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This week's travel diary: A 25-year old journalist eats her way through Singapore.
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Hometown: Hartford, CT
Trip Location: Singapore and Malaysia
Trip Length: 10 days
Annual # Of Vacation Days: 16 flexible time off days, which includes vacation, personal days and sick time.
Costs: Flight was $890 roundtrip booked through Expedia. I flew out of JFK in New York and flew into Changi International Airport in Singapore. I connected through Hong Kong with a 4-hour layover. Then on day six I flew to Malaysia on a Scoot Air flight that was about $30 and flew back to Singapore from Malaysia on an AirAsia flight that was about $70.
I booked about six weeks before I planned to fly and got a great deal on a Cathay Pacific flight. I’d been looking for about a month at that point and when the fare dropped and I knew I could stay with my friend I snapped up a ticket. I got a really good deal, most of my friends and family who travel to Asia for business said they’d never paid less than $1,000.
Cost: I stayed with a friend from university who lives in Singapore which was free! In Malaysia I booked a private room in a hostel which cost about $60 for two nights including fees.
Miscellaneous pre-vacation spending
Before the trip I bought a cute traveling backpack for $40, some travel sized toiletries for $12, and two new pairs of pants and two linen tops for about $60 from Uniqlo. I also spent about $10 on protein bars and candy for the flight.
6:00 a.m. – I wake up at my parent’s house, conveniently located an hour from JFK. I live about three hours from JFK so when I fly internationally I tend to book flights that leave from New York because it’s so easy to stay with my parents and fly out the next day. I wash my face, moisturize, brush my teeth, and drink two glasses of water.
8 a.m. – My Dad drops me off and I give him a huge hug. He’s been dropping me off at JFK for various adventures since I was 15 and our shared love of travel is a huge part of our relationship. I check my bag for free with Cathay Pacific and head to security.
9 a.m. – I walk up and down the terminal to get as much exercise before my 16-hours flight to Hong Kong as possible. I’ve never flown this long before and as someone who has trouble sitting still, I’m a bit nervous. I buy a sandwich and an iced tea at Starbucks for breakfast and use a gift card to pay. I stop by Hudson News on my travels and grab two liters of water for the flight and a pack of mints. $12
10:00 a.m. – Board my very full flight. Every seat is taken, so much for all my wishful thinking that I’d have an empty seat next to me! I watch Bohemian Rhapsody and drink a bunch of water (staying hydrated helps me feel less jet-lagged) which is so good that I almost start watching it again when I finish it. Instead, I decide to try and sleep since it’s officially my bedtime on Singapore time. I take a melatonin pill and crack out the eye mask and earplugs.
4:00 p.m. – I’m awake. Four hours of sleep isn’t too terrible! I eventually doze off again.
Daily Total: $12
2 p.m. I land in Hong Kong for my layover. I wander around the airport in a daze. I’m hungry and order a bowl of bibimbap with some Hong Kong dollars my Dad gave me that were leftover from a business trip. It is delicious. $11.20
4:00 p.m. I board my flight to Singapore.
8:00 p.m. – Land at Changi International Airport in Singapore and breeze through customs and immigration. I am visiting one of my roommates from college, S, and she’s waiting for me outside customs. We haven’t seen each other in seven years but when we hug I know the distance hasn’t mattered a bit. She gets us a Grab, Southeast Asia’s Uber, back to her house.
9:00 p.m. – I shower and change into PJ’s before we sit on the couch and catch up for a bit. She goes to bed and I message my family and partner back home to let them know I made it. I pass out in her guest bedroom.
Daily Total: $11.20
6:00 a.m. – I am awake. I drink a bunch of water and read while I wait for my friend, S to get up. We agreed to leave together today so she can show me how to use the public transit system.
9:00 a.m. – S is up and we get head out. She gives me a transit pass with $10 on it leftover from another visitor. Singapore's public transit system is extensive and highly efficient, which was a shock to an American used to terrible transit like the MTA in New York or the T in Boston. The subway system is called the MRT and its runs all across the city fairly regularly. The system has a convenient app that you can use offline to map your route around the city, which I found super useful. Singapore also has a bus system which I really only used to get to and from the train station in my friend’s neighborhood. I found the MRT much easier to navigate than most systems and the train cars were all air conditioned which was, in a word, amazing.
