On day 3, we headed out early in hopes of covering a lot of ground. The chosen route was a spin through City Hall, the legendary Raffles Hotel and an afternoon in Chinatown.
Starting at the City Hall MRT stop, this area of the city is mixed with historical, colonial style buildings and very modern, sky high offices. There are many sights in the area attracting tourists but also expect to see a great deal of locals hustling to and from work, like any business district. The MICA building (shown above), was originally built in 1934 and used as a police station. Today, the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, sits right at home as the bright, eye popping colors aptly reflect MICA's vision for building a creative economy while staying connected to Singapore's multicultural heritage.
Moving along the Singapore River, we passed the Parliament House and the landing site of Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore.
It was hot, as it had been since we arrived and we were parched. Not the kind of parched where a $3 bottle of water would do but the kind that called for an indoor, air conditioned escape, where one could indulge in an adult beverage. My mental state was altered from the heat and I thought it would be a good idea (and a fairly short walk) to head to the Raffles Hotel from our current location. We walked and walked, taking short stops to catch our breath in the humid, thick air. It seemed like miles before Bras Basah Road would appear but when we finally saw it, we bolted to the Long Bar. Now, before you judge, I was well aware that a visit to the Long Bar would be costly and filled with tourists, all of whom would be ordering the signature Singapore Sling. I for one had no interest in the drink and was set to order anything but. The hotel itself feels very presidential, featuring beautifully landscaped quiet courtyards, marble floors and pristine colonial architecture. Yet even with its regal setting, it still manages to feel relaxed. There is also a good sized shopping arcade attached including well known luxury boutiques and custom specialties. After browsing the premises for a bit, we ventured to the second floor and found a seat at the Long Bar. A few moments of perusing the very pricey menu, the bartender came to us for our order. I asked for the 'Ava Gardner', it sounded interesting and I wanted to continue my intake of lychee cocktails with any opportunity I had. The bartender looked at me as though I had 3 eyes and said "Don't you want to try the Singapore Sling?". I replied quickly, "Nope, I'd really prefer to try the Ava Gardner." My husband ordered a timeless and easy, gin & tonic. The bartender took our menus and off he went to tend to our drinks. As we waited, we laughed at the fact that he had asked me about the sling even after I had given him my order with utmost confidence. As we panned around the room, we watched (no joke), about 20 different people, mostly older Caucasian women, knocking back these slings. There must have been about six different versions of the Singapore Sling that one could order from the menu for $26 bucks. Meanwhile, from our barstool vantage point, we witnessed our sole bartender, hurriedly pouring pre-made mix into tall, fruit rimmed, hurricane glasses. He was serving them up by the tray full at a pace that seemed like every other minute. I'd be surprised if they contained any alcohol at all, let alone the insane amounts of sugar from the mixes. Once the bartender had a brief moment between slings, he proceeded to start on our drinks. The gin & tonic was quickly prepared and brought to my husband. For my drink, this is where it gets interesting. I saw the bartender grab a menu, lean over the bar and point to follow the ingredients. He grabs one bottle from the wall, then goes back to the menu. Grabs another bottle, then goes back to the menu. He searches for a few moments to find another bottle and then slowly starts to create the cocktail, all the while referring to the menu. I watched in great amusement as he attempted to make this cocktail, that in all honesty, was probably his first time.
In the end, the beverage wasn't bad. Worth $25? No way. However, I still stand by my visit to the Long Bar, if nothing else, it provided the cool, comfortable afternoon break we were seeking with a little added entertainment. Just remember to avoid the Singapore Sling, do your bartender a favor and force them to sharpen their skills by ordering something else. Something that doesn't come out of a plastic bottle with the word "mix" on it. Whether you decide to fork over the cash to have a drink at the bar or not, the Raffles Hotel in my opinion is definitely worth checking out as a classic Singapore landmark.
As the late afternoon crept in, so did the thunderstorms. We rode the MRT over to Chinatown to check out the neighborhood and the well known Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum.
