25 July, 08:00-10:30
We woke up at around 8:00 in the morning for the second day of our Singapore escapade. The hostel had free breakfast for guests, albeit a simple one: unlimited bread, a wide variety of spreads, and a choice of 3-in-1 coffee, tea, or orange juice for the drink. We chose to make our own DIY kaya toast and teh tarik, the Lion City’s national breakfast.
To make the teh tarik: brew some Lipton brisk tea in a cup, and add condensed milk in another. Pour the brewed tea into the milk, pour the mixture back in the first cup, and transfer it again to the second to “pull” the milk tea and mix both properly. Repeat until no trace of milk remains in either cup.
Making the kaya toast was easier since there was a toaster. Toast two slices of bread until brown. Spread butter on one slice, kaya toast on the other, and put the two together. A high-carbohydrate breakfast perfect for walking around.
It so happened that one of my younger brother’s classmates from college was based there, and he paid us a visit at the hostel to claim some things. He then accompanied us towards the train, sharing some stories of his experiences in Singapore — from spending late nights at an internet cafe in Dhoby Ghaut to work on school projects, to receiving a reprimand for drinking outside. He parted ways with us at Dhoby Ghaut station (NE6 / NS24 / CC1), heading home to his Queenstown flat. The North East Line (purple) train continued its journey towards HarbourFront station (NE1 / CC29), and we exited towards VivoCity Mall for our next destination: Sentosa.
25 July, 11:35-13:35
It was more than two years since I last stepped on the Sentosa boardwalk from the mainland. The last thing I remember was that tourists arriving via the boardwalk were to be charged a fee of S$1, with payment to be dropped at turnstiles situated at the end.
Interestingly, entrance to Sentosa was free of charge again! I quickly had photo ops at the spots I visited in 2017 – with little to no changes! True enough, little has changed in Sentosa. Many people still have their pictures taken at the iconic Universal Studios globe. People still walk further to check out the gargantuan Merlion overseeing the island.
Little did we know that this was the last time we would see this Merlion; it would be demolished soon after to make space for a new walkway.
I didn’t make it to the southernmost beaches of Sentosa during my last visit, but this time – we made it to Palawan Beach. One of the three beaches in Sentosa open to the public (alongside Siloso and Tanjong), Palawan Beach boasts of white sand rivaling that of Boracay in the Philippines. We enjoyed walking around this stretch – no sunscreen, no swim trunks, and no towels whatsoever.
It was already past the lunch hour by the time we decided to go back to Pulau Ujong (the mainland). Instead of walking all the way to VivoCity, we decided to hop on the Sentosa Express monorail back to the mall – which was free of charge too! It doesn’t work the other way around, however: patrons who board the monorail going to the island from the mall’s top floor are charged the regular entrance rate.
25 July, 14:15-15:15
Lunch wasn’t a problem, as Food Republic at VivoCity’s 4th level was just a few steps away from the monorail station! We checked out the different stalls inside, eventually settling for nasi padang. Nasi padang is a platter of viands such as meats, seafood, vegetables, and more served with white rice – similar to the Filipino turo-turo (point at this, point at that).
My younger brother had an easy time getting the viands he wanted, but it wasn’t the case for me. Good thing I remembered some food-related terms in Bahasa which I learned from binge-watching Asian Food Network videos. I told the stall attendant to give me a serving each of tauhu goreng (fried tofu), ayam merah (chicken in red sauce), sotong sambal (squid in sambal), and sambal kangkung (water spinach in sambal) to counter the savory viands.
We also ordered some iced drinks to wash down the spicy lunch — iced kopi for me, iced teh tarik for him. The caffeine kick was strong enough to keep me awake as we headed to our next destination.
25 July, 15:20-17:35
We walked to HarbourFront station (NE1 / CC29) and hopped on the North East Line (purple train) towards Chinatown station (NE4 / DT19). We then transferred to the Downtown Line (blue train) at Chinatown towards Fort Canning (DT20), which was the next station after the former.
What exactly is Fort Canning, you may ask? If the Philippines has Intramuros in Manila, Singapore has Fort Canning. Formerly a pre-colonial settlement named Bukit Larangan (Forbidden Hill), the father of Singapore Stamford Raffles built his residence here. Raffles’ house still stands until now, with Marina Bay Sands visible from its location.
The Sang Nila Utama Garden is a space named after the eponymous prince who first landed at today’s landmass of Singapore, establishing the prehistoric Kingdom of Singapura. The Keramat Iskandar Shah, on the other hand, is the burial place of Iskandar Shah – a 14th century ruler of Singapura. Muslims consider this as a holy site; thus, we avoided this one so as not to disturb the space’s sanctity. These two locations hearken back to Fort Canning’s pre-colonial roots.
