Singapore By Tash

Really flying…yesterdays a thousand miles away“- Hoodoo Gurus

Waking up in Singapore for the first time was amazing not just because of the beautiful view from my sister’s apartment but because of the time difference; I was awake while everyone else was asleep.

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The view from my sister’s balcony the morning/night I arrived

Day one in Singapore was awesome. My niece and nephew were my personal tour guides which made the transition into this new country an easy one. Being shown the hangout spots and meet up areas that I probably would have bypassed had I not been with them made me think of all the areas New Yorkers know about that tourist won’t even think to look twice at or visit.

Many of the local hangouts in Singapore are primarily malls or outdoor food courts where the locals can come and sit around either between classes or during lunch breaks. The simplicity of these hangouts might be overlooked by tourists, but it was important for me to experience the essence of everyday life among the locals while there. The Ion Orchard is the “it” mall in Singapore city. Most of the malls use a tier system where the more popular, upscale and expensive brands are on the ground level and above, while the more affordable brands are downstairs.

Tasha Fact: If you get a Starbucks itch while walking through the mall, try a cheaper local delicacy instead. My tall frappe from Stbx was almost 8 Sing-yikes.

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Striking a pose amongst the professionals outside the ION Orchard

Areas like Holland Spring are another facet of the tourist-local blend in Singapore. Really popular for its low-key atmosphere and local amenities like supermarkets and convenience stores (i.e the 7-eleven behind me), its where many expats on a budget live. Overall, Holland Springs gave me a taste of what the everyday experience of shopping and living there might be.

Tasha Fact: Massages are a big thing in Singapore so finding a spa or massage parlor is really easy to do. The one behind me is on Holland Spring Road and offers really great foot massages for cheap.

get3(3)Walking the streets of the city was definitely an experience. I had so much fun people watching; just walking around observing the locals and some of their traditions was really awesome. Traveling throughout the different areas presented another interesting aspect of life there.

Singapore is notorious for its fines. Whether in a taxi or on the bus or train, fines for eating or drinking while en route can be as high as 500 Sing. So needless to say I kept the cover on my bottle of water screwed tight.

Tasha Fact: Singapore is known for being one “fine” city. Chewing gum is illegal in Singapore and fines for this petty offense can reach as high as 500 Singh.

The Singapore MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) system is very similar to New York’ s MTA system except a lot cleaner. The EZ-link passes for riding the train are slightly different. If you’re from New York or have ever visited then you’re familiar with a metrocard. In NYC there’s a flat fare of $2.50 which allows you to travel the entire subway system. In Singapore however, when you enter the train station or a bus you tap your EZ-link card and when you exit you tap it again. The card is charged for the distance traveled, and don’t forget to tap when you get off or they’ll keep charging you.

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The view of a roundabout from a pedestrian overpass. Not featured in this pic many of the MRT buses are double deckers

DSCN1718Even though I stayed with family for this trip I was the only one actually on vacation. The family however was in the midst of preparing to move back to the States, so for the remaining days we stayed at the Orchard Marriott in Singapore city. This is probably one of the more expensive hotels costing about 400 Sing a night (or $300 USD). There are definitely more budget friendly hotels that you could consider. With local events and activities going on all around you, I doubt you’ll even remember what the inside of your hotel room looks like.

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The Singapore Marriott within walking distance of the ION Orchard mall.

Throughout much of the city, especially around the malls, I noticed random pop-up tents and stands with presentations of different products or events. Singapore is very fashion friendly-even the renowned luxury brand Louis Vuitton had their third presentation of their Fall/Winter 2014 collection while I was in town.

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This lady is eating an ice cream bar inside a slice of bread, which I came to find out was a local treat. Talk about local delicacies

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This tent was for Audi Fashion Festival that was happening that week.
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With some of the models from the Fall/Winter 2014 Louis Vuitton presentation. *For some perspective I’m about 5’8″ in this picture 😮

The local experience was fascinating and that was without even trying, so just imagine the wonders the city has in store for its tourist.

Ready, Set…How to Prepare!

She works hard for the money – Donna Summer

Saving was a huge component in the planning process of my trip. I took about $2000 with me and that was more than enough (I had $200 left upon my return). There is a currency conversion in Singapore; the U.S dollar is more than the Singapore dollar (roughly $1 Sing = $0.80 USD). You can workout your savings in whatever way works best for you; saving $50-$100 a week for about 5 months right up until the week of my trip worked out for me and allowed me to travel comfortably. Once you actually have your savings converting the money is relatively simple. I converted my money once I arrived in Singapore simply because my stop in Japan was very short and they accepted credit cards which automatically did the conversion calculations and charged me accordingly. My advice however is to use cash, keep your credit and debit cards for emergencies. Many banks charge a conversion fee per transaction which varies in price range but can definitely add up.

