Hotel Tip of the Week: Wanderlust Hotel, Singapore

singapore skyscrapers

Sometimes, you just know it when you see it. Like those who don’t know their Merlots from their Cabernet Sauvignons know that they love the glass of red wine in their hand, or those who aren’t gear heads just know they found the right car as soon as they take it for a test drive. That’s how we feel about design hotels, which we find can be very hit or miss, often times more flashy design than substance.

Difficult to find even with a local cabbie, we finally located the hotel in the backstreets of Singapore’s Little India district. From the minute we walked in to the Wanderlust Hotel (til the minute we left) we knew that this hotel was IT!

wanderlust hotel singaporeEmitting a funky, artsy vibe from the start, this hotel is not just a design lover’s hotel. The Wanderlust Hotel is truly a traveler’s hotel and though not travel-themed, the first thing I notice is right outside hanging above the entrance. It is a tiled antique lamp on which ‘Tourist Rooms’ is written in blue ink. It inspires a feeling of traveling through Turkey or Greece a century ago, giving away nothing of the sharp, intelligent and modern design just through the sliding glass door.

wanderlust hotel singapore first impressionsAs we walk in, there is no lobby, per se. The ground floor, designed in pure industrial, recycle-chic is dedicated to French-themed bar and restaurant Cocette. We sit in seats refashioned from antique barber chairs and shopping carts, take photos of the Indian food labels on the wall and flip through a coffee table book with marvelous pictures of, you guessed it, design hotels around the world. But, it is after a few minutes, when our room is ready and we are in the elevator, that I realize that the Wanderlust hotel and the GlobetrotterGirls are kindred spirits.

wanderlust hotel singapore lobby and cocette restaurantI am glancing through the ‘Wanderlust Itinerary’ which holds our room key. The booklet looks like a passport, though with the red, white and blue stripes of old time ‘Air Mail’ envelopes. Inside, one page is dedicated to tips on taking local, public transportation (we are within an 8-minute walk from two metro stations and loads of buses), another lists simple, local Indian places to eat in the area, while others have maps, and information about Singapore and the neighborhood. With mid-range to high room rates (starting at $125 a night), it would be easy for this award-winning design hotel to recommend dinner at the Marina Bay Sands or other luxury establishments (of which there are many in Singapore) and offer to call over-priced taxis for guests who wish to remain inside a luxury bubble. Instead, this hotel respects true travelers. People who, while willing to pay more for a hotel that is a true sanctuary, also want to get out and explore the local aspects of the city. People just like us. This simple detail, this ‘Itinerary’ spoke volumes about the ethos of the Wanderlust, and won our respect immediately.

wanderlust hotel itineraryMy attention was suddenly ripped from the little booklet as we entered our room – the ‘Princess’, on the Mono (all Black and White) floor. We both absolutely LOVE our room!

Our room is like nothing we have ever stayed in before.

wanderlust hotel singapore black and white roomEntirely black and white, the walls are covered in black and white sketches, backlit. Above our bed on the wall is a canopy, perfect in this ‘Princess’ room, and although it is obvious that the staircase and ceiling fan are purely decoration, in my morning daze the next day I do tug on the bedside table drawer to see if I can really open it. I can’t, of course, and I giggle at my silliness. The lighting and sketches create such an other-worldly feel, we have no interest in even opening the curtains. It would just ruin our limited time living inside this cartoon.

wanderlust hotel singapore black and white roomSingaporean hotel owner Loh Lik Peng collaborated with four local design agencies to create this 29-room boutique hotel.The result is three distinctly different room types. The Mono rooms like ours, Pantone, where each room one single hue and nine ‘Whimsical’ lofts, which are more like exhibits at an art museum than hotel. Hard to choose a favorite style, we do find that an all-neon green or all-red room might be hard on the eyes after a night or two.

wanderlust hotel singapore roomsThere are a few constants. The incredible beds (which did not fit in my luggage on the way out, unfortunately) flat screen TVs, iPhone/iPod docking stations and the bathrooms, which are made up of two gray tiled stalls – one with a rain shower and the other with the toilet, a complete set of Kiehl’s toiletries, a white pedestal sink and an external closet, complete with a hair dryer, white bathrobes and fuzzy slippers.

wanderlust hotel singapore sinks and bathrobesRemember the good old days of travel when all your non-alcoholic drinks were complimentary on your flight? Well, this is still alive at well at the Wanderlust. The mini-bar stocks complimentary bottles of water, cans of coke and diet coke, and little tin cups (like the ones that used to come in a packed lunch) of apple, orange and pineapple juices, but it is the Nespresso machine that win our hearts the most. Sipping strong coffee in our fluffy white robes, we relax before heading out to explore Little India. Just as one coffee becomes two (oops…but it’s Nespresso!!) there is a knock at the door.

Two smiling employees have come to drop off our afternoon snack. Five delicious cookies arrived, unrequested, which go perfectly with our coffee. How many hotels have offered us bottled water for $4, or beer/gin in a mini-bar at triple the price of a restaurant – and yet here is the Wanderlust, treating us as true guests, making sure we are happy with absolutely no upsell. Though our room wasn’t noisy, we appreciated the earplugs in case of noise from the construction site next door.

wanderlust hotel afternoon snack and nespresso machineAfter a dip in the rainbow Jacuzzi outside on the second floor that night, we slept like babies, and woke up just in time for breakfast, which ranks as one of the best hotel breakfasts we’ve ever had.

wanderlust hotel singapore jacuzziStand out feature: Breakfast

Realistically, the incredible design of the Wanderlust is impossible to miss, but it is the breakfast that impresses us the most. Included in the room rate, this breakfast not only offers phenomenal value for money, but it is exactly the way we would serve it if we ever ran our own hotel. Just seconds after sitting downstairs, we are served coffee and warm breakfast rolls and croissants to nibble on while choosing a main item (omelets, fruits, pancakes) and then are encouraged to head over to the amazing selection of goodies on the table behind us. 

Dozens of healthy cereals are available to choose from, along with healthy extras such as wheat germ, almond slices, raisins, fried fruits, sunflower seeds, etc, to make a true power breakfast. There are also two loaves of freshly baked bread, coffee and tea pot refills, fresh orange juice, fresh jams and soft butter. By the time breakfast comes we are already full, but the fluffy omelet and fruit salad are so delicious, we somehow manage to finish it all.

wanderlust hotel breakfast

Room for Improvement: The wi-fi

The Wanderlust makes free wi-fi available, but only one password per room. Similar to other couples, we have four internet-ready devices (laptops, smartphone, Kindle) and would expect to be able to use them all at a hotel of this caliber.

