Singapore: The Perfect City-State
If there’s one country that does infrastructure right, it’s Singapore. This truly international city—it has four national languages: English, Mandarin, Tamil, and Malay—has some of the most picturesque buildings, cleanest boardwalks, efficient public transportation, and lightest traffic I have ever seen in a city of its size.
My first impression of it was, “Wow! This is a city I definitely see myself living in!” People met for happy hour on restaurant patios overlooking the river, the smell of curry permeated the air. Joggers and bikers shared the city pathways respectfully as music echoed through the air. There was plenty of room for groups to host outdoor yoga classes, for kids to pop wheelies on their bikes, for tourists to stop and take selfies by the bay. Singapore is a city full of life and space to live.
A Dinner Conversation
“Yeah, I felt that way too, and then I moved here,” a British expat sitting at the table next to me during dinner said as his date scrolled through her phone. “Singapore is bloody expensive, and all people care about here is work!”
“But surely there are tons of things to do when you’re not working,” I replied.
“Yeah, this!” he gulped down his beer.
“There are plenty of places to eat,” his date chimed in without looking up from her phone. “That’s all we do here. Eat, drink, work. And go shopping.”
“Oh, there’s also Universal Studios,” the expat mused. “You should go there.”
The server brought my check and I did a double take. S$36. That was more than what I spent in three days in the Philippines. On dinner.
“Geez, this place IS expensive…”
Things To Do in Singapore
I knew Singapore was going to be pricey (but to be fair, everything costs about the same as Chicago, and there are more affordable ways to get food if you knew where to look), so I had already decided I was only going to spend two nights there. My hostel, Five Stones, was in the Bugis (pronounced “boo-gees,” HAH) neighborhood, which is a 30 minute walk from most of the major attractions around Marina Bay and really close to the train station.
My initial list looked like this:
- Marina Bay
- Gardens by the Bay
- ArtScience Museum
- Asian Civilizations Museum
- Little India
- Henderson Waves
- Mount Faber Park
- Labrador Nature Reserve
- TreeTop Walk
But I didn’t have the time or money to do everything, so the end result looked like this:
- Walk around Marina Bay
- Look at architecture
- Walk around Little India
- Hike through the MacRitchie Reservoir to the TreeTop Walk
Walk, walk, walk.
1. Marina Bay
Most people recognize Marina Bay from pictures. Singapore’s famous skyline is home to the Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay, theater by the bay, lots of restaurants and high-end shopping.
It took all my willpower to not eat at the adjacent DC cafe. Or go into the Leica store. Or buy clothes.
Every night, they have a water and light show in front of the Marina Bay Sands. It’s pretty neat and free to attend.
Singapore architecture is heavily influenced by the array of cultures from both the east and west. During my first evening here, I walked from Bugis to Mandalay Bay via Arab Street and admired the buildings in between.
Hidden between the skyscrapers were several street vendors and small alleyways filled with cafes and patio performances.
3. Little India
The next morning, I headed for Little India, the neighborhood to go to for the best Indian food in Singapore. Lined along Serangoon Road are Islam mosques, Chinese and Hindu temples, and Christian churches. It was pretty early in the day when I got there, so the street was quiet and many of the vendors and restaurants were just opening.
4. TreeTop Walk
I had asked the couple I met at dinner about TreeTop Walk, and their response was, “Eh, it’s okay.” So of course, I opted to go there instead of Universal Studios or shopping.
TreeTop Walk is a bit out of the way and requires a bit of hiking, so I’d recommend reserving at least a half day to do this. It’s accessible via a 20 minute walk from the Marymount or Botanical Gardens MRT stops. You can enter either from the MacRitchie Reservoir Park in the southeast or Windsor Park in the Northeast.
TreeTop Walk is a 250m suspension bridge that elevates over the canopy of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Singapore’s largest nature reserve. You have to enter the bridge from the east and exit going west, so it’s recommended to follow the signage when you enter the reserve to make sure you don’t accidentally end up going the wrong way.
There are 20km of trails within the park, and to do a circuit around the entire perimeter takes about 3-5 hours depending on which trails you take.
An hour into my hike, I ran into another solo female traveler from Scotland. As we walked the trail together, I learned she had been traveling Australia and New Zealand since the fall and had been in Singapore for a few days. While we agreed there were plenty of things to do in the city, and affordable ways to experience it if you get creative, we both noticed that the people here seemed a bit…less adventurous. But this is only based on a few days of being here, so the assessment is a little premature (though we laughed at the fact that she also had another person recommend going to Universal Studios).
After another hour of walking, we reached TreeTop Walk, situated in the northwestern corner of the park. The bridge itself is pretty short, but what makes this walk worth it is the biodiversity of plants and animals you come across. In addition to colorful butterflies and dragonflies, we saw a monitor lizard swimming in the reservoir (we later learned it’s a type of komodo dragon and then concluded it was hunting us) and a swarm of banded leaf monkeys hanging out by the park entrance.
TreeTop Walk and the MacRitchie Reservoir would have been a great experience to do alone, but I’m also glad a ran into a fellow traveler. She’ll also be backpacking through Java to Bali the same time I will, so perhaps we’ll run into each other!
Overall, I wouldn’t mind visiting Singapore again if the opportunity arises. I’d really like to go to the museums the next time around, and hopefully when that time comes I’ll have a larger budget to work with!
Trip Duration: 1.5 days/2 nights
Accommodations: Five Stones Hostel, Bugis
Goals: Get a sense of the city without blowing my budget!
History: Singapore was founded in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles as a trading post for the British East India Company. It was occupied by Japan during WWII and gained independence from the UK in 1963, now existing as a sovereign city-state. It was initially a federation of Malaysia, but the two separated due to ideological differences.
In present day, Singapore is basically the OCD class valedictorian who happens to be good at everything at first glance, but after you get to know her a bit more, I’m sure you’ll find that she’s flawed just like the rest of us.