Fort Canning also played a major role during the Second World War. The Fort Canning Bunker was the British Army’s general headquarters during the 1940s. Soon after the Fall of Singapore, the Japanese occupied it until the last days of WWII – up to the end of the war. The British again occupied the bunker up until the 1965 independence of Singapore. At this point, administration of the bunker itself fell unto the newly-formed nation. Years after that, it was converted to The Battle Box, an interactive pay museum showcasing the bunker’s history before, after, and during the war.
The wide expanse of Fort Canning Green used to be a cemetery during the island nation’s early days. Subsequent developments, however, called for the remains buried there to be dug up.
Instead of burying the bones again in a different location, these were instead interred in the walls. A few graves from Bukit Brown Cemetery, some of which were prominent personalities during the time of Raffles, were transferred to one portion of the field.
Fort Canning’s strategic location made it a valuable vantage point for ships entering the port of Singapore. Raffles House faces the sea, with Marina Bay Sands visible from that point. In front of the house is the Flagstaff, which delivered messages via marine flags to incoming vessels. To the left of the Flagstaff is the old Fort Canning Lighthouse that guided ships to the harbor at night. This was Singapore’s first and foremost naval beacon before more modern equivalents were built. All in all, these three structures played a big role in Singapore’s maritime history.
The fort was also home to a few landscaped gardens. The Artisans Garden takes its name from the artifacts found here during an archaeological dig in the early 1980s, suggesting that a pre-colonial workshop and foundry once stood at the garden.
The Spice Garden, a replica of the larger Botanic Gardens, showcases cash crops that gave Singapore its riches. There is an exit near this garden that leads to the Singapore Management University‘s law school and the National Museum of Singapore.
The Badang Terrace, facing Clarke Quay, commemorates the strongman and folk hero Badang. A hero in the same vein as Hercules, he was known for his extraordinary feats of strength. Badang was just like Steve Rogers — thin and lanky — before being injected with the Super Soldier Serum. The folk hero would get his powers by defeating a water spirit who always took the fish he caught. He used his strength to perform good deeds, eventually becoming a warrior under the sultan’s employ. Among Badang’s descendants is Hang Mahmud, the father of another Malay folk hero – the legendary Hang Tuah.
A large rock Badang lifted as part of a challenge landed at the mouth of the Singapore River, but this was blasted away by orders of the colonial government as it posed a danger to passing ships. One fragment of this rock, called the Singapore Stone, is on display at the National Museum.
It was more or less around 5:30 in the afternoon, and we wanted to have dinner at Clarke Quay. We took the exit point near the National Archives and the Registry of Marriage, but the quay was nowhere in sight. At this point, we decided to ask around – and we asked the security officer at the National Archives building for directions. He gave us two routes: the “high road” which leads to an exit past Raffles House (this was at the Badang Terrace), or the “long road” involving a walk of two blocks’ distance. We decided to take the former after thanking the security officer for his help.
25 July, 17:40-18:30
By this time, we were already at Clarke Quay taking pictures and looking for a suitable dinner spot. Clarke Quay is home to a lot of watering-holes frequented by both locals and expats. It reminded me of Eastwood City with its bars and drinking joints, but sadly – none of the joints at Clarke Quay piqued our interest (not to mention a good majority were pricey.)
With this outcome, we sat down along the riverside to get some rest – heading to Clarke Quay station (NE5). However, we ordered some fruit tea from LiHo, a local tea shop at Clarke Quay Central mall, before hopping on the North East Line (purple) train.
25 July, 18:30-20:37
We decided to go back to G4 Station since we already cleared out the second day’s itineraries. However, one of my younger brother’s friends suggested that we visit the stretch of Serangoon Road and the general vicinity of Little India — which we did.
The Little India area (encompassing the stretch of Serangoon Road from Tekka Centre onwards) consists of establishments that cater to the Indian population of Singapore. The majority of Singapore’s Indian population consists of Tamil speakers, thus the use of Tamil signages in the area’s businesses. Vegetarian restaurants, bargain stores, money changers, jewellers — you name it. The Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple is the central place of worship in the area.
If we only walked further, we would have reached Mustafa Centre. This one-stop shop sells Singapore souvenirs and knick-knacks for penny-pinching tourists and operates 24/7. In the end, the scent of the place was too much for both of us. We returned to Tekka Centre and ordered chicken rice from one of the hawker stalls there, before returning to the hostel.