It is a sign of how far I’ve come that I volunteered for holidays with V’s extended family. Heck, I chose the places. Both are places I’ve wanted to visit, but kind of avoided because I didn’t want to stay with family. Actually, in the case of Sydney, I had been there once and it was more the long flight that deterred me.
But increasingly I began to feel that these were both places that would be fun for the kids to visit and it seemed almost bizarre not to go to Singapore which is just a few hours’ flight away. When we decided on that destination and started looking at tickets, Singapore Airlines offered a very reasonable deal that allowed us to cover Sydney as well.
Both places had the usual annoying visa processes – Singapore required a letter from the employer which always pisses me off though my employers have always been nice about it – but I realised that visas are a lot like child birth: you say you’ll never do it again, but then you forget, and voila, baby no. 2 is on its way (in my case, I never forgot, I just was careless).
In Singapore, we avoided staying with family on the grounds that we wanted to be more centrally located, and stayed in an Airbnb, which was really perfect for our needs. With two kids, we often need to book two hotel rooms, which is both expensive and inconvenient. With an apartment, we get two rooms as well as living space and a kitchen, which is really useful with kids who wake up starving but who the hotel buffet breakfast is lost on.
In both Singapore and Sydney, my focus was on animals. My must-dos in Singapore were the zoo, the bird park and food. Having done the night safari with a child who did not appreciate it, I avoided it. We ended up meeting a friend and her young son at the zoo, so I was not able to micro-manage the itinerary as I would usually do.
My highlight: fornicating lions. Kids highlight: feeding goats. Yeah, we went all the way to Singapore for them to feed goats leaves, when they could have done the same for free at their grandgather’s farm.
I began to have second thoughts about the bird park, but if you buy both the zoo and the bird park tickets together, you get a discount. So bird park it was, seeing as we were going to Jurong anyway to visit family and this was something we had been bugged to do since the last time we went to Singapore.
The bird park has a different vibe from the zoo. It is much quieter. I did a bit of research on this one and it paid of. Go as early as possible and head for the Lory Loft first. These live up to their names as the world’s friendliest birds. V has a way with birds – he’s obsessed with pigeons – so a couple of them would just hop onto his finger. If you buy a cup of nectar for S$3 though, the birds will be all over you. I never thought I’d rock a bird on the shoulder, forearm and head, but you never know, till you try, right?
We also got in two shows – the Kings of the Skies show, where the presenter was super enthusiastic about talking to us about vultures after the show, and the High Fliers show which is more of a crowd pleaser. We also saw Jary, the hornbill with the 3D printed bill.
We also spent a morning at the Art Science Museum at the Marina Bay Sands. We did Future World, which is pretty good for a hot summer morning, and Alice in Wonderland which I would have enjoyed more without the kids.
Hot tip: If you visit the museum, you only need to show your tickets to get free entry to this giant space for kids to play at the food court, the highlight of which is some images projected on the floor. Not worth it to buy entry to that alone, but fun if you’re there anyway and can get free entry.
The Marina Bay Sands food court is expensive, but I did enjoy the beef rendang plate I had. Otherwise, we ate a lot in hawker centres, where the food is really cheap and yummy. Also, the kids can get Chinese food – Hainanese chicken rice for the win – and we can eat Malay.
This was a rather social holiday compared to previous ones we’ve taken. I realised belatedly that apart from family, I know several people in Singapore, all of whom would expect me to meet them. I met an old friend from college with her kids at Marina Bay Sands with her two kids on Day 1.
The kids were awkward at first and thick friends by the end. I have only been in touch with this girl on Facebook since our undergraduate days so I see her as an online friend so this would be the first online friendship that translated quite well to real life.
That evening V’s cousin came over and then we all went for dinner to the home of a close of friend of his. He has a son around the same age as Nene and Mimi, and again they had a good time.
On Day 2, I met a dear friend with her little son at the zoo. We also spent our last day between check-out from our apartment and check-in that night to our flight with this friends. I enjoyed catching up with friends and it was interesting to see how Nene and Mimi would react to spending extended time with a toddler – as expected, Nene made an effort, while Mimi struggled. Not a maternal bone in that one’s body, though they did play together for some time at home.
I have been to Singapore before but that trip was dominated by the F1 and disorganised family. This time I could get a proper sense of the city, and why it is different from Hong Kong: the wider, tree-lined streets, the year-round heat and sudden rain storms, the freshly painting government estates, the widespread use of English, the bigger apartments.
There are still things to do in Singapore – the River Safari next to the zoo, the science centre in Jurong, Sentosa and the Gardens by the Bay that we only got a glimpse of at night.
Hopefully, we will be back.
If Singapore was social, Sydney was more so from the start as we were staying with family. In fact, on day one, I began to have the sinking feeling that our agenda would be controlled somewhat by well-intentioned advice.
It was fine in the end, because my sense of what is important has changed since having kids. Had I been on a solo trip, I would have been much more adamant about spending more time in the city – we were staying in a suburb – but my kids don’t appreciate a very aggressive agenda itinerary anyway.
We did a nice day in the city, taking in Circular Quay, the Museum of Contemporary Art (the cafe on the top floor affords great views of both the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Using the art chatterbox – the typical square folded thing that we all probably played with as kids in some forms – to explore the collection proved to be a winner), the Opera House and the Botanical Gardens (the kids are obsessed with venus flytraps, so they loved the Plants with Bites exhibition. Download the exhibition app for added fun) capped by a ferry ride home.
I had another lovely day out in the city solo when I met dear friend and her husband, broke my coffee fast with a flat white, had a long wine-soaked lunch in the Rocks, drove to Bondi and strolled along the beach and finally met her fur babies.
For the kids, the highlight was Featherdale Wildlife Park, where they fed kangaroos. The koalas were dismissed as too sleepy, but the Tasmanian Devil was a surprise hit.
We also had a nice evening in Parramatta Park, which has a great children’s play area, complete with a zip line. Our final day was spent shopping in a typical suburban strip mall, with huge sales going on. A lot denim was acquired.
We flew Singapore airlines, which was as ever great. Special mention goes to the food, which the kids scarfed down.