Singapore Blog Awards 2011

7/27/11

Jeff and I attended the Singapore Blog Awards last weekend. The event was held at Shanghai Dolly, a club in Clarke Quay. The theme of the awards ceremony was "History Gets Social." People were encouraged to dress up as a historical figure, but I don't think a lot of people took part. 

The "social" part of the title had to do with social media. People in attendance were encouraged to download the Liveshare app on their devices and upload photos of the event, creating a "live" stream of photos which were broadcast on screens throughout the venue. People were also encouraged to tweet during the event and "check in" at the awards ceremony. Below are some photos from the event shared using Liveshare, including a photo of us that someone took and posted.

Jeff, Bryan and me at the awards ceremony.


























I was nominated as a finalist in the Best Travel Blog category, but didn't win. I think being a finalist is still pretty cool and I'm happy to have made it that far! It feels good to be recognized for something I've worked on for so long. 

Big thanks to all of our readers who voted for us, especially those of you that voted daily. We totally appreciate your support and are grateful for all you've done! 

And thank you to omy for choosing me as a finalist in the Best Travel Blog category. I had a good time being a part of the entire contest. Because of the Singapore Blog Awards, I discovered some new blogs to follow and made some new friends. 

Congratulations to all the winners! 

Jonker Street, Malacca

7/24/11

I dragged Jeff to Jonker Street while we were in Malacca in search of a bike shop that, according to my guide book, sold vintage English bikes and bike ephemera. In my mind, I pictured a quaint old shop where I would find a beautiful set of old leather panniers for The Pidge and possibly that elusive Singapore colonial bicycle license plate I have been searching far and wide for. As I ate breakfast in the hotel that morning, all I could think about was old bicycle parts.

Unfortunately for me there is no longer an old bike shop at 12 Jalan Hang Jebat. The address of the former bike shop is now occupied by a gaudy souvenir t-shirt shop. Although known for its antique stores, Jonker Street has its share of shops full of tacky and irrelevant merchandise. I found a few antique shops selling vintage bike parts, but if I bought anything I'm not sure we would have been able to pay the rent. Some of the stuff was clearly damaged and irreparable yet still marked with a hefty price tag. Some of the antique shops on Jonker Street are an absolute rip off.

My morning excursion to Jonker Street was a bust, but we returned later that evening for the night market and quickly forgot about the defunct bike shop. We were too distracted by the vendors selling everything from infomercial products to souvenirs to delicious street food. For the night market, the street is closed off to traffic and lined with tables and food carts for the entire length of the road. The fact that I wasn't hungry didn't stop me from sampling just about every type of food sold on Jonker Street. I bought a few trinkets, too. 
If you're able to catch the night market on Jonker Street on Saturday night, you should. It was my favorite part of the trip and had a completely different vibe than Jonker Street during the day. Despite being crowded with tourists in town for the weekend, it was a pleasant way to spend an evening in Malacca.

Booking a Bus Trip from Singapore to Malacca

7/20/11

Living in Singapore has made us pretty spoiled when it comes to choosing travel destinations in Southeast Asia. But sometimes things like a busy work schedule prevent us from taking time off to fly somewhere for a long weekend.

Jeff and I were in need of a getaway recently, so we decided to take a trip to Malacca because it is only a 3-4 hour bus drive away from Singapore. The bus trips to Malacca are easy, frequent, direct in some cases and way cheaper than a plane ticket. In fact, our entire trip to and from Malacca on nice coach buses cost less than SGD45 each.

You can read my previous Malacca posts here and here.

Booking your ticket: 
You can book your bus tickets in person or online.

If you want to book in person, you can go to the bus company's ticket counter. Delima Bus Service, the bus company we used for our trip to Malacca, has a counter at City Plaza. Our return trip was on StarMart, which has a service counter at Golden Mile Complex.

