Singapore has become a huge tourist destination and is a playground for people with money to spend on luxury and fine dining. Singapore would be a great place to live; where, while making money, you can take your time to slowly explore the city and all of the attractions it offers. For us, it was a relief to finally be in a modern city with metros, flushing toilets, and good food; however after a month in cheap Southeast Asia countries, the high prices of the Singapore attractions soon ruined our enthusiasm.
Day 1 – Thursday, February 26, 2015
Our flight landed in Singapore late in the day. The airport was large, modern, and efficient. It was easy for us to navigate the MRT (metro) system and make our way to our hostel in Chinatown. Unfortunately, we arrived to find that Matchbox; the concept hostel had shut their doors for the night 15 minutes earlier at 11pm. Luckily for us a fellow hostel guest was walking by at the time and let us in to the office. She also helped us find a phone which would make a local call and we called the after hour number. (Ok, it wasn’t quite that easy and there was some panicking). Eventually we reached someone who came to check us into the hotel. By then it was pushing midnight and we hadn’t eaten dinner yet.
The hostel was close to the Maxwell Food Center. Unbeknownst to us, Singapore is known for ‘hawker food’, or street food. Throughout the city are hawker centers, which are like food courts with permanent food booths at a common location. Maxwell Food Center is one of these larger hawker areas. At midnight only a few stands were open, but we were able to get dinner. After walking around the entire center we ate at stand No. 1 (I’m not sure if that was its name or number) where a very nice woman served us. She even stopped by later to ask how we liked the food. I really did enjoy my Laksa, a curry like soup.
Day 2 – Friday, February 27, 2015
We awoke for the day in our individual cubes at Matchbox. Matchbox is a specialty hostel with pods instead of standard bunkbeds. Each pod is basically a 3′ x 3′ x 6′ wooden box with a mattress and a curtain. The pods each had a light, reading lamp, towel rod, and electrical outlet as well. We also had an 8” x 8” window that could be opened to talk to the person in the pod next to you. I think overall we really enjoyed the pod concept although it had its ups and downs. The negative side is that it didn’t promote a social atmosphere. You never knew how many people were in the room and if they were sleeping so everyone was quiet all of the time. The positive side is that it was very quiet and felt private. Matchbox also provides breakfast, so that is what we did before heading out for the day.
Matchbox was only a few blocks from the Chinatown metro stop, so we got a little preview of Chinatown as we walked to the metro (more about that later). Our first destination was Marina Bay with a plan to walk back along part of the Singapore River. The metro let us out into a huge luxury mall at Marina Bay. Most of the stores were designers. As we neared the mall entrance, we could see through skylights that we were almost directly under the Marina Bay Sands Resort. The Marina Bay Sands is known for its unique shape; three towers that support a large boat shaped structure with a swimming pool and restaurants.
From the Marina we walked to Gardens by the Bay. Gardens by the Bay is distinguished by its large ‘supertrees’. The supertrees are metal tree shaped trellises. Their purpose, besides to look impressive, is to function like a real tree by collecting rainwater and nourishing planets which grow up them. Jon pointed out that the purple metal branches are intended to one day be completely plant covered and not a feature themselves, which really changed my perspective of the trees.
Besides for the supertrees, Gardens by the Bay also has many outdoor garden displays which are free to walk around. The displays include heritage gardens, cacti gardens, fruits, and other educational gardens. Two large glass domes also stand out. These domes are the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. After a bit of debate, we decided to pay to enter the Cloud Forest dome.
