm starting to wonder if I'm missing out but at the moment I'm still nervous of attempting a whole dish on my own - just in case!

I'm definitely a dessert fan and everything was beautifully presented as you can see from this picture, which being an Italian themed brunch included tiramisu. It was a lovely afternoon and I'd definitely happily go again or perhaps try a brunch at another hotel, for the purposes of comparison of course.



On the following Monday I went Christmas shopping on Orchard Road and in the afternoon went to high tea with some friends at the Shangri La hotel.  We assumed that high tea would consist of sandwiches, cakes and tea but it was much more of a feast than that!


High tea actually started with main courses which included cold meats, various Asian style dishes, rice, salads and even roast beef with mini vegetables.  There were also some sandwiches there too if none of that appealed to you.  You could have as much of this as you wanted but there was also a whole display dedicated to dessert so you need to make sure you leave room for that.  This included a chocolate fountain with strawberries and marshmallows for dipping, lots of cakes and pastries, cheesecake and fresh fruit amongst other things.  On my second dessert trip (yes I managed to squeeze more in) I'm absolutely certain there were desserts that weren't there the first time.  The picture above shows my first dessert selection.  All of this was washed down with your choice of tea.  The hotel had a vast selection and everyone got their own pot of whatever tea they selected.

Another thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, I think I could get use to this sort of lifestyle!

21 December 2010

Peranakan Museum

I haven't been anywhere new by myself for a while but recently I decided to make a visit to the Peranakan museum.


Before I visited I had been of the impression that the term Peranakan only referred to the Peranakan Chinese.  However I now know there are Peranakan groups across South East Asia and that the term can apply to other communities such as the Jawi Peranakan (Indian Muslim) and the Chitty Melaka (Indian).  Peranakan is the term used to refer to people of mixed ethnic origins.  South East Asia being an important crossroads for trade meant that traders came from other countries some of these married local women and the Peranakan culture was born.

The museum explores this culture and their traditions and has on display traditionally crafted clothing, antique furniture and porcelain amongst other things which all feature the Peranakan designs.  I was particularly interested in going as where I live in Singapore is an area which has been heavily influenced by the Peranakan community previously and this can still be seen in the buildings around there.

One of the most interesting parts for me was the gallery about the Peranakan wedding traditions.  The marriage ceremony lasted for twelve days and involved both families exchanging gifts with special significance for the marriage and performing a number of rituals during the process.  As well as this the museum also looked at the importance of the women or Nonya in the families, their religious beliefs, their involvement in public life and of course their food.

Peranakan culture has been enjoying a renaissance here in Singapore and is recognised as an important part of Singapore's heritage.  As I walked around I could instantly think of links to this culture that I'd witnessed firsthand.  Firstly in the uniforms of the air stewardesses on Singapore Airlines which are based on the traditional sarong kebaya worn by the Nonya's.  Secondly as I read about their traditional dishes that I had eaten food of this style or at least based upon this since moving here and that I was aware of restaurants in Singapore that serve Peranakan food or dishes based upon this.


Peranakan style decorated shophouses not far from our condo

It was a really interesting morning and somewhere I'd definitely recommend for a visit if you are interested in finding out a bit more about the local culture.

17 December 2010

Christmas Tree, Christmas Tree, Wherefore art thou Christmas Tree?

Before Christmas came I did wonder how much it would be celebrated here.  Clearly the weather is very different to what I'm used to at Christmas and as only a small percentage of the population are Christian I wasn't sure what to expect.  Thinking about it further I reasoned that Christmas day is a holiday here, Singapore celebrates other days for other religions with appropriate decorations etc. and there are a lot of expats here who whether or not religious would be used to celebrating Christmas in their own way.  As November progressed I was rewarded with copious amounts of Christmas trees and decorations in streets, shopping malls and public places, festive music and a reassurance that Christmas wouldn't be forgotten here!

When we returned back from the UK at the weekend I decided it was time to get the tree and decorations up but first I needed to buy the tree.  We had a real tree last year and yes I was finding needles for months afterwards, even when our furniture arrived here and was unpacked!  As a result we didn't have a fake tree (other than a 3ft one) so I needed to go and buy one.  At this point I tried to recall where I'd actually seen trees on sale and the only place I could think was one of Singapore's department stores.  I hadn't take any notice of the price previously but headed off there to buy.

When I arrived I was a bit taken aback by the price, a 4ft tree (so barely big enough for more than a couple of baubles) for nearly £40 and the prices rose considerably from there!  Needless to say I didn't buy as the same price in the UK would usually buy you a much bigger tree than a 4ft one!  It was then that I realised I didn't know where else to go to buy a tree, I knew where I could buy a real one but I didn't want a real one!  In the same shopping mall I found a massive hypermarket which sold absolutely everything ..... except Christmas trees!  A colleague of my fiance suggested a furniture store where he'd bought a tree several years before.  This shop was right by the serviced apartment we stayed in when my fiance moved over here and I was confident I knew the place and where it was without checking first.  When I arrived it looked to be closed with a sign indicating that the building was due for demolition.  So I felt a bit deflated after my trip especially there.  In fact my memory has obviously faded in the year since my fiance came here the store was still there but behind the back of the hotel (I could have sworn it was next to it and the sign for the shop was certainly in front of the building due to be demolished) but never mind ......

