India to Singapore and Malaysia
July 4-July 8, 2023
Day 1: Mumbai, India to Singapore, Singapore
July 4, 2023
Happy 4th of July! We celebrated by freeing ourselves from India and heading to a 1st world country for the first time since New Zealand back in April. After our 20-hour layover in Mumbai we headed back to the airport in preparation for our flight to Singapore.
For our last hurrah in India, we had McDonald’s at the airport. India makes up 70% of the world’s vegetarians so I was eager to see what their menu had to offer. I was not disappointed! They had a whole page of veggie sandwiches to choose from. For the first time in my life, I got to try a “Big Mac” …well kind of. It was an Indian version complete with jalapenos and a breaded cheese patty. Still! It was a nice last meal.
From the moment I stepped into the airport in Singapore I knew I was going to enjoy it. Maybe it was the stark contrast of coming from India, but the facilities and technology in the Singapore airport were some of the best I’ve seen. The bathrooms had a bidet and a touchpad rating system when you exited! It was love at first pee.
Before we left the airport something had caught our eye. The Jewel is a huge water feature that appears to be suspended in midair. It never runs out and is at least 100 feet tall. A projection show was happening when we were walking by, and from the Iron Man, Thor, and other figurines, it seemed like there was a Marvel-themed exhibit taking place. Singapore is like if Disney owned a country. The whole city is like a theme park in itself!
We ordered a Grab (similar to Uber) and off to our hostel we went. Our accomodation was another futuristic, well-themed Singapore offering; Spacepods at Lavender. A pod hostel with space-ship themed beds!
Our flight had landed late at night, and most of the food spots near our hostel were already closed. We ended up finding an okay late-night spot to have a quick dinner and get to bed. We wanted to be up early tomorrow and really take advantage of the day. It would be our only one in the city!
Day 2: Singapore, Singapore
July 5, 2023
Singapore is a tiny island south of Malaysia. Before becoming a part of British-occupied Malaysia the country was invaded by Japan, as was most of Southeast Asia, until 1945. Once the Japanese surrendered and left Southeast Asia, Malaysia and Singapore rejoined and claimed their independence. Rising political tensions quickly built as the small island’s ideals differed from the rest of the country. They were all but forced to declare their separation from Malaysia, becoming their own very small country in 1965. However, this turned out to be in the best interest of Singapore. As taxes and wealth circulated, funds went right back into the small city-turned-country rather than to the whole of Malaysia. The country of Singapore ended up becoming one of the wealthiest in the world! And it sure shows. Their streets are clean, their infrastructure impressive, and their technology advanced.
Our jam-packed day started with heading in the direction of the National Museum of Singapore. On the way we walked through Arab Street, the neighborhood where Arab, Turkish, and other Middle Eastern immigrants have settled. Here you can find fantastic shops filled with beautiful homemade lamps, rugs, and jewelry.
Once we arrived at the museum, we had a lot to get through. Several exhibits display the varied history of Singapore. Even though the country has only been established for 58 years they have a wonderful blend of cultures from all over Southeast Asia, India, and the Middle East. They’re lifestyles have interestingly played out similarly to the United States. They had the same Great Gatsby-esque flapper era in the 1920’s, lots of orange and brown in the ‘70’s, and early European ideals like speaking primarily English. Since they have declared independence, they have only increased their quality of life. Singapore is like if the United States had rich, diverse culture. Rather than stamping out everything different and non-western, they’ve embraced it, approved upon it, and made it a utopia everyone around the world can enjoy.
In the hallway between exhibits there’s also a creepy staircase with a plack that informs that it’s considered haunted. No story or reason is provided….which is almost spookier.
PRO TIP: The National Museum of Singapore offers a national and international student discount! You’ll get 5 Singapore dollars off for a total price of $10 vs. $15. So, bring that ID if you’ve got it!
After the museum our next stop was one of the many shopping malls in the downtown area. We had intended to only get some food and quickly move on, however, a heavy rain began to pour. It seemed as good a time as ever to get some shopping done while we waited out the storm. This mall was especially nice. It had a little bit of everything, restaurants, apparel stores, game stores, electronics stores, a gym, a spa, a movie theatre. There was even an apartment complex that fed right into the hallways!
Next up we headed for Marina Bay to end our day and walk across the bridge to the Supertree Observatory, which is lit up spectacularly at night. It was still a bit early so to prolong our time we crossed off another must do in Singapore: street food. We didn’t have time to get to the most famous hawker area in Chinatown, so we settled with one along our Marina Bay walk. We were treated to delicious food and drinks while taking in the lovely marina views. If you ever plan for a layover in Singapore, make sure you try some street food. Some vendors are so good they’ve been awarded Michelin stars!
Along Marina Bay you’ll find fantastic architectural structures. The art museum is a work itself from the outside. If you’re a fan of the movie Crazy Rich Asians, Marina Bay is where a lot of the iconic highlights like the Marina Bay Sands hotel were filmed. There’s also a Formula One racetrack that closes at night allowing you to walk right over it!
Our final destination of the night was Gardens by the Bay where we specifically went to look at the Supertree Observatory exhibit. These skyscraper-sized metal trees are fixed with millions of LED lights. They change colors and glow throughout the night. There’s even a nightly show that features the changing lights programmed along to popular music. There is a lot more to do at Gardens by the Bay as well, and the best part is, it’s free! You get a Disney World quality night show with absolutely no charge.
