In today’s issue of the Swedish newspaper SvD, there was a question on what to do for a few days in Singapore and if there even was anything else to do there besides shopping. Well, I love challanges and I couldn’t help picking this one up.
With its multicultural background, Singapore is bound to be celebrating something at any time during the year. The “Chingay” annual carnival at Orchard Road, is a celebration of Spring.
Photo © Jan-Erik Nilsson and Cheryl Marie Cordeiro for CMC, 2009
There are many foreigners that don’t think much of Singapore as a holiday resort. Actually, there are also a lot of Singaporeans that don’t think much of Singapore as a holiday resort either since it compares badly with most tropical destinations if it is bathing in the sea or scuba diving you want to do. Singapore is basically a city, a capital and a republic all by itself. It is a business hub and a very busy container harbour. You will find the internet connections (available most anywhere) one of the best you have ever experienced. With these limitations as a tourist attraction, you will find Singapore a most interesting place to spend a few days in. Here are a few suggestions that cover some pleasant but not so heavily advertised things to do when in Singapore for a few days, other than shop.
Get some wheels
Singapore’s public transport system is very efficient, with its subway or MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) system being the easiest and possibly cheapest way to navigate the country. So, the first thing to do is to find an underground station and get yourself an ezlink MRT card. Fill it up with some 20 Sing$ and you are good to go. The underground system in Singapore is lightning fast, safe, clean and there is a train about every 3 minutes or so. You tap the card when you enter and tap it when you exit, and the fare is deducted automatically. You can see how much money there is left on the card on a display at the machine. This card is valid on buses too and you can even pay for hamburgers with this ezlink card at some fastfood outlets.
The inside of an MRT train.
Taxi is also cheap and you see more about where you are going, so doing a combination of MRT and taxi is good. Singapore is very much about being efficient and this way you will be able to cover the whole city fast and quite inexpensively. You might lose some overview if you travel too much underground.
2. Team up with someone to help you around
If I were a guy in Singapore for the first time and alone, I think I would have printed out all the good advice I could get on the Internet and then walked up to some girls having frappuccinos at a table at pretty much any café and explained the problem, that “it looks nice but you can’t figure out how to order food here”. Singaporean girls are a nice and un-snooty crowd that might well listen to your requests for information. Chances are that you might be able to find some volunteering as guides. Don’t get your hopes up too high though, since all Singaporean girls live home with their parents until they marry, but the point is, exploring Singapore is so much more fun when you’re in a group. You’ll also probably need some locals to help you find the really good places to eat. I have written some on the topic of dating in Singapore, but that is a different issue.
3. Don’t give up on Shopping
If you are the slightest interested in gadgets you will want to spend some time at Sim Lim Square. Any singaporean will be able to point you in the right direction because it’s where we go too, to buy our gadgets. It’s a five storeyed shopping mall that sells everything electronic. The first and second floor offer mostly digital products such as mp3 players and cameras while the third, fourth, fifth level offer computer hardware products. You wont believe your eyes when you get there, and it is well worth a visit.
Of course there are other things to do than shopping in Singapore, but on the other hand, imagine a five storeys high shopping mall crammed full of electronics! This is just one out of hundreds of specialist shops at Sim Lim Square specializing in CD and DVD media.
Just outside Sim Lim Square is a long outdoor market called Bugis Village. It’s a street market through which you can stroll and you’ll find hundreds of little stalls dotting the small area. Here you will come upon stuff like handbags, purses, clothes, jewellery and other arts and crafts. Its fun to explore and the through road will also bring you towards the nearby Bugis MRT station.
4. Movie theatres and Orchard Road
An evening walk along Orchard Road is recommended. You might find the lights, music, colours and the beat of the city irresistible and something you won’t forget easily.
Along Orchard Road are at least two large movie theatres that can give you a break from the outdoor heat. The sound system is great and the tickets are a fraction of what you are used to paying for in Sweden. Food, drinks and snacks are allowed into the theatres. The aircon is usually set on “mild frost”, so you might actually want to bring a fleece jacket. Insane but true.
The sounds and sights of Orchard Road by night makes for a pleasant stroll, even after the Christmas season.
5. Adventure water park
Bring a bathing suit and something water tight to carry money in (or get a “fun key”), to the adventure water park Wild Wild Wet. It’s fun and there are some really weird rides there that could scare anyone. It’s a bit childish, but that is what having fun is all about. It is just a 10-minute walk from the Pasir Ris MRT station. This place is mostly visited by locals so you might find yourself one of the attractions.
6. Beer testing and sightseeing at the Tiger Beer Brewery
This should be a guy’s no shopping event if there ever was one in Singapore. A friend of mine, Anders Thorsell, was there awhile back on a ‘study visit’, and you can read about it in his blog, here.
7. Take the cable car ride over to Sentosa
Near the Tiger Brewery exhibition is the cable car ride over to Sentosa. You get a nice view and you can have a fruit or ice-cream lunch at some out door café before going back.
In front of me is a pool and the bar that serves water, beer, ice-cream and light dishes, is barely ten meters away. In the background the warm and sandy beach at Sentosa, Singapore.
While Sentosa has become more and more commercialized over the years and occasionally reaching absurd levels, I still find it a pleasant place to go to when back in Singapore. Sentosa is perfectly fine for a beer in the shade and a dip in some of the beach side pools.
Check out Sentosa’s calendar of events to see if they are having any beach parties when you’re there. The small island is famous for their night life by the beach, where they have foam parties and rave nights. In tropical Singapore, the girls find it a treasure to be able to dance themselves warm in a bikini and then take a night swim in the sea. Well, the guys seem to appreciate this too, I think.
