If you have followed our blog posts to date you will know already that we do crazy travel things. Sometimes these are driven by cost considerations; at other times by committing to different trips at different points in our schedule. The worst was seven flights to get us from London to Yangon at the end of 2016. This time it wasn’t quite so bad with only five flights to get us from Singapore to Turkey. Are we learning?
For the first part of this latest trip, we were headed to a semi-rural location outside of Fethiye to look after a dog called Opus while his owners were away. We had heard that Turkey’s Opal Coast is beautiful but had no appreciation of what we would find as we landed at Dalaman airport and drove along the coastline towards our destination. For the next week, we would enjoy living in an extremely comfortable house up in the hills overlooking the most beautiful scenery. We had everything set up perfectly for a relaxing yet fulfilling trip. Up the road, even walkable with Opus, was a small local town with everything we needed from a choice of multiple restaurants and bars, a bakery, small supermarket, to even a couple of barber shops.
Just one word of advice if, as a man and just as I did, you ever need to get a haircut in Turkey. Don’t be nervous when a big wax candle is lit and then slapped intermittently with the barber’s hand across your cheeks and ears. It’s actually quite an efficient way of burning off any residual hair and not some weird ritual that will leave you going up in flames. What great entertainment at just 10 Turkish Lira (under 3 US Dollars or Euros), lira for a haircut and fire show literally right in front of my eyes.
The amusing ordeal over, only 20 minutes drive down towards the coastline is a pretty much deserted beach called Akmaz. As well as great views it houses a beach restaurant serving the best Turkish breakfast. Our hosts had taken us there on our first morning before they left and subsequently going back there became an almost daily ritual. We had the valid excuse that Opus could exercise by running along the beach, but also we could not resist the feast. It seemed, too, that our small-framed German Shepherd rescue had already seduced the restaurant owners who would bring his morning snack along with our meal. After breakfast, more beach exercise for dog and humans alike. Then in the afternoons so many options: relaxing by the pool, reading, sightseeing (see below), walking in the woods, playing with Opus - life couldn’t have been much better for this relatively short stay one week stay.
There’s plenty in this area to keep a visitor busy and happy. Fethiye itself is a bustling town, with markets, multiple bars and restaurants, a waterfront, and all the other amenities you might expect of a place this size. The views out to the sea here are beautiful, but become magnificent when you head down the coast. Parts of the road are pretty elevated; they look out over a bright blue expanse of water with small islands scattered here and there. At other times you find yourself inland passing through pastures and woodland with green scenery all around you. We really enjoyed driving this route and, after about ninety minutes from Fethiye, we got to Kaş, a town that is over 1,600 years old. The Romans were here, the Greeks too, and now the Turks have reclaimed and enjoy this small and pretty waterfront town. Interestingly, as you look out to sea while sipping on a cocktail, right there in front of you just one mile away is the Greek island of Kastellorizo. Why, you ask yourself? Well, up until the Paris Peace Treaties of 1947, this and many other islands with predominantly Greek populations had been annexed by Italy and then occupied by Allied forces during WW2. After that, Greece managed to get it back despite its proximity to the Turkish mainland. There is so much history and also territorial conquests and change that have taken place in this region over the centuries - too much to even start to explain in this blog.
The Greeks did not have it all their own way though. They were less fortunate at Kayaköy. On another day we visited this deserted ghost village just five miles south of Fethiye on the mainland. It’s just a little eerie and remains almost exactly as it was left when finally abandoned in 1922 by its Greek population. Then there was our trip to Ölüdeniz, a small beach town just 30 minutes from Fethiye to eat, drink and watch more active folks paragliding from up high down onto the golden sands of the crescent shaped beach right in front of our eyes.
