You may be wondering how it is that I am able to work here. The average backpacker / student / traveler who passes through always is. The answer is that I'm technically not supposed to be working.  It is all very under the table. Sort of like the illegal immigrants you hire to mow your lawn. I'm here on a tourist visa. Usually, upon entering the country, tourists are given 30 days. Before leaving the US though I went to the "honorary" Thai consulate in Denver and applied for a 60-day, triple entry visa. That means I'm allowed to stay for 60 days, and every 60 days I have to go have my passport stamped at the border again, up to three times. There's a nice little catch though, on each of those 60-day entries, I'm allowed to mail my passport to Koh Samui and apply for a 30-day extension, so that means I only have to leave the country every 90 days.

Can you believe I've been here 90 days already? My extension was up on July 8, just days after Fletch arrived, and so the two of us got to make our very first visa run. There are so many people staying here permanently on tourist visas that every booking place you go to will display a list of all the places they'll take you to and at the end of the list it always says "Visa Run." Yes, they will actually arrange to transport you all the way to the border to stamp your passport, then turn around and bring you right back. What fun is that though? Why not take advantage of the situation and go on a mini holiday?

Getting off of this island and then up to Bangkok and either flying or bussing somewhere from there was looking at a day's worth of traveling each way at least. To make things easier, we looked at the international flights offered from Koh Samui. Our choices were Hong Kong and Singapore. Singapore won seeing as my previous trip there was not nearly long enough to indulge in all the culinary delights that the country has to offer. Yes, I decided I wanted to go to Singapore based on the fact that I wanted to eat lots of really good food. Also the flight was only an hour and forty five minutes each way.

Saturday

We woke up bright and early, packed our bags (there's nothing like traveling with a small backpack, a couple changes of clothes, a toothbrush, and a camera), and walked the twenty or thirty minutes to Mae Haad. We arrived with plenty of time to spare before the 9:30 ferry over to Koh Samui, and so stopped for breakfast at a little cafe I hadn't tried yet called Cappuccino. They had a really good cheese omelet, but like many of the restaurants here, didn't really know much about breakfast foods beyond an omelet or an "American" or "English" breakfast set with eggs and toast and bacon.

The Lomprayah ferry stopped at Koh Pha Ngan on its way to Koh Samui and as we waited, a true entrepreneur in the form of a little Thai lady walked to the end of the pier with a basket at the end of a long stick and proceeded to sell ice creams to the passengers sitting and waiting on the ferry.


I would have been all over that had I not been on a mission to save every once of room in my belly for Singapore. Her enthusiastic smile alone was enough to sell her ice cream for her.

Koh Samui Airport is really something else. I had realized this landing three months ago when the second I stepped of the place, the tarmac disappeared and I was transported on a golf cart through what seemed like nothing more then lush, beautiful, tropical gardens. Seeing the reverse side of the airport when leavening did nothing to tarnish my impression of it. After going through the check-in gate we ended up in what looked like a high-end, outdoor strip mall. So what were we to do with all our free time until boarding? Go and get a massage of course! There is always a massage parlor to be found in Thailand, even at the airport. As we were sitting in the lobby waiting, a Thai lady who was traveling with her western husband/boyfriend tried to strike up a conversation in very broken English.
     "What happen to you legs?!"
I don't know if I mentioned it here or not but my legs broke out in some lovely rash or bites or something nasty looking. I haven't the slightest idea what they are.
     "I don't know. Bites maybe."
     "Do you have monkey toes?!"
I looked at her astounded, underneath all her makeup and perm and boob job she didn't look like much of a doctor but maybe she was aware of some crazy Thai disease that I'd never heard of. At that point her husband/boyfriend who spoke perfect English leaned over.
     "She means mosquitoes."
Oh. There was a long moment of awkward silence before the massage ladies finally came to our rescue and led them away.

After a wonderful, hour-long, and very relaxing massage, we found a little Irish pub where we stopped for some ciders before finally making our way to the building that our departure gate was in. There we found a little buffet of free snacks. Matcha muffins, tuna pies, something sticky wrapped in banana leaves, and other things that I've already forgotten. Then we boarded and were immediately fed again. I love Thai Airways. You can request what sort of meal you want when you book your ticket and they feed you even if the flight is only an hour. By the time the stewardesses came around to collect empty trays, we had barely enough time to watch a TV episode on Fletch's laptop before we were landing.

Once off the plane, we whizzed through customs and immigration, skipped the baggage carousal as we were each carrying nothing more than a day pack, followed the signs downward to the MRT (Singapore's subway, the Mass Rapid Transit), bought a couple of EZ-Link cards (scannable cards that you add value to as you go), and were on our way to Bugis station, where our hotel was. All in about 20 minutes. How's that for easy traveling! I vaguely remembered how to navigate the MRT from the one day that I had spent in the country a couple years previous, and so we took the green line all the way from the airport to Bugis. Once at Bugis station, we emerged into the city and started walking around looking for the InterContinental Hotel.

