Asia, Singapore, Travel Diaries

Taking the first steps towards a lifelong love of travel

I glanced furtively on the white paper labelled “Disembarkation Sheet” as the pretty yet uptight airline stewardess from JetStar handed two pieces for my sister and I. My sister, sensing my discomfort, said “You will have to fill that out. We will submit it once we enter Singapore immigration”. 

It was June 2007, I was also 27 years old and traveling out of the country for the first time. A few months before, my 24-year old sister scored super cheap tickets from Manila to Singapore, for about PHP6,000 each (that was considered cheap then) and asked me to join her. I was simply elated that I booked a ticket that same night. The same night, we also found a hostel through the internet but were skeptical with the address. Later on, we learned why we were iffy with the accommodations booked for us.

After carefully copying details from my newly minted passport (encased in a yellow, plastic Winnie the Pooh passport cover – don’t ask me why), I leaned on the cramped seat while glancing beyond the airline windows. I couldn’t see anything outside except for rows and rows of fluffy white clouds. I closed my eyes –the pilot just announced that we will be landing in a few minutes.

SINGAPORE! I couldn’t believe it. I have no idea what to expect–except that, based on my research–the country is gloriously clean and that it is a bit hot and humid just like the Philippines. Then it hit me, I was traveling out of the country for the first time, with ten thousand pesos in my pocket and a new suitcase which I had to check through the gate. Inside were clothes and shoes good enough for a two week stay.We were staying for just four days

breeze through immigration

2007 – I was still thin and had black hair. Just breezed through immigration

I breezed through Immigration and was given the 30-day stamp. I was simply elated and couldn’t believe that I was a thousand miles away from the family and the (then) boy friend. My sister and I took the MRT out of the airport and hopped on the cab at the Tanah Merah station for Farrer Park where we booked a room on a local boarding house. Inside the cab, I noticed that credit cards were being accepted for paying the cab. Immediately, I was beyond impressed.

cabs accept travelers cards

no need to worry about cash. these cabs accept cards

I remember that I kept saying to my sister, “Imagine they accept credit cards! And the cabs — the cabs were of the Mercedes Benz variety!” My sister was amused of how I managed to find something to say just about everything. For someone like me who never went anywhere but the familiar streets of Makati and the idyll of the various Philippine provinces I’ve been to, the cleanliness, the clockwork efficiency and the(then) newness of Singapore was simply too much.

We found the boarding house and was surprised that it was a dormitory housing college students. This was our first lesson learned when booking accommodations via the net. The place was a mess, with a smell that seemed to permeate the nose. Rooms open to reveal half-naked college boys eating noodles and playing on their PC. In the room assigned to us, the beds were thrown haphazardly, empty candy wrappers and soda bottles littering the floor. In one corner of the room, someone’s worn underwear was crumpled in a heap. My sister and I looked at each other and plotted redemption. There was no way we are staying in this house.

Redemption came in the form of K, one of my sister’s dearest friends who lived and worked in Singapore. One look on the chaos surrounding my sister and I — and she announced that we will be staying with her on her apartment in Tampines. We spent four days sharing the room with her and her two Filipina room mates.

lost in Singapore

Getting lost in Singapore, circa 2007

We managed to get the money we deposited on that God-forsaken dormitory, but we were also charged for one day’s stay, in spite the fact that they deceived us with the details of the accommodation. This incident made me OC with booking accommodations over the net, to the point of emailing contact persons repeatedly for confirmation, obsessively checking and rechecking room details and reviews over the net and my innate love of TripAdvisor.com.

love of travel

Unniechan, my travel angel — the one who encouraged my love of travel

Four days passed by like a blur. I did the usual touristy things: posed for pictures with the Merlion, had a trip to Sentosa to watch the Pink Dolphins and see the fishes at the Singapore Ocean Park (there was still no Universal Studios back then), prayed on the Fountain of Wealth for abundance, shopped like there’s no tomorrow (or for whatever my minuscule budget afforded me) and simply enjoyed the sights, sounds and taste of Singapore.

traveling young

we were so young

sentosa cable car

On our way to Sentosa onboard the cable car

It was my first time to ride a cable car, and to say I was scared was an understatement. But when the cabin started moving towards the island and I saw the ocean and the huge ships underneath us — the fear vanished. To this day, this is one of my fondest memories when I first traveled.

Singapore Zoo

Do I measure up?

Siloso Beach

Sitting in the famous Siloso Beach Sign

It was my first time to ride a cable car, and to say I was scared was an understatement. But when the cabin started moving towards the island and I saw the ocean and the huge ships underneath us — the fear vanished. To this day, this is one of my fondest memories when I first traveled.

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