Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Singapore Chronicles - How Not To Have Lunch In Singapore!

Usually a great way to see a city is to go on a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of the city. I've done them in New York, USA, Edinburgh, Scotland and Cambridge, England and really enjoyed them, so it seemed like the obvious choice here. "Choice" being the operative word!

Basically, we choose wrong. I'm sure there is a great tour available in Singapore, but we we picked the Funvee Hopper two day City Tour. There are two routes and buses were not very frequent, 15 minutes on one route (not too bad) and hourly on the the other route. The commentary was hard to hear and pretty naff! It seemed like they were more concerned with gimmicky jokes than imparting real information (this tourist lark is a serious business you know!) We also found that we really only had time each day to stop at one attraction - that's more about our ability to faff about than the tour companies fault, but the bottom line was that it is better value to buy a Nets Flash Pay card for the public transport to access places than to spend S$27 for a the two day tour hop-on-hop-off bus. There is also tourist passes that give unlimited travel on buses and trains for 1, 2 or 3 days, but we decided to see how much we used the system before committing to that. We spent about S$12 each in 8 days which worked out way better than the 3 day tourist unlimited pass priced at S$20. Public transport in Singapore is cheap, clean and really reliable.

We began our tour at the Singapore Flyer. Even before we got on the bus, I spotted a Fish Spa - the fish eat the dead skin on your feet. I had to try it!

It tickled a bit at the beginning, but I soon got used to it. It seemed ironic that the fish were now eating me since I had eaten so much fish over Chinese New Year!

A couple of young fellas came in and were being complete wussies about the whole thing. They splashed and squealed so much that the lady running the show upgraded me to another tank with larger fish!

You could feel these fish chomping a bit more - a kind of rasping sensation rather that the tickle I'd grown used to. It was still nice though.

Back on the bus, now with the ultimate in soft feet, we decided the next stop would be our lunch stop.

I love to eat out and have a feast for the retinas as well as the taste buds, so when we spotted the Fullerton Pavilion perched on the side of the water looking up at the Marina Bay Sands, where we'd eaten the day before, I reckoned it was a nice place juxtaposition - little realizing just what a juxtaposition it really was!
The menu was breathtakingly expensive, but what the hell, we were on vacation! So My Husband ordered the tasting menu - S$38. I opted for  the lobster salad, figuring that a big plate of salad leaves and perhaps a dollop of lobster would suffice - at S$25 - and if necessary, I could share some of My Husband's lunch. The waitress did not seem impressed with my stingy move. The service was slow, but we did have a seat by the window - not difficult since we were the only ones in the restaurant!

When my salad appeared, I was gobsmacked. A spoonful of lobster rolled up in some very thinly sliced avocado! The whole meal no bigger than a cigar - for S$25 (about $20 US)!

Well that would hardly fill a hole in my tooth! And when grumpy-pants (the waitress) brought the taster for My Husband, same thing - just a taste. The sea bass maincourse was about 1 inch by 1 inch by 2 inches. We had a cubic inch each. It hardly replaced what the fish in the spa had taken from my feet!

The bill was S$75 by the time you added service (I suppose grumpy service is still service) and a soft drink. We didn't dare stay for a thimble of coffee.

You can't win them all!

Next day we went back on the bus tour but ate lunch at a mall food court to increase volume and decrease expenditure. The tour showed us views of different districts around Singapore, including China Town and Little India, but we didn't get off the bus until we got to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. It had taken us quite a while to get here, and we didn't want to miss the last City Tours bus back, so I feel like the visit was rushed. It was well worth seeing though.

My favorite part (of the limited amount that I saw) was the Evolution Garden. It begins with the story of the earth forming as rock and then describes, with plantings the progression from mosses, through the plant phyla, such as ferns through the evolution of gymnosperms (conifers) to flowerings plants.

