Updated: 8/8/2018 | August 8th, 2018
I’m going to be completely honest: Singapore wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. Given its image as a hyper-clean, hyper-lawful place, I expected a very regimented, orderly, clean, and police-heavy city.
I found none of that.
In fact, in three days wandering the city, I never once saw anything that looked like a police officer or even a security guard. Then again, laws in Singapore are harsh — very harsh — which is probably why there is no need to keep a large police presence on the street.
Despite being much different than I expected, it was a lot of fun. Singapore is often described as a three-day city, as most people hit the few main sites and think there isn’t anything else to see. While it didn’t scream exciting, crazy, or action-packed to me, one could easily spend a week in Singapore and still find plenty to do.
Singapore can be walked in a solid day (or leisurely in two). There’s a good mix of colonial-style buildings, low-rise houses, and modern, high-rise office towers. The wide streets, clean air, and large buildings make for a very nice walk. You can go from Little Arabia to Chinatown in about 45 minutes, and that stretch pretty much encompasses most of the central area of town. If you want to be adventurous, you could walk out into the suburbs, but there’s no real reason to.
Singapore gets very hot, but luckily there is a whole underground network of air-conditioned malls and “streets” that connect the downtown area. You can stay cool, do a bit of shopping, eat some, and just meander until you’re ready to hit the sweaty streets again.
Besides strict rules, Singapore is also known for its food. Little India and Chinatown are two of the most famous foodie districts. You’ll find great dim sum, noodles, beef, and other Chinese delicacies in Chinatown. Over in Little India, you’ll find a little slice of Asia. From what I’ve been told, it’s the closest you can get to India without actually being there. Try the places on the main street where everyone eats with their hands. It’s an enjoyable experience. Just first be sure whether it is OK to eat with your hands. Otherwise, the proprietors will start to give you dirty looks if you dig in with your fingers instead of the silverware they provide. Not that I speak from experience or anything…
For your final meal, head to what I dub “Little Arabia,” a section of town near the mosque that is filled with great Malay and Arab food. If you are looking for more high-end eats, there are tons of fancier restaurants all over town. The city really is a gastronomical dream, so don’t hesitate to overindulge.
The big attraction in Singapore is the zoo. The Singapore Zoo is famous for its breadth, as well as its natural habitats and good animal treatment. The zoo is a bit outside the city center and takes about an hour to get to by public transport, but it is worth it. There are lions and tigers and bears from around the world, as well as elephants, zebras, monkeys, and much more. The animals aren’t kept behind bars, but are separated from visitors by large gulleys, making it a better environment for everyone. This, however, doesn’t keep the monkeys in one place, and you can see them swinging all over the zoo. This makes for a more natural experience and allows you to really get up close to the animals. There’s also an excellent night safari, where you can see some of the nocturnal creatures. Both adventures will hit the wallet hard, though. Admission to the zoo is 35 SGD per person, while the night safari is 47 SGD per person (discounts for kids are available). This is probably the best thing to do in Singapore, so if you’re going to spend money on something, I’d make it this.
Some other activities worth checking out are:
- Visiting the National Art Gallery
- Going swimming (there are public pools everywhere!)
- Watching an F1 night race
- Indulging at a spa
- Scuba diving
- Visiting the ArtScience Museum
- Taking a walking tour or a food tour
For those wanting some excitement, Sentosa Island just south of the mainland (connected via the train) is a good place to party on the beach and indulge in some luxury. I didn’t make it there for lack of time, but all the big clubs are located there, as well as a few big hotels, a beach, and some parks. Every December, it also hosts one of the biggest parties in Southeast Asia: ZoukOut. It’s an all-night beach rave. Clearly, you can have some fun in Singapore if that’s what you’re looking for!
In the end, Singapore met my expectations — just in in a different way. While it wasn’t as orderly as I expected, it was the foodie destination I hoped it would be, and there was enough to keep me busy for a a few days. On a backpacker budget, you can almost manage on $50 a day if you pick your activities wisely. Would I spend a long period of time here? I doubt it. But for a short stay, Singapore makes a great Saturday City.
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