3rd August : The End (until the next time)….

The photo:

Andy had just seen the weather forecast for the UK

The chat:

After 5 months of tandem pedalling, coffee drinking, curry eating, and general merriment it was finally time to finish our trip and return to the UK. How to sum up the last 5months? It’s almost impossible to describe the roller-coaster of highs and lows (mainly highs) we’ve experienced, the fascinating people we’ve met and the incredible places we’ve visited without resorting to clichés or getting all emotional. Luckily I don’t have to – Andy has gamely volunteered to attempt this feat in one final blog posting – he does love reflective practice after all.

So – back to today, our final day in Singapore and of our trip, yup, after 10 months away from the UK and 9000km ish cycled, its time to go home. A few stats for the geeks amongst you:

Distance: 8,554.44 km
Time: 414:44:57 h:m:s
Elevation Gain: 60,684 m
Avg Speed: 19.2 km/h
Calories: 215,720 C

That’s a lot of ice cream – 1080 cornettos to be exact. And 7 ascents of Mt Everest.

Determined to ignore the looming prospect of a flight back to the UK for as long as possible, we lingered over a fantastic (and champagne fuelled) breakfast, then spent the morning by the rooftop pool catching the last bit of sun we were likely to see for a year. Wistfully checking out of the most luxurious hotel we were likely to see this decade, we headed back to the Tree In Lodge, who typically had looked after our boxed tandem “as part of the service” before heading to Singapore Zoo.

Rated the 2nd best Zoo in the world (presumably by the orangutans as the sole owners of opposable thumbs), it really lived up to its ranking – neither of us have been to a zoo for about twenty years, but even veteran zoo goers couldn’t fail to be wowed by the inventiveness of the use of space, and the proximity with which wild animals and ogling homo sapiens go toe-to-toe.

All the animals live in enclosures rather than cages, and most are separated from  visitors not by chicken wire or glass but by ingeniously discrete moats. The result? Adults and kids alike can stand drop-jawed a few metres from improbably muscular white tigers, impossibly cute lemurs and grazing ibexes. The gibbons, though have the best deal. With free reign of the tree top canopy for much of the zoo, they are as much observers of us as we are of them. Quite how they are stopped from simply dropping to the paths and entering other enclosures we never worked out. If we sound impressed, we were – if you’re in Singapore, don’t miss out on this amazing experience (fantastic value too at $20).

After a last SE Asia dinner, appropriately of Chinese roast duck, rice, washed down with Tiger beer, we made our way through the downpour to the unsurprisingly plush Singapore airport. Although we suffered the slight indignity of repacking in front of the check-in counters (customers were treated to sights of our tatty underwear, chammy cream and extensive lycra collection) we weren’t charged any extra fee for the bike – result! Smiling, as ever, goes a long way. After a happy couple of hours wandering around designer shops selling bags costing the equivalent of 2 months of our trip budget, we boarded our flight with mixed emotions – relief to have made it to the end with bike and ourselves intact,  excitement at the prospect of friends, family, and England’s green and pleasant lands, but with an undeniable sadness at the end of what (major cliché alert) was the best year of our lives.

Aspirational donkey

Goodbye South East Asia

 

 

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2nd August Singapore

The photo:

 

The chat: Our last whole day of the trip (sniff) passed way too quickly for our liking, although I’m sure our parents would disagree.  Our luggage for the last 5 months has been seriously restricted – we have 2 pairs of non cycling clothes each, and even with such a capsule wardrobe we just haven’t had room to buy any souvenirs on our travels (that’s the excuse we’re telling our families anyway). Consequently this morning we attempted to rectify the situation with a frenzied and futile dash around Singapore’s street markets. Unfortunately, we left empty handed – none of our family members are big lovers of gold plated fish, “I heart Singapore” mugs or waving cat ornaments, although Andy’s grandmother would no doubt have loved a “take me drunk I’m home” (sic) t-shirt for her 100th birthday present next week.

After a street-food pit stop, we checked out of  the wonderful Tree In Lodge – wonderful as our stay was, it was time to leave the 12 bunk bed dorm behind for one last night of luxury before our flight back to the UK. Our new home for the night – Naumi Hotel was a chilled out haven of boutiqueyness, and after a swim in their rooftop infinity pool we headed to the  Singapore National Museum. From the outside a beautiful colonial building, inside the museum is full of revamped and hi-tech exhibitions featuring antique silks, ancient paintings and flatscreen video screens – it sounds incongruous but in reality is amazingly well curated and engaging even for cultural philistines like us. The museum was completely deserted, bringing an eery feel as we wandered around room after room of unguarded but priceless artefacts.

After a dose of culture, it was time for our reward – dinner at one of Singapore’s best restaurants which was conveniently located in the museum itself. With only 7 tables, and an excess of Chinese antiques, it was an atmospheric dining experience, and we had some of the best chinese food I’ve ever eaten while reminiscing about the last few incredible months. To end a perfect evening, we toasted our luck with red wine on the rooftop of our hotel as we overlooked the impressive Singapore cityscape – the photos only begin to do it justice.

Only in Singapore…

Andy just about managing to keep a handle on his culture shock

Last supper

 

 

 

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1st August: Singapore with friends

The photo:

Bike packing. Sniff.

