I Travelled During a Pandemic and got Covid

I wanted to write an article about my recent travel experience regardless of the outcome, and I wanted to write it to help those who are going to be travelling during this time, or are even thinking about it. We’re in our third year of the pandemic and I hadn’t seen my family in two years. Regardless of the situation, I was going to take any opportunity I could to go home to see them.

That being said, there’s a few things I wish I knew before flying. Even though I had friends that had flown before me, there were new developments every day with the Omicron variant that definitely kept me on my toes.

Pre-Flight

My main concern was coming back on a VTL (vaccinated travel lane) flight, meaning that when I returned to Singapore there was no need to quarantine. This was paramount as I had face-to-face training booked at work. I was going for two weeks, mainly because I’d already taken a lot of time off for our wedding and staycays, but also because I am a licenced financial services consultant in Singapore- I cannot legally work or give financial advice in other countries and if I was out of SG for too long I would run into tax issues.

VTL flights were CRAZY expensive- one BA flight was about $6,000. I love my family but was not about to pay that. So, I found a cheaper way to fly via Berlin with Scoot, return VTL, pretty cheap. I also booked a pre departure test for the UK, booked a day 2 test for when we got there, completed our passenger locator form and my VTP (vaccinated travel pass). I would recommend printing everything off for a smooth transition, and I even printed off all travel itinerary, insurance and our marriage certificate (he’s a Singaporean so I knew I could come back on a family ties lane if there was another lockdown).

Flight

With all our documents ready and check-in online done it was time to head off. Thank goodness we got to the airport early because, even though we had already checked in, it didn’t matter. We still had to queue and have Scoot check all our documents, which was fine and didn’t take too long, but they seem to have more staff ‘assisting you’ at the automatic booths than for the Covid checks, which seemed counter-productive, and our assistant kept pressing all the wrong buttons, so it would have just been easier to do it ourselves. But once check in was done, everything was easy and the flight to Berlin was pretty smooth.

That’s when the panic started. We only had a two-hour layover in Berlin (which was totally my own doing; we landed at 9am and all other flights to England weren’t until 7pm, and I would rather take my chances than sit in an airport for that long). The issue was that, because it was self-transfer with two different airlines, we had to go through passport control, collect our bags, check them in again, go through security and then immigration a second time before boarding our next flight. This was the most stress I’ve experienced in a long time, and if it weren’t for the kind family in front of us at immigration letting us past, we would have missed our flight. Anyway, we got our connection just in the nick of time and arrived safely in Manchester.

Being At Home

I am not over exaggerating when I say that seeing my mom at Manchester Airport for the first time in two years was like something out of Love Actually. I cried, she cried, and there was a tonne of people in the exact same situation, embracing each other after years of being apart. It was at this moment that I realised that all of this was worth it. It was like time had stood still and nothing had changed being back at home. It was also very special because this was the first time my husband was coming home with me and had met my parents face to face.

Whilst I was home, I met friends, got my booster and went to a club. Although I will say that because of my constant fear of Covid, we were super careful; wore masks EVERYWHERE, constantly hand sanitised, stayed in small groups and sat by ourselves with masks on in the club (lame I know). The UK had become very lax about the situation, with no one really checking vaccination status or wearing a mask. And to some extent I agree with the majority that it does need to be taken as an endemic now, but I had a flight to catch in two weeks.

Omicron Panic

During the trip I had several friends cancel on their plans because they had tested positive and were self-isolating. I was happy to hear, however, that they weren’t taking long to recover and had little to no symptoms. Governments worldwide didn’t see the positive side, however, and with news that Europe was shutting their boarders the panic started to set in. Our flight back to Singapore was again via Berlin and it wasn’t long until EasyJet cancelled our flight from Gatwick.

Then Singapore announced that it was suspending all VTL sales…we had 4 hours to frantically book flights. I found a pretty reasonable booking with Turkish Airlines arriving in Singapore on the 1st January.

Heading Back

We flew back from London and, after a lovely time with family and friends, we got our lateral flows done in Boots somewhere in Piccadilly, did our Health Travel Declaration for Singapore and stayed next to Heathrow Airport.