IMG_0658There are definitely a number of anxieties that come with taking a trip of this caliber. I’d never gone farther West than California so there were many things I had to consider:

Come & Talk to Me: Communicating While Abroad
Communication while abroad is key. I needed to figure out cost effective ways to connect with my loved ones while abroad. I would advise downloading an app called WhatsApp. This app is wonderful for international communication and texting. Additionally, WiFi will be your best friend. To get access to the WiFi in the Tokyo airport ( I had a layover in Japan) you need to have a code texted to you. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive these codes until I returned to the States. Ultimately, whenever WiFi was available I used Facetime on my Iphone.

Tasha Tip: Speak to your provider at least a few days before your trip. See if there are any international phone packages that you can add to your account temporarily. Sprint allows you to choose a start and end date and will charge you an almost negligible amount per text something like five cents a text and $1.20 per minute for calls.

Language Barriers
As for language barriers both the Tokyo and Singapore airports are international so there are plenty of signs in multiple languages including English which was a huge assistance to me. Also, many of the representatives speak fluent English so I didn’t have too much of a problem finding my way. I absolutely loved the service in both airports, everyone was super helpful and pleasant. I spent only a couple of hours in Japan waiting for my connection so hopefully on a bit more adventurous return trip I can delve deeper into navigating the language concerns for Japan. Singapore however is easy as pie! Why you ask? The national languages which include English,are Malay, Mandarin and Tamil (language of the people of South India and North-East Sri-Lanka). Although the demographic is made up of many different peoples including those from neighboring Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand the majority of the population speaks English fluently. The locals will almost automatically address you in English so you can always find someone to help you navigate your way around. The beauty of this trip was there was no need for those cumbersome English to (? language) dictionaries.

Ready…Getting your ticket

Come fly with me lets, fly lets fly away- Frank Sinatra

Being that this was my first extensive trip, I missed out on the travel points and mileage gains that I would have gotten had I used a travel credit card. These travel cards would have given me credits usually via a point system for the number of miles I traveled. The beauty of these cards is that for frequent fliers it really gets your trips to work for you and your future travel adventures. But you live and you learn.

Falling credit cardsDeals: I found sites like Skyscanner.com to be a great resource for searching for tickets. It gave an overall view of what the average ticket prices were to travel from NYC to Singapore which helped with my decision making . Essentially Skyscanner.com scans for the lowest price amongst airlines that flies into your area of interest and lets you know about the possible connection options on non-stop flights (I sought a connection in Japan). Overall, it gave perspective on what price range I would fall into when booking my ticket. SkyscannerPricing: When booking my flight for travel in May the price range to fly to Singapore was between $1200-$1600 on a mainstream commercial airline. There were less mainstream airlines that fly to Asia for reduced prices, however I would advise researching their track record if this is an option you would be interested in. While Skyscanner was my tool for keeping in mind the expected price range, I eventually used the actual airline’s website to buy the ticket. I found a ticket on Delta Airlines for around $1400, and spent $1700 in total for the flight. Leg room, was where the extra $300 came in, and this turned out to be a very good investment. Spending 32 hours in total on the plane, including a 20 hour flight from California to Japan and a 7 hour flight from Japan to Singapore, meant that at a mere $85 a flight, the cost for leg room was well worth it. This plus some of the other things mentioned in my next post may help you make your next long distance flight pretty pleasant.

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Singapore: A Tourist Behind The Scenes

Hello All! I’m Natasha and I invite you to venture vicariously with me throughout Singapore!

Hello Asia! For those of you who have never been to Asia I am saying hello for you too; specifically to Singapore and if you’re anything like I used to be, you have no idea where to find this country on the map. So join me in these next few post to explore this tiny country and just some of the wonders it has to offer 🙂

First things first, Singapore is pretty much half way around the world from those of us in the West and its a tiny, highly populated country on the very bottom of Malaysia (don’t worry, I’ve included a map). But please don’t be fooled by its size because what this country lacks in land mass, it most definitely makes up in culture.

map-singapore While this little gem offers many resource, giving you tons of reasons to travel over ten thousand miles to visit, my main reason was family. My nephew was graduating from high school and it was literally my last call to experience Singapore before my family’s return to the States. The pro to visiting my family abroad was that I got the inside scoop of Singapore from these well seasoned expats. Fortunately for me, they didn’t disclose all of the treasures of this country which allowed me to get the tourist eye view as well.

Staying with family meant looking for hotels would just be one less thing for me to worry about but I still had to find flights, build an itinerary and pack.

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