We were checking off daily the list of recommended places our homeowners had provided us, and a good selection it was to gain an appreciation of this part of the world. If you want beautiful scenery from snow capped mountains in the background to golden beaches along the coast and bright blue water beyond, this part of Turkey is definitely worth a visit. But after a little over a week that left us wanting to return some day in the future, it was time to head to Europe next, and to that great and grand former capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. We were off to Istanbul to truly sample one city straddling two continents.
If you go to Istanbul you have to visit the Sultan Ahmed Mosque often referred to as the Blue Mosque, built by Ahmed I at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Just avoid prayer times (unless going to pray, of course). Right next door is the beautiful Topkapi Palace and Museum. It was constructed after the fall of Constantinople in the fifteenth century as the main residence of the new rulers, the Ottoman sultans. From there you can walk down to the waterfront and cross the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn, then wander along to Taksim Square. It is often thought of by locals as the center of the city, a place for celebration but also where various riots and protests have taken place over the years. Here you will find the Monument of the Republic built to commemorate and symbolize the beginning of the modern Turkish state in 1923.
With magnificent mosques, their minarets pronouncing prayers throughout the day, lining both banks of the Bosphorus, the views of Istanbul from the ferry crossing from Europe to Asia and back again are spectacular. The European side seems more touristy with its famous palaces, mosques and other monuments, not to mention tourists themselves from all parts of the world. The Asian side gives the impression of being younger, more lively, more hip, more local. Next time we visit Istanbul - and we will - we should stay on this side of town and enjoy the local restaurants, bars, cafés and generally buzzing vibe.
Don’t forget to visit a local hammam for another of those seemingly torturous experiences that turn out to be great. With two strong, fat, hairy, toweled Turk men ready to scrub us clean on a marble slab that looked like an executioner’s table, I was lying there wondering which would be preferable: being beaten to death here, or burned alive at the barber shop back on the Opal Coast. As it turned out, I had never felt better when emerging again into the daylight of Asian Istanbul after my first Turkish hammam experience. It was time for a balık ekmek, the local fish sandwich available from any number of street vendors or stalls along either bank of the Bosphorus. Sorry McDonald’s, but it's got your Filet-O-Fish 1,000% beat.
And so came to an end our two weeks in Turkey. From dog sitting Opus the German Shepherd in a beautiful rural hillside location just minutes from the coast with the sun shining all day, to charging around one of the world’s largest and greatest cities with clouds and just a bit of rain, Turkey exceeded all our expectations. It left us yearning for more as got ready to head back to Singapore - via London, of course, just to add more flights - so that we could resume our Southeast Asia tour, the first chapter of which you can read about in our earlier Singapore blog post.
An island, city, and country all rolled into one. Singapore manages to pack all the features of a much larger country into just 277 square miles (719 square kilometers). Its reputation as an excellent travel and living destination is completely warranted. There is plenty to do on this little isle - countless museums, world-renowned resorts, numerous nature reserves and parks, beaches, theme parks, zoos, and world-class dining. Plus visiting is made easier because it has one of the world’s busiest and best airports and extensive, modern transit system.
Singapore’s reputation for being a strict and straightlaced country might turn some people off from visiting, but I think it’s been a bit exaggerated, and that this country is really a “can’t miss”. Singapore is a crossroad of eastern and western culture done right.
People also tend to get into their heads that Singapore is very expensive, and its listing as the world’s most expensive city doesn’t help. But this is mainly for people planning to live there as housing costs are sky-high. Yes, the country is a lot more expensive than other Southeast Asian Countries like Vietnam or Thailand, but you can still find great deals on food, clothing, and shopping and there are a lot of completely free things to do if you are trying to save money (just don’t try to buy a beer in a restaurant). So here is our Singapore guide broken down by your ideal budget level.
Backpacker / Thrifty
Singapore offers plenty for the thrifty traveler. For people from countries in the EU or places like Australia and the US, you will find the prices at the same level or even slightly cheaper than at home. So if you plan on visiting, budget accordingly. There are plenty of hostels in Singapore and while you won’t get a bed for $5/night like in other places, you still won’t break the budget either. Popular places are Beary Best! or Wink hostels. Another good option is a pod hotel if you’re not planning to spend your downtime indoors.
