Singapore. Part 3.

Saturday 26 January 2019 – Singapore. Part 3.

With Chinatown visited yesterday it would have been rude to not visit Little India and Kampong Glam, the historic Malay Muslim section of Singapore. After eating our body weight in hotel breakfast we were back down to the metro and off to Little India. Just after rush hour it was still quiet early in the day, particularly for Little India, and even more so for Kampong Glam.

Our first stop was the Tekka Centre, a must for anyone visiting Singapore. I always take a walk though here, often stopping to buy a snack, though not today after the amount I hoovered down during breakfast. The ground floor of the building is all about food, the outer ring being well patroned food courts and the centre a large fresh food market. The upper level is pretty much all about the sari, lots and lots, and lots of saris. With the occasional tailor tossed in to balance things out. The middle of the ground floor is a large fresh food market, selling everything from live (short lived) chickens, to fish and seafood and on to that wonderful range of Asian vegetables and fruit. Including the dreaded durian. It wa very quiet.

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We did not stay long in Little India, there was not a lot open and not many people out and about, way too early. We crossed over towards Bugis and walked past the Kwan Im Thon Hood Temple. 

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There is a lot happening in the streets here, and towards Bugis with quite a few market stalls selling all the tat you would ever need for Chinese New Year. There was a good mix of European tourists and Chinese here, probably the most diverse crowd we have been in since we arrived.

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I like Kampong Glam, it is my favourite part of Singapore, mainly because it is the most hipster-ish east London area. It has changed massively since I last came here seven years ago. There are a lot more bars and cafes and a lot more street art. I still liked it, and if I wasn’t so tired all the time we should have come here one evening to experience it more fully. We found a Scandinavian coffee shop and stopped for the first flat white since we left NZ. It was good.

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I like the contrast between the older shop houses and the ultra-modern glass towers, along with the very un-Singaporean awning on the sandwich shop. Public profanity! Outrageous!

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Leaving Kampong Glam we started a walk down to the City Hall metro station, it was getting quite warm, and time again to think about getting off the open streets. On the way we passed by the magnificent Parkview Square building. Being a sucker for Gotham Gothic architecture this is one of my favourite tall buildings anywhere. Straight out of a Batman movie. Belying its 1930s art deco look the tower is entirely modern, being completed in 2002.

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There is a small art gallery on the third floor, showing a collection of Chinese prints; we had a look but it was not really my thing. The ground floor lobby was pretty stunning!

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Continuing on the journey we happened to come across Raffles Hotel next to City Hall station.

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It seemed to be very rude to not complete the ultimate Singapore tourist task and go to the Long Room and have a Singapore Sling cocktail. Not being rude people, that is exactly what we did. All the tables in the Long Room bar have a large bag of peanuts for customers to graze on with their drinks. Shelling the nuts and discarding the empty shells on the floor is all part of the pleasure of visiting. The nuts were so wonderfully fresh, I ate quite a few, leaving a decent size sea of mess around me.

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Today is the sixth anniversary of El and I meeting, so El had booked dinner in one of the restaurants in Marina Bay Sand Hotel. After an after of relaxing and writing back at the hotel we headed down to the metro and out again in to the late afternoon. We arrived early so had a bit of a walk around the marina.

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Walking through the mall to the hotel we passeda  very large and impressive DC comics shop. we were tempted to buy a little something to take back as gifts, but decided not too.

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Dinner was early, it was the only table we could get at such short notice. The restaurant was an all you can eat buffet and was pretty amazing. There was a terrific array of foods, and it is fair to say I ate a lot. Including things I do not normally eat, like crab and lobster. I also got to have what turned out to be only laksa I had during the stay. It was very nice, I love laksa. nooodle soups in general. This will be another thing I will endeavour to cook at home. 

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There is a night time light trail here, I was really looking forward to seeing some of the installations, but found it all a little uninteresting, though there are works over quite a large area of downtown Singapore and all around the marina. I was expecting BIG, but big was not the thing.

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Saturday was our final day in the city, we had a whole day to kill before our evening flight back to London. We lingered in the hotel for a while, making the most of breakfast again, and the air conditioning. We had decided to take one of the city bus tours. I don’t normally do them, but found the one I did do in Dubai to be quite a good time killer, and we had a lot of time to kill today. The weather foreacast was not brilliant either, so this really made sense.

