Our first trip of 2017 was spending two weeks in Southeast Asia. On the itinerary was Singapore, Malaysia (Penang, Langkawi & Kuala Lumpur), and Thailand. As the Gateway to Asia, logically, the first stop of our Asian adventures was Singapore.
After our non-stop 16 hour journey from SFO, A and I were beyond excited to find ourselves in Singapore. We landed bright and early and, as usual, were eager to hit the ground running. With just under three days in Singapore, there was no time to waste.
Singapore exceeded all of our expectations and more. We had such an incredible time, I started questioning why we had waited this long before visiting this majestic island nation. A and I both love big cosmopolitan cities so this was a real treat for us. On our last night, we found ourselves in our hotel room looking for jobs in Singapore on LinkedIn, investigating the outrageous housing costs, and dreaming if there was any possible way we could, just maybe, move here.
Here’s a glimpse of our three days in Singapore – some of the things we learned, our favourite moments, and what we would have done differently.
Day One |
This is Chinatown Food Street on Smith Street. On our last day, we walked by later in the evening, it was crowded with people, and the atmosphere was so much fun.
Maxwell Road Hawker Food Center
Food – Typically, when A and I travel, food and dining is not a high priority. We will take a restaurant recommendation or two but won’t go terribly out of our way unless it’s an absolute must-try local cuisine or speciality. We’ll usually do a last minute google search for something with rave reviews and be on our way. However, when we knew we were travelling to a city (and country) where food is a national pastime and is taken very seriously, we made an exception that this stop was going to be all about the food. And as it turned out, our whole trip was a pursuit of delicious culinary experiences!
Between our well-travelled friends and Anthony Bourdain, we had enough food recommendations for three months of eating. However, with the little time we had in Singapore, how we approached eating during our short stay had to be strategic.
Whether it’s cheap hawker food or fine Michelin-starred dining experiences, the food in Singapore is second to none and the options are endless. There are certainly a few spots that will show up time and time again on everyone’s recommendation like this Hainan Chicken Rice (pictured above) from Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice. This famous hawker stall is found at the Maxwell Food Centre located in Chinatown. It is an absolute must try! The chicken just melts in your mouth and the flavors were indescribable. The line up is always long but totally worth the wait. Best part? Soo cheap!
What I loved so much about Singapore was that you could get a $4 meal that was just as amazing as a $200 meal. On this particular trip, A and I opted to eat all our meals at the food courts or hawkers centers. We just really enjoyed the experience and, after all, that’s what Southeast Asia is all about!
Within the Downtown Core in a Central Area of Singapore, this is another food center called Telok Ayer Market which is located inside the historic building of Lau Pa Sat.
Our bubble tea intake was noteworthy, averaging at least 2 a day. It’s true what they say, the bubble tea really does taste better in Asia.
After a long day of walking and eating, the jet lag was starting to really kick in. We were determined to beat it so we went back to the hotel for a quick change of clothes and headed down to the Marina Bay Sands.
Shopping – Whether it’s window shopping, seeking shelter from the rain, simply passing time, or actually doing some damage – shopping malls are everywhere. It’s a big deal in Singapore, almost rivaling it’s obsession with food. You won’t walk very far before crossing paths with yet another mall. The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands exhibits luxury at it’s finest. There isn’t a high end designer that you won’t find at this 800,000 square feet mall.
Another shopping strip worth noting is Orchard Road, which is a shopping boulevard that spans 2.2 km. This boulevard alone houses upwards of 20 shopping centers. In equal measure, the sheer scale is both awe-inspiring and overwhelming.
We spent a lot of time browsing a lot of the malls but I didn’t do too much shopping mainly because we only travel with a carry on. However, I always love being able to buy something unique that I can’t get in Canada. I ended up buying a pair of shoes, a handbag, and a wallet from Charles and Kieth – a very popular Singaporean brand. All three items came in under $200 and the quality is amazing. I regret every day not buying a few more pairs of shoes from there!
View from the top of Marina Bay Sands.
The famous Marina Bay Sands infinity pool which is only available to guests at the hotel. We toyed with the idea of spending a night here just to hang out in this very pool but the price tag was hefty and really wasn’t worth it. The SkyBar or observation deck ultimately served the same purpose.
After the sun went down, A and I headed to SkyBar at the top of the Marina Bay Sands to get a panoramic view of the city at night. It’s about $20 per person to go to the top but if you go to the bar, you’ll get that back as a drink voucher. For the same price, you could also opt for the observation deck instead. It’s definitely pricey (considering we didn’t even spend $40 that entire day on food) and a bit of a tourist trap but the views are so incredible that it’s a must do. As soon as we got up there and saw the breathtaking views, we were wide awake and our excitement started sinking in. This was one of my favorite moments. There was no better way to end our first day!