The gentleman at the Turkish Airlines desk was incredibly helpful and the document check was very smooth. Everything from that point to Istanbul went very well and felt like normal flying times. When we got to Istanbul we had to have our VTL documents checked again, which was fine for us but not for all- there were people being told they had to say in Istanbul Airport, others on the phone to their respective embassies and some being interrogated about their trip to Singapore. I genuinely think this happened because Turkish Airlines doesn’t make it clear on their website that the flight is a VTL- I had to trawl through several websites to confirm and the VTL flight only happens in January once every two weeks. And if you weren’t from Singapore, how would you even know what a VTL is?

Landing

Everything when we arrived in Singapore was smooth- we got our bags quickly, and, although I hadn’t pre-booked my PCR, it was quick and efficient. We got home and awaited our results…the morning came and my husband got a call from MOH saying that he had tested positive on his PCR. This came as quite a shock as we were both negative before we left, my whole family had tested negative and we are now testing negative on ART tests. Hours later I still had not received my results. But eventually they came in and were positive too. We now both have to quarantine for ten days (from result, not from test, so essentially 11 days), which I am pretty upset about. For some context, it came out in the news that those on non-VTL flights will no longer have to do a PCR on arrival, and self-isolate for 7 days. If they test positive on an ART they have to isolate for 72 hours or until they test negative. Please tell me why for VTL it is a 10 day quarantine, regardless of how soon you test negative?

Final Thoughts

All in all I am very happy I went home and nothing will take away that time I spent with friends and family. However, I do feel that the VTL scheme is just a way of making money- ticket prices are insanely high, the number of tests is insurmountable and the PCR upon arrival was $125, which I got the results well after 24hrs instead of 6-12. And on top of that I still have to quarantine longer than if it was non-VTL. The level of extra documentation and stress made flying incredibly nerve-wracking. I used to be a frequent flyer and travel a few times a month- this trip I was incredibly anxious, panicked and it was overall such an unpleasant experience. Also, if I knew I was going to test positive anyway, even after all the many precautions I took, I probably would have cared less and relaxed a bit more.

Here’s to 8 more days stuck inside!

Great Singapore Christmas Gift Ideas!

A lot of us are headed back for the holidays, myself included. And for many of us, this is the first time we’ve been back in at least a couple of years. So, if you’re struggling to think of what gifts to bring back for your relatives, here are some quintessential Singaporean things you can give them, along with some cool shop ideas of where to get unique Singapore gifts.

  1. Kaya and Pandan

These two flavours are pretty much the first thing I think of when I think of Singapore. Kaya toast was invented during the Straits Settlement Period by Hainanese cooks. This coconut jam is traditionally served on buttered toast, with soft-boiled eggs and coffee. It is the most popular traditional breakfast, and outlets such as Ya Kun Kaya Toast can be found everywhere across the country. So why not pick up a jar of kaya to bring back for your family to try? Let them feel the real taste of Singapore.

Pandan is a fragrant leaf, commonly found in kaya spreads but also in other good, such as cakes and biscuits. These can also be great options as gifts to bring home for the whole family.

2. Kopi

There wouldn’t be kaya toast without kopi- a highly caffeinated coffee originating during the British Malaya era, with Hainanese roots. This local coffee normally packs a bigger punch that other coffees, because of the roasting of Robusta beans, as opposed to Arabica. You can purchase bags of roasted kopi beans, which make an excellent gift for any coffee enthusiast. You can also buy coffee bags (like tea bags, but with coffee) of kopi, so no need to bother grinding them etc.

3. Art Faculty

If you’re looking for a shop with great gifts, you can try checking out the Art Faculty. This social enterprise is dedicated to showcasing and honouring the unique talents of artists on the autistic spectrum. You can buy masks, sustainable goods, cute accessories and more, all with a Singaporean twist. I particularly like the cute little pins that look like a bowl of laksa, chicken rice or xiao long bao, and their cushion covers of artist’s depictions of famous places like Smith Street. Check them out at Enabling Village, 20, Lengkok Bahru, or visit www.theartfaculty.sg.

4. Cat Socrates

This cool shop has two outlets- one on Joo Chiat Road and one on Yong Siak Street. Here you can find all manner of quirky or interesting gifts, all to do with Singapore. You can find cook books from all of our various cuisines here such as Peranakan, Asian vegetarian food and even cookbooks based on things you can find at the wet market.

