New things to do in Singapore – now that there’s a VTL with the Philippines

Big news last week now that a vaccinated travel lane (VTL) is opening up with the Philippines. That means there are no quarantines both ways starting this March. People arriving via VTLs in Singapore will only require a supervised self-administered Antigen Rapid Test within 24 hours of arrival.

Personally, I can’t wait to host friends and family I haven’t seen in years. There are many things we can do from cycling across the city, supporting local businesses and hawkers, and enjoying time together again. What can I say? Welcome back.!

For more details about Singapore’s VTL (by air) arrangement, visit this page: https://safetravel.ica.gov.sg/vtl/requirements-and-process

If I was put on-the-spot with top 10 things to do in Singapore for Filipinos (or practically anyone doing a VTL to visit our well-manicured shores), here they are:

  1. Explore Jewel Changi Airport. Great food to be had. Tip: There’s a Yotel Air at the airport which is a quirky place for a staycation/few nights. Then catch the last full show at the IMAX Theatre in the basements. Jewel, without the crowds, is like Squall walking through Balamb Garden.
  2. Visit the new Funan Shopping Center. I think the newly-reconstructed Funan opened right before the pandemic. It’s now a very middle class place to get your tech gadgets. Not exactly like KL’s Plaza Low Yat or the nearby Sim Lim Square (I associate those two as very old school tech mall). Flashy lights, cafes, and Wild Rice Theatre on the top floor. Something to see.
  3. Local hawkers including Lau Pa Sat. Please, please, please visit Singapore’s hawkers. Some of which have gone out of business because of the pandemic. The one at Lau Pa Sat (though very “CBD”) has been renovated once more. By the way, Chinatown Food Street is closed. Shuttered.
  4. Cycling the new bike routes in the city. Including the one at Changi Bay. Start at Marina Bay or East Coast. Bike rental options are available. If you’re able to, take a bike to the Jurassic Mile at Changi Airport. It’s a bit of a novelty to see dinosaurs next to a shuttered terminal 4.
  5. Go see Changi Bay. When I was at Changi Bay recently… it felt like I wasn’t in Singapore. I think this is connected with cycling. But if you want to enjoy the humid outdoors under Singapore’s equatorial sun… head over to this newly opened area.
  6. Jurong Bird Park. It’s relocating very, very soon. Before the bird park merges with the larger Mandai Wildlife Group (River Safari, Zoo, etc)… might want to see a piece of Singapore’s history at its original location.
  7. New Gallop extension at Singapore Botanic Gardens. There’s a new extension at the Botanic Gardens I’ve been meaning to visit. It’s 8 hectares and includes some old colonial buildings.
  8. Try the lechon at Timbre+ Eastside near Expo. It’s at Iskina Cebu and also near the outlet shopping at Changi City Point. Shopping followed by lechon, sisig, and beer (for drinkers). Don’t worry if you find eating Filipino food on a trip to Singapore sounds funny. Timbre+ Eastside (and it’s original at one-north) offers mouthwatering fare from different cuisines: Thai, Malay, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Indian, and more
  9. Cafe-hopping. The city actually has many cafes and hidden places in my favourite little districts like Telok Ayer, Chinatown, Bugis, Arab Street, Lavender, Clarke Quay.
  10. Paya Lebar Quarter. Some people who were in Singapore before the pandemic might not recognise the new Paya Lebar Quarter. As the train pulls into Paya Lebar MRT station, you’ll notice most of the construction of the past few years is complete. There’s a large shopping mall and several mixed-used buildings that are both commercial and residential. If you’d like to explore what else is new, you can head to Caldecott MRT on the Circle Line (CCL) and start your journey on the newly-opened Phase 2 of the Thomson-East Coast (TEL) Line to get to Woodlands. I haven’t even been on this new brown line yet.

I’m happy to welcome friends and family back in Singapore. Let me know if you’re visiting! What are you excited about experiencing if you’re in Singapore?

Also, I shared a little bit about what I think of the newly-opened VTL in my latest episode of Saturday Uncut.

I’ve been issued a Health Risk Warning (HRW)

(…and hopefully the last of its type, as CNA reported today they’re changing it to a shorter 5-day “Health Risk Notice” or HRN from next week)

Two years into the pandemic and I’ve received my first SMS isolation notice from the government. As a close contact of c-19 case, I’m to monitor for symptoms over the next week. I can leave the house as long as I do an ART (Antigen Rapid Test) self-test each day. I’ve had two ARTs already and both are negative. Let’s hope it stays that way!

