Saturday, July 12, 2014

Singapore - The Most Incomplete Guide Ever

Hainanese curry rice with pork chops, fried egg, braised pork and veg, in Tiong Bahru
I lied in the title. Not only is this incomplete, it's not even a guide - just a quick itinerary/rundown of what I did, ate, and tips on how to get around, get a SIM card, where I stayed and stuff. This post is probably more for my dementia-prone self than you. Also, I think this is about my 6th visit to Singapore, and I was largely travelling alone, so don't judge me for not eating chilli crab, laksa, chai tow kway etc.

Making kueh tutu
Day 1, AM: Tiong Bahru stroll
Thank you to the cutest couple Goz & Phoebe for taking me around their 'hood! We started with breakfast at Tiong Bahru's famously "no name" Hainanese curry rice place, and kueh tutu (steamed cakes of lightly pressed rice flour filled with a sweet peanut filling. No water or fat is mixed into the flour - who thinks of this stuff? It's amazing!).

Beautiful buildings around Tiong Bahru
I can see why the area was getting so "hipster" or at least, popular with the "creative class" - from the first gen 1950s public housing complete with lawns, to post-war colonial building with bauhaus curves, and gigantic industrial windows, all of it is so, so beautiful and right up my alley.

Making popiah skins by hand. Amazing to watch. Should have shot a video.
Then there were kueh at Hainanese bakery Galicier with putu ayu and ondeh ondeh, a popiah skin maker in Havelock Road Food Centre called Hup Kiat (Block 22A Havelock Road, #01-663M).

Plain Vanilla
In the hipster end of the area was a beautiful cafe called Plain Vanilla (the chocolate tart we had didn't really live up to the beautiful decor of the place, nor how the cakes looked), and Books Actually next door with an awesome corner selling vintage decor round back.

Diner en Blanc - Singapore 2014
Day 1, PM: Diner en Blanc
That afternoon, I went and got ready for the main reason why I was in Singapore - to attend Diner en Blanc. We were told to meet at a coach carpark near Little India, where we found our table leaders and were led to our buses. I don't know why, but coaches make me giddy, in that school excusrion way. We weren't told where we were going, so it was a guessing game all along, until we passed the gates onto Sentosa. It was on Tanjong Beach. Who doesn't like a beach picnic?

At Bollywood Veggies
Day 2, AM: Bollywood Veggies
Urban and peri-urban farms always seem to be on my list to visit these days, and I made sure to visit one of the most well known - Bollywood Veggies. It's a show farm more than a production farm, although the bulk of Singapore's agriculture takes place in the same area, Kranji. Singapore's case is particularly interesting to me, as there are many similarities with HK. We both import around 99% of our food.

Nasi lemak at Poison Ivy, the cafe at Bollywood Veggies
Bollywood is geared towards families, so kids can learn about nature, farming and eco-awareness. They have a shuttle bus that picks people up periodically from Kranji MRT. I missed it, so I caught a cab, and it was a 10-minute ride. On the way, I saw lots of "agritech" companies, and a very cool looking hydroponic farm consisting of giant greenhouses.

Chwee Kueh from Tiong Bahru Chwee Kueh stall in TANGS Market
Day 2, PM: Sephora & Chwee Kueh
Sounds boring, but I was hankering to go to Sephora to stock up on Urban Decay and Tarte, so I went to Orchard Road (duh) where there are two! On Orchard Road, DC tipped me off on a wonderful elephant exhibition/shop inside Tangs, the department store. It happened to be on the same floor (B/F) as Tangs Market, which is a food court version of a hawker centre, and I fuelled up there on chwee kueh, which are ridiculously addictive, tender, warm pillows of steamed rice cakes with pickled veg on top. For dinner, it was Seng Huat at Bugis for another fave of mine - bak chor mee, followed by more Sephora, then Lady M at One Fullerton to try out their famed cakes (disappointing) and make an obligatory Merlion visit (which, strangely, I had never done before).

Ya Kun soft boiled eggs and kopi (Raffles City branch)
Day 3, AM: Kopi, Coffee, Work
Note my disappointment re: steamed bread at Ya Kun. I wouldn't have had to eat it if I hadn't missed an email about my postponed meeting (can't believe I'm still grrrr-ing about it).

5 1/2 oz at Department of Caffeine
So, with no meeting, I was free to eat again, so off to Department of Caffeine I went. The coffee was rather good, but the granola - "house made" and all, but with hazelnuts that had gone off, it was not my idea of homemade goodness.

Roti prata at Thasevi, Jalan Kayu. Once with egg, the other with a condensed milk filling
Day 3, PM: St Regis afternoon tea, Sugarhall, Roti Prata
Met with the divine Jackson, who was kind enough to treat me to afternoon tea at St. Regis (so glam!). Then finally the postponed morning meeting happened (at Jaan - lovely views, too bad I didn't have time this trip for food), after which was a lovely catch up with ex-colleagues at Sugarhall, albeit generally blah food and cocktails. Then Rachel took me for supper far, far away (in Singapore terms, anyway) to Jalan Kayu for famed roti prata. I love roti prata. It's the kind of thing I'd need as part of my death row meal, and Thasevi's was not bad at all. The tissue prata was something I'd always seen but never tried, and the one we had had an amazing flaky crispness. Crispness you would expect of something so thin, but the flakiness too - now, that's just genius.

