It´s big, it´s clean, it´s green, its has some amazing architecture, great restaurants and (from what we heard) nightlife. And if you feel too claustrophobic between all the big skyscrapers you can easily escape to one of the beaches or parks nearby. I was in Singapore when I was 14 years old and everything looked soooo big back then – it still looked big today, so that hasn´t changed. The thing that surprised me the most was the fact that it did not seem overcrowded at all. And they moved the Merlion! I remembered exactly where it was standing back in 1998. We only stayed 4 days, but it was enough to get some impressions.
When: March 2015
How: backpacking (stopover in Singapore on the way to Bali)
Visited: Clarke Quay, Bumboat river tour, Riverside, Financial district, Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands, Sentosa island, Chinatown
Stayed in: small hotel
The best way to get around is on foot and with MRT trains. We took a taxi from the airport when we came, because we were tired, but went back with the MRT which was much cheaper. The MRT system is super easy, signs are everywhere and the tickets do not cost much. Also, it was not too crowdy or hectic, everybody seem to be walking peacefully and minding their own business. You can buy a Singapore tourist pass and ride buses, MRT and LRT trains as many times as you want – for the time the card is valid (you can choose for how many days you want it). You can buy this pass at the airport, some other MRT stations (not all!) or online. Between some places you can also get a water taxi or go on a boat round tour.
You can choose from cheap rooms in hostels to extremely expensive and luxurious hotels. There seem to be many hotels in Singapore that offer rooms with no windows. Those are the cheapest then and if you are out throughout the day anyway then you might not care about the window so much. It is clever to find a hotel close to a MRT station. We stayed near Clarke Quay and find this part great. There are many restaurants around (especially in the River area), Chinatown is close, you can get a bumboat (small water taxi) at Clarke Quay or walk all the way to the Gardens by the Bay.
Hotels are expensive and you do not get much for what you pay, unless you pay a lot. There are some cheap options – rooms without windows and shared bathrooms, so if you don´t mind that, you can get a good deal there. Lunch and dinner in small restaurants were around S$ 20 per person, with drinks. The restaurants by the river are more expensive. The cheapest option are the food courts and hawker centres and there are lots of different meals to choose from. One hour boat ride in the bay was S$ 22 per person, Skywalk and Flower dome at the Gardens by the Bay was S$ 28, taxi from the airport was S$ 22, large beer at the airport was 13€!
Depending on your budget and the space in your luggage, you can spend days just shopping around. Either expensive clothing, artworks, jewellery or just something from Chinatown – there is something for everybody´s taste. Even if you do not intend to buy anything, it´s interesting to go through the Marina Bay Sands shopping mall as it is really almost insane how many nice shops there are. To rest your legs you can even take a boat ride. In the shopping mall that is. So, if I ever get filthy rich, I know where I´m flying to for my first crazy shopping spree.
Singaporean cuisine is a mix of Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian, Thai and even European. Everything what we had was of good taste and the choice is endless. When choosing an restaurant, take a good look as it might be halal – nothing against that, just, if you want a beer with the food you will need to go somewhere else. In food courts you can eat for a good price, and it´s not time consuming.
The most common dish would be probably chicken and rice. My new favourite was fish with black beans, I never had that before and it seemed to be on almost every menu. We also had some great Indian food and some interesting snacks, like fried taro root or deep fried sweet potato dumplings. They seem to like fried things, so you can also get a fried Mars, or Snickers, Oreo cookie, coconut, pretty much everything! Food, drinks and ice cream is easy to get everywhere, so nobody will stay hungry for too long. There are also many smaller supermarkets, like 7-Eleven.
First off, you are not allow to bring the following items into the country: chewing gum, chewing tobacco or electronic cigarettes, firecrackers, obscene publications or videos, reproduction of copyright publications, drugs – the list goes on. Some make more sense than the other, but you better not brake any rules unless you want serious punishments.
It is not allowed to litter or throw anything on the floor – the city is very clean because of that, although I must say in my memory it used to be even cleaner back in 1998. There are strict rules about behaviour on the MRT – no smoking, no eating or drinking, no stinky durian fruits. And no charging your phones in the electrical sockets – one student got fined 400$ for doing just that, although there was no sign she is not allowed to use the socket. So, do behave on the MRT. Other than all those rules, there are no real dangers. Well, maybe the heat, if you are not used to it.