We take the bus to the train station in her neighborhood and have a quick breakfast of coffee and kaya toast ($5.40). On our way out we stop at Polar and buy two curry puffs, delicious vegetarian curry wrapped in flaky puff pastry, ($2) for me to eat later. $ 7.40
10:00 a.m. – I take the train to Little India and wander around for a few hours. I visit Sri Veeramakaliamman temple during the prayer session which is very moving. The whole temple smells like incense and is filled with flowers. The temple was on my list of things to see while in Singapore and I just happened to stumble upon while I was exploring Little India. It's free to go in and explore the entire temple, just remember to remove your shoes!
12:00 p.m. – I take the train to Chinatown next and wander around the open air markets. I see a lot of durian fruit, which is famously banned from public transit in many Asian countries, including Singapore, because of how smelly it is, and lots of fresh seafood. Many of the stalls were selling scarves, jewelry, and souvenirs. From Chinatown I walk to Boat Quay through the city center. There’s some beautiful architecture here and I love how green everything is despite being extremely urban. I pass the Fullerton Hotel, Raffles Hotel, the National Gallery and Parliament, before sitting down by the riverbank to eat my curry puffs for lunch. Fun fact, I’m sitting right where Nick proposes to Rachel for the first time during Crazy Rich Asians.
1:00 p.m. – After a good rest and snack, I wander over to the Esplanade mall to cool off. I buy a bottle of water and a honey lemon drink there. $5
3:00 p.m. – I’m exhausted, so I take the train back to S’s apartment for a little rest. I read and manage not to fall asleep. Jet lag win!
6:00 p.m. – Take the train to Bugis, a neighborhood in Singapore, to meet S at work. From there we go to a food stall and get a plate of chicken, mixed vegetables, rice and tofu ($2). We get both noodles and chicken rice ($3) to share. After that, we go to Te Tahrik for prata (an Indian pastry) and I get a limau juice ($4). There is no limit to what we will eat. Dessert is sago, a Chinese style pudding, from Ah Chew’s which S pays for. Total: $9
7:30 p.m.– We walk to Merlion Park and realize the famous statue is under renovation. Only slightly disappointed, we continue our walk over to Gardens by the Bay for the free nightly light and music show, which while very touristy, is very cool. After the show, we walk to Marina Bay Sands and check out the mall which has a river with gondolas flowing through it. S asks if I want to go to the casino inside Marina Bay Sands and I laugh and refuse. She tells me that Singapore charges its residents $100 to gamble to prevent gambling addiction, which I find fascinating.
10:00 p.m. – On our way home we stop at a grocery store and I buy cereal, milk and two Korean face masks. $7
11:00 p.m. – Back at S’s. I FaceTime my partner and puppy and then pass out.
Daily Total: $28.40
10:00 a.m. – Man I was tired! I check my step counter and realize I walked 13 miles yesterday! I eat a bowl of cereal and yogurt before heading out for the day.
11:00 a.m. –Take the train to the Botanic Gardens. I top off my transit card with more money ($15). It is brutally hot and sunny today but that doesn’t stop me from wandering all over the gardens. Entrance to the gardens is free, but it’s $3 to see the National Orchid Gallery which is super beautiful ($3). My favorite spot in the garden is the Frangipani grove – it smells so amazing and they had these cool swings for people to sit on. I sit there and relax for a while. $18
2:00 p.m. – I stop for lunch at an outdoor cafe on the edge of the gardens. It’s all Italian food, surprisingly, so I order a small Margherita pizza, watermelon juice, and a flat white. $25
4:00 p.m. – I take the train to Orchard Road and look around the crazy huge malls, which have everything from Chanel to Japanese dollar stores, before taking a walk up Emerald Hill Road which has a beautiful collection of colorful Peranakan houses.
