Monday, October 06, 2014

Singapore & Legoland 2014

I am writing a travelogue after a long time! There is actually quite a few trivia I realized as well

1) After we moved back from the US to India, this is the first international flight I've taken - Subhash has been on a couple to the UK, but me, none. So it has taken 6.5 years for me to venture out after moving back. That is quite a long time. I never realized its been that long!
2) The older one matches Subhash in that his first flight ever was a domestic one and this one was his first international one. The younger one matches me, his first flight ever was an international one.
3) Coincidentally my first flight which was international was to Malaysia - about 13.5 years ago - which I visited this time too.
4) I also realized I have now been out of the US for as long as I was in there. I spent 6y 7.5m in the US in all and now it's been about 6.5 since we moved back. Time does indeed fly! Where, god knows!

So anyway, back to the travelogue - we spent a week in Singapore and made a single day journey to Johor, Malaysia to visit Legoland since Rohan turned 5 and we wanted to celebrate it by doing something he wanted. He got to choose between Disneyland and Legoland and he consistently picked Legoland over the past two years of questioning so Legoland it was.

There were two hitches in the trip - one, the sentencing of Jaya "amma" right the day before we were meant to travel. Our tickets were booked from Chennai (a bit more on that in some time), and we were planning to drive down and catch the flight. I had confirmed train tickets to and from Chennai which I canceled because driving seemed more comfortable and exciting. Only to discover that the time was just not right to drive through TN roads with a KA number plate. So we booked last-minute one-way flight tickets to Chennai which costed a bomb :( Oh well, at least we arrived in Chennai airport safe and got onto our flight.

Next at Singapore immigration, we discovered just me and Subhash had multiple journey visas. And the rest of the family, all 5 of them got single journey visas. In my mind, this was Ok, since it was one trip, so I never thought anything amiss till the immigration guy told us how no one will be able to come back from Legoland if we were to go. Oh god, as soon as I stepped out I was terribly disappointed - this whole trip was made for Legoland and if we couldn't go there, then what was the point. We explored a few options, pushing Legoland to the end and flying out of Malaysia or just requesting to convert the older one's visa to multiple journey. Finally ruled out everything else, after calling the ICA guys, decided the simplest and easiest thing to do was to re-apply for a visa. Again spoke to T who helped apply the visas the first time and applied for just the kids. Got their visas by the end of the day. Next day we were hoping to go to Legoland, but did not want to leave parents behind on their own in Singapore, so canceled that and instead applied for all of them again as well, and got all visas by end of our third day there. Again, many thanks to Singapore ICA guys. Truly, leading by example in how hassle-free an immigration processes should be.

After that was reasonably happy, in spite of the extra costs and headache and tension, finally we would be able to go to Legoland!

This was what we did -

Day 1 - Jurong Bird Park - very boring, it was. We were tired after our red-eye flight. So didn't enjoy it at all. I was terribly disappointed when Rohan said, let's go back to Bangalore tomorrow.

Day 2 - Singapore Duck Tours and Singapore Flyer. We went to Singapore Flyer as suggested by the hotel to catch one of the duck tours. Now, this Flyer thingy is new and was not there when I last visited Singapore (2007 July). We took the MRT which was a little tiring for everyone but we were at the Flyer at last. The Duck tours guy had a package for flyer which we bought after checking the speed of the flyer. It was so slow in rotation that we were sure even the parents would not mind it - it was not your typical giant wheel (the roller-coaster in India). Duck tour was standard. But the flyer experience was fantastic. Not for the views or anything but the car, the speed and the fact that we were to ourselves in the car. Kids monkeyed around, rolled on the car's floor and what not. Everyone had a fantastic time. After the disastrous day 1, this was getting good :) Till now, I have very fond memories of the Flyer - just for this one reason - it transformed our trip. Rohan said, I like this place I want to stay for a little longer :) I asked him if he wanted to go back to Bangalore the next day like he was asking earlier, and the answer was a firm no ;) Evening went to dinner with A and U by Boat Quay which was a lovely experience. Also it was just me and Subhash who went since kids were asleep by then and parents tired so we left them at the hotel and went.

