Mga Kasabwat: 16 people, ages ranging from 14 to 90.
The Challenge: To survive in a six day trip to Singapore, including a three day cruise on board the Star Virgo and a jaunt in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Early this year, I was toying with the idea of going somewhere abroad. I figured it was about time I step out of the country, even for a bit. Someone offered me free tickets to any Asian destination, and, I told my best friend Carmenez. She invited me to join her family on their planned trip to Singapore.
I never got the free airplane ticket, but I got something else. I spent the rest of the months between February and June saving up all that I can for the trip. Then Nez said we’re changing our departure to earlier dates because we were going on a cruise.
How’s that for someone who has never stepped out of the country? My first trip abroad comes with a sea cruise. It was hard not to be excited, but with a tinge of apprehension. Just days before I was to leave, friends told me stories of how some people were denied at immigration. Then there’s the recent incident of two Pinays who went through bad treatment in Bali, Indonesia. I was assured that I shouldn’t worry, but I couldn’t help it.
Finally, the day arrived. I packed my bags as best as I could (I seriously had no idea what to pack) and rushed to my best friend’s house. The scene was quite like that of Home Alone I, where the entire family was scrambling to get ready for a trip and not leave anyone behind. It took us about thirty minutes to get checked in at the airport, and immigration couldn’t seem to believe that all of us were going. Think of it as Amazing Race, only instead of competing in teams of two, we were all working together as one big team. Chaos, I tell you.
Worst Seat Ever
It’s a common knowledge that the worst seat you can get is near the wing, if you wanted a good view. I still think that our row had the worst seats in the history of modern aviation: last row, with no window at all. Therefore, no admiring of the Manila and Singapore skyline for me.
My excitement of my first trip abroad was dimmed by exhaustion. We arrived at 1:55 AM, and had until 6 AM til we can check in our bags at the cruise center. Most of us had been awake since 6 AM Tuesday. We made the best of our situation by finding the best positions for sleep. It wasn’t an easy thing since the airport seats were hard and not really meant for lying down. I don’t know how I did it, but I got an hour or so’s sleep.
Expectations vs. Reality
When we landed, the first person outside the plane that I saw looked like a regular Pinoy. The budget airport looked quite like our airport (which says something) and the people there looked like folks I see back home, albeit with a different accent. My expectation of being in a different country went down several notches. It wasn’t disappointment per se, but I didn’t feel like I left Manila at all.
This makes Singapore one of the perfect places a first time Pinoy traveler should go to, in my humble opinion. It’s like Manila, only cleaner, more disciplined and urbane. It’s like Manila, only with more malls and shops and a very efficient transportation system (which I am so in love with now). It’s like Manila, because of the similar weather and same clothes I can wear (t-shirt & shorts I wore the week prior to Megamall I can wear while walking along Orchard Road). It’s like Manila, because of the so many Filipinos scattered all over.
Seriously. I mean, I know there are a lot of Filipinos there, but I didn’t expect it to be that massive. Everywhere I go, I’d hear a snippet or so of Tagalog. Hindi exaggerated ang dami ng Pinoy dun. On the whole, the similarities of each country to each other will easily quell any worries of the first time traveler. Just keep in mind to be in your best behavior, be courteous, keep left when riding the escalator and for God’s sake, do not litter!
In the Philippines, the sun’s already up by 6 AM. In Singapore (as well as in Malaysia), the sun rises at 7 AM or so. When we stepped out of the airport at 5:30 AM, I was expecting the sky to be lighting up. 6:00 we were on the train, but the sun still wasn’t around. People were already going around and there were a lot of students too. I was confused. Where’s the sun?
On that note, the sun sets late too. 7 PM and it was still bright, like 5:30 PM in Manila. It took some getting used to. Heck, I don’t think I got used to it at all!
Since had the whole day ahead of us, we decided to spend it at the Universal Studios. From Chiangi, we hopped on the train to go to the harbour, where we were going to leave our things so we could go around USS. Nez’s brother Carlo had asked beforehand how to commute to Harbour Front, so we were somewhat ready. What we weren’t prepared for was which side should we be getting off and how fast the doors would remain open. We also weren’t expecting the crush of people in certain stops, so we accidentally stepped and bumped on some people whenever we’d go out.
