Flying into Singapore, via my week-long layover in Barcelona, I did not have *huge* expectations with exactly what to expect. Indeed, I knew very little about the country or really the region in general. I came in with a fairly open mind, nervously optimistic if anything, and left with many highs and just a few lows from the overall experience.
Deplaning into the humid, concrete-jungle of Singapore was my first true exposure to the Asian continent (depending on how you classify the Middle East).
We (seven friends and I) had allocated roughly five days to venture across the city-state before heading to our “basecamp” in Hong Kong. In hindsight, though no regrets, five days was likely longer than needed, as we probably could have seen all of the “A-List” items in 2–3 days.
One of my biggest regrets of the trip was entirely our own fault. Out of inexperience and perhaps a desire to save money, we ended up staying at the Mitra Inn Hostel for something like $7 a night per person. Good deal for the expensive city-state? Kind of. The hostel was pretty eh (a little on the dirtier side to be honest). It was incredibly humid outside. And we were square-positioned in “Little India” — a dense and colorful ethnic district that was not really representative of “urban Singapore.”
The Indian community — making up a significant portion of the population — plays an influential role in Singaporean society.
Paying tribute to the community, Mr Lee said Indian traders had from as far back as 4,500 years ago established trade links with Southeast Asia, which included ancient Singapore. They introduced Indian religions, ideas of governance and political systems. — Source
I was surprised to see just how big their population really was:
As of 2010, there were 237,473 Indian Singapore citizens, or 7.35% of the citizen population. There were 110,646 Indian PRs, or 20.45% of the PR population. In total, ethnic Indians formed 348,119, or 9.23% of the ‘resident’ population of citizens and PRs. — Source
There is certainly, though, some tension between the ethnic groups in the community:
Last year, when Darius Cheung, co-founder of a property search portal, wanted to rent a house in Singapore, he met with…qz.com
Though somewhat detached from what I *imagined* to see in Singapore, Little India had a few gems.
SRI VEERAMAKALIAMMAN TEMPLE
We found some authentic Indian food and also walked around the Indian markets. But was this the Singapore we came for? Not really. Or at least not what we had imagined?
Nonetheless, there were a lot of unique experiences that made the trip worth it. The many stand-outs spanned across urban design, fun nightlife, interesting foods, and beautiful views.
It is hard to go to Singapore without, at the minimum, admiring the wildly efficient and functional urban design of the city. Sixty-or-so years old, Singapore benefits from the successful integration of many modern technologies.
“Concept plans have been in place since 1971, with long-term visions and predictions for the design of Singapore’s infrastructure.” — Source
While, on a macro-level, it is easy to appreciate the carefully planned urban design of Singapore, it is a whole different thing to simply walk around and take in the atmosphere.
Before I glamorize “walking around in Singapore,” you must know, Singapore is hot. I am from Arizona — the desert. Singapore was by far the hottest and most humid place I have ever been. Ever. Not to dissuade your visit, but spend some time Googling horror stories discussing the Singaporean climate — quite funny.
Anyways, once you get past the sweltering heat (or are just reading this blog post in the comfort of your air conditioning), there are many interesting aspects of the city.
Gardens by the Bay
If you are in Singapore, I would consider the Gardens by the Bay a must see. It lies at the beautiful intersection of nature and humanity.
Gardens by the Bay is a nature park spanning 101 hectares of reclaimed land in central Singapore, adjacent to the Marina Reservoir. The park consists of three waterfront gardens: Bay South Garden, Bay East Garden and Bay Central Garden
The trees are really amazing and we also really enjoyed going into the greenhouses, greeted by an abundance of plant-life like I have never seen before.
Marina Bay Sands
The Marina Bay Sands is certainly an impressive sight (located right near the Gardens).
And you can get to the top — for free — by either trying to sneak into the famous pool or simply going to Ce La Vi (their rooftop bar).
I have also heard that staying at the actual hotel is “overrated.”
Certainly there are tons and tons of case studies that analyze Singapore’s urban development over the past few decades. I have since read lots of them and here are the ones that are most fascinating to me:
This exhibit presents current urban design research work produced in two academic institutions of Singapore - the City…cityform.mit.edu
There are many other aspects of our trip that I think are worth noting:
Singapore’s metro system is really quite magical — far far better and cleaner than NYC or even Barcelona for that matter. It is definitely clean and reliable (but still not as quick as Japan or South Korea).
We spent a day at Sentosa. Let me tell you. Sentosa is Disneyland. Sentosa is the beach. Sentosa is extreme sports.
Sentosa, The State of Fun, is Asia's leading leisure destination and Singapore's premier island getaway, housing an…www.sentosa.com.sg
Definitely a tourist trap, but was pretty fun.
I would say that the food — overall in Singapore — is just good. It is definitely not a food mecca but there are some nice dishes you will find scattered throughout the city.
We visited a few Hawker Centers and found some really really good food.
For the first-timer in a Singapore hawker center, the sheer size and outward disarray can be downright disconcerting…www.seriouseats.com
Going out in Singapore was actually really fun. Our favorite club was called “Bang Bang.” A tip for travelers — buy your alcohol in the airport because alcohol in Singapore is insanely expensive.
But what no one prepared me for was the extreme taxation of alcoholic beverages, which made it nearly impossible to get woozy without going broke. — Source
Definitely not an extremely budget-conscious trip.
Overall, I am happy I went to Singapore, but it does not make my list of “top 5 list of places to travel” (even in Asia). I think the humidity and rainfall really got to me, somewhat ruining part of the experience. Would I recommend seeing it? Probably.