For online bookings, you can go directly to the website of one of the bus companies traveling to and from Malacca or use a site like Bus Online Ticket. This is a pretty helpful website because it allows you to book your bus tickets online from various bus companies all in one place. This allows you to compare fares and bus types. The homepage also lists all the places their bus companies travel to, estimated travel times, and a list of resourceful links related to traveling by bus in Singapore and Malaysia.

Have your credit card and passport or driver's license number handy when booking your ticket.

Checking in for your bus trip:
We arrived 30 minutes prior to departure time to check in and pick up our actual tickets. The Delima ticket counter at City Plaza isn't much more than a desk located at #1-72A. There is no public announcement telling you that your bus is here; you can ask the person behind the ticket counter when your bus is coming and they'll show you where to go.

Our return trip from Malacca was similar. Since I booked our tickets online, my printed ticket confirmation said to go to counter #2 30 minutes prior to our departure to check in and pick up our tickets. I didn't actually pick up tickets at the StarMart counter; the attendant simply stamped my printed ticket confirmation, which I showed to the bus driver. If your print out or ticket doesn't tell you which bus to board, the attendant can tell you.

Arrival:
Our bus dropped us off at Melaka Sentral, Malacca's bus station. From here we took a cab to our hotel. When we returned to Singapore, our bus dropped us off at Golden Mile Complex, where we caught a cab to our apartment. Easy peasy.
Bus company ticket counters at Melaka Sentral


What can you pack:
We only brought a backpack each for the short weekend, but I noticed some people had big suitcases with them. I asked if there was a limit to the size or quantity of luggage I could bring on the bus, but wasn't given a definite answer. You have to bring your luggage through customs when entering Singapore, so pack wisely. Don't forget to bring snacks on board for the ride and something to keep yourself entertained if you plan on staying awake.

Customs & Immigration: 
When you leave Singapore to enter Malaysia, you will have to go through the Tuas Checkpoint (or Woodlands Checkpoint, depending on which way your bus will go). The bus will drop everyone off to go through the checkpoint. Don't forget your passport and/or FIN/NRIC card. You will then hurry out to your bus; make sure you know what your bus looks like or memorize the license plate number. I saw several people running around frantically because they couldn't remember what bus they were on.

You'll then go through the Malaysian checkpoint, where you'll have your passport stamped for entry. Some people have their bags checked, but it didn't seem compulsory to bring all your luggage off the bus. Ask the bus driver if you have any questions.

When you enter Singapore, you must take all your belongings off the bus and go through security. Don't get caught bringing in anything illegal or contraband.

Everyone seems to be in a rush to get through the checkpoints and back on the bus. The faster we were all on board, the sooner we could head off to Malacca. I think people were also worried the bus would leave without them!

Tips:
  • Although the Delima bus service got us to Melaka Sentral safely, we probably won't use them again. Their bus was old, freezing, and smelled like cigarette smoke. The air conditioning unit dripped on Jeff's arm a few times, too. The company we used for the return trip, StarMart, had a fabulous bus which was extremely comfortable and cost just as much as the Delima ticket. 
  • Bring a sweater if you think you'll be cold on the air-conditioned bus. 
  • Keep an eye on your personal belongings. Don't leave anything valuable or important on the bus while getting off at the customs and immigration checkpoints.
If you found this post helpful, please leave a comment or share it with a friend! 