Getting around Singapore is so easy and surprisingly cheap even compared to places like Bangkok. The MRT system spans the island mostly by subway, but to some locations further out you will need a bus. Busses and trains come very often and the whole system is distance based so if you transfer from subway to bus you won’t be hit twice. You can even go all the way from and to the Airport making arrival and departure easy.
Your best food options will be the numerous hawker centers that dot the city. A Hawker center is basically a group of food stalls all combined under one big roof. They normally have a variety of cuisines and all the stalls are licensed and hygienic so you don’t have to worry. You can get almost anything your heart desires and for under S$5 you will walk away full. They often have cheaper beer here on par with the prices in the convenience stores or supermarkets. Most centers have at least one dedicated vegetarian stall so even if communication is tricky you can just ask them to pile up whatever’s is behind the counter without worry. You can also find stalls for other special diets too. The Telok Ayer Market Center downtown is a busy hawker center and has some unique options.
Your entertainment need not be a drain; in fact, the city has multiple options for free things to do throughout the day. Gardens By The Bay is a 101 hectare garden set in the center of the city, but it is so much more than that with numerous exhibits laid out amongst the beautiful plants. The main attraction for many people is the free nightly light and music show which brings out large crowds who find a space in the Supertree Grove to sprawl out and watch. There is also a hawker center located in the depths of the park for when you are hungry after the show. Continuing our garden theme, the Singapore Botanic Gardens is a must-do! It’s beautifully laid out, large, and admission is free. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon, if you want to see the National Orchid Garden, the Orchid being Singapore’s national flower, it’s just a S$5 admission.
While on the West Coast if you’re looking for something a little more off-beat you should visit Haw Par Villa. The villa was built by the Tiger Balm family fortune and can not easily be described, it just has to be seen. There are numerous life-size sculptures dedicated to Chinese morality, folklore, mythology, and many other scary/interesting/obscure things. If you don’t have lots of time to visit just hit the “10 Courts of Hell” a tunnel which has dioramas depicting the punishments that await sinners in hell (personally my favorite is the “Hill of Knives”). Just maybe leave the children outside for this one.
Surprisingly for a country that is almost completely urban, it’s the green spaces and parks that are the best attractions. The many many parks, are impeccably kept and are some of the best in the world. West Coast Park, appropriately named for its location on the West Coast, is one of the great ones. Its 50 hectares contain numerous walking trails, bbq pits, camping plots, a jungle walk, and a great view of the coastal ports. We stayed on the West Coast overlooking the park while house sitting and spent many hours here walking Pablo And Blake up and down the paths to the huge dog run at the south end of the park.
If you need some beach time Singapore is a little lacking but you can still find a nice man-made beach on the east coast. East Coast Park is the largest park in Singapore and in addition to its man-made beach it has a famous seafood center (the best place for Chili Crab), skatepark, and camping areas.
Mid-level / Flashpacker
For travelers a little less concerned about cost but who still want to get the most for their money, Singapore is a perfect stop. In addition to everything we mentioned in the Backpacker/Thrifty section, which you should visit no matter what your budget, there are some more options if you have a little more cash to spend.
The Singapore Zoo is a place to see exhibits of exotic species in gorgeous green setting. Prepare for a long hot day as you need a long visit to truly experience it. Don’t skip any of the shows, even if you think you won’t like them, as they are very well done. Most importantly the animals look happy and healthy which is always nice to see. The zoo compound also has two other parks, the River Safari and Night Safari. They are under separate tickets but absolutely worth the price of admission as they expand on the exhibits of the Zoo but also offer their own specialties. For shopping needs try the markets in Chinatown (souvenir central) or the shops of Arab Street (pashminas and rugs abound). In Chinatown, the temples are normally packed with tourists but the most popular is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple which is exactly what it sounds like. Near Arab Street, take a guided tour around the Sultan Mosque and for an interesting lunch try the Deer Murtabak at Singapore Zam Zam. It’s a culinary treat you can only find in Singapore.
