Singapore is a small island city-state, which means that it quickly gets boring for uninformed travelers. Three days in Singapore, and you have literally done it all — or so you might think.
But the next time you find yourself passing through Lion City, drop your bags off at a nice hotel in the best part of Singapore and then knock a few of these offbeat activities off your travel bucket list:
Singapore is a sprawling metropolis — at least the main island is. However, up north, next to Malaysia, lies the smaller island of Pulau Ubin. Known as the Last Kampung of Singapore, this island is the only place you can still see the traditional village houses of the past. Only around 100 residents remain today, surrounded by lush flora and diverse fauna. There are plenty of hiking and biking trails to explore and quiet beaches to relax on. Definitely a nice retreat from the city life in Singapore!
Dating back to 1937, Haw Par Villa has earned itself a reputation as Singapore's most bizarre tourist attraction and religious theme park. Originally known as the Tiger Balm Gardens, it was built by two brothers, the same duo who created Tiger Balm rub. The park was designed to teach Chinese mythology, but over the years it has evolved into an over-the-top collection of over 1,000 multicolored statues and giant dioramas depicting various — and often gory — scenes from Chinese history, folklore, and legends. Haw Par Villa might not be off the beaten path anymore, but Singapore doesn’t get any stranger than this!
Located right on Clarke Quay, this is one activity that every visitor to Singapore has seen but few ever try. The G-MAX reverse bungy is like nothing else you have ever experienced. Strap yourself in, and get ready. After being slingshot up in the air, reaching speeds of up to 100 km/hr, riders bounce and fly around in what G-MAX politely refers to as a "swing" — ha! This experience is so uncommon that I recommend having someone else film your ride. Besides, at 45 SGD, it's the cost of two drinks in Clarke Quay — and definitely more worth it.
To make a long story short, a Taiwanese company developed a machine that prints photos onto coffee foam. Of course, the next logical step is to use this for selfies instead of trippy designs. If you don't mind paying a hefty premium for your coffee and waiting a few extra minutes (yes, even longer than usual), you just might be a perfect fit for Selfie Coffee. And where else in Singapore would it be located than the hipster hotspot that is Haji Lane?
Up in the northeastern corner of Singapore lies Kranji, the Singapore countryside that many tourists do not even realize exists. Yes, there is a part of the main island that isn't a cement jungle! Here the jungle is still thick, and small farms are scattered among it. The biggest and best-known is Bollywood Veggies and its Poison Ivy Bistro, which serves what is arguably the freshest food in all of Singapore. There are also several nearby parks and nature reserves worth exploring, including Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Kranji Reservoir Park, and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.
Beyond just greenery and fresh foods, Kranji also has plenty more to offer. Horse racing takes place every Friday and Sunday at the Singapore Turf Club, conveniently located right next to the Kranji MRT Station. The Kranji War Memorial pays homage to all the fallen soldiers from all the nations who helped defend Singapore from the Japanese during World War II.
Singapore may be small, but the harder you look, the more you find. What other offbeat and quirky sights or activities would you recommend?
HoliDaze Guide Amsterdam's Top Offbeat Activities
Old John Mellor, (look it up) had a point, happy people don't really create much. That is, they're not quite as motivated, nor is it as easy for us to quite grasp the point of it. Look, I'll give you a for instance: pain, addiction and mental illness gave us Crime and Punishment. Happiness and a contended life gets us The Adventures of Peter Rabbit.
I think a man on a Big Wheel in Vienna once said something similar, and said it better.
The point is that I’ve been late setting anything down because I am, quite simply, quite happy. Maybe it's a bit shameful that we rush to spread our misery, then go ahead and horde our happiness. Then again, maybe that’s just me. But, there you go and here we are.
In some ways, I'm back where I started, sat around in an old cricket jersey and shorts and looking out of the window. However, this time it’s a radically different landscape, one whose peak temperature today is predicted to be a giddy – 19, and that's going to be about it 'till well into next year.
I'm in a flat to the south of central Moscow, about forty minutes ride on the Metro to the centre. It's in one of the typical Soviet era tower blocks that are pretty much the standard here and that, to Western eyes, will always be viewed through the jaded prism of the Council estate. In truth, it's a perfectly decent way of living. I think, in the West, it was the bungled attempts at social engineering that accompanied their construction which marred the project. Then again, maybe not. It's not really my field.
