Singapore: A City-State of Contrasts

Singapore: A City-State of Contrasts

IMG_3015Singapore offers all of Asia in one island. Its cultural fabric weaves together immigrants of Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian descent – their warm hospitality a common thread. All have brought along their indigenous food, religion, and tradition – on display in their respective cultural centers.  Racial diversity married to ethnic tolerance is the key to this city-state’s phenomenal success.

Separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor, this petite island republic measures only 26 miles east/west and 14 miles north/south.  A former British colony, it gained independence from Malaysia in 1965.  Once considered just a “stopover,” Singapore has developed into a world-class, modern city, thanks to former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who dedicated his three-decade term to economic development and social programing resulting in this feat of urban planning.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore

Singapore’s architectural wonder, Marina Bay Sands, with its sky-high park, stands tall over the harbor area.

Clean and orderly, but not lacking in character and flavor, this compact, walkable city-state is where sophisticated infrastructure sidles up to traditional British colonial-era architecture.  Once seen as overbearing and labeled a “fine” city, because of its harsh monetary penalties for littering, spitting, and gum chewing, rules have lightened, but streets still remain pristine.

Year round, Singapore’s climate offers little variation, but November and January can be rainier. Only 80 miles from the equator, temps range in the 70-80’s; it’s humid but not unbearable, with comfortably cooler nights.


Chinatown: Experience traditional and authentic Singaporean Chinese life. The five-story, Tang-dynasty, Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is said to be the home of the Buddha’s left canine tooth – the temple’s opulent, gold encrusted décor definitely deserves a walk-through.  Shop Chinatown Marketplace with its vibrant vegetable and fruit stands, cheap, quick meals, and action-packed wet market where all manner of meat, fowl, and fish are bought and sold.  Chinatown’s pedestrian zone presents peddlers offering accessories and souvenirs – trinkets, chopsticks, and tea sets. For lunch, visit Sin Swee Kee for a simple but delicious Hainanese Chicken Rice meal: steamed and slow cooked in broth, served with rice and soup – it’s a national dish of Singapore.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, Singapore

Chinatown’s elaborate Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Chinatown, Singapore

Chinatown’s pedestrian zone charms shoppers of all ages

Chinatown Marketplace, Singapore

A fishmonger displays the day’s catch at Chinatown Marketplace

Chinatown Marketplace, Singapore

Fish, fowl & amphibian — all for sale at Chinatown Marketplace

Little India:  Browse the Arcade for colorful saris, flower garlands, silk fabrics, gold jewelry, jasmine and spices, and have a temporary, henna tattoo inked in intricate designs on your hand. Shop 24-hour Mustafa Center and snack on roti prata (grilled flour pancakes served with vegetable or meat curry).  Visit Hindu temple, Sri Mariamman Temple, (know for its fire walking ceremony), and gaze up at its ornate, colorful gopuram (Dravidian-style, pyramid-shaped sandstone towers).

Little India, SIngapore

In Little India, vendors display flower garlands used in Hindu burial ceremonies

Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore

Sri Mariamman Temple’s iconic and ornate gopuram

Kampong Glam: The Malay neighborhood is a gathering place for immigrants from Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Middle East and the impressive, newly restored, golden-domed Sultan Mosque is its center piece.   Arab Street and Haji Lane are lined with Mediterranean restaurants, two-story shop houses, bazaars, and local designer’s quaint boutiques. Stop in Jamal Kazura Aromatics for bespoke fragrances and aromatic oils presented in glass perfume bottles imported from Egypt.  Indulge in a cup of Teh Tarik or Bubble Tea (sweetened milk tea mixed with tapioca), elaborately “pulled” from high above – this perfectly mixes and cools the beverage.

