My first thoughts were that we were heading to one of Asia’s more boring countries, but how wrong I was. The city is more grand than bland. Our group of netball supporters admittedly had a huge focus on planning days around our girls’ netball games (of course) and shopping malls, but our first full day on tour with our trusty guide, Jimmy, showed us all that the real Singapore is all about the multicultural and diverse layers mixed with modern city spaces and historic sites.
Jimmy proudly tells us that Singapore is a “Fine City” in every way! Which is fair enough – the city is graffiti-free with manicured gardens and expressways and squeaky clean streets. Dropping rubbish can cost you a $200 fine and chewing gum is banned and not sold in Singapore – if you are found chewing gum by someone in authority will can expect to be fined.
We start our day tour with a stroll through Little India, with a sensory overload of shops, colours, smells and tastes. Our girls load up with Indian fashion items, hand- made tapestries and home ware items. These colourful streets are full vendors selling everything Indian. We have our arms ornately decorated in a beautiful design to celebrate the International Netball Challenge by a crafter using henna. Next, we head to the nearby Muslim and Malay neighbourhood Kampong Glam, where the Sultan Mosque stands out amongst the areas colourful shops selling perfumes and vintage clothing and streets with vibrant bars and cafes. A quick trip to Chinatown to see the Mariamman Temple and wander the market where Chinese ‘antiques’ all types of trinkets are found. A meal outside at Chinatown Food Street (Smith Street) or one of the other many surrounding restaurants is a must. Chili crab is one of Singapore’s most popular dishes and many of the Chinese seafood restaurants around this area offer this dish.
The city is relatively easy to walk around but Singapore’s underground MRT and bus lines are easy to navigate and cheap to use. The MRT will allow you six journeys on one ticket, the more you travel the cheaper the rides become. If you’re catching a bus you must have the correct fare as you will not be given change. Taxis also are reasonably priced, especially if there are a few of you travelling together. There are 2 type of taxis, those which run by the meter and those which charge from point to point. You should always ask for a receipt from your cab driver. This ensures firstly that the correct fare has been charged and secondly if you have left anything behind you will know which cab number has your item which can be returned to you.
Singaporeans love street hawker food and Singapore is a hot pot of authentic local cuisines from Chinese, Indian, Malaysian and Indonesian Influences. It seemed with every centre I visited that food was practically a national part time for many locals. Public cafeterias are lined with stalls selling different foods and are self-service. You grab your own dish and then grab a table. Prices are right – a dish plus drink is approximately $5. The hawker centres are in the food courts of shopping centres and offer so many wonderful mouth-watering dishes. It was a battle for me to choose a meal from laksa, freshly made wanton, fish balls, chicken-rice or pork noodle dishes. I do recommend you try fried carrot cake if you have a chance. You would think this to be a dessert but there is no carrot in this cake. This savory stir-fry dish of white radish is a tasty Hawkers Food which will be fondly remembered by everyone who tried a piece.
Before dinner, head to the famous and luxurious Raffles Hotel which was opened in 1887. The famous Singapore Sling is served up at the Long Bar for fee but worth the experience. Clarke Quay on the river is a lovely spot for a waterside lunch or evening meal. There is a huge selection of restaurants and bars with everything from Japanese, to pasta to Mexican taco joints. You can take an informative and relaxing river cruise which points out all the historical sites along the riverfront. The cost is approximately $15 (depending where you get on and off).
Hop in a cab or take the Hop-On Hop-Off bus to Orchard Road for Singapore’s signature shopping experience. This road is lined with up market shopping malls. Christmas magic happens on Orchard Road in evenings. Pedestrian night (first Saturday in December) transforms Orchard road into an enchanting wonderland of dancers and performers in the stars and sparkling diamonds. A million people catching a million-dollar view for free. For less luxurious shopping with a bit more local flavour, head over to the Bugis MRT stop where things are more of a market style for shopping.
There are several museums in the Colonial District giving a small taste of Britain’s past influence in Singapore. The Singapore Arts Museum a most memorable one for some of the supporters. In the same area Chijmes built in the 1840’s was once a Catholic convent. This beautiful building now houses restaurants and upmarket shopping. Just a few stops on the MRT in the Marina Bay area is the Marina Bay Sands hotel a very impressive building which has a hotel, casino (where locals must pay $100 to enter – foreigners are free) and a most famous swimming pool which spans across the top of the hotels 3 towers. Non-staying guests can’t use the pool but you can still get a great view from the Observation Deck at a cost of $26. The architecture is amazing in this Marina Bay area. Down close to the Marina Bay Sands is a lotus type structure which houses the Science Museum. Close by is an overwater football arena and the famous Merlion Park. Other city attractions are the Singapore Flyer for the best view of Singapore – dusk if you can so that you see the city change over from day to night. The nearby Gardens by the Bay – your eyes can easily guide you through both the Cloud Forest Dome and impressive Vertical gardens and waterfall in the Flower Dome – both more then worth the visit.
A breakfast with the Orangutans at Singapore Zoo was enjoyed by all as was a truly awesome day at Universal Studios located in the Sentosa area which is I feel a destination in itself. This most southern tip of Singapore is also the Harbour Front precinct which has the country’s biggest Mall (Vivocity) and this area is known as the biggest nightspot complex. The Cable car system as well as the Resorts World Sentosa, consisting of a fantastic Aquarium, Water Adventure Park, Sentosa Luge, Wave House, Beach club and so much more. Fantastic for the kids – you could easily spend 3 days in this “Wally World” which is really only 15 minutes from the city centre.
In my view although Singapore is small but it has loads of wonderful sights and experiences packed for you to explore. Our supporters group gathered each evening on the rooftop of our hotel reminiscing fun stories of the day with our feet on bags of ice while overlooking the city lights – perfect! Our Lakeside Girls, Extrodiner coaches and supporters have had both a truly wonderful sporting and cultural experience – memories never to be taken away.
My tip of the day…
Come armed with your credit card and an empty stomach.