Although the particular hypermarket I'd been to had no trees I was advised that another one in the same chain on the west of the island did have trees, so I kept this as a back up but hoped against hope I'd find somewhere a bit closer.  Although it isn't far (given the size of Singapore) and is on the same MRT line that we live close to I decided it did seem a long way to go for a tree, but if all else failed they would hopefully be able to resolve my tree dilemma.

I then thought about where you can buy trees in the UK, supermarkets!  The first two I thought about are all locally based and from looking at their websites and my own recollection of recent trips to both I couldn't recall seeing trees for sale.  Then I remembered a certain French hypermarket chain based here, surely they couldn't let me down and yes when I checked their website there was evidence of trees for sale and one of these stores was a lot closer to us than my other option.

So off I went to the hypermarket and bingo they came up trumps!  In fact they surpassed themselves as they had a promotion and my 7ft tree which originally cost nearly £40 only cost me about £15.  I think I had the last one as well!

So thank you hypermarket you've made our first Singapore Christmas complete and the tree is looking lovely in our now very festive condo.

 

14 December 2010

Back to Blighty

Last week we returned to the UK for a flying visit.  My fiance is fortunate to be able to work remotely now and again but as he has to keep to Singapore hours (not fun in the middle of winter) and I'd get in the way I'm sure, I use it as an opportunity to catch up with family and friends back home.

As always the time went too quickly and my diary was incredibly busy with hardly room to eat but it was so worth it as well.  We were very worried whether we would actually get back given the heavy snow that the UK had recently.  Fortunately though we did but the extreme change of temperature was a shock to the system, although not altogether unpleasant either.  Even though it was dark by the time we got to the UK I could make out the snow in the fields and it looked so lovely as we came into land at Gatwick.  I think my body is wondering though what on earth is going on at the moment as I have gone from one extreme to another in barely a week.

I managed to get some lovely photos of the sunset as we flew over Europe (Turkey to be precise).






The cold weather did also get me well and truly in the Christmas spirit as I had struggled to do so despite all the decorations everywhere here.  I also got to enjoy my Mum's cooking and those dishes you just can't get here or if you can don't exactly taste the same.  I managed to cram in some Cadbury's chocolate which tastes exactly as I know and love!  The only good thing about the Cadbury's here being different is that I have cut down on my chocolate intake considerably as a result.

Asides from catching up with friends and seeing their children who have grown so much since I saw them last or as in one case meeting a brand new edition to my friend's family and catching up with my own family I was also perusing wedding reception venues for the big day next year.  I think I've found somewhere now so just need to confirm that and pay the deposit.  Then I can start thinking about everything else I need to organise. 

It was lovely to be back for a visit and doing the simple things like going into my local town again and spotting new shops and other changes to the town.  I also managed to buy some bargain summery clothes in the pre-Christmas sales, ideal for here but not so good for back home, but at as little as £3 in some cases who can complain?!? 

A really good week but it is nice to return to the warmer weather and leave the snow and ice behind for now.

03 December 2010

Fort Canning Park

Earlier this week I spent the afternoon at Fort Canning park with a lovely fellow expat I've recently made contact with.  Natasha also writes a blog of her experiences since she moved here and I'd definitely recommend you take a look, http://livinginsingcity.wordpress.com/   

I have been to the park previously but this was when I visited Singapore for two weeks in January so it was nice to visit again now I've been here longer.


The park is another example of just how green and lush Singapore as a city is, this park being right in the heart it.  Just as when you are at the Botanical gardens it's hard to believe the hustle and bustle of a city is so close by.  Apart from the obvious clues like the towering buildings of the Central Business District beyond the park boundaries. 

The hill where the park stands was originally known as Bukit Larangan (Forbidden Hill) and one of the five ancient Malay kings of Singapura, Sultan Iskandar Shah is said to be buried here.  When the British arrived they built a residence on the summit for the governor which was then replaced in 1859 by a fort.  There are also the remnants of an early European cemetery in the park which can be seen in my photo below.

It now makes for a very pleasant escape and when we visited there was hardly anybody else around.  Apart from a couple hosting their wedding reception in one of the park's buildings.  As you wander around you can take in various trees and shrubs with many different types of spices and also take a look at the site of an archaeological dig which houses Javanese artifacts from the 14th century Majapahit empire.  Having done a little investigation I understand that the Majapahit empire was a vast empire based on the island of Java from 1293 to approximately 1500.  During this time they conquered much of South East Asia which included present day Singapore.


Away from the historical interest in the park another little thing that I found intriguing was that at one entrance there were escalators exactly like you'd find in a shopping centre but built into the side of the hill.  So on either side of you as you travelled up or down was the grass bank of the park, you don't see anything like that in the UK!