I’ve cancelled all social engagements for the next week. By all, that only means postponing a trip to the Jurong Bird Park which we had planned for Saturday.

Anyway, I’ll monitor my health closely over the next seven days. I feel fine right now. It’s more like the paranoia of this first 48-72 hour period. PJ and my flatmates are doing fine and are testing regularly.

How are the protocols in your part of the world?

Why I quit drinking alcohol

Two months ago I made the decision to quit drinking alcohol. While I’m not exactly what would be described as an alcoholic, I felt it was the right thing to do.

Drinking alcohol is expensive. Getting a drink in Singapore is NOT cheap. If you want to drink at a decent bar or restaurant, half a pint can already cost you about SGD 12.00 (non-happy hour). There’s high taxation and they even have a curfew after 10:30 PM at public bars and restaurants.

Consuming alcohol has also made me feel very counterproductive. Since the pandemic began, my tolerance for alcohol has weakened. I can enjoy a drink for one night and then end up feeling lethargic for up to two days.

I’ve also connected alcohol to all of the worst experiences in my life the past few years. I give more details about that in this week’s Saturday Uncut.

***

So far I like the satisfaction of saying no to alcohol. Imagine I got through the Christmas and New Year festive seasons without a single drop of beer, wine, or gin. Specifically during NYE countdown, everyone in the room was holding a glass of wine. I was holding a glass of vibrant Sanpellegrino Aranciata Rossa (Sparkling Blood Orange) and… though it felt odd in the beginning… it was empowering.

Empowering because I’m no longer “going with the flow” from those college days of Red Horse and Emperador whiskey. Empowering because you can have a perfectly good time without the need to “feel buzzed”. My thoughts are clearer.

How is your relationship with alcohol? Let me know in the comments.

Trying Dumpling Darlings at Amoy Street

Craved recently for dimsum and I thought of taking my friend Ramel to Dumpling Darlings at Telok Ayer. I was always intrigued by the name “Dumpling Darlings”. It sounds like a cute name, right?

When I learned it’s inside of a shophouse, I jumped onto an opportunity to make reservations. (Here I go again with my fetish for shophouses). It’s at Amoy Street, just steps away from the Amoy Street Food Centre and near the stairs that lead up Ann Siang Hill. Here’s how it looks like:

I couldn’t take photos inside since it was PACKED with safely-distanced patrons. But inside it was no frills. The lighting was warm and dim. The bar area caught my attention… and I was elated that our reserved seats were at the bar. The staff were impeccable.

Ramel and I ordered the Dumpling Platter of 15 (SGD 20.00) which is a platter comprising of five types of dimsum (3 pcs each). It was more like the gyoza kind, so don’t expect something like the piping hot baskets from Swee Choon or in… what I’d imagine… Hong Kong.

The five flavours according to the menu description are: Original, Veggie, Momo (named after one of the items on the owner’s wedding menu according to this video), Fried Pierogi, and Smoked Duck… I think one of them was replaced by the ‘impossible meat’ version (as you can see in the photo, with the impossible flag).

As for taste, it was filling, yes. The sauce that accompanied the dumplings were tasty. I can happily suggest that ordering a platter of 15 pieces is good enough for two people.

I also ordered some Miso Mushroom Noodles (SGD 7.50) since this was dinner.

The noodles were slightly dry but I was enjoying this whole experience of dining in again… eating dumplings… and catching up with Ramel… that I didn’t mind. I liked that the noodles had a fair mix of savoury, crunchy, and the Onsen eggs were a treat. Not bad to pair with dumplings.

But what I really liked was the Grapefruit Thyme Strawberry Green Tea (SGD 6.00). I ordered two and had to stop myself from ordering a third. With Singapore’s perpetually humid weather… this was PERFECT.

Overall it’s a quaint enough “pit stop” in the Telok Ayer area for a nice and cozy dinner. I know there are loads of other places in the vicinity that are probably cosier… but I was craving for dumplings! I liked the homemade appeal and I’m a sucker for shophouses… so this was a win. Dumpling Darlings bills itself as creating “unorthodox dumplings”.