6:00 p.m.– Meet two more friends I met at university at the Newton Food Center. They treat me to many Singaporean delicacies like sambal stingray, oyster omelet, carrot cake (hint no carrots and no cake! It’s a mixture of scrambled egg and soft daikon radish), chili crab clams, satay, and sugar cane juice. We have a blast catching up and talking about how much fun we had back in the day.
7:00 p.m. – We take the train to Bugis, a trendy business area that used to be a red light district, and head to a Korean dessert place. We get a giant Bingsu to share, which is shaved ice, condensed milk, mango chunks, and soy bean powder. It is amazing. I pay as a thank you for dinner. $15
8:00 p.m. – I’ve noticed that eating in Singapore is an Olympic event. So after dinner and dessert it’s time for drinks. We head to a rooftop bar but it’s full so we head down a few floors to another bar. I order a mezcal paloma and our conversation inevitably veers from the good old days to what the hell is happening in American and British politics. I am a dual citizen so I get the best of both worlds as far as Trump and Brexit are concerned. My girlfriends generously refuse to let me pay.
11:00 p.m. – Get back to S’s feeling full from both the immense amounts of food and company. She’s asleep when I get back.
Daily Total: $58
8:00 a.m. – Up and awake. I have some cereal for breakfast and read my book. S gets up and we catch up on my day yesterday since we didn’t cross paths. She suggests going to a McDonald’s in a park behind her house for coffee.
9:00 a.m. – I get a latte at McDonald’s and read my book after S leaves for work. To some this may sound like a waste of a vacation, but I truly love balancing my trips between adventuring, socializing, and relaxing. $3
11:00 a.m. – Head back to S’s and I eat my leftover pizza from yesterday for lunch. It’s raining, but I decided to head out to Kampong Glam, a historic Malay neighborhood, to explore. I walk around Haji Lane and admire the huge Mosque and street murals. There are many cute boutiques in this neighborhood so I look around a bit. The sun comes out with a vengeance and I realize I left my sunglasses at home. I buy a pair from a street vendor. $14
3:00 p.m. – After a fair amount of walking and exploring, I get a beer and a water at a cafe and I sit outside and watch the world go by. $7
5:00 p.m. – I still have an hour and a half to kill before S and I meet for dinner, so I walk to Bugis. I look around the mall to cool off and get a Thai tea-flavored soft serve. So good. $1
6:30 p.m. – Meet S at her office. Let another Olympic eating event begin! First up is bubble tea ($5) from Tiger which we take with us to dinner Lau Pa Sat street market. I love these hawker centers so much. We split a huge green curry, Pad Thai, and get shu mai and pork buns. Predictably, it is a bit of a struggle to finish it all. I end up taking the shu mai to go. S treats dinner under the condition that I get drinks. $5
8:00 p.m. – We head to Altitude, the world’s highest al fresco bar. It’s ladies night so admission is free (usually it’s $30). We each get a drink, a yuzu whisky for me and a cosmo for S, and enjoy the stunning view of Singapore from the top. Every building’s architecture is incredible from this angle and it’s so cool to see all the ships in the harbor. $14
10:00 p.m. – After sitting around and talking for a few hours we head home. I pack a small backpack that I can carry on the plane for my quick trip to Kuala Lumpur and book a Grab to the airport in the morning.
