Asia vacation 2008: Day 1 Singapore

This was the second year in a row that i visited Singapore with Smelly.

The connecting flight from Tokyo to Singapore was not uneventful. Courtesy of my platinum elite status with Northwest Airlines, Smelly and i were upgraded to business class. When the plane was taxiing on the runway, ready to take off, all of a sudden, we heard this panic voice from one of the flight attendants. From her accent, i have to guess she’s one of the Singapore-based flight crew. We had no clue what was going on until we saw her attending to this passenger sitting one row in front of us on the starboard side. From where we were, we noticed that he had thrown up all over himself, from his mouth down. The same flight attendant got on the announcement system and made an urgent call for any physicians on the flight, again, in a panicky kind of tone.

Within a few minutes, two Singaporean physicians came over to check on the passenger. From what i could hear, it sounded like the sick passenger wanted to remain on the plane. This was almost like a repeat of what happened last year when we were on the exact same flight to Singapore. A couple were forced off the plane in Tokyo when they were discovered to be quite sick because the airline did not want the whole plane to be quarantined on arrival in Singapore. The flight attendants gave the same reasoning to this passenger and eventually he agreed to be taken off the plane. I think even if he did not want to, the decision was not up to him. Eventually, the plane taxied back to the gate and a Japanese emergency crew took him out of the plane.

Because of this, we arrived in Singapore two hours later than scheduled. Traveling to Singapore on Business class was not as pleasant as i had anticipated. All around us, inconsiderate people were coughing without covering their mouths. Two Singaporeans – probably a father and his pimply-face twenty-some year old son, who looked like he had consumed several more hamburgers than he should have – were the worst open-mouth cough offenders. In addition, i caught him digging his nose in full view of others. At times, with two fingers!!! And with his thumb!!! How he managed to fit two fingers in his nostril is still a mystery to me.

On arrival, we checked in at the Ambassador Transit Hotel in Terminal 1. Originally, i had planned to stay at Sheraton Towers but then my sis told me that it may be cheaper to stay at the Transit Hotel since they charge by blocks of six hours. It definitely made more sense to only pay for the hours that we were there than to pay for a regular night at Sheraton Towers. The Transit Hotel room appeared to be clean but the bathroom had a musty scent that smelled like a 5-day old wet towel. Because the Transit Hotel was located in the secured area in the terminal, we did not clear immigration and we did not pick up our checked-in luggage until after we had checked out of our room six hours later.

Singapore is a very small city state. One advantage of being so small is a really well-developed public transportation system. The island is well-linked by a subway system called MRT (Mass Rapid Transit). From Terminal 3 at Changi Airport, we got on the train that took us two stops to Tanah Merah station. From there, we got on another train that took us West-bound toward Raffles Place station. We could have gotten off at City Hall station – one station earlier – but my experience told me that City Hall station would be packed with people. From Raffles Place station, we took the North-bound train several stops to Newton station. Sheraton Towers hotel is located 5 minutes walking distance away from Newton station.

After meeting my parents and my elder sis at the hotel, we went to Smelly’s favorite Thai restaurant in Singapore, the Parkway Thai restaurant located at Centerpoint shopping mall. The lunch was great but the portion appeared to be smaller than the dinner we had there last year. I like how Thai food is prepared at the restaurant. I find that Thai food in the US tends to be too much on the sweet side. My favorite dish at the restaurant is the spicy chicken feet salad. After lunch, my sis took my parents shopping while i took Smelly to the resort island of Sentosa. Prior to arriving in Singapore, i had told Smelly about Underwater World at Sentosa island and she was very keen on visiting it even though i told her i did not remember being wowed by it on my previous visit (granted, my previous visit was probably back in the late 80s). Utilizing the MRT, it took us no time to arrive at the bus terminal that provides a shuttle service to the connected island at the Southern tip of Singapore.

Fish Reflexology ad at Underwater World
Fish Reflexology ad at Underwater World on Sentosa Island.

Our first and only stop at Sentosa Island was the Underwater World. After getting our entrance tickets, we noticed a poster for Fish Reflexology, right next to Underwater World. A middle-age man, who was passing out the Fish Reflexology flyers, took us into the spa. I am really not a spa kind of guy. My only other spa visit happened last year on a trip to the capital of Malaysia. Prior to this visit, i have read about Fish Reflexology on some blogs and on some US-based news website some months ago. Paying to feed the fish with my feet really intrigued me. Smelly and i decided to go for the $52 SGD (Singapore Dollars) full service: a 20-minute spa fish pool dip, followed by a 20-minute foot reflexology and then a 10-minute head and shoulder massage. We received a 10% discount for using my American Express card.

Prior to dipping our feet into the shallow pool, we were asked to rinse and wash our feet without using any soap. There were two types of pools. One contains smaller fish while the other houses a bigger fish. We went for the pool with the bigger fish. There were two German guys with their feet in the pool when we started dipping in ours. Immediately, almost all the fish came to nibble on our feet. It was quite ticklish in the beginning. We were making so much noise that one of the spa attendants told us to quiet down!

Turkish fish mercilessly attacking my foot.
Turkish spa fish mercilessly attacking my foot.

One of the German guys had absolutely no fish. We were making fun of him, telling him that may be his feet was too clean and there was nothing for the fish to feed on. It is also not out of the realm that his feet were so stinky that the Turkish spa fish wanted nothing to do with them.

Fish abandoned German guy's feet
Fish abandoned the German guy’s feet in droves.

After we got done with Foot Reflexology, Underwater World was up next. I could not remember why i was not impressed by my first visit to Underwater World but i enjoyed myself tremendously this time round.

Coconut crab at Underwater World
Coconut crab at Underwater World.

The best part of Underwater World has got to be the underwater portion of it. We basically went through a transparent underwater tunnel on a moving carousel. When we wanted to spent more time checking out the fish in a particular area of the tunnel, we just had to step off the carousel and move onto the stationary walkway. It was an amazing feeling seeing so many different kinds of sharks swimming around me.

While we were on the surface portion of Underwater World, Smelly managed to hand feed some rays by placing pieces of fish between her fingers.

Underwater World RFID fish identification explanation
Underwater World RFID fish identification explanation.

In a fresh water exhibit, i noticed something quite unique. On one section of the glass separating me from the fish, there was a yellow-frame. As fish swam by this area, its identity would be display on one of the LCD touch-screen terminals. Apparently, some, if not all, of the fish in the display have been tagged with RFID chips.

No Signboard restaurant in Geylang
No Signboard restaurant in Geylang.

For dinner, we met up with my parents and my sis. My sis decided to eat at the No Signboard (無招牌) restaurant in Geylang, an area in Singapore known more for its red light district. The No Signboard restaurant is famous for its seafood selection, especially its crabs. We ended choosing a white pepper-style crab. It was delicious!

After dinner, we all went back to Sheraton Towers. But Smelly and i had not had our sweet tooth satisfied yet. So we walked about 10 minutes to Newton Circus outdoor food court. It took me a very long time before i managed to find a dessert stall with chendol. Unfortunately, the chendol was added with so much unnecessary crap that it no longer tasted like what it was supposed to. Whoever thought it was a good idea to add red beans, cream corn and whatnot into Chendol need to be shot on sight. A good Chendol should contain nothing more than shaved ice, pandang-flavored green jelly, brown coconut sugar and coconut milk.

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