Day 3- Sentosa. This was when we were originally planning to take the kids to Legoland and plan something for the parents in Singapore, later chucked the idea and swapped the Sentosa day with Legoland. Went by cable car (again, after a long MRT ride to Harbourfront). Sentosa was a nice, made-for-tourists island. We went directly to Resorts World Sentosa. It is an oversized mall housing a lot of stuff including Universal Studios, but we just went to the S.E.A Aquarium and were Ok with it. I mean, if we were water species enthusiasts I guess we would have enjoyed it more. The younger one was mightly excited - we were able to make out he would love aquariums on the Jurong Park trip when he was super happy to see Penguins in the glass case. So he had fun and we just roamed around, went to the Typhoon experience theatre - it was rather ordinary. Had lunch after hunting around for the most vegetarian friendly place and found one Bali Thai and had food there. Went to the casino and discovered there was no way they were going to let us in because we left our passports at the hotel (we forgot and realized but still wanted to try our luck, did not work out). So just came back, surely, richer for the savings ;) On the way back went to Mount Faber although I was not really keen. But I was happy Subhash insisted. It had some fabulous views :) Since it was late, went directly from Harbourfront to T's place and had dinner with T and family at their place - finally caught up in the middle of the trip.

Day 4 - Singapore Zoo - wanted to do this on the day we went to Flyer because I wanted to go late so we can cover the Night Safari but both U/A and T/R had suggested against it with kids, saying they might be scared so dropped it and went during the day instead. Zoo was better than the bird park. Still nothing spectacular. Did the tram ride multiple times and got back. Again kids were sleeping and so we left them at the hotel with parents and took a walk around Orchard (the heart of Singapore shopping district where our hotel was) and I had a Pretzel after a long long time and also Garrett's popcorn (after Chicago, this was the first time I was having it). So a happy tummy! :) Then dinner with A, my cousin and childhood pal :) Evening well spent :)

Day 5 - Legoland finally! Arrived at the coach office at the Flyer - was happy to be back :) Finished the journey and the immigrations without event and reached the park at 12 mid-day. It was so hot! and no shade to speak of in the park. I was keen on taking Rohan to the driving jaunt while he was fresh still and luckily it was at the entrance. The track for kids his age was too small for him. He finished his allotted two rounds while the other kids were still finishing the first one - we figured we should have taken him to the bigger track. Then we got him a "license" which he treasures a lot now ;) Finished about 75% of the park when it was time to get back. Got a souvenir shirt for both kids, some mandatory lego sets and some stickers and came back. Kids were tired and so were the parents. And we had to leave early the next day so finished dinner at an Indian fine diner in the Flyer itself and reached the hotel by 8.

All in all a great trip but a tad bit tiring with all the walking we needed to do. Hotel was nice, well worth it's #6 rating on TripAdvisor :)

More general observations about Singapore

1) Weather resembles Chennai - something I cannot tolerate. But somehow managed. Was happy to get back home :)
2) For the strength of the currency (1SGD =50 INR) the SGD didn't go very far in terms of what we could buy. Absolutely no purchasing power for the currency within the country. We were comparing to the USD, and both of us agreed that the USD went a lot further in buying power than the SGD within their own respective countries. We came back home to read that Singapore was just minted as the world's most expensive city - that explains it ;) Not surprised at all.
3) The city is forever in construction mode. And the traffic, oh, what a pain it is. In spite of the near-perfect infrastructure, and the world-class MRT, they have some stupendous traffic snarls! I learnt to appreciate Bangalore traffic which we can at least blame on the total lack of infrastructure. So I am complaining a lot less now. Let's see how long this lasts!
4) A lot of the tourist attractions are over-hyped. Some of the parks you find in India are much much better. All in the marketing I guess :)
5) Singapore is much much less vegetarian-friendly than what we were expecting. In fact I remember Kuala Lumpur about 14 years ago was far more evolved as far as this area is concerned. Singapore was definitely disappointing.

Chennai airport deserves special mention. It is what one would call a "fish market" in younger days at school. Major chaos everywhere, huge lines (which we luckily avoided thanks to traveling with an infant), absolutely bad facilities and so on and so forth! And the whole town was pasted with Amma come back posters. Phew! Now I know why tickets from Chennai were so much more cheaper, I bet the airport surcharges are an absolute low here - next time I am wondering if I would actually mind paying a lot more just to be able to fly out of Bangalore which is a far more evolved and better maintained airport!


Anonymous said...

seems like you have some special undeserved hate for Chennai.

DivSu said...

