adventure, city reviews, country profiles, lodging, travel

Singapore in one day

First let me just say Singapore Airlines is the best economy class experience flying I have yet to experience (of probably 20 or so airlines I’ve flown on by now). Large seats (even in the back), lots of storage room for luggage, free food and drinks (including selection of alcohol), vegetarian options (the best in my opinion, although not a vegetarian myself), and great free entertainment. No wonder they were rated number one economy option worldwide this year!

En route to Bali, Singapore Airlines offered the free options of having an extended layover in Singapore so we took it obviously. My only regret was not taking two days instead of one, as there just isn’t enough time to recover from flying 20 hours to fully enjoy even a quick city exploration day.

We flew out of SFO at 1:15 am which was perfect as it gave me the chance to sleep for about 6 hours on the flight to Hong Kong. One helpful hint, you must disembark in Hong Kong and go through security again to re-board and continue to Singapore. This is fairly well organized and expedited but was unexpected. Another helpful hint: economy boards from back to front. Get a seat near the back and get in line early if you are flying with only carry on luggage as we did. It was hard to fit our bags the first time because we got in line late but after that we found that by getting in line first we had plenty of room to store both a carry on and a personal item above.

Singapore’s Changi airport has consistently been rated the best airport in the world. I can certainly see why.  It is clean, modern, efficient, English language signs, and full of gardens and good food. the only slightly inefficient part is immigration, which like many US airports involves long waits in line. But luckily the agents are more friendly and being a US citizen, no visa required. Checking back in is a breeze. They fingerprint you into the country and leaving you can use automated check in with their fingerprint recognition! No need to talk to anyone!

To get to Singapore from the airport we opted for the inexpensive option of the MRT (metro or subway system). To buy tickets you must use cash, so visit the exchange counter or ATM first. Our ticket down the East/west line only cost 2.20 SGD (Singapore dollar is equal to $0.75 USD as of 5/18). There was one transfer (from the Airport spur to the main East/west line). The MRT is very modern, clean, not too crowded, easy to follow, and like everything in Singapore, has plenty of English. In fact, English seems to be the preferred language for most public writing!

We stayed in a Hotel 81 (seems to be a popular 2-star chain in the area). I used booking.com (click my link to save $20 off your travels, helps me travel too!) and we spend SGD $75 (55 USD). The hotel room was small, but clean and comfortable and about a 10 minute walk from the Kallang station of the East/West line (25 min ride from the airport).

View From Hotel
The view from our hotel window. Not the newest neighborhood in the city but seemed safe and was convenient

Singapore is a very walk-able city. Between short (two stop) rides on the MRT and walking, we saw a good amount of it in just one afternoon. We primarily visited 4 areas. The first was Haji Lane and more generally the area around it between Beach Road and Kallang Road. There was a fundraiser market going on with all sorts of delicious looking food for a local Mosque. Haji Lane itself was full of tourists visiting quaint shops and taking photos. I can see the appeal of the architecture for sure but it did seem a bit touristy.

From here we walked north to Little India. This is a much larger area full of too many shops and restaurants to count. Some of the food is very cheap (SGD $4 for a meal) and many of the markets were quite crowded. There were many tourists here too but it didn’t have the same touristy feel as Haji Lane. Walking through the entire area took about a 2 hours but we could have spent way more time.

We then headed south-west to the Bugis Markets. Here we tried delicious food, drank amazing fruit juices and explore the vast array of food, clothing and other shopping options. This are was full of tourists but still had a very vibrant local feel to it. The architecture was beginning to get more modern as we approached the downtown core. Once we tired of the shops, we began the long two mile walk to downtown, Marina Sands, and the famous Gardens by the Bay.

Marina Sands
View of Marina Sands Hotel across the harbor

Marina Sands is everything its advertised. A spectacularly beautiful hotel with three impressive towers holding up what appears to be a ship straddling across them hundreds of feet in the air. Its a beautiful site to behold. We did not attempt to reach the pool, but I’ve heard of tourists sneaking in successfully to enjoy the rooftop views. We walked around it to the Gardens by the Bay. Surprisingly these are free for all but the cloud forest and the tree top walkway. We opted not to pay for either, as much of the gardens is open to all and the tree top walkway didn’t look that special. The cloud forest did look nice but I’ve done a lot of these indoor gardens in the past. I believe it was SGD $28 to do both indoor domes and the tree top walkway. The metal tree structures famous in these gardens were not as beautiful as often pictured. In fact the garden in general wasn’t quite up to my expectations. Its beautiful and green but just doesn’t seem as natural or colorful as many photos make it appear.

