I knew Singapore was different the moment I stepped out of the plane. However, it seems like this city is from another world. Changi airport was the first contact with this alien world and already rose the bar for the entire trip. While Hanoi is more traditional and chaotic, Kuala Lumpur is a perfect mix of everything. But Singapore proved to be the superlative, the jewel of Asia.
General info about Singapore
It took us about 30 minutes to leave the plane, go through immigrations and get the baggage. This airport is super modern, efficient and easy to navigate, making the whole process an experience. Changi has a huge shopping centre inside and it’s dominated by The Jewel, a green area, filled with tropical plants and a huge waterfall in the middle. It feels like in the middle of a rainforest and all you can do is contain your jaw from dropping on the floor. There is no wonder why it was voted the best airport in the world in 2019.
I could tell how much the residents love the city from our Grab driver that took us to the hotel. He took his time to offer us information about the city itself, the landmarks we were passing by and give us advice on what to do and see. To clarify, he was not the only one. All the drivers we had did the same. This was all without us asking anything. I could hear the pride in their voice when they were talking about Singapore. The Singaporean people are also very mixed, the same as in Kuala Lumpur. However, the ratio is a bit different, with the Chinese people being the majority (about 74%), while the rest are Malay, Indian and other ethnicities.
We arrived at the hotel, dropped our bags and started to explore the city by foot. Now I started to understand what the drivers were talking about. The city is just beautiful and incredibly clean. You can find colonial buildings next to impressive skyscrapers (you know how much I love them) and next to traditional temples (Hindu and Buddhist).
I would describe Singapore as the perfect mix between London, Dubai and Tokyo. I have visited all of them and loved them all for different aspects. For instance, London brings the colonial buildings, the street names and English as the official language due to the former British occupation. Dubai comes with super modern skyscrapers and the superlative in everything. Meanwhile, Tokyo brings the traditional and the people who are extremely nice, polite and respect the rules. I believe Singapore took the best out of these places and came up on top as a super city.
That is to say, being a super city has some disadvantages as well.. First, the city is very expensive. As a tourist, prepare to pay a lot for accommodation, food, entrances, transportation. I would say they are close to Scandinavia from this point of view. Moving forward there are…
Rules and strict laws
There are plenty of rules and I don’t think you can reach this level without. I believe there is a sign for everything with what you shouldn’t do everywhere you look. Do not step outside of designated areas, do not bring food, drinks, durian fruits in the metro, do not run or to use chewing gum, etc. Smoking is not allowed in public, except for the very few marked areas. For instance, my personal favourite was in a Hindu temple. It was written on a sign not to feed the pigeons and the reasons why. Above all, it was urged to report to the police if you see people doing it. I mean, really?!
How do they make sure these rules stand? Well, this is easy – with very high fines. If you eat or drink in the metro and you get caught, prepare to pay a 500 SGD fee (approx. 330 Eur). And be sure you will be caught as there are surveillance camera everywhere. I guess this is how you maintain the law and you reach such a high level of “perfection”.
While I agree with some certain aspects and that rules need to be respected, I believe Singapore is a bit too much from this point of view. I wouldn’t like to live in a place where I have the feeling that at any point I might do something wrong that will end up with a fine.
Attractions – been there, done that
We only had a short stay here, for 3 full days. However, we made the best out of them. We combined a bit of sightseeing, culture and nature while skipping the museums (a bit too boring for us). This being said, here is our itinerary.
Marina Bay and the Merlion
It is probably the most popular place to start your journey in Singapore. While we obviously didn’t stay in the Marina Sands Bay Hotel (crazy prices!), we did enjoy watching it from outside, from all the angles. Plus, we did check up the shopping mall below.
We walked around the entire bay, aka Esplanade, and admired the hotel on one side and the skyscraper district on the other. Worth mentioning is also the architecture of the ArtScience museum, who looks like a lotus flower on the outside.
The best spot for pictures is for sure by the Merlion statue, the symbol of Singapore. The half lion, half fish statue spits water towards the bay and the hotel and gives the best spot for your Instagram picture.
Tip. Visit the Bay both during the day and the night. The experience is totally different.