I'm currently working at two vastly different schools; one to the far South of the city, (in the suburbs) and another that's so central I could throw a rock at the Kremlin wall from its front door, (not that that's a good idea). My classes are all at night, so I'm rarely home before 11pm, which, (other than lesson preparation) leaves the days my own.
It's still a surreal experience, finding yourself in Moscow. I think, back from the vantage point of my flat in Lancashire, Moscow seemed such a distant proposition. Exotic, very possibly. Romantic, definitely. The reality doesn’t disappoint. Let's be clear, I'm not talking about ‘romantic’ in the Mills and Boon sense, I'm hardly likely to go off and recount you with torrid tales of forbidden love on the Steppe, but ‘romantic’ is still the right word. I didn't really appreciate 'till I got here just how much of Moscow had been built from my imagination. I don't think I guessed how much of myself I'd already invested in this place. It's hard really to describe it, but if I'd gone back in time and allowed the six-year old me to be John Wayne, (a big hero) for the day, I'd be getting somewhere close. Only the six-year-old me would probably have more sense than to stop every five minutes to remind themselves that they really were John Wayne.
But it's worth reminding yourself. Otherwise, you risk taking it all for granted and that would be a crime. I mean, I live and work in Moscow. Surely that's amazing? That guy, whose daily commute to the office dragged him through the grey drudgery of the industrial Northwest, now commutes via the Kremlin walls. That guy, who might never of seen again, now stares out onto St Basils and Red Square. Please, tell me that’s not amazing. Because it is.
I didn't mean that last paragraph to sound quite as smug or self-congratulatory as it did, but there’s wonder everywhere here and it's hard not to get carried away. In what is gradually becoming Standard Operating Practice for this blog, I'll give you a ‘For Instance’. For instance, in, around, twenty minutes, I'm going to leave for my night shift at Kantemerskaya. The street light's have come on, so it's probably around -18 out there about now, (can the pedants hold back? I'm writing this in stages. The forecast referenced earlier was this morning, it's now SHIT I'M LATE!
To be clear, the bit above really was genuinely typed in the moment. Remember, I promised not to lie. Yes, I could easily have deleted but, but as a consequence of being late this evening, I made a mistake that’s going to be really good when I get round to illustrating a point later on. Standby. You'll be amazed.
That, and I think it's funny.
Where was I? That's it, Cold and The Metro. From the time I arrived, there's been a definite sense of ‘other’ about the people here that I'm still struggling to nail down. I can't put my finger on it, it's a little like a world that's run parallel to our own without ever meeting it. For instance, (see?) the mullet remains alive and well here, yet simultaneously, there's a sense of high fashion and style that would make the heppest of New York and London Hep Cats blush. We could go into it, but for now, just go with ‘other’. It's easier that way. Then, when the cold kicked in over the weekend, that sense of other suddenly became proof of the alien, which takes us back to the Metro.
I've always loved the Metro. It's where all of Moscow comes together and has to sit side by side. It's absolutely massive, too. Seriously, the tunnels can go down as far as half a kilometre and, at times, it feels like there couldn't possibly be any more of Moscow out there as there's so much of it in the Metro. One of my regular commutes takes me into Borovitskaya, where the crowds at the bottom of the escalators – pensioners, children and all – could rival any mosh pit in the world. Together, we cram into the cattle crushes like the world's slowest moving stampede; slow, intractable and, once inside, inescapable. You can't even move your arms. You simply stand, your arms pinioned to your sides, and let the momentum of the crowd carry to the escalator. It's an odd way to start work.
As I was saying, when the cold hit, this sense of ‘other’ became radically more extreme. Suddenly, people took on an entirely different shape. We're not talking about the odd fashionista bucking this year's winter trend either, we're talking about an entire city. Suddenly, every one's torso is grotesquely enlarged, either wrapped in enormous puffer jackets or shrouded head to toe in fur. Even heads have become enormous, as the Unshanka shifts from the exception to the norm.
In the Metro, the overall effect of this can be breathtaking. Suddenly, you find yourself in an entirely foreign landscape, populated entirely by aliens. Moreover, as – inevitably – your dressed in exactly the same fashion, (more on this later) you inadvertently become both observer and observed. For those of us from small islands in the West, it's entirely strange, foreign and – have I said it? – amazing.