Day Trippin': Malacca

7/18/11

Central Malacca's famous points of interest are mostly concentrated around Dutch Square and Bukit St. Paul. A short walk away is Chinatown, just across the Malacca River. Because of the close proximity of everything, it is possible to cover a lot of sightseeing ground in just one day. Here are some of the things we saw in one day on a quick weekend getaway to Malacca.St. Paul's Church: The ruins of St. Paul's Church at the top of Bukit St. Paul are an example of the layered colonial history that made Malacca what it is today. The church was originally built in 1521 as a Catholic church by the Portuguese. When the Dutch took over Malacca in 1641, the church was converted to a Dutch Reformed church and used until Christ Church (see below) was built in 1753. 
The British next occupied Malacca starting in 1824, and they used the church to store gunpowder and for other military purposes. The lighthouse awkwardly placed in front of the entrance to the church was their addition, too. St. Paul's deteriorated over the years after it ceased being a functioning church. The statue in front of the church is of St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary who used Malacca as his base in Asia. When he died, he was buried briefly at St. Paul's before his body was sent to its final resting place in Goa. His hand is missing because the Vatican asked for it during St. Francis Xavier's canonization process.Porta de Santiago: The Portuguese built a fortress around Malacca in 1511 called A Famosa. The Dutch used the fortress during their occupation of Malacca, even remodeling parts of it. When the British took over, they decided to tear down A Famosa. The fortress was almost completely torn down until Sir Stamford Raffles stepped in and prevented the Porta de Santiago from being demolished. This gate is all that remains of the fortress. As you walk around near Dutch Square, you'll see excavations revealing where the fortress walls once stood. A recreation of what the walls once looked like can be found next to the Tourist Information Center across from Dutch Square. The Malacca River: Separating the colonial part of town from Chinatown is the Malacca River. Boat trips along the river are available, but walking on the paved walkways alongside it is a great way to see some of the architecture of Malacca up close. The restaurants along the river make for some surprisingly quiet places to get away from the hoards of tourists. Make sure you cross the river and spend some time wandering through Chinatown. If you're in Malacca on a Saturday night, stick around for the night market on Jonker Street, where you can enjoy delicious street food and do some shopping. The street is closed off to traffic and vendors fill the road. It was my favorite part of the trip!Christ Church and Dutch Square: Possibly the most iconic structure in Malacca, Christ Church was built by the Dutch in 1753 and still conducts services every Sunday morning at 8:30 am. Next to the church is Stadthuys, a building which was used as a town hall when the Dutch and British were in Malacca. It now houses a museum. Dutch Square is where to go to hire a trishaw or buy souvenirs. It's also where most of the tourists and tour groups seem to congregate, so come early or else you'll have lots of random people in your photos.

The Maritime Museum: You could spend an entire day in Malacca just going to museums alone. There are several scattered around the central part of town, but the one we chose to visit was the Maritime Museum. It is housed in a replica of the Flor De La Mar, a Portuguese cargo ship which sank in Malacca's harbor. Inside are exhibits detailing the maritime history of Malacca and its significance as the "Emporium of the East."

Have you been to Malacca? What was your favorite part of the trip? Jeff and I had a really good time here and want to come back soon. If you've been and have some recommendations on what to see and do the next time we're there, please share! 

Malacca: So Close, Yet So Far Away

7/15/11

Malacca is a UNESCO World Heritage site

Colorful trishaws will take you all around Central Melaka.

Flowers in Dutch Square

Christ Church in Dutch Square

























The small town of Malacca (also known as Melaka) in Malaysia may just be a few hours away from Singapore, but once you're there it feels as though you've traveled much farther away than that. Malacca is a perfect place to visit if you want to escape for a short weekend. We arrived late on a Friday night and left on Sunday afternoon. It's an easy place to explore on foot or by trishaw ride.

Malacca has a unique and complicated history of colonization by the Dutch, British and Portuguese. All of these influences are evident today as you walk around Central Melaka. Millions of tourists come visit the town each year, which has earned UNESCO World Heritage site status and feels a bit unauthentic at times. Still, it's a quaint place to visit and there's a lot to see and do.

More Malacca posts to come...

Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way' Showcase in Singapore

7/13/11


























Jeff and I were lucky enough to score two last minute tickets to Lady Gaga's exclusive 'Born This Way' Showcase hosted by SingTel last week. I had heard Lady Gaga was coming to town a few weeks before and was bummed to find out that the show was by invite only or for SingTel customers who signed up for a new phone plan.

