I remember my father bringing home a brochure highlighting Singapore Tourism from one of his travels, roughly a decade ago. The 3D-glasses that came alongside the mag brought alive the pages – Toucans from Jurong Bird Park squawked at me, the cable car ride to Sentosa island whirred past, and the white tigers at the Singapore Zoo roared at me, inviting me to come aboard. It is amazing how some small, insignificant memories remain imprinted in one’s mind.
A month ago, I happened to remember that magazine, whose pages I so longingly turned through, hoping to visit all of these places someday. And on a whim, we decided to take a family holiday to Singapore! With places such as Sentosa Island and Universal Studios on the itinerary – places that I was looking forward to seeing with my parents, re-living childhood, and becoming their little girl once again. And then there was the lure of Singapore’s multidimensional food scene. Dishes that I had heard of, read and even tasted back home, that enticed me to try the real deal.
Singapore is a city for everyone. It gives you umpteen reasons to visit, may it be the food, the nightlife, the shopping, the culture, and dozens of touristy attractions. Here are five reasons to vacation in Singapore, for five different tourist types. And yes, just like me, you could fall in all five categories.
1. If you are in a committed relationship with food
Our tourist guide Maggie jokingly remarked, ‘Singapore has two national pastimes – eating and shopping.’ And I am going to have to agree with her on this. Every local walking seemed to have either a shopping bag or a takeaway bag of food in their hand. Singapore has a lot to offer in terms of food from upscale restaurants and bars to traditional fare sold at hawker center, which is where I had most of my meals. Hawker centers are the backbone of Singapore’s food scene – delicious, VFM, and where you can eat like a local with the locals. The cuisine incorporates a lot of Malay, Chinese, and Indian influences owing to the multicultural population of the city.
Some of the most memorable meals I ate during my trip include a deliciously, fragrant bowl of Laksa – a soupy noodles concoction – from the Maxwell Hawker centre in Chinatown. Also situated at Maxwell is the holy grail of all Chicken Rice – Tian Tian! A stall and a dish made popular by Anthony Bourdain which absolutely deserves it’s due. Another must try in Singapore is the Chilli Crab which we tried at the crowd favourite Jumbo Seafood. Do not leave without buying (or trying) Kaya Jam – a coconut based spread, that is eaten along with toast, runny eggs, and tea for breakfast. There’s tons to drink as well, and I don’t just mean the Singapore Sling here. Bubble tea, Thai iced teas, juices of every type possible made from fruits I’d never even heard of are enough to keep you on a liquid diet for days!
Pro Tip: Food souvenirs make for the best (and cheapest) souvenirs. Stock up on chili crab paste. dried shrimp paste, Kaya Jam to bring back for your friends.
2. If you are still a child at heart
I got to experience the magic of Universal Studios at Sentosa World – a modern day fairyland complete with a Jurassic Park zone, a Madagascar zone, ancient Egypt, Sci Fi city and Hollywood Boulevard. Universal Studios is the perfect place to relive your childhood with the coolest themed rides such as a Madagascar crate adventure, a ride down the rapids in Jurassic Park, and an indoor spooky roller coaster inside an Egyptian pyramid. Only at Universal Studios can you dance with Alex the lion, shop inside a Minion Mart – a store selling every and any Minion themed item imaginable – and have a Velociraptor drive right past through you. It really doesn’t matter if you are six or sixty, Universal Studios has the magic to bring out the child in you.
Pro Tip: Weekends and public holidays is when the Universal All Stars Parade happens. It’s worth braving the crowd for that!
Madame Tussauds at Sentosa is another fun place that has been on my must-see list since years now. Imagine posing with wax studios of your favourite celebrities and actors. Turns you into a giggly teenager indeed!
3. If you love plants. Or birds. Or animals –
Or if you love all three, like me!
Singapore is such a treat for the nature lover. It is slowly progressing from becoming a ‘garden city’ to a ‘city within a garden’. Lush green landscape paint a pretty picture even among the industrial steel grey of buildings – which makes the city a sight to behold. The Gardens by the Bay – a massive nature park bang in the middle of the city – is a wonderful way to get acquainted with some flora. The primary attractions include the Flower Dome, Cloud Forest, and the SuperTrees. While the former is a huge green house that showcases exotic flowers and plants, the latter is a modern interpretation of a lush forest. Complete with a light and sound show, lakes, and a skyway through the trees, Gardens by the Bay makes for a serene experience.