The Cloud Forest Dome (S$16 / person if not entering the Flower Dome as well) contained a large man-made mountain planted with mosses, ferns, orchids, and other plants found in cloud forests around the world. At the dome entrance the largest man-made indoor waterfall in the world greets you. A pathway leads around the displays on the ground level. The day we were there, the displays included a miniature train, flowers built from legos, and educational information about cloud forests. An elevator then takes you to the top of the mountain where the lost world garden is and you slowly make your way down the mountain on aerial pathways that encircle it. As you work your way down the levels of the mountain there are other displays. In the center of the mountain is a large display about caves, stalactites, stalagmites, and geos. There is also a display about global warming and the effect humans are having on the planet. After the relaxing stroll through the rest of the displays, the global warming display which featured robotic voices, graphs, and videos of destruction seemed a bit unexpected and jarring but perhaps that is the point. We enjoyed the cloud forest and liked seeing references to Monteverde, a cloud forest in Costa Rica we had actually been to. The cool dome was a great way to spend a hot day in Singapore.
We got lunch in the food-court of the mall Marina Bay Mall. The food-court was also considered hawker food and consisted of 2-3 food service companies each running a half dozen counters selling almost every kind of Asian food you can think of. We decided to try a food we had heard about and ordered a Singapore carrot cake, which is a savory omelet.
Next we walked to The Artscience Museum. The museum is housed in a striking building shaped like a lotus flower. The concept of the Artscience Museum should be one that Jon and I enjoy; art, design, and science merged together. We walked into the museum, but decided not to pay the entrance fee when we found out that it only houses one rotating exhibit and no permanent collection. Instead we walked across the bridges towards a large Chinese New Year display and along the river to Raffles Landing. On the way we passed a free concert and listened to a song or two. Raffles Landing was a bit of a disappointment. It wasn’t much of anything except one statue and that was wrapped up in scaffolding the day we were there.
We crossed the river again and walked to Merlion Park. Merlion a mythical creature which is half fish and half lion and is the protector of Singapore. Merlion Park features a large stature of a merlion which sprays water from its mouth. Merlion Park was a crowded place to be with lots of people taking photographs and enjoying ice cream outdoors.
By then we had some time to slow down. We had decided earlier to return to Gardens on the Bay at 7pm when they have a free light show and we didn’t want to get too far from the area. Eventually we slowly made our way back to Gardens on the Bay. We talked about where the best location to sit would be (maybe on the pedestrian overpass from the Sands hotel) but ended up following the flow of the crowd all the way it to the supertree grove. The light show was mostly lights and spotlights on the supertrees timed to accompanying music. It was a nice way to spend part of an evening.
Part of our original plan for the day had been to walk along the river to the quays. Before leaving our hostel we had been advised that the quays are a nightlife area and would be best seen in the evening. The first quay was Boat Quay. It was a small street that fronted along the river. The entire street was filled with restaurants on one side and extra outdoor seating along the water on the other side. The bars were cool and divey looking, but the prices were expensive so we kept going. Boat Quay seemed like a place where people living in the city met after work for happy hour.
The next quay was Clarke Quay. Clarke Quay was very different from Boat Quay. It was full of large chain restaurants around an outdoor plaza. Some areas were under a large canopy roof while others were across two pedestrian bridges. Clarke Quay felt a lot more open than the cramped Boat quay. We tried to get tables at two restaurants, but they both had long waits. Instead of hanging around we headed towards our hostel and Chinatown.
Chinatown was lit up for the Chinese New Year with blocks of goats lining the street median. We decided to head towards Food Street. On the way there we passed a lot of crowded restaurants and other stands selling street food. Jon stopped to try Bakkwa, jerky like pork, from Bee Cheng Hiang.
Food Street was a wide, covered pedestrian street. The sides of the street were lined with restaurants, which the center of the street had hawker food stands and tables. First we looked at some restaurant menus but were surprised by the high prices and decided not to eat there. Next, we almost got Hianese Chicken from a hawker stand, but they sold out just before we ordered. Finally we ended up leaving Food Street and eating at a small but crowded restaurant elsewhere in Chinatown.
