People tend to dismiss Singapore as just a clean place where people shop and where chewing gum is strictly banned. A place that you stopover for a night on your journey to somewhere more exotic. Yet this perception is outdated and, well, wrong. Singapore is a destination in it’s own right, with more than enough attractions and trips to satisfy any adventure seeking traveler.
I’ve been a frequent visitor to Singapore over the years, and each visit has been unique and special. This Summer I’m staying on the scenic Nassim Road, only a five-minute walk from the Botanical Gardens. Singapore’s Botanic Gardens is world famous and with good reason. Here you can wander along boardwalks, through swaths of rainforest and around picturesque lakes, filled with carp and turtles. Also located in the Botanics is the National Orchid Garden, which contains the world’s largest orchid display featuring over 60,000 plants and orchids. It’s the perfect location to escape the bustle of the city and if you’re into your photography capture some stunning photographs.
However, one of my favorite nature getaways in Singapore is the MacRitchie Reservoir Park, the oldest of the 17 reservoirs in Singapore. At the park there are walking trails through the forest, where you’re likely to spot monkeys leaping from tree to tree and scurrying across the paths. They’re often playful and cheeky so you’re advised not to display any small items to them, such as mobile phones, as they’re likely to try pinch and then destroy them. The treetop walk, which connects two of the highest points in MacRitchie Reservoir, is also a must whilst you’re there and offers you a birds eye view of the forest canopy and some of the city itself.
Though Singapore is certainly green, the city itself is also beautiful with its cutting edge architecture and spotless streets, amongst the more traditional shop houses and striking colonial buildings. Getting around the districts couldn’t be simpler, with its modern and straightforward MRT system, which can take you practically anywhere. A must stop is Clarke Quay. Lying near the mouth of the Singapore River, Clarke Quay was the centre of commerce during the late 19th century. Today, it plays host to a colourful array of restaurants, bars and retail shops. Here you can sample the local delicacy, chili crab, albeit for a hefty price! If you dine at night you can also catch the stunning light display, projected from the famous Marina Bay hotel across the river.
Clarke Quay and Boat Quay (a cheaper alternative located opposite), is also the perfect place for a night out, with numerous bars to choose from. A personal favourite is Marrakesh, an energy filled Morrocan bar. Its multihued sofas and brocade ottomans provide the perfect atmosphere for some cocktails and, if you fancy, a shisha. Afterwards you can head over to Zirca, a nouveau nightclub with amazing DJ sets and Gotham city-like vibes. Some nights you can also catch the open Bacardi tent with belly dancers, who are often surrounded by old men wanting their pictures taken with them, and a buzzing dance floor.
For daytime trips another must-visit is Orchard Road, also known as the ‘city’ of Singapore. Singapore’s shopping is defined by Orchard Road, which boasts 2.2 kilometres of malls. Moreover, if the heat gets too much for you with all your shopping bags, pasty Brits can walk underground to the different malls – from the ION to Wisma Atria and on to Ngee Ann City – all through a series of connected, air conditioned tunnels. If this isn’t enough you can also take a trip to other famous malls such as The Marina Bay Sands Shopping Mall, the luxe of the moment in Singapore, with all the biggest labels and brands illuminated under its full-glass windows. Instead of walking to Louis Vuitton Island, that’s right ISLAND, you can catch a boat ride through the mall and be dropped off at its door. It’s worth checking out, even if the merchandise is miles beyond budget.
These malls also contain high quality food courts, which are delicious and affordable. Singaporeans tend to eat out a lot, as the food is so cheap and it’s sometimes too hot to cook at home. These food courts offer an array of Asian cuisine, with a set meal costing no more than £4. My favourite is the Indonesian BBQ – think Nando’s but quarter of the price and better!
Besides the glitz and glam Singapore also offers some exciting cultural destinations such as Little India. As its name suggests, here you can immerse yourself in an authentic Indian experience, with the streets filled with spice stalls, restaurants and sari shops. There’s also Singapore’s Chinatown, one of the leading tourist destinations in the city, where you can experience the Chinese roots of Singapore. The Chinatown Night Market is also the place to go for cheap souvenirs – tat galore!
However, if you’re interested in seeing Singapore at its best, and for free, then take a trip up to the 62th floor of the Swissôtel The Stamford, one of Southeast Asia’s tallest hotels, offering an unsurpassed panoramic view of Singapore. Additionally, for a reasonable price you can go on the Singapore Flyer, a giant Ferris wheel located near the shore of Singapore’s Marina Bay. In my opinion this is best experienced at night, where you can take some amazing photographs of the cities lights. If you’re visiting in September then you can also catch a glimpse of the Singapore Grand Prix circuit.
Of course, no trip to Singapore is complete without a visit to Sentosa Island, a popular island resort. The name Sentosa translates as ‘peace and tranquility’ in Malay, yet the old joke translation by the locals in the 1990’s was, ‘So Expensive and Nothing to See Also.’ Yet today Sentosa offers a huge variety of attractions and other entertainments – Universal Studios being one of my favourites. You can easily spend a day wandering through Egypt, then to The Lost World of Jurassic Park before stopping for lunch at Madagascar. A great day out that is worth every penny for the ticket. One tip: make sure you book a couple of days in advance to avoid disappointment, tickets sell like crazy.
Sentosa Island also has other action filled amusements such as the MegaZip Adventure Park, with one of the longest and steepest zip wires in Asia. Another fun attraction is the Luge & Skyride, a self-steering, three-wheel cart, which allows the rider to speed down a hill (the kids usually directionless) ending at the Siloso Beach. Don’t get hopes too high with the beaches though; they’re artificial and ruined slightly by the massive cargo ships lurking in the distance. Yet a go on the FlowBarrel, a simulated barreling wave, is definitely worth a shot. Also noteworthy is the island’s 18-hole championship golf course, though you better start saving as one round costs around £260. Ouch.
If you have a little extra time on your hands, then another great little day trip is to take one of the bumboats out to Pulau Ubin. Pulau Ubin is a time capsule back to Singapore in the 1960’s. The island is home to Singapore’s last villages with only about a hundred people living there. Some depend on traditional farming and fishing, while others tend to stores and eateries in the main village, near the jetty. Here you can eat, relatively cheaply, and rent bikes to tour the island. On the bikes you can cycle through grasslands and abandoned granite quarries before stopping for a coconut at one of the residents houses. Make sure you take mosquito repellent as they feast on you; even at the grand speeds you might be reaching on your bicycle.
So if you’ve not booked your summer holiday yet, have a look on Expedia or Money Supermarket for some cheap packages out to Singapore. It’s modern yet traditional, clean yet full of culture and guarantees you a fun, one-of-a-kind trip which will leave you with some fantastic memories.
By Stephanie Withers