If you’re really itching to spend some money you can also go up inside the trees and walk along the paths from above. We’d just missed the cut off time to do so but were not too bothered. Our long one-day layover had officially taken its toll. After 12 hours we were more than ready to call it a night and head back to our spaceship pod beds.
Day 3: Singapore, Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
July 6, 2023
Sad to leave Singapore, but excited for the journey to our 9th country to start, we prepared for an early morning bus ride to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was an uneventful ride. The busses were much nicer than Nepal or the other Asian countries we had been to so far. Malaysia is fairly hilly, even baring the occasional mountain. Mostly I remember being taken aback by the miles and miles of sprawling palm farms.
Once we arrived in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur we set off in search of food. While walking around we saw one of the biggest markets yet. Mostly merchandise rather than food, and a lot of the same things at every stand. It wasn’t quite as large as the Chiang Mai Sunday Market back in Thailand, but it did have a roof covering, implying it is a permanent fixture.
We had made almost a full circle from when we left Bali, Indonesia back in April. Since Malaysia is so close to Indonesia it bared a lot of similarities in cuisine. We enjoyed some Malaysian Nasi Lemak before returning to our hostel to check in to our room.
When booking our Kuala Lumpur accommodation, we were surprised to find a private room was cheaper than a dorm. On arrival we found out why. This room was so small we had to enter the room one at a time then close the door to move out of the way so the other could enter. There was no space to even open our bags! It fit a single bunk bed and maybe 6-inches of additional floor space. It was a very Harry-Potter’s-cupboard-under-the-stairs vibe.
We rested for a few hours before returning to the busy streets in search of food. We tried the cafe closest to our hostel for dinner since it gave us a discount, and then went back to the market for dessert. We ordered two smoothie-like drinks. Mine was a dragon fruit smoothie with ice cream on top. Lawrence got the Malaysian specialty: a hosh-posh of the most random ingredients imaginable. It included jelly, boba, a fruit smoothie, chocolate, and vanilla ice cream, and weirdest of all sweet corn! It was interesting when nice and cold, but it melted as we walked around and turned into sweet corn-jelly-ice cream soup. After a while we had to bail on it and throw it away. We tried!
Day 4: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
July 7, 2023
First up on our exploration of Kuala Lumpur was the National Museum of Malaysia. This museum was much more interesting than we expected it to be. It featured exhibits that dated back to prehistoric times working its way up from caveman to current day. The exhibit I found the most interesting was that of the more recent history featuring why Singapore and Malaysia separated into different countries.
A few days prior we learned about the intense history of Singapore. How the city-state was once a British occupied territory that would eventually fall under Japanese control. After the grisly Japanese occupation, Great Britain released its claim on its Malaysian territories. Instead of ending in a happy story of unification, Malaysia all but forced Singapore to separate from the mainland. In Singapore this fact was glossed over without explanation, but we were finally given some clarity about how the rising political climate between Malaysia and the island territory prompted their separation.
After the museum we wanted to check out the Petronas Twin Towers. They were unfortunately booked up for the day, so we bought tickets for early the next morning. Instead, we explored the huge multi-floor mall area that acted as an entrance to the towers. We enjoyed some lunch and ice cream before moving on.
Next, in order to catch some top tier views of the Petronas Twin Towers. We picked a rooftop bar at a hotel we couldn’t afford in our wildest dreams. Seriously, this place was so fancy they enforced a dress code. Lawrence had to wear a pair of pants that they had on-hand for rent since he was in shorts. We sat down just before sunset and watched as the sky grew dark and the towers lit up like diamonds.
Day 5: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
July 8, 2023
The only thing on the itinerary for today was our appointment to go up to the top floor of the Petronas Twin Towers. This tower duo once held the title of tallest tower in the world. The erection of the towers and claim to “world’s tallest” caused a bit of a stir with Chicago, Illinois. At the time the Sears Tower in Chicago was the record-holder, and there was a bit of controversy surrounding whether the spires counted towards the total height or not. The battle continued, with the official verdict being in favor of Kuala Lumpur, until it was dethroned in 2019. Today, the Petronas Twin Towers are the 18th tallest buildings in the world, with the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in first place.
First, we crossed the sky bridge between the two towers. I had mistakenly thought this was the highest we were going to go and was confused because it didn’t seem much higher than the rooftop bar from last night. It was only after a few minutes when I realized there was another set of elevators 10 floors up that this was a view worth the ticket price.
A fun museum-like exhibit lays at the top and beveled windows provide perfect picture spots. If tall buildings are your thing, it’s a perfect stop while in Malaysia. The Petronas Towers are probably the most popular tourist attraction in the country. It’s at least the most iconic. Malaysia doesn’t have an Angkor Wat or a Taj Mahal, so the Twin Towers will have to do.
From the Twin Towers you’ll also get a fantastic view of Merdeka 118, or Warisan Merdeka Tower. This soon-to-be open skyscraper is set to be the tallest in Malaysia. It’s not open to the public quite yet but is set to start operations sometime before the end of the year.
Once we thoroughly explored the towers, we spent way too much time in an office supplies store. When living out of a backpack there are few worldly possessions one can make room for. Without space for things like clothes, decorations, books, or movies we went on a shopping spree for, wait for it…. pens! It’s possible we got too excited about buying 6 new pens (and a delightful pocket-sized notebook that Lawrence found), but it’s the little joys in life we’ve come to appreciate.
Malaysia was much more industrialized than we had predicted. Not quite as futuristic as Singapore, but more built up than Vietnam. Malaysia’s capital left little to be desired! All in all, it turned out to be a nice last day in Kuala Lumpur.
Up next: our journey from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, Malaysia!