This was my second time visiting the sparkling city of Singapore. Our first visit five years ago was only for a couple of days. So when we had a transiting opportunity to visit again we grabbed it. We spent five nights in Singapore this time, which gave us a perfect opportunity to return to some of our favorites, and discover lots of new things. Let’s talk about Sensational Singapore – A Visit to the Lion City.
The Lion City
Officially the Republic of Singapore, this island/nation city/state in it’s present form came to be in 1819. That’s when Stamford Raffles established Singapore as a trading post for the British Empire. But through the centuries prior to that, the region was a maritime stronghold through several empires. Singapore’s perfect location about one degree of latitude (137 kilometres or 85 miles) north of the equator, off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, bordering the Strait of Malacca to the west, the Singapore Strait to the south along with the Riau Islands in Indonesia, the South China Sea to the east, and the Straits of Johor to the north. (Wikipedia)
Singapore gained independence in 1965. Over the past fifty years Singapore has seen rapid growth and expansion as center for international trade and economic globalization. Today it is a sparkling city of high rises, fantastic tourist attractions, exceptional food, beautiful parks and gardens and a varied ethnic base. It also is home to the best airport in the world – Changi – definitely an important part of Sensational Singapore – A Visit to the Lion City.
Where to Stay
Singapore can be very expensive, but we found a really lovely hotel in a perfect location, central to most attractions. Our room at the Oasia Downtown was about $200 a night, more than we pay in most cities but a bargain in Singapore. We declined the $25 per person breakfast and instead easily found breakfast for $3 to $5 at the nearby Hawker Center…more about those in a minute.
Our Favorite Things to Do
We re-visited some of our favorite spots from our last visit, and discovered a few new spots as well. We had four full days, but you could easily see the city in less time, so just choose what is most important to you. There are a few things we wanted to do that we did not get to because of a big rain storm…but that leaves us something for next time!
Possibly the most popular thing to do as a visitor to Singapore, the fascinating Gardens by the Bay glowing trees, is a must. Each evening at 7:45 and 8:45 pm the trees perform a beautiful light show choreographed to music. There is also a sky walk, which we did before sunset, that offers great views of Sensational Singapore – A Visit to the Lion City. This is my favorite thing in all of Singapore.
We timed our visit to the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome perfectly, as we woke up to a deluge of a tropical storm. We took a Grab car (one of Singapore’s alternatives to Uber) to the Cloud Forest, and hardly got a rain drop on us, as Singapore has laid out this city with covered walkways to protect pedestrians from both rain and sun. The Cloud Forest is a fascinating domed tropical garden with waterfalls, and thousands of trees and tropical plants
Next door to the Cloud Forest is the colorful and cheerful Flower Dome. I love this place. Christmas decor was still up when we visited in January, but the festive flower displays change seasonally and so you can visit often and see something new each time.
The Merlion is the symbol of Singapore, and the statue with the cascading fountain is a gathering place. Each evening at 8:00 pm you can sit at the Merlion and enjoy a light show across the bay looking at the iconic Marina Bay Sands Resort.
Located in the Tanglin neighborhood of Singapore and easily accessible by Metro (Napier stop), the Singapore Botanic Gardens is a beautiful space to wander with lovely lakes, ponds and plants and flowers. It is also home to the National Orchid Garden.
There is a lot to do on Sentosa Island, including beaches and amusement parks. But we just took a leisurely ride on the cable cars for a wonderful view of the island and the city.
Our hotel was situated on the edge of China Town and we spent some time walking around, looking at shops and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, which is right across the street from the Maxwell Metro Station.
We had not visited Arab Street or the Muslim Temple on our last visit. There are many shops here and a ton of restaurants catering to the tourists. We ate a quick lunch at a Turkish Restaurant and also had quick visit to the Muslim Mosque.