  You can also buy various Singaporean-based games, such as The Singaporean Dream, Say What? (in different languages such as Malayu, Hokkien and even Singlish), or my personal favourites are the Singaporean-themed home range. You can purchase Peranakan tile magnets, Singapore trays, tea towels, placemats…you name it!

  There is simply a tonne of great gifts ideas here, all with adorable Singapore-inspired motifs!

5. Naiise.com

Naiise.com is a creative online marketplace chock full of unique gift ideas. If you click on the ‘Go Local’ section, you’ll find loads of quirky things that make great Christmas presents. Some cute stuff I stumbled across were; a cushion that looks like a curry puff; a plush otah pencil case, and various t-shirts with Singaporean flora and fauna. I myself have a t-shirt with a durian shaped like Esplanade (because its nickname is The Durian).

Take a look at their site- there is so much stuff on here I simply cannot list it all. A lot make for excellent presents.

I hope this short list gives you enough ideas for lovely, unique and Singaporean Christmas presents. I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year.

How To Staycay On A Budget!

Even though the lockdown rules have eased a bit here in Singapore, it still looks like we won’t be able to travel out the country for a while. So why not go on a staycation! There are loads of options here in Singapore, so if you want to plan a staycay that isn’t going to break the bank…this is the right article for you! Here are 5 top tips to plan a Staycay on a Budget!

  1. Determine Your Budget

You can’t work around a budget if you don’t have a budget, right? But how much should you set aside for your staycation? Well, for those that read by budgeting articles before, you will already know that you shouldn’t spend more than 30% of your monthly income on your ‘wants’ (going out, drinks, food, hobbies etc.). So work with this figure- if you are planning on splurging out on your staycation, you may have to tighten the rest of the things you do for that month. If you want to calculate a figure, a quarter of this 30% should be your max. That way, you still have cash left over for the rest of the month.

2. Pick Off-Peak Times

Once you’ve determined your budget, it’s time to maximise your budget as much as possible. Try not to pick your staycation on expensive dates, such as National Day, CNY, Hari Raya etc. Pick off-peak timings. Not only will this be cheaper for you, but it will also be easier when booking, as public holidays sell out fast! If you can book during the week instead of the weekend, due to your schedule- then even better for you!

3. Plan Free Activities

Depending on where you’re staying in Singapore, you can find lots of different free things to do! Say for example you’re staying at Marina Bay Sands, you can walk around Gardens By The Bay for free, check out The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple or walk round Henderson Waves!

 If you’re staying in Sentosa, there’s a tonne of fun, cheap or even free stuff to do! Have a picnic on the beach, check out the Sentosa Trails or explore the Southernmost Tip of Asia!

4. BYOB

Everyone knows that alcoholic drinks are really expensive in Singapore. I almost can’t wait to visit the UK just so I can order a glass of wine that doesn’t break the bank! So, instead of splurging at MBS or the Fullerton, why not bring your own bottles? Last time I stayed at Marina Bay Sands; I brought my own bottle of red wine to enjoy in the room.

5. Make The Most Of The Facilities

This may not seem like a budgeting tip per say, but, hear me out. If you don’t have a pool at your place, or a gym, or a sauna, make the most of it! It’s included in your staycation, so you may as well use it while you can, especially if you normally have to pay for gym or pool access when you’re not on staycay! Not only that, if you can get a hotel that has breakfast included, make sure you don’t miss it! That’s one more meal out you don’t have to pay for.

I hope these tips show that you can plan a successful staycation without having to spends lots of going out, meals, drinks and activities. I’m not saying don’t spend at all! But there are definitely ways to cut costs…enjoy and stay safe!

Fun Places To Go As A 5!

The Phase 2 Heightened Restrictions have been eased! We’re now allowed to hang out in groups of 5 again. All this time working from home and staying in the house might have had you wondering…what fun stuff is there to do in a group these days? Look no further! Here’s a list of some awesome places to go in a group!

  • Adventure Cover Water Park

If you like water slides, fish and relaxing whilst floating, then this is the place for you. Adventure Cove is a water park that is a great day out for a group of friends or a family. There’s thrilling water slides, lazy rivers and you can even snorkel with fish! This water park is a perfect way to cool off on a hot day and you can book tickets online beforehand.

