Christina writes and edits Travelling Companion. Her writing covers expeditions, food, and culture for the blog.
First Class Honeymoon Trip Report
First Class Honeymoon Overview
Delta Sky Club DCA Review
Delta CRJ 900 DCA-JFK First Class Review
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse New York JFK Review
Singapore Airlines A380 JFK-FRA Suites Review
Singapore Airlines A380 FRA-SIN Suites Review
JW Marriott Hotel Singapore South Beach Review
Singapore Airlines 737-800 SIN-MLE Business Class Review
The St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort Review
Etihad Airways A320 MLE-AUH Business Class Review
Al Maha, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa Dubai Review
The St. Regis Abu Dhabi Review
Exploring Abu Dhabi
Etihad Apartments A380 AUH-JFK Apartments Review
Singapore Surprise Overview
Prior to booking our tickets, I never really thought about Singapore. After we finalized our honeymoon itinerary, Ramon and I did some light research. We asked for advice from friends who traveled to Singapore, looked for suggestions from the internet, and went to the theater to watch Crazy Rich Asians. We learned that Singapore is a very safe city-state, with some interesting rules, and a foodie's dream destination. We made a list of places we would like to see, but mostly wanted to wander the streets and see where the city took us. What I didn't realize at that time was that I was going to fall in love with Singapore. I left with a promise to myself that I would return. Here are some of the highlights to our first adventure in Asia.
Our first stop was to visit the National Museum of Singapore. Google Maps told us the walk from our hotel to the museum was about 15 minutes, so we decided to walk. Along the way, we stumbled into Fort Canning Park and some really beautiful murals.
The National Museum was extremely impressive. The Republic of Singapore is a very young country, only 55 years old. The free museum did a beautiful job explaining the pre-independence history of Singapore and bringing the visitor to modern day. I highly recommend this museum as a first stop if you visit Singapore, especially if you are not as well versed in the history and sociology of this region of the world. The museum gave us context to the country and set us up for success for the rest of the trip. Some things that we learned:
Singapore Flyer and Gardens by the Bay Nighttime
It is really hot in Singapore. I mean, really, really hot. The walk to the National Museum, while not a far distance, completely zapped our energy. When we came back to the hotel, Ramon and I switched our plans to try to capitalize our experiences by exploring the nightlife. We found out Singapore comes alive at night.
I highly recommend carving time to visit the Singapore Flyer at the start one's vacation in Singapore. While it may be a bit of tourist trap, it provides a nice overview of the landscape and gives an opportunity to learn landmarks as points of reference. We took the "flight" at night. The journey was slow and steady around the ferris wheel and offered beautiful views of a twinkling city. The trip around was about 30 minutes, and about $25 USD a person.
Gardens by the Bay is another popular attraction in Singapore. The park has two free nightly shows where their gardens dance with popular music through lights. When we arrived to watch the show, we were overwhelmed with the size of the park, and decided to circle back another day to visit additional attractions. There were a large number of people attending the show, so I recommend coming a bit early if you would like good seats. The show lasts only 15 minutes, which was about as much as we could handle being outside in the high temperatures.
Gardens by the Bay Daytime
Gardens by the Bay is essentially the ride Living with the Land at Epcot, but IRL and not Disneyfied. With a futuristic mindset, Gardens by the Bay tackles how the city-state could self-sustain their growth in population, protect biodiversity from climate change, and continually promote Singapore as a City in the Garden. Since the attraction is a large national park, and we would need to spend most of the time in a climate-controlled space, we limited our experience to the Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome.
The Cloud Forest is a conservatory that replicates cooler mountainous climates. As you climb the mountain inside, you experience the temperature dropping while learning about threatened biodiversity.
The Flower Dome is the largest greenhouse in the world, displaying the variety of plants and flowers from arid and Mediterranean regions. I was especially tuned to the section the California Garden. For a brief minute or two, I was transported to a very familiar landscape.
