Singapore is a Feast for the Eyes and the Stomach: Here’s What to See and Do
By Tab Hauser
Singapore is a modern, lively, tasty, vibrant, safe and clean city with a bit of “wow” power. To many visitors, Singapore is usually a two-night stopover when flying into this region of the world.
For short stayers, it means rushing through the top four or five sites before flying off. Consider lingering longer by taking four or five days to enjoy the attractions and the different neighborhoods. Then savor those extra nights for those tasty dinners, night strolls, and some nightlife.
Culture and History Wake Up
As I find walking helpful against jet lag and the direct 18.5-hour flight the night before, we strolled 20 minutes down the river to the Asian Civilisations Museum (www.acm.org.sg ).
This well-done place explores the diverse heritage and history of Singapore and its connection with the world. The first exhibit is about the recovered 9th century Tang shipwreck.
This trading ship had 60,000 ceramic pieces along with some gold and silver when it went down.
On display is a model ship next to dozens of 1000-year-old painted bowls that were restored to “eat-off condition.” The other exhibits we preferred were on the history of trade, ceramics and the diversity of religions complete with impressive large painted deity statues.
I recommend the free 45-minute tour. For a fun lunch seated with the locals walk 10 minutes to the Market Street Interim Hawker Centre. (see below under food)
To understand the city layout, its neighborhoods and have easy transportation, get a two-day pass from the City Sightseeing hop-on-hop-off bus (website). We used our pass to take us to a few attractions over the next two days.
This pass is good on two routes stopping at 37 places and includes two walking tours. Each loop is narrated so you will know what to see if you hop off. We started our day with their Chinatown walking tour.
From there we rode the red loop learning about the neighborhoods. Having a good reputation for Middle Eastern food we hopped off in the Kampong Glam district which was the central hub for Arab trading.
Here we did a quick visit to see the Malay Heritage Center (website) and Sultan Mosque.
The heritage center is in an old mansion showing the history of the Malay people in Singapore. The large mosque next door has a pretty exterior and a peaceful interior worth a peak. You can see both places in 30-minutes.
Muscat Street opposite the mosque has shops and Middle Eastern restaurants. We liked Durwish Turkish because of its Turkish and Lebanese menus.
Science Infused Art and a “Wow” Hotel
The Art Science Museum and the Marina Sands Hotel should be visited together.
These two structures are the easiest places to find due to their very modern designs located in the bay. The Art Science Museum (www.marinabaysands.com/museum.html) is in a lotus leaf looking building. The museum is an exciting fusion of science and art not to be missed. Allow about 90 minutes here.
The Marina Sands Hotel (https://www.marinabaysands.com) is a must-see for any architectural fans. From the ground, you view three curved towers looking like bent playing cards 57 stories high. On top of the three towers is perched a 1,115-foot terrace.
This one of kind rooftop holds the world’s highest infinity pool along with two restaurants and an observation deck protruding 223 feet out. To get to the top you can buy a ticket to the observation area but you do not have a pool view.
A better way is to have a craft cocktail at the bar adjacent to the pool before sunset. Seeing guests standing at the edge in the pool looking down should not be missed. For a 30 second view click here.
After sunset choose one of the celebrity chef restaurants in the hotel for dinner followed by their free nightly signature light, water and sound show. If you feel lucky you can visit one of the world’s top producing casinos. End your evening with a cruise back upriver on the electric ferry taking in the beautiful lit up city skyline.
A Modern Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay (www.gardensbythebay.com.sg) is a Singapore must-see. This futuristic-looking 250-acre garden is highlighted by two large domes and the “Super Tree Grove” with a skyway between them. The Flower Dome is the world’s largest dome consisting of different style gardens and hundreds of orchids, flowers, and plants.
The other dome imitates a cloud forest where you enter by passing on of the world’s tallest indoor waterfalls. Here you can observe the canopy and plant life while walking down the skywalks. The Supertrees adjacent to the domes measure between 82 and 162 feet high.
There is a short skywalk between some of them where you can take in the views of the gardens, Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the ocean. At night arrive 15 minutes early for the popular music and light show set in the supertrees. For lunch, consider the delicious satay places on the premises.