Overall: The Wanderlust Hotel Singapore

The Wanderlust is a trendy, inspirational hotel that offers excellent service and great value for money in one of Singapore’s most interesting locations. Like just the right glass of wine, or the perfect car, we knew right away that this hotel is just about perfect for travelers.

wanderlust hotel singapore

Location: 2 Dickson Road, Singapore 209494
Price: Starting at $195 per double room
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Digital Nomad Friendly:
If wi-fi passwords are provided for all devices, yes.
Amenities: Jacuzzi, free wi-fi, cable TV, Nespresso machine, complimentary (non-alcoholic) mini bar, fridge, iPod docking station, air-conditioning, restaurant, breakfast included in room rate

You can find all our photos of the Wanderlust Hotel on Flickr.

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Day 701 to Day 800: The Tops and Flops

800 days of travel cover

In our Reflections post yesterday we talked about the last 100 days, which we spent in Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, India, the U.S. and Mexico. We talked about how this last stretch has been nothing short of an adventure, and unlike any other time on the road yet. In this most recent post in our Tops and Flops series, we cover what have been the very highest of highs and lowest of lows…

Top travel moments

Cruising the backwaters of Kerala, India

We had been looking forward to this for months and the experience did not disappoint. The backwaters are essentially a water system of rivers, canals and lakes covering a massive area of land in Kerala and the flat waters allow houseboats to glide calmly on top of the water. The prices are so affordable that with Jaime and Val we rented a houseboat, complete with a captain and a chef for three days and watched Indian life go by. Locals bathed, washed and swam in the water, and we sat mesmerized by just how many palm trees our line of vision could hold out here at once. Plus, our chef stuffed us with the best Indian food we’ve ever had (see Top Food Moments). Cruising the backwaters of Kerala turned out to be our India travel highlight.

kerala backwaters

Cocktails on top of Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

We don’t often splurge on expensive restaurants or cocktails, but I just knew I had to have a Singapore Sling in Singapore. Edna told us not to have it at the Raffles Hotel (the birthplace of the cocktail, and where everyone else heads for it) because apparently nowadays theirs is a pre-made mix and so I decided to have it at the Skybar on top of the Marina Bay Sands instead. Atop this architectural marvel bathed in the most spectacular sunset, we toasted as we watched the city turn in to a sea of lights below.

views from marina bay sands

Favorite places


After falling head over heels for the dusty Cambodian countryside, we didn’t expect to love the urban feel of Singapore, but we loved it from the minute our plane landed. Expecting a restricted, bland mega-city, instead we were charmed by the eclectic mix of cultures, architecture and food in the city. Even though the financial district is filled with modern skyscrapers, neighborhoods like Kampong Glam, Chinatown or Little India still retain their traditional feel. In fact, there was so much to see between the markets, food and different neighborhoods we could have spent a few weeks there! With the ease of transportation, getting around the city is so easy – and we can’t wait to get back and explore even more.


Tucson, Arizona

It felt great to be back in Tucson! Our first time here came over two years ago in June 2010, when we were just two months in to this trip. A housesit brought us here, and the same homeowners asked us back this time around. Aside from loving the house, pool and the dog, we just love the South West and Tucson in particular. We love the saguaros, the desert-scape, the sunsets, discovering little cafes and great Mexican restaurants and visit nearby towns like Bisbee and Tombstone.

Tucson, ArizonaHampi, India

Unfortunately Jessica’s injuries kept her from joining our trip to Hampi, but this turned out to be my favorite place in India so far. I loved everything – the people we met there, the colorful little village, the impressive temples, the monkeys, the food and the unique scenery unlike anywhere else we had been in India.

hampi india

Most disappointing place(s)

The beaches of Goa

We always thought Goa would be paradise: white sand, palm-lined beaches and Indian food. Instead, we found the sort of typical tourist beach towns set along stretches of beach that were nothing more than average with several places with a strong undertow and pounding waves. Several people actually die on these beaches every year. While we want to go back to India, we wouldn’t waste our time in Goa.

cow at the beach in palolem

Worst travel moments

Getting rammed by a cow in India

Without a doubt, her encounter with a cow in Goa was by far the worst travel moment Jess experienced in the last 100 days. The bruises were bad, the torn back muscles and bruised hipbones were worse, but roughly about 50 days and thousands of miles later, she has almost fully recovered.

Flying Air India in general, plus arriving in the U.S. without our luggage

We booked our India – Tucson flights with Air India. Two weeks before our flight, a massive Air India strike saw daily cancellations in the dozens. After hours on the phone, luckily our flights were changed but not cancelled. However, instead of a direct Delhi to Chicago leg of the flight, our plane made a stop in Frankfurt, Germany but we weren’t allowed to get off. We spent over 20 hours inside the plane and when we disembarked in Chicago, our luggage did not arrive with us. We continued on to Tucson sans luggage and spent two days whining about all of the great things we could have lost with the luggage. Air India called and we finally got our bags, but we learned a good lesson about what is a carry-on must in the future. We also learned that except for the great in-flight vegetarian food, we wouldn’t ever fly Air India again.


Top travel mishaps

Taking a train without reserved seats in India

Whatever you do, do NOT spontaneously hop on a train if you’re traveling any sort of long distance in India. In India pre-booking sleeper class is entirely necessary to guarantee a seat in a part of the train that treats you like a human being. Val and I tried to reserve tickets for the 14-hour ride from Alleppey, Kerala to Gokarna, Karnataka, but all the seats were reserved. We were stuck with Second Class. How bad could it be, we thought? It was bad…really bad. Second class actually means that you are treated like a second-class citizen, similarly to cattle or other livestock. There is leaning, pressing, pushing, definitely standing. Six or more people sit where four should, and even people crawl up to sit above on racks meant for luggage. There are so many possibilities for disaster – the luggage rack could (and in most cases is about to) fall, the windows have bars and with the hundreds of extra passengers per car, how would anyone make it to the door alive? After hours of standing, an incredibly friendly Muslim family offered us their seats and we finally sat down, but the experience was so awful that the four of us got off eight hours early and spent two nights in a town none of us had planned to visit just to recover from it all. We wrote about it in detail here: Riding the Indian Rails – A real life roller coaster

indian train

Travel recommendations

Use foursquare to explore a place

We are big fans of foursquare (check out our GlobetrotterGirls Foursquare here), an app that lets you ‘check in’ virtually in all the places you visit – be it the hairdresser, dentist, restaurant, museum or hotel. Say you want to avoid possible stalkers, that’s fine, you can still use the app to explore tips for places around you, which restaurants are most popular on any given evening, etc. During our housesit last month, we found a ton of independent coffee shops in Tucson through foursquare that we wouldn’t have found otherwise, including dog-friendly cafes to bring the dog we were looking after. Once you choose a spot, the tips are even more helpful at giving ideas about what dishes to order or which to absolutely stay away from.

tucson cappuccino at cartel coffee lab

Top food moments

Homemade Keralan food on the houseboat in Kerala

Renting a houseboat and cruising through the backwaters was one of our favorite travel moments, and the food definitely contributed to that. In a cramped little kitchen, our private chef worked foodie miracles four times a day. We woke up to a delicious Keralan breakfast, and spent the next few hours basically waiting for lunch, which was the largest meal of the day. Rice, poppadoms, curries, and several local dishes filled the table each day. After a homemade afternoon snack with tea and coffee, dinner was rice, chapattis, and at least two curries, often made with coconut and fruits – like pineapple curry and mango curry. The homemade chapatti (bread) was the best we’ve had anywhere in India.

