On one hand, I expected Singapore to be similar to Malaysia. I knew that it was an island at the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula, and that it had been an independent country for a relatively short period of time (about 50 years), so I wondered how different it could be. On the other hand, I also knew that it was famously wealthy, modern and super clean, and these aren’t words often used to describe Malaysia. I pictured something like the business district of New York or Dubai supplanted into this region, all the corporate glam and none of the culture and personality that is bursting all around you in KL. All in all, I wasn’t that excited about the trip. But now that I’ve been I can say that Singapore is a brilliant place to visit, I’ll definitely be back and I’ve eaten my words (yum).
First of all, it is immaculately clean and that is (no disrespect to Malaysia) a noticeable contrast. To be fair, it would be a huge contrast if we’d come straight from the UK too. I understand the reason for this is very strict laws (the chewing gum ban is still in force), but it certainly works. Here I am advocating for state control over chewing gum when all you wanted were a few anecdotes and pictures of Singapore, but I’ll get to that.
The area we stayed in was Tiong Bahru. It is an old housing development in Singapore, with an art deco style rather than the high-rise swanky apartment blocks I expected to see everywhere. It also has a big market with clothes, flowers, fresh food, and hawker stalls selling local delights such as pig organ soup. Yep. A vegetarian’s dream. There are also trendy bakeries, beauty salons, yoga studios and book shops in the area. I could easily imagine myself living here and having a great life. I just need that well-paid Singapore job first, preferably one that lets me clock off at 1pm to sit in cafes and eat cinnamon sugar muffins all afternoon.
Speaking of food, we ate some good stuff, but Malaysia definitely beats Singapore in this category. Take that, sparkly clean streets!
Here’s a run down of some of the things I did on this short trip:
Masjid Sultan: we were allowed inside, robed up and appropriately covered. This was my first time in a mosque and it was really worth doing. They welcomed tourists and had information about their beliefs and culture, which I’m keen to know more about as I’ll be spending most of my time in predominantly Muslim countries here.
Chinatown: spent a morning strolling through the stalls and buying some traditional gifts for unnamed people who may or may not be reading this blog.
Sentosa beach: this was a really nice beach, but not my favourite. Overshadowed by the beautiful island experiences I had off the west coast of Malaysia recently, it had some tough acts to follow. Although it’s naturally beautiful, it’s also expensive, busy, and the bay is full of what look like industrial container ships.
Marina Bay Sands: I obviously wanted to experience the glamorous side of Singapore too, and what better way than having Singapore slings on the roof of the famous MBS? The views are amazing, and for a swanky bar the atmosphere was still fun, friendly and non-pretentious (although they did have a dress code after 10pm, and we left before that).
Gardens by the Bay (daytime): the gardens are huge and varied, and not just for garden-lovers (I’m generally not one). There are several themed gardens (Malay, Indian, Chinese, Colonial) and two massive air-conditioned greenhouses. The flower dome was lovely but also a bit weird because it’s almost Christmas, so the exotic plants and palm trees were next to Christmas trees and what I consider to be very wintery festive decorations. The cloud forest has a huge structure in the middle covered in plants and a waterfall, and inside you can walk around different exhibitions about how humans are destroying the planet.
Gardens by the Bay (nighttime): this was the best. We got tickets to go up onto the skyway and we arrived just in time for the light show in the supertree grove (see pictures). This could all sound a bit tacky, and it probably would be if it wasn’t such a slick operation and amazing location. I simply won’t criticise a place where you can walk (dance) in the treetops, that’s still warm outside after dark in November, with the bay on one side and the skyline of Singapore on the other. I simply won’t do it, so don’t try me.