Ease Yourself Into Asian Culture
Singapore was my first taste of Asia, and luckily it proved the perfect place to be eased into Asian culture. There’s a strong sense of a Westernised culture all over the buzzing city-state, but it has its own identity: famously pristine streets, perfectly tousled flower displays lining every road, and the omnipresent heat-haze.
You might spend a few days or a few weeks here. Either way, here are the top ten things to do in Singapore.
Spot the most impressive building in Singapore
It’s hard to miss. The three looming towers of the Marina Bay Sands hotel offer magnificent views all over.
Here’s a tip for the full experience of this skyscraper; sneak in, (if you’re feeling less daring, you can buy tickets for the Sands Skypark Observation Deck for $23 SGD) and whizz up to the top, where besides the incredible view you’ll get an eyeful of the ridiculous open-air infinity pool, arguably the best swimming spot in the world (although no actual swimming, of course, that’s just for guests, who have included David Beckham).
Explore the Gardens by the Bay
At night, in one of Singapore’s most popular green spaces (there’s a lot of them), giant fake trees flash, tinkle and stream with different crazy colours. Exploring this reasonably new and slightly bizarre attraction is super fun, especially in the evenings as it cools down.
Potter around the biodomes, full of amazing flower sculptures, tropical plants and a huge waterfall lit up bright purple, then brave the slightly swaying treetop walkway, which, if you catch it right, is the perfect viewing for the light show, where the trees come alive with the sound of music every night at 7.45pm and 8.45pm.
Eat the most delicious street food
Always listen to travel tips from locals. Our airport transfer driver told about Bugis Junction (a subway stop), a great spot for dinner.
The huge shopping centre here has an abundance of new fast food to try, and a buzzing indoor market. Either side of rows of benches, crowded with chattering locals and tourists, check out the little stalls selling the best pork gyoza (dumplings) I have ever tasted. If you’re overwhelmed by the choice, and the sight of some unusual dishes, go safe and choose the katsu curry with sticky rice; it was delicious and so, so cheap.
Eat yet more yummy food
Sentosa Island, a day trip away, is a sort-of playground in the sea. On top sits everything from a Universal Studios to a waterpark, and a luging track (more on that later). I recommend travelling over by the cable car to take advantage of the views as you glide in over the attractions and start planning what to visit.
Even if you decide not to be very active, which, considering how stuffy Singapore is, is totally understandable, then at least head to Siloso beach. It’s a man made affair, with warm sea to paddle in, urban views and snazzy, party restaurants lined along the beachfront. We picked one with loud music and huge cocktails; the BBQ belly pork comes by the (massive) bowl full and is the crunchiest and most succulent dish. I still remember it vividly one year on.
Have a laugh luging
Racing each other round the sharp corners, squealing our heads off, on Sentosa Island was great fun, and a good first experience of a luging track.
If it’s something you’d always thought you’d be too scared to try, this is a great place to prove yourself wrong.
Don’t miss the Botanic Gardens
Don’t get me wrong, I think of visiting gardens as something mainly my Gran likes to do, but this World Heritage Site is so, so worth the visit. It’s not only beautiful, but a real landmark of Singapore, famous around the world for its sheer size.
It was like taking a trip into the jungle, but was barely a bus ride out of the bustling shopping streets. Be careful not to get caught in monsoon rain. Here’s a tip: they have emergency ponchos to hand just in case. Make sure you see the butterfly garden, the National Orchid garden, and take the walk between the towering tropical Heritage trees.
Ride the bus tour of the city
Okay, it’s a bit touristy, but try and see this as more than an excuse to nap off jet lag. It’s actually a great way to get around the city.
Gawp at the iconic Raffles hotel from afar, without risking going inside and spending budgeted money on a Singapore sling (definitely worth buying a cheap one of these gin concoctions somewhere else FYI). Get up to the top deck, peer down on the amazing, decorated neighbourhoods of China Town and Little India, and get an eyeful of the expensive shopping streets. Job done.
Experience beautiful temples
Walking from our hotel to the food halls, we saw some amazingly colourful buildings, and many of these are temples which are free to enter.
Sri Mariamman is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore and is now a national monument, dedicated to the goddess Mariamman who is known for her power to cure illness and disease. Look out for the ornate detailing on the six tiers, which are covered in sculptures. In October and November, experience the main festival held at the temple, a dramatic fire walking ceremony.
Splash out on the river or night safari
Next to the zoo is the newest of the award-winning parks operated by Wildlife Reserves Singapore. Here you can learn about the beautiful giant pandas, Kai Kai and Jia Jia, who are shy but mesmerising, and be amused by the cute red pandas clambering slowly along branches right above your head, in the forest sanctuary.
Meander on a simulated adventure of the Mississippi, Congo, Nile, Ganges, Mekong and Yangtze rivers, or travel onboard the river safari cruise for some amazing photo opportunities. We didn’t get a chance to do this ourselves, but the night safari – a tram ride that guides you across 7 geographical zones- is the world’s first safari park for nocturnal animals, and is really popular.
Singapore is incredibly cheap, it’s easy to get around everywhere, and there’s a lot, but not too much, to see – the perfect destination for either a stopover or a long stay.