On maps at least the park looks to cover a fairly large area and I'm sure I've only scratched the surface so I guess that gives me opportunity to make a return visit before long.

02 December 2010

Storm Over Singapore

In keeping with my last post and given that the weather is currently causing chaos in the UK (where I hope to be flying back to on Saturday for a visit) I thought I'd post some weather related pictures. 

There was some spectacular lightening over Singapore the other evening and although my camera is not really powerful enough for picture taking of that kind I did manage to take the following few from our balcony.






30 November 2010

Sunshine and (Very Heavy) Showers

Being from the UK talking about the weather is a bit of a national obsession.  The fact that the weather can change from a pleasant sunny morning to a cold, wet and windy afternoon and that with any extremes of weather the UK experiences everything goes into melt down only goes to make it a popular topic.  As I write one of the main topics of news in the UK is the heavy snow that is currently blanketing large parts of it.  That will be a bit of a contrast for me if it is still like that next week when I am going back for a visit!  Anyway here in Singapore the weather can be equally as interesting (although there is no chance of it snowing here) and the current weather has been no exception. 

There really are no distinct seasons here as we are so close to the equator.  Something I find myself already missing a little and getting into a Christmas mindset has been a real challenge despite the decorations and music everywhere.  Anyone taking a look at the weather widget on my blog could be forgiven for thinking it isn't working as it alters so little but it is and that is an accurate reflection of the weather.  Generally the temperature is high and this is accompanied by high humidity and rain storms. 

At the moment though it is officially classed as monsoon season and we do seem to be getting even more rain!  We are in what is called the north-east monsoon also known as the wet season which apparently continues to early March.  From what I've seen so far it seems that the mornings tend to be bright sunshine and then around lunchtime the heavens open, the thunder and lightening comes and this then seems to hang around for much of the rest of the day.

As well as coming in the afternoon it sometimes either comes or returns for another deluge at just the time you might be heading out for the evening or home from work.  When I arrived here in July Singapore was experiencing the south-west monsoon which is characterised by scattered showers and this fits with my experiences in that if it rained it generally tended to be a short sharp shower that quickly moved on.

I am still fascinated by how when the rain comes the island is engulfed in mist and visibility drops substantially (maybe that's the British weather obsession in me).  This is especially noticeable when you live on the 15th floor of your condo block.  Also being close to the sea on occasion I've been able to witness spectacular lightening out at sea and have almost been able to watch the storms rolling inland.  I think the best storms though are those that have happened at night when it seems to rain even harder than in the day and the flashes of lightening and rumbles of thunder are almost constant.  Perhaps because it is quieter I just notice it more .....

At the moment it is a lovely sunny morning and I intend to go out shortly to make the most of it.  I guess though I shall have to get used to this current weather pattern and make sure I take an umbrella with me just in case ......

26 November 2010

My Big Decision

As those who know me personally or have been following my blog will know when I came here in July I originally joined my fiance on a six month career break from my UK job.  This was mainly because him getting the job in Singapore seemed so sudden that at first I couldn't imagine going to live abroad and whether I'd be OK etc. etc. so I guess the chance to take a career break meant I could dip my toe in but return back to the UK if it really didn't work out.

I think originally I imagined that if I couldn't get a job here I'd go back to the UK and that would be fine, but of course life never exactly goes as you plan it too!  I haven't so far succeeded in getting a job and although at times I've become a bit despairing about it I've also realised from chatting to other expats here that I'm far from alone.  However despite that during my time here, and up to the point where theoretically I was returning to the UK in January, I've had the most brilliant time and certainly realised there is so much more to life. 

The time came though when I had to decide that I was going to either cut my losses, quit my job and stay here or else return back to the UK and my job in January.  Yuck the thought of cold, wet, miserable January days was a bit of a depressing one after living here.  So after much debate and discussion I decided to take the plunge and stay here .... so I'm officially without a job for the first time in my working life!

Neither decision was easy to make of course, I miss so much about the UK that going back would have been good but in some ways it felt a bit like a step backwards after taking the plunge and coming here and also that I'd barely given myself a chance to succeed here!  Similarly I wanted to stay here to be with my fiance and continue to grab the opportunities the move here and to this part of the world has presented me with.  Something that even this time last year (and by now my fiance was busy getting himself ready for his move in January) I could not have begun to have imagined.  My life really has changed so much in the last year that if I stop and think about it all I struggle to keep up!

So the job hunt will continue and fingers crossed something will come along but in the meantime I also have our wedding to plan for and of course plenty more of Singapore to discover!

24 November 2010

Mount Faber & a Cable Car Ride to Sentosa

So this weekend we took an afternoon trip to Mount Faber.  That makes it sound like a big mountain which I guess for Singapore it is as they don't have mountains here but in reality it is only really a hillock.  Still it's surprising how you notice any vertical climbs after living here for a while!

Mount Faber was originally named Telok Blangah and was once the seat of Singapore's temenggong or chieftain.  I gather it got its present name in 1845 and was renamed after government engineer, Captain Charles Edward Faber.

