What can you possibly do if you have less than 7 hours in Singapore? Not much. That's how much time I had when I decided to take an early morning bus from Kuala Lumpur to Larkin, Johore Bahru. Then I took a Singapore Causeway bus at Larkin to Bugis Street. Bugis Street was once famous for its nightly gathering of transvestites, a phenomenon which made it an iconic tourist destination in Singapore in the 1970s. Today, it has turned into a retail complex of modern shopping malls, restaurants and nightspots mixed with roadside vendors.
From there, I took the MRT to Orchard Road. Orchard Road has an extensive underground infrastructure, including underground pedestrian walkways between shopping malls running underneath the street. The air-conditioned walkways between shopping centers is the way to cool off in the hot steamy condition in Singapore. As I alighted from the Orchard station, I went straight to ION Orchard, a new addition to Orchard Road's list of shopping malls in 2009. It has upmarket flagships such as Louis Vuitton as well as affordable options like Uniqlo.
With only two hours left before I met some friends that I have not seen in almost ten years, I decided to try some local food in the food court at Takashimaya. I had a pulut (glutinous rice) in brown sugar with coconut. It was delicious. I tried the fruit rojak (salad) as well which turned out pretty good too.
Food is becoming an important part of Singaporeans' lifestyles today. From local food fares at hawker centers to high-end international cuisines at 5-star hotels, there is an endless list of different cuisines to suit your taste and budget. Char kway teow, chicken rice, and fish head curry are local favorites while French and Italian are served at posh classy restaurants for the ones who like to be pampered.
However, the city-state has a lot more to offer besides being a food and shopping paradise. If you are a nature lover, there are lots of parks to choose from. Two come out tops among tourists - The Jurong Bird Park and Night Safari. The Jurong Bird Park is the largest bird park in the world, and it has more than 8,000 birds from 600 species. The Night Safari is nestled in 40 hectares of lush forestry, reputed as the world's first nocturnal zoo.
If you are feeling lucky, and you're yearning for some Ka-Ching, you might like to visit the Resorts World Casino and Marina Bay Sands, two gambling casinos legalized by the government in Singapore in 2005. Integrated between these two casinos are world class hotels, Universal Studio Singapore, Marine Life Park, Maritime Xperiential Museum, FestiveWalk and many other world-class attractions.
In most Asian cities like Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, and Bangkok traffic during rush hour are horrendous. This is not the case in Singapore. In fact, it is home to one of the world's best airports, and it has one of the best public transportations in Asia. Its Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) has more than 75 stations, and there are more than 300 bus servicing all parts of Singapore operated by SBS Transit and SMRT Corporation. Its average daily ridership is almost 2 million and rising.
As my clock on my ipod hit 6.00 pm I knew I had to hurry to meet Siou Ling, an old friend. A text message came from her, and there she was waiting at the information counter at Ngee Ann City. It seemed like we just met a week ago. We decided to go for a bite at one of the cafes in the mall. Erni Susanto, another friend of ours joined us later. Siou Ling and Erni Susanto came from Malaysia and Indonesia respectively. Both got their permanent residence a few years ago. They are very happy with their work, and most importantly, they are very happy with life at their adopted country. I could see why.
Singapore is one of the most enjoyable cities in Southeast Asia. It is one of the four Asian Tigers. It has one of the busiest ports in the world and it is the world's fourth largest foreign-exchange trading center. The World Bank ranks Singapore as the world's top logistics hub. It is a popular travel destination, totaling more than 10 million in 2007. Where else in the world can you dip into cultures of China, India, and Malaysia all in one day, against a backdrop of ultra-modern Western commerce?
Time was ticking away and I had to leave for the bus in Bugis Street for my bus (again) in Larkin, Johore Bahru to Kuala Lumpur. I managed to get the last bus leaving Kuala Lumpur at midnight. It was really wonderful to see my friends again after so many years, and please do not attempt to see SIngapore in (less than) a day. The city-state has so much to offer in such a small place. It has a bit of everything other cites in Asia have just like the rojak I had earlier at Takashimaya.