Keralan food on the houseboat in India

Jessica’s homemade Huevos Rancheros

Having a kitchen is quite possibly the best part of any housesit for us, and I couldn’t wait for Jess to make me my favorite breakfast, Huevos Rancheros (fried eggs with salsa served on tortillas, usually with a side of refried beans, guacamole and rice). Whenever we are in the U.S. or Mexico I order this dish as often as possible, but I have finally realized that Jess makes the best Huevos Rancheros ever, hands down. We also made salad everyday, baked cookies on a whim, made lasagna and experimented with a Mexican-style enchilada lasagna and had yogurt parfaits everyday for breakfast, when we didn’t have Huevos Rancheros.

homemade Huevos RancherosIf you made it all the way down here, you might be interested in our previous Tops and Flops as well:

Our Tops and Flops of 700 days of travel: Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia
Our Tops and Flops of 600 days of travel: United States, Thailand, Laos
Our Tops and Flops of 500 days of travel: Portugal, Canada, USA
Our Tops and Flops of 400 days of travel: Panama, Germany, Italy, Spain
Our Tops and Flops of 300 days of travel: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica
Our Tops and Flops of 200 days of travel: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador
Our Tops and Flops of 100 days of travel: Las Vegas, California, Arizona, Mexico

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Views from above: Singapore

singapore skyscrapers

Whenever we get to a city, the first thing we do is get as high up as possible – to the top of a tower, skyscraper or hillside in search of the best views from above. This helps us get an idea of how the city is laid out, its actual size, and most importantly creates a huge respect for the city, its skyline and the buzz of the people living and working on its streets. Before arriving at our hotel in Singapore, we had already researched the best places for a stunning view of Singapore from above, and knew that this Asian metropolis has a wide variety of these vantage points. Read on to find out the best ways to take in Singapore’s skyline:singapore sunset from top of marina bay sands

Where to get the best views of Singapore

The Mount Faber Cable Car

The Singapore cable car connects Mount Faber with Sentosa Island, with a short stop at Harborfront. Start at Mount Faber – the views from the mountain are fantastic! Watch cars drive along the curvy road hugging the bay, and look a bit further into the distance to count dozens of freighter ships waiting to be allowed into the harbor.
singapore harbour and skyline from cable carSpot some of Singapore’s creative architecture in the new apartment buildings near the ocean, and of course one of Singapore’s main tourist destinations, Sentosa Island, where you land on your final approach.

singapore cable car views The ride is short. It takes about 10 minutes to cover the roughly 1,000 meters (3,280ft) between Mt Faber and the island. To spend more time in the sky, opt for Sky Dining, which will give you the privacy of your own cabin and a romantic fine dining experience during the sun set (S$168 per couple for a 3-course dinner, S$218 for four courses.)

singapore cable car to sentosa islandHighest point (on Mount Faber): 93 meters (305 ft), during the ride 60 meters (197 ft) above the sea

Price: S$29 (round trip), Super Saver Night Rider: S$35 per couple  for a round trip incl. popcorn and soft drinks

More information: Singapore Cable Car

singapore cable car views

Tiger Sky Tower on Sentosa Island

Once you have arrived at Sentona Island, hang out for a while. Tour the free cable car museum for an interesting history of how the cable car has improved over the years. Make no mistake – Sentosa Island is essentially a resort, with two golf courses, two 5-star resorts, a Universal theme park, underwater world, dolphin lagoon and several other attractions, but you can spend a day on the beach here facing the ocean and blissfully ignore the busy city behind you.

sentosa island beachSentosa Island is also the best place to look at Singapore from outside of the city, by taking a trip up the Tiger Sky Tower. Not only does this offer views over Singapore’s skyline, but you can see everything on Sentosa Island and the small islands beyond. On clear days you can even see Malaysia and Indonesia. The Tower is actually a big round cabin that ascends the column of the tower slowly while turning, providing 360 degree views.

sentosa island view from cable carIf you don’t want to use the cable car, you can also walk to Sentosa Island from Harbourfront (the walk takes about 30 minutes) or take the monorail.

Highest point: Observation deck, 110 m (360 ft) above ground

Price: S$15

More information: The Sky Tower closed permanently in 2018.

sentosa island and freighter ships from cable car

The Singapore Flyer

If you like Ferris wheels, you will love The Singapore Flyer! The tallest in the world, the Singapore Flyer towers over the city at 165 meters tall, a full 30 meters higher than the London Eye. Our time up in the Flyer was an incredible 30 minute vertical tour of the city. We must have shot 200 pictures while in our massive pod.

singapore flyer The wheel is located on the Marina Promenade on the South Eastern side of the Marina Bay, in walkable distance from the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. As the cabin moves higher and higher, the views over the city evolve: first you have terrific views over Marina Bay, then over Singapore’s Grand Prix Circuit, over the Eastern part of town and over the Strait of Singapore with its countless freighter ships coming and going.
singapore flyer viewsWhile we were in town, we were curious about a strange construction down near the water as well. Those of you on your way to Singapore now can visit what we later found out is a $1 billion construction of gardens, which look like they are straight out of Alice in Wonderland. Actually a conservatory with 226,000 plants and flowers from all around the globe, it is also home to 18 ‘Supertrees’ which serve as vertical gardens, collecting rain water and generating solar power, and acting as the venting ducts for the conservatory.

singapore flyer view over gardens by the bayThe Singapore Flyer also offers a longer time on board with a truly special dinner… the world’s best sky dining. You will spend an hour rotating twice while enjoying a world-class 4-course meal in a private gondola.

marina bay sands viewHighest point: 165 m (541 ft)

Price: S$29.50


Singapore viewsMarina Bay Sands Skydeck

It is a strangely beautiful architectural masterpiece and we just loved staring out at the Marina Bay Sands from everywhere else in Singapore.
marina bay sandsBut some of the absolute best views of the city are to be had on top of this building itself – from the Skydeck. The 340m-long SkyPark that tops the three towers is home to the highest infinity swimming pool in the world, and the world’s largest cantilevered platform (which is the 67 meters worth of overhang you see that makes the Skydeck almost look like ship sailing in the air.

marina bay sands There are several ways how you can access the Skypark. You can stay at the hotel, which in addition to views, gives you immediate acess to the infinity pool as well. There is an observation deck, but we figured that instead of investing S$20 for views only, why not grab a drink at the Sky on 57th restaurant instead. Sure, a glass of the house red costs $20, and a Singapore Fling is $18, but it’s the same price as the Observation Deck and there is nothing quite like having a drink at sunset looking out over the Marina Bay…

cocktails and sunset at marina bay sands
views over SingaporePlus, keep an eye out for celebrities while you’re here. The rich and famous love this hotel just as much as everybody else and Marina Bay Sands has hosted a long list of famous guests.