This is just the next level when it comes to gardens. It cannot be described in words just how beautiful this place is. The area is divided into different districts (Japanese, Oriental , Mediterranean, etc), with the vertical gardens as the tip of the experience. While during the day might not look that impressive, during the night the situation changes entirely. The colourful neon lights and the music added on the background make you feel like you are in a fantasy world. It sorts of reminded me of the movie Avatar when it was first launched.
What is the the best thing about them? There is no entrance fee for the exterior gardens. As a result, you can enjoy this as much as you want, free of charge. However, there are few areas that you must pay for. These are the closed indoor gardens, that require different temperatures for the plants to survive and grow. We bought a combo for the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome as it was cheaper than buying individually. I recommend it as it’s a once in a lifetime experience and it’s really beautiful. Unless you are allergic to pollen and flowers haha.
Tip. While the outside vertical gardens are best being enjoyed during the night, the rest should be seen during the day. We arrived quite late and we were forced by the circumstances, but definitely come during the day to see the Cloud and Flower Dome. For example, you can come in the late afternoon for this and visit until the evening, when the Gardens get lit and catch life.
China Town and Buddha’s Tooth Relic Temple
I really loved the China Town from Singapore. It is super nice organized and civilized. There is a huge area with Chinese restaurants, shops, souvenirs and a street food. Try the fresh juices from the local vendors and enjoy the street art paintings on the wall. It’s hard to choose a place to eat because everything looks very authentic and delicious. We went for the street food as it was a fusion of Chinese and Singaporean cuisine.
The Buddha’s Tooth Relic Temple and Museum dominates the district. It is a beautiful site that can be visited for free. Don’t miss the garden on the roof and the 10000 small Buddha statues around it. It feels like an oasis in the middle of the busy city that allows you to disconnect a bit. There is a meditation area for this as well. Here you can discover the best the blend of traditional and modern in Singapore.
Universal Studios Singapore
This was our first Universal theme park we visited, and I was not disappointed. Situated in the super modern and cool Sentosa island, the park is a must for adrenaline junkies. The island itself is created for entertainment, with plenty of restaurants, hotels, the aquarium and museums.
You must come early in the morning and prepare to queue to get your tickets and to enter once the doors are open. The attractions were great, and we had lots of fun trying them all. Our favourite was by far the Transformers ride, a mix of 3D effects and bumpy ride. Another cool one was the Battle Star Galactica roller-coaster and the designs for the Mummy ride.
However, as in all theme parks, prepare to wait in line or pay more than double to get the skip the line ticket. We spent the entire day here and had a blast. I definitely recommend it if you are into theme parks.
Tip. If you don’t want to pay for the priority ticket, most attractions offer you the “ride single” option. This means that you and your partner will not enjoy it together, but at least you will have the time to try everything. We used this strategy for the rides we already tried, and it worked perfectly. Also, if you purchase your entrance tickets with Mastercard, you get a 5 SGD voucher per person to use in all the restaurants inside.
Other places we enjoyed in Singapore:
Fort Canning park is to disconnect from the city life. It is very neat, clean and beautifully decorated. On the other hand, be aware of lightning and possible falling branches, as a sign says at the entrance.
Clarke Quay Central is the perfect place for a night out. There are lots of restaurants and bars to chose from and it’s right by the river.
Little India can also be an option. This is the place for those looking for something more different and for a good curry.
To sum up, Singapore is definitely a once in a lifetime experience. They managed to create this little perfect corner that blends the traditional and ultramodern in such a nice way. It gives you this feeling that this city is from another world. As a consequence, I was hooked immediatly.
I loved how well organized everything is, how nice the people are and of course the mind-blowing architecture. This city/country has it all: from temples to skyscrapers, from technology to simplicity, from great weather to thunderstorms . Leaving all the strictness aside, Singapore is in the far future, miles away from most of the cities I’ve seen so far. And there are plenty I can compare it with.
That is to say I hope I will have the chance to come back here one day. And I hope to be once again amazed by what they will come up with in the future. This city is indeed the jewel of Asia.
Until the next time.