Our month long trip to Southeast Asia, started in Chiang Mai, Thailand and ended in the city/country/island of Singapore. (Yes, Singapore is all those things). Arriving on the Azamara Journey after a 13 day cruise, we allotted two full days for our Singapore sojourn. You can use our experiences to help plan your visit to Singapore.
Although Singapore has a population of 5,696,506 (2016), Singapore is the antithesis of the chaotic, teeming, sometimes smelly and less than spotless large cities in the rest of Asia, and indeed, in the world.
If you want Asia to be easy to navigate, full of superb English speakers, with excellent medical care and safe drinking water from the tap, Singapore is for you. English is one of the four national languages (the others are Mandarin, Malay and Tamil), but English is the first language of instruction in schools and is the lingua franca of the society.
FOLLOW THE RULES IN SINGAPORE
When you plan your visit to Singapore, you should understand that Singaporeans are all about following the rules such that civil society is very well-ordered. It is not an urban legend that you cannot buy or sell chewing gum in Singapore without a prescription. Whereas jaywalking is an art form in many world cities, do NOT jaywalk in Singapore. Even if you aren’t fined, you will get the stink eye from law abiding Singaporeans.
Singapore’s streets are not congested with traffic. As in London, one pays for the privilege of driving into the city at certain times and the government has purposely made owning a car cost prohibitive for even many middle class families through taxation. The populace has been rewarded with a world class public transportation system and taxis are widely available in the central business district.
CONSIDER A HOP ON – HOP OFF BUS TOUR AS YOU PLAN YOUR VISIT TO SINGAPORE
We started our visit to Singapore as we often do when visiting a metropolis that is new to us, by taking a “hop on – hop off” bus tour of the city. We usually “hop off” at sites beyond walking distance from our hotel.
In Singapore, our comfortable walking distance was somewhat lessened by the oppressive (for us) heat and humidity. Located at the tip of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore is only 85 miles north of the equator with average daily high temperatures over 85 degrees Fahrenheit year round — and it’s not a dry heat.
SINGAPORE BOTANIC GARDENS
Our first “hop off” was at the Singapore Botanic Gardens which now ranks as one of our favorites. Even though we are horticulturally challenged in terms of keeping our own plants alive, we easily spent two hours roaming the 74 hectare site. (For us non-metric types, a hectare is equal to 2.471 acres). Admission to the garden is free and it is open daily from 5:00 a.m. to midnight.
The Singapore Botanic Gardens is popular with Singaporeans and their canine companions. The site is beautifully tended with different sections, such as the natural rain forest, a ginger garden and the National Orchid Garden for which there is a small admission charge. The Garden is also sprinkled with water features and sculpture.
MARINA BAY SANDS SKY PARK
We probably should have skipped our second hop off which was at the Marina Bay Sands SkyPark complex because we are
In addition to a luxury shopping mall, casino and convention center, the Marina Bay Sands complex, opened in 2010, has three massive 57 story hotel towers, topped by an open air sky garden with a very
scary cool looking infinity pool, bars and eating venues.
We did a lot of walking to find the ticket office where we learned that it costs 23 Singapore dollars ($18.38 US) to take the elevator to the observation deck. That was a little too steep for us for an elevator ride. However, of the 3,026 TripAdvisor reviews, 1,568 rated it “excellent” and 936 “very good”, so apparently we are in the minority. (Don’t bring your bathing suit. Only hotel guests are allowed in the pool).
THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE
The National Museum of Singapore was within walking distance of our hotel in the central business district. In our opinion, it is well worth a visit of two to three hours.
Singapore is a former British colony. The museum is located in a veddy British colonial style building constructed in 1882. Currently, the museum is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
The admission fee includes an audio guide to the very well curated Singapore History Gallery (only open until 6:00 p.m.). The visitor is given the option of two “paths” through the history gallery, one from an “official” perspective and the other as told through the lives of individuals. One can cross paths at various points.
After learning about, the devastation and brutalization Singapore experienced during capture and occupation by the Japanese military during World War II, Singapore’s post war rise and renaissance as an Asian economic powerhouse is truly remarkable.
The Museum also has a Singapore Living Gallery which showcases the lives (including cuisines) of the various ethnic groups that are part of Singaporean society.
PLAN YOUR VISIT TO SINGAPORE TO INCLUDE WALKING AROUND TIME
Singapore is full of glitzy and architecturally interesting office buildings (not necessarily the same thing), hotels and shopping malls. Orchard Road is the most famous shopping area
The city has clearly defined areas for the traditional cultures that comprise Singaporean society: Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam (Malays and other Muslim groups). Singapore prides itself on being multi-cultural—although in reality it is perhaps more of a patchwork than a melting pot.
Our careers resulted in us both having the opportunity to commune with some locals. Mr./Dr. Excitement presented a lecture at the Singapore National University Hospital, while I enjoyed a food court lunch (and Q. and A. fest) with Jaclynn Seah of The Occasional Traveller blog.
These meet-ups provided additional insights into Singaporean life and culture. Without Jaclynn’s recommendation, it is unlikely that Mr. and Mrs. Excitement would have made our way to the highest outside roof bar in the world, Altitude, at Raffles Place. From there, we toasted the last night of our Asian adventure with a Singapore Sling, a live band and fabulous views.
Where we stayed: We stayed at the Fairmount Hotel in the Central Business District. Our room was comfortable with a nice city view. I was particularly taken by the bedside control panel from which one could operate pretty much everything in the room—lights, curtains, air conditioning, alarm clock.
The Fairmount Singapore Hotel is one of several hotels, including the historic Raffles Hotel, clustered in the same area and connected by underground access to a large indoor shopping mall and a metro stop. This group of hotels is a 20 minute taxi ride from the top ranked Changi Airport.
Tip: If you join the complimentary Fairmount President’s Club, you are eligible for free high speed wifi and use of the fitness center.
Where we ate: For dinner our first two nights in Singapore, we
unimaginatively did not wander from the block where the Fairmount Hotel is located. We found ourselves at a fairly authentic German restaurant and a Spanish tapas restaurant — both good, but admittedly, somewhat strange choices for visitors to an Asian city.
For our final dinner, again, thanks to travel blogger Jaclynn, we crossed the Singapore River to Boat Quay which has a good collection of all types of restaurants with both indoor dining and outdoor riverside seating. Continuing our United Nations eating pattern, we settled on a Middle Eastern restaurant. If you want more authentic Singaporean cuisine, check out Jaclynn’s blog for suggestions.
Should you go?: For us, Singapore was a good last stop to ease back into “Western” life and culture. It is a world class Asian city, but with a heavy dose of British efficiency, civility and administration. It even has the Singapore Flyer, Singapore’s version of the London Eye observation wheel.