Highest point: 191 meters (626 meters)

Price: S$20 for the skydeck, or the price of a drink at one of the rooftop restaurants (starting at around S$8, or $18 – S$20 for a cocktail or glass of wine)

More information: Sky on 57 restaurant, Skypark Observation Deck
singapore at night from marina bay sandsIf you’d like to combine views with a fancy dinner, here is TimeOut’s list of Singapore’s 20 best rooftop bars and restaurants.
dani & jess at marina bay sands

Have you been to Singapore? What is your favorite spot for views of Singapore’s skyline?


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800 days of travel: Reflections on the last 100 days

800 days of travel cover

Today we celebrate not only 800 days of life as traveling nomads, but 2,190 days of being together. That’s right, today is also our 6-year anniversary – two incredible reasons to celebrate today! 

If I had to choose one word to describe the last 100 days, it would be contrasting. More than in any of our other 100 days reflections, our experiences have truly been all over the map, both literally and figuratively.

From the gentle subtleties of Asia to the in-your-face intensity of colorful India on to the sandy vastness of the desolate Tucson desert and finally ending up here, in a gorgeous house of our own for two months on a remote beach in southern Mexico.

800 days of travel
Tacos in Mexico, a tractor in Cambodia, Singapore’s skyscrapers
A Tucson home, coconut soup in Malaysia, children of India

The world’s best beaches

Let’s start with the end. In the last 100 days, we ended our first stint in South East Asia. When we first bought our tickets to Bangkok, we were wide-eyed and filled with wonder. What would Asia be like? We had read blogs and our Lonely Planet Southeast Asia book. After seven months there, we felt as travel-savvy there as anywhere else.

Picking up where we left off at Day 700, we were in Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s most popular beach town, at our favorite spot in town – the Beach Club resort. A three-day trip over to the entirely underdeveloped island of Koh Rong made us realize just how spoiled we are after spending so long around the Caribbean the year before. We undertook a tough hour-long hike up and over a mountain, through the jungle of Koh Rong to reach what has been the only stretch of beach to impress us to the same degree the Caribbean did on a daily basis. India’s beaches were no better, either.  It may have taken 800 days, but we are now fairly certain that we prefer the Caribbean to any beaches world – until we get to the Maldives, that is!

long beach koh rong cambodiaFriends make everything better 

On the whole, however, Cambodia turned out to be our favorite South East Asian country, maybe because the challenges of traveling made us actually feel like we were on the road whereas Thailand and Malaysia are such a breeze to travel. Maybe it was getting so involved in the horrid history…but most likely it was the Cambodian character, the friendliness of the people. We just couldn’t resist the smiling and waving wherever we went. Part of this might also be because we spent such a fun week with friends in Siem Reap, the last week of our stay in the country. With Shannon and Ana we went to Angkor Wat, hung out, swam in the hotel pool and had an all-around fun time.

We also reunited with our friend Jaime in India and having him to laugh with (and during my ‘injured phase’, to cry with too) felt great! Best of all, I was able to be there for my best friend’s wedding in Denver this June. For the past 14 years I either been living abroad or traveling,  so being around for such a significant life moment for one of my favorite people was really important to me!

traveling with friends

Our lives let us live some intense contrasts

The day we flew from Siem Reap to Singapore was one of those major contrasts I was talking about. We started the day in a rickety tuk-tuk on the way to the airport, and after landing in Singapore, we hopped on one of the most modern and efficient metro systems in the world. We take to big cities like fish to water, so exploring Singapore was an incredibly refreshing change. While in Cambodia you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in a suit but plenty of pigs on the back of motorbikes, Singapore is all brand-new shiny cars, start-ups and excitement about the future. This was an entirely different world, but still very much an Asian city.

After a quick stop in the Malaysian colonial city of Malacca, we were flung into an entirely different world yet again…our first trip to India. This country, or rather sub-continent, is so unique, and so unlike anywhere else we have ever been that just being there made the world feel bigger and smaller simultaneously. Let me try to explain. Obviously, the more we travel, the smaller the world feels. We buy a plane ticket, fly in, and suddenly, places we had only heard about are a part of our reality within that same day.

singapore cambodia and arizona
Singapore, Cambodia and Arizona

But being in India is so different to the Americas, Europe and Asia that it felt like I finally had this triangulation point. A third place in the world that was so incredibly different to anywhere we had ever been before. There was less of a feeling that we had conquered India as travelers, having only visited Kerala, Karnataka and Goa, so we will definitely be going back for round two.

Taking time out to recover is key 

There were also those couple of injuries I had in India that completely incapacitated me. Despite access to quality medical care, India is chaotic and not the best place to recover. I had my eyes set on one thing only – our time in Tucson. Back in 2010, just two months into our trip, we had a housesit in Tucson, and they contacted us to come back this June. We loved the dog, the house, the pool, the homeowners and Tucson itself, so it helped so much knowing that after a roller coaster ride in India, Dani and I both could relax, recover and regain control of our schedule in Arizona.

tucson poolThis led to another extreme contrast, as Tucson couldn’t be more different to India. We went from the kind of heavy humidity that presses your chest and frizzes your hair, to the dry scorching days that crack your skin and dehydrate you instantly – luckily we much prefer Arizona’s dry heat and we relished the 110-degree days. A comfortable rhythm of dog-walking, running errands, reading great literature for an hour at the pool and working early in the morning and then again in the late afternoon felt great, and slowly but surely my injuries healed up nicely, and just in time to help with the wedding in Denver.

We love where housesitting brings us

Day 800 finds us in our most remote location yet. We are now in Mexico, on our 11th housesit assignment in two years. Here for two months, this will be our longest stop yet –  looking after a beach house and a rather playful guard dog. We plan to work, snorkel, and experience the ebbs and flows of life on the beach.

mexico 2012After this we have absolutely no plans. We have a sneaking suspicion that South America might finally be a part of our near future, but we can honestly say that we have no idea where we will be writing you one hundred days from now…

Looking back:

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Five places you shouldn’t miss on a visit to Singapore

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We have written a lot about Singapore previously – told you our first impressions, how to visit Singapore on a shoestring, how we experienced sin galore in Singapore, and other stories – but we haven’t actually told you our top five places we think you should definitely visit when you travel to Singapore – even if you’re only spending a couple of days there!

Read on for what we think are the five places nobody should miss on a visit to Singapore:

Sentosa Island

Sentosa Island was the perfect place for us to unwind after a few days in the bustling city. We arrived in the most scenic way – via cable car – and headed straight to the beaches. We had no idea that Singapore even had such gorgeous beaches! Sentosa Island is also the place where you find the southernmost spot on continental South East Asia, and you find enough entertainment here to keep you busy for a couple of days, including Universal Studios, Butterfly World, Underwater World and a Dolphinarium, a Sky Tower and an Adventure Park, to name just a few. You can also get here on the MRT train and can get around the island by bus.

