September 7, 2007

Singapore Sauna
Singapore City, Singapore

Airport envy and hostel hell.

A midnight flight from Bali to Singapore City—the only city on the small country-island of Singapore—dropped Tatiana and me into Changi Airport, the city's international airport. Interestingly, all commercial flights in Singapore are international, as it's too tiny to have domestic airline travel.

Free Changi Airport internet

Changi Airport is, without doubt, the best airport I've ever seen in my life—I almost didn't want to leave. With over 300 free Internet terminals; free domestic phone calls; movie theater; Xbox gaming lounge; dozens of specialty bars lounges; hotel; shower, fitness, nap, and spa services; rooftop swimming pool and jacuzzi; free two-hour city tour; free massage chairs; airport nature trail; and access to public mass transit (bus and subway), shuttles, and car services into town—all wrapped up in a contemporary, aesthetically pleasing structure—I was, and still am, absolutely shocked.

More interesting yet, was how Tatiana's immigration official stamped her passport with a differently-shaped entry stamp than mine. How peculiar.

The Changi Airport was my first exposure to Singapore, and I soon found out it razzle-dazzled like much the rest of the city.

Resting Your Head Ain't Cheap

One thing Singapore is notoriously not, is cheap. The cost of accommodations is at the top of most travelers' short list of complaints. Apparently it costs money to live, shop, eat, and travel through an Asian Utopia.

For the first time since South America I was online, trying to make advanced reservations for Tatiana and I, while we were still in Bali. Although I'll occasionally research places to stay in a city before I arrive, I caught wind from other backpackers that doing so for Singapore was a necessity.

It would seem that, for shoestring travelers, Singapore is Hell. Get ready to spend no less than US$10/person for a bunk bed in an non-air-conditioned dorm room. Want a private double? Prepare yourself to shell out somewhere in the nature of US$35–$50/night—easily the most expensive beds I've seen to date, outside of Brazil.

Frustrated by the online search full of expensive results, Tatiana and I landed in town without a hotel. My strategy was instead to take the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT, subway) into a desirable part of town, where I'd find a taxi that could offer up suggestions. Plan B would involve hitting up one of the expensive places in my guidebook, and trying to squeeze information out of the staff.

Taxi drivers, it would turn out, are a poor source of information in Singapore—though sport the best availability identification signs I've seen of any country. Communicating in English was the drivers was generally easy—but the dozen or so I stopped on the side of the street at seven o'clock in the morning were clueless when it came to the price range I was using as an example.

A walk to one of the nearby listings in my guidebook found the hotel full, and me leaving near five-month pregnant Tatiana in the lobby, so she didn't have to walk around with her backpack. Just down the street I found the hotel's recommendation to me, Backpacker Cozy Corner.

Cozy Corner is the first hostel I've stepped inside since Manaus, Brazil—over five months ago. What an eyesore. The New 7th Storey Hotel might have recommended the place, but sure won't be doing the same to any other person traveling to Singapore.

The place is simply oozing backpackers, in a hot, crammed, narrow, multi-story building that the hostel occupied on all floors above ground level. A quick trip up to the covered roof found it saturated with bare flesh, as a collection of travelers in dirty, haphazardly placed bunk beds were struggling to sleep against the heat and ever-growing daylight.

Tatiana and I had been in transit since early afternoon on the day prior, and were tired, hungry, and sleep deprived. I took the only option available to us: A pair of bunk beds in a non-air-conditioned room (just big enough for the bed frame), with communal bathroom, for the extortion-level rate of US$22.50/night—though it was the cheapest I'd uncovered anywhere in town.

Tatiana now describes the room we're in as "so hot, that a pregnant Latina couldn't sleep in it after a full day of walking"—which she can't—adding, that "the hotel is full of weirdos, like the old guy at breakfast wearing nothing but a sargon around his waist, the moody-homo always on his laptop just outside our door, the guys staring at me while I brush my teeth, the unfriendly staff, and that one guy who is for sure on crack."

Yes, the joys of hostel life—in a region of the world where I'm accustomed to getting large private rooms with bathroom and plenty of amenities for US$4–7/night, this was certainly a flashback into days long since past.

Frankly, I really didn't care about the room at this point, as long as I was able to keep my gear safe, and get a decent shower in. And as it turned out, the hot showers at Backpackers Cozy Corner are fantastic.

I don't even flinch when it comes to shared-bathrooms, and I had to pause for a moment to realize that maybe Tatiana wasn't all that use to them. Strange how you just don't think about some things after a while.

At these room prices, I plan on getting in a solid two days of Singapore, before heading back into Malaysia. I think that's about as much time as I can rationalize in this place.

It makes me feel sad for all those Aussies and Kiwkis on their round the world trip tickets that land in Singapore, and think this is the norm for SE Asia, as it most certainly is anything but.

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