WHAT WE SAW & DID
BUMBOAT RIVER TOUR
I think this is a great way to start your visit of Singapore – the round trip lasts about 45 minutes and it gives you a better perspective about where what is, among other things you pass the Financial district, the Merlion and the Marina Bay Sands hotel. There are several stops where you can exit the boat and if you plan it good you can pay less and use the same boat as a water taxi instead of a tour and go off at one of the other stops. Over the boat speakers you here information about what you are seeing from the boat and there is a good chance of catching a breeze, which does feel good on a hot day. The boats are very quiet because they are electric, so that was definitely a big plus. All in all, maybe a bit expensive but we had some great views and found out some new things.
By the river there are numerous restaurants in this historical part of the town. As they also offer some views, not only fresh seafood, the prices are higher. For something more reasonable, head to the parallel Circular Rd – there are also many restaurants and bars to choose from. Its a nice walk at the riverside, going from Clarke quey to the financial centre (Raffles), to the Merlion, or Marina Blvd, it´s a nice walk all the way to the Marina Bay Sands hotel and Gardens by the Bay. It´s a nice place to go for a walk, with some statues and sitting areas under the trees.
In just over four decades, Singapore has established its financial centre, serving not only domestic economy, but also on the international level. If you are searching for banking, insurance or investment services then this is the place to be. If not, you can just admire the architecture.
This is a nice area at the end of the financial district, with a waterfront promenade, golf course, Youth Olympic park, museums, Singapore Flyer, the Marina Bay Sands hotel and much more. Its a perfect place just close to the city centre to get away from the high buildings and enjoy the afternoons in the lush surroundings.
GARDENS BY THE BAY
A beautiful big green area behind the Marina Bay Sands hotel, opened for public in 2011, after a big international competition to seek the best design idea for Gardens by the Bay. Once inside you can visit the Flower dome, Heritage garden, Cloud forest, walk on the Skyway between the artificial tree canopies on the Supetree Grove, your kids can let loose in the Far East Organisation Children´s Garden and much more. If you can, go there in the afternoon and stay until it gets dark – the Supertrees are amazing after dark! The children playground area closes before dark, so make sure you get there soon enough if travelling with kids. The entry to the Gardens by the Bay is free, but once inside you pay for each attraction separately. To come there, you need to walk through the Marina Bay Sands hotel.
The most people living in Singapore are of Chinese origin and Chinatown is a historic ethnic neighbourhood, where you can eat and shop. The funny thing is that the architecture of the Chinatown’s buildings combine different elements of baroque and Victorian architecture. Many have been nicely restored and painted in pastel colours, so even if you are zero interested in buying all the usual Chinese stuff, it´s interesting to just look up from time to time and observe the buildings.
There are a few small streets, going through Chinatown where you also find hotels if you wish to stay in this area. Surprisingly we also found a mosque and an Hindu temple stuck between the rest of Chinatown’s houses.
Looks like Barcelona, right? Well, it´s not. We are still in Singapore, to be more exact on the island of Sentosa! Sentosa is a popular place for spending Saturdays and Sundays, there are two golf courses, 14 hotels, a 2 km long sandy beach with playgrounds, restaurants, Universal Studious, theme parks and even an indoor skydive place, a wave house, Madame Tussauds museum, Butterfly park and Insect Kinkdom. And I´m sure I forgot something.
The island is connected to the mainland with a bridge, but if you do not feel like walking, you can also take the Skyline (you find the station in the centre where the MRT stations also are). We chose to walk when going there and taking the Skyline back. You can easily explore the island on foot, but if you only have one afternoon or one day, it´s impossible to see or do everything. Since we had Lu with us, we were heading to the beach and ended up seeing some other things on the way. There is also a small bus which takes you around the island if you wish.
What I remember from the last time I was in Singapore are orchids, big buildings, the Merlion and how clean everything was. I can say all those things are still there, but everything just expanded even more. New parks, new buildings, higher, newer, better. If you are into architecture you will have something to see. And it´s definitely not a concrete jungle everywhere, since there are many nice parks to relax in the greens. If I would be making a list of the best big cities to live in, Singapore would have been somewhere on the top!