Marina Bay Sands Hotel
After being in the Philippines for a week and enduring the most wretched airport facilities in Asia, we arrived in the cleanest country in the world (or at least the cleanest in Southeast Asia) - Singapore! I've never been so happy to be in a first world country. Not that Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines weren't amazing, but I was just looking forward to not seeing massive cockroaches on a regular basis. Singapore is a very modern, small city-state south of Malaysia and above Indonesia. It's an incredibly wealthy state with a high GDP and third highest per capita income in the world. Unlike previous countries we were at, it is extremely clean, urbanized and developed.
We arrived at our "cheap" hotel, which was near $100 and considered cheap compared to the other hotels (such as the Marina Bay Sands - pictured above - which would easily be around $400 a night). Oh yeah - no more third world countries means no more $25 [clean] hotels, unfortunately.
Our time in Singapore was short and consisted mainly of walking around the Marina - which is where their main big city area is. It's also where the famous Singapore Flyer is - AKA the biggest/tallest ferris wheel in the world. This actually wasn't a traditional ferris wheel, which was slightly disappointing, but more of a giant room that rotates around the wheel very slowly. You walk through basically a little science museum for a floor or two until you board the giant rotating room and the next 30 minutes are spent looking out the glass walls to the entire country of Singapore (this country is TINY.) It's 165 meters tall and may or may not have been worth the $30 it cost, but we really couldn't go to Singapore without going on it.
View from the top
We walked miles around the city and came across a super modern outdoor theater on the water with a live band playing, a ginormous mall with a "Bellagio" type water show next to the bay, the unique Gardens by the Bay and an amazing art museum where we saw a photography exhibit featuring "Magnum Photos", whose mission is to "chronicle the world and interpret its peoples, events, issues and personalities." We spent a few hours here and saw various photographers' collections - ranging from photos of the urban, dark side of Tokyo, to portraits of people in desolate places in Poland.
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That crazy white building behind us is the Art Science Center
At night, the city is beautiful and there are tons of restaurants and bars to go to. We were semi-conned into eating at a seafood restaurant right on the river (one thing that's the same as the other countries in Southeast Asia - people are very pushy) but the two free drinks each made it worth it. We ended up deciding to go to Malaysia early, due to the costliness of Singapore and the lack of money that we had after 4 weeks of traveling. Singapore was just too expensive for us.
Helix Bridge from one side of the bay to the other
We left Singapore around 11pm and boarded a bus that would take around 5 hours to drive to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We found this bus online and it cost around $25 - there are tons of different buses online ranging from standard "charter" buses (which we took - seats reclined far back and made it comfortable enough to sleep the entire time) to buses/trains with rooms that people can sleep in beds in. Those ones weren't too much more but we weren't too fussed over a 5-6 hour bus ride.
After getting woken up twice in the middle of the night to walk through customs with our passports and luggage, we arrived at Berjaya Times Square in Kuala Lumpur at around 5am to take a cab to our lovely 5 star hotel. The Le Meriden cost less than our cheap hotel in Singapore, which by the way, had the SMALLEST room I've ever been in in my life. The only thing that fit in it was a queen bed. No joke.
Anyway, 6am was too early to check in so we worked out at the gym and enjoyed the ginormous pool, jacuzzi and waterslide outside until our room was ready. We were back in the glorious inexpensive part of Southeast Asia so this meant lots of room service slash food getting delivered to us. Not gonna lie, we were pretty exhausted from traveling and did NOT mind just lounging around our hotel for a couple days doing absolutely nothing :).
KL probably had the worst weather throughout the trip but we didn't mind watching lightning storms from our room with a view like this. You can see the city through the fog in the back.
We still did attempt to check out the culture and luckily, we were located right outside the city next to the train station. The first mistake I made was my choice of attire. I didn't know that Malaysia had a HUGE Muslim population but I definitely figured that out instantly after boarding the train and having dozens of FULLY clothed women stare at me wearing a summer dress. Whoops. I definitely attempted to be more modest after that experience.
Nate and I went on a walking tour of the city to become a bit more familiar with the culture, which I absolutely would recommend. It's called the "I Love Malaysia Heritage Walk" and we went around the whole city and our guide showed us different landmarks and gave us a brief history for 90 minutes. There are different tour options and we just did the free Heritage Walk (limited spots so reserve beforehand!).
(left) Merdeka Square & the Sultan Abdul Saman Building on the left. (right) Kuala Lumpur City Gallery
We walked around their Chinatown and the Central Market and did some good shopping at their street markets and ate delicious local food - stingray and a claypot dish with rice and chicken. We shopped more after eating and in an attempt to buy a cheap DVD to watch at the hotel that night, we literally almost got Taken. Yes, Taken. We were on the main street of Chinatown shopping around and this guy asked if we wanted to buy some DVDs. Nate said yes and so this Asian guy leads us to these shops down an alleyway (not even a secluded alleyway - there were still a bunch of other shops there) and into his "shop". He wanted us to get at least 10 movies and we weren't down so we turn to leave and the entrance where we came in was now a wall. It was one of those little garage places where they can pull down the door and so they locked us in and kept saying that "customs" was outside so they had to close the door (AKA their van was driving up to kidnap us in). Nate argued with them and started trying to unlock the door himself until they finally let us out (where customs was NOT). Sketch.
Shopping in Chinatown
Waiting for our stingray & claypot dish to be made!
There were a couple amazing temples we saw as well. One, we accidentally stumbled across while venturing to Chinatown, called the Sri Mahamariamman. This temple was built in 1873 and is the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia. We also went to the Batu Caves, which were limestone caves that had hindu temples built inside - you just had to climb the ridiculously tall staircase to get inside. Malaysia is extremely hot and humid, just like the rest of Southeast Asia, so this was an incredibly daunting task. It was somewhat worth it when we got inside. This temple is pretty trashed because it's super touristy. Still pretty cool, regardless.
Temple & entrance to the Batu Caves
Temple inside the limestone caves
Top Things to do in Singapore & KL, Malaysia:
If you're looking for....
- Malaysia Heritage Walks - amazing volunteer guides who love their country & give great walking tours
- ArtScience Museum in Singapore (they had a crazy lego exhibit that was opening a week after we were there. We were suuuper bummed we missed it and are determined to go back to Singapore specifically for this exhibit)
- Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur has amazing local food
- Singapore Marina - great nightlife & tons of bars & restaurants
- Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
- Pavilion Shopping Centre in Kuala Lumpur if you want most name brand stores. Huge, GORGEOUS shopping mall but the prices are about the same as, if not more, than America.
- Chinatown & the Central Market in Kuala Lumpur - right next to each other. Tons of cheap shopping along the street markets in China town where you can get ANYTHING. Lots of souvenir & novelty type shops in the Central Market
- Shops at the Marina Bay Sands - just like a Vegas hotel with a river running through it, every designer store imaginable, live music and a casino
- Singapore Marina - amazing views of the city on the waterfront, such as the famous Marina Bay Sands hotel. I'm sure this hotel wouldn't have a terrible view either from its infinity pool on the roof. Walking around the entire bay has incredible views as well.
- Singapore Flyer - panoramic views of the entire city.
- Malaysia temples - Sri Mahamariamman & Batu Caves temples
- Petronas Twin Towers, KL - didn't get the most amazing view of these buildings because it was raining but pictures I've seen look awesome.
Goodbye Asia, until next time:)