Travel Guide: Singapore
It’s been a while since I’ve fallen hard for a city — and Singapore really was it. I had been putting off an Asia trip along the line of reasoning that the flights were too long and I’d want more time than a job in the US would allow for. Two weeks of vacation simply wouldn’t be enough.
But it’s been almost 4 years since I last switched jobs, and I’ve never been in a place where I could just take 3 months off — and a decent flight deal to Singapore made it feel just right. Singapore isn’t a city where you’d feel like you’re diving head-first into Asia; as a former British colony and a major business hub throughout the world, you’ll find so many of the amenities you’d miss while traveling in less developed countries. In fact, there were moments when it barely felt like I had left the US, but then, you turn a corner and are reminded that you’re enveloped by a completely different world.
Anyway, more on the specifics of why I loved Singapore later. But in the meantime, here’s my go-to list of places to stay, things to eat, and views to explore on a short trip to Singapore.
Marina Bay Sands: known for their absolutely epic infinity pool on the 57th floor, with a sweeping view of the Singapore skyline. You can only take a dip in the pool if you’re a hotel guest, so I found it to be worth the splurge! We landed around 7am and were able to check into our room early, so naturally, we headed straight to the pool to celebrate not being on a plane anymore — and a breakfast cocktail. We found the hotel to be lovely — a little reminiscent of a standard room in Las Vegas, but lovely nonetheless. The Marina Bay Sands also has a bridge directly to the Gardens by the Bay, so it made for the perfect location to explore that part of town.
Shangri-La Singapore, Orchard Road: easily one of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed in, ever. We snagged a deal with American Express’s Fine Hotels & Resorts, which gets you a complimentary 3rd night, daily breakfast, a food credit, and an upgrade. The room was beautifully designed and had an incredible view of Singapore — and the signature Shangri-La scent made us fall in love with even the hotel hallway.
Additionally, the Shangri-La is less than 10 minutes walking from the collection of shopping centers on Orchard Road, which are a must-visit.
Hawker Centers: Singapore, while generally expensive, is a city known for the open-air “hawker” centers — markets filled with vendors selling cheap, delicious food. Seriously. The city has 39 Michelin starred restaurants as of 2018. THIRTY-NINE. And on top of that, 50 more Bib Gourmand restaurants. It’s truly a city of food.
Many of the starred restaurants are hawker stalls where you can eat for $5-10 USD — but good luck getting in, as with the Michelin stars come long lines and griping locals. We had our best experiences by eyeballing what looked good and connecting stall names with what we had read about leading up to our trip. Definitely check out Lau Pa Sat, which is a market right smack dab in the middle of downtown Singapore — it’s amazing to find yourself in a bustling old world night market, surrounded by shiny glass skyscrapers. You could try to forget that everything here is cooked with fire, but good luck — the flames shoot up behind every counter and around every corner.
Another market we attempted to visit was featured in the movie Crazy Rich Asians — Newton Food Centre. Unfortunately, it was closed and surrounded by red and white tape, which we learned was the result of a few food poisonings. Don’t let that stop you, though — Singapore takes food poisoning reports very seriously, and will shut down an entire food center for a full week of deep cleaning.
While you’re exploring the Gardens by the Bay, check out Satay by the Bay — yet another open air market. Don’t skip the satay (obviously) or the dumplings, and cool off with a cold jasmine green tea.
Other places worth checking out: Yum Cha dim sum in Chinatown, National Kitchen by Violet Oon in the Singapore National Gallery, and 328 Katong Laksa. Chye Seng Huat Hardware was a great coffee bar, built out of an old hardware shop garage, while Nylon Coffee Roasters and Strangers’ Reunion kept us fueled with caffeine as we explored Singapore on foot.
Marina Bay has all of the things you’d want to see on your first day in Singapore: Gardens by the Bay with its enormous lit trees, the Cloud forest dome (in our experience, the Cloud Forest was much more impressive than the Flower Dome), and the marina with its view of downtown and the Merlion.
Chinatown was one of my favorite parts in Singapore — aside from the usual random shopping (oh-so fun), the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple were both amazing, and just steps away from each other. We even returned on another day to snag a couple of cheap massages at the People’s Park Complex shopping center, which was an experience in itself.
You can’t skip the gorgeous Peranakan houses in the Katong neighborhood, or a stroll through the markets in Little India. And if you have time, trek over to the Tiong Bahru neighborhood and hit up BooksActually, a great little bookshop with a ton of local literature, published in English. Their Mystery Book vending machine is a great attraction — I ended up with a collection of short stories from both established and new Singaporean writers, all focused on one of the neighborhoods in the north. It kept me dreaming about Singapore, well into our return flight.
We also spent a little bit of time at Clarke Quay (pronounced “key”), which felt a little bit like Citywalk in Los Angeles, and a day at Sentosa Island. While I definitely don’t regret spending a day or so at Sentosa, it felt a little bit like an abandoned amusement park. We did go on a Monday and had a great glass of rose at Coastes, but otherwise, it felt a like Universal Studios bought the whole island.