Singapore, often used as stopover when traveling in Southeast Asia, is more popular for its shopping scene and strict laws than its great cultural heritage and diversity. Many people stop there for just a day, thinking that the city is small enough to see all what has to offer in such a short time, but this is not true! I made this mistake myself and I felt the need to go back over and over again until I had the chance to really get to know the city.
Singapore is full of contradictions; modern skyscrapers next to historical buildings; the latest biomedical technology competing with traditional Chinese medicines; and both innovative pieces of design and centenarians antiques can be found there. You can find traditional restaurants as well as the some of the most exclusive in the world. The same applies to things you can do with activities ranging from the most stylish nightlife to the mystery of traditional rituals.
Tradition and modernity are not the only coexisting parts in Singapore. Chinese, Indians and Malay have been sharing the country since colonial times and, since Independence in 1965, the fast development has been attracting people from all over the world. Even with such a large variety of people and cultures, there is mutual respect for each other’s tradition and beliefs.
Singapore is so much more than just a boring stopover city without much to offer. The only problem is, like all good things, it comes at a price; quite literally in this case. In fact, Singapore is quickly becoming one of the most expensive cities in the world.
Don’t lose your hope though! While finding cheap accommodations that are bigger than a can may be almost impossible, it is very easy to find cheap activities that will keep you busy and really give you a chance to experience this great city!
Find Some Colors in Little India
Little India is the most vibrant part of Singapore! While walking along the streets of Little India you can find the brightest temples and most colorful flowers on every corner. The whole area is like a big market with vendors selling traditional clothes, bracelets and vivid souvenirs of all kinds. This is also a great place to find cheap and delicious Indian food.
Explore Kampong Glam neighborhood: Arab Street, Haji Lane and Bugis Junction
Not far from Little India is Kampong Glam, another colorful neighborhood characterized by a strong Arabic influence.
During colonial times, this part of the city was assigned to the Malay and Muslim community and there was a big presence of Arab traders. Today the Arabic influence is still present in the area, especially on Arab Street where you can find traditional clothes and products. A few steps away there is the Sultan Mosque, one of the most impressive religious buildings in Singapore. The Mosque is surrounded by many textile shops that have been active since 1950s.
If the lively atmosphere of Arab Street is not enough, you can go lose yourself in the street art and unique shops of Haji Lane, which is particularly active at night when all the bars are open.
Close by is Bugis Junction where you can find a glass covered shopping mall, and a street market with competitive pricing.
Kampong Glam district became a conservation area in 1989 and all of the shops and houses have been restored and painted in vibrant colors so a walk down any of those streets is always a pleasure.
Free Guided Tour Of Chinatown
Chinatown is always my favorite part of Singapore and it’s also where you can normally find the cheapest accommodations and food options. In Chinatown you can spend some time looking around the extensive market and the food court; you can visit the impressive Buddha Tooth Relic Temple with its thousands of golden Buddhas or experience the smoky ceremonies of Sri Mariamman Temple. While those are the most common things to see and do in Chinatown, there is actually much more to it.
If you want a real insight of the history and culture of the area you should join the free tour (Footprints of our Forefathers) leaving from the Tourist information office every Saturday morning. During the tour a guide tells you everything about the Nyonya population that first set in this part of town, she takes you to the traditional Chinese medicine shops and she explains how streets like Sago Lane evolved over the years from a place where people were left when they were about to die to the lively cultural area that is today. The tour takes you all the way to Club Street, which take the names from the several clubs associated with the different Chinese clans that were there; across Ann Siang Hill and finally to Thian Hock Keng Temple. At the end of the tour you also have the chance to taste some super tasty laksa and prata.
Apart from the tour part, Chinatown is always nice. On Club Street there are plenty of bars, alfresco restaurants and beautiful buildings that get pretty busy in the evening. The food court on Smith Street is not the only place where you can find food in the area: the Hawker Food Centre offers a wide choice of delicious traditional foods at a very good price.
Information about the tour: Footprints of our Forefathers tour is a joint project by tour company Walks of Our life and local students from Nanyang Technological University’s Tourism & Hospitality Management class.
The project started this year as a community project to help locals and visitors appreciate the cultural highlights and value of Singapore’s Chinatown, and is currently endorsed by the Chinatown Business Association. I personally found out about this tour because the Hostel where I was staying Chic Capsule Otel , was promoting the initiative and I’m really glad I joined. If you want to find some more information about the organization you can check here. I found out too late that they organize other free tours in the city and I would definitely join them if I go back to Singapore.
Information about the organizations is below:
Discover The Botanical Garden
Close by the fanciest part of Singapore, Marina Bay Sand, there is the Botanical garden. Only part of the park is free but it’s a really good part that includes the Supertrees.
The impressive engineering system is the symbol of the art of a new generation. They are a remarkable combination of architecture, sculpture and technology. The trees are actually able to mimic the ecological function of real trees, like photosynthesis; and the whole system works thanks to solar panel, which make it environmentally friendly. Apart from the amazing technology behind the construction of this system, the whole structure is awe-inspiring. Walking into this manmade forest, makes one feel like they are in a surreal and purple Avatar movie. It left me completely speechless. You can admire them from the bottom, just walking around the park, or you can take the lift (SGD 5) to the elevated bridge and from there you can walk through the trees and enjoy the view.
Enjoy The Cityscape
One of the most impressive buildings in the world that also became the symbol of Singapore, is the Marina Bay Sands, which is a very expensive hotel that includes a high fashion mall. The iconic building is composed by three towers topped up by a ship shaped part. The architecture is definitely impressive and with the close by lotus shaped science museum, it is a gorgeous cityscape. The best way to enjoy this combination is from the opposite side of the river, but even the view from the Marina Bay Sands that faces the rest of the city is quite impressive. On the top of the building there is the super famous infinity pool, however this is accessible just for the hotel guess, unfortunately. There is also another way to enjoy the view from the top: the Sky Bar. The bar is on the very top and offers an amazing view of the city and you don’t have to pay any entrance fee if you go before 7 PM. Score!
The whole area along the Marina Bay is characterized by impressive buildings, incredible works of art, and breath taking views. The most iconic there are the Merlion, the lion head on a fish body statue personification of Singapore and the impressive glass building of the Esplanade theaters.
Those are just few of the things that Singapore has to offer and if you have more time on your hands you can take day trip to surrounding islands like Sentosa or Pulau Ubin, two of the most popular choices.