Fur here is not so much a fashion choice, as a necessity. Really – and I'm sorry for the animal rights people, (I really am on your side) – manmade fibres just don't work. If you've never been here, it's hard to understand, but facing a day when the warmest it will be is -24, isn't something to be treated lightly. Yes, I know, that – for a day every few years – various countries reach extreme temperatures, but that's not really the point. The point is that an entire people need to live, work – and occasionally have fun in this – well, it sort of changes your perspective. Should I give you a ‘for instance’? Yes, let's. For instance, I was meeting my friend in Red Square on Sunday, (you have no idea how cool it is to type that) when she was fifteen minutes late. I mean, that's fifteen minutes, it's nothing. In reality, despite my expensive climbing gloves, five of those fifteen minutes were enough to leave me feeling like my hands had been dipped in ice.
It started with the feeling that my nails were curling back from my fingers, then ended with the loss of all feeling. That was fifteen minutes. That's how cold it is. I'll give you another; I was late for work earlier tonight, (ah ha!) so hadn't had time to eat before running out of the suburban Metro station at Kantemerskaya. I stopped at one of the many kiosks on the way to buy whatever I only had time to point to, then ran down the street eating as I went. This, as I said, was a mistake. By the time I arrived at the school, around half a mile away, my face and right hand were entirely numb. Out in the suburbs, with nothing but the tower blocks to halt the wind's progress, the cold is overwhelming. Even without the wind, it's like your skin is being daubed in acid as you move. For someone whose people have never spent anytime in these kind of temperatures, I'm afraid I just don’t have the vocabulary to really express it. Perhaps if I was a better writer, I might be able to paint a picture for you, but I'm not and I can't. You'll just have to imagine it.
But then, even the cold has its place in The Amazing. (I've decided to give it capitals). I never planned or wanted this to be easy, and the cold's part of that, just as much as anything else. There's a whole world out there and The Amazing doesn't discriminate on the grounds of temperature. I think it's all about experiencing it.
You see, rather than get wiser as I've got older, I've getting gradually more stupid. Seriously, (I'm sticking with the honesty promise) I knew more when I was eighteen than I do now and, no, that's not twenty years wasted. The certainty I always imagined existed in my elders and, so I was informed, betters, never really happened to me. Instead, every new piece of information I acquire generally contradicts the last one and, as I get older, I'm generally coming to see a bit of worth in each; which means nothing makes much sense. The point is, instead of the clear and polarised truths of old, I'm growing more unsure and more uncertain than ever. Less and less makes sense. More and more becomes unclear. But that's OK. Really, I'm fine with that. Because, with the loss of certainty comes a great mental and emotional cavern that can be filled with both awe and wonder.
You see, (and I'm going right back to the start here) I think anyone can do anything. I think that's going to be my spiel for a bit. If that imaginatively myopic Corporate type can do this, I think that leaves the field pretty much open to anyone. If that physically blind derelict from a few years ago can make it here and can see and experience this, then really, anyone can do anything. Believe me, I'm sincere in this; our possibilities are endless. We rarely, if ever, reach the end of our abilities. All of us are capable of so much more than the nine to five and the next mortgage payment. Don't get me wrong, I'm not disparaging that life, (not at all) I'm simply trying to say that there’s far more to any of us than the role others ascribe. You are not simply a parent. You are not an office worker. You are not managed or manager. You are all of those and far, far more. You can do anything.
Both cities belong to the oldest settlements in Australia and try to preserve old building and sights.
In Sydney, the district "The Rocks" right by the Sydney harbour is the oldest part of town which has been restored during the last decade. You find small museum as well as souvenir and other shops, nice old-fashioned cafés and restaurants as well as quite contemporary upscale shopping opportunities. You should take part in a guided walking tour through the Rocks to learn everything about the life of the early immigrants.
Melbourne's history is connected to the figure of Ned Kelly, the famous bushranger. You can observe his self-made armour and more relicts in Melbourne museum and visit the museum of Old Melbourne gaol, where Ned Kelly was imprisoned before he was hung.
Like most Australian cities, both Melbourne and Sydney are situated near the coast.