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The gardens were not fully lit up on this particular day

Overall Singapore is super clean, easy to navigate, and very modern. Supposedly it has great nightlife (number two rated EDM club in the world), but we were too tired for that. Apparently chewing gum and spitting are quite illegal but I saw many people doing both. I really wish we had planned two nights here, however, unless you are in to the modern city life and culture, I don’t think you need much more time in Singapore. Its a beautiful clean city, but still just a city. Perhaps knowing someone who lives there and could help us explore the cities secrets would have made it worth spending more time.

Approximate total cash cost (in USD): $75 (lodging, food, transit, activities).

Discounts received, reward money earned, points used etc: $30 back through Booking.com using affiliate link.

 

World Adventure Score (out of 10 stars)

Cost (overall, i.e. Norway is 1, US is 3, Nicaragua is 9): 4

Food (quality, cost and variety): 7

Culture (diversity, friendliness, etc): 7

Transportation (ease of use, public options): 10

Nature (places to hike, beautiful scenes, green cities): 5

Photography options (from a landscape and nature perspective): 4

Adventure factor (lots of adventurous activities): 3

Safety (ok to walk at night, lack of unsafe neighborhoods): 9

Overall: 6.1

 

Enjoy my adventures?

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adventure, city reviews, places, travel tips

Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, and Page Arizona

Page Arizona is a small, desert town right next to the lake Powell Dam on the Colorado River. It is probably on the map primarily due to two popular tourist attractions nearby besides Lake Powell: Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River and Antelope Canyon in Navajo Nation.

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View of Horseshoe Bend at Sunrise with the sunlight reflecting off distant clouds, great lighting this time of day!

Horseshoe Bend is a spectacular vista point on the river where the Colorado takes a sharp turn shaped like a horseshoe with deep canyon walls resembling the Grand Canyon but smaller. While not as grand as the larger canyon, this area is certainly large enough to invoke awe. Below are a few tips

Sunset vs Sunrise: The sun sets almost directly behind horseshoe bend overlook. So the site can be spectacular but the lighting can be hard to capture. Sunrise from behind gives better lighting if you can get up early enough but you will be facing away from the sun.

Crowds: This is a popular spot. English speaking American’s are probably a minority here which is super cool. For whatever reason this is a very popular place with international travelers. It certainly is spectacular. But can also be quite crowded. Go in the winter, on a week day, early morning for best results.

Temperature: Both times I went it was cold. In fact there has been snow there as the winters can be rather cold. But remember it is a dry desert and in the summer can be sweltering. So bring water!

Getting there: Tons of parking with bathrooms! I’ve never had trouble parking at all. The hike is approximately 0.4 miles each way. You briefly walk up a hill an then the rest is downhill (with the reverse on the way back).

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Where to shoot: The middles (where the most tourist are) is the symmetrical image classic to Horseshoe Bend. However, going to the right (and I’m sure the left as well), offers incredible alternative perspectives equally as beautiful if not so symmetrical. Walk around and don’t just shoot from one spot (like so many people there do).

Antelope Canyon is the most famous of many slot canyons that dot the desert landscape around Page. Upper Antelope Canyon is the primary place that people visit here. However, there is also Lower Antelope Canyon, and numerous less famous ones that one can potentially visit as well.

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Visiting: First pick your canyon. Upper is the most popular and is easy to get to but the other options can be beautiful too. Next pick a tour agency and preferably book in advance to secure your spot. Because this land is owned and operated by the Navajo Nation, they create the regulations for its use. Due to overuse and vandalism, guided tours are required to limit the number of visitors and to protect the beautiful landscape.

I recommend Antelope Canyon Tours Inc. I used them and enjoyed my tour immensely with an excellent tour guide and quick reasonable service. They are highly rated on Yelp as well. Total cost was about $40/person with optional tip (I tipped because I thought she was exceptional but didn’t notice anyone else doing so). Its a bit more expensive during the summer.

Getting The Photo: The photo that everyone wants to get here is that classic image of the light streaming down through the slot into the darker canyon. Its a beautiful shot. To get it you have to go close to noon when the sun is the highest. The canyon will be quite crowded so you may want to take a photo tour which allows more time and privacy (DSLR and tripod required to eliminate more casual tourists).

However, remember, the classic photo isn’t the only aspect of beauty here. A good tour guide will point out exceptionally beautiful spots in the canyon that require no special lighting or positioning of the sun. I went at 3pm and got some awesome photos!

