Search “Singapore” in Google maps and you will quickly realize just how tiny this island is. To give you some perspective, it’s almost a third the size of Mauritius, a quarter the size of Luxembourg and almost equal to teeny tiny Bahrain. It’s miniscule. In fact it sits on the top 20 list of the smallest countries in the world. But beware dear readers, size doesn’t always matter. This little plot of lush vegetation that accounts for 693 sq km of floating land is a country in its own right and packs a lot of punch into its size XXS little frame.
We moved here a little over a month ago which, technically still makes us tourists, and certainly no authority on this place but we are discovering very quickly that there’s more to Singapore than meets the eye. We are really loving the richness and diversity present on this little island. Most big cities tend to have neighborhoods that vary in rhythm, vibe and feel. This is just as present here with powerful neighborhood identities separating the life in Chinatown from that in Tiong Barhu, around Arab Street and in Little India. Each of these locales to name just a few are as unique and individual as can be. A real escape from the mall-infested, shopping conglomerate of our daily life on Orchard Rd. We refuse to complain however because we are truly blessed by enormous convenience, crazy options and an excellent central location.
Some people will joke that Singapore is a “fine” city and it sure is if you look at it innocently. But behind the ultra-clean streets, smoke-free air and supersonic efficiency is an uber strict system run by fines. For smoking in public. For theft. For littering, For drug trafficking (for that its death!). And this list is far from done. This is a no-tolerance zone and they take their rules very seriously. Do not play cocky , do not cross roads if the “walk” sign is red and do not under any circumstances chew gum in public (yup a fine!) But aside from assisting you to be an obedient and good-doing public servant, this place will offer you a lot.
4-5 days is a good amount of time to properly explore Singapore. See the Recommended Itinerary below for more information. Whatever you choose to do don’t underestimate this tiny little island or its people. They are open, kind, friendly and helpful and most of their taxi drivers double as tour guides openly volunteering insights and tidbits of Singaporean knowledge. So far, it has and continues to exceed both our expectations. Thank-you Singapore for welcoming us into your arms and for making us feel at home.Recommended itinerary: as I mentioned earlier, we are still discovering this lovely place but these are a few things to get you started. We have covered a lot of ground so this should be rather comprehensive at least in terms of variety.
- Orchard Road – stroll down this wide-laned avenue for a heavy dose of shopping madness. This street is filled with mall after mall after mall and this is no exxageration. The government is clearly a big proponent of the retail industry! I somehow liken this experience to the Vegas strip. Of-course it doesn’t compare to the glitz and glamour of Elvis town but it is fascinating in the sense that each mall has a different vibe and ‘reason for being’ just like every hotel on the Vegas strip does; and we have been oddly impressed exploring their various options, mainly by way of dining, but also their demographic and social appeal.
- The Quays – the twinkling lights that stretch from Robertson Quay down Clarke Quay to Boat Quay are mesmerizing to watch and make for a commotion of sound and light. Buzzing by night, tranquil by day. Being waterside has a somewhat calming effect regardless of the time of day. Plenty of eateries dot this riverfront and it is fun to experience. Merlion Park is located between the latter quays and offers photo opps with Singapore’s largest Merlion – mer lion or sea-lion in French – the mythical half lion, half-fish creature whose origin is representative of Singapore’s humble beginnings as a fishing village.
- Cultural Neighborhoods – find thrifty souvenirs and great bargain gifts in Chinatown, visit its central ‘wet’ market for a true local shopping experience, eat banana leaf in Little India, hop from cafe to restaurant to boutique to bar near Arab Street and get the best coffee in Singapore at Forty Hands in Tiong Barhu. Foodies be warned, this is a paradise for your tummies. Come prepared to experience everything from cheap local Hawker Centers (outdoor food courts) to the ultimate in 5-star dining.