I loved these petrified tree stumps that have been polished up - appeals to the denrochronologist in me. That was my first real job when I graduated from University, dating nearly as far back as these tree stumps!
Despite the lunch at the Fullerton Pavilion, Singapore continues to delight and surprise us - so much to see...

Byddi Lee

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Singapore Chronicles - Ce La Vi

The Marina Bay Sands is a spectacular hotel that dominates the downtown Singapore skyline. It resembles a boat carried aloft on three huge waves. Weather or not that's what it's supposed to like is a different matter - that's what I see in it and art is in the eye of the beholder. In Singapore the buildings are art!

I really wanted to go to the top. There is an observation deck at the top called the Skypark. It costs S$23 to take an elevator to the top and walk about. I'd also heard there was a restaurant up there and an infinity pool. The infinity pool was only for  guests of the hotel. Unfortunately the budget didn't quite stretch to that, but I wondered, could we stretch to lunch up there?

There are three towers in the complex, and off course, we went to the right tower to buy the tickets for the Skypark, only after we'd gotten lost in the the first two.

At the ticket desk, just as we were about to pay, I asked the guy about the restaurant. Turns out you don't have to pay to get up to the restaurant, Ce La Vi, which is one level above the sky park. The Skypark has no seating - it's just a huge observation deck. We checked the prices on the menu and spotted a tasting menu that cost S$48++ (don't know what the ++ meant but it only cost us S$48 each).

So it was pricey, but everything in that part of town was, and if you subtracted the cost of a ticket up to the skypark, add to that the idea that we could sit down and absorb the view over lunch - well, it was a pretty good deal...

We could see the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest from our lunch perch, and the food was spectacular. Our waitress was amazing and she tailored the messages with dessert to each of us.
This was mine as it was my first time in Singapore. Allan had been here on work before but not to Ce La Vi, so he got...
After lunch, we wandered around the patio, overlooking the sky deck...
...and took in the sights of Singapore.
Looking down upon the Super Tree Grove in the Gardens by the Bay from the top of the Marina Bay Sands
I should add that these are all shots straight from my phone. We took a lot on the Nikon, but haven't had a chance to sort through them. I just wanted to get the blog post done before I forgot too much of the experience!

After lunch, we wandered around the Marina Bay Sands and surrounding area - pretty much just wandering aimlessly and following where our feet took us (so to be honest I'm not exactly sure where this place is or how to find it again.)

We discovered a Venice-like basement...
 Rain water collects in basin on the outside patio...
 And feeds into the underground canal - complete with gondolas!
Surreal but very fun to explore. Outside we found a building shaped liked a lotus flower! It was the Science Art Museum.
There really is so much to see here - you can walk for miles and find something to amaze at every turn!

And I've hardly started blogging about it all yet...

Byddi Lee

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Singapore Chronicles - Gardens by the Bay

Often described as the jewel in the crown of Asia, Singapore is simply amazing! It is without doubt one of the most intriguing, beautiful and interesting cities I've ever visited - not to mention the hottest and stickiest. here you don't have "bad hair" days, but rather "impossible hair" days, especially if you have a fuzzy mane like mine - I've had to wear my hair in a bun every day so as not to scare young children.

My husband and I are very fortunate to have good friends who live here in Singapore. We are staying with some of them in their beautiful penthouse apartment over looking the city's high rises. They are wonderful hosts! If it wasn't for their generosity, stay in Singapore might be a different, and much less comfortable experience. Hotels here are expensive. Everything is expensive! Very, very expensive.

However, public transport is pretty good and moving about the city is quite easy. Even taxis are not too bad, so long as it is not raining - then everyone wants a taxi and there simply isn't enough to go around! Surcharges are often levied, and prices can really sky-rocket as everyone tries to stay dry.

Staying dry is not easy in this humid city at the best of times. The heat makes you sweat, but it doesn't evaporate, leaving you feeling sticky all the time. The rain drops are huge, fat, warm dollops of water - it feels just like stepping into a shower!

