We left Germany to South East Asia and our first stop was Singapore. To be honest, I didn’t expect too much from this city that is called ‘Asias Switzerland’. So far we have been told that Singapore is supposed to be clean, big and expensive.
Most backpackers skip it or stay only for a short stopover. We have more reason to stay: My colleague and friend just moved there and we kind of invited ourselves over 🙂
For the first time I am going to give you some ideas about what to do in Singapore. I am not into those articles that are called something like: “10 things to do in …”. First of all, how could I tell after visiting for a couple of days? And second, I guess not everyone is interested in the same schedule. But as we had a nice itinerary maybe you can relate to some of it. We arrived on a Wednesday evening and stayed until Monday. That gave us three whole days in the city. To be honest we could have easily spent three more days, but lets get started with a Singapore City Guide!
You can get pretty much everywhere around the city by the local train system MRT. Fares are really cheap (about 3SGD for a 30 minutes ride), but it takes quite a while to get from one end of the city to the other.
We started our first day Downtown at the National Gallery. Usually one does not have the time to spend endless time in a museum when you are on a city trip. Even though you might consider stopping by because of two reasons: If you manage the confusing arrangement of rooms and elevators, you can go to the top floor of the museum. From the green terrace with the water pool you have an amazing view of the city. You might not be really high compared to all the skyscrapers, but you are right in the middle and you can see Marina Bay Sands surrounded by the skyline. This water pool even reflects into the hall below what creates some amazing pictures! On your way down there are a couple of free exhibitions as well where you could spare a glare. The second reason to stop by is the Museum Shop on the ground floor. Maybe it’s just me who really is into those kind of shops, but I really love the combination of art prints and products from (local) designers.
On our way to Chinatown we passed the St. Andrew’s Cathedral, the Asian Civilization Museum and the Arts House.
In China Town you can get everything from chopsticks, seals with your Chinese names, medicine, plastic toys, counterfeit products and everything filled with durian (probably the smelliest fruit in the world). We couldn’t quite figure out how much of this center of China Town is “real” or if it’s all just a tourist trap. In any case it is really interesting to walk through. Watch out not to get lured into one of the fabric shops except you are searching for a tailored suit. On South Bridge Road there is a Chinese shop called Chinese Art Center, right opposite to the entry to China Town. They might just sell the same stuff, but I thought they had some really nice artwork there.
One of the things that made us fall in love with Singapore is that you can have street food everywhere and what’s even more important; it’s usually safe to eat. There is going to be a whole blog post about food in Singapore and Malaysia! City government rates every food stall with A to D grades. You might want to skip C and D but we ate at many B and some A places and the food is just amazing. Even though food stands in the streets are not allowed, you can get it in Hawker Centers all around the city. That is basically a hall filled with food stands with all kinds of Asian food.
In China Town we’ve got really good (and really cheap) food at the Maxwell Food Center. The oldest and probably nicest Hawker Center there is Lau Pa Sat. At about 7 pm they even close down one of the streets and the Satay cooks take over the place.
Just a little bit further is the waterfront. We paid our tribute to Merlion, the cities mascot, before watching the amazing light show of Marina Bay Sands. We ended our day in one of the many bars at the waterfront. ‘Over Easy’ (http://www.overeasy.com.sg) serves great Singapore Sling and Milkshakes J. If you want to go to the top of Marina Bay Sands Hotel without paying the entry fee you could just as well go to the bar and buy a drink there. Or so we have been told. We might try it on our next visit on our way back.
We started our second day in the supposedly Hipster district of Singapore. I really liked the fifties architecture because it really stands out compared to all those high-rise buildings all around. It’s all very green with plants lined up all along the sidewalks and a couple of nice looking Cafés and Shops in Yong Siak Street. Sadly we had the feeling that the apartment buildings are slowly closing in and I am not sure how much longer this nice little suburban heaven is going to last.
Quite the contrast! Everyone there was preparing for Deepavali and in contrast to religion at home, religion here is a very colourful and most of all a very loud affair. There is so much going on all around us that we can walk around almost unnoticed and just stare. A ‘must see’ (or so we have been told) is the gigantic Mustafa Center that spreads along two blocks. It was crammed on Saturday and if you are not into a real Mumbai experience I wouldn’t go on a Sunday when it is everyone’s day off! On numerous floors you can buy everything you didn’t know you needed. Literally everything… watches, electronics, drones, 100 kg of rice, medicine, blinking souvenirs, toys and so on. Just name it. Obviously you have to stay for some Indian food. You can get Thali Lunch (a tray with a selection of different dishes with rice and naan). That is usually my to choice because I can never decide what to get.
Walking on to Kampong Glam, the Muslim district of Singapore, we passed many Indian or Pakistani shops that sell Saris, harem pants, scarves and fabrics. We bought a nicely looking piece of fabric with a traditional pattern to use as a tablecloth.
At the edge of Kampong Glam we discovered Haji Lane, yet another surprise. We were amazed at how often the city completely changes its appearance from one block to another. This must be the real hipster place. It is a street full of amazing shops, cafés and restaurants. Some of those shops could have easily been in Amsterdam or Berlin. You can get vintage clothes, local designer cloth, home ware and much more. We followed the mouth-watering smell to Coco & Frank where we had amazing oatmeal cookies, an amazing finish for our second day of sightseeing.
We spent a good part of our last day the way Singaporeans do: In the shopping malls of Orchard Road. The road goes on for kilometers and there is one mall next to the other. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter which mall you are going to, they are pretty much the same. I don’t get the appeal of spending your day inside those centers, but the ocals seem to love it. We went to Takashimaya Department Store that has a huge food court and an enormous book store. If you want to get your Fendi or Chanel handbags this is also the place to get them.
Gardens by the Bay
We ended the day at the Gardens by the Bay. You can’t see any of those gigantic steel structures from the city center but it is an amazing place to spent a couple of hours, especially at dusk. We were really impressed by the steel trees and the gardens. There is even a train connecting two of the bog trees and the whole park is amazing for taking pictures.
There are also many greenhouses to go to but the entry fees are quite expensive. However the place is getting really crowded in the evening because everyone wants to see the light show. We were expecting something really kitschy … the way the Asians like it. But WOW … The trees lit up to a musical chorography of Asian and Western music and it is amazing! I think this definitely needs to go on your ‘must see’ list.
So… there is still so much to see. We didn’t go to any of the islands (Sentosa Island, Pulau Ubin), nor to the botanical gardens or the night safari or the Singapore Zoo. I guess we will have to return!