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24 August 2012

Did you know – Singapore’s history dates back to around the 11th century. The island however rose in importance during the 14th century and became a port until it was destroyed by Acehnese raiders in 1613.  Singapore’s modern history only started when Englishman Sir Stamford Raffles established a British port on the island in 1819. Under British colonial rule, it grew in importance as a centre for both the India and China trade, rapidly becoming a major port city.

During World War II, Singapore was conquered and occupied by the Japanese Empire from 1942 to 1945. When the war ended, Singapore reverted to British control, with increasing levels of self-government being granted, culminating in Singapore's merger with the Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia in 1963. However, social unrest and disputes between Singapore's ruling People's Action Party and Malaysia's Alliance Party resulted in Singapore's separation from Malaysia. Singapore became an independent republic on 9 August 1965.

Our ferry ride to Singapore was smooth and effortless, maybe with the exception of Mandy having a fight with the escalator trying to get her bike to the next level at the terminal.  We arrived at the Singapore Harbour Front terminal in no time, got ushered off the ferry, were told to leave our bikes and luggage there and go to immigration.  The porters will bring them to us in the baggage reclaim area.  Immigration was exactly what you would expect from Singapore, effortless.  We got our passports stamped in no time and were in Singapore in a matter of minutes. 

It was getting a bit late too, so we had to get a move on.  The ride from the terminal to Nina and Paul’s place was about 16km.  Not long into our ride we had to stop and put our lights on, just to be sure everyone can see us.  What a pleasure to ride here compared to what we’ve had to endure in Indonesia.  People obey the rules and don’t try to ‘bop’ you out the way at every chance.

A bit of background, we were very fortunate when we started our first trip.  Nina, a school friend of Mandy’s lived in Seoul at the time with her husband and kids.  She very kindly offered for us to come and stay with them in Seoul at the start of our first trip.  As luck would have it, they have since moved to Singapore, and very kindly offered for us to come and stay with them again for as long as we wanted. This was an offer we definitely couldn’t turn down – we were in need of some normality for a few days.

It didn’t take us too long to get to their place, and riding in the dark was no problem at all.  I managed to get a waypoint for the gps and navigating there was no problem at all. Once again, we were welcomed with open arms when we got there and a nice home cooked meal waiting for us after we settled in and cleaned ourselves up a bit.  It’s amazing how much one person can sweat in the humid weather.

Our plan of action for Singapore wasn’t a lot to be honest.  We wanted to apply for our Thai visa there and besides from that just relaxing a bit with some added sightseeing.  With very good intentions, we decided that our first port of call should be the Thai embassy the next day.  With all good intentions, we got up early(ish) and Nina dropped us in Orchard road, just outside the embassy.  We got there just before they opened at 09.15, and while waiting in the queue, reading the requirements for the visa, realized that we had came unprepared.  We didn’t bring passport photos with us, we haven’t changed money yet, they only accept Singapore dollars, and they needed all sorts of proof on entering and intending to leave the country.  We, off course, had none of this.  After a quick chat, we decided the best option was to go and get something to eat rather...what is it with cyclist and eating, you would swear we will never eat anything and that we will die and slow and agonizing death if we don’t eat immediately. 

We spent the rest of the day walking around Orchard road area and trying to figure out what we’re going to do about the visa.  We could buy some ‘el cheapo’ tickets and simply not use them, but this is an unnecessary waste of money.  We eventually decided to not apply for it in Singapore and rather try our luck in Malaysia.  Singapore seems to be very efficient at everything they do and it seems that everything gets done by the book (rightly so too), especially when it comes to visa applications.

The rest of the weekend was very relaxed for us.  Saturday morning was spent walking around the Botanical gardens followed by a very nice dim sum lunch with Paul, Nina and the kids in Holland village.  Talking about food (again)…it is so nice to have different food again besides from the fried rice.  Anyway, I’m digressing.  We joined the Bissons the following day, visiting Sentosa Island and then went our own way to check out China town, especially the Buddha tooth relic temple.  For some reason we never came to see it the previous time we came to Singapore.  It’s very impressive and colourful.  There was a ‘service’ (is that what you would call it, I’m not sure) going on when we were there which created a completely different atmosphere, with the constant readings and chanting from the monks.

Another friend of ours also moved to Singapore recently.  We met Swee-Bee the first time living in London, through Mandy’s sister, Pam.  Bee also happened to move to Australia around the time we did and we got to know her a bit better while living there.  It was very nice catching up with her and Gary in Singapore, even though it was only for a little while.  The Monday was a public holiday, and Paul and Nina asked us to join them for a braai with one of their friends.  Turned out to be a fairly big affair, and nice to mingle with some westerners and have a normal conversation instead of asking for a hotel room or trying to decipher what’s on a menu.  Coming to think of it, it seems like most people speak English here anyway.  We also got a glimpse into the expat life here in Singapore, and it’s something we might consider in the future, who knows.

We decided to extend our stay in Singapore by one day, to work on our routes and try and plan a bit for Malaysia.  Our new plan was to leave on the Wednesday, crossing the border at the western crossing instead of the main crossing at Johor Bahru.  We thought this would work well, seeing that we wanted to bypass Johor Bahru and head straight for the west coast to Kuala Lumpur for our Thai visa.

Great plans however are there to be changed, and this is what we had to do.  Our 25km ride to the border crossing turned into a 50km ride instead.  It turns out the western crossing is not open to foot passengers or bicycles.  The only place for us to cross was indeed the JB crossing.   Oh well, at least we got to see a bit more of Singapore on our way out.

The crossing to Malaysia was just as easy as arriving in Singapore.  It took less than 5 minutes to leave Singapore, most of which was waiting in the queue.  We joined the motorcycle lane and the rode across the bridge is about 5 min.  Entering Malaysia was just as quick. The visa didn’t cost us anything and we got a 90 day tourist visa.

We just want to make a special mention to Paul and Nina; a thousand thank yous for letting us stay with you guys here in Singapore.  Not only was it a welcome relief, but also nice to have some normality back for a while.  It’s just what we needed to recharge a bit after our time in Indonesia.  There can’t be 2 visits without a 3rd one. We all know things happen in 3’s, don’t they.  Who knows where we’ll see you next time.

A big thank to Paul and Nina’s kids, Lily-Rose and Zach, for our great new water bottles with all the cool stickers.  We use them every day and always think of you when we use it.  Good luck in the new schools too, we’re sure you will enjoy it!

Final thoughts – Singapore is completely different to the rest of SE Asia.  Definitely a 1st world country wrapped up by mostly 3rd world neighbours.  There was absolutely nothing we disliked about Singapore (maybe with the exception of the humid weather).  Everything works, the place is clean and the people are friendly.  We liked it so much that we’ve seriously talked about moving here one day.  Who knows what the future hold?