We took a taxi up to the top, perhaps we should have walked but the taxi driver just kept going and having not been there before we weren't exactly sure what to expect or where the best place to get out at was.  Besides as I mentioned before walks up steep inclines particularly in this heat and humidity are not what they are cracked up to be!


Once we reached the top we were dropped off near a cafe and what seemed to be a conference and dining centre called the Jewel Box and from here it was a short walk to the viewing point at the top.  Unfortunately it was a typically wet and therefore slightly hazy / cloudy day so the views weren't brilliant and you couldn't see that far.  Perhaps also this is something that should be done sooner as a lot of the views did seem to me at least to be the same views as at other vantage points in the area just from a different angle.  For example the view towards the city of the CBD skyline. 

On the plus side though there were lots of helpful boards pointing out the main points of interest you were looking too and markers on the ground pointing towards key points on the island and the direction of places beyond such as Bangkok, the Indian Ocean, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and so forth.  There was also a fascinating set of murals illustrating key points in Singapore's history from the point of discovery when legend has it that a Sumatran prince visiting the island of Temasek saw what he thought was a lion which prompted him to name the spot Singapura or Lion City, Sir Stamford Raffles colonisation of Singapore for the British, the Japanese invasion in the Second World War right through to a mural depicting modern day multi-cultural Singapore.

From here we decided to catch a cable car to Sentosa. I've only been on the monorail to Sentosa so I thought it would be fun to get there via another means and would hopefully provide some lovely views.

I was surprised by high up the cable car was but how smooth a ride it was and we were lucky to have a whole car just to the two of us.  So plenty of opportunity to take photos without getting in other people's way.  Again the views were restricted due to the weather but we got some nice views back towards Singapore, across Sentosa, across the port of Singapore and out to sea.  There was also a cruise ship moored in port and we went right over the top of it so had a bird's eye view of all the people on the ship lounging by the pool (which wasn't very big though they did have two pools).

You could easily pick out the merlion at Sentosa but again some of the views were a bit disappointing as where there is building work going on on Sentosa at times you were just riding over what looked like a building site.  Nonetheless though it was a nice alternate way to arrive at Sentosa.

After a wander around Sentosa, which is always a pleasant though always busy spot to while away an afternoon we ended up at the Hard Rock cafe on Sentosa and had a couple of drinks in the bar. This was made all the more fun by the unexpected entertainment provided by the bar staff. They suddenly started dousing this one girl in water, spray cream, and the fruit juice mixers they use for cocktails etc. and she ended up absolutely drenched. Though she did get her revenge on a few of her colleagues as well by giving them a good soaking too. It turned out it was her birthday and this is a little ritual they have for anyone on duty on their birthday! If it were me I think I might try and keep my birthday quiet .....


23 November 2010

Music and Lyrics

You'll probably only really understand this if you are aware of the film with the same title starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore.  Apologies therefore if you are not and / or that just isn't your cup of tea!

Anyway since I've been here I've heard both on the radio and in shops a version of the song that Hugh's character writes for the pop star in the film called, 'Way Back into Love'.  The first time I heard it it took me most of the day to work out where I knew the song from and once I did I was a bit bemused as I wasn't aware of it ever being a hit in the UK.  In fact if I hadn't seen the film I don't think I'd know the song at all.

In the end curiosity got the better of me and I had to investigate further ..... and yes it seems that although it was never released as a CD single it was a hit in several Asian countries including Singapore where it reached number 5 in their version of the Top 40!!!

So I was kind of relieved to know I wasn't going mad but what I don't know is whether the version I keep hearing is Hugh Grant singing or someone else ...... any ideas?!?

18 November 2010

Japanese Food - Not as Scary as I Thought!

Again this is probably one of those things I shouldn't be admitting here but before yesterday I'm not sure I'd ever really eaten Japanese food.  Now I've had vegetarian sushi but I think most people (myself included) would argue that isn't really sushi .....

Those who know me or have been reading my blog will know I'm not the biggest seafood fan and yes I'll admit as a result I've avoided Japanese food on the assumption that it is basically very fish focused.  Yesterday was a public holiday here in Singapore so my fiance and I decided to go out for lunch.  Our first plan was to have a brunch style lunch but our choices on Orchard Road were both busy (mental note to make reservations next time).  Clearly everyone had the same idea and although at any other time we could have reserved and come back in an hour or so my fiance was heading off to Bangkok later in the afternoon for work so we really needed to eat there and then.  It was then he suggested Japanese and a restaurant he reckoned I'd be OK with.

I was a little hesitant but by that point I was also getting hungry and compared to everywhere else it was relatively empty so I agreed.  I'm delighted to say though that I was pleasantly surprised.  We went to a place called Kamado at 313 @ Somerset on Orchard Road which describes itself as a Japanese wood fire restaurant and this meant plenty of other options asides from fish.  In case you want to know I had Shogayaki rice with chicken, there did seem to be more rice than chicken but the fun part about having this dish was that it came in a bamboo steamer with a pretty powerful flame underneath it to keep your food warm which then heats your rice and keeps it warm.