Beginning at the doorway there is a spot to grab a sarong if you have exposed legs. Bare backs and off the shoulder tops are also off limits. Going in a bit further, you must be mindful to carefully watch where you walk as certain areas are forbidden with shoes. The temple is draped in beautiful ruby red and delicate gold details. Buddhas large and small line the walls of the entryway. I regret to say that we didn't visit the upper floors of the temple and only made it into the main level. Once inside, you immediately feel the sense that you are indeed, in the middle of something very sacred. The palatial appearance of the overall room and the hulking Buddhas at the front of the temple are incredible to take in. Do make sure to stop by this temple in the heart of Chinatown when visiting Singapore.
Traveler Tip:If you are a vegetarian, or even if you're not but still enjoy the cuisine, they serve a vegetarian meal in the basement of the temple daily, free of charge. A small donation is appreciated.
After a jam packed and somewhat sweaty afternoon, hunger struck and it was time to eat. Earlier, while in Chinatown, we stopped at the Maxwell Road hawker center to have our final chicken rice and sample some other local specialties. It's worth noting that this particular hawker's center is extremely authentic and I'd highly recommend a visit for a proper hawker center experience. We regrouped at the hotel and decided we wanted a nicer restaurant that served chilli crab. It was our last night and there was no way I could leave without a lil' chilli crab. There are so many places claiming to be the one and only chilli crab spot, it left my headed spinning with indecisiveness. A few hours of back and forth and I settled on Jumbo Seafood along the Singapore River.
This end of the city really does light up at night. Endless dining options, couples strolling under the moonlight and plenty of little hideaways to duck in for a quick night cap. The restaurant was nicely designed and quite busy, which is always a good indicator for success. Unfortunately, once again, we experienced poor service. Our waitress was quick to take our order, but failed to come back and prepare us for the meal. I watched as another waitress handed out bibs and specific crab hacking tools to get others ready. Our waitress didn't even hand us napkin settings! I tried my hardest to ignore the awful service and just focused on the food. The Mie Goreng (fried noodles) came out first. A heaping bowl of spicy fried noodles, with crisp scallions, onion, chilli and egg was set in front us. We had had our fair of share of mie goreng over the last few days but this one was really stellar. Addicting flavors that forced me to keep eating, even though I was trying to leave room for the crab. The noodles were the first sign that I chose Jumbo wisely.
The crab arrived next. A giant steel pot was laid out before us with steaming hot crab swimming in a sauce so fragrant, I gave myself a facial pausing in time while hovering over it. I go crazy for shellfish and before I sunk my teeth in, I knew this would be a winner. Still without bib and no wait staff in sight, I had to dive in. I bravely took the one measly napkin I was given after we asked...and hoped for the best.
I made the first move on the claw. My husband was hesitant and hung back to watch my approach, he is still learning to love seafood. I attacked this claw madly. When I'm dealing with food I have to work for, my mind goes black. I subconsciously eliminate the world around me as I concentrate on retrieving the prize. Cracking the claw and slowly pulling out a giant meaty, intact piece, is one of the most satisfying sports in life. Instead of dipping it in butter, you have a vat of this intense chilli gravy, exploding with flavor. Sweet, spicy, earthy, textural, this sauce had layers upon layers of depth. I leaned in and over my dish as much as I could, but the second bite claimed my silk tank top. It was inevitable without a bib but by this point, I had given up on Singapore's dining service. I was out of hope and it was solely the food of the city that I could praise. My husband wasn't sold on the mess of digging into this crab and only had a bite or two. I clearly had to step up to the challenge and make this crab disappear. Not a single piece went untouched and 20 minutes later, I polished the whole thing off. Service aside, Jumbo Seafood was a wonderful spot to sample Singapore's finest dishes. Bib or no bib...I'd return in a heartbeat.
Before I wrap up this Singapore post, I wanted to mention the Quincy. We had a wonderful stay at this boutique hotel. It was modern, clean and the staff was on point. The reception desk was helpful when we asked questions and could not have been friendlier. All meals were included in our cost, although we only ever had a light breakfast to get our day started. The Quincy has many amenities to offer, including free WiFi, which is a huge plus. However the one we always made sure to enjoy...happy hour on the patio between 6pm - 8pm. If you ever find yourself in Singapore and appreciate a smaller, unique, non-chain hotel, seek out the Quincy, you won't be disappointed.