Destination Guides: Singapore (Part Two – Things to See)
As previously mentioned there are a number of distinct areas in Singapore – 3 main cultural districts which are Little India, Chinatown, and Arab Street; as well as a wide range of other destinations well worth a visit.
The shopping street of Singapore! When I say shopping I mean shopping – all the top brands can be found along the street. At night it lights up with all the neon. The streets are lined with big trees, which makes wandering the streets very pleasant. A lot of the malls are joined with underground walkways.
Each year around June-August they have the Big Singapore Sales – you can pick up some big bargains on some major brands. To get there take the MRT to Orchard station. There is a fabulous food court it the Wisma Atrium shopping centre I can recommend. It’s on level 4 and it’s called Food Republic. It’s filled with shops serving food from all over the world for less than S$10 (A$7.60). You buy your meal from one shop and the drinks from another. I can highly recommend the Roti Paratha man. It’s like Naan bread filled with what you want (onion and cheese is my favourite) and you get a curry sauce to dip it in. Also iced milo is a must. Every drink shop sells it. Try it. Our golden rule of Singapore – one iced milo and one roti paratha a day.
Chinatown is well worth an afternoon walk around. It’s one of my favourite places in Singapore to go. It’s got a great market to walk around which is great for souvenirs. At night time the hawker stalls open up on the sidewalk and dinner is served. Cheap, well cooked and delicious food is on offer. Also look up and behind the markets. The original buildings have been restored so take a walk down Pagoda St all the way to the Sri Mariammam Temple (Hindu) and stop to take it all in.
Continue walking along South Bridge Rd southwest, or follow the signs to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. I highly recommend a look it as this is one of the most beautiful temples I have seen. Make sure you go to the garden on the roof. The oasis is beautiful.
Before you leave the area if you go across the road you will see the Maxwell Street Food Centre – this is an amazing Hawker Centre containing just about every possible type of food you could imagine (and some that you would never imagine!). It is totally healthy, all the shops have to display their Government cleanliness standard and they are all A or B rated. The key here is don’t be a tourist, sit at a table with the locals, try some funky foods – just get a little bit from a lot of places, and interact with people.
Many of the locals and vendors will be keen to have a chat so definately engage with them. We sat down at the front of China Street Fritters and had a great chat with the owner, one of the single best experiences I have had in Singapore. I will do a more detailed post about Singapore food later on, but for the time being come here and try some food!
Head back down Sago St where you will rejoin the markets. If you head across the footbridge to the other side of the road you will walk into the People’s Park Complex. Walk around until you find the centre part where the escalators are and go to level 3. This is where all the Chinese go for their reflexology and massages. We can recommend Teo Chew Meng Reflexology Centre. We go there religiously every time. If there little shop is too busy they will take you up a set of escalators to another shop. Don’t panic, you are very safe. You will pay next to nothing for treatments and they can pick any illness as soon as they touch your feet (if you let them). A word of warning, English isn’t their strong suit, but they know enough to get by. Get off at Chinatown MRT or Outram Park and follow the people or the signs back to Chinatown (Outram Park is a slight walk).
Little India, is hectic, hot and noisy, what I expect the real India is like. But it works and is something you have to see. Walk along Serangoon Road, the main artery of Little India, to experience the shops selling material, saris, Indian jewellery, dvds, henna tattoos and more. Stop by Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple for another Hindu temple at work. As one would imagine, this is probably the best place in Singapore to get authentic Indian food. To get to Little India take the MRT to Little India station.
Wander down to Arab St where you can pick up a Persian rug or perhaps a Turkish lamp.
Follow the signs to the Sultan Mosque. Definately go and check out the Mosque, it is open to visitors whenever it is not a designated Prayer time, please do dress appropriately – however they do have some robes they will loan you if needed. There are also a number of volunteers available to answer any questions you might have about the Mosque and also about Islam.
Wander down the little shopping lane in front where you can pick up some great pashminas as souvenirs. If you walk down to Baghdad St there is a lovely Turkish café with streets on the sidewalk where you can try a shisha pipe and very good hummus dip, or perhaps a Turkish coffee. This area really comes alive at night and the mosque makes a beautiful picture all lit up as the sun sets. If you walk around the backstreets you’ll find heaps of new businesses taking off as this is the area to be at the moment. To get there get off at Bugis MRT and it’s about 10 mins walk.