Pro Tip: Make sure you go in the evening around 7 pm, so that you can catch the light and sound show!
If you love all creatures that have feathers and wings, then Jurong Bird Park must be on your to-see list. This 45 year old bird park – the largest in the world – has a large number of exhibits right from Flamingoes to Pelicans to Toucans to Hornbills. My favourite has got to be the Penguin exhibit however!
Pro Tip: Make sure you look up all the feeding times for all the different birds beforehand. It really gives you a wonderful way to get up and close with these beautiful creatures. We were lucky to visit the Waterfall Aviary during feeding time, and I had dozens of birds fly up to me and eat off the bowl in my hand. What an experience!
Singapore Zoo claims to be the world’s best rainforest zoo – and I am going to have to agree with them. It is such a beautiful feeling watching wild animals up close and personal without any barriers or bars in between. The closest you can get to going on an actual safari! Lions, white tigers, giraffes, zebras, polar bears – you name it, they have it. And then there are the really exotic species such as the Proboscis Monkey, Red River Rats, Pygmy Hippos and more. Singapore’s Night Safari is the world’s first nocturnal zoo. Imagine taking a guided tram ride in the middle of a dark jungle with wild animals on either side peering back at you with only the sounds of nature and your thudding heart. An experience unlike anything else!
Pro Tip: Once again, look up the feeding times and show times of the animals beforehand so you are well prepared when you reach the zoo. It’s the best way to get up and close with the animals.
4. If you want to be on top of the world
The skyline of Singapore is stunning; a gorgeous mish-mash of modern high rises, smaller vintage structures, express highways, and the sea. Look closely and you can see the faint outlines of Malaysia from certain vantage points. I experienced three beautiful landmark spots from where one can appreciate the city.
The first is the Sands Skypark Observation Deck, located on the 57th floor of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. It provides a birds eye view overlooking Gardens By the Bay, Marina South Pier, and the city’s high rises. A similar view can be seen from the Singapore Flyer – a massive ferris wheel similar to the London Eye. The half hour ride is a great way to acquaint yourself with the city’s major landmarks including the F1 track. Sitting inside a capsule, while the wheel rotates slowly but steadily is a major high. One of the capsules even gets converted into a restaurant by evening – Tres Chic!
Pro Tip: The view from the Skypark and the Flyer are more or less the same. You can get away with doing just one. The money saved can be spent at the nearest Charles and Keith store.
A different side of Singapore can be seen on your way to the Sentosa Island resort. While the journey can be made by road as well, opt for the cable car ride one way. The Mount Faber Cable Car ride is the only one in the world to glide over a jungle, beach, and through an office building. The cable car is the preferred means of travelling within Sentosa as well, and the sights are something that should not be missed.
5. If you are a Culture Vulture
Singapore is rich in culture and heritage, though a lot of it is not explored by tourists. And that really is the best part! Take a leisure walk down Chinatown checking out souvenirs and knick knacks. Don’t forget to eat at one of the many hawker centers there, and take back some confectioneries from the small Chinese bakeries. There are lots of traditional Chinese and Indian temples in the area – including a heritage Buddha tooth temple that is definitely worth a visit.
Pro Tip: There are walking tours of Chinatown conducted on certain days of the week. Read more on their website here.
Little India is another place to grab a bite, especially if you are craving Indian food or looking for vegetarian meal options. The 24 hour Mustafa shopping center within Little India is a great place to buy inexpensive souvenirs to get back home.
The historical Clarke Quay comes alive by night – buzzing with nightclubs, restaurants, food stalls and the sound of music. We went there on a Tuesday night and one wouldn’t guess that it was a weekday.
The Raffles Hotel, established in 1887 is synonymous with luxurious heritage in Singapore. Do get a glimpse of this iconic structure. Or else if time (and wallet) permit go grab the Singapore Sling here – created first within the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel in 1915.
Singapore is truly an ideal holiday destination. It has something for everybody. The mark of a really good holiday is that it leaves you craving more. I am back home and already planning my next vacation. Singapore, you were lovely!