Singapore (or ‘Sing’ as expats affectionately refer to the city) wasn’t on my agenda for visiting in SE Asia until the tail end of my trip.
But, plans change, and so it goes I found myself heading to Singapore to kick off my time in SE Asia with less than 72 hours to plan a day in a city I’d never been to.
First things first, I found myself an Airbnb that seemed to be fairly central, near Haji Lane in the Kampong Glam neighbourhood. Turned out to be an awesome location.
Night one, my flight landed around 7:30 pm (delayed almost two hours), and by the time I got to the city and checked into my Airbnb, it was nearing 8:30 pm. Keen to see the Spectra show at Marina Bay Sands, I called a Grab to take me over to the towers.
I arrived just in time for the 9 pm show (there’s also an 8 pm show if you’re there earlier). It was beautiful- lasers whipping through the night sky, shimmering lights, and a beautiful symphony as the backdrop.
A great welcome to Singapore.
Then, I walked over to Gardens by the Bay to see the giant trees lit up at night. They were beautiful, but I was hungry.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realise most places in Sing close before 10 pm (at least the restaurants I looked up in my neighborhood did). With flight fatigue coming on fast, I decided to hit up the food court at MBS (Marina Bay Sands), which thankfully turned out to have tasty boba, egg custard buns, and veggie noodles.
Ready for bed and a full day of exploring, I headed back to my Airbnb.
The next morning, I woke early at 7 am and headed straight to Gardens by the Bay. Ever since I first saw a photo of the futuristic Supertree Grove, I knew I needed to make it there someday.
Gardens by the Bay is worth visiting not just because it’s ‘v insta’, but because of its mission to educate on the effects of climate change, and take steps towards conservation.
The Supertree Grove is free to visit- I arrived by 7:30 am because I wanted to wander the grove without dozens of other visitors, and before the day got too hot. The trees are covered with more than 200 species of orchids, ferns and tropical flowers.
The second stop of my day was also at Gardens by the Bay- the Cloud Tree Forest.
Admission to visit the conservatories in the botanical gardens is steep- but I’m happy to contribute to a cause like the one Gardens supports.
The Cloud Forest was incredible- I’m always at ease in botanic gardens and this was no different. Being the first person they let in (ha), meant I had the forest to myself for a few minutes.
Standing by myself below the thundering waterfalls was incredible.
For the next hour, I wandered the layers of the forest, taking my time so I was still in the forest at 10 am when the morning misting was scheduled. Try to time your visit with a mist- it’s so cool to watch the forest transform.
Post gardens, I walked over to MBS (only ~10 minutes) to grab cold brew from Starbucks in the food court. Also popped into Sephora for a post-flight hydration flight mask. Gotta take advantage of the upside to malls, right? 😉
Next up, one more activity by MBS- the ArtScience Museum. I’d reserved a ticket ahead of time for the Future World exhibit, but needn’t have worried- it wasn’t busy when I visited.
Per ArtScience’s website, the museum is a world of art, science, magic and metaphor through a collection of cutting-edge digital installations.
Translation: Very cool exhibits that are fun to interact with (especially great for children), and in strong air-con.
After the museum, I took a Grab to Koon Seng Road.
When I envisioned Singapore, I thought of skyscrapers. Koon Seng Road with its pretty pastel homes couldn’t have been farther from that image.
Decades ago, the area was inhabited by the first Chinese immigrants to come to Singapore from Malaysia. Koon Seng Road gets its name from Cheong Koon Seng, one of the first thirteen students at Singapore’s Anglo-Chinese school. Built in the 1920s, some of the houses are still inhabited by the original families.
The homes on Koon Seng are stunning- the colors and details are incredible. It’s a bit from Singapore’s centre, but worth the trek.
After Koon Seng, I was in the mood for a lunchtime snack and decided to head to Little India.
I loved exploring the streets of Little India- so much to see, smell and experience. The offerings, in particular, caught me off guard with their beauty. The colours and the patterns- just incredible.
I’d heard Tekka was one of the best hawker centres (markets with food stalls) in Singapore- more authentic and frequented by locals. I only came for a snack, but was practically drooling over how great everything looked. And, so cheap!
Feeling energised from a mango lassi and cheese prata, I called another Grab to take me to Chinatown.
After wandering Chinatown for a bit, I wasn’t feeling too great- exhausted from the heat and a tad jet lagged. Can you blame me?
It was hot, humid, full on sunshine and I’d been used to grey, damp days in London. Opposite ends of the spectrum, to say the least.
So, I found a cafe with ace cold brew and chilled out (literally) for a bit. Bonus: Free the Robot had the cutest dog bopping around.
Wandered past My Awesome Cafe in Chinatown as well – such a cool spot for after work drinks.
With the sun starting to set, I took a Grab back to my Airbnb neighbourhood, keen to explore the Malay-Muslim quarter before the sun set. I made a quick stop in the Suntec mall to stock up on tea tree oil at the Body Shop and grab a cheese tea to try from Partea.
Cheese tea?!, you ask. Yes, cheese tea. More accurately, cheese foam.
In actuality, it’s foam made of cream cheese and milk, topped with salt. It’s usually added to green or black teas. I’m glad I tried it, but I don’t think it’s quite for me- a bit too salty for my liking.
One more quick note on malls in SE Asia: They’re a pretty cool experience, in my opinion. Huge, immaculate, buzzing. It’s definitely a cultural thing to experience.
Suntec had FIVE towers – so clean, well organised and brimming with awesome shops. It was hard to tear myself way to wander Kampong Glam.
Knowing the sun was setting motivated me though, and so I continued my walk to Haji Lane, one of the most colourful streets in Singapore.
Nearby is the Masjid Sultan mosque with its shimmering gold roof.
Wandering the streets surrounding the mosque, I found Positano Risto, a Muslim owned Italian restaurant that’d been recommended to me for their thin, crispy pizzas. I was lucky enough to snag the last outdoor table, which I sat at- savouring my pizza and watching the sun set dip behind city buildings.
Leaving the restaurant, I wandered a bit more and then realised it was nearing 8 pm. Exhausted from the previous day’s flight, a full day of wandering and knowing I had to wake early for my flight to Kuala Lumpar, I decided to call it a night.
There’s so much I didn’t get to in one day that I’d love to do on a return trip- the botanic gardens, checking out a few other hawker centres, spending more time in Chinatown.
If you’re short on time like I was, I definitely recommend using Grab to get around. Over the course of a day and a half, including taxis to/from the airport, I spent roughly $50 on Grabs, which isn’t what I’d call cheap, but also enabled me to maximise my time in Sing, and see a lot more than I’d have been able to make it to on public transit. And, selfishly, the Grabs helped me acclimate to SE Asia by providing air-con refuge for a brief period when the heat became unbearable.
Have you ever been to Singapore? What would you consider to be a must visit in the city?