- Marina Bay – if you’re still hungry for exploration and action head to the Marina Bay area to walk through the super trees, maybe catch a theatre show at the Marina Bay theatre and see an exhibition at the beautiful Arts & Science museum that’s shaped like a blossoming lotus overlooking the waters of the marina. Fashionista’s prepare to visit the largest Louis Vuitton store in Southeast Asia. Of-course you must end the day with drinks on top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel at none other than Ku De Ta.
- Museums – there is no shortage of museums here from Contemporary Art (MOCA) to the National museum, the Asian Civilizations museum, Toy Museum and much more.
- Lush Gardens – If you are a nature lover and enjoy being outdoors, the botanical gardens and the zoo are both an absolute must-do. The Botanical Gardens are set on a sprawling 74 hectares of land and are simply magnificent in their vegetation, orchid gardens, dining options and winding walkways. Watch turtles and fish meander in the lake. Take a picnic basket and lay back to watch the clouds. The sky over Singapore is filled with fluffy clouds that whisper to you and tell you stories. The zoo is just something else. It’s like no other zoo I have ever seen. It is massive and as you enter the park, it feels like being on a walking safari. Cages are rare and animals sit peacefully and contentedly in their large spaces. It is also quite interactive with feedings, etc. An absolute must-do for animal lovers.
- Sentosa – personally, I believe no visit to Singapore is complete without a trip down to Sentosa island for a real feeling of escape from the city and for unadulterated fun: universal studios is tiny but good fun. Sit by the palm-speckled shores overlooking cargo ships, defy gravity at iFly, zoom down a quasi mountain slope’s winding track at the Sentosa Luge and have some glitzy fun at the casino.
Recommended restaurants: Way too much to choose from but here are some of our faves so far!
- Wild Honey – a very popular place for Sunday brunches with excellent food and a drool-worthy menu that will make ordering a very tough choice
- ODP – very hip yet casual restaurant in the hip Tiong Bahru area. Simple dishes with a twist. Excellent food. Enough said.
- Banana Leaf Apollo – a must-do experience in Little India. Replace your plate by a banana leaf and dig in with your fingers. Cheap and flavorful fare.
- Food Republic food court – eat with the locals at this ultra-clean indoor food court located at the top floor of Wisma Atrium with so many food stalls and options to choose from
- Imperial Treasure Peking Duck – a pricey experience but well worth it for the Peking duck. This resto converted me into a duck eater. Wrap the tender duck breast in a pancake with green onion and cucumber julienne slices and cover in hoisin sauce. Bellissima!
- Bora Bora – located at Palawan Beach on Sentosa. A very Bali-ish feel to this white-washed open restaurant facing the shore. Yummy seaside lunch in swimwear and you can even get a lounge chair at their closed off section with a bill over $30
- The Missing Pan – an excellent brunch option in Bukit Timah with massive portions and interesting options. Have the ultimate french toast. A savory & sweet experience. Mmmm..
- Omakase Burger – I liken this burger & fries experience to that of Shake Shack which I loooove. A must do in my humble opinion for its Black Angus US beef and extra generous portion of delectable truffle fries
- PS Cafe – there are many branches of this cafe so make sure you go to the one on Harding St at Dempsey Hill. It makes for a beautiful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city with a floor to ceiling glass window overlooking dense and lush foliage. Excellent for brunch, lunch, dinner or just tea & dessert. Casual. Chic. Yum.
- Song of India – over-priced but well-worthy Indian food set in a beautiful villa. Choose to sit indoors or outdoors but prepare to be blown away by a sophisticated Indian dining experience. Dinner is expensive. Lunch has a special. Choose according to your wallets.
- Alaturka – Turkish food set in the heart of the hustling and bustling Arab Street district. The restaurant owners there are pushy and will try to lure you in. Ignore all pleas and head straight to this one at 16 Bussorah St. Their food is on another level and don’t forget the rosewater spiked lemonade. Tangy and refreshing!
- Satay at Raffles Quay – what may appear to be a shabby setup of stalls holds Singapore’s darkest food secret. You will lick your fingers clean here. Ignore all cries and make a beeline to stall No. 8. Order the prawn (shelled!) and chicken skewers. You can thank me later.