Daily Total: $44
6:00 a.m. – Up, rather reluctantly. My Grab arrives at 7:00 a.m. and I am off. $14
8:00 a.m. – Make it through security at Changi International Airport no problem and buy a bottle of water at the terminal before boarding my flight to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. The flight is just an hour so I read my book, Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe and try not to jostle the Irish man sitting next to me as the seats are very small on this budget flight. $3
11:00 a.m. – Immigration at Kuala Lumpur International Airport was not a quick affair and it was made worse by the fact that I really needed a bathroom the whole time I was in line. After clearing customs and immigration, I buy a round-trip ticket into the city on the KL Express train from the airport, which is 30 minutes outside of Kuala Lumpur, and head off. The train goes through huge palm plantations on the way into the city and I get the wonderful feeling I am somewhere totally different than anywhere else I’ve been. $22
12:00 p.m. – I arrive at KL Sentral station on the express train and decide to take the subway into the heart of downtown to find some lunch and see some sights instead of checking into my hostel. I pay for a one way ride downtown and it’s crazy cheap ($0.80). At the metro stop for KL city center I order a falafel wrap and a lemonade from a fast casual stall ($3). I ordered a water too and after one sip I remember I am not supposed to drink the water or have ice here as it isn’t guaranteed to be safe for tourists. After lunch I grab water and gatorade from a 7/11 ($1.20) and head out to check out a few markets nearby and take a look at the Petronas Towers. $5
3:00 p.m. It’s so damn hot here that I hop back on the subway and take it to the Masjid Jamek stop, where my hostel is located. Luckily, my hostel is very close to the station and the staff provided me great instructions for how to find it so I don’t get lost. I check in and pay the rest of what I owe after the $20 deposit I paid to book the room. At the front desk, I sign up for a tour tomorrow that should take me to Batu Caves, Tiong Bahru temple, Petrona Towers, the gardens and a bunch of other sites.
4:00 p.m. – I feel super dehydrated so I drink a bunch of water and rest in the air conditioning. I always book a private room in hostels, if I can afford it, because I am an introvert and truthfully, very uncomfortable with not having privacy. I wish I was more adventurous in that way, but I am who I am!
5:00 p.m. – I schlep out and explore the neighborhood a bit. It’s raining, but no one seems to mind – there are women selling noodles on the sidewalk and lots of motorbikes everywhere. I walk up to the Eco Park and then meander back to the hostel. Kuala Lumpur is reminding me a lot of São Paulo, one of the cities I lived in growing up. Before going home I pop into a pharmacy and buy more water, a honey lemon drink, an electrolyte replenishers, chips, and cashews. I’m not hungry so I decide to eat snacks and read my book in my room instead of going out for dinner. $4
7:00 p.m. Drink lots of water and electrolytes. I’m really not feeling well and want to make sure I rest so I can enjoy my day tomorrow. I try not to feel bad about not going out or socializing in my hostel. I pass out feeling a little better around 9.
Daily Total: $48
4:00 a.m. – Sprint to the bathroom and throw up. All night my stomach was killing me, but I thought it was just dehydration. I try not to get worked up and Google reasons I could be throwing up. Ding ding ding. It’s either food or water poisoning. I’m thinking my lunch from yesterday is the prime suspect.
8:00 a.m. – Another sprint to the bathroom. It’s worse this time and it’s not just vomit this time if you catch my drift. I text my parents and my sister who is a nurse so they know what’s happening. I lie down and try not to panic. I am feeling a weird mix of fear that I am sick in a country where I know no one and disappointment that I won’t feel well enough to actually experience my time here.
10:00 a.m. – I drag my sorry self to the pharmacy and buy antidiarrheals, some Malaysian stomach pills, an electrolyte booster, two liters of water, juice, and some crackers. Back at the hostel I eat some of the crackers and take the medicines. I am feeling mildly better since my last trip to the bathroom, but I still feel like absolute crap. It’s my own fault for drinking that water. $8
11:00 a.m. – Feeling better so I go for a walk. I walk through the Eco Park again and check out the museum dedicated to Malaysian ecology. I decide to book a hop-on-hop-off bus tour since I missed the tour I signed up for through my hostel. I usually hate doing those kind of touristy things, but it’s $12 and I really would like to see some of KL despite how tired and gross I feel. I wander over to the bus stop and get on the beautiful, air conditioned bus. $12
4:00 p.m. –The bus tour took me to Petronas Towers, China Town, Little India, the palace, the Botanical Gardens, and a whole bunch of other places so today doesn’t feel like a total waste. I only got off at the KL Tower, a huge landmark and tourist destination in Kuala Lumpur, to use the public restroom. For the rest of the tour I sit on the bus and watch the city go by, listening to the guide talk about the history of various spots. I don’t feel I really experienced KL but it’s better than nothing. I go back to the hostel, let everyone at home know I’m okay and rest for a bit.