I really can't say if this is great Japanese food as I don't have much (if anything) to compare it to.  I suspect it probably isn't high end but I enjoyed my dish and for a Japanese food newbie who is less than enamoured with seafood this was probably as good a place as any to experience it.

17 November 2010

We're Going to the Zoo!


I finally got to do something I've pretty much wanted to do since my first visit here in January at the weekend ..... go to the zoo.  I wasn't disappointed either.

I'd heard lots about the zoo from other expats and how it is worth a visit and having now been I'd add my voice to that statement.  As you'd expect and hope the animals are in fantastic enclosures which allow them the space they need to exercise and behave in a natural way.  The whole zoo though is fantastically laid out and certainly makes full use of the natural flora and fauna available here.

I was a bit worried that the heat of the day might have meant that the animals would hide up but I didn't need to. The enclosures have lots of viewing points that mean you should be able to see the animals without too much difficultly. As you can hopefully also see from my photos the zoo has really cleverly designed the enclosures to ensure yours and the animals safety but also to allow you to see the animals and get great photos without any railings etc. spoiling the views. Even when it rained (and it really rained the day we went) the animals could still be seen and the weather didn't really spoil my enjoyment of the day at all.

The zoo has all the animals you'd expect to see including various monkeys, elephants, tigers, lions, rhinos, reptiles, giraffes, zebras, penguins the list is endless! Be prepared to spend the day there.

I'd definitely recommend a visit and I still have the night safari to do (another Singapore must do) and at least one further visit is in order as next year the zoo will be getting two giant pandas!



12 November 2010

Thai Train to Bangkok - Noodles, Rice and the Inevitable Delays!

So our Thai train journey from Hua Hin to Bangkok certainly didn't appear complicated before we started.  The trains ran directly to Bangkok and we figured it would be a nice way to see some of the Thai countryside and towns along the way, especially as when we arrived on Thursday it had been dark so we hadn't seen much from the taxi.

We arrived at the station in plenty of time to catch the 4pm train which was due to arrive in Bangkok at about 7.45pm.  When we arrived though the ticket office was closed and there was no visible means of buying a ticket from a self service booth or something else.  Fortunately we had plenty of time and a short while after the office reopened and the tickets were brought.

The train station was lovely and very old fashioned in appearance, no electronic displays here just a large board in the ticket office area with the destinations and times of the trains painted on it.  Across from the platform that we were on was an old steam engine which I assume used to pull the trains before they became diesel engines. Another thing I noticed was that there was no overhead or underground crossing to the other platforms as you'd usually get in the UK, no you could just simple walk across the tracks at designated spots. The locals happily just stood in the middle of the tracks moving out the way as a train approached.


The trains are now all diesel (or at least all the ones I saw were) and if you want a cigarette you just go and stand at the end of the carriage on the steps that lead up into the train.  The doors didn't appear to be closed so as trains were approaching and people were getting off they'd more or less jumped off before the train even stopped.  Shortly before one of the trains arrived a woman appeared with a large tray stacked high with bowls of noodles.  Then as the train pulled in her and some others walked up and down the platform selling the bowls of noodles through the open windows to passengers on the train. 

Anyway back to our train journey ..... 4pm came and no train appeared we eventually found out it had been delayed but there didn't seem to be any indication as to when it was due so we waited and we waited and eventually the train appeared over two hours late!!!  Of course by this point it was almost dark so our plan to see some of the Thai scenery on the way up to Bangkok went out of the window but at least the train had arrived.

This picture shows the inside of our carriage fortunately we did have air conditioning!  Shortly after leaving one of the members of train staff came to take food orders for noodles.  We didn't have any but this turned out to be similar to my experience at Hua Hin only I assume in this case they phoned ahead with the order and then when we arrived at that station the noodles were dispatched to those who had ordered them by the train staff.  At another station the people selling actually got on the train and walked up and down the carriages selling all sorts of food none of which I could identify from a quick glance as they passed.

Sitting adjacent to us for the whole journey was an elderly Thai lady who kept me more than entertained throughout.  She declined the noodles that were being sold and it quickly became apparent why as she had come prepared for the journey.  First to appear from her bag were some noodles in a banana leaf which she proceeded to polish off.  Later in the journey she got out a hard boiled egg, a bag of plain rice and a bag with a sauce of some kind in it.  She then broke the egg up into the rice, poured the sauce on and mixed it in with the rice to eat.  In between eating she had her shoes off for much of the journey and was constantly picking at and playing with her feet and when not doing that was sitting cross legged on the seat playing with her mobile and taking calls.  I was grateful for her as all I could see from the window was the odd built up area, small bonfires on the sides of roads besides small dwellings and numerous stray dogs wandering around these areas.

When we finally arrived in Bangkok, although the train had only been two hours late when it reached us by the end of the journey it was three hours late!  So after stepping over the many homeless people who use the station as a shelter at night we got a taxi straight to our hotel.

My time in Bangkok was fairly relaxed and at least this time I did manage to go out on my own without getting lost which I was pretty pleased about.  At one point I took myself to a park nearby and armed with a good book sat there for a while reading and despite sitting in the shade it didn't take long for me to get very warm.

