Coordinates 1°17′N 103°50′E
(Singapore lies only one degree north of the equator! I have never been closer to it! )
First Impressions and Thoughts
While I am traveling in Southeast Asia, I try to spend as little time as possible in cities, but as much in nature, especially at beaches or in the ocean. Nevertheless, I was excited to explore Singapore. I did not have a picture in my head what to expect. I just knew it would be a very different country compared to the rest of Southeast Asia. Singapore would be extremely modern and well organized. That was my only idea of it.
A short side story: My curiosity for Singapore was based on a flight I once took with Singapore Airlines to New York City about eight years ago. After hundreds of flights, I still remember this one. Why? Because it was the best flight, I ever had. The service of the airline is incomparable to others. Even economy class was provided with a luxurious service. They set very high standards, which is exactly why all the other airlines cannot compete with this particular one at all.
Back to the actual story. While I was traveling in the Philippines, I met many other travelers. The standard conversation is about where you are from, where you have traveled so far and where you are going next. Every time I told them that I was going to Singapore for a week, every single traveler had exactly the same response: ‘That’s too long! Singapore is too expensive!’ Oh no! After the gazillionth traveler telling me exactly the same I was already anxious if it was the right decision to spend a whole week in the city. According to them, it was certainly not…
Why did I decide to go there and stay that long in the first place? Because I am traveling with time. I do not have any rush. I do not want to have any rush anymore. I want to explore the city or country without being stressed out or having to choose between the sights I will be able to see in a limited amount of time. My idea of traveling is to spend more time at one place to truly get to know it or at least get an idea of people’s way of living there. Only checking out the sights is pointless. It is more fun to get in touch with locals and hang out with them. They will show you the most authentic places and tell you all you need to know about their country and culture. That is at least my point of view. However.
While I was sitting on the airplane, the first impression of what to expect in Singapore was the following warning the flight attendant gave each passenger on board: “Death for Drug Traffickers under Singapore Law”. No comment. Well, a short one: Harsh, harsh punishment.
Apart from arriving a little intimidated, my second impression was the opposite. I was walking through the most modern and comfortable airport I have ever been to. They even have chairs for foot massage. For free! What else could you possibly ask for?
After my months in the Philippines, arriving in Singapore was like coming back to Europe. All the sudden everything was well organized, structured, modern and clean. Singapore is spotless! You could actually eat from the street! There is no garbage, no dirt, no disgusting smell. Nowhere! Why? A question easy to answer: It is strictly forbidden. Singapore is a city of fines. No eating or drinking in the subway. You do otherwise, you have to pay 500 SD (around 250 €). No smoking, no littering, no pets. Otherwise up to 700 SD (around 350 €). That is a type of fine that definitely hurts and therewith reduces misbehavior. When I went to the store to buy chewing gum, I was shocked when the salesman told me chewing gum was prohibited in Singapore. Can you imagine? I could have brought chewing gum and sold it illegally (!!!) to some ‘chewing addicts’. At least it explains the spotlessness of Singapore …
Food Tour in Geylang
On my first day, I already explored the Singaporean ‘hawker’, a place where locals can eat a variety of cheap and very delicious food. Depending in which district you are, you can choose between Chinese, Malay, Indian or Singaporean dishes. My first ones: Popiah, a Chinese roll filled with lettuce, carrots, bamboo shoot, boiled egg, peanuts and a delicious peanut sauce. If you like it you can eat it spicy, which I personally prefer. Super delicious! I ate it every single day! I am not kidding! It was my favorite dish! Also delicious, but already well known within Europe: Vegetarian spring rolls. Lucky me! Firstly, my hostel (The 5footway.inn Project 2) was located in the heart of Chinatown, which explains the variety of Chinese food close by. Secondly, everyone in Singapore speaks perfect English. It was a dream for me as a vegetarian. I could easily explain what I would like to eat; people would actually understand the concept of ‘vegetarian food’ and prepare it for me. For one week, I was in food heaven!
