Thursday 18 to Tuesday 23 December 2008, Hotel
Singapore is one big shopping complex that sells everything from food to the latest high tech gadgets. If you want to shop till you drop this is the place. Unfortunately budget hotels are difficult to come by because of the Christmas season. Just about everywhere we asked within walking distance of the MRT station Bugis was full. The hotel we wanted to stay at had been closed down at the beginning of the month due to government acquisition. We eventually found a hotel with a small windowless room. It fits a double bed and a minute bathroom. At least there is air conditioning to give some semblance of fresh air. The whole procedure to find a room was very slow. We landed at 4:00 am and started with a cup of coffee at the airport. The next step was to catch the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport) to Bugis. The MRT only started at 5:15 am. Since the hotel we wanted was closed we started walking around nearby. They were all closed for the night and would not open until 8:30 am at the earliest. We sat down outside one place in a lovely little street and waited. They could offer us a bed for 1 night only, we needed at least 5 nights. While walking around we came across other couples in the same position so we were able to compare notes. By this time we were ready to accept a small windowless room and slept the day away. The rest of the time until the van arrived was spent trawling the shopping malls nearby, including Carrefour. We will be back there once we have the van.
We also went to the PIL Office to find out how long it would take to unload. The ship arrives on 23rd December. The 24th is half day and the 25th is a public holiday. We would like to have everything sorted before Christmas as Singapore is an expensive place to stay in a hotel. They gave us the name of a clearing agent, Central Express Lines, as well as an idea of costs. We will only be able to access the container on the 24th but have been assured it will be cleared by lunchtime. Just as well I have taken some money from our capital to pay for it all. It is just unfortunate that now is the wrong time to withdraw money, but the Land Rover needed a new engine and turbo charger and we certainly did not want to stay in the Indian subcontinent until the economic situation improved - could take years!
Wednesday 24 December 2008 to Thursday 8 January 2009, East Coast Park Service Road, Parking C4
We woke to the rain. Yes we knew it was the rainy season but so far had not had any. Naturally it had to rain today because we were collecting the van and the temporary vent Pieter had put into the roof had not survived the rough roads very well. The good new was that we were unloading from the container into a large dry warehouse. The rain would only be a problem when we left. Once the container was opened we had to explain the problem of removing the van itself. After much discussion the unlashing crew used long lengths of wood across the two prongs of the forklift truck. Much more stable than tyres! The van was moved out then the Land Rover. It was now up to Pieter and I to connect the two. Never before has it been such a problem. After several attempts Pieter finally managed to line the two up and they connected properly at two points. Lawrence from Central Express Lines came to see why we were taking so long. He then used the forklift to help manoeuvre the van the last few millimetres into place. This made it much easier and we were ready to go after sorting out the single payment to Central Express Lines plus $6 for photos on our visitor's pass. I was expecting to have to also pay for the unlashing crew.
Customs clearance was easy and we headed for the East Coast Park. The maps did not cover this area in detail but we found the service road and when we saw tents and an ablution block we decided this would do. The rain had stopped but it would definitely come again. We set up a plastic curtain round the vent to funnel the rain into a container. At least it kept the bed dry but the floor caught most of the rain. Christmas Day, between bursts of rain, Pieter put in the vent I had brought from Australia.
The East Coast Park is a resort area. Singaporeans come to camp for a night or two. Malaysians come down during the holidays in large family groups and pitch their tents on the grass. The Singaporeans join them on public holidays and Sundays. When we arrived on the 24th there were quite few tents. When we woke up on the 25th tents seemed to have sprung up like mushrooms. It was the same on the Sunday and even more so on New Year's Day. Most disappeared very early the next morning. There are plenty of restaurants and food stalls plus places to hire bikes and inline skates. Amazingly people actually swim in the water, not that it is very deep near the shore but there are hundreds of small freight ships moored out in the deeper water. They look great at night with all their lights on.
The other side of the highway is lined with apartment blocks where the shoppers and shop workers / owners live. There is quite a lot of grass and recreational facilities with large parking garages and limited parking on the ground. Owning a car in Singapore is expensive. You have to tender for the limited number of registrations that become available each month. The registration lasts 10 years. If you keep the car longer than 10 years, having successfully tendered for the registration again, the license and road taxes increase exponentially each year. In other words people are discouraged from having a car that is older than 10 years. The cars used to be exported to places like Malaysia and Indonesia but these countries have increased their standard of living and no longer buy old cars. Now they are turned into scrap.
