Singapore was my second stop, out of three, on my inaugural trip to Asia. When researching the trip, I found Singapore often described as lacking in personality, boring, or – the worst – sterile. It may have deserved those unflattering superlatives in the past, but by most accounts, it’s undergoing a cultural renaissance and is a perfectly pleasant place to spend a relaxing few days.
The overnight train from Kuala Lumpur to the main station in Singapore, however, was far, far from pleasant (update: this train ride remains the most wretched, woebegone part of any trip taken to date). The concept is sound; an overnight train saves on lodging and transportation, since you are combining the two. And traveling when you normally would be sleeping is incredibly efficient. I read plenty of accounts from other travelers and almost all were in agreement; the train is a clean, economical way to to cover the distance between the two cities.
The reality was a bit more…sour.
First, I tried to book a first class cabin. Online, they all appeared to be sold out or otherwise unavailable (I think those train cars are no longer in service, or have all been converted to second class gen-pop berths, but that’s just my guess). So I booked a second class bunk on the top, of course, because the last thing I want is to be at nose level with other peoples feet for nine hours. The berth was perfectly fine, even though the pillow provided was flat as a piece of paper. The bathroom was functional and cleaner than most public restrooms in any big city in the U.S. The trouble started the minute the train left the station and we were attacked by a giant metal screeching bird. Or that’s what it sounded like. The most minute change in the tracks would cause an ear splitting shriek of protest from the old train, which was amplified by the fact the door (to which my bunk was adjacent) to the train car wouldn’t stay closed. As the train rocked from side to side, the door would slam itself open and closed.
Open and closed.
Open and closed.
For eight and a half hours.
Yeah, I know, I should have had ear plugs, but this was my first overnight train so I was a little unprepared. But I’m not sure it would have made a difference, what with the train sounding like a Transformer having angry sex with a old rusty shed and all. Plus the slamming door could be felt, not just heard. I did try to rig the door shut, then open, then shut again, but any progress I made was undone by one of the two dozen Malaysians going in and out to use the bathroom.
Side note, Malaysians apparently have the worlds tinniest bladders. Even smaller than mine, which is saying a lot.
Here’s the cabin, with someone on the way to the bathroom, and a guy laying down probably thinking about using the bathroom:
When I finally arrived in Singapore, red eyed and sleep deprived, I hopped in a cab, dropped my bags off at the hotel and hit the town. Singapore is very much like an Asian Minneapolis. It’s clean, it’s safe, easy to get around. It has a few neat touristy things to do. Nothing is offensive or abrasive. Taxis are cheap and reliable, going off the meter like any respectable place should. I over indulged in bubble tea and pastries (the pastry game here is hard to beat, so far comes in second only to Japan for tasty treats).
After a few days here, and having been to a few other Asian cities (Singapore is a city-state, technically) I can say that it rates pretty high. It doesn’t ooze charm or character, but like a Starbucks, it’s comfortable and…nice. Definitely not sterile, and I certainly prefer it to, say, Hong Kong. I leave tomorrow for Cambodia – via airplane, I’m happy to say.
Update: I realized after I left I didn’t get a Singapore Sling! Amateur move.
Where I stayed: Ibis Singapore Novena. Decent hotel, pretty good location.
What I did:
Botanical and Orchid Gardens – Really nice park and gardens.
Singapore Flyer – I just admired from the outside, didn’t go up.