Travel - Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bali Part One

November 11, 2014

Last September, Ben and I took a two week trip to South East Asia. One of Ben's friends and his fiancee had moved to Singapore for work for eighteen months and it's a place that Ben has always wanted to visit so we thought it was good timing to go while James was out there. It's a long way to go just for a few nights in Singapore {and a city so well connected with the rest of Asia} so we combined our three nights there with two nights in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and then a week in Bali. If I'm being totally honest, I wasn't overly looking forward to the trip. We'd spent three weeks travelling around Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia a couple of years before and I felt like we'd 'done' S.E Asia and all the humidity, weird food and chaotic streets. Luckily I couldn't have been more wrong and we had an amazing time, Bali was definitely the most incredible part of the trip which I can't wait to share on next week's post but Singapore and Kuala Lumpur were worth a visit too if you'd like to see..

We booked the whole trip through Dial A Flight, who were the most competitive on prices and got us fights with Singapore Airlines, the best in the world. I'd researched extensively, using Trip Advisor and companies like Audley Travel and Kuoni to come up with the best route and hotels but Dial a Flight were the ones who came through with the best deal in the end {see this post for more info on travel agents and holiday bookings}. Jet lagged, we arrived at our hotel on a Friday when James and Hannah were still at work. So we had a few hours to amuse ourselves in a city we didn't know too much about. On the map we saw that the Botanic Gardens were nearby so went for a walk, in the crazy humidity to try and acclimatise ourselves.

The gardens were beautiful and a relaxing way to start our time in Singapore. Imagine Kew Gardens but on an even more tropical, rain forest kind of scale. There were pretty frangipani trees and pagodas next to lakes. It was quiet too, unlike the bustling streets and shopping malls. 

I loved these giant lily pads in a pond and the giant palm trees everywhere.

Walking on wooden board-walks felt like we were really in the tropics, despite being in one of the highest density cities in the world.

Inside the gardens is the national orchid garden, Singapore's national flower. I love orchids and it was amazing to see so many different types just growing from the trees.

That night we met up with our friends and got shown the traditional 'hawker' street food stalls, some of the best {and most regulated} in the world. The food was amazing, and so cheap!! It's like an indoor mall with all different stalls selling street food, you can tell the most popular ones from their big queues. James and Hannah lived nearby this particularly good one, I think it was called the Tekka Market and ate here a lot during their move here. We got shown how to use the subway and then had some ice cream frozen with nitrogen..

The next day, a Saturday was spent being shown around the city and some of James' favourite spots including a walk around the rainforest at Bukit Timah nature reserve, Singapore's tropical equivalent to Hampstead Heath. And then some touristy stuff, markets and RAFFLES!

Raffles is a must see while in Singapore, an iconic piece of colonial history since 1887 and a symbol of both the old and new city.

It was beautiful to look around and we had the obligatory Singapore Sling drinks in the Long Bar and then sat in the tranquil courtyard with palm trees growing out the middle of it.

I really liked the area around Raffles, it was so modern, almost space age. Everywhere is sparkling clean in Singapore and very efficient. I didn't really know what to expect from the city, everyone told me I'd love it with all the shopping. And I guess it is like a slightly Eastern version of New York. In some parts you wouldn't even know you're in Asia with all the westernisation. 

Being down by the waterfront at the Marina looking over the skyline that has such importance to Singapore and their fast-tracked economy. I was an A-level Geography and Business student so stuff like that really interests me... geek.

The photo below pretty much sums up Singapore though, MORE SHOPS. Every hotel, every subway station and pretty much every street has a mall of some kind. I can't even begin to imagine just how many shops there must be on the Orchard Road, Singapore's version of Fifth Avenue or Oxford Street, everytime we went to the MRT/Subway you had to walk through a mall and they would be heaving with shoppers all day long, even really late on a Sunday night! It's a national past time for Singaporeans, I love shopping but even I found there were too many shops out there. A very consumeristic commercial culture. 

Away from all the hustle and bustle of the shops though is Singapore Zoo, I'm not usually a Zoo fan having animals locked up in cages but James suggested we go as it's a particularly lovely zoo with free-ranging orang-utans which would be nice to see while in South East Asia. If we'd had longer we probably would have added on Borneo to our trip, I'd love to see them up close in the wild. 

The zoo was definitely done really well and was a nice excursion from the city. When we got back, it was lovely to see some blue skies! The city is humid all year round so a lot of the time it's hazy. 

We went for a walk down the Orchard Road and a browse around the, ridiculously expensive shops due to the exchange rate and an Eastern premium for luxury shopping. Everywhere you go there are Western brands even an M&S, Nando's and Paul Patisserie! 

That evening we had dinner at Clarke Quay and a walk along the riverbank as it was getting dark.

Every night around 8 or 9pm, Marina Bay Sands, the big boat/plane hotel in the sky hosts a light and fountain show in the marina. If you're in the area at the time it's worth a watch opposite the skyline all lit up. There's actually an infinity swimming pool right at the top of the three towers, you can just about see the palm trees! You have to be staying there to get in but how amazing to swim that high up!

The glittery skyline and the way it reflected on the water was beautiful. I was definitely pleasantly surprised by Singapore.

The next afternoon, after an amazing Korean BBQ lunch saying goodbye to James and Hannah we headed to the airport to fly to Kuala Lumpur, it's only a couple of hours away. We got a taxi to our hotel, The Shangri-La Traders Hotel which is famous for it's amazing views of the Petronas Towers and Skybar.

We were in awe of the view when we arrived, the towers are so bright and dazzling when lit up at night. 

The breakfast buffet the next morning also amazed us, definitely one of the best breakfasts we've ever had with so much choice. Sushi, pastries, eggs, noodles, cereals, toast, yogurts, fruit, pancakes, waffles, ham, cheese, curry, smoothies, the list goes on and we got so full up both mornings. 

We didn't have too much time in Kuala Lumpur, one full day to explore. But that was probably enough really, we enjoyed the city but it was a lot less developed than Singapore and harder to navigate. It didn't feel quite as safe or clean, which is all part of travelling sometimes but coming from such a modern Singapore it was a slight step down. But the history was interesting and Ben's dad was born in Malaysia when his Grandpa was working as a civil engineer out there so it was of particular interest to Ben. 

I love this mix of the colonial historic buildings and cricket green with the new skyscrapers behind. 

We spent most of the day exploring the city and then came back to the incredible mall and park right outside of our hotel for a while before it got dark and we could go to the Skybar. 

We found an amazingly posh supermarket, equivalent to Waitrose or Selfridges Food Hall I guess and bought some treats for a picnic in our room that night. Sometimes you don't want to eat out all the time especially when we'd had such a big breakfast. Have you tried Dragon Fruit? It's one of my favourite fruits that just isn't the same when bought in England. They're ubiquitous in Asia though. 

As it was getting dark we took the lift to the top of the hotel to it's famous skybar that's won lots of awards for the best view and bar in KL on the 33rd floor. It has a lit up swimming pool in the middle of the bar and booths overlooking the city.

The towers are so glittery and dazzling at night, lighting up the sky.

We had a couple of drinks admiring the view and then got ready to leave for Bali the next morning, waking up to bright blue skies, again somewhat of a rarity in a hazy humid city like KL.

A whistle stop tour of Kuala Lumpur but definitely worth the stop over, I don't think we'll go back but it was a good place to experience. Next up, my favourite part of the trip. Bali!

R <3 xx

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