  • ArtScience Museum: Virtual Realms

From now until January, you can explore and immerse yourself with six installations at the ArtScience Museum. For art lovers and videogame enthusiasts alike, this exhibition has teamed up with some of the world’s leading video game developers to bring you this multi-sensory gallery. Submerge yourself into these different virtual realms that have been created. The exhibition is $16 for adults and $12 for children.

  • #InstaWalk

No good pictures to post online because you’ve been stuck outside? Want to meet new people? Then check out #InstaWalk; this guided tour has two options- Civic Colours or Bugis, Waterloo, KG Glam. Take this 2 hour walk and explore whichever are you choose out of the two options. The tour guides share tips on how to take great insta-worthy shots, whilst telling you about the history of the area. Not only that, if you sign up, you can get CapitaLand vouchers for free!

  • Gardens By The Bay

If you’ve got a group of 5 and it’s a lovely sunny day, consider a day out at Gardens By The Bay. Start off by grabbing some food at Satay By The Bay or Makansutra and then head over for the new exhibition Dale Chihuly: Glass in Bloom. This renowned artist’s glasswork is being shown until 1st August and has been shipped all the way from Seattle. Casually stroll around the gardens and see the beautiful glass structures and you can even chill and wind down with some drinks and a little picnic at Marina Barrage.

  • Durian Party!

It’s durian season! And I’ve left one of my favourite things (eating durian) until last. Many fruit stalls are now stocking up on this delicious spiky fruit, and if you want to try some, or have all your friends over to eat durian, now is the best time! The most popular (and most expensive) is Mao Shan Wang. It’s soft, creamy, sweet and yet a bit bitter. It’s definitely one of my favourite types, but it can be up to $25 per kg. Black Thorn (or Black Gold as I’ve also seen it advertised) is new to the market and similar (if not better) in taste to Mao Shan Wang. If you’re new to durian and want something sweet, not too bitter, and a cheaper option ($9-$17 per kg), try Red Prawn.

More things are set to open up as the month progresses, but here’s just a few things that can keep you and your friends busy until then!

Outdoor Singapore

Singapore’s weather has been incredibly hot and sunny lately, and if you would prefer to spend your days off being outdoors soaking up the sun, rather than indoor activities, then have I got a list for you! Read on for my top picks for things to do outdoors in Singapore!

  1. St John’s and Lazarus Islands

Don’t you miss being on holiday? Sandy beaches, relaxing by the ocean and sipping beer? Me too! Whilst we can’t travel overseas, the closest thing I can think of is heading over to St. John’s and Lazarus islands. You can take a ferry from Marina South Pier over to these islands, along with Kusu Island. To be honest, I wouldn’t really recommend Kusu island as last time I went half of it was closed and there was just a small temple to visit. But the beaches at St. John’s and Lazarus islands are way better than the ones on Sentosa. Think white sand and warm clear seas. One thing to note is that there are few to no facilities, especially on Lazarus island. So, it’s best to bring everything with you, especially extra water, as it gets so hot!

2. Kayaking

There are many options for kayaking in Singapore, and it really just depends on your preference. If you want a fun couple of hours on a kayak you can do it at East Coast Park. If you want a longer adventure you can kayak to Pulau Ubin and explore all its mangroves and waterways! And if you want something totally different and unusual, you can try a kayaking fishing trip (don’t worry, fish are released after you catch them).

3. Pulau Ubin

Speaking of Pulau Ubin, if you love cycling then this is the perfect day out. Catch a boat from Changi Jetty over to the island and enjoy the rugged landscape by foot or by bicycle. You can rent bikes over there, even tandem ones, and ride around the whole island. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of some wild boars! And, when the long day is over, you can chill at the Little Island Brewery at Changi and relax with some cold beers.

4. Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

If you love wildlife and want to spend your day exploring mangrove wetlands, this Heritage Park is the place for you. Not only is this area abundant with migratory birds, but you can also catch a glimpse of otters, lizards and even crocodiles here! If you want a change of scenery from the hustle and bustle of the city, then head up to Kranji and enjoy this ecological gem.

5. Nature Walks

There is a plethora of nature walks in Singapore, and in my opinion, they are all worth doing. Head to MacRitchie to do the famous tree top walk (watch out for monkeys!), Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (maybe my favourite nature walk), Bukit Batok Nature Park, Labrador Nature Reserve…the list goes on! Considering Singapore is such a small country with so many people and so many high-rise buildings, it is amazing how many parks and outdoor trails there are! Which one is your favourite and why?