I've since discovered that this song by Noel Coward was written about Bangkok and thinking back to me sitting in the park at midday this seems very apt .....

'In Bangkok at twelve o'clock they foam at the mouth and run, but mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.'

Hua Hin

Last weekend meant a nice long one for all Singaporeans (and those living here) as it was a public holiday.  So we took the chance to enjoy a short break in Thailand at the beach resort of Hua Hin. 

Hua Hin is approximately a three hour drive from Bangkok and it really seemed to take forever even though the taxi driver we had drove like a mad man but once we arrived it was definitely worth it.  As soon as we entered the resort we could see that the place was full of restaurants and bars and from the number of families wandering around was a popular place to come.  It is clearly also very popular with Westerners and has a variety of restaurants to suit all tastes as a result.  It still felt like a world away from the relative ease of Singapore but less so than the craziness of Bangkok on my last trip there.

We arrived on the Thursday evening so checked in and immediately went for a wander around ending up in a bar for a couple of drinks.  I've been to many places in Europe where locals will approach tourists in bars and restaurants trying to sell things but I don't think I've ever been approached so much as we were that evening.  If I'd bought every thing on offer there would have been no money left for the rest of the trip!  Needless to say I didn't buy anything but politely declining their wares certainly kept us busy.  Even on our first night and although Hua Hin seemed to be a fairly chilled out place it still managed in its own way to live up to the assumptions people can have about Thailand and the type of entertainment available as well .....

The weekend itself was spent relaxing by the pool, walking on the beach, exploring the town and reading some good books.  I don't usually do that and generally like to be doing things when I go to new places but for once this seemed the right thing to do.  Our hotel was right on the beach and it was lovely waking up each morning to the sound of the sea.  Of course the other main theme of the weekend was also trying some of the delicious Thai food and some crazy cocktails!  The hotel we stayed in had a roof top bar (clearly a South East Asia must have but I guess with weather as consistently good as it is here you can do that) although it wasn't as high as some I've been too in Singapore it still gave lovely views over the town.  It really was a lovely relaxing break and definitely somewhere I'd like to return to given the chance.  As we took a taxi from the airport to the resort on Thursday evening when it was time to return to Bangkok on Sunday (as my fiance had to be there for work on Monday) we decided to take a train from Hua Hin to Bangkok.  It looked and indeed was simple enough as the trains were direct but the journey itself presented a whole new adventure .......

                                                                                                                                            

03 November 2010

In the Jungle, the Mighty Jungle

The weekend brought with it a trip to the MacRitchie Reservoir. 

Well the weekend actually started on Friday evening with drinks at an amazing rooftop bar.  The bar is called 1-Altitude and is on the top of the OUB Building in Raffles Place in the heart of the Central Business District.  The views were fantastic and I'd certainly recommend a visit to the bar simply for that though it is a nice place with a very chilled out ambiance.  From the top of the building you can look out across the marina and see all the cargo ships out in the sea and back into the city with all the buildings alight far below you - fantastic!

As it was approaching Halloween the bar staff were appropriately dressed as zombies, ghouls and so on and the bar was decorated too.  Being from the UK though Halloween in the warm does seem a bit strange but Singaporeans seem to have embraced it completely as everywhere I've been lately has been getting into the 'spirit' of the occasion. 

However back to our trip to the reservoir.  The reservoir is an opportunity to experience at first hand what I imagine Singapore would have been like before it became the developed landscape we know today.  I can officially say that it is the closest to a jungle that I've ever been too.

The reservoir seemed huge as did the surrounding tropical forest.  There are a number of paths you can follow and although many of them have wooden boardwalks to walk on (as you can see in the picture above) several also do rely on you being able to negotiate your way around tree roots and stones etc. and are much more natural in appearance.

We actually followed a set walk which in total was 12km, we completed 7km of it as there was a convenient point at which you could shorten your walk. I have to be honest though by that point 7km in the heat and humidity seemed like a very long way and I was more than ready to call it a day. However a return visit to walk around the other part is definitely in order.

Our walk also included a walk amongst the tree tops, this was actually a walk across a free standing 25 metre high, 250 metre long suspension bridge.  The views were fantastic although the bridge did move a fair bit so I wasn't totally sorry to reach the other side of the bridge.  The photo below shows our tree top view.  Some what ironically just after we reached the other side we encountered one of Singapore's famous downpours.  We were able to shelter until it eased up but it seemed meant to be as we were after all in a tropical forest.

The forest also has an abundance of wildlife and we were fortunate enough to see a family of macaque monkeys. They let us get relatively close to them to get some lovely photos. We also saw some lizards and lots of butterflies. There must also have been a fair share of mosquitoes etc. as my legs had been bitten a few times by the time we got home. I gather there are also monitor lizards there but we didn't see any of those. However I've seen plenty in Bangkok and here in Singapore as well so I wasn't too bothered.

Overall though I had a really lovely day and it is definitely somewhere I'd like to return to.  If only to finish the other part of the walk!