6:00 p.m. – Head out in search of some plain rice, oatmeal, and bananas. I find a department store with a food selection. I am the only non-Malaysian person here and I get some funny looks. I manage to find Quaker oats instant oatmeal, a spoon, a banana, and water. Upon checking out I am told I need to purchase the entire bunch of bananas, but I am leaving tomorrow so I ditch my sad banana. I finish two of the books I brought on this trip, “Say Nothing” and “The Faithful Place” by Tana French at the hostel while I eat. I love reading on vacation and I am bummed out I didn’t bring a third book (I also packed “The Ragged Edge of Night” by Olivia Hawkins” and “The Far Field” by Madhuri Vijay) on this leg of the trip to read. I stream episodes of Grace and Frankie on my phone to keep myself entertained instead. $2.16
8:00 p.m. – I close the chapter on this weird day and go to bed.
Daily Total: $22.16
7:00 a.m. – Up to pack my bag. I am heading back to Singapore today. I drink some water and take more antidiarrheals. I celebrate not having vomited in 24 hours. It’s the little things, you know?
8:00 a.m. – Take the subway from Masjid Jamek to KL Sentral ($0.45) where I catch the KL Express train back to the airport using the ticket I bought when I arrived at the airport. I get excited at the airport because the food smells good again! I go through security expecting there to be food options at the gate, but there aren’t really. I end up getting two croissants and peppermint tea at a cafe ($3.45). $3.90
11:00 a.m. – And my flight is delayed. I FaceTime my sister the nurse who is working nights back in the U.S. we laugh about my episode yesterday and catch up. I finally board my flight 4 hours later.
4:30 p.m. – Back in Singapore and I am starving. I get a roasted veggie sandwich and a water at an airport cafe ($8). After eating I hail a taxi back to S’s apartment ($21). I have the best talk about Singaporean history with the cab driver. I learn that during World War II, the British Army cut down all of Singapore's native Changi trees, these super tall beautiful trees, because they were a target easily identifiable for Japanese bombers. Of course, Singapore was still the first place invaded by Japan during the war. $29
6:45 p.m. – S and I leave to meet a friend who lived next door to us during college for dinner. We go to Samy’s Curry in Dempsey Hill which is such a gorgeous neighborhood. It’s so leafy and quiet. We order biryani rice, butter chicken, chicken masala, and lime juice for the table ($15). Our friend J’s fiancé meets us at the restaurant and we walk over to PS Cafe for a huge slice of chocolate cake to share ($5). After lots of laughs and hugs, S and I book a cab home ($10). $30
Daily Total: $62.90
8:00 a.m. – Up and at ‘em. While S sleeps I drink lots of water and start organizing my things. Today is my last day and I’m not ready to leave! While I wait for her to get up I finish my third book this vacation, “The Ragged Edge of Night.” It was so good!
11:00 a.m. – S takes me for a dim sum brunch and it is popping. I order dan dan noodles, soup dumplings, and an iced tea. S who is vegetarian for a festival in her home country this week orders veggie dumplings, plain noodles, and iced tea. I treat. $36
12:00 p.m. – We take the subway out to Orchard Road and wander around the malls. I buy some paper goods and craft supplies for my sisters and Mom at a Japanese store. My Mom lived in Japan for 5 years and I know these things will bring her joy. $20
1:00 p.m. – S needs some things as Sephora. There’s a 20% off sale and I just ran out of the serum I have been using for the last year, so I test a few. I end up getting a Caudalie VinoSource serum I’ve had my eye on because between the exchange rate and the discount it’ll be much cheaper here. $34
2:00 p.m. S and I decide to take a cab to Sentosa so I can check out the resort island before I leave. Sentosa is a small island South of Singapore that has a Universal Studios theme park, a manmade beach, lots of beach clubs, bars, and other attractions like zip-lining. It’s often referred to as a "playgroun"” for Singapore. The Grab is $10 and I pay the $6 entry fare to Sentosa. Our driver drops us off at Siloso beach where I get a huge bottle of water and a chocolate bar ($3). $19
3:00 p.m. – It’s so hot and S is feeling tired so we take the MRT home. At the train station I buy some Singaporean snacks and face masks to take home with me. Back at S’s I rest a little and read “The Far Field” which so far is very good. I do a little packing. $15
6:00 p.m. – We head out to meet S’s housemate and one of S’s former colleagues for dinner. I get a plum lemonade, a chicken mutabarak, which is a criminally delicious Indian stuffed pancake. S pays and I’ll PayPal her later.
