I’m typing this post from Chiang Mai, sitting in front of our hostel (it’s called a hostel but it is really a budget motel) after returning from a week of volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park. Alison and I volunteered with the animal rescue shelter at the park housing over 450 dogs on the property. It was messy, sweaty and emotionally tough work but we both came away uplifted in every way, with an expanded sense of compassion for all beings. For me this volunteer work was the highlight of the trip abroad so far. If we weren’t both traveling for the next year we would surely have adopted a dog, perhaps when we settle down again we will be back to do so!
You may be wondering where all we have been since our last post in India. Well, we have travelled to Singapore, then on to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (via train and bus) and then to the islands of southern Thailand (Phuket, Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta). From there we flew to Chaing Mai. This post is about Singapore, and we will fill in the gaps in subsequent posts covering the other locales. Tomorrow we head to Australia.
Heading via monorail to our hostel from the airport, Singapore seemed straight out of a sci-fi novel. Sort of like the sky garden space station ‘Elysium’ from the Matt Damon movie with the same name. There were immaculate gardens with elaborate sculptures. The buildings, many of which were brand new, were covers in plants, with rooftop and mid level terrace gardens and the occasional living wall with plants growing on the sides of otherwise drab concrete and steel buildings.
The metro system was super easy to navigate, and was our primary means of getting around. My mental image of spotlessly clean streets rang true. Chewing gum is illegal and even the metro was spotlessly clean.
We were both surprised at the rich culture and ethnic enclaves in the city. There is an extensive Chinatown area with many Buddhist temples (including a large Buddha relic temple), as well as a Muslim and a little India section with a heavy Tamil South Indian population.
As vegetarians, we had no problem finding food at all price ranges, including plenty of fresh salads and tons of fruits, unlike India where we avoided salads (who knows what water was used to wash it, if any), the salads here were safe to eat and the proximity to malaysia and Indonesia meant tons of high quality products. Singapore apparently imports much of its fruits and veggies due to scarcity of land.
We stayed in a dorm room at the Footprints Hostel, right next to little India. It was a very clean and comfortable place. There was noise from partying some nights but things calmed down after midnight (unlike Kuala Lumpur where the parties go all night). I think we paid around $15 per person per night for the dorm beds. After three nights we took the metro and then caught a bus over the boarder to Malaysia, then an eight hour train to Kuala Lumpur. It turns out that the same train costs less than half as much if you catch it in Malaysia instead of Singapore, so we exploited that loophole.
Our days we’re spend wandering around, exploring the various parts of the city and going for the occasional run. We decided to skip the museums (there are many) in lieu of people watching, reading and walking around. Friends we met in India spent six days in Singapore and I can see why, particularly if you like art, museums and are a foodie. For Alison and I, three days was a perfect amount of time.