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Singapore: Visas, Deepavali and Fun

28 Oct

We have been living for 2 months in Thailand now, and it’s been exciting, full of learning, challenging and mindboggling. …Although there are many things to write about – we’ve really come to love it here; the inspiration to write has escaped me a little (perhaps because a life of living – with school and work – is not quite the same as daily adventures on the road).

I realize that it is travel that inspires me….and so it was easy again to write about our recent trip to Singapore; a new country for us all. I will pick up my blog writing and share with you our Thailand adventures but for now here’s a recap of our week in Singapore.

October 19, 2014 was the start of a 2-week school holiday for Emile and Filou, which was perfectly timed as October 20 was our 60th day residing in Thailand. As we were still on a 2-month tourist visa, this was the day we had to leave the country…and go to a place from where we could apply for our next permits: our non-immigrant status (lasting us another 3 months….and giving us the opportunity to apply for work permits).

We were told Singapore was the best and most efficient place to do this, so off we went to this young city that is known to be both a concrete jungle of modernism and order… as well as a garden city and champion of environmental initiatives (their water technology, such as their NeWater; high purity, filtered waste water, is so good that they joke about drinking their own pee water). Perfect work city for Anthony….and a great place for some kiddie, vacation fun!

On our drive into Singapore from the airport, we noticed the most colourful flowers everywhere, and many beautiful tropical trees (think of big bonsais trees) lining the city’s highways. Apparently, these trees are both esthetic and functional as they help to keep Singapore’s roads cool & shady, counteract anti-glare from upcoming traffic and provide a barrier to prevent traffic accidents. This all helps to keep the city clean, green and safe….very well thought out indeed.

Our first morning was spent (with several others) at the Royal Thai Embassy Singapore, where after a little moment of stress because of one missed document, we handed in our package of paperwork with the hopes of a good end result (which we received the next morning….yeah, we were allowed to return to Bangkok!). So relieved to have accomplished the main purpose of our visit, we started to think about having some fun.

Our first stop was a visit to the Island of Sentosa (http://www.sentosa.com.sg/en/), appropriately called the STATE of FUN as it’s a true haven of attraction parks, nature discoveries and beaches (they even have their own Universal Studios – which we purposely avoided; lining up for rides all day in the burning sun….not so much our thing!).

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Filou on the Island of Sentosa; State of FUN

Emile and Filou chose the Skyline Luge Ride to get some of their energy out (http://www.skylineluge.com/luge-singapore/skyline-luge-sentosa/). In small, LUGE-like little cars with steering wheel, they navigated down approximately 680 metres of Jungle & Dragon tracks. After their thrill rides, a chairlift took them back up the hill for a next round and view of Singapore’s beautiful panoramic and skyline scenery. Their enthusiasm for this activity was thrilling; big, big smiles!

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Skyline Luge Rides at Sentosa

From there, Anthony and I were excited to add the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia to our list of have been’s (during our honeymoon we visited Cape Agulhas – the southernmost point of Continental Africa, which still holds very dear memories for us).

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At the Southernmost point of Continental Asia

So we took Sentosa’s complimentary shuttle towards Palawan Beach – a gorgeous stretch of white sand, accessible by a long and beautiful suspension bridge. Once on the islet, we climbed up one of the two viewing towers to take in the views of the South China Sea. The water was one of the nicest I have ever experienced, and the boys must have agreed as they spent almost two hours splashing around.

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Palawan Beach and its suspension bridge that leads to the islet that houses the Southernmost point of Continental Asia

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Taking in the views of the South China Sea, from a viewing tower

Next day, the boys and I were off to the local Science Centre (http://www.science.edu.sg/Pages/SCBHome.aspx) – a great place of discoveries; fire shows, learning about new, cool inventions, playing music and seeing an interesting IMAX movie called Titans of the Ice Age. Also, it was a good spot to get into the Halloween spirit, as they creepily served the boys’ head on a platter.

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Cool fire show at the Singapore Science Centre

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A plate of juicy Emile

That night, we met up with Anthony to celebrate Diwali, also known as Deepavali or “Festival of Lights”. As Indian is one of the four official nationalities of Singapore (the others are Malay, Chinese and Eurasian), it was a fantastic place to be. This Hindu festival is celebrated in the fall every year and signifies light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil and hope over despair.

