I love travelling and before I depart for somewhere new, I try to read up on the best places to visit. Often this will end up providing a list of the most popular tourist spots, and some of them end up being a little underwhelming in real life. In wondering how many of these experiences have remained with me, I thought it would be useful to do a series of posts, reminiscing about previous trips, and the most memorable activities that I got up to. The activities that really made the trip worthwhile.
About this time last year I was in Singapore with my wife. I cannot recall how many times I have visited Singapore, but between vacations and work trips it is certainly in double figures. It is great seeing how this prosperous country has evolved over the last 15 years that I have been visiting it.
On the earlier trips we would keep ourselves to the main tourist hotspots, visiting Sentosa, Clarke Quay, and Orchard Road. However, over time our bravery has increased and the experiences have certainly been well worth it. Sure, we still do the main sights as Singapore is really good at always providing something new, but we have also started exploring the food scene and lesser known neighbourhoods.
Satay by the Bay
A trip to Singapore is certainly not complete without a visit to Satay by the Bay. This area of Singapore was not even here when we first started visiting, having been reclaimed from the sea in the last 10 years or so. One of the great things about Satay by the Bay is that the visitors are a real mix of Singaporean life, from tourists, expats, and locals. The food is great and there is a lot of selection. Of course the main thing to come here for is the satay on sticks – I usually go for a mix of chicken, mutton, and prawns, together with cubes of rice and a jug of Tiger beer 👌.
Satay by the Bay is operated like a food court, where you find a seat, place something on the table to show its “reserved” (like a closed pack of tissues), then go up to the stalls and place your order. You will then be given a wireless buzzer that will notify you when its time to go back to the stall to pick up your food. As with most food courts or hawker markets in Singapore, the drinks are sold at a central point. For convinience at Satay by the Bay, they also have “Tiger Girls” taking orders for Tiger beer at the tables if you choose.
Where Satay by the Bay could be seen as the “safe” touristy option, real Singaporeans eat day to day at Hawker Centres. These are collections of food stalls that are usually located near public housing estates or transport hubs. They should be easy to spot on the ground floor and in the open air. The idea of Hawker Centres is to provide inexpensive food to people who live or work in the local area. They are regulated and have to pass sanitary checks on a regular basis, and are as “safe” as any of the more touristy food location.
In this photo my wife and I are sharing “chicken rice”, which as the dish name suggests is a combination of chicken and rice. The chicken is poached and can often be served cold, with the heat coming from the rice and the sauce. Often hawkers will cook a certain about of meat at the beginning of their day, and then only cook accompanying food fresh. Once they run out of the main dish, they shut up for the day.
When we first visited Singapore, we visited the Night Safari, as we were told this was the exciting thing to do in Singapore. It certainly was fun, riding around in the trolleybus, seeing nocturnal animals in a natural, but enclosed habitat. Following the tour, there was also a outside show that involved fire, magic, and more animals.
However, more recently we have discovered the daytime zoo. Located next door, and run by the same society, the Singapore Zoo is huge. Animals have large areas to roam around and some monkeys and orangutan appear to have access to the entire tree canopy.
There are options to take a trolleybus around, but my wife and I found it much more fun to explore at our own speed. Sometimes we followed the main roads, and other times we turned off onto smaller tracks, navigating by map or the sound of animals in the distance.
I appreciate the fact that these animals are in much larger enclosures than I have seen in other zoos, and that the climate is more more suitable to many of the species. Importantly, the zoo also does important work in monitoring wildlife and teaching about preservation.
Within the zoo there was also various wildlife shows. We visited a show that was centred around birds and smaller creatures. It was located in a large open air auditorium, with a sail-like awning to protect us from the sun. As the narrator told a story, various creatures would come out on stage and birds would swoop around the audience.
