Exploring for a pittance
In a time when international travel was as easy as seeing an advertisement in a newspaper, Preeti Maheshwari details her family trip to vibrant and multi-cultural Singapore.
No matter the season, my family and I can't pass up the opportunity to travel.
However, in mid 2016, a vacation was off the cards after my husband and I paid a lot of money to send our only son to one of the best schools in Bengaluru.
As the Times of India newspaper was placed in front of me one morning, I spied an advertisement about cheap flights to Singapore and, with a little persuasion, we were hooked.
My husband Mayank quickly took out his credit card and booked return tickets to Singapore for a week-long family holiday for just 30 Singapore dollars, which is roughly the same as NZD.
By that afternoon Mayank was a little upset that we had abruptly decided to spend money on a trip, knowing it would put further strain on our finances, so he decided to unsubscribe from the newspaper the very next day.
Despite his concerns, with only a month before we would leave for Singapore, time was ticking to make plans. We had to budget carefully to make sure we could make the most of our vacation.
With plenty of excitement, Mayank, our three-year-old son Devansh and I landed in the world's best airport on October 4, 2016.
Since we had already done our homework, we knew exactly where to catch the bus that would take us around the city at the lowest cost.
When we reached our hotel, they provided us a Handy loan smartphone that made our stay in the Lion City very easy. With the device, we could easily find directions and the bus we were supposed to take to reach a particular place.
Singapore and Universal Studios were synonymous to my brain, even though I am not at all a fan of any Hollywood or English films.
So with that, our first destination was Sentosa an island resort off Singapore's southern coast. This massive complex of themed rides, live shows, and Hollywood movie sets was very appealing. The different sections, including Hollywood, New York, Ancient Egypt and Madagascar, take you through a cinematic and geographical journey.
With cutting-edge rides, shows and attractions based on blockbuster films and television series like Transformers, Jurassic Park, Sesame Street and many more, the park had plenty to offer visitors from all walks of life.
The 3D rides even provided views from Indonesia, Malaysia and other small islands.
While this all may sound expensive, one of our cost-cutting measures ensured we weren't overwhelmed by activity prices. We brought all our own food from India — ready-to-eat vegetables, ready-to-eat chapatis and we cooked rice in our hotel room.
By the end of the day we were exhausted but we did not want to waste time at the hotel and miss out on anything, so we went to watch the laser light show at Marina Bay Sands.
Synchronised fountains, lava, mist effects and an orchestral soundtrack set the stage for Spectra — but its centrepiece was a 12-metre high glass prism that formed the heartbeat of the show. The 15-minute outdoor show occurs every night and is a reflection of Singapore's journey to becoming the cosmopolitan and sophisticated city it is today — I was glued to my seat the entire time, enthralled by the spectacular show.
The next day we visited the Singapore Zoo and the Jurong Bird Park.
The Singapore Zoo offered an up-close-and-personal visit with the orangutans during “Breakfast with Orangutans”, and the Jurong Bird Park let us feed a kaleidoscope of birds during the bird feeding sessions.
Adjacent to the zoo is Night Safari, the world's first nocturnal zoo. It is an open air zoo mimicking a humid tropical rainforest that opens only at night. Visitors can explore the area by foot or by tram. From rhinoceros to tarsiers, we caught glimpses of many rare and almost magical creatures!
However, even more than the safari, I enjoyed watching the zesty tribal dances and fire-eating acts just before the safari gates opened.
Singapore is known as the Garden City and we looked forward to visiting the spectacular Gardens by the Bay. Trust me, it's one of the most surrealistic places you could visit on Earth. Surrounded by lush greenery, the Gardens by the Bay is located at the waterfront of Marina Bay Sands and is divided into three parts: Bay Central Garden, Bay East Garden and Bay South Garden. It is one place where you can see nature and technology work hand in hand, showcasing a gem in the real world.
Dusk at Gardens by the Bay is even more magical as the entire park glows with lights that use the solar energy saved throughout the day. The amazing aroma of exotic flowers with stunning lights makes it comparable to heaven on earth.
The Cloud Forest, Flower Dome and the Supertree Grove and OCBC Skyway let you stand among nature. The Cloud Forest is a unique tropical highland that hosts a wide range of plant life, while the indoor section resembles a cave. It also provides an exhilarating experience of a 30-metre tall indoor waterfall.
The Flower Dome was named the largest greenhouse in the world by the Guinness Books of Records in 2015. The spectacular and innovative dome displays an array of exotic flowers from different areas around the globe.
Supertree Grove consists of tree-like structures with beautiful vines and ferns, while the OCBC Skyway is an elevated bridge that lets you walk through the supertrees and enjoy panoramic views of the garden.
We visited Merlion Park, the home of Singapore's national icon, where we took pictures as if we were drinking the water spilling from the creature's mouth.
To conclude our trip, we made time to visit the Singapore Flyer, Asia's largest observation wheel, and got to enjoy a bird's eye view of the breathtaking city.
This budget trip definitely taught me that I don't need to splash cash to have amazing experiences. Even with less money in my pocket, I could make the most of it.