I never thought I could fall in love with a city so quickly, but all it took was three days in Singapore to know I want to go back to this intriguing melting pot of cultures.
So there I was on December 1st, finally ready to kick off the celebrations for my birthday week after more than seven months spent working hard and studying harder, discovering Sydney but not much else of the new, exciting part of the world I was in.I flew to Singapore’s Changi Airport from Sydney through Scoot, an Asian budget airline partnering with TigerAir across Asia Pacific and guaranteed to give you bang for your buck and help you save while travelling overseas. Sitting in the spacious, relaxing and high-tech seats on ScootBiz’s Business Class, the nearly eight hours of my Sydney-Singapore flights didn’t feel as long.
A tiny, relatively new country, Singapore was only founded about 200 years ago and bears the influence of all the migration flows, colonial past and modern business that have set foot in the area. All it takes is a trip on SG’s extremely efficient underground network to notice that Hindu, Chinese, English and Singlish – a blend of Chinese, Singaporean dialect and English – are spoken all over town, making me feel like travelling across at least three different countries at the same time.
How To Get Around
If you are used to the London Tube or the New York Subway, you will have no trouble understanding SG’s underground network. You can buy a tourist pass that will cost you $20 for a day, with more benefits if you buy a two- or three-day pass and the chance to receive a $10 refund at the end of your trip.
If you’re in a hurry, Ubers and taxis take you from one end to the other for no more than $20 – and that’s the longest trip, from the Airport to Downtown.
Why Go There?
If you’re thinking of why you should bother visiting this tiny corner of the world, I’d say Singapore is the ultimate crowd-pleaser. Whether you’re on a shopping trip, after a pampering weekend in a luxurious hotel or looking to experience one-of-a-kind culture, Singapore has something for you. Although I only got to spend three full days in this far East gem, here are my favourite bits of Singapore – with a few tips to help you make the most of it.
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown
Forget the trinkets and fake kimonos sold all over Chinatown: The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is what you want to see. Walk in, cover your shoulders (tanks are a no-no, but pashminas are made available by the lovely security team) and marvel at the collection of golden Buddha statues of all shapes and sizes this free-entry temple has to offer. If you are lucky, you might be able to walk in during a mass, hearing chants and smelling incense throughout.
Take the lift to the fifth floor to admire the Buddha Tooth relic, try to reach Nirvana with meditating monks or just take a walk in the incredibly peaceful roof garden.
The Vinayagar Temple in Chinatown & Little India
The Hindu community is a big part of the Singaporean population and the detail featured in its temples, as well as the tradition observed in their places of worship, provide a great snapshot of their way of life.
As a tourist intrigued by beautiful gates, statues and murals, it is easy to forget that the Vinayagar Temple in Chinatown is first and foremost a place of worship. Partly because of language barriers and because of my never appropriate sense of style, I got told off multiple times by the people minding the door. So before you get in, take your shoes off and make sure that your arms, legs and belly are fully covered (e.g. avoid a dress with strategic holes on both hips, unlike yours truly) and walk around during a session of community worship to take in the colourful saris and the musical sounds of worship.
A few stops away on the underground is Little India, which feels like walking into another country. Gone are the mainly Chinese Singaporean and here come the locals of Hindu roots. Sari shops, spices, curry joints and Indian trinkets stores dominate the landscape, dominated by the Temple of A Thousand Lights.
Gardens By The Bay
What would Alice In Wonderland look like if it were real? Like The Gardens By The Bay, most likely. This eco-friendly magical garden made to exploit the tropical rainfall affecting Singapore while also showcasing the effect of climate change on the global temperature isn’t just the home of the local flora but also an example of how man-made doesn’t mean bad. At the Gardens By The Bay, existing green spaces are complemented by solar panels, Lego flowers and waterfalls, in an educational twist on a giant nature-friendly theme park.
The Botanic Gardens
Hop on the underground to walk through one of the most peaceful gardens you will ever find, curated up to perfection with zen-looking little paths and sections dedicated to different plants. Whether you’re after orchids or frangipani, the Botanic Gardens are an oasis of peace from the hustle and bustle of Singaporean life. My favourite bit? The Healing Garden, showcasing herbs and spices used to cure everything from poisoning to heart condition. Oh, and they kind of went next level with their Christmas decorations.
More of that later – stay tuned for my review of one of the world’s best hotels. Meanwhile, here is a teaser of what to expect from the Marina Bay area shot by my friend Charlotte Howells from The Fashion Division.
Pictures: Carolina Are, Charlotte Howells