Singapore is a crossover city. It’s East meets West, it’s modern meets traditional, and it’s glam meets gritty.
The former British city-country is known for it’s clean streets, intense traffic, high prices, and good food. So I wasn’t sure what to expect when we booked our trip to Singapore this year for our visa renewal trip. I love Asia and Asian culture so much, but I also miss parts of American culture too. Indonesian food is fantastic, but sometimes I long for good cheese and Chick-Fil-A. Driving a motorbike is wonderful, but there are some real advantages of traveling by car [aka trunk space]. Our Singapore trip came at the perfect time. I was ready for a change of scenery and new city to explore.
When we first arrived in Singapore and got in a taxi to our hotel I was immediately struck by the view. The roads are huge! There’s cars everywhere! The buildings are so tall! There’s no burning trash or cows on the side of the road! I was not in Indonesia anymore. We chose to stay in the Tiong Bahru neighborhood of Singapore, which is near Chinatown. I strategically picked this neighborhood based on a reliable source…Instagram. Tiong Bahru is home to THE cutest cafes in the city. This coffee shutterbug was a happy girl. But we didn’t stay put for long, we were ready to explore. Armed with a data plan for our cell phone and some stars on Google Maps, we set off the conquer the city.
There’s a few general areas/neighborhoods in Singapore that I was looking forward to checking out. From Chinatown, to Little India, the Downtown Riverfront, Orchard Road and the Marina Bay area…I had quite the list of stops. Here’s some of our highlights from each stop!
It’s in Chinatown that you can really see a blend of Asian & Western influences. There may be a beautiful pagoda surrounded by a glass & concrete high rise. It’s wild. And so beautiful. I saw some of my favorite architecture in this area. Unique colonial houses line the streets on Duxton Hill Road. I grabbed a quick cup of cold brew coffee at MavRx Coffee Apothecary and browsed the shelves of Littered with Books. My heart was happy. We continued walking up to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. I didn’t have high expectations for this place. It’s on a lot of travel blogs, but guys, I’ve been to Chiang Mai, Thailand. It’s the place to go for looking at Buddhist temples. But Buddha Tooth Relic surprised me. The simple exterior does not prepare you for the view within. I have never seen so many Buddha statues in one place in my entire life. All shapes, sizes and poses. It’s Buddha central. But, really, you can only look at Buddhas for so long, so we walked on. Also in Chinatown is the Sri Mariamman Temple, the famous Hindu temple. But I live in Bali, so Hindu temples are my daily life, so after a quick photo op, we moved on. For dinner, we visited our first hawker center, Singapore’s famous food court dining experience. These hawker centers are the BEST way to eat well & affordably in the city. We tried out the Telok Ayer Market. It’s near the heart of the financial district, and it’s the fanciest hawker center we went to. The food was tasty, lots of great options. My favorite part of all the hawker centers was all the options!. Stalls on stalls on stalls. Indian, Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Western, and then some. And it’s SO GOOD. After dinner, we checked out the rooftop bar on One Raffles Place, called 1-Altitude for sunset. It’s a pricy cover charge, but we went on ladies’ night, so that helped cut the cost for us. We got there before sunset, which meant before the crowds, and had fantastic views the whole night. We could see the Marina Bay Sands hotel, Chinatown, and more. It was the perfect first night in the city. After the sun had set, and the crowds started coming for the nightlife, we descended from the clouds and back on the city streets.
The area around Clarke Quay is really great, especially at night. It’s alive with lights and sounds. The river itself shines from all the lights. You can take boat tours down the river, or walk it’s banks like we did. There’s tons of restaurants and bars offering so many great options. There’s thrill rides, like bungee swings over the river. With so much to see and do here, you could easily spend a few nights checking it all out. We had exhausted ourselves however, so after a quick stroll around the river, we headed back to our hotel.
I’m not a brand name, high end shopping kind of gal. I like a good mall like any American, but I’m not one to get all excited about Louis Vutton bags or the latest Jimmy Choo’s. Thankfully, Orchard Road shopping district has a little of everything. If you are a luxury shopper, this is your stop. But plenty of malls had great budget, quirky, and casual shops too. I really enjoyed walking the street, popping in and out of stores while window browsing. Emerald Hill Road offers a unique bit of architecture in the midst of a concrete jungle with some restored colonial houses, most of which are bars, pubs & cafes. It was cute, but I thought that Chinatown’s Duxton Hill Road offered a more authentic look at these homes.