Bugis Street is a huge covered market taking up a very large block. They sell all sorts, clothes, jewellery, bags, souvenirs, food. It’s well worth a look. If you walk to the opposite end to the MRT you will come to Queen St. Cross over and in front of you is another little market. Walk around and soak it up. We’ve knicknamed it the Chinese Homeshow. You can buy all sorts of home gadgets we’ve never heard of, but they attract huge crowds of people. Also there are little old vendors selling ice cream. What they are selling is an ice cream sandwich and they are awesome. For S$1 (A76c) they cut of a wedge of ice cream and sandwich it between wafers or sweet bread (go the wafer). Also be careful of the flavours, (not all are what we’re used to).
If you wander down Waterloo St, you will see a Taoist and Hindu temple living harmoniously side by side, with vendors outside selling incense, offerings and lotus flowers. The easiest way to get here is to take the Bugis St MRT station.
An institution in Singapore since 1887 – it is the epitome of colonial luxury and really has to be experienced to believe. The famous cocktail the Singapore Sling originated in the Long Bar. There is a Museum located in the hotel and it is free to enter and view some amazing artefacts from its history.
I highly recommend just walking around and admiring the beautiful architecture of the complex. If you continue down Bras Brasah Rd you will come to a complex called Chijmes. It’s a beautiful church and monastery turned into a retail space, mainly full of restaurants. By Singapore standards they are expensive, but a beautiful complex all lit up at night. Even if you don’t indulge, just walk through the grounds and admire the beautiful buildings.
Esplanade / City Hall
Walk along Connaught Drive and you’ll come to a bit of a green patch. In front of you should be the Singapore Recreation Club. THE club of Singapore to be a member of if you are a somebody! At the opposite of the huge green area (The Padang) is the Singapore Cricket Club. Continue to the other side of Connaught Drive and you will find Tan Kim Seng Fountain, the Cenotaph and the Lim Bo Seng Memorial. Up near the Tan Kim Seng Fountain you can walk past the bug eye building (Arts Complex) and under the road to Esplanade Park. Here you can get some beautiful pictures of Singapore on a clear day. Also you will be looking over at the Marina Bay Complex. Back in the park down at the Lim Bo Seng Memorial, you should be able to look over the harbour and see the Merlion. Walk past the Cricket Club and on St Andrew’s Rd is the Supreme Court and the oddly shaped City Hall. The only country to use a UFO as a building feature!
The Fullerton and Merlion
The Fullerton has a history and tradition to rival Raffles. The building was originally the General Post Office but was later converted into the Hotel you see today. The high tea served here is the thing to do in Singapore (even if it costs you an arm and a leg). At night it is lit up and sparkles. The Merlion is also a must see attration of Singapore. The half lion, half mermaid statue is the symbol of Singapore. If you are happy to walk get off at Raffles Place MRT and walk back.
Marina Bay Sands Complex
The new IT place of Singapore. If you want to go to the Casino, remember your passport and dress appropriately (nothing too formal, just Smart Casual will be fine). You need your passport because Singaporeans have to pay a fee to access the casino so they need to verify you are a foreigner. You can also pay to go to the viewing deck (Sands Skypark) up top to look over Singapore. The latest addition to the complex is The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. Filled with designer brands (I think there are car dealerships) there is even a Grande Canal, complete with gondolas. At the other end of the shopping centre is an awesome food court and ice skating rink. The lotus shaped building out the front is the Art Science Complex. Check out the Louis Vuitton shop on the water. Impressive! To get here take the MRT to Marina Bay and walk around. You can get some great shots on the walk.
The giant Ferris wheel gives the best view of Singapore. On a clear day you can see to Malaysia (so they say). The flight (yes that’s how they describe it to you) takes 30 mins. It cost S$29.50 (A$22.50) and even if you hate heights, this is worth it, even if you sit on the bench in the middle and don’t move.
The flyer is open from 8.30am til 10.30pm at night, so there is plenty of time. You can book online or just turn on up. We were there during the week and there was no issue with getting a ticket. If you look at the website for the Flyer there are all sorts of extra packages you can purchase, i.e. dinner or drinks on the flyer (http://www.singaporeflyer.com/unique-experiences/). To get there catch the MRT to the Promenade station and follow the signs. You can also catch the water taxi here from various points. The closest being the Art science complex at the Marina Bay Sands complex. At a cost of S$4 (A$3) each, one way, it’s a bargain.
Clarke Quay is the place to go to enjoy dinner, hugging the Singapore River; it is full of trendy bars and popular restaurants on both sides of the river. There are a few shops to browse as well.
The Royal Selangor shop has what they call the School of Hard Knocks. You can go in and for about S$30 (A$22.80) you can make your own pewter bowl to take home. It takes about half an hour (depending on how good you are) and is quite a bit of fun. You can book ahead, but we just popped in and they accommodated us. Afterwards pop into one of the bars for a drink. There is the Highlander Bar, where they specialise in Scotch. Or there is Clinic, a bar created out of old hospital equipment. Shots are in syringes, cocktails come in drips and some chairs are wheelchairs or old hospital beds. If you don’t stop, it’s well worth a look.