The route: Braving Singapore’s take-no-prisoners traffic to famous Botanical Gardens and back.

The chat: The final hurrah for pedal power in SE Asia, as we pedalled past impossibly shiny skyscrapers, imposing embassies and if-you-have-to-ask-you-can’t-afford-it designer shops to the venerable botanical gardens.

This park – sizeable, free to enter (bar $5 for the optional orchid garden), and tranquil – is a great escape from the excesses of urban Singapore. Established over 150 years ago, the park has hundreds of venerable perennial giants lording it over the manicured flower gardens, orchids and fountains. As you’d expect, the whole place is immaculate, but we were pleasantly surprised to spot squirrels and snakes respectively scampering and slithering in the trees, and kingfishers flitting over the lake, which itself is inhabited by metre-long monitor lizards and turtles. All in all, well worth the trip.

Back at the Tree In Lodge, S-K, hostel owner par excellence, took us first to pick up bike boxes for the tandem, then onto a hardware shop for bubble wrap and tape, and then to try delicious Singaporean hawker foods – chicken and rice, and soy bean dessert. Tastier and more interesting than they sound! Thanks S-K, you’re a legend.

After a few hours sweating it out with allen keys, rubber gloves and sharp knives (the reality was more prosaic than it sounds) the tandem was dismantled and by dusk had been cajoled into a customised bike box.

After scrubbing the oil from our forearms and brows, we wandered into nearby Little India to meet up with Emily and Graeme (who’d we’d met in the Perhenthian islands) and Emily’s parents, who live in Singapore. Tapas and then curry was washed down with many jugs of beer, as we swapped travelling tales and listened to the oldies (!) reminiscing about their VSO days in Papua New Guinea. Now that was a proper adventure…

SK from Tree In Lodge really took his role as hostel owner seriously – taking us out for lunch.

Waiting expectantly under the Golden Shower arches

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31st July: Singapore walking tour

The photo: 

The chat: Covering the colonial district, CBD, Chinatown, the brand new utterly excessive but architecturally compelling Marina Bay Sands and Kampong Glam – we walked for most of the day around what is a far more interesting, less sterile city than you might think. Yes, Singapore has more than its fair share of skyscrapers, but its compact size, culturally distinct districts and phenomenal architecture make for an interesting, traveller friendly experience.

Highlights were the very well presented Chinatown Heritage Centre (proving that life wasn’t always a ball in Singapore), Chinatown itself, the laser show at Marina Bay Sands, and the hip bars (and fixie-hangouts) at Kampong Glam.

And fear not, readers – we were never at risk of starvation on this epic tour of downtown Singapore. From mall food-court Bento boxes, to Chinese buns steamed to perfection, and onto an epic hawker centre at Lau Pa Sat where we were almost defeated by the enormous pork dumplings, we definitely consumed more calories than we burnt.

Not your average Hawkers centre

It was almost like being in Stratford

Andy struggling with such rampant consumerism

Country mouse + Big city

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30th July: The grand finale, and a police escort: Mersing to Singapore

The route: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/204731406 167km, total: 8525km

The photo:

Final destination: Singapore

The chat: Today was another example of what we have christened a TUBE – a Totally Unnecessary Beasting Exercise. We could have quite happily stopped for the night at pleasant Kota Tinggi (95km into the ride), or even at Johor Bahru (133km in), where we’d booked a hotel in a pique of pre-planning. But for some reason, and despite Emma’s saddle sores, we opted to press on at each stage to our final destination in SE Asia, Singapore.

The ride was far from flat, with relentless rollers passing through a monocultural landscape of yet more palm plantations (yawn). But there were monkeys in the remaining patches of secondary jungle, and the traffic was significantly lighter, at least until Kota Tinggi, our lunch stop. Feeling strong enough to push on as we arrived in the uninspiring border city of Johor Bahru, we calculated we could get to the Tree In Lodge (http://www.treeinlodge.com/) in Singapore by 7pm.

We were surprised to pass through Malaysian customs without getting stamped out of the country, but thought nothing of it as we joined the thousands of domestic border hoppers crossing the causeway, who call Johor Bahru home, but work in Singapore. Expressing surprise to the Singaporean immigration official that we’d made it to him without the expected Malaysian ‘out’ stamp, phone calls were made, and we were efficiently, companionably but firmly escorted back to Malaysia under police escort. Whoops.

Second time round, we found the relevant desk which we’d cycled past oblivious first time through, got our papers in order, and ground-hog day style, recrossed the causeway. By now it was 7pm, and with 140km under our belts, we had a 30km time trial to beat the fading light. We failed by an hour or so, and were met by a concerned Yong at the super bike-friendly (50% off for bike tourists!), genuinely green, fantastic Tree In Lodge – surely a contender for best hostel in Asia. Seriously. If you’re coming to Singapore on a budget, with or without bike, check this place out.

After an anticlimactic and very weary celebratory beer, we congratulated ourselves on having completed our tour with no crashes, no major illnesses, and most importantly, still speaking to each other – sometimes quite fondly.

Part of our police escort back to Malaysia. Oops.

Given the 4 lane motorway running through this plantation, we thought this sign optimistic

Duck and isotonic rehydration drinks – we know how to celebrate

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