Day 3 – Saturday, February 28, 2015
We ate breakfast at Matchbox and talked to the reception desk about some options of what to do for the day. Our first stop was Little India. The city offers free walking tours of Little India (and Chinatown), but we weren’t there at the right time. Luckily, one of the maps of the city we had picked up showed the walking route and we were able to go ourselves. The walking tour took us past flower shops, spice shops, and arcades. The map we had listed the tour stops, but did not explain their significance. We ended our walking tour at Sri Veeramkaliamman, an Indian temple. Sri Veeramkaliamman was very interesting and full of alters of colorful and odd statues. Before leaving Little India we stopped for lunch at Bismillah Biryani, a small restaurant known for its mutton biryani. The biryani portions were large and we were full afterwards.
From Little India we headed towards Sentosa. Sentosa is a private resort island which has been developed with tourist attractions. To get to Sentosa you can take a cable car ($29), a train ($4), or walk across of bridge ($1 but free the day we were there). On Sentosa is a casino, Universal Studios, 4D lines, Madame Tussaud’s, a waterpark, an aquarium, indoor sky diving, and more. We walked around the island for a while. The most impressive thing was the giant Merlion statue. We couldn’t enter the casino with our bag, so we skipped that. Most everything else had a high cost so we didn’t end up doing anything. Sentosa did have a free beach, which we visited even though we didn’t have any beach gear with us. Towards the end of the day we walked to the waterpark to see if we could get a reduced entrance fee because we’d only have an hour, but they didn’t do that so we left Sentosa without really doing anything at all.
This time when we got back to Chinatown we stopped for a beer before relaxing at the hostel. For dinner that night we went to Song Fa for bak kut teh, a type of hawker soup filled with pork ribs and loads of roasted garlic. When we walked back to the hostel we found that Club Street (where our hostel was) was filled with tables and people. We decided to join the crowd and sat down to enjoy the cool night air and a drink.
Day 4 – Sunday, March 1, 2015
Our flight out of Singapore was mid-morning, so we ate breakfast at the hostel again and checked out. We rode the metro to the airport and boarded our flight on Emirates Air to New Zealand.
- Free tours of Chinatown and Little India – A map we picked up advertised free walking tours of Chinatown and Little Indian. The map shows the meeting points and the tours are offered at 2:30 M/W/F for Chinatown and at 10:30 T/R/Sa for Little India.
- Tak Po– This Dim Sum restaurant in Chinatown was highly recommend to us by the hostel.
- Zoo/Night Safari – This is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Singapore. We were looking forward to this attraction, until a local talked us out of it saying its just a zoo and the night safari is just a zoo at night when its difficult to see the animals, Still if we had more time we would have likely worked this into our schedule.
- Transportation – We found the city MRT (metro) system to be easy, cheap, fast, and convenient. Tickets are good for multiple rides, however we had to refill our card before each ride. We didn’t need any other transportation while in the city.
- Visa– No visa or prior approval is needed for Americans entering Singapore for vacation.
BRISBANE (in transit):
Day 1 – Sunday, March 2, 2015
We had a long layover in Brisbane on the way to New Zealand. We arrived at almost 1am local time and had a 17 hour layover, so we did something we hadn’t done yet on our trip and we slept in the airport. We had a connecting flight out of Brisbane, but thought that we might want to try and see the city for a few hours the next day, so we followed the rest of the passengers through immigration and into the main airport terminal. A very nice employee told us that they didn’t have any lounges but she would recommend trying the fourth floor (where the check in counters are) as the most comfortable place to sleep. It was bright and airy, but it was also the only place with couches. Several people already snoozed.
Around 7am the terminal started to get busier and noisier. By 9am we decided we should get up and stop taking up space. We went to an information desk to ask about luggage lockers and a bus into the city so we could explore for a few hours. We weren’t happy to here that a bus into the city was something like $18 each way meaning for us to get into the city and back we’d be paying over $70. Instead we took the free shuttle to the Skymall. The Skymall was a small outlet mall near the airport. We walked around it several times and even bought a pair of flip-flops to replace the sandals I’d broken in Thailand. Lunch was a quick meal in the Skymall food-court. We took the free shuttle back to the airport and checked in for our flight on to Auckland.