Singapore Sentosa Island

Kampong Glam

Sometimes called ‘Muslim Quarter’ of Singapore due to its large Muslim population and number of mosques, this is by far our favorite neighborhood in Singapore. You can just get lost walking through the colorful renovated shop houses, have coffee in little tea houses, or window shop at the textile and silk shops on Arab Street. Sultan Mosque is the most impressive mosque in Singapore and shouldn’t be missed!

Singapore Kampong Glam

Marina Bay

Marina Bay is almost the complete opposite of Kampong Glam – the world’s leading financial institutions have their Singapore headquarters in skyscrapers around the bay, and the remarkable Marina Bay Sands Hotel with its one-of-a-kind rooftop infinity pool sits on the south side. Take a couple of hours to walk around the Bay, visit the city’s mascot, the Merlion statue, stop at the Esplanade (Singapore’s futuristic opera house), marvel at the funky Art &Science Museum, cross the Helix Bridge and enjoy the many modern statues along the way. The best way to see all of Marina Bay is actually from the rooftop of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel – we recommend heading up to 57th Floor Bar instead the observation deck. A drink will cost you less (or the same, at $20) and the views are the same. When we go back, we’d actually choose a Marina Bay Hotel in Singapore since it is in walking distance of most of downtown’s hot spots, including the popular Maxwell Hawker Food Center.

Singapore Marina Bay


One thing we loved about Singapore were the many different ethnic neighborhoods – Kampong Glam for the distinctive Muslim vibe, Little India for amazing Indian food at small prices, and Chinatown for a mix of cheap restaurants (here you’ll find the cheapest alcohol in all of Singapore!), interesting Chinese medicine shops and other Chinese paraphernalia, and beautifully restored buildings, especially along Pagoda Road. Once known to be the seediest area of Singapore with lots of brothels, 30-50 people stuffed into tiny apartments and drug abuse, the neighborhood is now among Singapore’s prettiest – especially at night, when the red lanterns on the streets are all lit up.

Singapore Chinatown

Haw Par Villa

Even though this place is kind of creepy, we thought it was a unique experience that you won’t have anywhere else in the world! Plus, it’s free! Haw Par Villa was built in 1973 by the millionaire brothers who founded the popular Tiger Balm brand. The villa and its gardens feature over 1,000 statues which all depict scenes of Chinese history and mythology – which can be rather strange, like the old man milking on a woman’s breast or rats with bleeding stumps, armed monkeys and the 10 Courts Of Hell. For anyone who isn’t familiar with Chinese mythology and folklore, these scenes might be confusing, but believe us, it’s also something you will never forget!

Singapore Haw Par VillaHave you been to Singapore? Which places would you suggest people shouldn’t miss?

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Why You Should Visit Singapore On Your Next Vacation

merlion and marina bay sands singapore

Although ranked as one of the most expensive places in South East Asia, it is inexpensive to get to Singapore. It’s easy to schedule a trip because there are daily flights from Canada, United States, Europe, and Australia. Once you get there, you can either decide to spend a little more than you’re accustomed for simple luxuries (like a Singapore Sling) since it’s only for a short vacation, or, alternatively, you can look for travel deals and budget offers for hotels, food, drinks, and entertainment (check Groupon, for example).

singapore skyscrapers

The Sports Scene

Singaporeans love their sports, and there is an abundance of recreational and competitive sports to choose from. Some of the most popular sports are football, basketball, rugby, badminton, and cricket. Cycling and swimming are also gaining in popularity. If you love golf, then you should visit the Sentosa golf course in Singapore because it is a world-class golf course and open to all. As the small island continues to develop, many golf courses have been swallowed up by expanding business districts, and today only the best remain. Singapore’s golf courses represent a quiet haven in a bustling city.

singapore cable car to sentosa island
View towards Sentosa Island from the Singapore Cable Car

A Cultural Kaleidoscope

Singapore is a blend of different cultures. Singaporeans enjoy a diversity of religions, ethnic groups, languages, and cuisines. Consequently, the city is a blend of the modern world and ancient traditions. You’ll find temples adorned with statues of Indian deities in one part of the city with modern commercial buildings not too far away.

Singapore’s ethnic cuisine is something that you must try. If you like Chinese food, try the Char Kway Teow at Hill Street Char Kway Teow. If you like seafood, try the Chilli Crab at Jumbo Restaurant, located on East Coast Road. If you’re a vegetarian, you won’t be disappointed by the Xinghua vegetarian noodles and crispy Tofu balls available at Xing Hua Restaurant, located on Race Course Road.

Indian Idli in SingaporeMany excellent meals can also be purchased from street food vendors. American travel writer Anthony Bourdain, famous for his dining tips, once commented, “Nobody in Singapore drinks Singapore Slings. It’s one of the first things you find out there. What you do in Singapore is eat. It’s a really food-crazy culture, where all of this great food is available in a kind of hawker-stand environment.”

Getting around Singapore

There are numerous transport options around Singapore. The main bus services are TRANSIT, SBS, and SMRT, and fares range from $1 to $3 for local stops. Then there is the Mass Transit Railway (MRT) which is fast and economical, runs from 5.30 am to midnight, and covers about 90 stations. It’s one of the fastest ways to get into Singapore once you land at Changi Airport. Then there are taxis, which are a more expensive option than bus or rail, but still affordable. Finally, there are trishaws, which are pedaled transport vehicles. These are the most expensive. Tourists frequently use them for sightseeing purposes. Prices range around $20 for a short ride and can go up to $50 for an hour.

colorful building in singapore

What to See and Do in Singapore

Here are some ideas on sights to see and things to do:


Singapore has many wonderful places for sightseeing, including Jurong Bird Park, Merlion Park, and Sentosa Island.

  1. Jurong Bird Park is the largest walk-in aviary in the world, has a huge collection of all kinds of birds and also boasts one of the largest man-made waterfalls on earth.
  2. Merlion Park is built around a 28 foot Merlion statue, which has a lion’s head with a fish body. It represents how the city once started as a fishing village.
  3. Marina Bay has been transformed into a spectacular part of the city, a large complex with science museums, casinos, shops, diners, and nightclubs.
  4. Chinatown is one of the most intriguing neighborhoods in Singapore. Check out the herbal medicine shops selling all sorts of remedies – including dried lizards! – to cure just about any ailment.

chinatown singapore at night


There is always plenty to do in this city, like getting on The Singapore Flyer, visiting the Gardens by the Bay, taking The Singapore Night Safari trip, or boating aboard The Singapore River Cruise.

  1. The Singapore Flyer is an observation wheel that provides a panoramic view of attractions along Singapore River.
  2. The Singapore Night Safari is a 40-minute trip through a wildlife night park, where you can see all sorts of animals from Asia and Africa, like Asian tigers and African lions.
  3. The Singapore River Cruise gives you chance to appreciate old-fashioned quays as well as skyscrapers.
  4. The Gardens By The Bay are probably the most awe-inspiring gardens in the entire world!

