After having concluded on flight arrangements, the next big item to be solved was the lodging plans. During our last trip to London a few years back, we had stayed in a serviced apartment. The experience was a one-eighty degree different than staying at a typical hotel. As we had self-curated our trip even at that time, the service apartment gave us a lot of flexibility about planning for the entire day. In the mornings, there was no need for rushing to meet the breakfast timelines. On day one, we had well-stocked the kitchen, which enabled us to forget the worries about looking at the clock for breakfast and the dinners. We could plan our daily outings at our leisure and pace. Indeed, the biggest of all, it also gave me the flexibility to have my morning chai as I would want to have. During my multiple stays in London, I never came across any roadside shop or an eatery that could vend me the chai in the morning. This experience at London has now made me look for serviced apartments whenever I am traveling out for more than a couple of days. Staying in a hotel is always the second option.
One of my friends, Vishal Dutta, is also a travel freak like me with a passion for pursuing new places in unconventional ways. Over a while, during my conversations with him, I have realized that his idea of travel and exploring an area is somewhat similar to the way I would like to do. He had recently done a family trip to Singapore a couple of months back. His trip came as a blessing in disguise as he gave lots of practical tips, which enabled me to do the planning in a much better way. At the same time, it also convinced me that self-curation is the best way to explore Singapore. One of his suggestions indeed was a masterstroke, which till now no one had told me about, nor had I read anywhere. Maybe, I had not read enough on the Internet. He told me about the Singapore Metro (MRT) and the way it connects the entire Singapore city, especially the key places, including the Changi Airport. The network is very elaborate and the regular frequency stretching to very late in the evenings well-supported bus network.
Ashish Khullar is heading the travel desk in the company I work with and is a good friend of mine. He has been in the travel related activities from time immemorial. When you start talking to him, you realize, perhaps he has chosen the right profession. One just has to name a destination, and he has lots of names, options and, permutations to share with excellent commentary about them. He was kind enough to nibble upon his rich experience of organizing travels and fished out a superb service apartment on Scotts Road. His recommendation was a service apartment that was conveniently located near the Orchard MRT station. The MRT station was just a few minutes’ walk at the crossing of Orchard Road. Apart from this, it fitted well with my budget.
Orchard Road is Singapore's most happening street and a shopper's paradise, just like Brigade road of Bengaluru or Oxford Street of London or Connaught Place in New Delhi. It starts from Tanglin road cross and cuts across a couple of MRT stations like Orchard, Somerset and Dhoby Ghaut before winding up at the cusp of Stamford Road. Even if you have no intention to do any shopping, sauntering around on the road is in itself an experience and a reflection on what Singapore is today. In a way, one gets a hand on the pulse of Singapore. You can spot the stores of all the brands and labels on the road as you may recollect from your memory bank like Zara, Rolex, Prada, MaxMara, Gucci, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Alexander McQueen, Polo Ralph Lauren and many more.
The entire road is dotted with various shopping malls like Ngee Ann City, Orchard Central, Lucky Plaza, Mandarin Gallery, ION Orchard Mall, etc., company showrooms, department stores, boutique shops, eateries of every hue, various restaurants offering both elaborate as well as quick-grab meals. Royal Thai Embassy, Four Seasons Hotel, Holiday Inn, and also located on this road apart from various sky-touching buildings. Many malls are interconnected with each other that you don't even realize when you cross over to the other one.
If you meander a little farther down the road on to the connecting roads, you can reach the US Embassy, Australian High Commission, British Council, and the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Interestingly, I took a picture of the Australian High Commission and posted it on Google maps. Within a couple of months, the photo garnered more than half a million hits. Maybe, Singapore happens to the most preferred getaway for vacations for the Australian residents. If you want to spend time on a leisurely stroll, this is the perfect road to do that. The city authorities have done a beautiful street scrapping with sufficient and beautiful walkways alongside the way as well as aesthetically placed statutes and street signboards.
We were in Singapore for five days, and except for the day one when we reached, we would go out for tootling around on the road in the morning as well as evening. As the morning walk would be a bit early in the morning, there would not be much activity on the road barring a few walkers & joggers and an odd car. Luckily, all those days, the weather was excellent, and we could absorb the style and aesthetics of the surroundings in the true unfiltered colors. On the last day, as we had a little longer morning available to us, as did not have many activities lined up except for dinner with Punit Khanna, my school time friend and now settled in Singapore, we got a bit more adventurous. We ambled across further ahead onto the Napier Road. A few paces ahead as soon as we crossed Gleneagles Hospital, we realized that we are standing in front of Botanic gardens.
The ambulating on the Orchard road in the late evenings is an altogether different experience with glitz and shine of the buildings on the full display. It seems as if you are now in a different city than you were in the morning. Although sauntering around on the road across its length was sort of a daily routine, our shopping activities were primarily restricted on the ION Orchard Mall which was very conveniently located on MRT station and we used to cut across through it at least a couple of times every day.
Having sealed on the traveling and lodging plans, we made a bucket list of places that we must cover during the trip and a few other places that we will target. These were in our bucket list but not on the must-to-do list. The intention was to keep some free spaces so that if we come across something local and not much known, which typically one gets to know when you are there, we can explore them.
- Universal Studios (needs an entire day)
- Sentosa Island (Need one or two days depending on what all you would want to cover)
- Little India (for Mustafa Center and authentic Indian food)
- Gardens By the Bay (and the light show)
- Arab Street (Masjid Sultan)
- Bugis (for shopping)
- China Town
- Night Safari (We had kept it optional)
- Singapore Botanic Garden (We had kept it optional)