Kampong Glam, Singapore

The Sultan Mosque, the centerpiece of Kampong Glam

Kampong Glam, Singapore

Jamal Kazura Aromatics mixes up essential oils sourced from around the globe

Gardens by the Bay: A horticulturist’s dream, this national garden includes over 250 acres of reclaimed land dotted with 18 giant, 16-story, Supertrees (giant vertical gardens designed to harvest solar energy); two glass biomes conservatories, the Flower Dome (world’s largest greenhouse) home to plants from the cool-dry Mediterranean and subtropical regions, and the cool-misty Cloud Forest with its world’s largest indoor waterfall and 35-metre mountain. Take a walk on the Skyway – it connects the Supertrees and offers an infinite high-rise view.  At night, the trees come to life with a light and sound show. The tram and audio tour offers easy access to the whole complex, which also boasts plenty of dining options and a children’s garden with water features.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Gardens by the Bay as seen from Marina Bay Sands Skypark

Gardens by the Bay Supertrees, Singapore

Gardens by the Bay’s Supertrees and Skyway

The Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay

The Cloud Forest at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The Cloud Forest at Gardens by the Bay

Marina Bay Sands Hotel: The triple-towered, 2,500-room skyscraper is topped by a miracle of engineering—the three-acre, cantilevered, SkyPark complete with landscaped gardens, infinity pool, bars, restaurants, and observation deck.  It’s big enough to fit four and a half A380 jumbo jets!  Dine at Sky on 57 (Singapore’s celebrity chef Justin Quek’s modern twist on traditional Asian) and stay late to enjoy a cocktail and watch the sunset and city lights from the outdoor terrace of Flight Bar & Lounge.  Back down on terra firma, is the hotel’s casino, theatres, convention center, Marina Bay Shoppes, and Museum of ArtScience.

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Marina Bay Sands’ amazing rooftop infinity pool

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Check Marina Bay Sands’ website to purchase tickets to the Observation Deck for a sky-high Singapore view

Orchard Road: Stroll along this tree-line boulevard which packs 22 malls into a mile and a half. The place to seek out international brands and electronics, and the underground connecting tunnels are a great place to escape the midday heat.

Waterfront Promenade: A continuous walkway links up a necklace of attractions:  Collyer Quay, Marina Center & Bayfront areas. Don’t miss Singapore’s mascot, the Merlion (it “mashes up” the head of a lion with the body of a fish) — it stands guard over the marina area.

Promenade, Singapore

The Harbor Promenade – the perfect path

River Cruise:  Board a Bumboat (a small vessel used to ferry provisions in Singapore’s historic trading port), cruise along the Singapore River, and make several stops along the way. Visit the Asian Civilizations Museum for an excellent history lesson and enjoy legendary Chili Crab at Jumbo Seafood at Riverwalk.  Boat Quay and Clarke Quay offer plenty of international, al fresco dining choices along the river. Or, enjoy a cup of tea (or a pint!) at elegant Fullerton Hotel, a 19th century, iconic-columned landmarked building.

River Cruise, Singapore

The River Cruise take you past Marina Bay Sands and all of Singapore’s sights

Jumbo Seafood, Singapore

Dig in to Chili Crab at Jumbo Seafood

Sentosa: This touristy resort island packs an entertainment punch: Universal Studios theme park, Resorts World, Adventure Cove Waterpark, S.E.A. Aquarium (register for a behind the scenes VIP tour and Aquarist for a Day program), and lovely sand beaches.

For kids of all ages: Visit Singapore Zoo (over 2,800 animals set in a lush tropical rainforest setting); Singapore Flyer (165-meter observation wheel); Night Safari (get up close and personal with 2,500 nocturnal creatures like Malayan Tigers and Asian Rhinos); Botanic Gardens (including the 60,000- species National Orchid Garden).  Or, cross the border to LEGOLAND Malaysia (passport and possible Visa required).

Hotels: Located in the Marina area are the Mandarin Oriental (atrium-style, excellent breakfast, and outdoor rooftop pool) and the Ritz Carlton; Four Seasons and Singapore Marriott located near Orchard Road.  Don’t miss 19th century Raffles Hotel and sip a celebrated Singapore Sling at the hotel’s Long Bar!

Raffles Hotel, Singapore

No visit to Singapore is complete without a stop at Raffles Hotel

Travel tips: Fly into Singapore’s Changi Airport, the “World’s Best Airport.”  Bali, only a two-hour flight away, makes the perfect vacation destination companion to Singapore. Click here to read my recent article on Bali.

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