A visit to Singapore is a unique experience. It’s a charming blend of cultures, as well as a juxtaposition between the ancient and the modern.




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Singapore on a shoestring

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It is no secret that Singapore is expensive, and not just by South East Asian standards, either. You could easily blow through a huge budget while in this city-state, but there is actually no need to break the bank. Skipping Singapore would be such a shame. We fell for its mix of Western ambitions and Asian roots, and the eclectic intermingling of cultures and can not imagine missing out on this vibrant and buzzing global city.

kampong glam street with sultan mosqueRead on for our tips for traveling to Singapore on a shoestring:

1. Buy the SMRT (metro system) day passes

Taxis are incredibly expensive in Singapore. Luckily there is no need to take them, with Singapore’s excellent MRT public transportation network. Even for people uncomfortable with public transport, Singapore’s buses and subway are immaculate, easy to navigate and best of all, very affordable.

Single tickets are not cheap, but there are two ways around that: one is the Singapore Tourist Pass, which is available at the airport or at any Tourist Information, and for a deposit of S$10, you get a card which you can top up with the Singapore Tourist Pass. With this pass, you pay S$10 / US$7.90 per day (or S$16 / US$12.60 for two days / S$20 / US$15.75 for three days) and get unlimited rides on all of Singapore’s public transportation. We found Singapore to be surprisingly walkable, though, so depending on what you plan to see, some days you might not use the system enough for the price. It could be easier to pick up the ezLink card (S$12 / US$9.45 – S$5 / US$3.40 for the card, plus S$7 / US$5.50 top-up value), which is what the locals tend to use. You top us this card, which offers great discounts on a pay-as-you-go basis. Remember to swipe the card both as you enter AND exit the bus or metro, though, as fares are calculated by the distance traveled.

singapore subway2. Eat at hawker food stalls

Singapore has some of the finest dining in the world, and if you find it worth it, why not splurge? However, for daily meals, don’t waste money (sometimes $40 or more for two) at mediocre restaurants. Instead, visit Singapore’s famous hawker centers, which bring together dozens of food stalls in one place. You can find authentic, ethnic Indonesian, Malay, Thai and Chinese food for a few dollars per dish. There are plenty of these food centers around town, but among the best are the well-known Maxwell Food Center, the Amoy Hawker Center in Tanjong Pagar, Lau Pa Sat  in the Centre District and the Chinatown Food Center in Chinatown, plus Tekka Food Market in Little India. In these hawker centers, food usually starts at S$2 /  US$1.55, and is not more expensive than S$5 / US$3.40. If you find yourself in or near one of Singapore’s malls, consider eating at the food court. These are not quite as cheap as hawker food stalls, but you can easily fill up for under $5.

chinatown food prices singapore3. Take advantage of the free attractions

You can pay for many sights, but there is plenty to do for free in Singapore. The city itself is an attraction, so stroll through the ethnic neighborhoods such as the primarily Arab Kampong Glam area, Chinatown and Little India. Then head out to walk the around the entire Marina Bay along the promenade. Here you will see so many of the highlights, such as Marina Bay Sands, which is free to wander through, unless you want to go up to the top for the view. The fascinating Haw Par Villa is strange, but definitely free of charge as are the beautifully manicured Botanical Gardens. A visit to the beaches of Sentosa Island is almost free – you will have to pay for your metro ticket to get there, but it allows you to spend a relaxed day at the beach.

sentosa island palm trees and oceanIf you are in Singapore on a weekend, the Singapore Art Museum and the National Museum of Singapore are both free from 6 – 9pm on Fridays. You can even see a free outdoor concert at Singapore’s Esplanade every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night.

4.  Stay for free – Couchsurf

Accommodation is probably the most expensive aspect of a visit to Singapore. The cheapest option is to stay for free by couchsurfing. Partially due to the large expat community in addition to the high cost of hotels, the couchsurfing community in Singapore is huge. While some hosts may offer you a couch, many will have a spare bed or even, as in our case, a very comfortable second bedroom. The added benefit of couchsurfing in Singapore is that your host might have time to show you around or at least give plenty of tips for fun things to see and do that you may have otherwise never known.

singapore apartment complex
The swimming pool in the apartment complex where we couchsurfed in Singapore – we were encouraged by our host to use it.

If you are not comfortable sleeping in a stranger’s house, there are plenty of brand new hostels in Singapore in fantastic locations like Chinatown and Little India. Some of the hostels we thought looked good were: A beary good hostel, with two hostels in Chinatown rates for a dorm bed start around S$15 / US$11.80 for a dorm bed, free wi-fi and breakfast; and Sleepy Sam’sS$25 / US$19.70 for a dorm bed, anytime breakfast and wi-fi.

Singapore also has one budget hotel chain, Hotel 81, which has been around forever. Rooms start around S$50 / US$40 for a double if booked through online sites like Agoda or in advance. There are several branches around town, some look very dated and others have shady reputations, so check the specific hotel out on Tripadvisor before you book.

5. Find discount tours

We mentioned free attractions in #3, but of course Singapore also has a number of sights that are not free but well worth a visit. For those, check out Singapore Tours, where you will find the guaranteed lowest prices for major attractions such as the Universal Studios Singapore, the popular Singapore night safari, hop on – hop off tours, city passes and more, offered by local tour operators.

6. Drink in Chinatown

Alcohol is far more expensive in Singapore than anywhere else in South East Asia, and we found that in most places beer started at around S$8 / US$6.45, and wine at around S$12 / US$9.30. This is why you will spot most budget travelers drinking Singha or other beers in Chinatown,where many restaurants there compete with each other to lure you in with deals like 3 beers for  ‘3 beers for S$15’ (US$11.80).

chinatown singapore at nightMany bars in popular night spots have Happy Hour prices. Clarke Quay is buzzing at night, so make sure to head there for 50% Happy Hour drinks before forking out for full price later on in the evening.

7. Use coupons

There are actually some great websites out there for cheap deals in Singapore. For example, Groupon is just as popular in Singapore as in North America, and Groupon Singapore offers half-off many of the city’s most popular attractions in addition to restaurants, bars, and if you want, workouts, yoga, and all the other great Groupon deals. There is also a website called Singapore Dine which is specifically meant for restaurant deals in Singapore. If you want to eat at some of the nicer places in town, this is a great way to save some cash. If you subscribe to the Groupon deal emails before you visit Singapore (or follow them on Facebook / Twitter), you can get some great deals that otherwise only the locals would get.

singapore groupon deal

8. Getting to Singapore on the cheap

If you are already in South East Asia, getting to Singapore can also be done inexpensively. We flew from Cambodia for $100, but we could have paid one-fifth of that price had we gone by bus from Kuala Lumpur. Buses run several times a day between the Malaysian capital and central Singapore, and take five hours including the border crossing. If you are going to fly, we found that AirAsia consistently had great rates throughout all of South East Asia.