Sydney has several beaches in suburbs, for example the famous Bondi Beach, but no less beautiful (and crowded) Manly and Coogee Beaches.
Melbourne has one beach located near the city center, in the district of St. Kilda.
While Bondi Beach is famous for surfing, St. Kilda Beach is blessed with big waves, because Melbourne city is located by a bay, Port Phillip Bay. Melbournians prefer to drive a little farther out of town, up the Great Ocean Road, to Torquay (Bell's Beach), Lorne or Apollo Bay.
You should find everything you're looking for in both cities. But if you're looking for shopping malls rather than prowling the city centre, you will probably like Sydney better. The Queen Victoria Building (QVB) looks old-fashioned but offers a great variety of modern shops and cafés, besides its impressive Victorian architecture. Another shopping centre has been opened in Darling Harbour, Sydney's up-and-coming trendy district.
Melbourne's Central station has a big shopping centre with dining and entertainment options ― a cinema occupies the top floors ― but it lacks the atmosphere and architecture of the QVB.
Business versus Culture/Leisure ― this is how I would break down the atmosphere in these cities to easy terms. Sydney CBD is busy with the financial sector workers and dominated by the big office buildings, whereas the Melbourne area is filled with restaurants, cafés and art. But this is just my personal impression. While both cities have their trendy spots, party miles and entertainment venues, Melbourne offers a wider variety of multicultural cafés and restaurants from different immigrant home countries: Greece, Italy, Ireland, France and various Asian countries for example.
A big plus for both cities. You get to experience a lot of cultural events there all throughout the year, in addition to the cultural 'classics' you can always visit: In Sydney, you can of course have a look at the Opera house ― if you're not into opera performances, you can take a guided tour through the Opera house during daytime, and you'll also learn a lot of interesting things about its remarkable architecture.
Melbourne has the amazingly central and amazingly concepted Fed(eration) Square – it's THE public place to be. A lot of events happen here on a small stage or are transmitted on the big video screen, and on a normal day, there are street artists entertaining the crowd that always gathers there.
The best way to get through Sydney is actually by bus ― there is a big network of bus lines, but for someone who's new in town, in can be a little complicated. There are also a few CityRail train lines and regular ferry services departing from Circular Quay to a number of beach suburbs around the Sydney harbour.
In Melbourne, tram lines are still in use, which adds to the city's nostalgic charme. Of course, city train and bus lines exist as well. The tram system works well, and there is an extra tourist tram ― it runs on a circular route around Melbourne's CBD and also plays a recording with information on the sights in passing. The so called City Circle Tram is free; the tourist tram line can be easily recognized and distinguished from the normal, chargeable tram lines because it uses old-fashioned, dark red tramcars.
Both cities have a stadium for major events and concerts, a few musical and a few more acting theatres, cinemas, and a lot of live musicians bringing life into the pubs even on weeknights. Have a look at one of the free city magazines for a weekly overlook ― there'll surely be something you'll like. During summertime, both cities usually have big open air events, either in the Botanical Gardens or in the harbour area (of either city).
Although Sydney had the famous Olypic Games in 2000, Melbourne regularly hosts internationally renowned sporting events like the Australian Open or the Formula 1 Grand Prix, just to name a few.
Basically, it's head-to-head. Both cities offer everything you might look for in a modern and diverse metropolis, but they are still different in the details and the atmosphere. Which city you like better in the end is based on personal preference.
I am quite fascinated with the London borough Chelsea, mainly because of the Portobello Market in Notting Hill, Notting Hill the movie, Notting Hill itself, and my favorite reality show Made in Chelsea. My favorite London borough though, is Camden.
Here's my absolute favorite, the Camden Market. I've read somewhere that it's best to go there on a weekday to avoid the crowds. I've been twice - once on a Sunday, and once on a weekday, and I gotta say, it's much more fun with more people around. There's a certain feel-good vibe on weekends.
If you walk past the market and further uphill, you'll get to Primrose Hill, which has a totally different ambience. I really love the contrast between the Camden Market and Primrose Hill. Observe:
Delicious cupcakes from a sweet little shop called Sweet Things
Apparently, Primrose Hill has/had some pretty famous residents, including Professor Snape and Bellatrix Lestrange! I would absolutely love to live on Primrose Hill and bump into, oh I don't know, maybe Gavin Rossdale, Jamie Oliver or Jude Law, and head down to Camden Lock with Agyness Deyn or Gwen Stefani.