Many people came to say hello and to marvel at the van. They had not seen such a unit in Singapore. We also had a visit from Gary and Stephanie. Gary is a Land Rover enthusiast, he has two, and always keeps his eyes out for visitors in Land Rovers. He gave Pieter lots of valuable information such as where to buy a tyre and have an oil change. Thanks Gary.
Our time has been spent relaxing, removing the dust from the Indian sub continent from most places and catching up on e-mail. Cleaning took quite a few days. It is so humid that it is difficult to work for more than a few hours. Having something along the lines of a caravan means that there are lots of cupboards and storage places. In addition we had never gotten around to sorting out the proper storage of all the items from backpacking through China. The job was more than just cleaning as it also involved sorting out all those items and putting them back in the right place. By New Year's Eve most of it had been finished. It was dry most of the time with only a few days of rain. The rain could come down softly or pour down. In January it became cooler, to the extent that I needed a sheet covering me in the early hours of the morning!
On New Year's Eve we went on a tour of the lights along Orchard Street, the main shopping street. The theme was 'sweet Christmas' and all the decorations reflected this. Even the light poles had been turned into candy sticks. Afterwards we headed for Marina Bay to watch the fireworks. They were quite good. Perhaps I am getting a bit blasť. It took hours to get back. Buses had stopped and the only option was a taxi. The problem was that everyone else wanted a taxi as well. It was frustrating to see an empty taxi cruise past looking for the person who had managed to get through to the call centre and book it. If the person did not turn up the taxi went on another call out! Eventually Pieter spoke to a driver and asked if he could take us if the person did not turn up. He was willing to do so if we paid the call-out fee. Naturally we agreed. The fee almost tripled the fare but it was worth every cent just to get home and to bed.
Access to the internet is not as easy as you would expect in such a tech savvy city. McDonalds and many other cafes offer free broadband wifi. The catch is that they all access wireless@sg. This is a free service provider BUT you have to first register with a Singaporean id, something foreigners do not have. This has been introduced since 7/11 and the Bali bombings to help trace terrorists. When you go to an internet cafe, and there are quite a few around, no-one is bothered about who you are!
The young people are always busy with their cell phones. At first we thought they were SMSing friends. Not so. They are busy playing games! Even some waiters and shop assistants do not stop playing while they serve you - very efficiently. Some people eat at the same time. It is amazing what you can do while playing on the cell phone!
Finally it was time to leave. As we neared the border there were many warnings to top up your Auto Pass or Cash Card to cross the causeway. I had read that going cashless had caused major problems in early December so felt we needed to get one or the other. The booth could not sell us either card, only top up. To obtain an Auto Pass we had to go to an address somewhere on the island that was difficult to direct us to. That is the only place we could go as we should have purchased one when we entered. It had not been mentioned at the port. Feeling frustrated because to drive around Singapore, find a place and most important find parking is not easy. We decided to try one of the other exits. Once near where we thought there was an exit to Malaysia we asked a taxi driver where it was exactly and where we could buy a Cash Card, the other option. A Cash Card is very easy to purchase, any 7-11 or Cheers store. With Cash Card in hand we returned to the causeway to Jahore. We had been directed into the truck lane but assumed, based on previous border crossings that trucks would take days to process and we would spend at least 2 days in queue. This time we ignored the truck queue and used the car queue. There is a reason to use the truck queue, the car queue had a very low height limitation, even minivans could not go there. Next we tried the bus queue which was fine as far as height goes. Unfortunately they were not used to carnets. I had to go with one of the customs officers to find a knowledgeable person to stamp the carnet. Then it was no problem at all. And so to Malaysia.
And the Cash Card? There was no where to swipe it. I guess you need a special gadget in the car where you place the card. This is then read automatically by some other technological device. We didn't need it at all!!!!
In Malaysia we had to buy another cash card from an authorised dealer using an exchange rate of 1 Singapore Dollar to 1 Ringgit. The actual exchange rate is 1 Dollar to 2.3 Ringgit. What a rip-off! If we had had 25 Singapore dollars we could have bought a card with 40 Ringgit on it as the card costs 10 Ringgit. Unfortunately by now we only had 23.95 Dollars so we had to spend 20 Dollars for 10 Ringgit on the cash card. Why did we bother with the Singaporean cash card!
|Averages||Rand||Singapore Dollars||USD||Back to Bangladesh|
|Cost per litre diesel||0.00||0||0.00|
|Hotel per night||478.81||70||48.43|
|Kilometers traveled||197||just to and from an oil change and chasing around for a cash card|
|Days in country||22|