We jumped on one near the hotel and it took us to the massive Suntec Plaza where we had to wait for a different tour. The bus was not that interesting, there was a huge amount of traffic and it moved very slowly, mainly past the places we had already been. After consulting the map and we jumped off one bus and on to another heading in a different direction and ended up by the riverside. Something I wanted to do today anyway.

We found a riverside, and touristy, Vietnamese place and sat down for a drink and a couple of Vietnamese snacks and just enjoyed sitting by the river in the warmth, no work to do and no real cares. The last until our next holiday. It was a pleasant end to the afternoon, and to the trip.

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Soon enough it was back to the hotel, a shower and a change in the gym bathroom before a final glass of wine on the rooftop bar and then the airport and home.

It was a good few days, I am glad I got to share one of my favourite cities with El. We will come back to Singapore, it is an easy place to visit.

Singapore. Part 2.

Saturday 26 January 2019 – Singapore. Part 2.

Having gained a little knowledge on the Singapore metro system yesterday we avoided the streets and took the lift down to the metro station underneath the hotel. Speaking of hotels, I should mention breakfast. OMG (as the kids used to say, but probably not any more as that was so 2016). The breakfast buffet was enormous. One of the things I love about a large Asian hotel is the wide and wonderful array of Asian and European breakfast choices. Every day was a treat, and I could indulge in fried rice and egg for breakfast again. Mmmmmm.

We left fairly early for our visit to the amazing Gardens by the Bay. The walk from the metro to the gardens exit was a pretty good start to what was a very good day. I am loving this combo of hooped t-shirt, check shorts and sandals that I am modelling here. Travelling allows me to indulge in terrible fashion, while pointing and laughing at other tourists poor fashion choices. El, was far more elegant, I am surprised I was allowed  to take this photo of me standing next to her dressed as I am.

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I was expecting there to be a fee to get into the gardens, but the area is free, you just pay for things you want to do. I like this. We wanted to visit the magnificent Supertree Grove. I saw these from the rooftop viewing platform of Marina Bay Sands Hotel last time I was here, and they are the number one thing I wanted to see.. They did not disappoint, they are quite amazing. Standing between 25 and 50 metres tall and with a viewing walkway between two of the taller ones, they totally dominate this section of the gardens.

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We were there reasonably early so there were not too many people queuing for tickets, or to take the lift up to the walkway. I would hate to be here when it was busy, it would be brutally hot waiting for entry. The view was pretty special, obviously not the same as being at the top of those three towers, but lovely none the less. These SuperTrees are pretty awesome!

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I had a bit of a plan in mind for a walk. It was not much past 10:00 when we left the gardens as we didn’t visit any of the other attractions, yesterdays botanical morning was enough garden for this trip. Something saved for next time. We crossed back over the road and entered the strange world of Marina Bay Sands shopping mall. It is big, not massive, but still pretty big. As I observed seven years and a few days ago when I first came here, it is full of shops I could never afford to even walk in, not that I ever would.  Seven years ago today I was 27 days into the jounrey that started this blog and diving in Malaysian Borneo, I cannot believe it was that long ago!

We stopped for a cold drink in a small gallery on the far side of the marina and after consulting a map decided to skip plan A and do freshly conceived plan B; a short walk to China Town. It was a good a plan. Chinese new year is not far away, and preparations are well under way to welcome in the year of the pig. If planning had been better, it would be great to have been here for Chinese New Year.

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It was starting to get quite hot and China Town was busy as mid-day approached. I wanted El to visit a temple while we here, get a feel for the things I love about visiting SE Asia and its mix of religion and culture that is so different to our experience in the west. I am fairly sure I have visited Thiang Hock Kem temple before, but am not 100% on that. I still enjoy walking through Buddhist temples. My abiding memory of those months travelling, and the subsequent trip to Sri Lanka, was visiting these small oasis’ of calm and peace. Singapore is a young country and this is not an ancient place of Buddhist worship, only being established in 1840. It was an enjoyable visit.

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We walked through some of the side streets backing on to the temple before the heat overcame us and we found the nearest metro, jumping into a nicely air-conditioned train back to Orchard Rd.

