Monday, 11 March 2019


Mon 4th March
Sunny, 35 degrees,humid

We arrived into Singapore just before dawn, and disembarked at about 9am. It was chaos with another large cruise ship on the next terminal also disgorging its passengers. Luckily we chose to carry off our own luggage which meant we could walk off when the queues in the security terminal had subsided. Passengers who opted for the cruise ship to offload their baggage weren’t so lucky - they were coralled into various lounges and let off in batches.

We managed to find the MRT (underground) - a bit of a walk from the ship along a covered walkway thank goodness as the heat was already causing us to wilt. First problem: The MRT ticket machines do not take credit cards and we had no cash. Long walk to an ATM to extract some money, return to ticket machine to find it doesn’t take anything larger than $5. The smallest note the ATM gave was $10! Luckily the customer services was open and would give us change otherwise we’d have been stuck.

Our hotel oraganises a shuttle bus from the nearest MRT station but after about half an hour searching for the location we decided to walk. Sadly as we walked Carol pulled a muscle at the top of her leg and ended up hobbling miserably the last few metres.
So as Carol nursed her sore leg in the hotel room, Graham set out to explore the area and after hopping back on the MRT took himself off to the Botanic Gardens for the afternoon.

And what a lovely time I had in this superb place. Massive park with lots of different areas; healing garden, rain forest garden, lakes, ginger (the spice) garden and all free. The highlight was the orchid garden, $1 (60p) entrance fee, and a spectacular walk round architectural orchids of all shapes and sizes. Even if you don’t appreciate orchids (which I don’t), the walk and views are spectacular and should not be missed. Lots of wildlife including large lizards (about half a metre long) rooting around for insects, squirrels and birds. Highlight for me was an Indonesian kingfisher in plain view on a lake. Superb. In fact I would say it was the best bit of Singapore, on a par with the nightly light show.

Parts of the orchid garden

It was sweltering. Hot and humid so I took a rest in one of the cafes. All around the cafes local birds were competing with roosters for left over titbits.

Later in the day we had a tropical downpour which left me with the dilemma of either staying to watch one of the lizards cooling down in one of the lakes or running for shelter.

We ended the day having dinner at the bar/ bistro next door to the hotel where a pint of beer (admittedly craft beer) was an eye watering £10 and a teeny glass of wine £8. Singapore is not a cheap place for wine.

Weds 5th March
Sunny, 35 degrees, humid.

Sight seeing today - first call Little India. When Singapore was a British colony the governer decided to split the city into areas dependent on the race/ beliefs of people. Hence Little India, Chinatown, Malaysian quarter, Business  District etc etc. Not so politically correct these days but it has led to these charming areas of differing cultures.

It really did feel like a part of India - not having been to India we assume that India is not so squeeky clean or litter free as the Singapore version where there are strict laws against littering, gum chewing and smoking in public (other than designated areas - smoking that is not gum chewing!)

We walked through streets of shops and stalls selling all manner of Indian things from foodstuffs and clothing to various electrical items. There were signs claiming to fix motherboards .....- Graham advises this is a computer related thing.

We visited a Hindu temple which was heaving with visitors, worshippers and the like.

We had hoped to catch the Big Bus tourist bus to save Carol’s legs - we saw it but couldn’t figure out where the bus stop was looking at the rather out of scale tourist map! Also, the Big Bus we did see looked packed so we might not have got on anyway.

So back on the MRT to Chinatown.
It was kind of like being back in Beijing without the traffic as it was a big pedestrian precinct of many streets. Perhaps a little more touristy in the kind of items sold - you could buy any manner of souvenirs, clothing, jewellery and tatt along with chinese herbal/ medicinal products. Or perhaps not!
We had a chinese lunch overlooking the hussle and bussle.

We took a look in the ? Tooth relic Buddist temple - which was enormous! There were Buddas with lots of mini mes depending on your sign of the chinese zodiac.

Passing by this great piece of street art 

On to the Bayfront - where we took our first glimpse of the amazing Marina Sands hotel and roof top resort. The Singapore skyline appears to be an architect’s shop window! Buildings appeared to be competing for the best statement design! The Marina shopping mall was rich in designer shops several stories high with an artificial canal complete with boats running through it.

The helix bridge

Singapore Cricket Club

The Marina Bay hotel dominates the skyline. Three towers containing rooms and restaurants, topped by gardens and infinity pool (largest in the world reputedly) all in the shape of a boat. It is all very stunning, but perhaps instead of being called Marina Sands, should have been called Marina Concrete. You cross through the hotel (but no access to the actual hotel) on about level 4 or 5, level with the overhanging shades in the picture above, through to the Marina Bay Gardens on the other side, which are equally as stunning as the reservoir/lake side.

