“The city within a garden”
The quote used by the Singaporean government to define Singapore used to be the other way around: “A garden within the city”. The last few years Singapore has transformed towards a city within a garden thanks to multiple projects. And you can’t help but admit it’s true, once you take a ride from the airport to the center the first thing you see is nature, after which you start to notice buildings are present within. For all you people loving luxury travel, Singapore is your Asian dream. Being one of the safest cities on Earth with top-notch medical care and food so diverse you’ll miss it the day you leave, there is no way you won’t feel comfortable travelling here! (P.S. Check out the tips and tricks at the end to make your travel easie-peasie!)
My Singapore journey
Although my travel reason was not primarily leisure, I grabbed every free moment to discover a new thing of Singapore. With the Lonely Planet guide and my best friend as ultimate weapons, I got to see about everything there was to see in 6 days (weekends :D) and 10 nights after work. Most people told me I would have seen it all in one weekend as Singapore is only 710 km² (as a comparison: tiny little Belgium is 30’500 km²) but boy were they wrong! We went there end of August/early September and I must admit this was perfect timing. Weather was great (warm but cloudy every other day, thrust me if I say you do not want Sun every day in Singapore, you’ll sweat your ass off!), not much tourists and no rain yet! To make it easier for you, I’ve written down our trip in the same order as we did things, but I made it a 7 full-days trip instead of writing each evening separately. You can check out the already posted pictures of me and my bestie by searching the hashtag #blondesinsin on instagram.
Day 1: Flight, Chinatown & Marina Bay
As an aerospace engineer it won’t surprise you I’m a picky person when choosing my flight operators (now that I think of it this might actually have more to do with me being a chicken when it comes down to things I can’t control). However, we flew Etihad Airways. A stop-over in Abu Dhabi, the best food I ever had during flying (BIG PLUS) and about 20 hours later we landed at Changi (Singapore’s main airport). From there we took a taxi to our dorm room (since the reason of my visit was study-related), which was located in Clementi. Although being super-tired, we couldn’t wait to start our adventure; we headed towards Chinatown (we needed food anyway, so where else to go :p). Chinatown is exactly what you would expect from it, but then better. Rows and rows of tiny shops selling stuff you don’t actually need but you are so tempted to buy (welcome to the family ‘Three wise monkeys’ ^^), an incredible amount of food stalls luring you to try new things and endless lines of Chinese lanterns fulfilling you with joy. Do yourself a favor and add this one to your bucket list of ‘things to see at night’. Don’t eat before you go there but choose your stall wisely ;).
After our visit to Chinatown we decided to fight our sleep deprivation a bit more and went to see the light show at Marina Bay. Finding the spot from where to view the light show seemed an extra challenge. Walking around Marina Bay Sands a million times (some sides you just can’t walk because cars and cars and cars), we swallowed our pride and asked some other people. Apparently you have to leave the subway towards the shopping center of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, walk through the shopping center on the first floor and get out there. Tadaaa: a walk-only avenue with tons of people waiting for the show to start. According to me, you will not be bored whilst waiting for the show to start when you are there for the first time. The skyline is a breath-taking show on its own and we spent all of the time we were early on taking pictures without being bored for a second. First day: jackpot.
Day 2: Singapore (night) zoo
I love animals. Always have, always will. Although I think animals belong in their natural habitat instead of zoos, I can’t help but visit them to get closer to animals I otherwise can’t. To all you animal lovers and photograph geeks out there: GO TO SINGAPORE ZOO. I visited Berlin zoo, Antwerp zoo, Pairi Daiza, Planckendael, Beekse Bergen, Köln zoo, … Nothing beats Singapore zoo (I’ll let you know if I find a zoo that does, pinky promise). Most of the animals (read: 99% of the animals) are not behind glass and are incredibly photogenic. On top of that, the monkeys are free to wander around the park just like you! The variety of species is hard to believe (they have a polar bear, koala’s, tapirs…) and here it comes: they offer you the opportunity to visit the zoo AT NIGHT. No joking, they have a night program with nocturnal animals and as far as I know, this is a unique thing across the globe. Not convinced? They also have a dome in which bats are flying around your head and lemurs are curiously sniffing your feet. If that doesn’t do the trick, nothing will. Oh except maybe the fact that the feeding times of the animals are scheduled in a way that you can see all of them since they follow each other up in the same manner as you walk around the park, which allowed us to see ALL of the feeding sessions (including the polar beaaar). (Oh and did I tell you they have the best hotdogs ever at the park entrance (we got one with guacamole, for real).) We also visited the Night zoo which was a bit scary. You hear things moving everywhere without seeing them. You can hop on/hop off a tram at several stations (included in your ticket price). At the entrance the lines to get on the tram were enormous which is why we decided to walk. Arriving at the second tram station, we were almost the only ones so we got on for the rest of the zoo (and kept talking about how smart we were to do that for the remainder of our visit of course). If you only have time to do either one: daytime would be my pick.
