Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Something about Singapore…

"Oh! How lovely!"

These were my first thoughts as I gazed up at the delightful pink bougainvillea that adorned the numerous overpasses as I rode in a shiny blue cab on the way to my hotel from Changi airport. The year was 2000 and the place was Singapore. The occasion: a family holiday to three Asian tourist destinations - Thailand, Hong Kong and Singapore. I recall that Singapore in particular had given me a lot of warm memories (no pun intended!). Little did I know back then that I would call Singapore home for a good part of the next few years.

Singapore at night

I was startled when I first learned that the main island is only about 42 km from west to east and 23 km from north to south. This is why Singapore is often described as a 'little red dot' on the world map. Compared to its neighbors - Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, it is miniscule in terms of land area. But you know what? When your are talking about Singapore, size doesn't matter because what it lacks in size and lack of natural resources, it more than makes up for in terms of economy and development. If you need visual proof, take a look at the aerial views of Singapore (especially at night). If that doesn't spell prosperity, then nothing does! 

This is a city that keeps reinventing itself. Not surprisingly, it is ranked as one of the most expensive countries in Asia (plenty of complaints in that area I can assure you). Make sure you bring a nice fat wallet to Singapore! Jokes apart, one of the things I really appreciate about Singapore is that it is a buzzing, vibrant cosmopolitan city where people from diverse cultural backgrounds co-exist peacefully. 

Culture vs Contemporary

I'm totally making up these statistics but Singapore probably has a dozen trees for every building and a dustbin for every person! So it doesn't take a genius to figure out that this is one clean and green city (note: if you come to here with a mangled civic sense, you might just find yourself at the receiving end of a hefty fine). Singapore is very colorful too which I think is a result of the diverse cultures that make up this city. I don't know what it is with me and color....the more colorful a city, the more I tend to like it! I can't imagine living in a dull and dreary city which has a color palette mostly dominated by different shades of gray, taupe, black and brown. I think I might just lose my mind!

I have a lot of family and friends coming over to Singapore for a holiday. I'm always asked for an opinion before sightseeing itineraries are devised. I thought why not make myself useful and put together my perspective on what tourists would like to see and do in Singapore. To be honest, it doesn’t take a whole lot of time to view the main "touristy" attractions here. You should be able to cover almost everything in 5-7 days depending on the kind of pace you set. In my opinion, October to February is the best time to visit as the usually hot and humid weather will be a bit more tolerable during these months. Singapore is an English speaking country and even though most locals speak what is popularly known as ‘Singlish’, communication is not a problem! Getting around the city is a piece of cake as Singapore has an enviable public transport system and taxis are abundant and easily available. Dining options are plentiful with the cuisine being dominated by Chinese, Malay, Indian and Western influences.

Here are my picks for the not-to-miss places and activities in Singapore:

The Singapore Zoo, River Safari and Night Safari are worth seeing especially for families with young children. Predictably, there is a considerable amount of walking involved but there is the option of taking the tram for the weary. The parks are situated adjacent to each other and can be covered in an action-packed day. You could explore the Zoo and River Safari premises during the day and then hop next door to the Night Safari. There are several animal shows conducted at specific times and they are all highly entertaining. I’ve been to the Zoo especially so many times that I think the animals might start recognizing me by now! 

A detailed blog post about the Singapore Zoo and River Safari can be found here

I don't have good pictures of the Night Safari because the ones I had involved considerable 'red eye removal' for all the animals!

The Malayan tapir

Elephants of Asia
White tiger

For a more relaxed day that does not include too much of walking, you could either head to the Marina Bay Sands sky deck or the Singapore Flyer. Both places have fantastic views of the iconic skyline. I would suggest going by late evening so that you could catch views of the skyline in partial daylight as well as night when the city is beautifully lit up. The Singapore Grand Prix, a night race which takes place in September has its street circuit in the Marina Bay area and you can see the starting grid, grandstands and street circuit from these viewpoints. 