27 October 2010

Labrador Nature Reserve

Before our trip I struggled to find this place in any of the guidebooks we have and having now been there I suspect it would not be on the casual tourist's itinerary whilst in Singapore.

When we visited the reserve it was surprisingly quiet, peaceful and relatively empty, we seemed to be virtually the only people there.  As there isn't much there I can't imagine it ever being full of tourists and locals but that made it pleasant for a relaxing afternoon.

The reserve has several relics left from the Second World War as it is right by the coast and was used as part of the coastal defences of Singapore both during that  specific period of history (though Singapore was not invaded via the sea as it turned out) and before that.  As it had been identified as an ideal defence site to protect the entrance to the harbours of Singapore. 

It is no longer used for that purpose and has subsequently become a designated nature reserve to protect the plants, wildlife and the rocky shore line there.  Although we were able to see the remains of the fort that was on the site I understand there are also some tunnels which can be explored.  Unfortunately though they are currently closed for renovation so we could not go into them.  The picture below taken through a gap in a metal gate is the closest I got.

It seemed that as well as the tunnels being closed a lot of the restaurants etc. were also shut but we eventually found a nice restaurant appropriately called The Labrador for a late lunch. Whilst there I accomplished another first ..... trying cuttle fish. As with many of the other fish dishes I've tried recently the cuttle fish was nice enough but I doubt I'll be ordering it again out of choice.

I can't say the nature reserve would necessarily be somewhere I'd be looking to return to any time soon but for a pleasant afternoon away from the hustle and bustle it certainly was worth a visit. If nothing else perhaps when they re-open the tunnels it will be worth another trip.


21 October 2010

Futuristic Cinema

I wouldn't normally write about something seemingly so mundane as a trip to a cinema.  Going to the cinema is very similar to back in the UK wherever you are.  Here I can book tickets online when I arrived there were the usual adverts etc. but no this cinema trip wasn't quite like any I've been on before.

This can only be described as the 5 star of cinema experiences and I've been just a touch spoilt by it now.  We went to a cinema complex at the Vivocity shopping mall which by the way also houses the largest cinema screen in Asia (this will be an experience for another time I think).  Anyway I digress if you buy the gold class ticket your cinema experience can start up to an hour before the film starts.  With this ticket you have access to an exclusive lounge (sounds like an airline and believe me you felt like you should be strapping yourself into the cinema seats) where you are greeted by your 'host' and can enjoy a drink or something to eat before you go in.  I should point out that the cost of the ticket doesn't include the food or drink but I still think this is pretty impressive.

So once you go in the cinema only has about 30 seats and to be honest the size of the seats would not allow for many more to fit in!  The seats are arranged in rows but in twos so it's ideal if you go with a friend or loved one and are the biggest most comfortable seats I've ever seen or sat on in a cinema.  They really look more like seats on business class on a plane hence the reason I felt I should be strapping myself in!!  The seat reclines and they also have a foot rest as well.  You get given a blanket too which you need as the air conditioning is very powerful but that also means you can get even more comfortable as you settle down to watch the film.

Wait though there's more ...... each set of seats has a table and a button on it, this is your push button waiter service so you can order drinks and food throughout!  Well of course we made the most of that and ordered wine and a meal which was very good.  It did seem weird sitting in a dark cinema eating and I was convinced I would get my meal all down me but miraculously I didn't!!

Of course the reason you go to a cinema is to see a film and although in someways that seemed like the second event to everything else it was a good film I'm sure made all the better by the surroundings.  I actually went with the fellow expat I had met at the fish and chip shop opening night the previous Saturday (and not my fiance though I've said to him we should go sometime too) and some of her friend's - all absolutely lovely and I think I'll be seeing them all again before long.

Cinemas like that are well and truly due in the UK don't you think?!?

18 October 2010

Fairies and Proper Fish and Chips

The start of the weekend meant more exploring to be done.  Friday evening brought with it our customary plans of a few drinks after work with friends, before meeting them though my fiance and I went to a bar called Divine in the Parkview Square.  The building really stands out and you can't help but notice it as it was built in an art deco style and is amazing to look at.  I understand it was originally going to be a hotel but that was not to be and it is now an office block.  What I didn't realise until recently though was that there is also a bar on the Ground floor of the building.


The bar is equally as impressive as the building is from the outside with its high ceilings, low lighting and amazing art deco design and features.  It really feels like you've stepped back to the 1920s.  However the really good part about the bar is the wine collection or rather the rather unique way in which the bar staff collect your chosen bottle of wine once you've selected it.

This picture shows the wine selection which as you can hopefully appreciate is fairly large and you certainly couldn't reach the wines at the top (at the bottom of this picture is the start of the regular bar).  So what do the waitresses do.....?  They attach a wire to their back and are hoisted up in the air by this to the appropriate part of the cabinet.  To make it even more quirkier the waitress, whose job it is to do that, has a pair of fairy wings attached to her back.  Unfortunately I was not able to get a picture of the waitress in action but we've already said we need to go back so hopefully I'll manage to get a picture then.