Dumpling Darlings is located at 44 Amoy Street, Singapore 069870. There is also a branch at nearby 86 Circular Road, Singapore 049438. The branch that we went to is closest to Tanjong Pagar MRT and Downtown MRT stations. You can learn more by visiting this website.

I think Ramel loved it too. Ramel recently launched a YouTube channel called LabyanTV. Do visit and subscribe if you have a chance.

Kayaking at Kallang Basin for the first time

Oh hello there, bright orange boat.

My kayak and paddle

I’m low-key proud that I’m no longer triggered by this place. I put so many hours into Kallang River and Kallang Basin during the four years I was a member of a local dragon boat team. This was where I invested my time and my love.

Kallang Basin… one of my old favorite places in Singapore

My friend Joanne asked us to join her for kayaking. Location? Water Sports Centre at the Singapore Sports Hub. It helps that I’m already familiar with the water here. It wouldn’t be intimidating at all. This is why I insisted I take a single kayak out… while Joanne and PJ can share a tandem kayak.

Kayaks that they rent out

Here’s how easy it is to get into a kayak (January 2022, with pandemic protocols in place)

  1. Go to the Water Sports Centre at Singapore Sports Hub.
  2. At the reception, pick out your type of water sports activity (e.g. kayaking). Pay the rental fee and sign the safety waiver. This is standard with water sports.
  3. If you need to change into sports attire and store your bags, there’s a locker room with showers.
  4. Go to the kayak area and wear your vest. A guide will ask if you need a quick safety tutorial which can take 5-10 minutes.
  5. Collect your kayak and put it in the water via the pontoon.
  6. Enter the kayak correctly from the pontoon.
  7. Babes, you’re in the water. Paddle into the sunset.

I paid SGD 18.00 for a two-hour session. This is the rate for non-Singaporeans/PR who are renting during peak Sunday late afternoon. Here’s the full price list for kayaks, canoes, and even dragon boats. Note they even have kayak passes… but when I computed, it makes no difference lol.

***

Being PJ and my first time to kayak, we requested for the quick tutorial which was explained in the most hyper-Singlish way… I swear, even ten years living here, that was soooo fast… dude. We got the gist of it anyway… as the nice guide, Jiansen (who knows my Coach Barak from my old dragon boat team), was able to demonstrate and provide tips anyway.

Ah, hello again, Kallang Basin

I was super excited by this point. My reunion with the dark green waters of Kallang. You can feel the dolphins jumping in glee, framed by the Tanjong Rhu backdrop. I was surprised at how I wasn’t scared to get out into the water on my own. During my dragon boat days, I used to paddle on the starboard side. Not sure what people will do with this knowledge but my right shoulder is slightly larger than my left shoulder, as a result. A blind masseuse once noticed this.

I was extra careful with my phone as I heard many people donated it to the river

I was watching Joanne and PJ try to navigate their boat. It was as if they were in last place on The Amazing Race… going in circles. They got their flow later on and I noticed they were heading further away from me.

Actual screen cap of Joanne & PJ in last place

I was so happy at that moment.

Like… I was finally reunited with the one thing I love… paddling.

[Cue Monologue] I hadn’t paddled FOR YEARS. I don’t talk about this anywhere else… but I stopped paddling for a personal reason. [REDACTED]

***

Joanne & PJ finding their way to paddle in sync… woohoo

When I think about cities or countries that I want to live in, it’s a must that there’s a paddling community there. That’s why Hong Kong is one of the places I thought about moving to.

The weather on Sunday afternoon was partly cloudy. It was perfect to be out in the water. I was avoiding the race lanes because normally that’s where the dragon boats would appear. No dragon boats were in the area though. Instead there were other kayakers… some looked like they were doing proper training. Others look like they were enjoying leisure kayaking like us.

Overall the experience was clean and easy. I’m surprised how quick it is to rent a boat and be in the water within 5 minutes. When you’re in a very developed city… these moments out in the water are absolutely therapeutic. I already started researching other places you can kayak in Singapore. I just learned you can kayak from near my house in Pasir Ris.

As for overcoming the trigger of this sentimental Kallang Basin, I’m all good. I guess after four years… it’s now bridge over troubled water.