The gardens are free to enter, but you pay to do the tree top walk (you can just see some people on a boardwalk around the “giant mushrooms” in the above picture).

By this time Carol was flagging and we plan to visit the garden tomorrow evening anyway so we headed/hobbled back to the hotel and an authentic chinese meal in a raucous local small restaurant, we being the only long noses in the place - it was very good and the beer considerably cheaper than the previous night. We noticed that no-one seemed to be paying for their meals, including a very big noisy birthday party. Then we remembered that, as in China, they were all paying by phone.

Thurs 7th March

Sunny, 35 degrees, humid - getting tedious now!

We plan a long day today as we want to catch both the Garden by the Bay and the Marina Bay evening light shows if we have the stamina and Carol’s leg bears up.

First off - catch the MRT to 

After weeks of studying the art of Asian posing Graham struts his stuff! The cocked leg, the thoughtful pose, the art of hiding the sweat stains under the arms.

This free to visit park is in the grounds of a local merchant family who made their fortune selling Tiger oil to the masses in the early part of the 20th century. Sadly the old mansion house was demolished after it fell into disrepair. They wanted to create scenes from Chinese legend including the 10 gates of Hell - a gruesome  depiction of plaster figures being judged and tortured depending on their sins. But not to worry after their punishments which could be even dismemberment - they were reborn with no memory  of past sins and given a nice cup of tea. 

The park is littered with all sorts of kitch larger than life characters in scenes mostly depicting morality tales. We have to say you would need to look quite far to see anything like this!

We then took a walk along along the marina and another MRT to get back into the city. Carol wanted to see the older buildings and have a singapore sling in the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel. Some of the superyachts in the marina were huge - in fact, there was the biggest trimarin superyacht ever built moored there - the White Rabbit superyacht.

Carol photographed Parliament House, Singapore Cricket Club, Victoria Theatre before deciding it was Singapore Sling time and tried to find Raffles Hotel. We could see it on the map but not in real life, and ended up walking a good 2 kms round in a circle before we eventually came across it. That’s the trouble with Singapore - some parts are built for traffic not for pedestrians. You can find yourself across the road from where you want to be but no way of crossing the carriageway.

At last we made it, hot, sweaty and bedraggled to the Long Bar and the long awaited Singapore Sling. The drink was invented here in 1915 by Ngiam Tong Boon, a Hainanese bartender working at the Long Bar, as a method for ladies (who were frowned on for drinking alcohol) to have an aloholic drink disguised as a fruit cocktail. It is now a very touristy thing to do to come to the origin and drink the overpriced drink. A mix of gin, cointreau, pineapple juice, cherry brandy, benedictine, gredadine, lime juice, soda, and very nice it was too.
On the table were large bags of monkey nuts - the floor was littered with discarded shells - so we followed the tradition , ate some nuts and chucked the shells down - the shells crunched under your feet as you walked through the bar...

Rested and refreshed, we made our way back to the Marina Bay Gardens to catch the light shows. The gardens themselves are a pleasant place to be, with sculptures dotted around, but the highlight is the evening “son et lumière” show in the evening. The giant mushrooms light up in sequence to loud classical music. All very spectacular.

Once finished we have an hour to make it back through the hotel again over the other side to watch another sound and light show on the water side. Lots of people have gathered for this 9pm free show. It’s fantastic, spell binding. A mix of water jets, sprays and lights combine in sequence to music to give coloured columns and ethereal shapes as water sprays and mists are lit up.

Our last shuttle bus was 10:30 so we didn’t really have time to eat. We decided to go straight back, ensure we got the bus and then see what was available locally. As it happened, not much. All the restaurants were closing so we made do with a sandwich and a couple of beers from the 7-11 corner shop. We had an early start the next morning anyway for our 6:30 taxi to the airport.

Friday 8th March
Weather irrelevant

Up for the taxi at 6:30 and to the airport for breakfast which was, if I’m honest, a little disappointing for a business class lounge. We expected  better from Singapore. However, food on the plane was OK. For some reason we are flying to Hong Kong and then on to London instead of direct from Singapore. Flights were OK - food and service on the HK to London leg a bit poor from Cathay Pacific, definitely not as good as last time we did that route. Graham got his pyjamas on for the full 8 hour sleep while Carol watched back to back movies, then we landed at Heathrow in the rain.

The End

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Indonesia - central Java

Sat 2nd March
Sunny 30 degrees, humid, thunderstorms pm.

Today we headed off in to Semarang - a city of 2m occupants for a local tour. 

The welcome party as we walked from the ship

Again we drove through heavy traffic of motor scooter dodging ,although perhaps not quite as dense as we witnessed in Bali.