By the time we checked in and dropped our bags off it was nearing 10:00 PM so we decided to walk around and find food. The options were overwhelming. In Singapore, every other building is a ten-story mall, and the one connected to our hotel had an entire basement of food courts. We walked around in circles, dizzy from the endless options of cuisine from all over Asia. It took us a very long time to decide where to eat, and after walking around we decided to go find an actual restaurant, but when we went outside we realized everything was shutting down, so we went back into the mall only to realize that most of the places inside were closing too. After a good hour of trying to figure out what to do and then deciding and then having everything shut down and then deciding to just go for whatever was open, we finally found a place called Honguo. We sat down and they brought us a giant bowl of broth and dishes containing dozens of things to add to make soup. Adding our own soup ingredients looked like so much fun but our server must have been over the novelty of it because she dumped everything in for us in a few seconds flat and we were left with a giant bowl of steaming soup. We also ordered some pumpkin fries with some sort of satay sauce.




After filling our bellies with delicious Honguo soup we made our way back to a little parfait stand we had found that had simply scrumptious looking fish-shaped cones with ice cream and all sorts of wonderful toppings. It was closed though. We played with the idea of going to a movie (I haven't seen a new movie since I left home) but it was nearly midnight and I didn't think I'd be able to stay awake for the three hours that the new Transformers movie was. So we turned in for the night and slept in a cushy soft bed that was nothing like any mattress I've slept on in Thailand.

Sunday

When you spend three months on a tiny tropical island that until a few years ago was nothing but a sleepy fishing village, and then suddenly land in the middle of a modern, developed city, you're bound to experience some minor culture shock. First of all, there were cars everywhere. I haven't seen a proper car in three months. On Koh Tao we have scooters, and a few pickup trucks that operate as taxis. In Singapore there were not just hundreds of thousands of cars, but world-class sports cars. We'd be standing on a corner waiting for the green man, or walk signal, and Fletch would be naming off all the fancy cars that were driving by. Then I was thrown off by the feel of carpet under my shoes. In Thailand you take your shoes off whenever you go indoors. Walking through a fancy hotel with shoes on just didn't feel right. And then there was the complete lack of bum guns. In Thailand, we have what we call a 'bum gun' next to the toilet. As you can imagine, it sprays water so you can wash yourself and then toilet paper is basically for drying. It is very odd to get used to at first, but once you become accustomed to it and then it is taken away, you feel very dirty without it. The other thing that threw me off was the amount of a/c used everywhere. Singapore is every bit as hot as Thailand, but in Thailand, a/c is a luxury to be used very sparingly. Most places don't even have it and so you just acclimate to the insane heat. Singapore is a very rich city and so every building you walk into is like walking into an arctic chill. Hot outside, cold inside, swimsuit weather outside, sweater weather inside, there was never a happy medium.

Sunday morning we slept in later than planned, but it was worth it to get a couple more hours in that cushy pillow of a bed. We had a tentative list of things to do including visit Maxwell's Hawker Center, Gardens by the Bay, the Botanic Gardens, and the Singapore Flyer. We chose Gardens by the Bay at random, which meant taking the blue line over to Bay Front station, but when the MRT brought us to Promenade station first, we decided that was a sign to get off and see the Singapore Flyer first. The Singapore Flyer was impressive to say the least. At 165 meters high, it used to be the tallest ferris wheel in the world until one just two meters taller opened in Las Vegas just this year. It had 28 capsules, some with observation benches and some furnished as dining cars based on what kind of ticket you bought. We decided to buy tickets that included cocktails, an option that was available for 6:30 PM or 7:30 PM. We opted for 6:30, hoping that would correspond with sunset, and asked the ticketing lady for walking directions over to Gardens by the Bay which was just visible off in the distance. She told us we could take the bridge over to the Marina Bay Sands resort, and then a second bridge from there over to the gardens.

Before beginning our walk we stopped by the food court to eat, after all, my entire goal for Singapore was to be a gluttonous pig for a day. Let me take a minute to explain my obsession with Singapore's food. Singapore takes its food very seriously. It is viewed as essential to the country's identity, and as something that unifies the various cultures brought together in the diverse city. Singaporean literature declares eating as a national pastime, and food, a national obsession. This food culture all started in the streets, with Singapore's melting pot of cultures sharing their foods from different backgrounds in mere street stalls. During the rapid urbanization of the city in the 50's and 60's though, the government needed to address the issue of unhygienic food preparation, and so built hawker centers, or food courts, to give street food vendors a place to continue their trade. From there, Singapore become a foody heaven.

