Our two stops after Bali were off the regular backpacking track. The Asian Tiger states are generally considered too expensive for most people on our budget but I thought I’d include them because we wanted to see as much as possible. The week or so we spent in these two states was the most expensive week of the whole trip.
We stayed in Singapore for three nights, in the cheapest double room we could find, in the heart of China Town. First impressions weren’t great, it was about 40 degrees outside and the aircon inside didn’t have enough oomph to cool down the room during the day.
Singapore is a strange place, it’s a mix of so many cultures and it seems everybody has an equal standing in society (albeit a separated standing).
We spent a day wandering the streets checking out the shiny new buildings, the shiny clean paths (chewing gum is literally illegal) and the very shiny, very organised subway system. It’s Singapore’s 50th birthday this year and the Government are really promoting it as the event of the century. They have a Singapore song, that plays out of every public speaker and they have short documentaries about prosperous Singaporeans playing out of every lcd screen on the high rises, altogether they seem to be promoting the idea of Singapore as a utopia for all who live there.
Singapore Zoo runs a night time exhibition which we went to, the first night we arrived, we realized it was the end of Ramadan and the queues were insane, the zoo staff were saying it would take 2 hours to get inside, so we gave up and we came back the next day. I enjoyed the experience, we heard the wolves and saw a few animals that don’t come out in the day but realistically… Zoos are probably better when you can see the animals…
The food in Singapore was incredible. Considering a bottle of beer was averaging at about 10 singapore dollars (11 NZD 6.50 euro, on the cheap side) the food was about 3 dollars for a full dinner! We got an Indian feast, including two main courses, two side dishes, rice and naan bread for the same price as one bottle of beer, OK we weren’t in a fancy restaurant but why bother when the best food was cheap as chips on the side of the road! The food was one of the main reasons staying in China Town was so great but it seemed to be pretty easy to find cheap, good food wherever you were in the city.
Three days seemed to be enough for Singapore but I would love to go back with a bit more money in my pocket, there seemed to be a lot more discover outsdie of our price range and the luxury side of Singapore would probably exceed my expectations of luxury.
Adam getting a haircut in China Town
The Hong Kong Avenue of Stars light show (it’s free!)
We landed in Hong Kong exhausted after an awful flight time of 2am, we arrived at our metro station, emerged into the monsoon rains and saw a sign for a full irish breakfast, made a beeline to the Irish bar and crashed in front of the best Irish fry since leaving Dublin. That’s when we knew Hong Kong was just as expensive as Singapore, maybe more so. There was no 3 dollar food, we couldn’t find the street food, the rain wouldn’t stop and every door seemed to lead to another shopping centre. Hong Kong or more specifically Kowloon, where we stayed, seems to be an endless maze of shopping centres, generally 10-15 stories high, impossible to navigate, impossible to get out of and full of designer brands way out of a backpackers price range. It is probably shopping heaven but we were too drenched and too much on a budget to know.
Our accomodation was the same as Singapore 50 NZD a night but the location was a little different. ChungKing mansions is a maze of hostels 17 stories high, apparently there are 1980 rooms in the mansions. Honestly, this place has to be seen to be believed, I think every budget traveler to Hong Kong will know what I’m talking about. There were a couple of times the lift broke and we ended up walking up 15 flights of stairs in what looked like a staircase from a slasher movie where the director had no care for health and safety or fire hazards. Getting past the stairwells and lifts we got to the lobby of our hostel and found polished tiled floors, beautiful clean bedding and bathroom and a free to use water fountain which supplied cold and hot water, which came in handy for when we realised we couldn’t eat out anywhere but Mcdonalds and resorted to packet noodles. Hong Kong accomodation is tiny, our room fit our bed and we had to store our bags underneath it, that was it, it was the most creative use of space I’ve seen, they fit 6 rooms in the same space most hotels would fit 2!
Adam impressing local kids in Hong Kong at the fair
Kids playing in a fountain outside Ngong Ping cable car
The weather in Hong Kong was relentless and I think it affected our enjoyment of the city. The Nong Ping 360, the cable car to the Big Buddha, was shrouded in fog,and that was the only day it didn’t rain.
I’m told Hong Kong has great beaches and a great night life and people told us there was some amazing street food but honestly we just didn’t feel it. We left Singapore with a desire to come back with more money in our pocket but we left Hong Kong just wanting to leave Hong Kong. Maybe we missed something, maybe if it was nicer weather we would have seen something different but between the two Tigers, Singapore won out in every way, even with their weird Utopian music filling the air.