Really, out of those tens of thousands of words I wrote, you found just the ones related to Chennai :) Wow! You have made two very glaring assumptions, one that I hate Chennai, hate is firstly something I don't do to anyone (ok, maybe excepting cauliflower), secondly, that it is undeserved - clearly you live in Chennai or have a great affiliation with it, but really the first assumption itself makes this one look silly and dubious.

Now that we are done with that, yes, I cannot tolerate Chennai weather what with the sweat and salt in the air - something tells me that if I were to poll random people who do not have a blinding love for the city, I would get similar responses from 99% of them. So, can you blame me? Oh and that airport? Really, have you seen it? If so, have you seen airports elsewhere? And if both are true, are you proud of Chennai airport? I rest my case.

Anonymous said...

Sorry if it came out wrong. I always thought we need to be careful about our word choice. I thought you were pretty balanced in your out look towards india and unity. But Your post and response to my comment are again flippant and provoke regionalism. Any car with KA license plates need to be wary in Chennai. Really? You make your perception sound like a fact. I have an affinity for India and its unity, not Chennai. I have been to multiple places. Yes i have seen Chennai airport and worse but i am not going to name the cities in this forum because i also saw the good in those places.

Anyways like i said i enjoy your blogs but the last one was in poor light.

DivSu said...

Anonymous - again, another assumption. That it was just my perspective. I was told by not one but two insiders to not travel with a KA plate while the mob frenzy was going on. In fact one of them was already in TN and had actually removed his KA plate and hid the car. Maybe he was paranoid, but really, a mob is hardly logical. Maybe I should also tell you that the Jayalalitha posters in Chennai all cried asking us to take back Cauvery if we want but give back Amma, really, like Karnataka folks were the only ones who in some way were conspiring to keep her behind bars. Is there any logic in that? It is more about the time and situation - it was absolutely not safe for any KA vehicles to travel into TN (not just Chennai) that weekend and even in fact last week (when her bail plea was being entertained, all KA buses were stopped from entering TN) - and you have made it sound like I was a regional bigot who hates Chennai and Tamil folks. Wow, just wow!

Anonymous said...

I have been a reader of your blog since sometime now. I like how you used to write probably until a couple of years ago.. I do come back and go through your posts now, but somehow feel the tone of your writing has changed. Good or bad, I appreciate you writing and look forward to it. But, when a reader posts his/her opinion you do seem offended and angry if they don't agree with what you have written!! I guess, I will have to wait for my turn now :p.. Do keep writing though :)

DivSu said...

Anonymous - Thank you for reading my blog. Your opinions were completely mis-informed and you actually accused me of "hating" Chennai and also of "provoking regionalism" and those are quite heavy allegations. If you are expecting me to accept those without a word, then you are sadly mistaken, and this too, in a post that is actually a travelogue to an unrelated (to India) destination and has the word Chennai mentioned exactly 7 times in different contexts and that is out of a few thousand words. You came looking for a conflict and you got one, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Cool sister.. First anonymous is different than the second. I know cause I am the second one. Why so much anger?

DivSu said...

Anonymous - that is the problem when you post anonymously. Read it from my perspective, I am still talking to the same person who is now lecturing me on some random stuff and tone of writing and what not - next time post in your name!

Anonymous said...

Hey I am sorry to have sidetracked your vacation post - i now feel horrible about it. Maybe my disappointment got the better of me because I have come to expect the best in this blog. Let's do a deal. Please take the entire thread of comments section here so this post remains your family's vacation post. I have lived in several cities in India, have lived in US for multiple years and get disappointed when regionalism gets into conversations. I hate it when groups are formed along regional lines and one particular people from a region cast aspersions on the other. I would write my name but it is not going to matter in the end. People are free to believe what they want. I speak Tamil,Telugu, Hindi, Gujarati fluently and understand a few other languages, am married to a girl from punjab. So there - those are my credentials - am sure my misplaced tirade here will be forgotten and forgiven.

Like I said earlier please continue on and remove this entire thread of comments and let it be your family's vacation post.

DivSu said...

Anonymous - I agree regionalism in that sense is bad, but regional pride is not. A thin line. That said, I was not deriding anyone or any region - just the weather of a particular place and poor facilities at a particular airport - they happened to be the same city! And the rest, for mob frenzy, there is never any logic and mobs do resort to the kind of regionalism you talk about, so we preferred to play safe. That is all.

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