Anthony Bourdain is quick to note that nobody drinks Singapore Slings in Singapore. This celebrity chef describes the people of the island country as a food-crazy culture, where all of the great food is found in the hawker stands and food courts and we couldn’t agree more. Singapore is all about great food originating from different cultural backgrounds, it is about the shopping experiences, social delights, places to visit and things to do. Home to almost five million people, this crowded city / country embraces Indians, Chinese, Malay and other Asian (and part British) communities into its fold.
The first thing that strikes you about Singapore is the Changi Airport. The arrival halls greet passengers with much friendly exuberance, which is rarely experienced at airports. An entity on its own, one can easily spend an entire day shopping and marveling at the beauty of its terminals. Other airports should model the systematic and swift disembarkation and immigration process experienced at Changi.
Well connected with the MRT – the Mass Rapid Transport system – it’s easier to get into the city via a cab because they are not too expensive. Getting around is easy and getting lost is easy too. Not in the literal sense, but its easy to forget where you are and what you set out to do, thanks to vibrant energy of this city. As is with most places, there is tons of stuff to do in Singapore too, however today we are going to touch upon the five key areas to visit.
Let’s kick off with the Marina Bay Area. The towering Marina Bay Sands Hotel dominates the waterfront and is the world’s most expensive building. It occupies prime location and is home to a huge casino, shopping mall and more. With the sole purpose of wooing tourists, the hotel is Singapore’s delight and boasts of a beautiful infinity pool and Sands SkyPark. Although the pool is now restricted to hotel guests only, the Sands SkyPark is open to public for a fee. The open deck offers a 360-degree view of the city’s skyline and is designed in a unique boat shape, connecting the tree towers of the hotel.
A stone’s throw away from the Marina Bay Sands Hotel is the Singapore Flyer, which is a slow Ferris Wheel. A ride on it offers spectacular views that ranges to about 45 km and includes views of Indonesian islands of Batam and Bintan, and Johor, Malaysia. Walk away from here and towards the Esplanade Theatres that are designed like the love-to-hate-fruit – the durian. The theatre plays some great concerts and is a great performance venue. In close quarters to this is the Merlion Park at One Fullerton; Singapore’s landmark emblem. It is a great place to hang out in the evening and take quality photos with the Marina Bay Sands in the backdrop. Originally this statue was built upon the mouth of the Singapore River, however after the construction of the Esplanade Bridge, the statue was relocated to the present location.
Sentosa Island is synonymous with fun; it is a destination where one can spend an entire day and more. It is home to Resorts World Sentosa and the Universal Studios. We recommend that you set aside at least two to three days for Sentosa alone. One day for the Universal Studios theme park, one day for R&R at the beaches and one day to explore all the major attraction of the island. These include the Tiger Sky Tower – a freestanding observation tower, Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom – home to more than 15,000 live butterflies and 3,000 species of rare insects, Underwater World and Dolphin Lagoon – oceanarium and dolphin center, Songs of the Sea – the spectacular sounds and light show, MegaZip Adventure Park, iFly Singapore – wind tunnel and many more attractions.
Chinatown is a cultural enclave with rustic charm that mixes the old with the new. You will find traditional Chinese Medicine Halls and family run goldsmiths and textile shops rubbing shoulders with high-end malls. Do stop a while and take in the sights, especially in the evening, when the roads light up with quaint Chinese Lanterns. Popular for boutique hotels like the Club and Hotel 1929, the area is also lined with swanky restaurants. From a food stand point; you must try the street food around the Chinatown area along with the food court at Maxwell Street, one of the popular ones. Smiths Street closes down for vehicular traffic and opens doors for special vendors who dish out traditional culinary delights at night. Besides food, you can also indulge in souvenir shopping and bargain shopping on the streets. We recommend that you stop by one of the massage parlors and get yourself a good reflexology foot massage.
You will be surprised to know that Chinatown is famous for not only the Buddha Tooth Relic temple, but also Hindu Temples and Mosques. The Sri Mariamman Temple and Jamae Mosque on South Bridge Road are landmark places and have been around for a long time. The Red Dot Museum is a stone’s throw away from the Buddha Temple and it houses the most modern designs from the world of Product Design.
A vivid contrast to Chinatown is Little India, the hub for all things Indian. The architecture here is typical to Singapore and preserved to the past glory. During Indian festivals this area lights up like the Diwali Lamps in India. Famous for two things – Mustafa and Indian restaurants, a trip down to this area required you to come empty-handed and pockets full. Mustafa is a 24-hour shopping center, famous for non-branded apparels, Indian-sourced food, imported chocolates, electronics, jewelry, watches, you-name-it-and-its-there kinda place. A couple of hours in Little India is sufficient, you can easily skip from here to Jurong for the rest of the day. Visit the Bird Park and if nature and animals is your thing, then opt for the 4-in1 Park ticket that gives you access to Jurong Bird Park, Singapore Zoo, Night Safari and River Safari saving you almost SGD $25 per ticket.
Orchard Road & Clarke Quay
Your ultimate shopping haven in Singapore is Orchard Road, and your foodie haven is Clarke Quay. With twenty-two shopping malls and six departmental stores, the Orchard is home to over 5000 brands and is celebrated for the Great Singapore Sale. Some of the top-notch hotels and fine dining restaurants are located here. Always bustling with people, the area is very well connected with the MRT underground. Getting around the area is easy, because in essence Orchard is just one main artery road with malls and stores lining the sides.
Situated on the banks of the Singapore River, Clarke Quay grew to become the center of commerce during the 19th century. The waterfront area is the ideal location for restaurants and cafés that dot banks. An evening here is a must-do, make a reservation in one of the delightful restaurants that serve anywhere from Italian, Chinese, Indian to Mediterranean and then spend some time lounging on the steps of the riverbank. Gorge on some street-side ice cream sandwiches and then round it up with an authentic Singapore cuppa coffee – strong coffee with condensed milk.
Without doubt, there is more to Singapore than what we have tried to capture here. The important thing to do is to take the first step – book your flight and make hotel reservations. If you’re lucky, then you can fly a Dreamliner or an A380 to Changi, direct from your hometown. Just leave your sticky chewing gum back home because they are banned! Surprising Singapore!