Gardens by the Bay at Night
Gardens by the Bay is one of those places where you could either quickly dive in and out, or stay for the afternoon and into the evening. I would certainly recommend being there after dark. Every night at Gardens by the Bay there is a light show, with the Supertree Grove trees lighting up and flickering in varying patterns. Sometimes this is done to music, and at other times it is just the lights. On one trip in the past I was lucky enough to stumble across a special show where they combined classical music and a light show.
As a way of making your trip to Gardens by the Bay really special, I would suggest arriving mid-afternoon and then visiting one of the garden domes (about SG$20), then have an early evening meal at Satay by the Bay, followed by a visit to the Supertree Grove once it has fully gone dark.
Of the two garden domes, the Cloud Forest is my favourite as there is a huge waterfall and the dome is enclosed in a generated cloud every hour. I haven’t included the domes as a main highlight though as they are a little artificial – but its still fun.
I can hear you thinking, a supermarket? What is he talking about? I love going to supermarkets when I am in foreign countries. It’s much more fun than the normal trudge that you have to do each week (before home deliveries 😊).
The reason I enjoy supermarkets abroad is that it gives a real insight to local culture. What do people eat and how have companies adapted to local desires. For example, it was interesting seeing Kit-Kat (a favourite British chocolate) is available in many interesting flavours in Singapore. In this picture you can see apple flavour and wasabi flavour. I think I will give the wasabi a miss.
Another reason I like to visit supermarkets is that it gives me an idea of how much things should really cost. If I only buy a diet coke at a tourist destination, how do I know if I am being ripped off or not? Simple, check it against prices in the supermarket. Also, I can buy some supplies for the hotel room, rather than using the mini-bar.
Singapore is known for its food scene, experimenting with many different ingrediencies and flavours. Being an island, Singapore is especially good at creative seafood dishes. Seafood restaurants can be found all over Singapore, from the tourist areas like Clarke Quay to lesser known neighbourhoods.
I like to enjoy seafood while looking out to sea, and one of the places you can do this is at Jumbo Seafood at East Coast Park. The East Coast Park is an area of greenery with running, cycle, and walking tracks that goes along the coast to the south east of Singapore. If you are driving from the airport into a centrally located hotel then you will likely see it on the left had side, between the ECP main road and the ocean.
Jumbo Seafood has a wide selection of seafood dishes and is a sit-down table service restaurant. I was first taken here for a business meal, and it did not disappoint. The Singapore Chilli Crab was amazing. And that was only one of the many dishes that we ate that evening!
S.E.A Aquarium and Maritime Experiential Museum
The S.E.A Aquarium and the Maritime Experiential Museum are actually two separate attractions next to each other on Sentosa. However I put them together because there is a little trick. If you buy a joint ticket then go to the Maritime Experiential Museum it is possible to enter the S.E.A Aquarium at the end, effectively jumping the queue for the aquarium itself.
Both of these attractions are great of their own as well. The S.E.A Aquarium provides lots of education on oceans and the species of fish and other animals that live it in. There are many fish tanks including a shark area where visitors walk through a glass tunnel. But the highlight is the huge tank that is the height of at least two double decker buses and the length of many. When I first saw a photo on the marketing leaflet, I assumed it was creative license, but it really is big.
I enjoy going to aquariums as it is so relaxing looking at fish swimming around. When the tanks are this big and the fish are so numerous is is even more enjoyable.
If you are interested in history, or just want to see a different perspective of past events then I would recommend visiting the Maritime Experiential Museum. This museum takes an oriental centric approach to maritime history has shows how cultures in Asia were traversing the oceans in different ways and at different times than we were taught in western society.
There is also a fun 4D experience, although this sometimes has a small added cost. This experience takes us on a voyage at sea and provides the excitement of a typhoon with wind and water.
I really hope to visit Singapore again soon. But in the meantime, these highlights are the things I remember most about Singapore. They may not all be the tourist hotspots – I do enjoy them too. However they are the lasting memories.
If you have visited Singapore, it would be great to hear what things you enjoyed most and what has stayed with you…