We headed to Singapore’s Little India, an area that was bustling with activity, people and local street vendors. We first enjoyed a delicious vegetarian meal at a small, local restaurant (where we talked to our Indian table neighbours who gave us some great suggestions on what to eat).

Then we headed back into the crowded streets, and a very bright and colourful temple complex was calling us.

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The Sri Thendayuthapani Hindu Temple in Little India, Singapore

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We respectfully took off our shoes, entered, and observed with interest what was going on inside. On the right hand-side, we noticed a group of people sitting on the floor, praying. Right in front of us, men were lined up, waiting to receive their Deepavali blessing. We were encouraged to join in and receive ours, complete with a red bindi on the forehead (the red colour representing honour, love and prosperity).

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Lining up to receive a Deepavali blessing

Further into the temple, there were various, colourful statues of gods and goddesses, some of which were being adorned with beautiful rings of flowers. At their feet, huge amounts of bananas were placed as an offering.

It was all a unique sight and we felt blessed and welcomed to be there. Not only were we encouraged to partake in the festivities, several Indian Singaporeans happily explained local customs and traditions to us. It was a great evening of cultural experience, good food and celebration: A Happy Deepavali!

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Filou with Lakshmi; the Hindu Goddess of wealth, love, prosperity, fortune & beauty. 

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Besides its rich cultural history, Singapore is also known for its greenery and gardens; one of those being the fabulous Gardens by the Bay (http://www.gardensbythebay.com.sg/en/home.html).

As it was quite hot when we arrived, the boys and I first headed for the Far East Organization Children’s Garden – a nature inspired play area with a 7.5 metre-tall tree house and several fun climbing structures. To cool down, we quickly ventured towards the Water Play; an enormous splash pad with sensors that detect movement, to create a corresponding sequence of water effects. Very cool!   The boys ran around like crazy and had a lot of fun.

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The kids at Water Play; a huge splash pad with sensors that detect movement (and create a corresponding sequence of water effects)

From there we headed into the cool-moist Cloud Forest conservatory; a 35-metre tall mountain covered in lush vegetation, complete with the world’s largest indoor waterfall.

I provided the kids each with a self-guided audio-tour, which they got totally into. They kept explaining to me the cool facts they learned, such as: Did you know Mom that all teas come from only 1 plant? (they rightly assumed I would find this interesting as I am a huge consumer of tea).

By lift, we reached the top of the mountain and via two walkways that appeared to be totally in the clouds, we made our way back down. My vertigo was definitely tested again (mucho scary!) but the aerial view of the canopy, the mountainside with its gorgeous planted walls and even the view of Singapore by the water…made up for it (and Emile was a great help holding my hand)!

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The world’s largest indoor waterfall at the Cloud Forest Conservatory

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At the Cloud Forest, Gardens by the Bay

Our final stop was to admire the futuristic looking trees at the Supertree Grove. These unique structures are made up of reinforced concrete cores, trunks, planting panels and canopies. They are about 16 storeys high and some are embedded with photovoltaic cells to harvest solar energy. The tree trunks are truly stunning; covered with over 160,000 plants and more then 200 species of orchids, ferns and tropical flowering climbers.

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At the very unique SuperTree Grove

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To round out our fun time in Singapore, we all headed to the Zoo for its Night Safari (http://www.nightsafari.com.sg)

After quite a delicious meal (bongo burgers for the kids and spicy Korean BBQ chicken for us), we lined up for the guided tram tour. This 40-minute night ride got us up real close to some of the most fascinating nocturnal animals.   We also ventured onto the Leopard Trail on foot, where we saw a great number of wildlife, indigenous to Southeast Asia (of course many Asian cats such as the Clouded Leopard and majestic Gir Lion), but even free flying bats….and other creepy and unique looking creatures.

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So, with visa in hand and some great memories of exploring this very prosperous, orderly anomaly of an Asian country, we were all excited to return home to cheap, messy, culturally rich and oh so charming Bangkok.

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