Singapore airport at ten oclock at night. Thirty degrees, and no internet connection so we couldn’t book a hotel. A cluster of people surrounded the airport’s hotel reservation desk and rooms were going fast, but we managed to get one of the last few at the Carlton on the waterfront.
Next step: a taxi. There was the most incredible queue. I counted 1000 people standing in the long snaking line, but a seasoned Singapore traveller behind us recommended sticking with it, and in fact the huge crowd of people was being swiftly decanted into a continually rolling line of taxis by an efficient group of uniformed controllers. We reached the front of the queue, a car was pulled from a fast-moving line and we were ushered firmly into it.
Then commenced a wild ride into the city. As far as I could make out, the rear axle had come adrift from the body shell and the car wavered all over the road, weaving across several lanes on every right-hander. The driver didn’t seem bothered, he just kept the pedal to the floor all the way to the hotel. We stumbled slightly queasily from the irregularly rocking vehicle and made straight for the bar, where we listened to a cover band and drank beer until they closed, whereupon the barman directed us across the street to Chijmes, a courtyard surrounded by bars, where we happily partied with a varied crowd until about five in the morning.
A lie-in on the 25th floor with a view across the skyscrapers and building lots of the city, followed by a pleasant lunch in the hotel lobby, including Bronwyn’s long-awaited first Singaporean laksa.
Finally we wandered out into the humid heat for an amble around town. Having just arrived from China where we had been the centre of attention wherever we went, it was pleasant to blend anonymously into the multicultural blend of people walking the tidy streets.
Sitting on a dock sipping welcome water from a bottle, we were approached by a guy asking us if we were waiting for a boat trip. Unusually, we had done no research prior to our arrival, so we thought that maybe we’d learn something about the history of the country, so we shelled out a few dollars and climbed aboard. It was a traditional “bum boat”, black hull with a wooden awning and eyes painted on the front, one of hundreds that spend their lives chugging up and down the river.
There was indeed a guide, in the form of a tape loop over the loudspeakers, and he spent the next hour or so enthusing about the long and exciting history of Singapore without actually imparting a single solitary fact about it.
On the other hand, we got to see the Singapore lion fish and a lot of pretty architecture.
Eventually, after an enjoyable afternoon giggling at the guide tape, we disembarked at the Old Quay, a riverside restaurant quarter where we stepped over crabs on leashes and were pestered incessantly by waiters touting for business.
Choosing the only restaurant that allowed us to view the menu without harassment, we sat down by the river and began to order. Bronwyn fancied a rogan josh, and asked the waiter if it was likely to be hot.
“Hot?” he asked.
“Yes,” replied Bronwyn, “Will it be hot?”
“Hot hot!” he exclaimed, smiling, and disappeared into the bowels of the restaurant, returning with a beautiful repast, including the hottest rogan josh we’ve ever encountered.
We washed it all down with Tiger beer. We needed all the courage we could get before risking the taxi back to the airport.