Surviving Jakarta. It was afternoon when I arrived at the Soekarno-Hatta airport and first thing I did was get a cab. The most reliable taxis are the Silver Bird (the make is Mercedez-Benz, very comfortable), Blue Bird (the make is Toyota), and Express. Most locals will recommend this and only this for you. For the record, I took Silver Bird because my friend's uncle was the driver.
One thing you will notice as soon as you get on the road is the traffic. Superbly congested in a nice way. You can see people along the road promoting their 'merchandises' (from foods to drinks to toys) and daring driving skills. It's just unique and somehow I found it serenading. It took an hour to get to my friend's house and it costs me Rp.200,000 (quite an amount!) or less than $20 USD but it was worth it.
Now now, for a person traveling with a tight budget, worry not! There are many other affordable transportation available and they seem to be fun. For example, they have 'Angkot' (which is a van made into a small bus, where it's destination differs and they are decorated differently according to the districts). 'Angkot' means 'carry' or 'bring'. The fares are from Rp.10000 and up (less than $1 USD). But always exercise precautions as you might be victims of pickpockets and such. Also brace yourself as they give you a VERY LIMITED time to enter and exit before they started accelerating the van. Vrooooommmm!
If you opt for something you are more familiar to, there are buses. The most reliable one is TransJakarta, in which it runs in special lane. Chances are you wont be stuck in the heavy traffic. Bingo! :) This bus is so unique that they have an extraordinary bus stops called shelters. These shelters are elevated, and it's like a mini glass building in the middle of the road. The fare may range from Rp. 3500 per trip.
Last but not least, if you wanna channel the inner 'adventurer explorer' in you, you may opt for a ride with some random dudes with motorcycles. Yes! I'm serious, there are dudes with motorcycles who will take you to your destination with a fresh breeze blowing your hair and cheap fares. Just look for any spot with 'OJEK' sign. Sometimes they name it 'PANGKALAN OJEK' which may mean 'OJEK'S STATION/STOP'. 'Ojek' refers to services of sending you to your destination with a motorcycle. Up for the challenge? The fares can be any amount, it depends on them. Chances are they are cheap. :)
Talking with the locals. As I can speak Bahasa Malaysia (and also Indonesian) this was easy for me. However, if you want to address people, be aware that the respective names differ according to the districts. But these are the generally accepted (my Indonesian friend taught me this, pardon me if I am wrong) greetings:
First I went to the Monumen Nasional (National Monument) or called MONAS. You can actually get to the top of the monument and experience a bird-eye's view of Jakarta I was told. Unfortunately, I went there at night and the admission was already closed. If you haven't find something for everyone yet, MONAS can be the place. You can find people selling their merchandises all around, mainly souvenirs and food. Prices are superbly reasonable.
And speaking of ancient and history, make sure you stop by for 'Es Ragusa Es Italia' (Ragusa, Italia Ice cream). The local said that it is from the Dutch Era. Which is just opposite Masjid Istiqlal. It is very well known and you might have to queue before entering the premise! Don't be fooled by the small old unattractive looking shop, the ice cream is anything but ordinary. I suggest you try 'nougat' flavour.
Also, make sure you stop by the 'Kota Tua' (Old city square) and have a tour in Fatahillah Museum. It is a Dutch heritage, a prison in which many were tortured. And if you are lucky, you will get a free 'Wayang Kulit' (Puppet opera) session! I get it from Mr. Alex. And the tour costs only from Rp.190000 (approx. 20 USD).
Oh and yes, if you are going to Kota Tua, make the trip on weekend, because there will be an event every weekend where they serve good indie musics and they sell merchandises for reasonable price. You will enjoy but be aware of your belonging, especially your wallet and cameras
Also in Kota Tua you may find a very very elegant cafe, right opposite the Fatahillah museum building, named Batavia Cafe. Claimed to be since the Dutch era, this cafe serve various foods and drinks for quite an 'elegant' price, yet it is worth it. The scenery and atmosphere are just........mindblowing. A good spot to relax your mind when you had enough with the crowds.
Indonesia has many various cultures and is rich with foods from each ethnic group. I must say I enjoyed all of it. Happy traveling!