8:00 p.m. – We walk home very full and abandon our plan to get ice cream. Instead we all hang out at the apartment before I decide it’s time to shower and get ready for my early flight tomorrow. I PayPal S $50 SGD and give her a tearful hug goodbye and she makes me promise to wake her up in the morning before I leave. $35
Daily Total: $159
6:00 a.m. – I get up, drink a bunch of water and do my morning routine. I double-check my carry on and call a Grab. I wake S up for a final goodbye. She promises to visit soon and we decide to Skype as soon as she gets settled in her new apartment. The Grab comes and I’m off. $21
6:45 a.m. – Check my own bag, it was free with my airline ticket purchase, because everything at this terminal at Changi airport is automated which is so cool. I have about 20 Singaporean dollars to blow so I buy two Tiger Balm’s ($8) and a veggie sandwich ($8) to eat before the flight. $16
7:30 a.m. – I board my flight to Hong Kong. Once we’re in the air I watch Bohemian Rhapsody(yes, again).
12:00 p.m. – Land in Hong Kong and to my delight the airport is filled with various international Rugby teams flying home from the Rugby Sevens! I think it is a requirement for all Rugby players to be boyishly handsome. I wander around the airport and get 15,000 steps in before my next flight. I get a peppermint tea, some potato chips, and a pastry from Starbucks because I’m hungry. $11
4:00 p.m. I board the final flight home. In 16 hours I’ll be home.
Daily Total: $48
How did you prepare for this trip?
I did a lot of online research using blogs, TripAdvisor, and Lonely Planet. I also had the benefit of staying with a friend who has lived in Singapore for nearly 10 years and has traveled extensively in Southeast Asia. I put together an itinerary and she "edited" it with suggestions and helped me group all the things I wanted to do by locations. She had great suggestions like going to the National Orchid Garden and all of my food stops.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
I loved visiting Kampong Glam in Singapore. It really had so much personality from the old buildings to the narrow streets, but was also so chill. I’d recommend window shopping on Haji Lane and Arab Street and then sitting in a cafe for a while people watching. It has a very unique flair and you feel like you’re in historic Singapore versus internationally developed Singapore.
What was the best meal or food you ate while you were there?
Every meal in Singapore was incredible for different reasons. Newton Food Center was one of my favorite meals because you got authentic Singaporean food like carrot cake and stingray served fresh. It was also less touristy than the other food stalls I visited and open air! I’d also highly recommend Teh Tarik for prata and Polar for curry puffs. I crave both of those on a regular basis these days!
Is there anything about your trip you would do differently in retrospect?
I would try to avoid getting sick in Malaysia and I would have skipped Kuala Lumpur all together and gone to coastal Malaysia instead. Lots of people told me I should have used my trip to Singapore to go somewhere like Krabi in Thailand or Bali instead of Malaysia. In hindsight, I think I would have enjoyed a break from big metropolises and enjoyed sitting on the beach for a few days. But I have a reason to go back and that’s worth everything!
Where were you located in the specific city and would you recommend staying in that part of town?
I stayed in Bishan in Singapore which was very residential neighborhood. Because it was a place real Singaporeans live and work I felt like I got an authentic view of what life is like there. It’s also very central to the city so it was easy to get everywhere in the city from the metro station. I’d definitely recommend staying in Bishan if you want to be away from the hustle and bustle of the more touristy areas like downtown and Orchard Road.
Is there anything you wished you had time to do, but didn’t?
I would have loved to climb to the top of MacRitchie Reservoir or the Bukit Timah forest but truth be told, once I got to Singapore I felt like it was too hot for hiking and too rainy. The views would have been incredible, but I was hot and sweaty just existing and I had been told the hikes were fairly challenging. Other than that, I really felt I hit on the highlights of Singapore and if I had more time I would have liked to go to Indonesia or Thailand for a few days.
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