Though nature makes living here quite the challenge, Singaporeans have risen to that challenge admirably and built a city with beautiful and innovative architecture so that no matter where you look, the eye is rewards with graceful curves and sweeping lines. Singaporeans are justifiably proud of their city and country.

Gardens by the Bay
There is so much to do that I hardly have had time to blog about it all. So I've sectioned it off into different categories  - were you to visit here, each post potentially represents a day's adventures!

On the first weekend, our hosts brought us to the Gardens By The Bay. Lush landscaping surrounds a series of beautiful gardens and two massive glass conservatories - The Flower Dome and The Cloud Forest

Nearby, futuristic giant metal super trees support vertical plantings and we had a dizzying walk in the super tree grove sky way. 
It was strange to be so high up and looking down at amazing views yet still dwarfed by the skyscrapers from the nearby Marina Bay Sands complex.

You could spend hours here - your biggest challenge - picking your jaw up off the floor! This seems to be a bougainvillea with many different cultivars grafted to the same root-stock. Pretty nifty...
Both the glass houses and the sky walk  have an admission fee. Our friends suggested that we pick one of the glass houses and do it together. After some discussion we decided to do the Flower Dome.

It wasn't without some mirth that we noted the exhibit housed Mediterranean Zone plants. We'd come all the way to Singapore to walk around in a glass bubble artificially acclimated to grow Californian Plants! Though I didn't see too much of the California natives that I have growing in my garden, there were a lot of succulents and cacti.
It was beautifully landscaped and integrated with great sculptures.
A couple of days later, the rain pelted down. My Husband and I decided that it was a good time to visit the other conservatory - the Cloud Forest beckoned!
It was spectacular!
 I loved the carnivorous plant section where they had Lego sculptures of the various plants - very cool!
It's hard to differentiate the real ones from the Lego ones!
And such abundance of flora...
You could easily spend a few days exploring this section of the city. It's a great place to chill out, and the air-con in the conservatories do help with the "chill" aspect of that!


So much to see, so little time!

Byddi Lee

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Lau Fau Shan Oyster Farm

My Hong Kong family have been such generous hosts during our stay here. They've given up their homes to us and fed us every kind of fabulous dish you can imagine. Culinary wise, I'm one of those people who tries everything and tends to enjoy most food, so the feasting in Hong Kong has been a real treat. Many of the dishes around Chinese New Year hold some kind of symbolism that promises wealth, health and happiness for the forthcoming year. Some of these I know about, for example, longevity noodles are for a long life and you're not supposed to cut the noodles. Here they are in the foreground of the photo, this feast cooked by my sister-in-law, the food better than you'd find in most restaurants.
Other dishes, I can't remember the exact symbolism though most are sort of word association things, for example, the word for small mandarin oranges sounds like the same word for gold and that's why  there are so many oranges decorating the place.

In the background of the above picture are pigs trotters. I did try them, and much to the amusement of the family, found them not quite to my liking!

In the picture below we have (top to bottom, left to right) cucumber/zucchini stuffed with dried scallops, seafood stuffed Chinese mushrooms, oysters and ginger (these were my favorite - delicious!) chili oil dip, garlic and scallion with oil dressing, dried abalone with dried orange skins, and steamed chicken.
Prawns are another favorite of mine - these ones were massive.
 A whole fish symbolizes wealth.
After lunch (yes - all this was just lunch!) we were sitting around chatting and we were telling them of our plans to explore some more that afternoon when one of the men got a text from his friend who was at the nearby Lau Fau Shan Oyster farms. He suggested that maybe we'd like to visit there and since oysters are one of my favorite foods, we said yes, without hesitating.

Here is a lady shucking oysters.
 The oyster is huge!
 These are oysters drying.
The bridge in this photo stretches all the way to mainland China. In the foreground, you can see all the discarded oyster shells.
Lau Fau Shan market sells all kinds of seafood. Many of the fish are sold live. Because this so close to a public holiday the market was not running at full capacity and many of the tanks where the fish are stores and aerated where empty.