Day 3: Bukit Timah Nature Reserve & Gardens by the Bay (nighttime)
Bukit Timah. A gem hidden so far away you actually want to cry if you try getting there. Or we are dumbies (or tired). We tried taking the subway and then the bus (as indicated in my Lonely Planet). Unfortunately we only got to the part where a busstop (no idea if this was the correct one) was located and no further. Finding the correct bus seemed to be mission impossible. As a matter of fact, we were so upset after one hour of searching that we decided to just take a cab. This was so easy and affordable that I’m still mad at myself for not just taking a cab in the first place. The whole thing about Bukit Timah is that at the beginning there are signs showing you there is a peak. Now, I don’t know about you but if I read the word ‘peak’ there are lights in my head going off telling me to go there because the view will be a-ma-zing. So off we went. 40 degrees, 80% humidity and an uphill walk of about 2.5 km. Now I see you thinking: 2.5 km, what a joke. Well, I can assure you: it ain’t no joke. I’m still surprised I survived. The way up there is sooo worth it though. Nature is beautiful and we saw many monkeys (luckily no snakes, I’m death scared of snakes). But I will let the pictures speak for themselves because there are just no words to describe Bukit Timah. Unfortunately when getting to the peak you’ll be so devastated. There is NO, and I repeat NO, view or whatsoever except for an electricity tower (cry). So my advice to you: instead of trying to reach that goddamn peak, go and explore the other trails and enjoy nature. It’s breathtaking.
After freshening up, we went to Gardens by the Bay. I think it’s safe to say that Gardens by the Bay is Singapore’s most famous sight. It’s a landscaped garden in which they’ve built so-called supertrees, which contain solar cells. During the night the garden has its own light show. After watching the show (which is quite impressive, actually more impressive than the one at the skyline), we went up to skybar ‘Flight’ on top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel to have a Singapore Sling, the original Singapore cocktail invented by the writer of Jungle Book (I really hope you know I am talking about Kipling). The cocktail is a bliss, and sipping it on top of the Marina Bay Sands is an experience you are willing to pay 27 S$ (17 euros) for, right?
Day 4: Sentosa Waterpark & Chili crab dinner
Sentosa is a tourist trap. It truely is. There is nothing genuine or original about it. It only hosts bars, restaurants and attractions such as Universal Studios Park but I had a particular reason to be there. As a child I had one big dream: to swim with dolphins. Now, I know you can meet dolphins in Bruges (which is close to my hometown). However, these dolphins live inside and you are not really allowed to actually swim with them. I am aware that keeping dolphins in captivity is controversial nowadays. To be honest, I support organizations who want to free dolphins and especially organizations that prevent dolphin capture. There is nothing worse than capturing wild animals to put them in captivity for the rest of their days. But I also do believe that before you can judge something, you have to experience it. Hence, I decided to do it anyway. I did my research and decided to take a swim with the dolphins living in Sentosa dolphin island. We chose to go with the dolphin adventure program which allowed us to meet the dolphins in small groups and swim with them and do tricks with them. We got the chance to get pushed by a dolphin (their nose to our feet) from one side of the pool to the other. I must say I had a great time and the trainers really seemed to care about the dolphins. I also think it’s rather hard to train dolphins born in captivity to survive in the wild. That being said, I didn’t change my mind: capturing wild dolphins to put them in amusement parks still breaks my heart. As a matter of fact, it breaks my heart now more than before this experience. Coming so close to them you can really notice how intelligent and emotional they are. I really think they realise they live in captivity and that they could have had a whole different life outside in the big ocean. Would I do it again? Yes. Would they release them if I didn’t do it again? No. Should other people who are doubting do it? Yes. Why? Because it might convince you to sign those petitions in order to prevent new animals from being captured.
As we booked a dolphin adventure, we also got admission to the Adventure Cove Waterpark. We had sooo much fun. The waterpark is worth a visit if you want to relax for a day, or if you have time left in Singapore. You can snorkle between fishes and watch stingrays underwater.
After an exciting day it was time for the dinner we most looked forward to: red chili crab. A national signature dish that is soooo worth eating. We went to eat it at Momma Kong’s (located in Chinatown) and boooy it was good. We ordered a red chili crab and a black pepper crab and had bbq stingray, shanghai greens and two steamed/two fried mantou’s on the side. This dinner for two comes at a cost of only S$ 126 (mind this: you are eating two completely fresh crabs here!) and you will want to lick your fingers and plate! Being there, the friendly staff asked us if they could photograph us and hang us on their wall (of course they could :p ) and we got the picture afterwards to take home with us! Momma Kong’s, if I come back to Singapore I promise I’ll come again! (www.mommakongs.com)
Day 5: Gardens by the Bay (daytime) & Little India
Gardens by the Bay is definitely also worth a visit during daytime. You can stroll around the gardens and watch the supertrees from the Supertree sky bridge (which costs you S$ 5 to enter). You are only allowed to stay on the bridge for about 20 minutes (disadvantage), but the view is quite worth it. We went in the morning, which was great since it was calm. They have a few restaurants there where you can grab lunch so I decided to go for a traditional dish called laksa. Laksa is a curry-soup with noodles, shrimp and eggs. It was not my favorite thing we ate but it was worth a try. After lunch we went off to Little India. Think Chinatown but then India. A bunch of Indian temples and sari stores, a lot of Indian people of course, ladies who will draw beautiful hennas on your body and great Indian restaurants. We went to Lagnaa barefoot dining and decided to sit on the ground (barefoot duh) and have traditional Indian curries. The food and the service were both amazing and although the food is quite expensive if you are used to Singapore hawker centers by now, it is an experience you need to add to your list.
