Contemporary Singapore is a vibrant metropolis filled with shops and restaurants and at first glance it has set itself up as a shopping destination. Like most cities in the world today, multi-national companies fill the shopping precincts.
In other words, you won’t find much that you can’t buy at home, if you don’t venture out. But Singapore is far more than this, it’s heritage areas are filled with interesting things to see and do and its culture can be truly experienced with a journey through its variety of wonderful foods and heritage areas.
When visiting a new city, the first thing I do is to jump on a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. These tours, allow you to discover the attractions and interesting areas of a city and they allow you to get your bearings to enable you to return to the areas you would like to explore at length and indeed get lost in.
There are many things to see and experience in Singapore, from the Garden’s by the Bay, Raffles, the Singapore Flyer (well worth it), Marina Bay, the Botanic Gardens and the theme parks on Sentosa Islan, for example.
For me however, it was a wander around Chinatown, the Arab and Malaysian enclave and Little India that I enjoyed the most. These areas show the heart of Singapore, the diversity of cultures and the richness of history that modern Singapore was built on.
From Hawker stalls to places of worship, a walk around Chinatown is a must do. The market stalls are filled with lots of things, from clothing to jewellery, but be aware, everyone wants to sell you something. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple was my favourite thing in Chinatown. Just make sure you cover your legs and shoulders if you wish to visit. Check out the traditional dessert shop on a hot day – yum! On your wanders through Chinatown, its worth a stroll down the little side streets where you will find beautiful murals, hidden from the maddening crowd.
In fact wherever you go in Singapore, it is worth a stroll away from the typical tourist areas. This is where you will find the best and cheapest food, including Singapore’s traditional meal, Chicken Rice. For $5.50 Singapore Dollars, you can fill yourself up on this tasty dish and have a drink as well!
A visit to Little India will provide you with a different Singapore again. It is a vibrant district with a mix of Hindu and Chinese Temples, churches and mosques. Here you will find interesting architecture with a sense of bygone eras. Fill up on delicious South Indian vegetarian food, North Indian tandoori dishes and local fare like roti prata (round pancakes) and teh tarik (pulled tea in Malay). Try to spot the brewers ‘pull’ the hot milk tea – it’s amazing showmanship.
I spent a couple of hours walking around the Malaysian area of Kampong Glam that used to be home to Singapore’s old Malay royalty. The former Istana, or royal palace, now houses the Malay Heritage Center and its eight galleries showcasing the history and culture of Singapore’s Malays. Nearby is Arab Street which is home to the Sultan Mosque and where you will find an array of Arabic foods and very different vibe.
Singapore is a vibrant place where you will find lots to see and do. You can spend lots of money or very little. It was easy for me to stick to a $40 a day budget. There are many things here that are free to visit and it’s these places that will give you a real taste of Singapore. Just remember, it’s hot, sunscreen and insect repellant are a must!