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Somewhere along the way I must have dropped my cap. I had just bought it in NZ, specifically as I left one back in the UK and I didn’t want to get sunburnt here in Singapore. We decided to visit some of the lower-end malls on Orchard Rd to find a replacement. One that didn’t cost more than a small number of pounds. There is a vast array of shopping choice on this street.

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Arriving back in the hotel in the afternoon, I chose to start on one of my priorities for these four days in Singapore. Finding a quiet spot in the hotel bar (me and the bar person) I started writing a very short story, my first piece of fiction since school, 40 years ago. El and I have set a challenge to write a short story each month. It is going to be tough; it is close to the end of February as I write this and I haven’t started on this month’s story yet. I want to be a better writer, I love words, stories and books, and all sorts of written things. One of the reasons I have maintained this blog for so long is to be able to write more than a few words in an email, though I have yet to find my ‘voice’. I did enjoy writing some fiction in a bar in Singapore though.

As the evening settled into something cooler than day and we had recovered from earlier activities we headed out from the hotel to look for a local food court I had found on the internet. I wanted Malaysian food, to be specific I wanted char keow teow; a flat noodle dish with chicken and prawns. This was one of the first meals Alex introduced me to when I stayed with him in Kuching, and my introduction to local Malay food. It is simple, hearty and delicious and I cook it badly on occasion. I found one, and It was good.

One of the things I love about food court food, is being served the meal, and then being able to add the garnishes; choosing from dishes of chilli, spring onions, coriander, soy sauce. Adding that little extra zing, exactly how you want it to be. In the spirit of not being in London, I added a pile of diced red chilli. Maybe it was a little too much…

I cannot remember what El had, but she visited a different stall to me. It was good too.

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Singapore. Part one.

Saturday 26 January 2019 – Singapore.

This is my fifth visit to Singapore and El’s first. I was keen to come here for a few reasons. Obviously, it is on the way back from New Zealand and is sort of half way. Not having been here before it is a fun place for El to visit and for me to show her around. It is a nice city and an easy introduction to SE Asia. Finally, I have done everything I want to do in Singapore, except Gardens at the Bay, so with four nights here I was planning on spending some proper time doing nothing. Not that we did much of that of that nothing. I didnt finish my book!

Before I launch into Singapore I have to confess that I made by first ever flight scheduling blunder. I was trying to book everything via BA and the only way BA does NZ to Singapore is via Australia. I grudgingly booked us via Sydney, but absolutely missed that there was a six hour layover, only noticing a couple of days before the flight. Sydney airport is not too bad, but six hours is a long time. We ate.

We arrived in Singapore quite late on Tuesday night, but with time enough to check in to the hotel on Orchard Rd, get up to the 19th floor rooftop bar and pool and indulge in an end of a long day drink.  We also got to enjoy the amazing view over the city and towards the magnificent structure that is the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. It was humid, but not outrageously so, and it wasn’t too hot, conditions that remained for the whole trip. Thankfully.

In what seems to have become a standard activity for this holiday we hit the Botanical Gardens on Wednesday morning, a recommendation from a friend who had been here recently. A very good recommendation too. I could get into this plant thing. The gardens were seemingly not too far from the hotel, so I decided we should walk, time wise it was the same as taking the metro. The metro is air-conditioned, walking isn’t. We were hot before we arrived, so our first stop was a cool drink in one of the many cafes.

The gardens are huge, laid out in different blocks, we got to see about a third of it before getting too tired and hot. I really liked it, tropical plants are so utterly different to what we see in the UK, and to a lesser degree NZ. The difference is just so pleasurable, big, big leaves, los of weird shapes and am amazing colour.

These leaves looked like someone had painted the colour on.

I particularly enjoyed the orchid garden, I know these are fancy flowers with a billion varieties and shades, shapes and colours, but seeing so many in one place really did make me appreciate nature, and her human tweaked variations so much more.

There was a nice fake waterfall that was very much the key attraction for a large group of small children on a school trip.

After lunching in the park we headed to the nearby metro station and with a bit of help from the ticket counter got ourselves metro passes and took the, very long, ride back to Orchard Rd. We learned how to use the Metro as we went. It is a good system for the centre of the city.