On my second day, I joined a group of ‘foodaholics’ for a food tour in Geylang, a district on Singapore’s east coast that is not only the country’s famous red light district, but also famous for some of the best local food on the island. We were a big international group of a dozen people. Except for me and another visitor from Germany, all of them were living and working in Singapore. Them as locals should know where to find the best food in town. I was willing to follow them and check it out even though it would be an expensive day…
For a change, they wanted to try several on ‘hungy go where’ recommended places in this district. Furthermore, they wanted to test the so-called ‘prostitute-food-correlation’. They were convinced to find good and delicious food where hookers are doing their business. Let’s find out 😉
We were heading to at least five different places testing all different kind of food. Singapore is famous for its seafood. I was mainly eating different vegetables. Everything was yummy and we had a quite good time. Especially when we had a beer break in a very cool bar where I found the following inspiring sayings:
‘I don’t like them, I LOVE them!’ That is all I need to say to my discovery…
On our very last stop when everybody was almost falling into a ‘food coma’ the group was trying a last specialty: Turtle soup and crocodile tale. That was definitely too much for me! While I was watching the others eating, my heart was bleeding. Nothing for a true vegetarian soul…
Anyhow. Something nice happened in between. While we were walking around the district, we were bumping into a spontaneous temple ceremony on the street with dancing dragons and lions. That was need!
I have to be honest with you. During my week in Singapore I was mainly eating, eating and even more eating. I found a couple of cheap and good places and tried all different kind of dishes. The food was amazing! How about a fresh juice shake for around 1 €? I had one every single day. For example, pineapple-passionfruit, dragon fruit, agave or simply avocado. Yeah, you read it right. The Singaporeans like to drink a fresh pressed avocado juice. It is super delicious!
What else? For example Indonesian bamboo cake or Indian hummus. There is an endless list. The point is Singapore is famous for its good food and I can only confirm it. Even for vegetarians it is a gourmet paradise! 🙂
Gardens by the Bay
Apart from eating all the time, I also found the time to explore Singapore by day and by night. I emphasize the different times because the city changes its whole atmosphere from day to nighttime. During the day, Singapore represents the commercial, financial and transportation hub in Asia. It is the most convenient place to do business. Singapore is a country of prosperity, growth, development. You can easily tell by just walking there. One finance skyscraper next to each other, in-between hundreds of construction cranes. This place is growing, growing, growing! It is not for nothing that it is number one on the Human Development Index (which includes variables for education, life expectancy, healthcare, quality of life and housing) in Asia, number 9 globally.
During my week in Singapore, I quickly felt the high standard of living there. I could even see myself moving and living there for a couple of years. It would not be hard at all. Even though Singapore reminded me of other skyline cities like Shanghai or New York, it was yet different. Singapore is a green, ecofriendly city full of gardens. It makes life so much more wonderful if you spend time in nature even when you are in a city. One of the countries landmarks is the best example for Singapore being one of the leading green cities of the 21st century: The so-called Gardens by the Bay. The huge, colorful supertree structures are not only eye-catching, but also one fascinating solar system of renewable energy. The gardens have so much to offer and to see that you can easily spend a whole afternoon there. Especially the view on the Marina Bay Sands, Singapore’s Flyer and the different botanical gardens are fascinating. If you are doing Singapore on a budget, you should definitely keep the light show every night in the Gardens by the Bay in mind. It is for free and worth seeing it!
Esplanade and Skyline
Spending time in Singapore means you are spending a lot, a lot, a lot of time walking. After my week there, I could have easily used a relieving foot massage if it was not that expensive there… However. You can easily stroll from the Gardens by the Bay to the so-called Esplanade and enjoy the view of Singapore’s skyline. Like I already said go there during the day and during night. The whole atmosphere will change.
