Two (Almost Free) Days in Singapore
A Quick Visa Run via First Class Coach
In some ways Malaysia has very generous visa provisions. For us, with our now well stamped UK passports, it means we qualify for a visa on arrival (VOA) that is valid for three whole months (well, 90 days to be specific.) The cost? completely free! This is one of the reasons that we have spent so much time here over the last couple of years. Extending a Malaysian visa is not so easy though. I spent a few days doing some research into the matter and it seems that it is possible to extend your visa for Malaysia but it is not easy and it is not free. We’ve often extended visas before – we managed to stay in Vietnam for six whole months after arriving on a 30 day visa we’d arranged in Cambodia (you cannot get a VOA for Vietnam by the way.) To extend your visa sounds like a nightmare. Check out this Travelfish article which advocates a visa run to Singapore as far better option. So, thats what we decided to do
Plane, Train or Bus to Singapore?
The three main options for transport between these cities presented us with another choice to make. As usual we went to the reliable Seat61 website for train information and then ruled the trains out as they actually took longer than most of the coach/bus journeys and were not cheaper.
To chose between a flight and a bus trip was a more tricky decision. It was less than a week before we had to make the trip and flight prices were still very reasonable. The best I could find was an AirAsia return flight which left around mid-day, took just over an hour and cost only £34 each. A bargain, especially at such short notice. The other things to consider with a flight are important too though. You have to get to the airport (KL to KLLCCT takes 1 hour on the bus and costs about 11RM or 30/35 minutes on the train link and costs more than twice that.) At the other end you can use the efficient public transport to get you from the airport to the city centre. I can’t remember the cost but it doesn’t take too long or cost too much.
So what swung our decision? In investigating the many coach companies that offer the journey I saw some of the pictures of what the coaches were like. I showed Henry and we were hooked. The seats looked super comfortable, meals were included and it just look all round amazing. For possibly the first time we decided against the cheapest option (a lesser coach journey) AND the fastest option (flying) and went for the more expensive luxury coach for our visa run to Singapore. After deciding on one of the most expensive coach journeys, justifying it with ‘treating ourselves’ and the fact that the last TWO times we’d tried to go first class on a train (in Laos and Thailand) we had ended up in second class, it was easy to commit to.
You can read all about the coach journey in my review of the Transtar Coach trip.
Check out the video I made of our time in Singapore. It is made up of loads of little clips put together. So, time for some details and photos of what we did when we got there!
Monday Night – Chinatown
We caught the bus from the Golden Mile Complex (where the coach dropped us off) to Chinatown. We had not booked accommodation but had decided to head back to one of the hostels we’d stayed at on our last visit because it was one of the least offensive places we had seen and was very central and well connected. We stayed at the Backpacker’s Inn in Mosque Street. We had a private room with air con and no bathroom. The shared toilets and showers were located down a flight of stairs and along a corridor. For this we had to pay 65SGD (£31) a night!! We checked in, dumped our stuff and then had to head out again as soon as possible because cheap rooms are not generally somewhere you want to spend a lot of time.
As it was already evening we just explored the Chinatown area. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple looked magnificent all dressed up for Chinese New Year.
The next day we were up early and exploring on foot, repeatedly amazed at the behaviour of the traffic. You’ll see in the video there are a few clips of traffic and you might wonder why they made the cut. Well, it was to remind me that some countries do have pedestrian crossings that work and lights that are obeyed. After so long in Asia it is easy to forget such places exist. We had no plan for the day, just to walk, take photos and not spend too much money. I’ll let the photos tell the story…
Next up it was the impressive MICA Building, home to the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. Why can’t all buildings be this colourful?
Inside is an art gallery which is free to the public.
After having a nose at all the art on offer we saw some trees and decided to explore. After a pretty steep climb we were rewarded with a good view of part of the city and the shade of old trees. Following the maps around the sizable park, we headed towards the Fort Canning Centre only to find that it had actually closed the day before for refurbishments. Coming down the other side of the hill we saw the Nation Museum and decided that it was time for some more air con.
Some of the exhibits in the museum are chargeable so we decided to just stick to the free ones. We spent a couple of hours in there all together at various exhibits.
The main atrium in the old building is home to an indoor waterfall which creates an indoor rainbow when the sun shines just so:
At the front of the building is where we found the enormous bamboo teepees you can see on the video. There were also some other outdoor exhibits like this one:
After the museum we wandered around the university district and then saw the shopping mall at we’d been to on our last visit looking for a new pair of Birkenstocks for me (Raffles City). Unfortunately the Birkenstock shop had closed down so we hopped onto the MRT back to Chinatown for a rest. We had a drink in the bar attached to our hostel and sorted out some photos for an hour or so before heading back out into the cooler evening. (The loo that you see in the video was in the underground station – just in there to prove how clean and shiny Singapore is, even in the places where most other cities fail.)
The Sri Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore and we went in several times over the few days. On this occasion we were lucky enough to witness a lady in full song, accompanying the devotees on their walks around the central temple.
We walked around an old part of town in the golden hour, snapping away. It really hits you how well the shop houses here have been preserved compared to those in Kuala Lumpur
After a while we were feeling worn out so we caught a bus to what we thought was going to be the riverfront. It turned out to be quite a long journey at rush hour and left us at yet another shopping mall, this time Vivo City. It was just another enormous mall and out the back you could see the docks and the old St James’ power station which has now apparently turned into a nightclub. It was back on the MRT for us for a last wander around the now familiar Chinatown area.
There was a stage set up and quite an audience gathered in the square outside the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Chess is another popular occupation, to play and to watch.
The next morning we were up early again and went for a final wander before getting a taxi back to the Golden Mile complex for our coach.
Before long we were back on the coach and heading back to KL and our new 90 day Malaysian visa.
So that was our two days in shiny Singapore. Apart from paying for accommodation and food, the other activities we did were all free.
Here is the video I mentioned a few times!
Singapore: 13th – 15th January 2014