Day Two |
Emerging from the train station into Little India. A and I were completely blown away by how much Little India resembled the REAL India. Wow! When we were walking around, we were so impressed by the fact that it felt so much like when we were walking the streets of Mumbai and Delhi. Needless to say it was much cleaner than the real India.
Our first stop of the day was Tekka Center, a hawker center in Little India that serves predominately Indian food, obviously.
We discovered this dish called Roti Prata from Singapore, which is a flatbread cooked over a flat grill and served with a curry like sauce. You can get it plain, with onions, cheese, mushroom, eggs, and the list goes on. Think naan bread but seriously so much better! It cost about $1.80 for two pieces. We went back for seconds and was totally hooked.
A friend of mine who had studied abroad in Singapore told me that I had to try the local Kaya toast, a popular snack in Singapore and Malaysia. We made a quick stop at Toast Box so that A can see what it was all about. He loved it!
We learned about Mustafa Center on Anthony Bourdain’s show, The Layover. It is an 8 storey, 400,000 square feet shopping center, located in Little India, and is open 24 hours. Apparently there is nothing you can’t find in this unique retail hub.
This was another restaurant that we had learned about through Anthony Bourdain’s show. They served Biryani – an Indian dish made with seasoned rice and meat, fish, or vegetables. We’ve never had Biryani before so we had nothing to compare it to. Nonetheless, it was so delicious. Very tasty and flavourful!
Strolling through Gardens by the Bay
The Supertree Grove
This was one of my favourite moments in Singapore. Our second day was really the only full day we had there. At this point, we had already covered so much ground and it was probably only about 2pm. We ate so much good food, explored Little India, did some shopping, strolled through the Gardens, and had finished our second bubble tea. We spotted these chairs and immediately jumped on them for a much needed break while we strategized about what we were going to do next. With no agenda and a whole city to conquer, it was exciting and exactly what we loved about exploring a new city together. We had a beautiful view of the Marina, the Singapore River, and the impressive skyline. I can still remember feeling completely content and so happy in this moment.
So the day continues.. Next stop, Raffles Hotel.
Raffles Hotel is said to be the most famous hotel in Singapore as it best embodies the island’s colonial history.
Although Anthony Bourdain said to skip it, my boss was adamant on me trying the Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel, where the drink had originated. We came here to learn that it was $30USD per glass and without hesitation, both quickly agreed to skipped it.
Instead, we headed to the closest food center inside another massive mall and had some more food.
Under $5, a popular dish in Singapore, Char Siu Mei.
How We Approached Singapore – Before leaving, I had printed a word document and an email with all of the things that had been recommended to us – one of the great perks of having so many friends and coworkers that are seasoned world travellers. We figured that we would approach Singapore with no set plan or agenda. Rather, we just had a general sense of the neighbourhoods that we wanted to visit. Once we were in that neighbourhood, we would look to our list of recommendations for some guidance on what to eat or do.
This strategy ended up working great. We basically woke up every morning, hungry, which meant the first stop was always a hawker center and it always worked out that the hawker center was in a different neighborhood. Once our bellies were filled, we just chose a direction and from there, started walking. Once we exhausted a particular area, we would pick another neighbourhood to tackle and then fill our day with things along the way until we made it to our destination. This allowed us to come across things that were a little more off-the-map, stumble upon something completely unexpected, and discover some of Singapore’s best kept secrets. We stopped along the way for food, drinks, bubble tea, window shopping, and multiple coffee breaks to keep us caffeinated.
Located in the vibrant Orchard shopping district but in a quieter corner, Cuppage Terrace is a row of colourful shophouses on both sides that are lined with lots of restaurants and pubs.
Where We Stayed – A friend and seasoned Singapore traveller advised me to stay near Orchard Road. He told us that it’s a bustling part of town with ample food options, shopping, and nightlife. For our first two nights, we stayed at Lloyd’s Inn, a boutique hotel that was affordable and had everything we needed. We were out all day, starting bright and early in the morning, and returning at night only to pass out right away. So I’m happy to report that this hotel served its purpose. As with everything else in Singapore, you can find great budget accommodations but you can also stay at some seriously fancy places like the Ritz Carlton or Marina Bay Sands.
At the end of our trip when we returned to Singapore for one day before flying out, we splurged a little and stayed at Swissotel Merchant Court which was located right next to Clarke Quay. This was another awesome location!
