Arrival in the Lion City

Day 65

With a 5-hour bus here this morning, we completed our 12-day, 1,943 kilometer trek from Bangkok, through Malaysia, to Singapore. All told, we spent nearly 48 hours on a half dozen buses and an overnight train. It wasn’t the easiest leg of my 80-day trip, especially with two difficult overland border crossings, including the one this afternoon that took about 90 minutes.

We were pretty excited then after crossing the Straits of Johor and arriving in this city, island and country of 4.3 million people. We were even more floored when we set foot in the Fragrance Imperial Hotel — a trendy spot with the first flat-screen televisions I’ve seen in weeks — and then learned that due to a booking error, we would all be given single rooms. No complaints here (for once).

With its very strict social and political agenda — death penalty for drug traffickers, harsh penalties for gum chewing, littering, jaywalking and just about everything else — Singapore has been called a “sterile utopia.” After dropping our bags off, we obeyed the walk signals and set out to see exactly what this (perhaps, misunderstood) country is all about. Our mode of transportation was Singapore’s MRT, a clean, modern, efficient and cheap subway. The escalator down to the platform from the street moved at least twice as fast as those in the States — hang on!

We made it easily to the Raffles Place stop and walked to the Boat Quay, one of the few historic downtown districts that have been spared the wrecking ball in favor of economic development. There, small restaurants and bars line the Singapore River, and we ducked into a pub for a quick sandwich.

Walking along the esplanade, we spotted the gleaming Theater on the Bay, a spiky structure that stands across from the Merlion, this country’s strange half-fish, half-lion mascot.

From there, it was easy to see the Singapore Flyer, the world’s largest observation wheel — standing at 165 meters, it’s even taller than the London Eye. I’ve learned that one of the best ways of really seeing a city is to get to its highest point, so we swallowed the ticket price $S30 ($21USD) and hopped into a cabin. The 30-minute ride did not disappoint, as we could even see as far as neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia.

Drenched from the humidity, we made an obligatory stop at the landmark Raffles — my second visit, after Dubai, to this hotel chain. We had a signature Singapore Sling, a drink that was invented here and is today dispensed from a tap, in the peanut shell-covered Long Bar.

Afterwards, it was off to CHIJMES, a nearby complex of restaurants and bars for a farewell dinner.

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