Still, you had to appreciate Singapore’s train system. I already consider our LRT2 pretty efficient, but Singapore’s MRT makes it look ancient and slow in comparision. Their train system covers more ground, and makes it easy to get from places with distances comparable to Faiview to Ayala Alabang. It’s also mostly underground so it doesn’t become an ungainly sight. You only need one card even if you’ll be riding several lines (better if you get a multiple day pass if you’re staying for a while). There’s also more courtesy. People will wait until passengers have alighted before they step on the train.
The check-in area for the cruise is inside the Harbour Front mall, as is the MRT station. It was still closed when we arrived, but the left luggage area was already open. The attendant was surprised with our number and was a little flustered. We managed to get our things checked in without much mishap and we headed to USS.
How to get there was a cause of much debate. Some wanted to ride the bus. Others wanted to try the cable car. We ended up taking the train, which was only a few minutes ride. At Sentosa, we split up: the young ones went to USS, while the young once opted to go to the casino.
Universal Studios Singapore
USS is definitely smaller than the US in Florida (not that I’ve been there). Based on my uncle’s stories, a day in US Florida is not enough, whereas our day in USS was more than enough for us to see nearly all the attractions (I say nearly all because we purposely skipped some of them, like the Waterworld and the Spielberg museum thing).
There’s something about theme parks that bring out the kid in you. I wanted to go and look at every nook and cranny of the park. I especially loved the Hollywood and New York areas. The latter didn’t have many shops, but it was nice to go around and take pictures. There was a yellow cab, some back alley and the New York Public Library.
Ride All You Can
Long before I arrived in USS, I made up my mind not to ride the Battlestar Galactica. From what I read, it was a scary ride. Gio didn’t ride it, and I figured it wouldn’t be good for me. But my friends were a very persuasive bunch, and I guess deep inside I really wanted to ride it.
Battlestar Gallactica has two routes: the Human (which is said to be milder) and Cylon (which they say is scarier). The seats are different too. Human has your regular roller coaster locks that hold you in place from waist down. Cylon locks from above and has a seatbelt to anchor you, leaving your feet dangling. Both rides leave you breathless, give you that weird feeling in your stomach and make you feel that all the blood is in your head.. Cylon is more exciting, as it has corkscrew turns and underground misty caverns, and a part that will render you weightless for a few seconds. My arm had to be twisted to ride it, but boy, I’m glad I did.
Another fun ride was The Revenge of the Mummy. It’s sort of a horror ride, if you’re familiar with the movie. Compared to BG, the track’s very tame, but you’ll get a kick out of the special effects. I missed out on the Jurassic Park ride, which is fine but I’ll be sure to ride that when I go back.
Best ride ever: Madagascar (/sarcasm).
After USS and a bit of souvenir shopping, we headed back to Harbour Front for some more shopping and dinner. It took us nearly four hours to get in because of the sheer number of people going to the same cruise as we were. We had a few breaks though, unlike some of the people who got so mad they were ready to pick a fight. Some of us were able to go in earlier because we had an invalid and senior citizens. The rest of us had to wait. Frankly, our expectations were truly lowered by this point. We just wanted to get the cruise done and over with.
We were cleared for immigration and made our long walk down to the cruise ship. One attendant was ushering people according to their ticket color. We presented ours and was prepared to go to the regular line when the attendant said, “Pinoy kayo! Dito kayo sa red (VIP)!”
Around 11 PM we finally got on board. Superstar Virgo surpassed our expectations. The interior is Greek inspired, plush and elegant. I’ll just let the pictures speak for it because I don’t really know how to describe it.
I Want to Sleep
We rushed through the remaining hours. The ship was big, so it was rather difficult to find our rooms at first. Then before we could sleep, we had to attend the safety briefing so we’d know what to do in an emergency (read: where the life jackets are. Very important). But first: Dinner.
As it was late, we weren’t sure if there was still food available. We ended up at one of the three restaurants were we could get food that’s inclusive with the cruise tickets. It was a Chinese restaurant and we were attended to by a Filipino waiter named Jason. We were obviously hungry, as we kept ordering and eating. To his credit, Jason was very accommodating, and didn’t blink when we said there were 16 of us.
When we were full, we trooped to our rooms, cleaned up and went to sleep. It had been a very long day, and we needed our rest for the next day.
Continued at The Great Singapore Adventure Day 2.