Whenever Ramon and I travel, we get a small exposure of how a society views race and interracial marriage. It can be uncomfortable at times, but it is an experience that I am continually grateful to have. This being our first trip to a whole new continent, I didn’t have preconceived ideas. What I found was an extremely kind and welcoming city who did not show any interest in us other than wanting to show us hospitality.
This is not by accident, rather than by design from the city. Four languages are recognized as the official language, English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil. Three quarters of the population are ethnically Chinese, followed Malay, then Indian. Within the ethnic groups, there are further subgroups that continuously split but not necessarily within ethnic lines. Buddhist is the largest religious group followed by Christian, then people who do not identify by religion, followed by Taoist and Muslim. In addition, because of the geographic and economic position of Singapore, there are multiple nationalities from around the world calling Singapore home. It is not out of the ordinary to see different people from all corners of the earth.
This cultural creates a unique identity all on to Singapore. The music, art, and food all unapologetically point to their origin, but at times the culture blends with each other at a graceful pace. Singapore gives space for their citizens to honor their history with the new nation.
Malay Heritage Center
The Malay Heritage Center explores the cultural and historical experience of Malay Singaporeans. The building was once the palace of a sultan in the early 1800s. The expeditions display the experience of the Malay people prior to the 1800s through present day.
The community surrounding the Malay Heritage is a vibrant section of the city with wonderful unique shops, small cafes, murals and specialty stores. There are multiple shops that cater to Muslims, but the community is not exclusively Islamic. The neighborhood is a fun place to walk around and enjoy the sites.
Chinatown is another neighborhood with winding streets that invite you to wander in and out. Multiple shops and restaurants with their own specialties dot the area, but the two main structures of architecture are the Sri Mariamman Temple and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. We were not able to visit the Sri Mariamman Temple as we were not dressed appropriately, and they did not have coverings available to visitors. We did see the building from the outside and we were awe of the intricate designs. I wished we had a docent who would have been able to talk us through and explain what we were seeing. Regardless, it was still super enjoyable.
We were able to see the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Again, I found myself wishing I had someone to explain to me what I was seeing. I tried my hardest to learn but found it difficult to take in all of the details while trying to be respectful of the people who were in their place of worship. Still, I enjoyed the experience taking my time to be a wallflower and observe.
Walking through Little India was an awaking for all our senses. There was so much color, sounds, and smells coming from each direction. The shops carry items from all parts of India. The food also represented the culinary diversity within India. We originally planned to visit the Indian Heritage Center, but we had our days wrong (yay jetlag!) and they were closed when we arrived.
We decided to explore a little and see what we could find. The food smelled so wonderful, it made me wish we didn’t have such a big breakfast. There were wonderful keepsakes at Little India Arcade, but we were nervous about buying anything as we had to keep our luggage empty for our next flight. With 20/20 vision, I would end my trips in Singapore so I could stock up with trinkets to my heart’s content.
We took a Grab from our hotel for a 30-minute ride to the Singapore Zoo. Grab is Singapore’s common ride share app. The drive to the Zoo was really fascinating. We were able to get a glimpse of life outside of downtown Singapore, and really appreciated the large size of the island.
We spent a whole day at Singapore’s Zoo. I am intrigued how other countries set up and run their museums and Zoos. In comparison to what I experienced stateside, the Singapore Zoo is a hybrid between the San Diego Zoo and their Safari Park. The Singapore Zoo is an open concept zoo, meaning the animals are given large amounts of space, separated by natural barriers like boulders and rivers.
At night, the zoo turns into a separate excursion where visitors pile into a vehicle and are driven around the park in the dark. The tour guides point out nocturnal animals throughout the drive, and visitors observe how the park comes alive in a whole new way.
A highlight was being able to feed an elephant banana during their snack time. The second big takeaway from our visit to the zoo was their delicious food. We ordered a variety of food during our stay and everything was surprising exquisitely delicious. We are used to eating park food to be passable at best, but the food in Singapore never disappointed.