I'm a huge fan of Lady Gaga and seeing her live was such a treat. The show was held at the Marina Bay Sands Expo Hall B, which is a terrible venue for a concert (or fashion show). Despite the venue and the late start, it was very entertaining; Gaga definitely knows how to work the crowd. Popping out of a giant red lantern? Check. Scantily clad dancers? Check. A few over the top costume changes? Check. Lady Gaga performed mostly her hit songs, as well as a few slower ballads on the piano from her new album Born This Way. The show was shorter than a normal concert and was held for a rather exclusive audience of just a few thousand people.

Here's a link to her short press conference which she gave earlier that day. She talks a bit about the concert, her album, fashion, and inspiration for her video "Edge of Glory."

I've included a few photos in this post from the concert. Not that great, but I wasn't about to bring a tripod. There were some people at the concert filming her performance on...wait for it...their iPads! Not only were these people not really watching the show, they were blocking the people behind them. That's just rude, people.

Big thanks to Pat at Goodstuph and the folks at SingTel for hooking us up with tickets to the awesome concert.

Singapore Food Trail

7/12/11

Some antiques and vintage items are for sale at the Singapore Food Trail.


Drinks come in nostalgic enamel cups like these.



L: An old jukebox at the Singapore Food Trail which still works; R: I spy an old bicycle license plate





























The Singapore Food Trail opened in January, but many of the historical items on display must be at least 30 years old. The people behind the Singapore Food Trail spent six months scouring Singapore and Malaysia for antiques and vintage finds to give it as authentic of a 1960's vibe as possible. The attention to detail is evident; your drinks are served in old enamel mugs and all the signage is from the 60's era. The flooring of the Singapore Food Trail was paved and painted to resemble a Singapore road, as the original hawker vendors were makeshift stalls and carts rolled out onto the street.

Even the food vendors themselves are the real deal. All of the food stalls in the Singapore Food Trail have been around since the 1960's, although not in this current location. Many of the stalls' current operators are children or grandchildren of the original vendors. There is a selection of various famous Singaporean dishes, including some nostalgic treats such as ice balls and kachang puteh. I mentioned in our last post that we sampled food from almost every stall, and all of it was really good. You can read more about the vendors and their history here.

In one corner of the Singapore Food Trail is a small section where vintage objects from the 60's are on display and for sale. I spotted a vintage Singapore bicycle license plate that I've been dying to get my hands on, but it was being sold for SGD75. I want one for The Pidge. If you know an auntie or uncle who happens to have one, please send them my way! 

If you want to experience this nostalgic recreation of a 1960's hawker center for yourself, the Singapore Food Trail is located at the Singapore Flyer

A Night at the Teochew Opera

7/10/11

Teochew opera originated in the southeastern part of China and has been around for over 500 years. It was especially popular in Singapore in the 1960's. Teochew opera, sometimes referred to as wayang, is a very unique type of theatrical performance involving elaborate costumes and makeup, singing, dancing, and fanwork.

Jeff and I were invited to watch the Thau Yong Amateur Musical Association perform an opera at the Singapore Food Trail recently. This theater troupe formed in Singapore in 1931 and has played an important role in keeping Teochew opera alive in Singapore.
The performers took several hours to get ready. Their makeup and headdresses are so elaborate.

Getting ready to perform is a group effort. 



Traditional music was performed for the audience before the opera began.

We were served food from just about every stall at the Singapore Food Trail. More on that later.

The performance begins.
The opera we saw was called "The Fragrant Handkerchief."

To give you an idea of what a Teochew opera looks and sounds like in action, I filmed this little video for you. When you hear the word "opera," these are not the sounds that come to mind. Operas like this one have been performed on outdoor stages in Singapore for decades. I wish there were subtitles so I could follow along better, but the performance was still very entertaining and we had a really good time.


Thanks to the folks at the Urban Redevelopment Authority for inviting us, and to Belinda and Chloe for showing us a great evening! 