It tweaked my imagination. I imagined being one of those fish. It was to them no doubt like something you'd hear about in those alien abduction stories. You're just going about your normal fishy business and the next thing a UFO (unidentified floating object) sucks up into it bowels of a ship and keeps you alive in tanks.

 You can't escape and the aliens keep you there....until....it's time....to eat you!
 There's no escape even if you try to leave your shell behind.
 Or maybe they tie you up!
And in the end they stretch you out in a hostile atmosphere and stuck the very life-giving components out of your body!

It makes for quite the horror story, doesn't it? But from the alien's perspective, a very tasty horror story!

Byddi Lee

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Exploring the New Territories

It is often the case that folk tend to undervalue the tourism value of where they live or were brought up in. My Husband and I decided that we wanted to explore the New Territories of Hong Kong having covered the more popular tourist spots on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon on previous visits.

Modern technology has made being a tourist so easy. Here's few great tips on how to use your smart phone to help find your way about:

  1. If you are going to be in a place for a week it is worth buying a sim card. We bought CSL prepaid sim cards for our smart phones. This gives us 7 days of data for HK$100 (US$12) allowing us to access google maps as well as all the other online goodies we are used to.
  2. Sign up for Kindle Unlimited ($10 per month). Even if you don't have a kindle you can use the kindle app on your phone. Using Kindle Unlimited, you have access to all the Lonely Planet guides - a fabulous resource especially if, like us, you are covering more than one country/region on your travels. Then there's all the reading you'll have access to without adding to your luggage weight. When you return home you can simply cancel your subscription if you feel you are no longer using Kindle Unlimited to its full extent.
  3. When you use the Kindle Reader app on your smart phone you can click on links and get information directly from the web. There are also links to google maps. This is great for sussing out where things are.
So using the Hong Kong Lonely Planet guide through Kindle unlimited on my phone, we were able to identify and locate a couple of places that sounded like they'd be worth a visit.

The first was right up our street - The Kong Kong Wetlands Park.

Using google maps public transport feature, (just click the wee train instead of the car icon) we were able to figure out which trains would take us to the park. There is actually a Wetlands Park stop. Goggle tells you to get of at the stop before it - ignore that and get off at the Wetlands Park stop - the park is clearly signposted from here. Either stop is fine and the park entrance is equidistant from both stops.

The sign said the park was closed on Tuesdays.

It was Tuesday but...

It was open on public holidays - so we were okay.

The nice thing about the park is that it is a haven of natural quietude in the midst of a huge busy city. The juxtaposition of the scenic ponds and vegetation with the skyscrapers peeking over the tree tops brought home how well this area has been maintained despite the construction all around.

The park itself has well appointed amenities and serves to introduce a wilderness area to city dwellers very effectively.

We got there early - about 10.30am (that's early in Hong Kong - in California... not so much!)

We had the place to ourselves and really enjoyed the change of pace. By lunchtime it had turned chaotic. All the families had arrived and it seemed like the majority of patrons were under the age of 4!

We got the heck outta there! But decided that it was well worth visiting. Good call, Lonely Planet.

The next stop was just a little bit to the east along the West Rail line. According to Lonely Planet, Shui Tau Tsuen is a 17th-century village, "famous for its prow-shaped roofs decorated with dragons and lucky fish."

We thought we'd have a look.

It had a really rural feel to it and was eerily deserted, but you couldn't shake the feeling that you were being watched.

We wandered through deserted streets and thought some of the buildings were picturesque, we both agreed that perhaps Lonely Planet had over-sold this one!

The most interesting thing to see in the village wasn't even mentioned in the Lonely Planet. This huge tree that looked like something from Game of Thrones.

It was still a nice walk and a pleasant way to send an afternoon away from the crowds and claustrophobic high rises.

Byddi Lee