Ok, history of Singaporean food rant over, we stopped at the food court and found a satay stall where the guy enthusiastically jumped in our faces and said that if we chose ten skewers, the eleventh was free. So we excitedly began choosing from a large assortment of fish balls, fried squid, fried cheese, shrimp dumplings, scallops, and what turned out to be takoyaki to my great delight. We were given a chili sauce and a peanut sauce, and the plate was gone in a matter of seconds.



From there we began the walk to the Marina Bay Sands hotel. Marina Bay Sands is an architectural wonder of a building, and that's coming from someone who doesn't get too into architecture. Three massive skyscrapers are all joined at the top, and at the top is a world famous infinity pool. Our route to the gardens took us through the heart of the building, onto a massive terrace turned bridge where we found a breathtaking view of the gardens. 


I should just stop right there and leave you with that picture. The view was unreal. If the incredible food the city had to offer wasn't enough to make me the happiest girl in the world, then that view was the icing on the cake. I was more excited than a kid at Disney World. That view is still something I just cannot get over. I think I must have fallen into Wonderland. 

So what are those weird tree things and what is Gardens by the Bay? It is a park aimed to turn the city back into a garden. It is a conservational wonder, and an environmental engine. The "supertrees" have the environmental technologies to allow them to mimic the ecological functions of actual trees. Photovoltaic cells harness solar energy and rainwater is collected and irrigated. The tallest of the trees is 50 meters high and has a bar up top where we stopped and drank wine while soaking in the view. 


Then we took a stroll along the 128-meter long walkway, 22 meters above the ground. 


The gardens also host two domes which are massive greenhouses and homes to complete ecosystems. The Flower Dome replicates cool-dry climates like South Africa, California, Spain, and Italy. There were seven different gardens housed here, one of which seemed to be made up entirely of cacti, which was funny for me being from a place that is dry and cactus gardens aren't really anything to brag about. I guess once you live in the tropics though, cacti become a novelty. 



We took a break between the two domes to eat some seared chili crab meat buns, which were just as delicious as they sound, and then continued on our exploration. The second dome, the Cloud Forest, was by far the cooler of the two. We entered the dome and were greeted by "Cloud Mountain," a 42-meter high mountain with a waterfall cascading down the entire thing, draped in lush vegetation including orchids and ferns. A circular path ran from the entrance, around in circles, through the mountain, under the waterfall, and to the summit. It had to be the best park ever designed. We kicked off our shoes and wandered the entire winding path in awe. If you ever have a free day in Singapore, go to the Cloud Forest. 



When we finally dragged ourselves away from the wondrous Cloud Forest, it was only because hawker stands were calling our name. We followed the signs back to the MRT, only to miss the actual entrance. Completely lost, we made our way through yet another mall in search for the subway. As we made our way down escalators we found a canal running through the center of the mall, and small boats giving canal rides to tourists. We had to stop and gawk at the mall turned Las Vegas for a moment and noticed that they had attached fins to the ends of the boat paddles. Too funny. We finally found the MRT and jumped on the blue line to Chinatown. Destination: Maxwell's Hawker Center. 

We never actually made it to Maxwell's because along the way we found Food Street. An entire street in Chinatown dedicated to food. 



So yeah I was pretty happy. 

And by pretty happy I mean over the moon, died and went to heaven. 

We walked down a block, surveying our options, then headed back on the opposite side of the street before deciding that there was absolutely no reason to go any further. We already had too many options as it was. So we looked at the stall directly next to where we were standing as we were realizing this predicament. Fresh Frog Porridge. I'm not quite sure where amphibians fall in a pescetarian diet, but I'll try anything at least once. We opted for the Ginger Spring Onion Frog, and what happened next happened so fast that I didn't even realize what was happening until the frog was boiling in the vat. The guy who ran the stall had grabbed a fully alive and croaking frog out of a crate, snipped off its head, pinned its four feet together and cut them off with a single snip, pulled the skin off like it was peeling off pajamas, chopped it up, threw it into a boiling pot. The whole process couldn't have taken more than 30 seconds. The poor frog never even knew what happened. 



I hate to say it since I don't really eat much meat but he was delicious. The meat was super soft and fell right off the bone. The broth was a thick, syrupy ginger with green onions. I'm pretty sure that was the best meal I had in Singapore. Just going to say it now. 

After our frog appetizer, I knew that I wanted to try chili crab, a signature Singaporean dish. When we had first turned onto food street there had been a restaurant with a chalkboard sign saying Chili Crab out front so we headed back that way and took a seat. A girl with a massive smile and braces excitedly told us that she was going to go pick out our crab, and brought back the lucky little blue crustacean who had been condemned to chili hell. We nodded our approval and ten minutes later she returned happily with a boiled crab drowned in chili sauce and a side of buns to soak up all the chili sauce with. 



