Along with Monaco and Vatican City, Singapore is one of three modern day city-states. Located on the tip of the Malay Peninsula and home to 5.5 million citizens, this densely populated country is rich in monetary wealth and diversity. It also boasts a number of accolades like largest infinity pool and tallest manmade waterfall. Singapore, whose original name, Singapura, translates into “The Lion City,” appealed to my textbook Leo tendencies. But there’s more to this former British trading colony than Michelin-rated hawker stalls and Frankenstein-esque Super Trees that are basically the fanciest solar panels I ever did see. Singapore is a melting pot of cultures—every sign is translated into the four languages that represent the population: Tamil, Bahasa, English, and Mandarin. The food is equally representative of the various cultures that have found common grounds in Singapore. One minute you’re snapping photos of Chinatown’s colorful shutters decorating the timeworn windows of heritage houses, the next minute, Singapore reminds you of its ultra modernity with its glittering skyline. Don’t forget to soak in the distinct “Singlish” accent, which is by far my favorite thing in all of Singapore. Singaporean English is a mishmash of Indian, Mandarin, Malay, and British pronunciation, rendering it to move differently than British, American, and Australian English. It’s choppy and clipped, and spattered with cool bits and pieces of the languages that have influenced it. You can catch locals ending sentences with worlds like lah, or paiseh, or boleh! After a jaunt in Singapore, hop on over to Kuala Lumpur.
Much love to my Singaporean spirit guides, Becca and Far, who equipped me local intel and primed me to find a friend in every Singaporean. And shoutout to a very special woman who made this trip happen, my cousin Joni. There’s nothing like Asian hospitality and family and friends to keep us going.
- Step inside a world of tomorrow at GARDENS BY THE BAY, Singapore’s top-rated attraction, boasting the world’s largest glass greenhouse, THE FLOWER DOME, and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall in THE CLOUD FOREST. Later in the day, THE SUPER TREES come to life, putting on an electrifying light and sound show. The shows start at 7:45pm and 8:45 pm, entrance to the Outdoor Gardens is free.
- You won’t get more hipster than HAJI LANE in the Arab Quarter, a passageway to cute cafes, independent boutiques overwhelmed with quirky knickknacks, funky murals, and edgy bars with sweet Happy Hour deals.
- Looking for a great escape? You don’t have to venture far from Singapore’s southern coastline to visit SENTOSA ISLAND, a manmade island that boasts a Universal Studios theme park, a TrickEye Museum, and a few beaches. Be sure to drop by the original MERLION statue, a symbol of the proud city-state.
- The vibrant neighborhood of LITTLE INDIA is a mix of colorful Hindu temples, garland vendors, sari stores, and some of the most talented teh tarik “pullers” cascading hot milk tea from one vessel to the other.
- An architectural behemoth, MARINA BAY SANDS is a striking three-building luxury hotel crowned by the world’s largest infinity pool on the surfboard-shaped observatory desk.
- Not enough time to see the whole city? Take a spin on the SINGAPORE FLYER, an observation ferris wheel that boasts 28 air-conditioned capsules that can accommodate up to 28 passengers each.
- Hawker courts that conceal Michelin-awarded food stalls and ancient medicinal halls vending curious cures are things you’ll find down the raucous streets of Singapore’s CHINATOWN.
- ORCHARD ROAD is Singapore’s main shopping drag and home to Singapore’s preferred mall experience, ION Orchard. You don’t have to be a shopping fiend to enjoy Singapore’s malls as they are home to some of the country’s best food courts. Also, during Christmas season, Orchard Road is transformed into a winter wonderland with 9-feet tall animatronics and relentless Christmas music abounds.
- PLATFORM 1094 (1094 Serangoon Rd, Singapore 328192) A Harry Potter themed-cafe made famous by their signature drink, “Mr Lich’s Brewing Brew” ($15 SGD), a neon blue cocktail, ahem “potion,” that flickers and sparks with a dash of cinnamon. Don’t forget to get into character: the restaurant owners have laid out a number of wands, robes, sorting hats, and even house ties so you can represent #TeamGryffindor/Hufflepuff/Ravenclaw/Slytherin, while noshing on some Western delights like Drunken Clam Paste Pasta and Truffle Fries.
