Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Budget Traveler in Singapore

January 2007

While Singapore is not known to be a backpacker's place, these days, it can be reasonable and a budget traveler like me can enjoy the scenes and stay in Singapore without worrying if I have to borrow my mum's credit card for my next meal! This is the 5th time I traveled to Singapore and compared to my first trip which was experienced in a fancy way (having stayed in a hotel at Orchard Road, ate at fine-dining restos, used taxis as means of transport, etc. etc.), I tried this time to look at the cheapest alternatives, so, with more time to spare, I rode the MRT, ate at 24-hour eating places, walked a lot, and saw that Singapore can be affordable for the budget traveler!

Booking your flight to Singapore
Some of you may have heard about the budget airlines flying from Clark to various points of South East Asia. And yes friends, you'd be delighted to know that you can now travel to Singapore (from Clark, Philippines) for at least 100$ depending on their promo and depending on the date you purchase your ticket! Just log on to tigerairways (TG should pay me for advertising them!) regularly for their ridiculously cheap airfares and you'll see what I mean. Note: TG flies from Clark. Another budget airlines is JetStar which flies from NAIA (I haven't tried this airline yet but I met a pinoy in Singapore and told me the airline is fine!).
Book your Lodging in Advance
In Singapore, budget accommodations are cheaper when booked on-line than when it's paid on a walk-in basis. Actually, this is the case to almost all bookings made on-line. And if you're thinking that the places may end up dodgy, well, it may be worth noting that my experience in two different backpacker places in Singapore and the description in the website is what you get when you walk in to your guesthouse.
Where to Stay: Budget Travelers
Bugis Backpacker's. This one is a clean, no-frills guesthouse located in the famous shopping district of Bugis. The moment you check in, the guy at the reception gives you your towel and sheet and will show you to your room. You will be told to remember your code, etc. otherwise no one will rescue you when you're locked out especially that they do not offer 24 hour reception service. This backpacker place is a bit stiff compared to the other backpacker places I've been to, but since I was only there for a night, keber ko! Rooms are airconditioned.
Good thing about this backpacker place is it gave me the space I wanted! Well, let me just say that I ended up the only person in the 6-bed female dorm! It is also near the airport so peak-hour taxi rate should only be around 12SGD. Getting there by train should only cost you 2.50 with 1 SGD refundable at the ticket machines!
Farrer Backpacker's Guesthouse. Farrer Park Station. This is a new building located near the Mustafa Center and is one-stop-train-ride away from Little India. The place is definitely great, with its clean rooms, free internet service, free coffee and tea! Other amenites include lift, aircon rooms, BUT it can get very noisy with guests who do not seem to know that you should tone down your voice when in any of the common areas. I also realized that I got exhausted with the train ride going there (from the airport) compared to staying at Bugis.
But the place has very friendly and very accommodating receptionists like David and Fani. They offer free storage. I left a bag with actually some valuable items inside and when we got back in Singapore, my bag was still intact.
Must Sees
Night time: Orchard Road (for electronic items, most of the good shops open late in the day, so best time to go is at night); Bugis (for the night market and they sell everything there! it's like a high-class Divisoria. However I warned my mum not to buy anything from there because I told her that everything will be a lot cheaper when we get to Chiang Mai!); Clark Quay/Riverside (for the lovely experience of eating by the river at any of the wide range of riverside restaurants and a stroll along side the river. Actually it felt like being in London, because Clark Quay is a small version of the River Thames in London with all the famous buildings on either side of the river. And the lights are gorgeous!) You also get to see a lot of attractions, so don't miss this experience!
Day time: Little India, China Town, Sentosa, City Tour and the Historical Route Tour!
I bought our tour ticket from the Hippo Bus Tours that has an office along Orchard Road (near the information center). This tour was a 4-in-one package that included the following: city tour, historical route tour, Sentosa (but you have to pay the entrance fee at Sentosa = 2SGD) and a night tour with a trip to Sentosa to watch the Musical Fountain Show - the highlight of the tour, which my mum and I were very happy about!

Tipid Tips for Budget Travelers
Singapore has a very user-friendly MRT, so it is really advisable to travel by MRT when coming from the airport (and when going around Singapore!) From the budget terminal, take the free shuttle bus to Terminal 2 of Changi airport and follow directions leading to the train station. Be ready with notes of 5SGD or less in purchasing your train ticket (usually between 2.50SGD up) because the ticket machines don't accept 10SGD notes. Taxi rate is at 30SGD, the shared taxi is I think at 10SGD per person.
In Sentosa, because there are loads of places to see but most of the best ones have entrance fees (that are rather expensive for peso earners like me), just pick up which you like the best and spend the time there. My mum chose the Underwater World and I thought that it was better than the one I saw in Sydney.
What Else...
Singapore is famous for their satays. For great food (and cheap too), go to their 24 hour restaurants (we call it karinderia in the Philippines) but their karinderia version in Singapore is clean and has a wide selection of food!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Traveling with Mum

January 2007

I thought I'd digress a little on my travel tips and write a little about the interesting experience of traveling with mum. My mum and I traveled to Singapore and Thailand together recently and it was such great fun because aside from the bonding and experience of traveling together, I got to see other sides of her which I never thought existed. So I thought I should list some of them down to remind me how fun it is to travel with my mother!