After a long day out hit Holland Village. Self-described as “Singapore’s Bohemian Enclave”, it is the place to be for dining and drinking. A mix of visitors and locals crowd the bars that stretch out into the street and chow down at the hawker center. For some really good ice cream cross under the road and get a cone at Sunday Folks.
If Holland Village is too far out for you, then you can always hit Clarke Quay just north of Chinatown. On the banks of the Singapore River, this place explodes with crowds at night shuffling in and out of dance clubs, karaoke bars, and restaurants. The price of alcohol might throw you for a loop, but even if you just enjoy the river view and people watching it’s a good time.
If you are ready to splurge then there is no better place to do it than Singapore. With a mall on every corner (sometimes two) you will find plenty of places to spend your hard earned dollars.
For your lodging, Singapore has got you covered. The hotels here are top notch and not to be missed. The famous Raffles Hotel is the haunt of writers and celebrities (Ava Gardner, Rudyard Kipling, Noel Coward, John Wayne to name a few) and you can stay just like them in their eponymous suites. The Fullerton Hotel in the historical Fullerton Building offers travelers design, comfort, and location all in one. But the most recently built and well-known hotel is, of course, the Marina Bay Sands which contains in its grounds an opulent shopping mall, glitzy casino, bars and dining establishments, and a magnificent rooftop infinity pool. Exclusivity is the name of the game at Marina Bay Sands. The Conrad Centennial is highly rated 5-star hotel that won’t leave you completely bankrupt. It’s luxurious, but not obscene, and offers a great breakfast buffet, quick access to shops, and if you’re lucky, the best view of the Fountain of Wealth. The hotel is under the Hilton banner so great for those wanting to use or collect Hilton Hhonors points.
Get lost in shopping heaven as malls intertwine in Downtown Singapore. Whether it’s Raffles Place, Bugis, Suntec, or the numerous malls and shops on Orchard Road you should have no trouble finding your favorite branded stores next to boutique shops, fun restaurants, and even the occasional movie theater. Large, bright, clean, and excessively air conditioned, Singapore does malls right.
If you’re looking more to relax and have fun with the family then head to Sentosa Island. Sentosa is a man-made and reclaimed island off of Singapore whose raison d'être is entertainment and fun. When you think Sentosa think sun, sand, golf, theme parks, and attractions for people of all ages. Whether you stay at Resorts World or the Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa Resort you will find world class amenities and dining. The breakfast buffet at the Silver Shell Cafe is a particular treat. Take a spin around the Island on the shuttles, and for a really great day pick up tickets to Universal Studios. A compact but quality theme park which has some classic Universal attractions (think The Mummy) along with some original rides exclusive to the park.
For some of the best of Singapore’s hometown dish, Chili Crab, visit Momma Kong’s where you can even get the crab shelled for you (for a small fee) to cut out all the hard work. Get what is possibly the world’s cheapest Michelin star meal at the Liao Fan hawker stall. Chicken Rice, another Singapore special, is the only thing on the menu you need to worry about. And at just a few S$ a plate it can’t be beaten. If you’d prefer comfort, speed, and air conditioning they now also have a brick and mortar restaurant you can visit just a few minutes away. The dishes cost a little bit more, and they technically don’t have that coveted star, so maybe stick to the original if you want a good story to tell.
This is really just the beginning of the list of everything Singapore has to offer but hopefully, from these suggestions, travelers of all styles and budgets will find something to enjoy in Singapore.
The Roaming Blog
From Europe to Asia. From cities to villages. From mansions to cottages. Follow us on our journey as we celebrate a new type of travel - House Sitting. Learn how to start you house sitting career, tips for making the most of your travel, and the tricks for being the best house sitter you can be.
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