I have to say that in the four days we spent in Singapore, not one single person I/we interacted with was anything but courteous, friendly or helpful. I know Singapore is very touristy, and very authoritarian and retail and hospitality jobs are probably better than other options, but it was a really friendly place and it made me very happy. I was walking down a road one afternoon and a cycle courier clipped my shoulder with the very edge of his bag, it was the most minor thing ever. I was shocked when he stopped, apologised and asked if I was OK. England used to polite like this, but now we have Brexit.

I love this big and very old plane trees outside the entrance to the President’s residence.

One of the things on El’s list of things to see in Singapore was Emerald Hill, a street of lovely old  shop houses that I had taken photos of on previous visits. Purely by luck, definitely not good planning, the street was literally over the road from the hotel. Emerald Hill is a conservation area so the houses that remain here from the early 1900s have been well preserved, they are a small snapshot of what a lot of Chinese influenced SE Asia looks like. They are very nice.

Our hotel from Emerald Hill.

Emerald Hill from the hotel bar.

We were pretty whacked when we got back to the room, so the decent thing to do was to head up to the roof, have a swim and then relax by the pool. Conveniently it was happy hour with half price Singapore Sling cocktails. It would have been rude not too….

The view from the roof.

We didn’t venture too far for dinner, the tiredness and jetlag that had plagued me in New Zealand followed me to Singapore. We found a ‘street’ curry house for dinner, and enjoyed a very nice meal, and not too far away from the hotel.

It was a good first day in Singapore!

Singapore

Friday 18 November 2016 – Singapore.

I arrived in Singapore at 7:00 am on Tuesday after a not too bad a flight from Delhi on Air India. I have booked myself into a good hotel, in Singapore’s East City where I am getting a whole lot more room for my pound than I would in the city centre. I also booked myself in for last night so I could check straight in and go to my room rather than having to hang about until mid-afternoon to check in. I had barely any sleep in the hotel in Delhi and after 14 hours in the airport, plus 5 half hours of flying I just wanted to lie down in peace. I didn’t leave the hotel until Wednesday. The view from my room was not the most exciting, residential Singapore. Cleaner than India though !

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I have been to Singapore twice before and have seen all the things I want to see. When I decided to leave Delhi I initially thought about other places to go for the three days, but I have a flight booked from Singapore to Brisbane on Friday so it seemed the logical choice. It gives me three days to relax, do a little sightseeing, and unwind from the last couple of days in India.

My first day was spent lounging about in my room, getting laundry done, contacting airlines to cancel flights and seek refunds, editing photos and writing some blog posts. I had dinner in the hotel bar, a nice big juicy burger and a glass of wine. I missed wine when was I was in India!

The following day I ventured out for a couple of hours. I had found the weather in India to be really good, I was in the drier north so there was not a huge amount of humidity and the temperature had been pretty moderate; it had been a lot cooler than I had expected anyway. Not so in Singapore; walking out of the hotel mid-morning was like walking into a sauna. I had forgotten how humid it is here. It was 91% according to my weather app, though only 27 degrees; it could have been a lot worse.

I caught a bus to as close as I could to the Marina, last time I was here I did not make it to the viewing deck on the ‘surfboard’ at the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel.  I was going to go up but it poured with rain when I arrived and as it was almost closing time I decided not to go up. This time there was no such issue.

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It is quite a long way up!

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The view from the top is spectacular, sadly only one end of the platform is open to the public, so no 360 degree views, but still, it is pretty good. Next time I come to Singapore I will go and explore the botanical gardens below, I love those massive constructed ‘trees’.

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I was not planning on being out for long, I had a Skype call with El mid-afternoon my time, and before she went to work so my list of activities for today was very small, the next objective was to find the recently opened National Art Gallery. I walked around the small Harbour and quickly nipped between the tall blue towers of the finance centre.

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I seemed to have missed this little area of old buildings the last two times I was here, it is really nice, not quite surrounded by towers, though they are standing quietly on the horizon in all directions. The Victoria Theatre.

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The gallery is in two converted court houses.

