36 hours in Singapore

Bonjour mes amis.  So sad it’s almost been a year since my last post.  While I have been extremely busy with work, as I sifted through hundreds of photos struggling to remember a wine I tried recently in Santa Barbara, I reminded myself why I started this blog – to catalog some of my favorite recipes, restaurants and travel experiences for myself, friends and family (but mostly for myself because I have the worst memory).

The best way to motivate me back into the groove is to write about my favorite region of the world (and where I call my second home), Southeast Asia.

I was heading to Bangkok for a weeklong work trip so a colleague and I decided we would stop in Singapore on our way home.  We had 36 hours but no reason not to feel confident after watching The Layover.

The good news is Bourdain wasn’t unrealistic in setting expectations for a 24 hour trip – Singapore is very walkable and easy to see everything in that timeframe.  The key is to simply walk or drive through the city as much as you can so you can at least get a glimpse of major landmarks, but identify in advance where you want to spend most of your time.  If you know me, you know it’s generally around food, and Singapore just happens to be known for it.  Below I’ve included my itinerary with the highlights and big to-dos to check off your list!

Day 1

3pm:  Land at SIN and make our way to the beautiful Holiday Inn Atrium – a great location near the Singapore River and the heart of the city.  Disclosure: my cousin is the GM there.

5:30pm:  Greet my dear cousin Charles and immediately head to the SkyPark bar atop the Marina Bay Sands for an aperatif and catch the sunset.  Yes, it’s a super touristy stop but you really won’t find a nicer 360 view of the city.

7:30pm:  Take a quick ride over to Chinatown.  The streets are bustling with benches and chairs filled with people, surrounding sizzling street food vendors churning out noodles, other mom and pop restaurants lining the alleyway and Chinese lanterns illuminating from above. Charles takes us in to the Noodle Man.  This guy hand-pulls everything right in front of you and outside of the delicious noodles, the xioalongbao (soup dumplings) are one of the best ones I’ve had to-date. The paper-thin skin makes consumption on its own a skill set, and it certainly becomes devastating when you lose any of the delicious meaty soup broth.  I’m not a big beer drinker, but you drink beer in SE Asia – they brew some of the best stuff and it’s a perfect complement to combat the spice and the heat (of the dish and physically outside.. it’s really hot!)  Tiger Beer is one of my faves, and if you are traveling the region I also highly recommend Beerlao (Laos), San Miguel (Philippines) and Bia Saigon (South Vietnam).

11pm:  Nightcap at Smoke & Mirrors, another cool rooftop space tucked away inside a gallery with, once again, another beautiful view of the city.  From this spot we receive a nice evening view of the Marina Bay Sands (where we had our drink earlier) and the Esplanade.  Naturally, I am drinking a negroni and taking it all in.

 

Day 2

9am:  Wake up and grab croissants and sandwiches down the street from the Atrium.  I don’t remember the name but Charles notes it’s the best bread he can find in the city.

11am:  While I am not hugely into gardens, if I were going to move forward with one non food or beverage related activity, I knew a visit to the Singapore Botanic Gardens would be it. For a moment the air feels reminiscent of Central Park with runners, dog walkers, families lounging and playing in the grass.  The lush greenery, stunning pops of bright floral colors with scenic gazebos and serene sounds of nearby waterfalls and river streams makes these hundreds of acres of land feel truly unique.  Honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the National Orchid Gardens houses the largest orchid collection of 1,200 species and 2,000 hybrids.

1pm:  The Garden is located at the end of Singapore’s main shopping belt on Orchard Road so it’s easy to hit these two sights back-to-back.  We don’t have a desire to go into any of the shops, but it’s nice to walk down the street for a bit.  As a marketer, it’s always fascinating for me to observe retail and CPG packaging and advertising across the globe.  When I’m traveling solo, I could literally spend hours inside a grocery store.

2pm:  We are starving, and I wasn’t going to leave without hitting up a good hawker stand. We drive to Old Airport Road Hawker Centre.   We walk in and I am blissfully overjoyed and overwhelmed at the same time.  THERE ARE SO MANY CHOICES!  I take a deep breath and think of the simple wise words of Anthony Bourdain – just step into the line that’s the longest and you know you’ll have a great meal.  There are at least 3 rows of food stands so we grab a beer and walk around to take a look.  It’s balmy as hell.  I need a refreshment and remember my friend recommended sugar cane juice.  I wish I still had my Snapchat saved of how they were hand making and pressing the juice fresh in front of you, but believe me when I say you can’t go wrong with sampling this signature drink.  After making a full loop and ending up where I started, I noticed this one line in front of the noodle stand grow significantly in the last 10 minutes so I hop on board.  I’m starving and sweating, but my friends keep passing me beers since they finished their meal.  I was determined to wait in line. 25 minutes later I order both the beef and prawn noodle soup.  Worth it.

4pm:  If I didn’t mention it enough, it was disgustingly hot, but Belinda and I wanted to continue to walk around and explore.  We decide to get dropped off in front of Little India.  I didn’t like it too much there and don’t really see a need to go back.  There were a lot of old electronics stalls and jeans galore, so if you are in the market for either of those things in Singapore maybe that’s the only time you should be in Little India.  Belinda and I powered through and stopped at the nearest bar for a Tiger or two.

6pm:  We’re a little tipsy, tired and super sweaty, but still walking.  Our goal at this point is to find a good foot massage parlor because our feet are angry.  I had trouble finding one open near us so we walk all the way past the river back to the hotel to ask for a recommendation, and if I can tell you the best part of the trip it was this.. GET A MASSAGE INSIDE THE HOLIDAY INN ATRIUM.  There’s a massage parlor on the second floor attached to the hotel.  Go there, it was glorious.

8pm:  We enjoy a lovely meal at home with my cousin, drink a good bottle of wine and Skype with friends and family.  It was a perfect ending to a short, yet successful 36 hours in Singapore.

 

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Loving Lao Country

Now is around the time when I would start to plan a New Year’s trip with Sarita so I thought it would be a good time to look back on our incredible Asia adventure redux last year which consisted of three countries, eight cities/island/areas in eighteen days.  We have already been to Thailand and Vietnam but were going to explore different areas, and Laos was a new country addition altogether.
Per usual, Sarita did all of the planning so I didn’t really have any expectations with Laos.  Although a landlocked country, I heard the scenery was supposed to be beautiful.  And it was.
We flew into Vientiane and stayed at the Hotel Khamvongsa for two nights.  Since we only had one full day in the capital, we spent a majority of our time doing what we love to do:  forage in the markets.  A must-stop was Buddhist stupa and Laos’ national symbol, Pha That Luang, generally regarded as the most important national monument in Laos.
The real beauty of the country was best revealed during our scenic bus ride with Green Discovery from Vientiane to Vang Vieng where we stopped for zip lining along the way to our next destination.
In Vang Vieng we stayed at the lovely Ban Sabai Bungalows, where we woke up to this view every morning:
Our final stop was Luang Prabang.  We only had one day there which was unfortunate because it was my favorite area of the three.  Looks like I’ll need to go back!  We stayed at the Mekong Holiday Villa.   This quaint little town bordered by the Mekong River and  the Nam Khan River is full of endless activities.  We spent our day drinking and dining on the side of the river overlooking the mountains, exploring the city’s numerous Buddhist temples, including the breathtaking sight atop Mt Phou Si and finally hit up the night market to graze through local artist and food vendors. Don’t dare leave without stopping in the street first thing in the morning when hundreds of monks from the various monasteries walk through the town collecting alms.
So khawp jai lai lai, Laos.  I love you, and am sure we will see each other again soon.