Tropical Botanical Gardens and Cool A/C Shopping
With Singapore located near the equator, the 202-acre UNESCO Sight Singapore Botanical Gardens (www.nparks.gov.sg/SBG) is truly tropical. It is also open 18 hours a day.
The garden has 10,000 species of flora with the highlight being the National Orchid Garden with 1000 species and 2000 hybrids of orchids.
There are several different gardens on the property along with ponds, wetlands and small rain forests. Allow at least three hours to get in and bring a liter of water.
After feeling the heat and humidity in the garden it may be a good time to find some refreshing A/C in the stores on the famed Orchid Road shopping street near the gardens.
When visiting here you will get the impression that shopping is a national sport. Orchard Road for three miles is laid out with large department stores, shopping malls (many high end) and five-star hotels.
In the mix are coffee shops, bars and places to take a break from the spending. Our visit here in March had Christmas size shopping crowds as you can see from the 30-second video link in one of the malls here.
Free Walking Tour
Monster Tours (www.monsterdaytours.com) offers several free walking tours of Singapore in the morning and afternoon. I highly recommend the afternoon Civic District and Singapore River Tour.
This concentrated on the country’s colonial past through its architecture and history.
We ended the tour on the roof of the Singapore National Gallery to watch the sunset.
Our guide was detailed and passionate about the many places we visited and we learned a lot.
While our group only had seven guests, be warned these “free” tours can get overcrowded and not worth going on. Tour guides work on tips.
Little India is a neighborhood to walk a couple of hours. Stroll along Race and Serangoon Road and visit some of the pretty and very ornate Hindu and Buddhist temples. Mustafo’s Centre is open 24 hours and is stuffed with anything a traveler may need. Further down is the Little India Arcade bustling with small shops. Look to the side streets where you will see the pretty flower garlands made and sold.
Sentosa Island – Fun Island
Sentosa Island is where Singaporeans go for fun. Take the cable car for the scenic route or the MRT to the monorail. We started at Universal Studios) spending only five hours there because of our express pass and the lower mid-week crowds. (Allow more time for children’s rides). Don’t miss their over top Water World action show.
Our day continued with a 30 minute Go Green Segway tour along the beach followed by a few runs on the luge. For dinner skip the beach bars and take the free shuttle to Sentosa Cove where there have several good restaurants overlooking the Marina. Do not miss the evening’s Wings of Time water and light show.
This light and sound show on the beach use sprayed water as a screen to project what looks like 3D images.
We ended our evening with an island cable car ride for the night views. For a full list of beaches, attractions, food, golf and more go to www.sentosa.com.sg.
Sleep, Food, and High Drinks
We opted to stay at the Park Hotel, Clark Quay because of its location and amenities. (www.parkhotelgroup.com/en/clarkequay) It is a 25-minute walk to downtown, a short walk to the riverfront restaurants and close to the MRT station.
This hotel has a large swimming pool which was perfect for a pre or post-dinner splash in this very hot country. We recommend upgrading to the Crystal Club where hor’s d oeuvres and cocktails are complimentary in the evening and breakfast has a good view.
Food is a passion for Singaporeans and we never had a bad meal at any of the restaurants we dined at. For something different, fun and diverse go to a hawker center.
We enjoyed three different hawker centers in five days for either lunch or dinner. You reserve a seat by using a tissue packet. Then pick a counter or satay station you like and
order. The food is tasty and not expensive. You will also meet Singaporeans or fellow travelers at the shared tables.
One evening visit 1 Altitude, (www.1-altitude.com) the world’s highest alfresco bar 62 floors above the Singapore skyline.
The music here can be by a band, DJ or both depending on the night. Enjoy a craft cocktail while either people watching or looking down on the city lights.
For all things Singapore go to www.visitsingapore.com
Fun tip: Consider seeing the movie “Crazy, Rich Asians” before going.
Airport Tip: If you arrive early at the airport, check in at the counter and then walk to the Jewel Mall before you go through security.
This new futuristic looking shopping center has in its centerpiece the world’s largest indoor funneled waterfalls surrounded in a park-like setting.
The water charges through a large hole on the top of the glass roof and gets dropped to the center of the mall. (www.jewelchangiairport.com )