Roast chicken rice at Maxwell Chicken Rice
Day 4, AM: Coffee, Hainanese Roasted Chicken Rice
Sarnie's, which was right behind my Airbnb, had a very decent coffee. I wish I had a neighbourhood cafe like that. Then I got my chicken rice fix at Maxwell Food Centre, but not at the famous Tian Tian, and not the normal poached chicken. A lady at my meeting the day before tipped me off on Maxwell Hainanese Chicken Rice, saying she preferred it to TT, and it wasn't half bad at all. Afterwards, I tried to fit in another coffee at Nylon, but alas, it was closed. Then one last meeting and to the airport, ho! I took the MRT to the airport, which is ridiculously cheap (same as urban train prices), but it did take a while. I was so nervous about missing my flight I forgot to stop by Bengawan Solo for my last chance to get ondeh ondeh. Oh well.


Tips and Bits
(Forgive me, I used to be a travel editor and am obsessed with the practicalities of travel, and sharing what I learn!)

I arrived in T1 and there were several ATM machines in the arrival hall, including HSBC, so there were no problems at all. There were exchangers too with decent rates (and were still open when I landed at around 1am). I'm the kind of person who always forgets to change money at home, so this is super vital to me!

Internet Please
(I'm sorry, but I don't travel without a network connection in my pocket anymore. [insert b*tchface])

Prepaid SIM card at SingTel
First buy a prepaid at andy SingTel outlet (I got the hi! $15 card because it was the lowest value with a micro SIM. It's 3G - 4G would have cost way more, and it wasn't worth it for my uses - maps etc.), then add on a data plan, it cost me S$22 in total for a 1GB, 7-day plan (I got the High Value plan), which was more than enough as I was only there for 4 days.

There are other providers, but I read online that SingTel is the most reliable (and it was) so that's who I went with. Don't trust everything you read online, however, because those same people also said you can buy a prepaid SIM at most 7-Elevens. Lies, lies, I tell you. I went into about eight 7-Elevens - not a single one had SIMs. I went to a SingTel shop in the end - of which there were plenty in the main areas.

Generally shops and cafes don't seem to provide WiFi, which makes a mobile data connection even more vital. I've spent way too many holidays just wasting time asking people for WiFi passwords and trying to get things to load from weak connections.

Nowadays, unless I'm on a faraway island and actively looking for a digital detox, I make sure that my accommodation has working WiFi, which is luckily a matter of a checkbox on Airbnb. My place in Singapore was a little shophouse loft, which is old-school (and I loved it for that) but it did have WiFi. No Internet, no stay. I can't deal with hotels that charge ridiculous amounts for WiFi. If you have a TV connection and running water, and you're in a first world city, you better have WiFi included in your rate or for a tiny, manageable fee. That's my philo. The end.

My shophouse stay found on Airbnb
Shophouse on Club Street
One day, I'll get around to writing a post just about Airbnb (if you're a digital native, I have no idea why you're not using it, because you'll know how to use it efficiently), because I've been a huge fan even before they offered to sponsor me (which, disclosure: they did for this stay in Singapore). A few months ago (ie. before the Airbnb team in HK knew of my existence, and therefore not sponsored), G and I stayed exclusively in Airbnb properties for our whole 6-week Scandi northern lights plus Europe trip (aka The Megamoon), save for the week we were at a ski resort, and have booked properties in Hong Kong for visiting friends and family. It has always been so easy and the experience so great that I can't stop talking about it to anyone who asks. Hell, we even put our own place up while we were gone.

I wanted to stay in a shophouse this time in Singapore, and Seth's place came up. You'll probably see the review I wrote on it soon, if not already, so I won't repeat my comments here. Basically, I'm the kind of person whose wallet is way too small for my taste when it comes to hotels. I'm either all-out glam, or super-original-charming-niche boutique, neither of which come cheap. Airbnb satisfies the latter in terms of style (well, and substance, see WiFi section above!) - usually there's something with character and true to the city I'm in, in a neighbourhood I want to be in, at a fraction of the price of a hotel room. (And btw, Airbnb ≠ couchsurfing - I nearly always search for places where I can have the entire place to myself. Way too old for housemates.)

Getting Around
The subway is pretty efficient. The intervals between trains are a bit longer than the MTR in Hong Kong, but generally you use it the same way. Buy an EZ Link card at MRT customer service and tap in, tap out like the Octopus in HK. The lack of cash top-up machines is annoying - means you have to queue up at the service centre each time, but I on;y had to do that once during my stay so it was fine. As mentioned above, I even ended up taking the MRT to the airport on my way out. It was the same price as a city journey (around S$1.2 or something like that) and it took around 50 mins from downtown (I took it from Raffles Place MRT), vs. 25 mins on a cab (but it would have cost something like S$30, which isn't much but the cheapskate in me was super amused by the MRT option)

Everyone told me that getting cabs would be a nightmare in Singapore, so I guess I was really lucky - I got one pretty much whenever I needed one, which is more than I can say about HK. I love also that they have a fixed fare to/from the airport, and can take credit cards. The late night surcharges are annoying though cause it just makes budgeting for a cab ride kinda hard. Just in case, you can use apps to call cabs (I downloaded one called Grabtaxi), and Uber has launched there too.

1 comment:

  1. I am SO hungry reading and looking at what you ate in my hometown!!! I'm so glad you had fun! xx