Singapore Travel Guide : Part 1
Singapore is said to be a foodie haven, a modern metropolis, and has one of the highest number of malls per kilometer in the world. The city-state is frequently used as a jumping off point for many Southeast Asian destinations, and our weekend trip was basically an extended layover on our way to Thailand. Once you recover from the 17-hour flight (SFO to Singapore), you'll quickly realize a couple of things:
1. Singapore is expensive. Even if you're used to the Bay Area, it's pricey. Alcohol is especially costly, even for normally cheap beers and well drinks.
2. It's hot. And humid. But mostly really, really hot. Sweat dripping down your back, no breeze, desperate for AC hot. Since it's so hot, the ubiquitous shopping malls will become your refuge. Their AC is awesome, and there are so many that you can easily walk a few blocks without stepping outside.
We arrived Friday night, checked into the Parkroyal on Pickering, and headed out to explore. We wandered around near our hotel and wound up on Clarke Quay, which was super touristy, but cute. We walked along the river, grabbed a couple of beers at a cute outdoor place ($40 USD for two beers...) and tried to dodge the Euro tourists and drunk businessmen. We called it a night early, and stopped at the little hotel bar on our way to bed.
Saturday morning we were up super early, and out the door by 7 a.m. I put together a gigantic Google Map of things to do, stores, cafes, bars and neighborhoods, so we set out to check a bunch of places off the list. We headed over to Chinatown first, which was just a short walk from our hotel, for dim sum breakfast, iced coffee and a little wandering before all the shops opened.
The colonial-era shop houses are super colorful, but unlike SF everything is clean. We only saw one homeless person the entire weekend, hardly any garbage, and no strong whiffs of piss. Durian yes, piss no. There's also no marijuana wafting down from open windows since the penalty for drug trafficking in Singapore is death. Seriously. They slip a little note into your passport as a final warning.
Other than the heat, and the overall cleanliness and all the rules, Singapore is really similar to SF. The juxtaposition between old, colorful buildings and new skyscrapers is familiar. The pubic transit is easy to use, and way cleaner and more efficient than BART. The food is good, but pricey, and not really that different from the plethora of choices that dominate SF.
After Chinatown, we took the MRT to Little India. Get the unlimited tourist pass. We used the MRT a ton! Just remember to turn in your card or you'll loose your $10 deposit. The colors here were spectacular. Tons of produce, floral decorations for alters, colorful buildings and women in brightly colored saris dominated the crowded streets. It was nearly noon, and my phone was telling me the heat index was up to 102. We grabbed vegetarian Indian food for lunch, and then stopped quickly at the Tiong Bahru neighborhood. There are some cute local shops and cafes here, and I found an Innisfree store totally on accident. The neighborhood is rather nondescript, but definitely worth a stop if you're looking for 'the real' Singapore.
Last on my list for the day were The Singapore Botanic Gardens. They're a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and boast the largest collection of orchids in the world. Be prepared to walk a ton. The gardens are huge, it's boiling hot, and the MRT stop couldn't be further from the orchids. But, the gardens are beautiful. The orchids were the main attraction for me, but the entire place is cool. It's home to one of only two urban rain forests in the world, and the entire thing is exotic and tropical. There are monitor lizards, tons of bright flowers, and plenty of people jogging in the blazing sun. I loved this place, but it's seriously a million degrees.
Sweaty, tired and limping, we grabbed an Uber back to the hotel to jump into the pool and wait for our friends to arrive. We wound up having dinner at a mall (very Singapore) and then wandering around the night market in Chinatown. According to my step counter, we walked over 30,000 steps. Holy shit. Wear comfy shoes.