PRICE: $$ ($7-22 SGD–quite affordable especially for a popular spot!)
IF YOU WANT MICHELIN BUT AREN’T WILLING TO SPEND THE DOUGH
- HONG KONG SOYA SAUCE CHICKEN RICE & NOODLE (#02-126, 335 Smith Street Block, Chinatown Food Complex, Singapore 050335) Not to be confused by the flagship store on Smith Street, this no-frills food court stall was one of two hawker stalls (handpicked from a batch of over 6,000 candidates) to be honored for the FIRST.TIME.EVER in the history of Michelin with a star rating. Get there right when it opens. We were there at 11:15 am (it opened at 11 am) and still had to wait for an hour to be served our plate of chicken rice and noodle. Honestly, I thought it was a bit overrated and the noodles were better than the chicken, but where are you going to get a cheaper Michelin meal than that?
PRICE: $ ($3.80 SGD per serving)
IF YOU WANT SOME AUTHENTIC PERANAKAN FOOD
- 328 KATONG LAKSA (51 East Coast Road, Singapore 428770) Arguably the best laksa in Singapore, this spot’s claim to fame was beating celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey in a laksa showdown back in 2013. Laksa is a Peranakan delicacy, made with noodles slathered in a creamy coconut-milk broth. 328 Katong’s reputation lies in a well balanced broth, where the coconut milk adds just the right amount of texture and fragrance and doesn’t overpower the umami of chili and dried shrimps. Order the lime juice to cut the effects of a highly savory aftertaste.
PRICE: $ ($5 SGD for a small, $7 SGD for a large)
IF YOU’RE NOT A FAN OF DISPOSABLE PLATES
- THE BANANA LEAF APOLO (54 Race Course Rd, Singapore 218564) Banana Leaf Apolo is considered the pinnacle of Little India’s food experience. Not only do you get to eat on banana leaf fronds instead of ceramic plates per Indian tradition, but their expansive menu caters to both Northern and Southern Indian palettes. Unanimously, the star of the show is the semi spicy, tomato-based fish head curry. If you’re not into stuffing your face with a whole fish head, the South Indian Vegetarian Thali set is complete with 4 types of vegetable curries, curd (yogurt), karai gravy, pickles, and sweet, milky pudding, and some slices of chapati and free-flow white rice.
PRICE: $$$ (prices are inflated due to tourist status)
- SINGAPORE ZAM ZAM (697-699 N Bridge Rd, Singapore 198675) It’s an easy marketing tactic to claim “Best ______ in Town” but when an establishment actually delivers on the promise, you know you’ve hit the jackpot. Zam Zam is a famous spot for Arab delicacies like murtabak, a thin-skinned turnover stuffed with eggs, minced meats, like chicken, mutton, and even deer, and deep fried to perfection, and biryani dam, a spiced rice dish. Don’t forget to order teh tarik, frothy milk tea, to wash down all the commotion of flavors.
PRICE: $ ($8 SGD for a medium-sized murtabak)
IF YOU’RE INTO FIGURING OUT THE SNACK SCENE
- YA KUN KAYA TOAST (Fast-food chain with multiple locations around the city) Coconut jam is my jam—seriously, the Filipinos also do coconut jam, but Singaporeans put this snack food on the map with kaya toast, toasted slices of white bread smeared with kaya spread (aka coconut jam) and then paired with either butter, cheese, and even peanut butter. From my Singaporean friend Becca, she advised me to order the Cheese Toast set, which comes with a soft boiled egg. You sprinkle pepper and soy sauce into the eggs and the proceed to dip the kaya toast in the mix. Sounds offbeat but when in Singapore, do as the Singaporeans do.
IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL WITH CHILI CRAB
- DRAGON PHOENIX RESTAURANT (177A River Valley Rd, #06-00 Novotel Clarke Quay, Singapore 179031) When it comes to true blue Singaporean Chili Crab, Dragon Phoenix Restaurant takes home the prize. The original Chili Crab recipe is attributed to a pushcart madam, but what Singaporeans know of the recipe today can be credited to the owner of the Dragon Phoenix, who added sambal (chili paste), eggs, and tomato paste to the dish, creating that rich and robust flavor. Service is sub par, but remember what you came for.