8. Take a walk on the wild life side
The Singapore Zoo is large and warm and maybe more of a family thing to do. I belive there were someone who managed to get himself eaten by one of the tigers recently but it took a lot for that guy to irritate the tigers enough for them to be that angry, so don’t expect too much of an action adventure. The pace is generally slow and warm. Bring some ice-lemon tea cans or a water bottle. To relax for half a day or so, the Singapore Botanic Gardens is also a very nice to visit, with an unbelivable “fairy tale” area where you can walk among large butterflies drinking nectar all around you.
A picture from the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
If you find it too warm when you are actually there you can take a mini stroll and then plunk yourself at a nice café near the entrance where they sell a very cold “brain freeze” soda drink. Fun!
9. Feed the birds at the Jurong Bird Park
Hand feeding the birds at the Singapore Bird Park.
A bit outside of central Singapore lies the fantastic Jurong Bird Park where at one station, you can feed hundreds of colourful birds from your hand. To visit, go to Boon Lay MRT station, where you’ll find a bus that takes you there.
The birds and us, enjoying ourselves.
The Singapore Bird Park, and for that matter, other attractions such as the Night Safari and the Singapore Zoo, all have animal shows that you can attend. The birds for one thing can, if properly bribed with some snacks, can do some really impressive aeronautics.
A pair of Mandarin ducks at the Singapore Bird Park.
At the playground in Jurong Bird Park, Singapore
These locations are very family friendly where you can find a children’s playground at the Birdpark, where I happily made myself quite comfortable in a rocking stool for a few minutes whilst everyone else in the group got some water to drink.
10. Explore the night life
My suggestion is to start with a Singapore Sling cocktail at the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel. Have some peanuts, enjoy the luxurious setting that harks back to memories of the colonial East, and plan the evening.
Visit the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel in Singapore for a Singapore Sling.
Just outside across North Bridge Road, you will find one of the coolest and most trendy water holes. It’s The Loof roof top bar. Take a look, and a drink. Good view, outdoors, and in the middle of the town. The presentation it gets here under the headline Fiddling on the Loof is pretty much on the dot.
At ‘the Loof’ roof top bar in the evening.
Across the street corner is Chijmes, a building complex that began its life as a Catholic convent, CHIJ – Convent of the Holy Infant Jesis, some 160 years ago and is now transformed into mostly a – erm – shopping mall, but you can actually just walk across it, and just take a look on your way to our suggested next stop which is Boat Quay and Clark Quay where you can combine a stroll, some sight seeing of the old parts of Singapore with some pubbing and maybe a night boat trip on the river.
At Boat Quay and Clark Quay you can combine a stroll, some sight seeing of the old parts of Singapore with some pubing and maybe a nightly boat trip on the river.
11. For Dinner, try the East Coast Hawker Centre
A satay vendor at the outdoor East Coast food center or hawker center, located just by the beach. Saté or satay stick food stand at East Coast hawker center, served with rice, peanut sauce, cucumber and onion.
Singapore has a strong food culture. There are so many places to eat and so many different kinds of food to have that you can literally spend your entire life going from one good place to another, returning to your chosen favourites with long pauses in between. Singaporean families often have a car (some have two!) only so that they can drive to different new and interesting places to eat every breakfast, lunch and dinner. Even before breakfast is over, they are already planning where to go for lunch.
One of my favourite places is the East Coast Hawker Centre that lies along the beach. There you will find a wide variety of local dishes. The place does call a few foreigners to it, so it is not entirely impossible to order a local dish even for a beginner, the prices are modest and you will get an idea of what Singaporean speciality food hawker centres are all about. If you have actually managed to hook up with some Singaporeans, you are home free and can leave it up to them to both show you around and to figure out what to order. If you’re on your own, a good rule of thumb is to go by the length of the queues outside of a stall, since the best places are usually very popular.
A must try are these delicious durian fruits. Usually sold outdoors.
You can also be adventurous and try some local exotic fruits, there’s mangosteen, lychee, rambutans and the king of all fruits, the durian.
Take the time to look up wherever you are, and you will find some amazing architecture. One reason for the interesting shapes of buildings in Singapore is that fengshui (earth and wind) magic is taken very seriously there and it is unthinkable to build anything without first consulting a fengshui expert so that all forces a new building and its façade will cause will not be harmful or unlucky in any way.
Some shop spaces will turn absolutely impossible to let if the fengshui is not good. One of the most fantastic buildings in Singapore is the new airport Terminal 3, right in front of you when arriving at Changi airport. The roof of Terminal 3 has automatic shutters that let in or shut out the sunlight according to the time of day. It is considered an architectural wonder of the world and is most definitely worth a visit. 8 Shenton Way, the previous Treasury Building was actually built as a stack of coins.
Overlooking Marina Bay is the Esplanade, the bug’s eyes building
Another interesting building to see is the The Esplanade , often referred to as the “bug’s eyes building” or “the durian” near Marina bay. This building also has a fengshui story behind it, being specially designed to protect the city. During “earth hour” just now, they had an outdoor candle lit concert in the park there.
Singapore skyline as seen from the Bengjamin Shears Bridge, Singapore.
If you find these types of glossy buildings too “tidy” – as Singapore is known to be squeaky “eat off the floor” clean city, which can even be overburdening for anyone looking for something more relaxed – then Little India might be the place to visit with its rustic, relaxed ambience. For this, take the MRT train to Little India.
I figure this should be enough for a two-day’s stay. Singapore’s lifestyle beats to a metropolitan city’s pace, comparable to New York and Hong Kong. The whole country is made up of “can do” people and some might find the pace a bit overwhelming, but once you have got used to get things done in an eyeblink you will miss it.
Cheryl Marie Cordeiro
Link: About the author, page