I highly recommend kayaking as an activity to do if you want to de-stress. Personal flotation devices (PFDs) and paddles are provided. It’s recommended to also leave your phone in the locker. I’m planning to repeat this experience for a full two-hours again soon.

Water Sports Centre is located at Singapore Sports Hub, 8 Stadium Walk, Singapore 397699. The closest MRT is Stadium on the Circle Line. Due to the pandemic, there might be changes to the opening times and other safety protocols. Best to stay updated via their website here.

Visiting the Changi Chapel and Museum

I didn’t know there was a museum in the eastern side of Singapore which tells the story of what happened when the British surrendered Singapore to the Japanese during World War II. I thought the museums were all within the city’s Civic District. It makes sense to have one within Changi.

It’s called the Changi Chapel and Museum. Getting here was interesting. It’s located in a rich neighbourhood with “landed properties” (houses that sit on their own land, compared to majority of Singaporeans which live in condos or HDB flats). It is served by a quiet bus stop. The surrounding area is home to the Singapore Prison Service.

According to the staff I spoke to, the building was renovated after three years. It’s beautiful (by beautiful – how a memorial should be beautiful). The chapel inside is located in a central courtyard. It’s elegant. Surrounded by white walls and some greenery.

I’m not well-versed with these designs and I won’t dive much into the detailing here. But the first half of the open air chapel have these overhangs. To me, they look plentiful and lined up neatly… but crowded into half of the open space. Maybe it’s meant to interpret how this area was once home to prisoners-of-war (POWs) and how they were squeezed into the tightest spaces and exposed to disease.

Finally, the museum itself. It is free for Singaporeans and PRs. It’s $8.00 for non-Singaporeans, even pass holders such as myself. I’m always fine to help pay my part to support a museum.

The museum is split into sections with visitors walking room to room in a clockwise direction. Each section tells the history of the occupying power. First, the British whose troops were already in Singapore since the country was a straits colony. The Empire of Japan invaded in 1942 and Singapore surrendered, which left the British, Australian, and local forces at their mercy. They were interned at Changi. Others were sent to do hard labor by building a “Death Railway” in Thailand-Burma.

Here we are 80 years in the future and looking at the pain of our great-grandparents generation. By ‘our’, it’s because this was a suffering shared across Southeast Asia. The same empire invaded the Philippines. Over there, Americans and Filipinos were captured. Some ended up on the Bataan Death March.

There’s an audio guide that visitors can access using their smartphone. Personally I prefer to read information from the panels on my own pace.

What also caught my attention was a topography map of the area. I live in this side of the city so it was interesting to see where the roads were before the war broke out.

The museum documents how the interned POWs became resourceful. They hid cameras that could document how life was like. They built a workshop to create artificial limbs for POWs who needed life-saving amputations. I was thinking that around the same time, there was fierce fighting in other parts of Asia.

A British bombardier POW painted murals in nearby Changi Camp (the originals are inaccessible to visitors). These are displayed in one of the larger rooms inside.

And what also caught my attention was this:

A sketch… but how did the POW get access to materials to make this? See the next photo.
The artist-POW internee got the materials to create the drawing… from a Japanese guard.

That really hit me.

***

The war, as everyone knows, ended in 1945.

I think it was a fair recalling of the war. It did not read out as propaganda or asked visitors to take sides. Obviously, anyone would feel horrible to see all this suffering. I didn’t feel emboldened to anger. War is horrible, no matter which side.

The Changi Chapel and Museum is located at 1000 Upper Changi Road North. It is far from MRT stations (I think the future Loyang MRT station might be the closest). The museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM (Last admission 5:00pm). Closed on Mondays but open on Public Holidays. They observe safe distancing measures (although it wasn’t crowded when I went). Learn more here.

I want to mention that the museum staff that greeted me was the friendliest. Her name starts with the letter P. ❤ I visited the museum in January 2022 and highly recommend it to those who can make the effort to reach this part of the city.

Quantum of the Seas Pt. 3 – The Last Full Day

What I enjoyed the most from our three-day “cruise to nowhere” was the feeling of actually leaving Singapore. It was looking out at the open sea and seeing nothing but ocean and sky which elevated the experience. Families with young kids will enjoy the amenities. For those into gambling, a casino is there. There are also numerous food options and places to sit and grab a drink. I can say I felt relaxed after the trip.