Singapore flyer
From inside the capsule


Singapore at night
Atop Marina Bay Sands
Infinity pool
The Esplanade theater
Marina Bay Sands

While you are in the area you MUST head to Gardens By the Bay - Singapore's premier tourist attraction. Home to a mind-boggling number of plants and flowers, this place ranks high on my must-see list in Singapore. The brilliant architecture and design will leave you speechless. 

I have dedicated an entire post to this stunning garden which you can check out here








Next you could head to nearby Esplanade which is a waterfront location by the Singapore River in downtown Singapore. You can see the stunning Esplanade Theatre, the skyscrapers of City Hall and the Little Merlion. Those interested can take a scenic cruise down the Singapore River to Clarke Quay. One of the most interesting places to have dinner in Singapore is Clarke Quay, an area by the Singapore river that plays host to a colorful kaleidoscope of restaurants, pubs, entertainment spots and retail shops. For thrill seekers, the reverse bungee experience at Clarke Quay would be an option to consider.

Clarke Quay





Another prime attraction in Singapore is the Jurong bird park. This park features a range of exotic birds and enthralling bird shows. This is another place that both children and adults alike would enjoy. 

You can read my in-depth review of the bird park here


Now let me introduce you to Sentosa Island. This is one of the most popular tourist spots in Singapore. Home to a two-km long sheltered beach, a myriad of attractions, golf courses, hotels, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and Universal Studios, Sentosa Island is a place that caters to everyone’s needs. 

Taking the cable car is a great way to get to Sentosa. One day is most definitely not enough to see everything so if you are running out of time, pick and choose the attractions wisely. Don’t miss the ‘Songs of the Sea’, a visual extravaganza showcasing spectacular pyrotechnics displays, water jets, laser beams and fire spurts (Note that this show keeps evolving so at the time of reading this post, it may be called something else). 


Cable car to Sentosa

The Merlion

A personal favorite of mine is the Universal studios.  Having been to the one in Florida, I have to admit that I had much more fun here (no idea why!). 

Universal studios

Ancient Egypt
Battle Star Gallactica
Sci-fi city
Far far away
Another attraction I love going to in Sentosa is the Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. For those interested, I have chronicled my experiences at the museum in a separate post which you can read here


When talking about Sentosa, one thing you must keep in mind is that if you were expecting to see gorgeous beaches, you will be sorely disappointed. Singapore doesn't have good beaches, the main reasons being the very busy harbor along with rapid scale land reclamation which although a financial gain for the country, has ruined any possibility of Singapore being a beach lover's destination. 

HarbourFront in Southern Singapore is the gateway to Sentosa island and a good place to spend some free time. Vivocity is a mall in HarbourFront which is personally one of my favorite hangout spots in Singapore.  This gigantic mall even has a monorail link called the Sentosa Express to Sentosa island.  Nearby is Haw Par Villa, a Chinese mythological theme park containing statues and giant dioramas depicting scenes from Chinese folklore, legends, history and illustrations of various aspects of Confucianism. Although not a must-see place, a stroll around the park is a unique and interesting experience. 



Singapore is a shopper’s paradise. Shopping is possibly the biggest national pastime here second only to eating. There are so many good places for shopping that it is difficult to name just one. If you want to shop for souvenirs or trinkets, Chinatown is a good place. You will see narrow quaint streets dotted with small shops selling their merchandise with brightly colored signs that read “3 for 10$”. In Singapore, that is quite a bargain I must say!  

Chinatown
i
A good place for shopping albeit slightly expensive is Orchard road which is considered to be the heart of Singapore. Orchard road has high end-exclusive designer stores, shopping malls, restaurants, local food courts and pubs. A walk down Orchard road is a nice way to spend a few hours. It looks especially beautiful during Chinese New year and Christmas when decorated and lit up.




Another place to visit would be Little India. The best thing about Little India is its uniqueness. It looks very different from the rest of Singapore and truly represents the cultural diversity that is such an important facet of Singapore. Musthafa shopping centre in Little India is a place a lot of tourists flock to. It is so enormous that you may get the feeling of being in a labyrinth! I would seriously warn visitors not to go on a weekend unless you want to get trampled by the crowds. This store is open 24x7 and has never been closed since the day it opened so you could go at any unearthly hour if you wanted to. I would suggest having a meal in Little India. With an endless number of Indian restaurants and many more mushrooming all over, there is no dearth of dining options here. For vegetarians, I would recommend MTR restaurant and Kailash Parbat (click on name to read review).  

