Sleek but stark and sterile; hands up if you’ve heard words like this being used to describe Singapore? I have, for years now. The connotations conjure up images of skyrise after skyrise, a country so immaculate but ultimately somewhat soulless. For all those years, I always thought it was an unfair description, but now that I’ve returned to the country over a decade since my last visit, I am even more convinced that the description is just plain wrong. Of course there are elements of the sleek, stark and sterile in Singapore, as there would be in any other big, bustling city, but there are also many pockets of colour. In amongst the tall towers of grey are flashes of bright hues, and expanses of greenery. They have excelled at combining the new with the old, the man-made with the natural, and in order to make the most of your visit to Singapore, you should too…
Soak up the Sights and Sounds of Chinatown
There is nothing remotely sleek or stark about Singapore’s Chinatown; this jumble of sights and sounds is a reminder that there is plenty of life amongst the skyscrapers. Step through that distinctive arch and you’ll enter a world full of trinkets and tat, and weird and wonderful food and drinks. Do not let the crowds put you off entering the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple as it is lavishly adorned on the inside and quite a sight to behold. When the hunger pangs kick in, you could find something to eat along Food Street but I would rather visit the Chinatown Complex Food Centre for a more authentic experience. We jostled with the locals for a table near the extremely popular steamed fish head stalls, but if that’s a bit too out there for you, there’s plenty of other dishes to cater to all tastes!
Get Lost in the Streets of Little India
Equally vibrant is Little India where the ramshackle streets are a mishmash of shops and restaurants, and there seems to be something going on at every corner. There’s a handy heritage trail you can follow which takes you through the most significant parts of the area and of those, our favourites were the Sri Veeramakaliamman temple and the house of Tan Teng Niah. There’s no missing Sri Veeramakaliamman temple as it’s smack bang in the heart of Little India on Seragoon Road, but also because there will likely be a constant stream of worshippers coming in and out. Meanwhile, the colourful house of Tan Teng Niah is one of the last surviving Chinese villas in the area, and where all the Instagram kings and queens will be flocking for the street scene shot of the day. If you’re feeling peckish, do yourself a favour and eat at one of the local Indian restaurants… we wandered to a random one for breakfast and had the most delicious roti and puri!
Feast on Hawker Centre Food
Singapore has a mindboggling number of hawker centres given how compact it is, but Singaporeans love their food and love to be able to eat at all hours! We visited some of the most well known ones such as the Chinatown Complex Food Centre and Maxwell Food Centre, both are in extremely convenient locations and have a great selections of stalls. However, our favourite was the hawker centre at Tiong Bahru Market – we spent the morning here with friends who have made Singapore their home for the last few years and ate extremely well. We tried some Singaporean favourites such a swee kueh (a steamed rice cake topped with preserved radish), lor mee (egg noodles with fish cakes and fried crispy bits in a thick gravy), and even queued like Singaporeans for some of the best wantan mee I’ve ever had. Tiong Bahru neighbourhood has had a revamp recently so go take a wander and visit some of their trendy bakeries and bookshops after your market visit!
Eat Hainanese Chicken Rice
I don’t think I have ever eaten so much chicken, let alone Hainanese Chicken Rice in such a short space of time! Luckily, I love the stuff – slices of plump, silky poached chicken on a bed of fragrant rice cooked in a rich chicken stock. Sometimes it’s served with a bowl of chicken broth, but always with a healthy dollop of fresh chilli sauce. It is such a simple combination of ingredients but to get the right level of tenderness in the meat with gelatinous skin on top, and the subtle hints of ginger and garlic in the rice is a true art. One of the most famous stalls in Singapore is Tian Tian in Maxwell Food Centre; it was good but probably no better than many others I’ve tried in Singapore and Malaysia… but sometimes you just have to go eat it for yourself to see if the hype is justified. My tip would be to find a stall with a queue or high turnover, some plump chickens hanging about, and enticing fragrant smells wafting out!
Marvel at the Gardens by the Bay then have drinks at the top of Marina Bay Sands
If there was ever a textbook example of seamlessly fusing the man-made with the natural, it would be Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay. I had seen many photos of the Cloud Forest, Flower Dome and Supertree Grove but nothing on screen could prepare me for the actual spectacle of them in real life. The Flower Dome was pretty but by far the least impressive of the main attractions, so we spent most of our time checking out the larger than life Supertree Grove and my personal favourite, the Cloud Forest. Walking along the paths which wrapped themselves around the dome’s centrepiece was a surreal experience; you will find yourself surrounded by lush greenery, cooler temperatures and a mysterious mist which makes it all feel very ethereal! Then continue your climb to greater heights by heading to Ce La Vie at the top of Marina Bay Sands for a cocktail with a view across the city!
Have you been to Singapore? What was your favourite thing to do there?
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