Not far from Orchard Road is the Tekka Centre Food Court in Little India. A totally different hawker experience than Telok Ayer Market in Chinatown! I felt like Telok Ayer was catered to businessmen & women on lunch breaks. Where as the Tekka Centre was a loud, colorful, fragrant mix of all kinds of people. You can definitely tell you stepped into Little India! There seemed to be more food stalls at Tekka Centre, and again I loved browsing and compiling the tastiest meal. After a delicious lunch, we walked to the Mustafa Shopping Centre to browse some budget shopping, and I was totally unprepared for the size and scale of this place! Anything, absolutely anything, you could think of buying could be found here! It felt like a Super Walmart on steroids. Overwhelming, sure, but fascinating, yes. After an exhausting shopping experience, we stumbled into Butter Studio, an adorable cafe with some delicious desserts. It recharged us for the rest of our day.
We continued to roam, down Haji Lane for photos of brightly colored buildings, over to the National Gallery, past the beautiful Fullerton Hotel and down to the waterfront to greet the Merlions. The Merlions, by the way, is selfie central. Singles, couples, tour groups, families all getting in on the selfie action. After taking our own selfies, we walked across the beautiful and unique Helix Bridge, and finally arrived at Marina Bay Sands. There’s so much to see and do in just this area alone that we really didn’t leave enough time [or money!] to see it all. We grabbed a quick dinner at the bottom of the Marina Bay Sands Mall, at the hawker centre on the ground floor. Then we went over to Gardens by the Bay for sunset. And I was so glad we did. We decided to just do the Supertrees, not the larger exhibits, and it was enough for me. Maybe on our next trip we’ll go back to see what we missed. We paid to walk across the bridge in Supertrees, and got great views of the city and the trees. I loved it. Then we laid back on the grass and waited for the sun to lower and the light show to begin. Every night at 8pm, the SuperTrees have a programed music & light show, and it did not disappoint. Probably one of the best free things you can do in Singapore. After a long and wonderful day, we headed back to the hotel.
On our third & final day in Singapore, I was finally able to spend more time in the beautiful neighborhood near our hotel called Tiong Bahru. It’s an up & coming neighborhood, popular with artists, coffee drinkers, readers, and hipsters. So I felt right at home. The Tiong Bahru Bakery is a great stop for a morning coffee and fresh baked pastry. Flock Cafe cooks up a nice breakfast also. I wandered through the eclectic bookshelves of Books Actually and Woods in the Books, a creative children’s bookstore. Plain Vanilla Bakery is worth a visit too, with a delicious raspberry lemonade on the menu. Tiong Bahru is not a large neighborhood, but full of things to see. I loved the architecture. Oddly, it reminded me of Miami, Florida, in the 1960’s with it’s art deco vibes. I loved it. There’s also some great wall art throughout the neighborhood. For our last lunch in Singapore, we at the Tiong Bahru Hawker Centre, which was my favorite hawker centre. The ground floor is regular market, with fresh fruits & veggies, and beautiful flowers. The upstairs is the food court. After stuffing ourselves with another delicious meal, we packed up and headed for the airport. Singapore was a beautiful whirlwind. I can’t wait to do it again.
Hawker Center in Tiong Bahru
Some helpful tips for a Singapore trip:
– At the airport, we bought a data-only SIM card for my unlocked iPhone 6. This allowed us to have access to maps the whole time we were in the city. It was valid for 5 days only, but only $15 SGD. Worth it!
– The buses & the metro are so easy to use! Don’t waste money or time on taxi’s!
– Again, hawker centers are the only way to eat in Singapore on a budget! Restaurants get pricy quick. If you are a budget conscious traveler, plot out the hawker centers on your map and create your travelogue around that!
-Swimming in the iconic infinity pool above the Marina Bay Sands Hotel is for hotel guests only. So, if you want to drop $400 for the experience, knock yourself out. But it was definitely out of our price range!