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I spent quite a bit longer in there than I had planned, it was quite interesting, obviously the focus is on SE Asian art, and a lot of it was very modern, something I do not see much of, I enjoyed it. There was a good view from the roof deck of the Marina Bay sands and the Victoria , dwarfed by the towers in the background.

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I headed back out of the comfort of the air conditioned gallery and back out on to the sticky streets, I was looking for the road I got off the bus on, with the expectation that I could wait on the opposite side to get the bus back. I hadn’t noticed it was a one way street… I did find some street art though. There is not a lot in Singapore, it is strictly illegal unless permission has been granted by the wall owner.

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I ended up getting the metro back towards the hotel, and had to do a 2.5km sweaty power walk back. A lesson for tomorrow; make sure I know the return bus stops.

The following day, Thursday, I ventured back out again, but this time later in the day. I wanted to roam Little India and China Town and then head to the big shopping street of Orchard Rd to get myself a t-shirt and some jeans for Aussie and New Zealand.

I got to Little India OK, I could see a heavy cloud looming as I walked up from the bus stop on Orchard.

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I had just got to the Tekka Centre when the heavens opened and the heaviest rain I have seen in a very long time fell on Singapore; it was probably a small shower by local standards, I took a walk around what seemed like a mall full of saris. I guess it is Little India.

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The heaviest bit of the shower took 15 or so minutes to pass, and it was still raining when I finally left the shelter to continue to my walk through Little India and on to China Town. I was looking for shop houses, some of the old Singapore that has survived the bulldozers and modernisation that is modern Singapore. There are plenty about in this part of town, but there are also a lot of large vans and small trucks about. I did find a couple that I could take photos of, in between the rain drops that fell for the rest of the afternoon.

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I was also looking for some street art, I had read there was some around the north end of China Town. Street art and graf, are definitely not condoned in Singapore, so there is very little around, only on buildings where the owners have given permission, and that seems to be few and far between. Singapore is a very ordered society. I did find some, and I was specifically looking for this piece, though it has been commercialised by the building owner since it was originally painted by Lithuanian artist Earnest Zacharevic.

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I also found a piece on a graffiti wall by Alex Face who has painted in London in recent years.

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The rain started to get quite heavy again and most conveniently I just happened to be walking past one of the very few bars I have seen (naturally it was an Irish bar – name a country without one!) so I stopped in for a beer and to wait out the rain.

I was not far from Orchard Rd, the shopping mecca of Singapore, so headed up there to try and achieve my shopping aims of a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. These seem like quite simple tasks, but I can assure you that if I am not in a shopping ‘zone’ then any form of shopping is no easy task. It took me a while, but I did achieve my goal. I then fled…

But I take a quick detour to Emerald Hill, a small side street from Orchard Rd, which has some lovely old Singapore homes, well it did when I came here five years ago, now they just seem to all be bars – maybe I was in the wrong street, I hope so as I was disappointed in what was there.

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And then there was Christmas. Damn, I was really trying to avoid it so early in the year!

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I caught a very busy late rush hour bus back to the hotel, grabbed some food in the mall over the road and then headed back to my room to get ready for the flight to Australia tomorrow.

I like Singapore, when I first came here I was not that impressed, it seemed too nice, but I have seen a lot more of the world in the five years since. Maybe it was the total contrast to India that appealed to my Virgoan sense of order and tidiness. I did like the noise, chaos and cow shit on the street feel of India, but the order of Singapore sits more easily with me. When El and I next visit New Zealand I will suggest we come via Singapore, I suggested Hong Kong last time as I thought it more interesting than here, but I am not sure if that was really correct. El can be the judge of that!

Infinity

Saturday/Sunday 05/06 April 2013 – Singapore.

My next adventure begins today!

I have just over one month on the yacht Infinity, sailing out of Singapore to a number of dive sites around southern Malaysia.

My flight out of Colombo was at 10:50 pm and with little else to do in the evening  I left Trudy’s place quite early. Which was quite fortunate as the traffic was really bad and it took almost two hours to make the 30km journey to the airport, The first 13km alone taking up most of took one and half hours.