Set your camera up before you go based on current lighting conditions and be prepared to shoot quick. The tour is fun but somewhat rushed as there are lots of people trying to see the canyon all the time. If you go in the winter and later in the day the canyon is much more deserted.

Page Arizona is a small, touristy, southwestern town. There isn’t a whole lot to do there besides the two main things I just mentioned and anything to do with Lake Powell (which is currently quite low). Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and Grand Canyon are all within 2-3 hours which makes it possible to use Page as a base camp. Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is also nearby and quite enjoyable to visit.

Where to Stay: We stayed in the Motel 6 in Page Arizona. It was newly remodeled. Very inexpensive (about $50/night). Quite clean. Nicely decorated (simple Ikea style). And very close to everything (10 minutes or less).  We looked at some of the other budget hotels and some nicer ones, but none seemed to give the same value for the money.

Where to Eat: For dinner we ate at a local American style Mexican restaurant called El Tapatio which was quite delicious. It seemed popular with tourist and locals alike as there was a 20 minute wait on a random week-day night. Other than that there didn’t seem to be many good local restaurants, coffee shops, or bars though I’m sure there are a few gems we missed.

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

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city reviews, iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik is the little big city. Its official population is 119,000 people with about twice that living in the surrounding towns. In the US or most of Europe this would be quite a small city; however, Reykjavik really pulls off a bigger town feel.

Language:

Almost everyone in Reykjavik speaks decent English so communication shouldn’t be an issue if you know that language.

Transport:

The city is very navigable with a couple of larger roads but no real highways. There is plenty of free parking if you are willing to walk a few blocks which I always am! The city is quite walkable once you park. There are also public buses which will get you from place to place; however, they don’t come that often and were a bit hard to figure out for me.

Lodging:

I recommend Airbnb. I paid about $40/night to take a private room for two in an apartment. We had full range of the apartment and hardly saw the owner. Another visit we did use a hotel which was under $100/night for 3 people and included a large delicious European style breakfast. My upcoming trip I have rented a 5 bedroom house for a large group of us for about $350/night.

Eating:

Food is quite expensive in Reykjavik. Going out to eat at an average restaurant that might cost $10-20/person in the US would be about double that in Iceland. However, shopping for your own food is reasonable, sometimes cheaper than the US, but still more expensive than most of Europe.

Because of this I haven’t eaten out much in Reykjavik. There are plenty of other blogs where you can learn more about the cuisine there, but if you are budget traveling like me, you may want to skip it.

Two recommendations I can make: Omnom Chocolate: got a bunch of free samples from them and loved it. Quite delicious dark homemade chocolate bars. Reykjavik Roasters makes some awesome brews. They are located in a quaint red house that really sets that perfect coffee house mood.

Shops and stuff to see:

Most of Reykjavik’s shops and restaurants are located along Laugavegur street and its side streets. Here you will find numerous bars, restaurants, locally hand made products of all sorts, clothing shops, and more. Much of it is touristy of course so prices may be a bit higher than elsewhere. We discovered some cool pottery shops and lots of wool clothing stores on our last visit.

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A view of the city with the mountains behind it from one of the hotels I stayed in on my first ever visit to Iceland in 2015

Nightlife:

For its size Reykjavik has amazing nightlife. Both times I visited, I took one night to go out on the town and had an amazing time. Tons of people out including many locals not just tourists. Last time I met a guy who recognized me from my Instagram where he had seen photos from my previous visit. We also met some random Icelandic guys who showed a great time, skipping the line to get into a more exclusive club. One of the most fun bars in Reykjavik is the gay bar, Kíkí Queer Bar, fun music and a great mixed crowd. We also enjoyed Lebowski BarKaffibarinn, and Austur.

Because drinks are expensive in Reykjavik ($10/beer, $15/cocktail), I’d recommend a good pregame to get the night started. Drinking age is 20 and there are bouncers but they are pretty chill. Icelandic people love to drink and party (or so they have told me), and from what I’ve seen they seem to be right. Most of the bars are off that same main street with all the shops and restaurants. Just walk up and down and go bar hopping. You will have a good time!

Touristy Stuff:

Like most towns there are all sorts of tours including free walking tours. I’ve never done one in Reykjavik but I know that in some towns the system kind of rips off the tour guides, so make sure you tip well and maybe read up on the way the tour guides work before going on one.

Whale watching is tons of fun and a good way to enjoy the nearby natural beauty. I recommend Elding Adventures At Sea, whom I went with and quite enjoyed. They have their own museum about whales as well.