I know that mum is such a friendly person but I never thought she can stay up all night talking to a stranger!

Our adventure started in Singapore where we stayed at a backpacker's place. A new experience for mum which I thought she wouldn't like (you know staying in a room with other people, etc.) but to my surprise, she enjoyed the place so much that she asked for me to book the same accommodation (on our return from Chiang Mai). Mum even made more friends than I did! In fact, she was the one introducing me to the people who were staying at the guesthouse. There was one night when I had to hush her because she was talking endlessly with this sweet Chinese lady whom we were sharing the room with. She and the Chinese lady were giggling like little girls when I hushed them to sleep!

She's game in anything!

Since this was mum's first trip abroad, I prepared it for her in such a way that she can see as many places as possible. In other words this trip entailed a lot of walking. And I was very happy to see that my mum could never get tired of walking! For one full day in Singapore, we managed to see most of the must-sees and even managed to relax in between. Little India, China Town, Orchard Road, Bugis, Suntec City, Sentosa, Musical fountain show, you name it, we conquered it! And the walking didn't end there because when we got to Chiang Mai, she was always looking forward to her day trips and was touring like a mad woman!

Mum is a big fan of spicy food.

I treated mum to an Indian restaurant when we arrived in Singapore. I love Indian food, it's in my top three favourite international dishes and I was so delighted to see mum liking the food I love! Ahh and then in Thailand (i'm such a big fan of Thai food! also happens to be in my top 3 fave foods) mum really enjoyed Thai food and would order without asking the waiter "not too spicy please" (of course this is embarassing for me after my declaration of loving Thai food, because i would always ask the waiter to go slow on the spice!) Ah but the mother could eat spicy food! And being the cool mum that she is, it was so funny seeing her gulping down a bottle of Singha beer one night after one of our meals.

Shopping Queen.

When we were in Chiang Mai (goodness, the night bazaars are so overwhelming! you would hate that you only have so much money with you and that you have only so much for your check-in baggage), anyways, I had to discipline my mum because she seemed like she wouldn't like to stop! We started shopping at 4 in the afternoon and we ended by 9pm, only because I had to remind her that I was really hungry and too tired to move another muscle. After our meal, we went for a very relaxing foot massage. When we finished, I started walking back to our hotel when mum told me she was still up for shopping! That was already 11 pm! In short, I left her in the night bazaar so that she could carry on shopping while I went back to the hotel to get my rest. Mind you folks, my mum has a pacemaker but she has an energy of a fit teenager!


This trip was also full of bloopers. One time, I was woken up in the middle of the night because I heard someone moving around the room, I got up to discover my mum pacing back and forth, only to find out later that she was doing her morning exercises! ARRGGGGHHHH!!!
Then one night, she said she couldn;t sleep, and because I was dead tired from the first day of my management course and didn't have the energy to talk to her anymore, I asked her to just lay in bed and count sheeps. Then when I was beginning to doze off, my mum who-was-a-minute-ago-a-restless-girl-who- couldn't-sleep started to snore! Ay naku po! So the next night I told her to wait for me to sleep before she can sleep so that I can also find some rest. =(
In Sentosa in Singapore, when we were at the Underwater World, my mum behaved like a cheeky little girl and picked up this poor fish that was in a tank (uhmn, yeah, the sign read, "you may touch the animals") so I snapped at her and she put the fish back with a guilty "oops" expression on her face. The man behind her laughed at the scene in front of him of a daughter telling off her mother. hehe

My mum and I had a good laugh one night when we realized that in this trip, we had our roles reversed - she became the child and I became the mother. Man! I was doing most of the telling off and she was this girl enjoying the life!

She also had to remind herself (again!) that I am no longer her little girl, that my life has changed, and for that matter she learned that I am a light sleeper, and couldn't sleep when someone snores, or that she has to keep still in bed when she wakes up at 5 am otherwise she'll wake me up, and she learned that I hate being woken up in the middle of the night because it can be difficult for me to go back to sleep and that I need at least 7 hours of sleep! Etc. etc.
To sum it all and despite the bloopers, I truly had a great time with ma, and I was again reminded that life is short and very precious, and it is lovely indeed to see your loved ones enjoy life's simple pleasures. And most of all, I learned how fun it is to travel with my mother.