Have you been to Singapore? Feel free to share your money-saving tips for Singapore in the comments below!

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How to have the perfect Singapore weekend on a budget

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It is no secret that Singapore is (by far!) the most expensive country in South East Asia. While you can sip 50 cent beers on a beach in Cambodia or drink $3 liquor buckets in Thailand, a Singapore Sling sets you back $20, or even more if you want to try the classic version at the Raffles Hotel.

But that doesn’t mean Singapore can’t be visited on the cheap with some smart planning. We loved our quick visit to Singapore, which made for the most cosmopolitan experience in South East Asia. Luckily, it is not expensive to get to Singapore at all, as it is a major transport hub in South East Asia with daily connections to North America, Europe and Australia.

Read on for the tips we used for our budget-friendly weekend escape in Singapore:

marina bay singapore

Find deals on accommodation

Hotels in Singapore are easily the biggest chunk of anyone’s budget while in town. The best way to find a great accommodation deal is to check the usual hotel comparison websites to see if there are any special offers. All the big hotels usually have a promotion which can save you up to 70 per cent of the original price. This is one city where the best dorms can run the same price as quality hotels, which is why research and reservations are key to saving on accommodation.

Locate the best restaurant promotions

Singapore is filled with hawker centers, popular food halls that offer a variety of food stalls where you can try some of the best specialties that the country has to offer, with prices rarely above $4 for a delicious meal.

However, Singapore is a foodie city and it would be a shame to miss out on top of the line restaurants and exciting cuisines while in town. We signed up to deals websites before our trip to find discounts on hotspots we wanted to try. Check out the restaurant and bar deals on restaurant deal websites, where you can find incredible promotions for some of the city’s best restaurants and cafes. A popular promotion for example is the lunch buffet for $28 at Windows on the Park on Orchard Street, which is double the price without the coupon, or the 4-Course French Degustation Menu at The Tastings Room in Marina Square for the same price, which is a true bargain.

Groupon Singapore Restaurant Deals

Plan out your activities in advance

No matter what your interest is, Singapore has something for every travel style. You can visit the theater, art galleries and a number of world-class museums, and even if you don’t have cash to spare, we loved joining the throngs of shoppers on Orchard Road, a wide boulevard lined with over 20 malls offering everything from high street brands to luxurious designer labels. One of the best things about the city is how many free things there are to do in Singapore. 

For paid attractions, it’s worth checking for promotions on websites like Groupon, where we found deals on admission to the Flower Dome, the Cloud Forest, Underwater World and the Dolphin Lagoon for only $35, or a combined ticket for the Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel and the Gardens by the Bay for $37 instead of the normal price of $53. Other deals include the Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour plus a river cruise for only $35, which is a great way to take in this majestic city!

Singapore does luxury best, but there is no reason to miss out on the wellness side of things if you’re on a budget, either. There are deals to be had for Spa & Wellness  activities here, too, like full body massages for $25 or mani pedis for $20.

coffee making extraordinaire

Things you shouldn’t miss in Singapore:

The views from the Marina Bay Sands Hotel Rooftop. The vistas over the city from up there are breathtaking, especially at sunset. You can either pay $20 for the observation deck or pay the same $20 for a drink at the Sky on 57th restaurant. The views from both are the same, so why not sip a drink while you take in the twinkling lights of the city.

A stroll through Chinatown. This neighborhood has not only some fantastic restaurants, but also the best-preserved colonial buildings, Hindu temples and street markets and offers a fascinating contrast to the bright lights of the Marina Bay.

A beach break on Sentosa Island. Singapore’s Sentosa Island is home to several amusement parks (including Universal Studios) and resorts, but is also the best spot to hit the beach and relax from the city rush back across the bridge.

sentosa island beachThe Botanical Gardens. If you are not a beach person but are looking for some peace and quiet, make sure not to miss the Botanical Gardens. We absolutely loved it here, surrounded by a massive selection of exotic flowers, including a rain forest, a ginger garden and an orchid garden. The best thing: they are free!

The Marina Bay Visual Arts Trail. A stroll around Marina Bay should not be missed, and the Visual Arts Trail features a number of outstanding sculptures, including a piece by Roy Liechtenstein. You can find more details and a map here.

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A taste of Singapore…our first impressions

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Singapore was a bit of a mystery to us before our recent visit…how is that some countries in South East Asia exist in messy, varying stages of development and Singapore boasts incredible architecture, essentially no crime and one of the most resilient economies in the world?

kampong glam with sultan mosqueThis stark contrast really smacked us in the face, flying straight in from Cambodia. Singapore is a city-state (like Monaco or Vatican City), but really just feels like a cosmopolitan mega-city, whereas even in Cambodia’s largest city of Phnom Penh we witnessed remaining signs of rural life. Where much of Cambodia has dirt roads, Singapore has highways. While Cambodians haul livestock on mopeds, Singaporeans haul iPads in brand new Mercedes. The disparity was shocking, but it was not difficult to jump right in to urban life. We had always heard that Singapore was this kind of Asian wunderkind and can confirm the rumors to be true. The public transportation is modern, clean and on time. 5.8 million people are successfully housed in high rises across only 272 square miles. There are no homeless people, at least none that we saw and we did some definite exploring outside of popular spots like Marina Bay in the week we were in town.

singapore skyscrapersIn fact, we probably walked an average of 10 miles a day while in Singapore, not including our strolls through twenty or so mega malls that line Orchard St. There are enough touristy things to do to keep visitors busy for weeks, including highlights such as the Singapore Flyer, countless museums, the popular Singapore Night Safari, beautiful Botanical Gardens, Chinese Buddhist and Indian Hindu temples, and even a Universal Studios Theme Park. We couchsurfed in a friendly neighborhood, made it out to a farm, went to the eccentric Haw Par Villa, Sentosa Island, but no matter how much we took in, many of my questions about Singapore were left unanswered. We’ll reveal the best ways we found to learn about Singapore in posts to come. For now, we want to take you on a quick photo-tour of this magnificent city!

arabic sign in kampong glam
Arab Street, Singapore

One of our favorite neighborhoods was Kampong Glam, Singapore’s ‘muslim quarter’ – there are mosques, muslim schools, arabic cafes and along Arab Street, you can find Persian rug stores, burkah shops, Turkish cafes and Egyptian restaurants. The whole area is filled with colorful Chinese shophouses, the streets are lined with palm trees and cafes spill out on the sidewalks.kampong glam lamp

kampong glam street
Palm tree-lined street in Kampong Glam
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A Muslim wedding at the Sultan Mosque
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Turkish influences in Kampong Glam

This neighborhood has loads of street art, colorful murals and mosaics.

kampong glam mural

kampong glam street art

street art in kampong glamWe loved that the traditional neighborhoods like Little India, Chinatown and Geylang Serai remain much the way they always were, despite more and more skyscrapers going up in downtown Singapore, billion dollar hotel projects, futuristic eco-gardens and the newly designed Marina Bay Promenade.