If you missed it, you can read part 1 and part 2 of my Quantum of the Seas series. We cruised in October 2021. Notably, it was when gatherings in public were limited to two pax only.

I’m sorry it took a while to get to this third and last post. To sum it up, we had a great time onboard Quantum of the Seas. It was my first time to ride a cruise ship. I understand why it can be addicting. You don’t have to think about itineraries (unless there was a port-of-call). It’s all laid out for you. And for the planner in me… I kinda liked that. I don’t need to do anything.

Quick peek at our day 3 activities

  • We had breakfast at the main dining hall on deck 4.
  • After breakfast, PJ and I got into the jacuzzi at the Solarium. There was a ten-minute limit at the time.
  • Lunch was at Windjammer and I tried the roast beef steak. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Windjammer is the buffet-style food area on one of the upper levels.
  • We enjoyed a bucket of Corona beers at the NorthStar bar in the early afternoon.
  • PJ and I tried the hot dogs from the SeaPlex. We wanted to enjoy it at an open space in the back of the ship but were politely told we couldn’t have a picnic there due to prevailing restrictions on outdoor gatherings (even if we were only two). We brought the hot dogs back to the room.
  • The room! We really just stayed in the room. PJ slept while I read a book on the stateroom balcony.
  • For our last dinner on this trip, we had it at the main dining hall on deck 3.
  • After dinner, we enjoyed the Duo Du Soleil show at the Royal Theatre.
  • Back in the room, I watched Black Panther which I downloaded onto my iPad. And, I started packing.
  • When we woke up the next morning, we were already parked in Singapore.
  • I learned that even if our disembarkation time was assigned from 7:00 AM, you can still grab a quick bite at the Windjammer upstairs. We squeezed in a meal and enjoyed a view of the sunrise.

I’ll leave the rest in pictures.

We had a great time on Quantum of the Seas and would repeat a similar cruise experience in the future. I heard that Spectrum of the Seas will move to Singapore (currently in Hong Kong) in 2022.

Revisiting Joo Chiat Road

Joo Chiat Road is a special place for me. It’s home to Betel Box Backpacker’s Inn, the first of many hostels I stayed at when I started my Singapore adventure ten years ago. Earlier, my friend Greg and I were in the area looking for a café. I couldn’t help but look for the green door of the backpacker’s inn (200 Joo Chiat Rd). To my delight, it’s still there. I don’t know how they stay open during these times.

Ten years later and Joo Chiat appears to have more cafés. The Vietnamese bistros are still there. Bus 33 still plies the area. I used to wait up to 20 minutes for that bus. It takes you to the city… specifically Bugis and Bras Basah, where I’d meet up with my friend Vero. She was studying at NAFA at the time.

Leading into my tenth anniversary in March, I’m going to take you with me as I retrace my first steps. I’ll revisit the first hawkers I went to, the first neighbourhoods I set foot in… and I’ll speak with people who made similar journeys through the years. Today was a reminder that this city wasn’t just a dream, it’s my home. And all of that started on this one-way street.

25 things on my 2022 bucket list

Here’s a list of things I want to do this year:

  1. Revisit Joo Chiat.
  2. Go to Jurong Bird Park.
  3. Ride the Cable Car from Mount Faber.
  4. Go to Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve.
  5. Visit Coney Island.
  6. Revisit Pulau Ubin.
  7. Have a staycation at Sentosa.
  8. See Raffles Lighthouse on the other end of the island.
  9. Visit Sembawang Park.
  10. Have a picnic at Marina Barrage.
  11. Learn how to cook a Malay dish.
  12. Enjoy prata in Little India.
  13. Try at least three new restaurants in Chinatown.
  14. Perfect at least three Filipino recipes.
  15. Avoid processed foods.
  16. Take the JLPT N5 by the end of the year.
  17. Publish 20 podcast episodes.
  18. Volunteer for AfA Singapore.
  19. Write, direct, and act in at least one short film.
  20. De-clutter at least half of my things.
  21. Organise my file system and do archiving.
  22. Make no unnecessary purchases this year.
  23. Reduce food wastage.
  24. Go for a health check-up.
  25. Continue my weekly Saturday Uncut videos.

I talk about the rest in this week’s Saturday Uncut. Consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. 🙂