text by ANA KAMIN
If you asked me a month ago to tell you something about Singapore, the only fact I would have known is its location on the world map and that they have this super fancy airport with pools, movie theaters, five gardens and almost endless eating options to make your layover very comfortable. But luckily, due to a five-day work & play trip, I can for sure tell you now, Singapore is so much more than just a stopover city to other Asian countries. The city-state island, currently ranking as one of the world’s top travel destinations, is well worth putting on your bucket list. From a small fisherman village to a metropolitan city of superlatives in only 50 years, the Lion City manages to blend traditions and progress, old and new, rich cultural diversity and modern challenges. Being a city-state where four languages are official, where antique buildings stand among sophisticated high-rises, where flavors from India, China, Malaysia, and other surrounding countries create the distinctive, famed Singaporean cuisine, where nature and technology coexist flawlessly, Singapore is a true meaning of a melting pot. Read on for my favorite shops and restaurants, things to do and how to handle the hawker markets correctly.
Singapore City Gallery
45 Maxwell Rd, The URA Centre, Singapore
First things first. I highly recommend getting an introductory tour at the Singapore City Gallery of Urban Redevelopment Authority (what a name!) to get a sense of how Singapore came to be where it is now. The gallery is perfect for an interactive overview of Singapore’s past, present and possible future. And it truly is interesting. Plus admission is for free; there is free WiFi, and you can have a relaxing break in the quiet lobby. And if this doesn’t convince you, the famous Maxwell Food Center is just across the street.
Maxwell Food Center
1 Kadayanallur Street, Singapore
Ok, because you listened and got some education squeezed in, your next stop is the Maxwell Food Center, one of the most beloved hawker markets. The hawker markets are open-air yet covered markets with public seating, featuring almost countless stalls offering authentic Singaporean food. Nearly on every corner across the city, hawker centers make sure you never get hungry. At the Maxwell, you must try the chicken rice at Tian Tian stall. Not even the famous Gordon Ramsey could recreate their signature dish.
Singapore Art Museum
71 Bras Basah Rd, Singapore
Contemporary art is always a great way to get a sense of the country’s culture, its people, its hopes and dreams, its concerns and current issues. SAM (as locals call it) is situated in an old Mission school, displaying permanent and rotation exhibitions and absolutely worth visiting.
1 Beach Rd, Singapore
Staying at this historical hotel, named after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, Singapore’s founding father, might break your piggy bank, but their famous Singapore Sling cocktail at the Long Bar or the high tea service in the Tiffin Room will transport you to the charming colonial times. The lush garden with fountain is excellent for some tranquil time.
Ok, this is where you need to respect your credit card limits. Orchard Road is 1.2 miles filled with shops, malls, and food courts. It’s the most famous shopping street in Southeast Asia, and while high-end boutiques clearly dominate the street, there is something for every budget. I don’t think I have ever seen so many Prada stores in one spot.
Emerald Hill Road
You know the lucky wrong turns that lead you to a hidden gem? That was for me the Emerald Hill Road. Trying to escape the bustle of Orchard Road I stumbled upon this peaceful, cute stretch of Peranakan ( traditional Singaporean ) homes straight from 1819.
Tiong Bahru Food Center
This might have been my favorite hawker & wet market center, in my favorite Singapore neighborhood, the Tiong Bahru. Blocks and blocks of art deco real estate from the 1930s have been transformed into cool shops, hip restaurants, modern yoga studios and trendy art galleries. These yummy fried noodles were my breakfast one morning. And yes, food gets here fried a lot. You can go healthy once you are back home.
82 Tiong Poh Rd, Singapore
Find tart varieties in all flavors and topped with everything the fruit garden has to offer. Great for a quick pit stop for a coffee & tart break. My favorite tart: the traditional Chinese egg tart with cinnamon.
Tiong Bahru Bakery
56 Eng Hoon Street
Beyond doubt, every city, no matter which continent, needs a reputable French pastry shop, and Tiong Bahru Bakery is Singapore’s. While you wait, get some recommendations from locals around you. The nice lady in front of me recommended the delicious kouign amann, and I could not agree more.
The old Kampong Glam neighborhood is like an Arabian Nights storybook. The colorful old shophouses lined up along the narrow Haji Lane are unquestionably a must-visit. Only a few feet long, Haji Lane has the most unique, local shops you can find in Singapore. I recommend you just stroll up and down and peek into each of them. Great for souvenirs and gifts.
Unlikely, but if your carb levels have dropped I recommend taking a break at Shop Wonderland. The cute, whimsical shop has the most creamy-buttery cakes I have seen in awhile. Take a piece, walk up to the second floor and enjoy your cake at the table next to the small window.
Singapore Botanic Garden
Time to unwind from the bustle of the city. Fifty percent of Singapore’s area is covered with lush green parks. A big chunk is the beautiful and magical Singapore Botanic Garden. This is the place just to leave all travel cares behind, get a blanket, a good book and find a calm spot at this 202 acres huge park. Also in the Botanic Garden is the Corner House, an upscale dining experience with a fixed menu and if you want to splurge on one restaurant, let it be here. Not only the food but the overall experience here is one to remember.
Gardens By The Bay
Cloud Forest, Flower Dome, Supertree Grove, and the Skyway are not locations from the Avatar movie. These are installations at the newest addition to Singapore’s green landscape, the Gardens By the Bay. Although many tourists pilgrim here, I think it’s absolutely worth experiencing. The Cloud Forest is home to the highest man-made a waterfall, and the Flower Dome is world’s biggest greenhouse. Best times to go are in the early morning when there are fewer crowds, and the light is crips or before sunset, so you can watch the light show of the Super Trees.
Katong & East Coast Park
To get a sense of the real Peranakan culture head to Katong, where traditional houses abound and where you can get one of the best kaya toast in the city at Chin Mee Chin Confectionery. Only short 20 min walk from the Katong is the East Coast Park. It’s actually a beach, directly in the city. Take a dip, get sunbathing or ride a bike along the promenade. Or all three.
One of my favorite things to do in Singapore was to walk in the tree tops. There is a whole spider net of bridges that run through tree tops above the grounds. My favorites were Henderson Waves, Southern Ridges, and MacRitchie Reservoir, but there are much more. Just on a side note, don’t get into a fight with a monkey, you might lose your hat.
Few Things To Remember:
The weather in Singapore is hot, really hot. Like in blazing hot. With occasional thunderstorms. Sunscreen and water bottle are a MUST. To have a mini umbrella wouldn’t hurt either. Good time to visit: always. Have wet tissue with you – you will eat a lot with your fingers. No visa required for 90 days. Tipping is not expected but appreciated. The must-eat list: Hainanese chicken rice, kaya toast, laksa, prata, Hokkien mee, rendang, crab chili, fried carrot cake, rojak.