Saturday saw a trip to the Marina Bay Sands hotel a very new hotel and as you'll see from the picture below a very striking and distinctive building on the Singapore skyline.  As you can the building has three towers and then what looks like a boat straddling the top.  Up at the top there is an infinity pool (you wouldn't catch me in there) and a viewing platform looking out over Singapore.

You have to pay $20 which is approximately £10 to go up to this viewing platform and although the views were good I don't think it was worth that kind of money.  You could not feasibly spend hardly anytime up there as asides from the views and getting close to the infinity pool there isn't much else to do.  All there was a snack bar type place selling hot dogs, cold drinks and a few souvenirs.  I'm not sure if we got there too early as there did appear to be a restaurant or something but this was shut and didn't look to be opening any time soon.  I think they certainly could have a bar at least up there so you could enjoy the views over a drink.  We were able to get close to the infinity pool (picture below) but only hotel guests are allowed in it so you end up feeling like you are gawping at all these people staying in the hotel as they go for their swim.  Not that relaxing for them I'm sure!  After that it was back down to the exit.

I do have to say the views over Singapore were lovely but as often is the case here it was very hazy so unfortunately we could not see that far.  However it is one to cross of the list as they say.

On the way home we noticed that a shop near us describing itself as a traditional British fish and chip shop looked to be open. (UPDATE - January 2016 Smiths Fish and Chips on Tanjong Katong Road is now closed. If you are craving your Brit style fish and chip fix they still have a branch at Balmoral Plaza, Bukit Timah Road)  It appeared a few weeks ago and we've been patiently waiting for it to open and today the shutters were up.  So that evening we took a wander down to see what they had to offer.

It turned out they weren't officially open as they still didn't have their license though they are all ready to go and hope to be open this week.  However they invited us in for a drink and we ended up spending the whole evening there.  I think we were the only people there who didn't know anyone else but that didn't matter as the shutters were up, the tables out in the front and anyone was welcome.  We got chatting to some other local expats, exchanged numbers and as a result I'm off to the cinema tomorrow with one of them.  More on that when I've been as I gather I'm going to a rather flash cinema, certainly compared to anything I've experienced before!

The business is being run by British expats, with a British chef and they plan to import cod, haddock and plaice to make it fully authentic and then another fish more geared up for the locals.  Of course we also got to sample some fish and chips that night and boy were they good!!!  I can't actually remember when I last went to a chippie but it would have been sometime before I moved out here in July and so they really hit the spot.  Needless to say we'll be heading back there again very soon I am sure.



UPDATE - October 2011


As this is one of my most popular posts despite having been written just over a year ago now I thought I'd better update one piece of information on here.  I understand that visitors can no longer access the infinity pool area on the top of the Marina Bay Sands.  When we visited this part was still accessible to non-residents, though you could not actually use the pool.  I guess the feeling I had at the time that I was slightly intruding on the guests has made them decide to close off this area and respect guests privacy.  Regardless it is probably time that I paid another visit here to see what has changed in the interim period.

14 October 2010

Dempsey

Once again I recently had the chance to explore an area of Singapore that I've not previously been to, this time an area called Dempsey.  I should explain that Dempsey is in an area of Singapore called Tanglin and I got taken there for a little taster of what its night life has to offer.

Dempsey (for Singapore at least) is a bit a of a trek, there is no public transport there as such so you have to rely on taxis to get you there and back again.  Tanglin is one of the most affluent suburbs of Singapore and it definitely shows with landed houses (i.e. very expensive and not the condos that most people tend to live in everywhere).  I suspect a lot of the people who live there have cars (again a very expensive purchase in Singapore) so being reliant on public transport is not such an issue.

The Dempsey area was where the English army barracks were when they had a base here but now seems to largely be devoted to bars and restaurants.  The first bar we went to had a very laid back feel with plenty of decking areas to sit out on and enjoy the balmy evening.  It was noticeable again the number of western expats there, I don't know whether this is because it is a popular place to go to or whether they live around that area.  I guess though as it isn't far away from Holland village where a lot of expats do live it is somewhere different to go to for an evening out. 

After some lovely drinks we went to an Indian restaurant which was OK but a lot of the restaurants around there I am told shut very early, soon after 10pm in some cases.  We'd arrived in Dempsey late so by the time we went to eat it was getting on for that time.  So we had to rush our choices as they really wanted to close the kitchen.  As a consequence the wine we had chosen they'd sold out of and so we had to make alternate choices from a very limited selection.  I think the food was probably also not at its best as they really wanted us out so they could close properly.  A real shame!

After this we went on to another bar which was great, totally different from the earlier bar as they had a really good live band singing covers and in between sets a really good selection of music.  The strawberry margarita's went down a treat as well! 

When we eventually left that bar to get a taxi back home we came outside to an electrical storm so the sky was alight with a spectacular lightening show.  That combined with the noisy frogs nearby couldn't help but remind me once again how lucky I was to be living here in this warm, tropical country where having to take a coat with you is never an issue!
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