There are 2 children on this bike - 1 is wedged in front of the driver. Mum and Dad have helmets, youngest has hair and the eldest has extra protection of a bobble hat.

We visited a relatively newly built Mosque (finished in the early noughties) - we learnt that here in Java most muslims are moderate in their beliefs eg. women do not have to wear a hijab and are treated equally with men. They also embrace older traditional rituals and include Hindu and Buddist religious practices (well that’s what our guide told us and he seemed a reasonable chap)
The atmosphere around the area was pleasant and jovial. We did not go into the building itself. Apparently the spaceship looking pillars extend into canopies for cover.

We also visited an adjacent tower with views of Semarang to the sea and the mountains from the viewing platform on top and briefly visited a small museum of all things Muslim.


The mosque from the tower, the city leading to the port beyond. 

Back in the minivan and on to our next stop - a church built by the Dutch in the 17th century. It has been restored with help from Dutch patrons and the government.

They even have an airconned organ! (we have been told it doesn’t actually work - the organ that is not the aircon)

Instead of benches or pews they have ratten chairs.

Outside a crowd of schoolgirls played with balloons - much jolarity - think it must be some sort of feast day?

The kids are quite charming, in fact lots of people we passed in the street smiled and waved hello. Graham even got a couple of high fives! We passed one group of older children and they giggled as they stroked their noses and pointed at ours - guess they’ve not seen many europeans with their funny long pointy noses. Some people asked for our photos with them. Apparently our cruise ship is the first one for 2 months, we think due to fear of extremist muslim militancy. (a  piece of gossip circulating talked of a kidnap plot !)

Java was a dutch owned from the 1600’s until after the 2nd World War. Initially owned by the Dutch East India Co which transfered to the Dutch government in a deal to bail out the Co’s debts. The city has an old town built in Dutch style including dykes and canals but sadly were not as successful as those in the Netherlands. Over the years the buildings have been left to fall into disrepair, but efforts are being made to restore the old buildings to their former glory. However looking at the rather crude building practices this could take a considerable amount of time , great chunks  of the city appeared to be being part demolished and re built with rubble, dust and debris all over the city. There appeared considerable amount of new build going on also - hotels, shops, appartments. Our guide had stated that Indonesia had been very corrupt but he hoped now the government would invest in the country to ease the state of the people who are poor when the country is rich in assets.

Next stop - a traditional local food market .... you can say that again.. Endless stalls of poultry - dead and alive, meat, fish (mostly heads), shellfish, fruit, veg and the occasional knicker stall. Graham declined the pink Bridget Jones style pants waved at him beguilingly by a stall holder. One woman told us the market opens at 2am and shuts at 11am. We think the 2am was a translation error. It was so hot the quicker you bought your meat the better. On one chicken store various bits of chicken were laid out, only the remnants when we got there at 10:30, but the reserve stock was below running around clucking wondering if they had another day left or not.

Imagine John Torode whispering in his Masterchef voice “let’s hope the contestants don’t ruin the ingredients from the invention test table of produce” ( there was not a dismembered human hand - just Carol’s poor photography!)

All modes of transport from rickshaws to bikes.

We caught many puzzled glances as us europeans passed through in crocodile formation.

Then on to the third and final temple - this time a Buddist one. 
Our guide says that the Javeans blend buddist practices with islamic - they use the drums like the ones in Buddist temples as a call for muslim prayer.

A beautiful pagoda with a budda and other deities ( Carol’s a sucker for a Buddist temple as the next pics will prove)

And some other fellas..

Graham being encouraged to rejoin the group - we could have stayed much longer.
We then were driven to a stunning old looking hotel which turned out to be just a few years old. We had a delicious lunch and then was taken around to look at the rooms and grounds ( ah that’s why the cost was so reasonable...) Fortunately for us the sales pitch was halted by a sharp heavy thunderstorm. Still if you ever find yourself in the middle of the countryside in central Java we would certainly recommend it!

The entrance to one of the rooms.

The place was full of we presume authentic art works.

A lizard on a day bed ( wooden - the lizard and the bed!)

The gardeners just about to make a run for it 

Then off to our final stop. The house with a thousand doors. This used to be the rail headquarters for the Dutch administration - don’t think there were actually a thousand doors but if you count the window shutters it looks to have an awful lot.

Actually there were several buildings - again many older school children around.

Some of the rooms contained railway memorabilia, others photos and posters from the post war move to independence.

We love a good propaganda poster.

Sadly nearby is also a memorial for all the young people killed by the Japanese in their bid for freedom. Java was occupied in the war by Japan.

So that was an interesting full day. We left feeling very warm towards the Javaens - we felt very welcome here in Semerang.

Tomorrow another sea day and then we arrive at our destination - Singapore.