Singapore really does have a lot of outdoor activities to offer, so get out there and explore!

Singapore Rediscovery!

We’ve all been stuck here for a pretty long time. Singapore is a small city, so you may feel like you’ve ran out of things to do. But fear not! I have complied a short list of awesome and exciting things to do on this little red dot. Perhaps you may find something that takes your fancy, or end up doing something you’ve never tried before.

HydroDash, Sentosa

Located in Sentosa, the HydroDash is Singapore’s first floating aqua park. This inflatable obstacle course is a thrilling challenge that also has discounts in January! You can use SingapoRediscovery vouchers, or Klook has $20 tickets right now.

Skyline Luge, Sentosa

Keeping on the Sentosa theme; the Luge is also incredibly fun. It’s like go-karting but without electrics; you can drive your luge round several courses, then take the skyline back up to the top! Not for those who are afraid of heights (trust me!), but racing your friends is a lot of fun. One person costs about $23.

Bird's Eye Photography Of Sea

Art Jam Session with drinks, 313 Somerset

If you fancy something a bit different and the weather isn’t as sunny as you’d have hoped- you can consider unleashing your creative side. For just under $50, you can spend a few hours chilling, vibing and being as artistic as possible, with a group of like-minded people. Coffee in included, as well as supplies.

HomeTeamns, Adventure HQ, Khatib

I went here the other day and, although it was terrifying, in retrospect it was a lot of fun. Inside you will find many height-related activities, such as Singapore’s longest indoor slide; a 16-element ropes course; and loads of things that you climb and jump off of. For the adrenaline-junky, this is a perfect day out. Treat yourself afterwards to a few beers at Orto down the road.

Boulder+, Kallang

If that wasn’t enough fear-factor for you, try bouldering at Kallang. Rock-climbing without harnesses, bouldering is a high-intensity workout. Day passes are $24, with youth passes at only $19. It’s a fun day out for all, and something to try if you’ve not done anything like this before.

Asian alpinist ascending climbing wall during workout

Holey Moley, Clarke Quay

If you haven’t tried this indoor golfing experience, you really must. I don’t even like golfing that much but this is honestly so much fun. There are 27 holes, each with a different theme (my personal favourites being Jaws and Bat Out of Hell). Not only that, there’s a range of cocktails; a cool dining area and good music. There are even a few vegan-friendly options on the menu, so don’t be put off by the bar food. Plus, it’s pretty affordable, with different deals on throughout the week.

Haw Par Villa

If you’re looking for something a bit stranger and more bizarre to do on your day off, why not try visiting Haw Par Villa. Apparently, people used to bring their kids here to frighten them into behaving. There are over 1000 statues depicting Chinese legends, with my personal favourite being the Ten Courts of Hell, where you can go and see for yourself what happens to those in the afterlife. Best part, it’s free.

Timezone, various locations

Unleash your inner kid with this indoor arcade. You can find something for everyone here, with all your classics like claw machines, shooting hoops and even bumper cars. Most games win you tickets, which are uploaded to your Timezone card. The prizes are also pretty good, too; not only can you get all the usual kids’ stuff like sweets and plush toys, but you can even get slow cookers, toasters and coffee machines. Plus, they frequently have promotions when you top up your card.

Led Lighted Bowling Arcade Machine

Jurong Bird Park

This attraction is so underrated in my opinion. It is such a good day out, with regular shows, a nursery full of baby birds and even the chance to feed the penguins yourself, there are lots of cool things to do. One of the highlights in the giant greenhouse aviary that has a massive waterfall inside. I also would recommend feeding the paraquets, although be careful, they tend to bite!

Tiger Brewery Tour, Joo Koon

I have saved the best till last- the Tiger Brewery. For only $20, you get an hour-long tour around the brewery, which includes the chance to win free beer if you answer questions correctly about beer. At the end, you are shown to the on-site pub, where you can cash in your free beer coupons for lots of different beers (not just Tiger). The pub has pool and darts, but the best thing is that the beer (if you purchase) is only 4 bucks a drink! So cheap!

Blue Plastic Pail

Comment what’s your favourite thing to do in Singapore!