Before describing the incredible experiences Singapore provided us, it’s important to clarify what Singapore is and isn’t.
Singapore is a city. And it’s a country, too. Call it a ‘city-state’, because it is an island that is perfectly sized to be considered one giant city and its suburbs, but it has more than enough people, culture, resources, and might to call itself a sovereign nation.
Singapore is one of the most successful economies on earth. Not only is it one of the cleanest places on earth, but it has among the lowest crime rate and ranks among the highest with GDP per capita. This can be contributed to its meritocratic and somewhat authoritarian system of governing– they don’t play by identity politics, and want every citizen to further their national pride.
But this article isn’t about Singapore’s economic successes. That’s where I want to discuss what Singapore isn’t. Controversial stereotypes about the island city-state as an ultra-polished, culture-less hellhole were influenced by an infamous 1993 article calling Singapore “Disneyland with the Death Penalty.” Most people seem to spend time in Singapore due to a quick layover at Changi airport (Best rated in the world consecutively) and just call it a day. This article will explain why this marvelous country deserves much more than a couple of hours.
Cleanliness and Efficiency
Yes, it’s clean. Damn, is it clean. I’m not sure if I saw more than 3 pieces of litter throughout the entire week I spent in Singapore, in fact. I did not see any homeless people, either. Logic tells me that we arrived at an incredibly strange time: Our flight, one of the longest commercial flights in the world, landed in Changi at about 6:50 AM on January 1st. Needless to say, the city was absolutely barren. The only people out were government workers cleaning up the mess from the previous evening in Clarke Quay. A completely nonexistent mess compiled into a few small piles of glitter, water bottles, and a single half-empty Tiger Beer on a table.
That was our first impression of the city– a rainy morning, watching the city slowly wake up from the previous night’s mild celebrations.
The city’s solution to create a litter-less utopia wasn’t particularly hard, anyway. Gum, of all things, is banned. Take a quick stroll around and you’ll encounter plenty of garbage receptacles, postings for enormous littering fines (a minor littering offense IE a candy wrapper can cost you $300) and people just seemingly cleaning to pass the time. Upon sitting down for a meal, look around: you may notice the staff has cleaned the floor throughout your visit one, two, maybe three separate times. Singaporeans go beyond just what the law requires: they take enormous pride in their country, their business, their riverside bike paths, their subway stations.
Moving around Singapore is about as pleasing as observing its cleanliness and order: I don’t recall seeing a single traffic jam throughout my time there. When hailing Ubers, most of them arrived within 2-3 minutes, and were always electric cars. The drivers were responsive and kind, and the cars were always very clean. Navigating the city on foot was incredibly easy, but it became easier when utilizing the many bike-sharing options (quite popular in Asian cities). The city provided plenty of bike lanes, with a car horn so rare I felt I was dreaming. The subway was unreal: arrived in less than four minutes every time, and this polished ride took you to every corner of the island possible.
In ways (to an American), Singapore is cheap. In other ways, it’s about equal levels. In other ways, it’s quite pricey.
Food. Especially at hawker stands. There are so many different types of hawker stands that you can get a meal of any comfort level for an astoundingly cheap price (expect to pay about $8 SGD for a full meal and drink)
Transportation. Ubers were never over, like, $10 SGD for long distances, and throughout most of the city proper they were about $6 SGD. For ubers, not pools.
The MRT is also considerably reasonable.
Bike share options only cost about $1 for an hour.
The Similarly Priced:
Museums. Expect to pay about $15-20 SGD for most of the city’s most important museums, attractions, observatories, etc.
Chains. High-end brands or Starbucks, you will be paying the same as everywhere.
Alcohol. Singapore has a big sin tax for drinks, so expect to pay $10 SGD for a beer and $15 for a cocktail.
Singapore’s charm was in its districts. It’s a multicultural country, with its four main languages being English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil Indian. As such, there are many different ethnic enclaves in the city, each with their own colorful and vibrant flavors (while still retaining that good old Singaporean cleanliness).
Downtown Core/CBD has plenty of fun rooftop bars, hidden speakeasies. Check out the Telok Ayer market during the daytime– a victorian-era building filled to the brim with diverse food options. Get Malaysian coffee, pastries, or maybe try some Indonesian fried rice!
Clarke Quay is a great nightlife and food district– vibrant and action-packed, it’s right on the water and offers some fun for everyone. Across is the beautiful Fort Canning Park, perfect for the history buff or morning jogger.
Colonial District offers incredible architecture and museums, such as the National Gallery and the Asian Civilizations museum. While the incredible Raffles Hotel is under construction until 2019, I highly reccomend Chijmes: an incredible destination filled with tons of restaurants, shopping and bars, that used to be a convent!
Orchard Road provides incredible shopping and great sights at night, with bright neon and plenty of cool street performers. Every mall gives something unique. Have a fancy cocktail and cigar at The Other Room.
Chinatown is a blast. Packed with fantastic food and vendors, no stone should be left unturned in Chinatown. Visit the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple for an incredible experience, and then try your hand at the hawker stands. Some even have Michelin Stars!
Sentosa Island is Singapore’s playground. Take the scenic Cable Car to the island and explore its incredible beaches on a rental bike. There’s a Luge, Bungy Jumping, and much more on this island theme park. There’s also a Universal Studios. For the history buffs, check out Fort Siloso, a strategic fortress that saw incredible action during WWII.
Gardens By The Bay is arguably the most marvelous set of gardens on earth. Below Marina Bay Sands, explore the incredible set of gardens, including the Supertree Grove. Don’t miss the Cloud Forest, either.
Little India is an extraordinary cultural journey. Visit any of the Hindi temples and explore the food, jewelery, and fine clothes in this incredibly colorful district. It’s difficult to give specific recommendations for this district because there is so much and it’s all wonderful. Bring cash.
Arab Quarter is right next to Little India, but offers something totally different. It’s a very upcoming district, so during the daytime I recommend the narrow, adorable Haji Lane to explore tons of boutiques. Baghdad Street has amazing Turkish food, and don’t miss some pictures by the incredible Masjid Sultan Mosque! At night, try a strange culinary experience at Nox Dine in the Dark— a pitch-black dining experience where all the staff is legally blind. Support their cause and try a crazy experience!
My Favorite Experience of Singapore was visiting the Atlas Bar. It’s set in a ridiculously gorgeous art-deco styled building and features the largest gin collection on earth. You cannot miss this.
Tiong Bahru is the best breakfast neighborhood. Uber is cheap and ridiculously efficient. Nobody cares about Geylang.