Wednesday, 28 January 2015

From the Coral Sea to the South China Sea
(Part 5)

More from Singapore: Monday, 26th January 2015

At noon, the whole group boarded two large, modern coaches for a sightseeing tour around Singapore. We drove through the forest of tall buildings which covers most of the city centre to a small area in Chinatown called Far East Square. Here, a group of earlier brick-built Shophouses have been modernised but retaining much of the original. The development won an Architectural Heritage Award in 1999. We walked to a Chinese restaurant called Spring (Fu Chun Yuan) for lunch. After lunch, we returned to our coaches and continued the tour.

Our next stop was at the oldest Taoist temple in Singapore, Thian Hock Keng, originally built in 1821 as “a humble joss house”. Preparations for the Chinese New Year were well advanced, so we saw all sorts of decorations.

Thian Hock Keng Temple, Singapore.

Later, we drove past both Hindu and Buddhist places of worship on the way to Clarke Quay, where the passengers from each bus joined two tourist boats for a River trip.

Singapore - City river trip.

They called the boats we took by the traditional name of a ‘Bum Boat’ but, in these days of Health and Safety, the whole business has become far more regulated. There were lots of tourist boats on view, all of similar design and apparently well-maintained, with the staff wearing T-sheets and baseball caps carrying the company logo. It was far more fun ten years ago when I just went to Clifford Pier and hired a rather beat-up launch which took me on a splendid tour of river, container port and one of the islands (briefly described in an earlier post here).

The modern trip boats took us down river, under the various road bridges named after Englishmen from the British era and into the broad stretch of water called Marina Bay. This area has seen major developments since my last visit. The symbol of Singapore, the Merlion statue, was there ten years ago but is currently swathed in scaffolding. The north west quay now has One Fullerton (a “food centre’), the Fullerton Pavilion and the Fullerton Bay Hotel. The south east quay now has a futuristic-looking Art Science Museum, theatres, a casino, a convention centre, various event spaces and rather pompously-named “The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands”. The scruffy water taxi dock at Clifford Quay which I remember has gone – I was told it has been relocated. As our boat retraced its route back to the river, we passed two more recent features – ‘The Helix’, a bridge with two opposed spirals inspired by the ‘Double Helix’ structure of DNA and ‘The Marina Bay Seating Gallery’ (a huge inclined slab of concrete with open-air seating facing the water). To complement the Seating Gallery, a large floating pontoon has been moored in the water which carries a giant television screen. I suppose inevitably, in this computer-obsessed age, the pontoon is called “The Float @ Marina Bay”. We disembarked at the landing stage at Clarke Quay where we’d boarded and walked back to the coaches.

Another drive across the city took us to Singapore Botanic Gardens which is seeking adoption as a World Heritage Site. Our guides took us on a walking tour of the world-famous Orchid Gardens. It has a section displaying ‘V.I.P. Orchids’ where the flower has been selected by a politician or member of a Royal family from a number of hybrids offered. An adjacent, similar selection showed ‘Celebrity Orchids’ chosen by people from the entertainment history.

Singapore Botanic Gardens has a spectacular display of hybrid orchids.

Then it was back onto the two coaches for our final transfer to the airport where we were to check in a 5.00 p.m. for our overnight Air Niguini flight to Papua New Guinea. We then found out that check-in would not commence until 7.00 p.m. because the inbound aircraft was late. We made a queue of our luggage which our tour organiser for this section agreed to guard, allowing the members of the tour to wander off.

Singapore Airport currently has three Terminals (T1, T2 and T3). A fourth Terminal is being built. These terminals are linked by a network of driverless trains running on rubber tyres. I decided to check this out whilst waiting to check-in with the airline. I travelled from T1 to T2 on one line, T2 to T3 on a second line and T3 back to T1 on a third. That’s not the full extent of the lines!

Back safely at T1, I joined my luggage at the check-in queue. One young man started check-in on time, but it was an awfully slow process at first. Later, a girl opened a second check-in position which improved matters. But the disappointing news was that departure had gone back to 11.00 p.m. This delay meant that the check-in agents were writing a voucher for each passenger to pay for a snack. It transpired that the value of the voucher was only 8 Singapore dollars (about four pounds Sterling) but I, and the other group of passengers I was with, made sure we used these. Eventually, our flight was called so we walked to the gate – D40. Security was being carried out at the Gate, so we had to join another queue waiting to pass through a thorough security check before we could enter the Departure Lounge. The staff were pleasant enough, which helped a bit. I think it was just after 11.00 p.m. when we finally started boarding the Boeing 777-300 and it must have been well after after 11:30 when we finally took off. For this leg, I was booked Economy so I found it all a bit cramped and, on top of the delay at Singapore, I was not looking forward to another six hours or so of overnight flight before we reached Port Moresby Airport in Papua New Guinea.

The Air Niugini Boeing 777-300 which took us to Papua New Guinea.

P.S. It got better! I’ll tell you about it when I'm able. You can find all the posts on this trip here.

My pictures

Singapore, 2015.
Singapore - City river trip.
Singapore Botanic Gardens.
Singapore (Changi) Airport.

[Pictures and links to albums added 14-Feb-2015]