There were no convenient flight times and routes by the time I had tried to book my ticket for New Zealand so I decided to make a pit stop in Singapore before heading to Auckland so I can get a breather from being in flight for 20+ hours.
Why Singapore? I have always heard great things about this island city-state that had peaked my interest in potentially finding a full time job there in the near future. I had one big fear — the humidity. I had to check it out before I get serious with researching opportunities in this city. Since I was in middle school, I have been told that Singapore is an extremely clean place with spotless streets and strict laws to enforce such orderly behavior. Fascinated with the idea of being in a clean but thriving city filled with ambitious intellects who speaks English and a blend of delicious mix cultural delicacies, I needed to get my first-hand experience before I start my adventure time in New Zealand.
The reality? It is humid. It is not spotless. By no means do these flaws make the city any less vibrant. However, I was disappointed to find that Singapore was not as cleaned as I imagined, but certainly stands above many Asia countries in terms of cleanliness. Perhaps, I had over fantasized the idea of sparkling clean streets.
Arriving early morning, we started the day at Nanyang Old Coffee for some traditional local breakfast and coffee recommended by the hostel staff. Singaporean coffee beans are honey glazed and served with condense milk for a more sweeter taste. We spent the rest of our first day visiting the must-see tourist attractions including Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Gardens by the Bay, and Marina Sands. Making our way from Chinatown, we were relieved to cool off in the esplanade before heading back out to the Marina. Marina Bay Sands consist of 3 buildings linked at the top with restaurants and a rooftop pool. Despite not being a guest of the hotel, we managed to sneak up to the 57th floor for an aerial view of the Gardens by the Bay.
The two exhibitions in Gardens by the Bay, Flower Dome and Cloud Forest, are large greenhouses cultivating plants from all over the world.
The hostel staff advised that the Gardens by the Bay and Grove Trees are best viewed during the night when the lights illuminate the garden. To kill time, we ventured into the Arts and Science museum. Deceived by the name of the exhibition “Arts Meets Science”, I expected some creative futuristic works of art for displayed. Instead, the only “science” in the exhibition rooms were projectors projecting different abstract animations. Nonetheless, it was good to enjoy some air conditioning and rest up for the night. Gardens by the Bay was pretty busy at night with tourist and locals who came about to enjoy the nicely lit garden.
The second day was dedicated to cultural visits to temples and botanical gardens. Conveniently staying in a hostel in Chinatown, we explored the different temples readily around the neighborhood. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum has a grand facade and décor that gave off a more commercial feeling to it.
At the temple, I was asked to wear a sarong before entering. I thought it was interesting since I read from travel blogs of how many female travelers carry a sarong while backpacking in southeast Asia for when they visit temples and other sacred entities. This completely slipped my mind while selecting my choice of clothing for the cultural visits we intended to do for the day. After visiting several temples, we headed to the National Botanical Garden and visited the orchid garden. While the flowers were vibrant and beautiful, the heat and humidity detracted from the whole experience. After the garden we trekked through to Singapore’s popular shopping district on Orchard Road. The crowded shopping malls reminded me of Hong Kong. Following after the shopping area (not that any shopping was done), we headed to Little India in hopes to get a glimpse of the Deepavali festivities taking place at this time. To no surprise, Little India was even more crowded than Orchard Road with open markets and lively decorative street lights and figurines.
Due to weather, we did not have time to go visit nearby islands in Singapore. We decided to skip past Sentosa seems it seems more like a place for people going on vacations for resorts. There was no agenda for the day since we have visited most of the must-see spots in Singapore within a close distance. The hostel staff had recommended a couple of more local areas to visit, but they were over an hour away commuting via train, bus, and ferry. We made another attempt to look for hidden gems at the Hong Lim Market and Food Centre. There was actually a line for a Michelin stall hawker stall with a bearable line for the food, but I was not interested in the food served. I ended up trying this place called Ma Bo Lor Mee and ordered a bowl of ma bo lor mee for $2.50 SGD.
I still not sure what it was, but I saw everyone in line ordering this dish and it is also the name of the stall so I decided to give it a try. Aside from the goosy “soup base”, the dish was overall good. Headed over to Clarke Quay afterwards. Clarke Quay is the area that young people like to hang out and drink by the water at night. Since we went by during the day, we grabbed coffee at The Book Café instead. Struggling to find another location to complete our day, I decided to make trip to the Chinese and Japanese Garden. It’s a beautiful garden with architecture inspired by the Chinese and Japanese as you may have guessed from the name of the garden. Located by Lakeside, this garden was occupied with mainly locals, or least, they did not look like tourists.
It would have been a perfect place to go cycling. There were multiple places that I have visited in Singapore that would have been nice for a bike ride, but I have no encountered any bike rentals places in Singapore. The day concluded with a visit to one of the more well-known hawker centres: Lau Pa Sat. The local establishment is of Victorian design and is much more bright and clean inside for tourists and locals to enjoy.
There are a plethora of food options at the hawker centres. Not shy to admit that I do not have the best judgment for the real deal when there are hundreds of stalls serving a multitude of cuisines. The “go for the stalls with the longest queues” trick does not really work when it is frequented by tour groups that hog up the rather commercialized “tourist must-eats”. I was the most excited about the food in Singapore and I really wanted to try a good Hainanese chicken place. After browsing through several online recommendations, I have concluded that the Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken at the Maxwell Hawke Centre was the most renowned for their Hainanese chicken rice. While there was a line, Tian Tian has mastered an efficient assembly of ordering to receiving the food so the wait was not treacherous.
The Hainanese chicken rice from Tian Tian was good, but it did not have the wow factor for me. Perhaps, I did not have enough Hainanese chicken in the past to really compare.
Other must-eats in Singapore include fish head curry and chili crab. Taking advice from several food blogs, we decided to try Muthu’s Fish Head Curry. Nevermind the lack-there-of customer service, the fish head curry was underwhelming. It was not flavorful nor aromatic. It was not even visually stimulating enough for me to take a picture of that to share. It looked like a fish head in tomato soup, except it curry not tomato. We never ended up getting chili crabs as confirmed by the hostel staff that chili crab is really a tourist must-see.
While Singapore has numerous beautiful sites to see, none really resonates with me. For some reason, I was not able to uncover the city’s inner charm to make me want to live here for longer term. Do not be mistaken, this is a great city with wonderful environmental friendly establishments and greenery.