Little India
i
The Singapore Botanic Garden is another wonderful place to visit. For photography enthusiasts, this is a must-see place. The Orchid gardens feature mind-boggling varieties of the orchid, the national flower of Singapore. The greenhouses are beautifully maintained and well worth stopping by. 

Check out why you should visit the Botanic Gardens here



The above-mentioned places wrap up the main attractions in Singapore. If you are here for longer, there are several other places that you could visit.

Fountain of wealth
You could head to Suntec City near City Hall. There is almost always some kind of exhibition taking place in the convention center. Apart from that, it is a great place to shop. You can also enjoy a spectacular dining ambience amidst cascading waters of the world’s largest fountain, The Fountain of Wealth as it entertains nightly with a multimedia extravaganza. Step outside the Suntec City convention centre and you will come across the Milenia Walk spiral sculpture. Although it isn’t a prime feature of the area, it still is worth a glance. 

For the more outdoorsy kinds, Singapore has several nature reserves, gardens and picnic locales that would cater to their needs. MacRitchie nature reserve, Bukit Timah nature reserve, Southern ridges, Chinese garden, East Coast Park, Labrador park, Pulau Ubin island and Kusu island are good places to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, catch some fresh air and indulge in either trekking, cycling, or picnicking. 

Bukit Timah Reserve

MacRitchie Nature Reservoir
Chinese garden

Henderson waves
Mount Faber


Kusu island
Labrador park

Pulau Ubin

For the young and young at heart, Escape Theme Park is an outdoor theme park located in the eastern part of Singapore. It has a water park named Wild Wild Wet located adjacent to it. Although I have been to Wild Wild Wet a few times, I have never been to the Escape Theme Park. I am assuming that it is the only place in Singapore that I haven’t seen yet

Wild wild wet

Some must-do activities in Singapore would include:  
  • Foot reflexology - a practice in which trained professionals apply pressure to the feet and hands utilizing specific thumb, finger and hand techniques
  • Fish reflexology - a unique way to exfoliate and pamper your feet using fish (some might find it gross though!)
  • Eating the durian - a prickly fruit with an unusual flavor that is banned in public transport due to its overwhelmingly strong odor! In 10 years, I couldn't muster the courage to try it after sampling a piece of durian cake once which I thought was vile but I did try it eventually and I didn't like it one bit (sorry durian lovers). Methinks it may be an acquired taste 
  • Eating at the many many local hawker centers which is an integral part of life in Singapore. Chicken rice, chilli crab, fried hokkien mee, nyonya laksa, hor fun, char kuey teow, roti prata are quintessentially Singaporean dishes (which cater primarily to the meat lovers). I would recommend beehoon, rojak, fried carrot cake, popiah and kaya toast for the vegetarian palette
  • Unwinding with the iconic Singapore Sling at Long Bar located at Raffles Hotel. You can even throw peanut shells on the floor....that's the extent of littering you can get away with in Singapore! 

That wraps up my thoughts on Singapore as a tourist destination. This is an ideal place to enjoy a nice family holiday. You can eat till your stomach can hold no more, behold glorious sights, shop till you drop and walk till your feet beg you to stop. The only catch is - you need to make sure you come in with deep pockets!


Cheers,


3 comments:

  1. Beautiful account n pictures!

    manu.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I just stumbled onto ur site looking for traditional kannada food, n u have such a lovely blog with pictures n equally wonderful write ups that Iam now a huge fan of. Where in mysore r u from, Iam a mysorean too from Kuvempunagr residing in Doha, Qatar!

    lotsa luv,
    Manu.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you Manu for your kind words. I reside in Gokulam in Mysore. Good to meet a fellow Mysorean :)

    ReplyDelete

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