Segamat, Malaysia

7/7/11

When I lined up to buy tickets for the Last Train into Tanjong Pagar, I was only thinking about the ride itself. I had no idea where to take the train to, so when someone suggested we get off at Segamat in Malaysia, I said "sure." I was there for the journey, not the destination. 
Segamat is a sleepy little town in the northern part of the Malaysian state of Johor. When I Googled "things to do in Segamat," I was instructed to have coffee at the Nanyang Coffee Shop. So I did, along with several other people from the train ride. There really isn't much to do in town besides that. 
We wandered around a bit, and found another restaurant (this one was air-conditioned) where we sat and talked until it was time to head back to the station. 
All aboard the last train to Tanjong Pagar! 

Last Train Into Tanjong Pagar: Photos, Thoughts and a Video

7/6/11

A view from my seat as we passed through the green corridor.
Coach Q.
The Expres Rakyat train creaked and chugged through the green corridor for the last time on its way to Segamat. I spent a good amount of time during the ride through Singapore standing in the doorway of the train, breathing in the fresh air. The green corridor is so lush and alive; the rain that morning made it all look even brighter than usual. The train through Singapore went at a slow, almost leisurely pace which was perfect for taking in the view one last time.

Here's a quick video of the train passing through Bukit Timah Station. Lots of people had gathered to take photos and say goodbye. 

When the Expres Sinaran Timur train from Segamat arrived, we were greeted by huge crowds there to see the last train into Tanjong Pagar. They were also there to see the last train out, which was driven by the Sultan of Johor. 
There were so many people on the platform.
People in the station catching a last glimpse at the train.
The station master and his bell. These two were media darlings that night.
Eventually, there were so many people on the platform that they spilled out onto the tracks. 
People were also climbing the train to take photos.
Although the train is no longer running from Tanjong Pagar, the tracks will remain open for a limited time for those who want to walk along the tracks and enjoy the green corridor before it is blocked off for good. 

Almost all of the tracks will be open to the public until July 17. From July 17 to July 31, only a small section of tracks from Rifle Range Road to the Rail Mall will remain open. You can read about that here on The Green Corridor's website. 

You can also check out The Green Corridor to download walking routes to make exploring the green corridor a bit easier. 

I haven't heard exactly what the land will be developed for, or what Tanjong Pagar and Bukit Timah stations will become, but I really hope they are preserved and respected. Museums, perhaps? Spaces for art, music, and education? The last thing this island needs is another mall. And on that note, I'll end this post with a great quote I read online in the Straits Times Online Forum. Read the whole post here.

"Not everything that can be monetised should be monetised. It sometimes seems that Singapore has become a society which, in the words of Oscar Wilde, knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." -Marcus Yip

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station: One Last Hello

7/4/11

Clutching my passport and a prized train ticket, I set foot into Tanjong Pagar Railway Station for the last time this past Thursday. The memories I have of the station are relatively recent ones since I've only been in Singapore for about a year, but the history and soul of the place allow me to feel as though I've been a part of the island for much longer.

I was there for the Last Train Into Tanjong Pagar, an organized ride on the last day of train services. June 30 was the final day of operation for the 79-year-old station, which was scheduled to close at midnight. Our train left the station at 8:30 am (it was supposed to leave at 8am but was delayed), and returned for the last time ever around 10pm that night.

I'll post more about the train ride later this week, but here are some photos I took before our train left the station that morning. 
The food stalls at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station either closed or found new locations. 
These vendors had been at the station since 1976.
People waiting on the platform to see the last trains ever to leave from Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.
Plastic chairs that once sat the patrons of the food stalls at the station, stacked and ready to be taken away.
It wasn't my first ride out of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, but definitely the last. Walking out to the train was exciting and a bit melancholy. People waved to the train as it passed that morning; they were waving hello and goodbye to lots of history and memories.

Stay tuned for more posts and photos.
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