If crab wasn't already a messy enough food to eat, try dousing it in steaming hot chili sauce. There was no way to eat that politely. Add to that the fact that many Asian countries, Singapore included, don't like to give you napkins. Most people just carry around little packets of tissue paper. Fletch pulled out a packet of tissues he had bought and they were useless against the crab and chili sauce. Like most crabs go, it was a lot of work for very little food, but the flavor was really nice and the buns were a good addition to actually get some food. 

Kermit the frog, check, Sebastian the crab, check, time for dessert! Singapore is home to the sweet dish known as snow ice. Think that snow cone you had growing up only gourmet. We found a little snow shop called The Snow Artisan and ordered a mango snow from a little old man that could barely move, just stood by the front counter pointing. We were presented with a bowl of mango flavored shaved ice that was deliciously creamy and topped off with cubed mango and mango jelly and little mango beads that popped in your mouth like caviar. Despite the fact that we had about five minutes to eat it before making our way back to the Singapore Flyer, we somehow managed to demolish the thing, no snowflake left behind. 


Back to the MRT, blue line to Promenade station, and back to the Singapore Flyer. At some point during the day I had gotten sick of my hair sticking to my sweaty back and so had pulled it up into a ponytail. Apparently I look about ten years younger with my hair up because first we went to the guest service lounge to await our flight time and the lady who looked at our tickets glanced up at me when she saw the cocktails included with our tickets and asked if I was 18. She wasn't the only one. The lady who came to escort us to our capsule had to do a double take as well and make sure I was legal to drink. I suppose 18 is better than a few months ago when the airline stewardess had to ask if I was at least 15. I'm aging! 

We ordered a couple additional drinks from the bar once the age confusion was sorted out and then were herded onto what ended up being our own private capsule. There were separate capsules for different ticket holders, and apparently no one else has purchased tickets including drinks. (What's up with this country, everything closes at 10 PM and no one drinks?) For an incredible thirty minutes, we sat in awe of the dazzling skyline surrounding us in every direction, drinking singapore slings followed by malibu cokes. This day just kept getting better and better and I could hardly keep from jumping up and down I was so enthralled with the whole experience. 


At the top of the Flyer, with a perfect 360 degree view of the inspiring city around us, we got the brilliant idea to go to a rooftop bar afterwards. A quick google search led us to one called 1-Altitude, apparently the highest rooftop bar in the world. so we made our way back to the MRT, found the station, and spent the next half an hour trying to figure out how to navigate the streets the couple of blocks over to the building. Singapore is an awesome city in that you could go everywhere you wanted without ever having to go outside. The subway systems are elaborate and the buildings are all interconnected underground. Once outside though, good luck going a few blocks. We finally found the easily distinguishable One Raffles Place building and bought tickets to go up including a round of mojitos. Singapore is also strange in that all the attractions make you buy liquor in advance with your ticket. 

The view up top was mesmerizing. All the same architectural wonders we'd been looking at all day, only now they were masked in the dark of night and lit up with the most dazzling display of lights. The Marina Bay Sands building was actually putting on hourly light shows, with beams of light extending out the length of another skyscraper and dancing in time to a lost melody. We had our own live band to listen to, a group of four Asian men singing covers in perfect English. We stood at the railing in awe of our view until the prospect of dinner finally tempted us back down to the ground. 


With the endless array of options at our own mall's food court, we made our way back to Bugis Station and our hotel, only to run into the same problem we had the previous night, that it was 10:00 PM and everything was closing down. We had eyed two Japanese restaurants previously that were right next to each other, and so went searching again for them, hoping that at least one would be open. In true Japanese fashion, the one that was open had plastic food displays of all the different menu options, all of which looked delicious. We sat down and our server pulled an iPad out from under the table, which had an app with the entire menu, a shopping cart, and a button to place order and send it all to the kitchen. No server necessary. They had about ten items a la carte, and then an endless list of every possible combination of items as a set. To save ourselves the trouble of choosing a combo, we just ordered a la carte: salmon carpaccio, fried mushrooms, two sushi combos, soba noodles, and miso soup (which funnily enough came out last). 

Once we'd finished we made a beeline back to the parfait stand we had seen the previous night, desperate for a taste of those fabulous looking creations. There was a long line of people waiting for their parfaits, but as we approached the empty line to order, the lady working the counter said sorry, closed. The looks of dismay on our faces must have been very apparent because she called after us as we sadly turned away and said we could order matcha. We eagerly accepted her compromise and were presented with a fish cone, which was more of a sponge cake than an ice cream cone, stuffed with matcha flavored cream filling and vanilla ice cream. It was so delicious that we inhaled it before I could think to take out my camera and get a picture of how nice it looked for those two seconds before it was gone. 

And so concluded our first day in Singapore, truly one of the most fun-filled days I have ever had.