I’m so glad we took time to visit the Peranakan Museum. Housed in a historic building that was formerly a school, the Peranakan Museum explores the culture known locally as Peranakan. The term refers to a person of mixed Chinese and Malay/Indonesian heritage. Many Singapore Peranakans trace their origins to 15th-century Malacca, where their ancestors were thought to be Chinese traders who married local women.
Once stigmatized and looked down on, today Peranakans are proud of the unique heritage and deep roots in Singapore.
We only had a quick walk through colorful Little India, but it’s worth a visit if you have time. There are lots of restaurants and shops. On our visit locals were preparing for the upcoming Pongol Festival with lots of decorations and flowers being prepared.
Things We Did Not Do
I really wanted to take the little Bumboat Tour from Clark Quay down the river to Marina Bay. But the night we planned to do it was too rainy. I’m gonna save it for next time.
On our last visit we went up to the top of Marina Bay Sands and had a drink in the bar. It was the most expensive gin and tonic of my life…but it was worth it for the view. We did not do it again this time, but if its your first visit to Singapore I recommend it.
I’m not much of a shopper, but if you are, Singapore is your dream come true. There are many malls as well as sections of the city like Orchard Road, designed for shopping with everything you might need and want.
Where to Eat
We love eating at the Hawkers Centers in Singapore: inexpensive, delicious and a big part of the local culture. We ate nearly all our meals at three different Hawkers Centers; Lau Pa Sat, Maxwell Center and Tanjong Pagar.
Hawker culture started in the 1800’s after Sir Stamford Raffles turned Singapore into a thriving port city. The Street Hawkers where often migrants from China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and other lands. For them, street hawking was an easy way to earn a living as it required little capital.
After WWII and independence in 1965, effort was made to license and oversee the burgeoning hawker culture. In 1986 the government decided to open Hawker Centers, and move the hawkers into collective spaces. Today, the Hawker Centers are not only an inexpensive way to dine and enjoy a wide variety of ethnic foods, but these places are the gathering point for residents and visitors alike. Today Singapore is home to 119 Hawker Centers.
Lau Pa Sat is the largest and most well known. Excellent food 24 hours a day. And every night around 7pm (earlier on weekends), Boon Tat street on its SW side closes and becomes Satay Street. An absolute must not just for the food but for the atmosphere!
We also ate breakfast one morning at Tong Ah Eating House to try a Singaporean local favorite called Kaya Toast. I had read about this very simple breakfast enjoyed by locals and Tong Ah was an easy walk from our hotel. Kaya Toast is toasted bread with coconut “jam” served with two soft boiled eggs. Simple and delicious.
It was really fun to connect finally in person with a social media friend who lives in Singapore. We all enjoyed a wonderful Peranankan dinner at True Blue. The food was interesting and the company divine.
Dining in the Dark
I read about Nox Dining in the Dark and thought it would be something fun to try. Well, it was unique that’s for sure, but I don’t think I would do it again. You start with an amuse bouche and a drink in a bar with lights on, then you are taken to a completely dark room where you dine. Multiple courses served, some easily identifiable and others plain flabbergasting. Afterwards you guess what you ate and learn if you are right. You understand how much of the enjoyment of food is based on visual input once you don’t have that input!
I don’t remember ever recommending an airport as something to do at a destination before. But Changi Airport is a must. It’s big and beautiful with so many options for dining. If you have a layover, there are places to stay, shower, and play. There are gardens, a pool, a giant slide, arcade, art, butterflies and so much more. Make time for Changi as a layover, or like us, on our departure day we went several hours early. Most airlines offer early bag check to give you hands free time in this beautiful airport.
Sensational Singapore – A Visit to the Lion City
As one of the worlds major hubs, many flights make stops in Singapore. You will find connections to all of Asia, Australia, Europe and the USA. So be sure to add a few days in this fascinating, modern yet historic, and culturally enticing city. You’ll be glad you did.
Did you see last week’s post Seventh Annual Travel Awards 2023? It’s a good one. Don’t mis sit!