From Bintang to champagne

It’s nearly six months since our first drink of the holiday. Oh, how times change!

Indonesian classic, Bintang beer, kept us going for the first month.

Thai beer, Chang, led to a marriage proposal (Chloe claims it only oiled the wheels).

Award-winning Beer Laos got top marks of the holiday.

Siagon beer and Hanoi draft were both great, but you weren’t there man!

Cambodia confused us as we ordered Anchor beer in Angkor.

Beer was so heavily taxed in Malayasia that one night out helped reduce the gross national debt substantially.

And, of course, we finish in Singapore with champagne at the Hilton.

Let’s just say, it hasn’t been all bad…

We’re going to the zoo, zoo, zoo

Over thirty years have gone by since that summer morning in (about) 1978 when Daniel and Chloe sang ‘we’re all going to the zoo tomorrow’ all the way to London Zoo. It turns out zoos have changed a LOT since then, and today we visited one of the best examples in the world.

Whether you love them or hate them, Singapore Zoo is hitting a lot of the right buttons in terms of animal enclosures and conservation programmes. Part of the effort that increased wild white rhino numbers from only 50 to over 10,000 today, they are also part of the transformation of the living conditions of captive animals.

Gone are the square, concrete pens filled with pacing lions. Instead, they stare out at us from barely 10 metres away, only a trench and some fencing disguised by vines separating predators and lunch. Most disconcerting.

The orangutans we saw were visibly better nourished and relaxed than those we saw in the jungle of Borneo (of course, they didn’t have to compete for habitat with the global demand for Kit Kats). Even the big cats, which always seem the cruellest of animals to cage, were lively but not manic.

Overall, Singapore Zoo was a fascinating experience. The only animals we were separated from by glass were venomous or extremely good at jumping. There was not a bar in sight. Extraordinary.

Thanks Cowleys

Just to say thanks very much to Geordie Mum and Brother and your respective partners for the night at the Hilton to finish. We’re yet to sample the rooftop pool (will do tomorrow morning) but have enjoyed the bathrobes, the bath (Allan’s first bath for 6 months..), the massive bed (stop laughing at the back, just lay down on it), the sewing kit (Chloe found it amazing that the needle was already threaded) aircon (that you can’t hear..) and also the Champagne and choccies delivered to our room. Fantastic!

We just need to make sure that we don’t go crazy with the mall on the first two floors, with Rolex and Mulberry as two of the shops, the credit card wouldn’t be able to take it.

Thanks once again, a true stylish way to finish our holiday and hopefully our stay will help to keep Paris in cocktails in LA.

From dancing queens to burger kings – David’s ChALLANge

It’s late in the holiday but it was time for another chALLANge to be signed off. Bugis Street (Boogie Street) in Singapore was the destination and I’m sure it’s changed substantially in the past few years. It used to be the place around these parts for sailors’ R&R – read all about the days gone by here.

Now, the most controversial thing in this whole area is a shop that has a sign saying “I (heart) sex”. It has been turned into a covered market selling all sorts, from tourist tat to tasty fruit juices, and has a chain burger store at each end. It was still an interesting experience but nothing like it would have been in the 1960s – thanks for the suggestion David!

However, Allan did spot a great name for a street just off Bugis Street.

Having resisted the delights of McDonalds and Burger King, we went to the hawker’s market across the street from our hotel to eat. Duck noodle soup, prawn wonton, chocolate pancakes with almost luminous dragon and orange fruit juices were all delicious and cheap. A little more expensive than Penang’s similar offering but still less than a tenner spent. We’ll miss these hawker food markets – a lot.

Singapore: the polite society

OK, so there’s no free press here. And you’d better be careful what you say about the judiciary. It’s illegal to carry chewing gum or to fail to flush a public toilet. But, oh, it’s polite!