On the other side of the river (a bridge connects them) is Brewerkz, an American style bar, serving boutique beers and American pub food. A little further up is Café Iguana, serving authentic Mexican. Jumbo Seafood Restaurant is an institution in Singapore. If you have time I recommend their East Coast Seafood Centre restaurant, but if not this one is next best. Prices are similar to here, but the seafood is fresh and tasty. Chilli crab is the speciality of Singapore. If that’s too hot, try the black pepper crab. Really the whole menu is good. But this area is full of places, so explore.
Singapore Zoo is one of the best I have been too (Dubbo still beats it). You can experience the zoo during the day, starting as early as enjoying breakfast at the zoo with the animals. However a unique experience is the night safari. It opens at 7.30pm until midnight and you can explore the zoo at night. What I love about this is the animals are more active at night, so you actually see them interacting more than in the day (except for the sloth, who only moves for 2 hours a day). Also most of the enclosures are simulated to be the wild. The animals can roam freely. They can’t get out due to moats around the little islands they are on. There is also a little tram that takes you around the different parts of the park and you can get up close to the animals. Shows also run at different times during the night. We got there right on 7.30pm and had some dinner at the different kiosks. Reasonably priced and tasty.
Try to have a rough guide as to what you want to see – the time ticks away quickly and you will likely not get to see everything. The other trick – if you get to an enclosure and you don’t see an animal, stay very still and very quiet – you will find that once the hoardes of people walk on the animals will poke their heads out and let you admire them. We spent nearly 30 minutes at the leopard enclosure and the pay off was this amazing creature coming to within 1 foot of us (glass separating us for safety!). So try to be as quiet as you can when wandering around – you stand a better chance of seeing some of the more timid animals.
Tickets start at S$32 (A$24) or you can buy a combination ticket with the day zoo and/or Jurong Bird Park. To get there you can book a Singapore Attractions Express Bus (which stops outside your hotel). Alternatively you can take a taxi, local bus or MRT.
Changi Chapel and Museum
We only just got out to Changi on this trip and I regret not getting there sooner. It is small, but beautifully documents the sacrifices Singaporeans, Australians and so many other nations made to defend the country from the Japanese occupation during WWII. The information is comprehensive, but I recommend the audio guide to give the information a voice. The outdoor chapel is a beautiful place to sit and relect. It is free to visit, and the audio guide is S$8 (A$6).
It is open from 9.30am to 5pm. To get there catch the MRT to Tenah Merah , follow the signs to the bus stop across the road and take bus 2. If you tell the driver where your trying to end up, they are usually helpful enough to stop when you get there (even if you don’t know where there is). Alternatively you can take a taxi. The Museum is located right nextdoor to the Changi Prison (the actual current prison), so once you see that you know you are close.
I know it is not the easiest place to find but I can’t put into words how emotive this museum is – my wife and I were both in tears at the end and for the most part stood in silence. It is very moving, and a lovely place to pay your respects to the men, women and children who were killed or bruttally tortured during this dark period in Singapore’s past.
I have never made it to Sentosa Island. What I have been told is it’s a resort island full of fun parks and hotels. Underwater World is over there. A luge park and a mega zip line also feature. Oh and not to mention there are beaches. I’m probably not selling it so I will leave you with this: http://www.sentosa.com.sg/en/ and tell you there is a cable car to the island.
Other places to consider:
- Suntec Plaza – a huge shopping complex/ office buildings. Full of shops and is feng shui designed for prosperity. Out the front is a fountain to promote good luck. Another Food Republic foodcourt can be found here. It is connected to the Esplanade MRT via an underground walkway.
- East Coast Seafood Centre – a collection of seafood restaurants overlooking the water where the tasty delights were probably pulled from.
- Vivo City – a huge shopping centre overlooking Sentosa. If you can’t find it in there, it probably doesn’t exist.
- Bugis Junction – a cute shopping centre that has a great collection of cheap food (ground level) or restaurants. Also the shops here are a little more up and coming designers and not what you see in every other shopping centre.
- Parkview Square – has a bar called Divine Wine Extraordinaire where wine angels fetch your wine for you – whilst suspended by wires meters in the air!
This is just a brief summary of the key places in Singapore – I will try to add more detail to some of the areas but I just wanted to give you the top tips for your time in Singapore. Also stay tuned for my upcoming blog about places to eat in Singapore!
Thanks for reading and please let me know what you think of these blog posts by leaving me a comment below.