After getting to know a handful of the neighborhoods in Singapore, I would say that you can’t go wrong no matter where you decide to stay. Food and shopping is pretty much everywhere. Every neighborhood has it’s own attractions and appeal, all worth seeing. Much like most other large cosmopolitan Asian cities, shops open late and night life is bustling every night. With the MRT system, it’s super easy to get anywhere within Singapore.
We couldn’t get enough of the views of Singapore’s lit up buildings at night so we headed back down to Marina Boulevard and Bayfront Avenue to snap some photos
Another memorable moment in Singapore. Every time I look at this picture I can see how tired and worn down we were. We had been out and about on the streets of Singapore for over 12 hours at this point, walked just under 50km by the end of the day, and we couldn’t have been happier.
Getting Around – Although the humidity in Singapore is no joke, we averaged about 40 kms of walking every day. Singapore is relatively small so it was easy to get around by foot. I can’t emphasize enough how great walking is because you come across so many things that would otherwise be missed if you were in a car or on a train. The other obvious upside of so much walking is to offset all that eating 😉
Since A and I typically turn off our phones when we travel, a few people had suggested buying a WiFi stick to stay connected. We didn’t end up getting one so it wasn’t always easy finding the places we wanted to go. There was a lot of getting lost, trusting our intuition only to end up walking in the exact opposite direction, and looking for the nearest WiFi hotspot to figure out where we were and needed to go. If you’re like us and would rather pass on the WiFi stick – especially since getting lost is sometimes half the fun even though it doesn’t always seem like it at the time – what we found particularly helpful was to download an offline map on Google Maps.
We relied a lot on the MRT subway system. It’s the quickest and most comfortable way to get around. We particularly loved how easy it was to navigate. It will get you basically anywhere you need to go. When walking isn’t ideal or you need to get somewhere rather quickly, Uber is also a great alternative as cabs can be more expensive.
One last stop before hitting the pillow and ending this day – Riverside Indonesian BBQ, located in the food center of Orchard Road Plaza.
Day Three |
At the end of our trip, we flew back into Singapore for one last day before flying home the next day. We had planned our flight so that we would arrive early and have a full day. Unfortunately, flying in from Kuala Lumpur, our flight was delayed almost 3 hours. On top of that, without realizing that there are two Swissotel’s in Singapore, we took the MRT from the airport to the hotel, only to learn we were at the wrong Swisshotel. By the time we had checked into the right hotel, freshened up, and waited for the rain to pass – half the day was already over. Nevertheless, we wasted no time and were determined to get in as much as we could on our last night.
Mainly because of the rain, we took all of our photos with our phones on the last night so the quality is not as good.
This was near the Financial District in Singapore. With all the outdoor bars and pubs lined up next to one another, there was such a cool feel that reminded me of Europe. I really loved this area. The more we walked, the more we stumbled into charming streets where people were having drinks at a variety of cool outdoor establishments. A and I noticed that, Singaporeans were always out eating, drinking, and socializing no matter what day of the week it was.
Our last amazing meal in Singapore!
This is Clark Quay, a unique and historical landmark located along the Singapore River and at the border of Singapore’s Central Business District. There is an abundance of bars, restaurants and clubs. The atmosphere was lively and just packed with people. We received a few recommendations to eat Sri Lankan crab or Lobster Ramen down here but by the time we got here, we were already stuffed.
What We Would Have Done Differently –
I later learned that you could get a Singapore Tourist Pass which is a special card that allows unlimited travel on the MRT and LRT trains for a much cheaper price than paying the regular fares. This is a much more economic option if you’re going to be using the trains a lot to get around Singapore, which we did. For example, a 1 day pass is $10, 2 day pass is $16 and, 3 day pass is $20. There were days where we had definitely spent much more than that getting around so, knowing this earlier would have saved us some money.
Because Singapore was our first stop, we were fighting jet lag for the first couple days. As a result, we didn’t have much of an appetite, which was a bummer because we couldn’t eat half as much food as we had hoped to. Also, we forced ourselves to be out and about all day in order to beat the jet lag so we were seriously struggling to stay energized past 10 pm. We missed out on little things like having a midnight supper or enjoying a beer at one of the myriad of outdoor/rooftop bars. Next time, I would plan for a few extra days or put Singapore more towards the middle or end of the trip.
Most people will tell you that there isn’t much to do in Singapore and that it’s just a layover city. We took this advice and as a result didn’t allocate a whole lot of days to this part of our trip. However, the only thing I regret was not spending more time here. It’s one of those cities where the more time you have, the more you explore, and the more you just fall in love with it. Singapore stole our hearts and we were completely enamored with this place! A and I could have easily spent an entire week here without getting bored. To be completely honest, had we known how incredible this city was going to be, we would have swapped out our entire time in Thailand and spent it here instead!