Prior to departing for Vietnam from Malaysia, and after I had finished my last round of medication for giardiasis (which you can read about here), a few friends of mine and I took a weekend trip to Singapore. Having worked for a number of multi-national companies whose APAC headquarters are located in Singapore, I have always dreamt of visiting the city (which also has the same country namesake). Given the amount of work travel I have done, it’s actually quite surprising I never made it out to this stunning little city located on the tip of the Malay peninsula. You can actually get to Singapore a number of different ways including by bus, train, airplane, or in the case of one fellow Remote Year participant, by Uber! The hour long flight to Singapore were extremely cheap from KL – roughly $50 USD roundtrip (it was $140 for a one-way Uber trip from KL).
A City of Modern Art & Architecture
My first impression of Singapore was, ‘I love it.’ It felt nice to be in a largely Western, extremely modern city filled with beautiful art sculptures, greenery, and water. Singapore was one of Britain’s settlements between 1826-1965, when it became a sovereign state, and it is clear based on how good the spoken English is everywhere you go. Singapore is considered the most ‘technology ready’ nation in the world, top international meetings city, city with ‘the best investment potential,’ and third largest foreign exchange market according to Wikipedia. It is also considered a tax haven – hence the many multi-national Asian headquarters based in Singapore.
The group I traveled with and I spent the majority of the weekend walking around the extremely clean city, checking out the incredible architecture, malls, and eateries. Everything was within close walking distance from our hotel, the Ascott Raffles – a reasonably priced, nice hotel in the financial district. We ate excellent meals at Din Tai Fung, known for its world class dumplings, as well as Loof.
There is an entire network of underground malls and pathways that runs through the city. Here are a few images of the mall located inside the Marina Bay Sands, an incredible architectural feat, which houses a swimming pool on the roof spanning three buildings long. On the outside, you see a glass dome, indented in the ground. When it started raining, the rainwater poured into the mall itself and filled the miniature Venice canal that runs the length of the mall (and which you can ride down on a gondola!)
Unless you are a guest at the hotel, you cannot actually swim in the Marina Bay Sands pool. However, you can get a cocktail at the bar and check out the incredible views from the roof, which is exactly what we did.
From Garden City to City in a Garden
The Singaporean government is aiming to transform Singapore to a City in a Garden, investing billions of dollars in enhancing greenery and flora in the city. My favorite tourist attraction in Singapore was Gardens by the Bay, a nature park spanning 250 acres of reclaimed land in the heart of the city. The park is full of sculptures, greenery, bridges, and open spaces from where you can see the Singapore Flyer, the world’s tallest Ferris wheel at 550 feet tall.
The park also houses two conservatories, the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome – two of the largest columnless glasshouses in the world. I absolutely loved the Cloud Forest, which replicates the conditions found in tropical mountain regions and featured a ‘cloud mountain’ that visitors could walk around via a circular path.
The forest featured stunning flowers, and it felt a bit Disneylandesque as it was almost too perfect. Wooden sculptures, seen here, were scattered around the mountain. I’m not quite sure what the significance of the sculptures is, but they were a funny and fun addition nevertheless.
Singapore Slings & Views
Singapore has a thriving nightlife, as our group quickly found out. From satay on the street, to a bustling bar street, and lovely rooftop decks at Southbridge and Lantern, Singapore did not disappoint. There is a thriving expat community that keeps the bars bustling all night long. One of the biggest culture shocks was seeing so many women in heels again after living in a Muslim country where women are covered head to toe.
On our last night in Singapore, I convinced the group to go to the famous Raffles hotel, named after Stamford Raffles who founded colonial Singapore in 1819 as a trading post of the East India Company, and order Singapore Slings at the Long Bar. The Singapore Sling is a gin-based cocktail that was developed by Ngiam Tong Boon, a Hainanese bartender who worked at the Long Bar in the early 1900s. It was originally called a gin sling – an American drink composed of spirit and water, sweetened and flavored. My mother, Lena, has always said, ‘if you to to Singapore, you have to try out the Singapore Sling at Raffles’. Check! It was quite sweet and delicious:)
The Nicest China Town You’ll Ever Visit
On my last day in Singapore, I caught up with an old P&G coworker and friend, Faisal Fazalbhoy, who took me through the old part of Singapore – China Town. We met at the cutest traditional Chinese Tea House, called Tea Chapter where we learned about the art of steeping tea, known as ‘Cha Dao.’ Prior to steeping the tea, the teapot and cups must be cleansed with water. The loose tea leaves are then placed in the teapot and steeped. The first steep has to be poured out, and the timing for each steeping is very specific. We had a fantastic time catching up over white tea and candied peanuts, followed by a delicious lunch at the Tanglin Club.
While the trip to Singapore was not nearly long enough, it was a great first introduction to the city, and I can’t wait to visit it again.
A Gilded Globe’s Top 5 Things to Do in Singapore
- Visit Gardens by the Bay and check out the Cloud Forest
- Have a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel
- Visit one of the many rooftop bars (Southbridge and Lantern were my favorite) at night
- Explore China Town by foot and have tea at Tea Chapter
- Visit Marina Bay Sands for excellent shopping and world class views of the city
Do you have any tips for can’t-miss-sites in Singapore?
photo cred of me on the bridge: @jay_dred