Singapore is a city I’ve always wanted to visit – even before I knew exactly where it was. I don’t even remember why. When I was researching our trip on the Internet, the overall reviews were mixed. It seemed like people either loved it or they didn’t think it was anything special. So, I had to go check it out for myself.
We flew Singapore Airlines, which for 19 of the last 20 years was ranked the #1 airline, so we were curious to see what made them so special. We didn’t notice anything they did above and beyond the other airlines to deserve this type of special distinction. Nevertheless, the crew was very professional and pleasant, the food good, very nice seats, they were well run and on schedule…but that should be the minimum expected. Overall, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly them again, and they’d probably fall in the top tier of airlines, but Air New Zealand still has them beat by a long shot.
When we arrived in Singapore Wednesday afternoon, it was pouring rain….with lightning and thunder. We were probably lucky they let us land. By the time we checked into our hotel, the storm was pretty much over and there was no rain for the rest of our stay. I wonder if I’d ever get bored of living in a city that was always between 75 and 90 degrees with no noticeable seasons?
We ended up with a great hotel: wonderful service, free fruit and water every day, spacious, and it was in a great location – 5 minutes to the MRT subway station and a Starbucks right out front. 🙂 We were near the Marina area where there were lots of businesses. The first thing we did was walk down to the Esplanade and then up the Singapore river. The bars were already packed (Happy Hour). The first group of restaurants we passed unfortunately had food hawkers which annoyed us so much we never ate in that area. Suspiciously, that area always had less clientele (probably because we weren’t the only ones put off by those pushy street venders). Those restaurants might want to try not hawking people to improve their business.
We eventually made it up to Clarke Quay…which was much more civilized. We dined outside at IndoChine. We had a great view of the river and were able to watch all the boats. We ordered a variety of food…Vietnamese Spring Rolls, Papaya Salad, and Scallop Curry, which all ended up being very good. We enjoyed this area so much we returned here for dinner one other night to eat at a Japanese Izakaya (yes, I know, we live in Japan – and yes, the food is that good). There’s nothing better than being able to eat outside “European cafe style”…especially if it comes with great views and good weather. Our walk back to the hotel was beautiful too, since the city lights up their buildings and bridges with all different colored lights.
On Thursday we visited Chinatown and Little India. Chinatown was like other Chinatowns – the typical tourist shops and restaurants (except much cleaner). Little India was more interesting, if for nothing else – the aromas emerging from there. There was an abundance of jewelry stores down there too and they were all packed. We should have stopped in one to see what it was we were missing – but I am sure Robert would not have been very interested. It wasn’t time for a meal when we visited either one of these areas, but I bet the food would have been really good in both. Each of us really wanted to try the chili crabs in Chinatown and some curry dishes, but we never made it back to either place. 🙁
We must have walked at least 5-6 miles everyday (even with taking advantage of the subway when we could). The city itself is one of the prettiest cities we’ve ever been to. The new buildings are marvels in modern architecture…it’s hard to capture their grandeur in pictures. The city is clean, safe, very pedestrian friendly, with lots of greenery and a foodies haven for ethnic cuisine from everywhere. The diversity of it’s people also adds to it’s draw. Residents we talked to simply love it, and this city is NOT in a depression. Everywhere we looked there were cranes – for new hotels, subway stations, casinos, and who knows what else. The “food centers”, which are slowly replacing the Hawker centers, serve incredibly delicious food at affordable prices (at least the couple random places we tried). Don’t equate them to USA ‘food courts’ in malls, they are NOT the same. There are so many eateries in Singapore, I was beginning to think no one had a kitchen in their home. In 3 days of exploring, we only saw one small grocery store, so I guess it is still possible that the majority of people do not cook (why should they?). We even enjoyed a free concert (a local musician) on the Esplanade that weekend. Of course, no place is perfect – two draw backs we noticed (though not surprising) were the number of smokers and the price of alcohol. Even during happy hour expect to pay $6-10 Singapore dollars for a beer.
We walked the full length of Orchard Road…too many shops to mention (at all income levels), eventually passing the Raffles hotel. Neither of us were tempted to stop at the Long Bar and spend $25 on the infamous Singapore Sling (I had mine on the plane for free 🙂 ) We walked around the new casino and shopping area. We didn’t go into the Casino, because we didn’t have our passports and they check those at the entrance. The Historic District is still the center of government activity with lovely old buildings and lots of wide open parks. The drive to the zoo is amazing – so much of the northern part of the island is parks and nature reserve you almost feel like you’re in a jungle. The Zoo was quite large with an impressive number of species. The habitats seemed more natural for the animals (no cages) and you could get real close to many of the animals. Our favorites were the white tiger and all the primates.
Finally, we absolutely loved the botanical gardens and especially the orchid garden….we could have spent all day there. After all that there were still lots of other things we didn’t have time to see or do, like some of the islands (including Sentosa), Arab Street, the museums, the Nature Reserve, Fort Canning Park, and of course, all the other restaurants. 🙂 By the time we left Singapore, we were very comfortable within a 2-3 mile radius of where we stayed…including all the underground malls and passages.
I’m sure three days is not enough time to make a reputable judgement, but I’d come back here in a heart beat. Singapore is not by any stretch of the imagination an exotic place. It is a big, modern city, but it feels like the heart of the Eastern Hemisphere and a civilized representation of all the countries that surround it. We loved it.