Simple travel moments often turn into extraordinary memories. Two years ago I went to Singapore as a part of my inaugural trip through Southeast Asia and I had a great time. Between the bustling city, the interesting nightlife in Clarke Quay, and the new friends I made along the way, it was a memorable and unique trip.
Over the past year, some of my travel memories have gone to the wayside only to be rediscovered at a later time. While I was reading about the passing of former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, my memory bank was tapped and I recalled one very special moment I had in Singapore. I made friends with complete strangers and would like to share this story with you.
As the typical budget traveler in Southeast Asia, many backpackers lambaste Singapore. They often say some things about Singapore that are meant to dissuade you from going.
“Oh, everything is so expensive,” they say.
“There really isn’t much culture there,” they say.
“Skip Singapore. It isn’t even worth it,” even more say.
As a big city lover who lives in one of the world’s most expensive countries, nothing could tarnish the allure which Singapore holds. For a history lover (tons of British colonial history) and an architecture lover (one of the world’s finest waterfront skylines), nothing would stop me from seeing Singapore and jotting down notes along the way.
As soon as I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised. Changi Airport was spectacular in every sense of the word. Transportation into the city was flawless. Aside from the strict rules and signs referring to the numerous prohibitions at every corner, Singapore was a nice place for me as a tourist. At least these signs made a great photo opportunity.
Everyone spoke English and there were a lot of interesting things to do for someone there on a budget.
The highlight of wandering the streets was the chance to eat a real ice cream sandwich. Believe it or not, this version of the sandwich was more delicious than the typical version served up in every convenience store in the United States. Take a look for yourself!
While Thailand was a budget traveler’s heaven, I did not like the lack of English and cleanliness. After seeing the Merlion and taking in the skyline on my first night, one Singaporean staple catapulted to the top of my list. Glistening in the evening fog across the way was the Marina Bay Sands. After seeing it from the Merlion, I knew I needed to get to the pool atop the ship-like casino.
The pool is something about which you read in travel magazines, see on the Travel Channel, and about which you hear stories from your friends who had the money to stay there. The imagery from reading about it, seeing it on TV, and hearing stories turns the Marina Bay Sands infinity pool into a place that seems larger than life. Palm trees swaying in the subtropical wind while jazz music plays in the background make for an interesting atmosphere.
When I heard even more stories about the heated towels and the special drinks they serve at the top, getting there without paying the expensive price for the room became my number one Singaporean travel goal.
To make a long story short, I made it to the pool atop the Sands. Here is the the unconventional way in which it happened.
Before I left Japan, I developed a scheme to get to the pool. I would wear a nice set of clothes and just walk by the guards like I was staying there. Simple enough, I thought, as the typical tourist would not be wearing a button-down shirt. The average tourist would be wearing shorts and a t-shirt. They would have a camera draped around their neck and they would gawk at the skyline, right? Wrong.
Much to my chagrin, almost all of the tourists with whom I rode the elevator dressed nicely. They were all wearing button-down shirts and slacks. Even though we had tickets to the lowly “visitors space” atop the Marina Bay Sands, I came to the realization that I would make it to the top and get some good photos of the harbor without making it to the pool.
I walked around and took in the atmosphere to plan my next move. I took photos of the boats docked outside the Sands.
Then I took a photo of the golf course island and the ferris wheel which seemed so close to this mammoth structure.
As I positioned my ￥100 tripod for my next shot of the harbor and the city, I felt a quick jolt and my camera was knocked to the ground.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, young man,” said the kind woman.
Her husband quickly apologized, as well. They had bumped into me while they were posing for a photo with the ferris wheel, mere inches away from my right arm. Fortunately my camera was still working and I was in a good mood because my luck that evening was about to take a change for the better.
The three of us got to talking about traveling in Asia, living and working abroad, and the exciting nature of being young. They were fascinated by my tales of living in Japan and traveling the world alone at such a young age. I was equally struck by their stories of working on Australian mining and oil operations while having also worked with the Australian equivalent of the Foreign Service. While slightly older than my parents, we were able to converse like old friends.
In passing they asked where I was staying and when I revealed that I was staying at a budget hostel, they presented the nicest offer to me:
“Why don’t you be our son for the night? We would like to talk to you more and share some drinks poolside with you,” said the gentleman.
With their kind invitation to join them poolside, our scheme was set in motion. I was to walk in with them like I knew them and there would be no questions asked, they said. They added that the guards would not stop anyone who looked like they belonged for fear of offending a wealthy or important guest.
Within a few minutes, they gave me their extra room key to prove I was staying with them. We quickly lined up to pass to the “hotel guests only” region on the roof. After a cursory checkpoint, I was through and at last!!
As my excitement swelled, they quickly ushered me over to a reserved table with their name on it! Drinks and food quickly came our way as they insisted to treat me for the evening. Their kind hospitality and welcoming nature is something I will never forget. As we peered off into the night, the lights came on in far off Indonesian islands and boats passed through narrow channels to their docks for the evening. Tiger Beer and intermittent appetizers made the evening pass effortlessly into the night.
What was once a young evening had become old, and with the passing time, my gracious hosts had to return to their room for the evening, but not before they gave me one parting surprise.
“Behind us is the infinity pool. We have ordered a Singapore Sling for you and hope you enjoy the rest of your evening on the lounge chairs and in the heated pool. You made our night. Have a fine evening, young man,” the woman said as we embraced and parted ways.
As I settled into my lounge chair after a quick dip in the pool, I marveled at the palm trees and the poolside atmosphere.
Looking past the lifeguards, frolicking children, and waiters, I saw a group of women at the edge of the infinity pool, overlooking the Singapore skyline.
At that moment, I was tapped on the shoulder by an energetic waiter. In his right hand he held a heated towel. In his left, he carried the world-famous Singapore Sling. He also brought a message from my new friends.
“Share an experience like this with a young man someday,” they said.
All seemed right in the world at that moment. As the Rolling Stones played, I toasted to my new friends. I hope we meet again someday so I can share the impact this moment had on me and my subsequent travels.
With Singapore in the background, I enjoyed this drink to the last drop. Sometimes the most human moments during our travels are the most memorable ones. This was a special Singapore Sling.