PRICE: $$ ($80 SGD for Chili Crab, one side dish, drinks, and service)
IF YOU HAVE A HARD TIME DECIDING ONE PLACE
- POTATO HEAD FOLK (36 Keong Saik Road, Singapore 089143) A favorite of my Singaporean friend Far, Potato Head Folk is an Indonesian lifestyle brand that has broken into the social fabric of Singapore to become one of the top hangouts on a Saturday night. Maybe its because the four-story spot is housed in a photogenic heritage building, or maybe its because you can get good drinks, good food, good music, and good people all under one roof. It’s a space that exudes cool at every turn. Make sure you visit all four floors.
- Keong Saik Road in Chinatown has become a playground for Singapore’s nouveau riche. THE LIBRARY(47 Keong Saik Road) is a speakeasy bar that can only be accessed by providing a secret password that’s changed monthly. The bar’s storefront disguise is also rotated quarterly so that it stays fresh. When we visited, it was a Chinese medicine shop.
- The oldest housing project in all of Singapore is TIONG BAHRU, known as the “coolest tourist neighborhood tourists forgot,” where you can check out Art Deco flats from the 1930s, a lineup of the best indie bookstores in town, and a food market that’s so cool, it warranted its own 8-bit interactive map complete with food stalls that you can filter by category.
- Singapore is proud of the its design exports and NAIISE is curator of homegrown brands like Souvenirs from Singapore, which sells Singapore inspired designware. Buy online or go to their brick and mortar stop at 277 Orchard Road.
- THE BUDDHA TOOTH RELIC TEMPLE AND MUSEUM (288 South Bridge Road) is a reliquary for all things Buddhist, owing its name to the sacred object it protects, what is believed to be the left canine of Buddha recovered from his funeral pyre, but there is also a teahouse and theater on the premise.
- The heart of historic Kampong Glam is the SULTAN MOSQUE, (3 Muscat Street) capped with two golden onion domes but that’s not the most impressive feature: take a closer look at the base of each dome and you’ll see glass bottles decorating the support, donated by poorer members of the Muslim community during the construction so that every citizen, no matter their socio-economic background could contribute.
- The most famous of all Asian barbecue purveyors is BEE CHENG HIANG, with sickly sweet strips of sliced pork and beef barbecue, it’s the gift that keeps on giving and you can get it all around the island (thank you cousin Joni for one of the yummiest souvenirs ever!)
- Comic book junkies would be remiss to not drop by SUPERHERO CAFE (2 Bayfront Avenue, Bay Level, 01-03, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands), a restaurant and bakery paying homage to all things DC, complete with diner booths overlaid in comic strip wallpaper and a wide assortment of superhero-themed treats.
BY MRT The Singapore Tourist Pass is the ULTIMATE investment in Singapore. Depending on how many days you purchase for, you can take unlimited rides on the MRT, LRT, and local buses. The MRT begins running at 5:30 am with the last departure at 12.00 AM. When you visit Changi Airport, follow the signs to the MRT and at the bottom of the escalator, the Tourist Pass stand is to your left.
PRO-TIP: Before you depart the country, don’t forget to drop off the pass at the kiosk, where you’ll be given your refundable deposit back of $10 SGD that’s inclusive of the initial fee.
BY FOOT As my friend Becca says, “Don’t walk in the sun. What are you, a tourist?” Also her words verbatim: “Kind of like Hong Kong, you can kind of get from A to B to D by walking through malls, buildings and underground. No one actually walks in the sun. Two of the largest is through a huge tourist area. Here’s a map.”
Want to buy a Simcard?
The price of a Tourist Simcard at the airport has gone from $15 for 5 days to $45 for 3 days.
Protip: Head to Chinatown where a number of telecommunication shops still carry the Singtel hi! Tourist 3-in-1 simcard where you pay $15 for 5 days. The simcard includes 500 minutes local call, 100 locals SMS, and 30 minutes international.
Interested in learning more about Singapore? Check out the resources below:
- 45 Things to Do in Singapore by Lady Iron Chef
- Miss Tam Chiak: Food Blogger in Singapore
- Top 10 Experiences for the Newbie Traveler by Bobo & Chichi
- 15 Things to Do in Singapore that You Can’t Miss by Adventure in You
Have you ever been to Singapore? Share your tips for seeing the city in the comments below!
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