Food is the Universal Language
I can’t say it enough, but if you consider yourself a foodie, Singapore should be on your wish list of countries to visit. Their food is out of this world. Ramon and I were never hungry during this trip because the second we had even a bit of room in our stomachs, we made a pit stop to try something new.
The surprising part of experiencing food in Singapore is that all of their food is super high quality. From street food, to cafes, to five course dinners are all served with a strong sense of pride in their work. And because Singapore takes food safety super seriously, we were not nervous to try out street vendor’s food. We did not experience one tummy aches from the variety of things we ate, and oh boy, did we try everything and anything.
Hawkers are a foundational part of Singapore culture. Hawkers are essentially street food vendors from Singapore, and their history dates back to the early 1800s. In an effort to maintain a high level of food safety, Singapore moved the hawkers from the streets and rivers and placed them in Hawker centers, a version of an open-air food court. With strict regulations and essentials like running water and shelter provided, the hawker culture thrived. Generations of Singaporeans and immigrants to Singapore passed down their recipes, perfecting cheap food. Adding the concentration of diverse people, you could essentially eat around Asia in a very small space.
Hawker food is high-quality and low-cost. For example, in 2019 there were 7 recognized hawker stalls with a Michelin star, and multiple more with the distinction of a Bib Gourmand. You can have a Michelin star meal of chicken and rice for under $3.00 USD. If the hawker stall is well known, you would need to plan to arrive early. Multiple times we tried to eat at a famous hawker stall, but they would run out of food by noon.
Some of the hawkers responded to this new level of popularity by capitalizing on their name and recipes by franchising out. We ate at Hawker Chan’s franchise in Chinatown and was not impressed. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t hold a light to all of the other food we had in Singapore, especially considering the name was associated with a Michelin star.
If you are in Singapore and want to experience the hype, by all means plan out your day to guarantee you can have the experience of a $3.00 Michelin star meal. But I wouldn’t be too worried about it. We had plenty of mind-boggling meals at the hawker stalls by walking around and doing eeny-meeny-miny-moe.
While food in Singapore is relatively inexpensive, alcohol come’s with a hefty price tag. Because of this, we didn’t really seek out too much to drink, but wanted to try the Singapore Sling, Singapore’s Long Island Iced Tea, but classy.
Singapore Sling is a gin-based drink, created first in the Long Bar at the famous Raffles Hotel in 1915. Raffles Hotel was still under renovation when we were visiting, but the Long Bar was still up and running. After a long day of playing tourist, we walked across the street from our hotel to the bar for a night cap.
Old-World colonial England is alive and well at the Long Bar. Rich mahogany wood, colonial ceiling fans, colonial décor, and peanut shells on the floor all harken back to when England occupied modern day Singapore. The drink itself is a refreshing cool drink to break the Singapore heat and is roughly $27 dollars per drink. While the drink was pretty tasty, we didn’t think it was $27 dollars’ worth of tasty. We heard there were other, better, options to try the Singapore Sling, but didn’t seek it out since the cost was pretty much the same throughout all of Singapore.
Chimjes was originally a Catholic convent in the 1800s. Currently the space is multi use, including event space, restaurants, bars, cafes, fitness centers, spas, and open gardens. We visited Chimjes a few times as it was just a few blocks from the hotel.
One of our memorable meals at Chijmes was at Lei Garden. Lei Garden is a Chinese (Cantonese) restaurant with one Michelin star. We decided to eat the chef’s lunch, which was a eight-course meal. Ramon and I are not well versed in Chinese food, nor did we know what we ate as we could not read the menu. But it was really wonderful!
Singapore in Hindsight
Singapore has so much to offer. Food, art, shopping, museums, gardens, public transportation, and much more. While we were there for a week, there was still so much we didn’t get to do or see. I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye, so instead I said, see you soon. Now, I am off to convince Ramon to have another long layover in Singapore for our next trip.