Colombo airport was an odd place, we walked through scanners and were patted down on entry but the bags were not scanned or checked. Check-in was a bit confusing but a breeze to complete as I was there fairly early. A latte was $7NZD so I flagged that as a really bad idea and then sulked for a while in the lounge. I had given my Sri Lanka SIM card to Colleen so she could loan it to visitors, even after a month of constant internet use and a few text and phone calls I had only barely used half of the $10NZD I put on it. Mobile is such great value in Sri Lanka.

The flight was a little late and fairly full, I am flying Tiger Airways for the first time, it is Singapore’s budget airline and apart from not getting anything on board the flight was excellent, comfy seats and as I paid for an exit row I had a ton of leg room as well. I think I even dozed for an hour – miracle upon miracles. Colleen had given me a few sleeping pills but I stupidly did not have any water so couldn’t use them. Doh… I am sure they will get used on the yacht though.

We did arrive on time in Singapore at the charming hour of 5:30 am, Singapore is two and a half hours ahead of Colombo which is really going to screw with my head timing wise as I have just got used to daylight savings changes in the UK when I arrange Skype calls with El. The best thing about Singapore airport at 5:30 am is there is no one about, I breezed through immigration, grabbed a bottle of gin from duty free, and was on my way out the door when I realised I did not have my pack! So back to the baggage carousel to collect it!  I found an ATM and got myself a much needed coffee and a bottle of water. I was most of the way out of the airport when I realised I had left my pack in the coffee shop! This has not been a good start to the day at all – and I was lucky it was still there.

I took a cab to the One15 Marina on Sentosa Island to meet my home for the next five weeks – the 36 metre yacht Infinity! It was dark and raining when I arrived and of course everyone was asleep. I climbed on board and found myself a spot to sit and wait for everyone to wake up, with the first person struggling out just before 8:00.

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Most people normally sleep the night on the deck but it rained very heavily in the night so there were a number of people on mats on the floor in the main cabin. I met so many people in a brief period of time I had very little idea of who was who by the end of it. Most seem to be in the mid-twenties though there are a couple of people closer to my age, there are eleven nationalities in the twenty people as well, everyone speaks reasonable English. Everyone seems friendly and all are here for diving and adventure, so it should all be good fun.

Infinity is in Singapore until Monday, which was longer than I anticipated so there was not a lot of running around on my behalf. I went to the nearby mall to pick up a few bits and pieces and had my first laksa in ages in the foodcourt and it was damn good too. While I was in the mall the heavens opened outside and it just poured for most of the rest of the day.

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After lunch I went to the swimming pool in the marina and had a nice swim in the rain on my own. The tables and chairs were actually in a small pool, which I have never seen before, but then I do not think I have been anywhere this fancy either…

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We all went for dinner to one of the big food halls in the middle of downtown Singapore, I had a really nice Bombay noodles, but was fading after no sleep in thirty six hours so went back to the boat with the half the group after eating.

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My first night on the boat was OK, my room was not going to be available until tomorrow so I slept in the ‘library’ on a couple of mats on the floor. It was an OK sleep. The boat is quite quiet considering the amount of people and the fact that all doors are open to allow as much air as possible to move some of the stifling humidity. It was a warn night, but not too bad due to the rain.

Sunday was a busy day with virtually the whole day spent on chores on the boat, it was scrubbed inside and out and from top to bottom and we pretty much did not finish until 5:00. After that it was back to the pool for a relax and then to the beer shop for a couple of cans. I moved into my bunk in a room I am sharing with a young Swedish guy and that was about it really.

I took a photo of Infinity, next to a massive super yacht.

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And my room a small box with two bunks, mine has the pack on it. There is some storage and each bunk has a small fan.

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In the early evening the boat captain, Clemens, went into town with a small group to go grocery shopping for the next leg of the voyage. They arrived back at Infinity at 3:45 AM – having taken over five hours in the market. There was a lot of stuff and we all had to help get it to the boat.

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I started the night in my bunk but it was so hot, even with the fan on, that I went and lay on the desk, I think I had just dropped off when the food arrived. It took an hour to sort out so I didn’t get back to bed till 5:00 and ended up sleeping on the floor in the library again. Tonight I will be more organised and find a squab to take on deck as they had been moved during the clean up and 5:00 am is not a good time to go looking for things.

It is Monday afternoon now and we are heading out to sea now so will update when I can when I next have some internet – no idea when that will be !