merlion and marina bay sands singapore
The Marina Bay Sands Building and Singapore’s mascot, the Merlion.
singapore at night from marina bay sands
Singapore’s skyscrapers at night

singapore skyscrapers

esplanade singapore
Singapore’s futuristic Esplanade Theater

singapore esplanade theater

singapore marina bay sands
More futuristic architecture: the lotus flower-shaped Arts & Science Museum in front of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel Casino

singapore with flyerWe loved that there were still old-fashioned ice cream vendors at Marina Bay, despite the modern buildings and the revamped promenade. We had to of course try Singapore’s special ice cream sandwich: mango ice cream in white toast.

singapore ice cream sandwichWe found that Singapore in general seems to have a sweet tooth – there are hundreds of bakeries around town – much to Dani’s delight…

cream puffs singaporeStarbucks in Singapore has some of the most delicious cakes we’ve come across, better than most Starbucks cafes around the world for sure…

peanutbutter cake in singaporeYes, there are plenty of Starbucks, Coffee Bean and other coffee shops, but we loved that there are just as many traditional Singaporean coffee houses, where coffee is still made the old-fashioned way.

coffee making extraordinaire

strictly prohibited sign singaporeSingapore is sometimes called ‘the police state of South East Asia’, or the double entrende ‘FINE city‘ and for good reason. There are many laws that are strongly enforced with huge fines, like up to $500 for eating or drinking on public transportation. Just in case you are nervous about breaking a law, don’t worry, as there will most definitely be a sign for that. Contrary to popular belief, gum-chewing is no longer illegal but you can’t buy it in the country. However, the rules do seem to actually work here: Singapore is by far the cleanest city we’ve visited in South East Asia, and where we felt the safest.

sentosa island beachWho would have thought that Singapore has gorgeous beaches like this? Sentosa Island is the perfect getaway from the city – just a short 10-minute gondola or metro ride across the bay.

singapore cable car to sentosa island
View towards Sentosa Island from the Singapore Cable Car

The creepiest place in Singapore? Definitely Haw Par Villa, founded by the brothers who invented the infamous Tiger Balm (read more about it here.)

haw par villa singapore 10 courts of hell

haw par villa singapore feetless ratOverall, we loved how colorful Singapore is – no matter which neighborhood we strolled through, the houses were always painted in bright colors, like here in Clarke Quay.

clarke quay singapore

kampong glam bull

chinatown singapore
Colorful Chinatown

colorful building in singaporeWe also loved the many hawker food stalls all over Singapore and in the food markets, as well as the busy street markets.

bugis street market singapore

Indian Idli in Singapore
Authentic Indian Idli in Singapore

dani & jess southern most point of asiaWe made it to the southern most point of Continental Asia!

The Sultan, a new shophouse-style boutique hotel in Singapore’s Kampong Glam district was kind enough to host us during our stay.

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Sin Galore in Singapore

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As we mentioned in our previous post on Singapore, this Southeast Asian city-state was a bit of a mystery to us. For everything we learned during our treks through the city, there were ten more questions as Singapore unraveled before us. We realized that we needed professional help – it was time for a tour. Recommended #1 on Tripadvisor was The Original Singapore Walks, so we decided to join their Secrets of the Red Lantern Chinatown walk.

chinatown sign singaporeThis was by far the best walking tour we have been on yet. It was saucy and racy and gritty and fascinating.

Bathroom buckets and sardine packed apartments 

Set in Chinatown, we learned the history from the perspective of the Chinese immigrants who flooded to Singapore’s shores in search of opportunity after British businessman Sir Stamford Raffles founded the city-state in 1818 as a trading post for the East India Trading Company. The Chinese who arrived here throughout the 19th century had often endured high seas for months at a time, were penniless, starving and often many friends or family members had died on board the ships. When they arrived to Singapore they were initially given assistance by others who, in their demands for payback, would essentially ensnare them into a form of servitude impossible to escape (similar to the concept of sharecropping in the U.S. South).

singapore chinatownOur guide Janet shared the stories of the shophouses, which had factories or shops on the ground floor and 20-30 people living upstairs in one-room apartments. Some had wooden planks as beds, others just the floor, and even these spaces were often shared between those on day and night shifts. Near the start of the tour she took us into a back alley (which in today’s Singapore is surprisingly clean) to show us little doors in the backs of the shophouses. Stinky buckets of number 1 and number 2 were placed behind these doors, and trucks would come, open them and collect the waste each day. From her explanation and our own imagination we could practically smell the stench of these overcrowded houses and their appalling living conditions.

chinatown singaporePicking your poison in Singapore

Working conditions were no better, she told us, and the only break the immigrants here could get from the backbreaking labor was in the brothels and opium dens. The opium dens were where the physical pain could actually be lifted for the little while they could smoke. Chinatown was the epicenter for brothels as well, and we learned how to recognize some of the ‘higher class’ establishments, the division among the Chinese and Japanese prostitutes (the latter served only Europeans while the former focused on locals). Much of the area has long since been gentrified and legal prostitution all but phased out, but she did sneak us past one of the last few remaining legal brothels and we had a sneak peak as we passed. It was a small entrance in a back street that just looked clinical, unlike the roaring scene she described along the way. Janet showed us many of the ‘materials’ used (see below).

chinatown singapore feminine oilSexual liberation in Chinatown eventually led the area to become the unofficial home of Singapore’s gay community – a complicated issue itself. Essentially homosexuality is frowned upon, sex between men is illegal, and yet up until recently Singapore hosted one of the world’s largest gay festivals each year. We really appreciated Janet’s candor about the gay community. She provided the kind of in depth information that we normally only experience on LGBT-focused tours, even stopping under a rainbow flag waving at one of the more popular gay bars in the city. It was great to see the wealth of information included on the tour about the gay community, even though everyone on the tour but us was definitely straight.

chinatown singapore with gay barWhat we loved about Janet was that she clearly had great relationships with people in the community. We stopped at a Chinese medicine shop and chatted with the owner who supposedly supplied President Bill Clinton with a natural form of a special elixir (think snakes and bugs floating in an liquid meant to…raise the roof…). She gave us a great advice on where to eat vegetarian Chinese food, which we took and it was delicious! And even though she couldn’t take us in to tour the brothel, it wasn’t for not trying. Singapore Walks actually tried to reach out and create relationships with some of them in order for tours to be able to experience first hand how the brothels work today. Apparently this didn’t go to well…but they tried.

singapore chinatown chinese medicine shopShe left us with this little nugget: back in the day people used to joke that Singapore was just one letter off. Replace the ‘p’ with an ‘l’ and you get the true name of Singapore in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Singalore – Sin Galore.

From our drinks at the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel looking down over the city  in 2012, we would have never known about Singapore’s seedy past, and it was loads of fun finding out all about it.

singapore sunset from top of marina bay sands

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