Do not forget to go at least once to one of the other landmarks of the country: The Merlion. Yeah, you are reading right. A mix between lion and mermaid/ fish body. Singapore is also called ‘city of lion’. Why? The legend tells a Sumatran prince once spotted a lion while he was visiting the island of Temasek. To him, it was a good omen and he decided to found a city called ‘Singapura’ (Lion City). In the 1960’s the Merlion was created as a tourism icon. It combines the words ‘mer’ for Singapore’s location at the sea and ‘lion’, its national animal. When Singapore was founded, it was a tiny little fishing village, which is now represented by the lion’s fish body. Definitely something freakish to see… especially keeping in mind drugs are banned in Singapore… I am not so sure about that anymore 😉
FYI… Singapore is more and more turning into a vertical city. One skyscraper after another. They are not only used for business, but also for the fast growing population. Plenty of them are mainly rented to the thousands of ‘expats’ working there. More and more often also locals are renting apartments in those vertical cities. I was lucky and had the chance to visit a local’s home in such a building. The average number of floors is about 45. If you are living there, you do not have any need to leave the building at all anymore. Why? For starters, they have a swimming pool relaxing area on the ground floor, a tennis court next to it, a gym, on the twentiethsomething floor another pool for serious swimming, on several floors green outside areas for all kind of parties with the perfect skyline view. When I saw this, I never wished more to be an expat too… That is the standard of living I could also imagine for myself 😉
Another day, another Temple
Aside from all this modernity, Singapore has plenty of religious institutes exemplifying the diversity of its population. Churches, mosques, Buddhist and Hindu temples are all over the city. It reminded me of my trip in China when I was visiting a different temple everyday… At some point, you just cannot be all excited about it anymore… Even though they are beautiful, of course.
On the 10th of November there was Deepavali/ Diwali, a Hindu holiday in Little India, taking place. It is the festival of lights that celebrates lightness over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance in honor of goddess ‘Lakshmi’ who signifies wealth and prosperity.
When I was traveling to Singapore I knew I was going to a big city, but due to its location by the sea, there must be a place for swimming and relaxing at the beach as well. Apparently, the best place to do that is Sentosa Island. The beaches there are for free and quite nice. The island is definitely a good place to get out of the city. The sand of Silosa and Palawan Beach is handmade from Indonesia. Can you imagine? People making sand, shipping it to another country to create a beach on an artificial island… That might even explain the turquoise water even though the sun was not shining that day. However. Did you know Sentosa is the most Southern point of the Asian continent? Well, I was there 😉
If you are more interested in entertainment, Sentosa is still the right place for you. It is also called the ‘Island of Fun’. You can visit the Universal Studios; ride a rollercoaster or the cable car, and much more. It might be the perfect place for families to get out of the city and have some entertainment.
A Power Hike in MacRitchie
On my last day, I went with a friend to MacRitchie for a hike. Well-prepared without much to drink, eat or even time, we went on a power hike… 10 km in two and a half hours. No running. Therefore a lot of sweating. Why? The hiking trail to the park’s famous bridge was that far away. Usually you would plan at least half a day for the hike. Well, we did it anyway. We did the famous treetop walk, a 250m-long suspension bridge perched 25m up in the forest. Plus, many naughty monkeys waiting there to steal something to eat from you.
My friend was in a hurry so we had to find a shortcut out of the park. The rangers showed us the way. We just did not expect to get out on the street leading to a hidden gunpowder factory in the middle of nowhere… Military everywhere. No pictures allowed. No bus. No nothing. Luckily, hitchhiking brought us out of there… Quite an adventure on the last day! My feet were hurting like they have not hurt ever before… Crazy end for a wonderful time in Singapore!
As you can see, one week in Singapore is not too long at all! Trust me! There is so much to see and to do. Even on a low budget, you can have a great time there. You just need to inform yourself a little before you are going there. You can find affordable accommodation, cheap and delicious local food, free places to visit and hang out. Plus, after spending time in other Southeast Asian countries, you will appreciate the high quality of living and the modernity of the city. I felt super safe in Singapore. Finally, no one told me any bad horror stories that might happen to me. The opposite. I was walking around in the night; I did not take much care of my belongings, because nothing will happen there. At least, this was my impression.