I simply couldn’t resist a spontaneous Southeast Asia trip with my friend this spring and made the most of the few days I had there. While I had quite some time to fully explore Singapore, we stuck to some of the main areas within walking distance of town center. I was particularly inspired here and there by the Crazy Rich Asians movie/book series that takes place partly in Singapore. Here are some of the things we did!
Where to stay
I stayed in a hostel in Kampong Glam in the Arab Street area, which has a bustling night life on Haji Lane and great food near the beautiful Sultan Mosque! But anywhere between there and Marina Bay is great, depending on your budget from 5 star hotel to a cute hostel.
What to do
One of my favorite destinations was the Singapore Botanic Gardens. We took the blue line to the Botanic Gardens station and simply wandered our way through the gardens. We paid to enter the National Orchid Garden, which was worth seeing the incredible thousands of orchid species and hybrids on display! There’s a Cool House that hosts an “alpine” climate for high elevation orchid species, a nice haven for a hot day. And one of my other favorite areas was the VIP orchids, where unique orchids are named after celebrities and dignitaries. All throughout the botanic gardens, there are still plenty of flowers if you want a free way to explore from a trellis garden to the ginger garden. We also checked out the Gallop Extension that boasted fun bridge walking paths that weaved through the forest. If you’re familiar with Crazy Rich Asians, Tyersall Avenue (of Tyersall Park) runs through here! We continued south through the park until we were at the Holland Road entrance.
From Holland Road, it’s a short walk to Orchard Road, one of the main shopping streets. If it’s hot, there’s plenty of smaller indoor malls to jump into for a quick air conditioned break or cold snack! Some of the side streets off Orchard Road are quite cute to wander through, plus plenty of great food places along the way. South of the botanic garden is also the Museum of Ice Cream, which we didn’t get to, but seems like a highly recommended spot!
Stubborn to take public transportation, we kept walking towards Fort Canning Park. I’d argue walking is one of the best ways to explore a city. You get your bearings and you’ll see more at a leisurely pace whereas you might skip some lesser known sights by bus or train. Fort Canning Park is much smaller than the botanic gardens, which was great since we were starting to get tired and wanted to easily walk back to our respective stay for the evening. Fort Canning is situated on a hill, so it could be nice to take a cold drink on your way up. If not, Le Jardin is a cute cafe to stop at in the center of the park. In the movie, this was the venue for Colin and Araminta’s wedding.
For those who like museums, you can also stop by the National Museum of Singapore. We ran out of time for that but it seems like a great place to learn about the history of Singapore in a gorgeous building. Walking further east, you’ll start to find some magnificent buildings, like the CHIJMES, which was also used for the Colin-Araminta wedding scene! It’s free to walk around and has a wide variety of hang out spots and restaurants. Next to the CHIJMES is the famous Raffles, a luxurious 5-star hotel that you can wander a bit through if you don’t stay there.
Time permitting, check out the National Library/Lee Kong Chian Reference Library which offers great views from its higher floors. In this area, there’s plenty of architecture and malls to walk through, depending on your interests. And soon you’ll find yourself at Bugis Junction, a large mall with theaters inside and food stalls on the underground floor, like many other malls. It’s the modern version of hawker stalls, in my opinion. Little India and Kampong Glam is nearby. While I didn’t visit Little India myself, my friend enjoyed a stroll through there and tried out their delicious food! Kampong Glam is home to an Arab community and it’s amazing to see the cultures shift between all these neighborhoods.
Back to Marina Bay, it’s a bit fancier than some of the other regions. It’s where you’ll find the high rise hotels and famous attractions, such as the Merlion and durian inspired Esplanade Theater. When you cross the bay, one of the first buildings you’ll recognize is the flower shaped building, part of the ArtScience Museum.
But keep walking to explore the Gardens by the Bay, with a plethora of things to do. We opted to visit the Flower Dome, but the Cloud Forest also looked quite fun! There’s several different combos you can do to save some money on the attractions in this park. When we were there, the Flower Dome had a tulip exhibition, akin to an indoor Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. And the most pleasant thing was the cooler temps of this greenhouse. With the Flower Dome tickets come the Supertree Observatory. I feel like either this or the OCBC Skyway is worth visiting as well, offering a higher view point of the whole park. However, if you don’t mind a bit of crowds, the Marina Bay Overpass Viewing Point also boasts a high platform to view the Supertrees and connects to the famous Marina Bay Sands resort and mall (and the yellow/blue metro line). Stick around for the evening and watch the Garden Rhapsody light show which is free to attend.
Winding back over west to Chinatown, there’s plenty of food to explore from dim sum to other hawker stalls. One of the famous ones is the Victorian-style Lau Pa Sat food market. They’re famous specifically for their satay skewers which only happens in the evenings start at 7pm. I’m pretty sure all of the stalls are great, there’s no one that is worse or better than others really. While we did not spend as much time in this area, there’s no shortage of colonial era buildings and other bustling night life streets here.
If you’re willing to travel further west and primarily by bus, or brave a longer 15 minute walk from either the green or yellow metro lines, check out the Southern Ridges park. It’s got great trails and paths with viewpoints looking at the city and ocean. Some of the highlights include the Forest Walk, Henderson Waves, and Telok Blangah Hill Park with the flowered terraces. Within the park, the Alkaff Mansion is worth stopping by for a quick snack or brunch!
These were primarily the places we visited among chilling at the hotel and taking it easy. But before you leave Singapore, be sure to also check out the Jewel at the Changi Airport. I think it especially looks great in the evening with their light show. If you’re lucky, your airport tram might travel through the Jewel during the show! It’ll even pause for a short few seconds to let you enjoy the waterfall before moving on between terminals. The Jewel is simply another shopping mall, but it is unique in shape and hosts a large 40 meter indoor waterfall as well as other attractions like their indoor forest. Just follow the signs from the airport to check it out. For us, it made sense to see it when we landed, but you can also catch it on your way out. The mall has food options from fine dining to food stalls in the basement like most malls here.
Check out my other blog for food! But one of the famous spots for food hawkers (basically a popular food court) is the Newton Food Centre, featured in the Crazy Rich Asians film. It was plenty busy and I found food not specifically cheap, but the variety was great! It’s right off the Newton station on the red or blue metro line. You can tag team it by having everyone in your group find a different stall to buy from.
The metro and bus system all work on credit card to tap on/off. Otherwise, you may need to stand in a long customer service line to get a transit card, which may or may not be better for you, depending on how much you’re planning to walk or take transit everywhere. Google maps directions works quite well here!
Their metro system is called the MRT – Mass Rapid Transit and efficiently takes you from the Changi Airport into city center and all over the island.
If you’re short on time, definitely try to check out a food hawker, a park, a couple neighborhoods and the iconic Garden by the Bays!