There is also a large swimming area (well lots of them but one in particular) in the city, taking full advantage of the thermal waters underneath Iceland. Every pool at this swimming park is somewhat warm and there are multiple hot tubs of various temperatures. The park is called Laugardalslaug and is open to the public.

Another popular tourist attraction is the Hallgrimskirkja, a large church deigned to resemble the natural volcanic rock formations found in Iceland. It is quite beautiful and offers a great view of the city from the top.

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Random tourist saying a prayer in front of the great church

The best thing about Reykjavik is you can do all this stuff in just a day or two, giving you tons more time to see the rest of the nature on the Island.

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

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Nikon D3300
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Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II

city reviews, nightlife

Dirty Bar and an Intro to DC Nightlife

http://www.dirtybardc.com/

When people outside the city think of DC nightlife they often conjure up images of snooty political hacks in black suits and ambitious lawyers in cocktails dresses sipping on over priced drinks and discussing the latest political hoopla in the capital city. While this is certainly something you can find in DC, most people don’t realize that DC nightlife is some of the best in the country.

Dirty Bar is a prime example. While by no means the best DC has to offer, it stands out as so different from the DC stereotypes that I think it will give you a good idea of what I’m talking about. Dirty Bar has a happy hour. Every Friday. From 11-Midnight. Its actually an open bar. And its completely and entirely free. That’s right every Friday night, with a pre- “purchased” ticket (free you just have to get it before Friday), you can go to a bar in DC and drink for free.

And this isn’t just any bar. It has a cage where any girl is welcome to show off her dance skills, a swing (more for photo ops than actually swinging), and outdoor patio, and a couple of live DJ’s!

Of course, if you don’t like this bar there are tons of other options in every imaginable genre of night life!

For example, the gay scene. DC has a vibrant gay community and with it an incredible gay friendly night life environment. One of my favorite clubs anywhere is Town which is probably DC’s largest gay club with a weekly drag show, great electro-style DJ’s, monthly themed parties and photo shoots, and an outdoor patios with heat lamps! This is a no fucks given club where taking off your shirt is encouraged, straight people welcome, dancing on the stages (when there aren’t go-go dancers) a must, and delicious inexpensive drinks ($6 and up).

If you want a huge Vegas style club with top world renowned DJ’s spinning their latest mixes, often till 4 in the morning, check out my favorite club in the US, Echostage. Echostage is huge (3,500 capacity I believe), with two full length bars downstairs on the main dance floor and two smaller ones upstairs. Upstairs is a full horseshoe shaped, huge, VIP balcony overlooking the incredible main dance floor. The light shows, water shows, and lasers add to the incredible performances of world class DJ’s like Steve Aoki, Galantis, 3lau, Tiesto, and Hardwell.

Other favorite spots of mine:

Marvin’s, a two floor bar turned dance room on weekends with a large patio off U st.

Brixton, I call this the see and be seen bar of U st with lines down the alley way, but still can be a lot of fun, 3 floors, whiskey bar themed

Flash, also on U st, Deep house all the way, 3 floors with open air 3rd floor in the summer, main dance floor has unique and incredible light and sound system

Ultrabar, can be a bit of a bro crowd but with 4 dance floors and and incredible amount of musical variety it can be a lot of fun too

Public Bar, across from Dirty Bar, this bar is a boring sports bar much of the time but can liven up on the weekends with DJ’s and remixes

Soundcheck, a basement club opened by the same people who run Echostage, this is the club to go to for off night clubbing, think Sunday and Wednesday night (I’ve been to sold out shows with a wait list down the road on a Wednesday here)

9:30 Club, less of a club and more of a concert venue, good place to see amazing bands that are bigger than local but can’t quite pack an arena

What I like so much about DC, is that its is manageable without being boring or limited. NYC is not manageable. Certainly not boring, but it is completely overwhelming especially if you are not from there. DC on the other hand, never runs out of new options, but you can also quickly find favorites, walk out of one bar and be a $6 Uber from the next, and not feel overwhelmed by the number of clubs to pick from. Also compare to much of the country, DC drinking laws are quite relaxed. Sure you can’t go all night like Miami or Vegas, but most clubs stay open and serve till close to 4 am on the weekends. And there is something for everyone. Whatever your scene is, DC probably has at least one place (if not many) to cater to your weekend revelries.

 

Happy Travels!

Keep up with my latest adventures and photos 🙂

Follow JELTOWN on Instagram, FacebookTwitter and now on YouTube!

Save money by traveling like I do

$35 off your first Airbnb booking!

Check out the Equipment I use

Nikon D3300
Nikkor 18-140mm Zoom Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II