Before we had left Singapore Airport, three things happened which we swear would not occur in London:

1. When the customs officers randomly decided to scan our baggage, they lifted our bags onto the X-ray machine and carefully put them back on our trolley afterwards – smiling and friendly throughout (luckily we hadn’t inadvertently stored any Wrigleys in our bags and we’d left our knuckledusters and numchucks in Malaysia)

2. When the seating area we plonked ourselves in needed to be cleaned, the guy doing it asked ‘Sir’ if he would mind very much moving to the next set of seats to allow cleaning to continue without interrupting our comfort

3. When buying metro tickets, a train company employee OFFERED US CHANGE for the machine. Unprompted.

More tales of politeness tomorrow, folks!

Top five: what we’ll miss

The final few days are suddenly upon us. Seems like no time at all since we arrived in Bali and wondered if all of South East Asia would be like Bournemouth or Benidorm (turned out that a couple of places were – Sandakan and Penang to name two). However, most places brought something new to see, hear, smell or taste.

As we reflect on the past five and a half months, here are some top fives.

Five things we’ll miss:

1. Arriving in a new place every few days and finding it’s nothing like we expected

2. Really fresh food (in Allan’s case one of the 101 varieties of prawn curry he’s sampled) prepared by someone else – same goes for having your laundry done!

3. Being able to see modern history in a real context – especially the impact of the Vietnam War on the region and the related horrors in Cambodia

4. The smiling – everyone smiles

5. Scenery, sunrises and sunsets – a week hasn’t gone by that we haven’t needed to say ‘WOW!’

And five things we won’t:

1. Packing everything into the rucksacks – our most hated activity

2. Everything starting at sunrise – cockerels, temples, traffic, loudspeakers – if you’re not up by 6am you’re probably dead

3. Buses – yes, it takes five hours to get from A to B, but you forgot to mention the extra hour spent messing about before the bus leaves, the hour waiting for the engine to cool down half way and the 25 additional ‘little stops’ to drop off and pick up when you sold us the ticket!

4. Larium – our little weekly pill of sleeplessness

5. Biting things – could have been worse but we won’t miss mossie spray

Five things we’ve missed about home:

1. Family and friends – a surprising amount, thanks to everyone who posted comments and emailed us (a special mention to Mr S, who has entertained, surprised and outraged in equal measure – just like home!)

2. Cheese – especially with pickle, mmmmm… – proper cheese doesn’t seem to exist here and pickle is a pipe dream, we’ve craved it for months even though it rarely crosses our lips at home

3. Cats – especially when we’ve been ill, when it seemed odd not to have a hot, heavy, purring ball of fur sitting by our heads

4. Fixed prices – bartering is novel at first but it gets very wearing when it’s over every single purchase, even a bottle of water – Vietnam was definitely the worst for this

5. Pavements – being able to walk side by side down the street has been a great rarity, to the extent that when a local woman asked us what we’d liked about Kuala Lumpar it was the first thing we mentioned!

Curry puffs – so near, yet so far

Singapore Sling at RafflesOne night in Singapore. There’s really only one thing we can do. Get ourselves to Raffles for a Singapore Sling!

Our neighbour, Robert, spent time in Singapore as a child and later in life. He told us of the Long Bar at Raffles and, eyes misting over with remembered joys, of the curry puffs they served there. So we were excited to taste this legendary treat

But the world marches on and Raffles decided to ‘modernise’ its bar menu. They stopped serving curry puffs just one month ago. The exquisite snack was snatched from our mouths before we could even smell, let alone taste, it. In their place are nachos and other world foods.

It was a sad discovery. But we were not yet foiled. We told the man in Raffles’ shop about our quest for curry puffs and why we were so keen to try them. He helped us search for a recipe. Although we were unable to find the original Raffles version, he photocopied a recipe from a Singaporean cookery book for us.

Robert, when we return, we have some experimenting to do…

From our brief encounter so far, we like Singapore – it is full of life but extremely organised (which after four weeks in Bali is quite soothing).