Day 6: Pulau Ubin & Clarke Quay
Pulau Ubin, an island located East of Singapore, is a pleasant getaway from the always busy and noisy Singaporean mainland. It’s quite a travel to get there; you need to take the MRT, the bus and a small boat. Pulau Ubin’s atmosphere is representative of how Singapore used to be: a laidback island full of nature without skyscrapers. You can rent a bike without a problem (they almost throw them at your head) and if you are lucky you will get a map of the routes on the island. Our bike-renter told us they are not allowed to print maps anymore (save the environment!) so I cannot guarantee you’ll get one. There are maps planted all over the island though, so getting around shouldn’t be a problem. One route leads you past mangrove trees where you just need to pause for a second! If you sit down on the trail, let your feet hang over the edge and watch down, you will notice tiny crabs wiggling their claws like they are dancing. It is quite amusing to watch. Actually, it is so amusing to watch that we only noticed half an hour later we were still sitting there 🙂 . We did all of the routes in one day so no need to stress out, just relax and enjoy! Oh, and if you park your bike somewhere, do NOT leave stuff with your bike. The monkeys will steal it. Don’t believe me? Just try 😉 .
After all this adventure, it was time to sit back, relax and enjoy a cocktail or two so we headed to Clarke Quay. If you want to party, this is the place to be. It can be best compared to a bar strip if you’d like. Walking around I noticed a bar with a huge airplane outside, and a runway leading towards the inside. Well, it’s no surprise if I tell you I couldn’t resist 😉 . It’s called Wings bar, the only place I’ve been outside of the runway where they walk around in flightsuits. There are many restaurants, including a Hooters, and you can sign up for a boat trip. Me wouldn’t be me if I didn’t do this so here’s a tip: DO IT. I know most times you see the boat-trips sign popping up, alarms go off in your head saying “TOURIST TRAP” (which is of course always the case). This one is worth its price if you do it at night. You get to see the skyline from a different perspective and you get a lot of background info on the history of several buildings + you get the full history behind a well-known statue in Singapore: the Merlion (pronounce it as the beginning of mermaid + lion).
Day 7: Botanic gardens, Holland Village & Orchard Road
We decided to visit Botanic gardens on our last day. We left early because it would get hot and gardens are not really shady, especially not Orchid gardens. The botanical gardens are UNESCO world heritage, free to enter and very pretty. They host the national Orchid garden for which you have to pay S$ 5 (but students only pay S$ 1). They have an enormous amount of orchid species and you’ll feel like you are in a fairytale. Luckily there is a ‘coolhouse’ somewhere in the middle of the trail, so you can go there if you’re about to be cooked.
We only took half a day, so afterwards we went to Holland village. We kind of expected Holland village would be like Chinatown and Little India but then of course Dutch-styled. Unfortunately it seemed to be just a bar strip and a tiny Dutch windmill. There is an awesome burger place called Fat Boys where we ate.
The last day before heading home again we suddenly realised we hadn’t been shopping yet 😮 . Now, this is unacceptable. Being in South-East Asia and not go shopping is like going to a snack bar and not ordering French fries: ridiculous. We did some research and found out that the best place to go shopping in Singapore is Orchard road. It is full of shopping malls (every single building is one) and every mall is huge. If you take shopping serious, you will at least need a day and still make a selection in which malls you’ll visit. One of my favorite’s is Wheelock place (501 Orchard road) because there is a Melissa shoe store (check it out online, it’s awesome).
Tips & Tricks
- Getting to Chinatown: Take the MRT (subway) to Chinatown.
- Getting to Marina Bay Sands: Take the MRT to Marina Bay and walk through the exit ‘Marina Bay Sands Shopping Center’.
- Getting to Singapore zoo: MRT + Bus.
- Getting to Bukit Timah: Do yourself a favor and take a cab. Please.
- Getting to Gardens by the Bay: Take the MRT to Marina Bay Sands and walk through the exit ‘Gardens by the Bay’.
- Getting to Little India: Take the MRT to Little India.
- Getting to Clarke Quay: Take the MRT to Clarke Quay and walk through exit A. Then walk left and go around the corner on your left.
- Getting to Pulau Ubin: Take the MRT and the bus to get to Changi Point Ferry Terminal. Here you can take a bumboat to Pulau Ubin for S$3.
- Getting to Holland Village: Take the MRT to Holland Village.
- Getting to Botanic Gardens: Take the MRT to Botanic Gardens and follow the signs.
- Hawker centers: all over Singapore, cheap and wide variety
- Chilli crab: thé dish you have to try!
- Laksa: a curry-soup with noodles, prawns and eggs
- Singapore sling: a sweet-sour cocktail invented by Kipling
- Singapore dollars. One S$ is approximately equal to €0.65 or £0.52.