It’s been two weeks since I got back from my “soul searching” trip to Singapore. I can’t say that everything’s clear to me now, because obviously, it’s not. But those twelve days I spent there were not in vain.
Here are my Singapore top ten hits, in no particular order. This includes anything and everything from places to food to experiences that made my trip all the more memorable.
1) The public transportation system.
First thing that I missed when I got home. Their transportation system is efficient, reliable and clean, be it the MRT or the bus. I love how connected all the places are–there’s always an MRT station or a bus stop near the major attractions. Taking the MRT is often the quickest way to get somewhere (aside from taxis, of course), but since I had the time, I decided to try the bus so I could see more of the city.
During my first bus trip, I lost my way transferring from one bus to another (damn the roadside constructions along Bukit Timah!) and ended up in the East Coast instead of the Botanic Gardens. After that, it became a personal challenge to master the whole bus thing. Thanks to Gothere.sg and SG Next Bus, not to mention the handful of experiences that I had, I left Singapore confident about my bus skills.
2) The safety and security.
This was the only place where I’d see someone leave her Louis Vuitton bag open on a table while she goes up to get her coffee. Apparently, everyone’s too scared of the authorities to try and nip a cellphone or wallet. Everywhere I’ve traveled, I’d been advised to keep my purse close to my body, so it’s refreshing to actually be able to NOT have a white-knuckled grip on my bag straps. Some people don’t even find the need to lock their apartments! It’s like a whole different world!
It was also my first time to be told not to worry about exploring empty side streets. I remember walking outside Fort Canning and trying to find a way to cross over to the mall on the opposite side of the road. There was a “No Crossing” sign along the sidewalk so, being the dutiful tourist that I was, I kept on walking in search of the designated crossing. Lo and behold, a winding underground tunnel stretched before me, all dark and abandoned. My heart started to race, thoughts of muggings and kidnappings ala New York’s Central Park running through my head. Still, I entered and guess what I found mid-way? There amidst the delicate play of light and shadow, a long train of white tulle stood out in stark contrast with the ground as a prenuptial photo shoot took place. Too bad I wasn’t able to take a shot then!
3) The chicken.
For someone who enjoys traveling, I’m not really adventurous with food. It’s weird, I know. Part of the whole cultural experience is tasting the local cuisine. Thing is (lowers my voice to a whisper), I don’t eat fish.
Okay, that’s not the entire truth. I don’t eat anything that’s lived in the sea. I used to, when I was a kid, but sometime between elementary and high school, I suddenly lost the stomach for it. So you can imagine how that rules out a lot of local food. (Please don’t judge me :P)
Thankfully, Singapore had a lot of CHICKENS to offer *snickers*. Hainanese chicken rice is one of their specialties–it’s basically steamed chicken that’s eaten with rice and a gingery dip &/or a thick soy sauce. I was able to try one of the supposedly best makers of hainanese chicken, Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice over in the Maxwell Food Court.
Another notable lunch stop was Tori-Q, a Japanese yakitori stall in Takashimaya Mall. Okay, so it isn’t local cuisine, but the food was so good that I cannot NOT mention it. The chicken balls were THE best, though I also tried chicken, chicken karaage, chicken poppers and chicken skin. Everything was scrumptious that I went back a second time the day before I left SG.
And lastly, I can’t miss out on the honey chicken at South Bank, a Thai restaurant found in Boat Quay. They have an interesting concept of a set meal, wherein they have a menu of dishes to choose from and you can choose (the number of people you are in a group PLUS ONE) dishes. Each person only pays 10.50 SGD, and that already includes free flowing steamed rice and drinks (you can’t choose the drink though, it’s whatever they have for the day). How can you beat that deal?
4) The coffee.
There are three coffees that I now associate with Singapore. The first is Nespresso (yes, it’s not local, but still!), since my sister had a machine at home that I totally took advantage of for my almost-daily morning caffeine fix. There’s this huge Nespresso store that we visited in Ion Orchard–HEAVEN!
Next there’s the trademark Iced Kopi, which is a bittersweet, potent concoction of coffee and condensed milk. I actually had it confused with Kopi-C, which makes use of evaporated milk instead of the condensed. Nonetheless, yummy! My go-to places for cheap, local kopi were Toast Box and Ya Kun Kaya, but there’s also the Coffee & Toast and the generic stalls at the hawker markets.
Lastly, and this is very specific, the tiramisu latte of shots cafe. It’s a small place in Club Street, off Ann Siang Hill, that I found by Googling SG coffee places. Tiramisu latte is one of their signature drinks and, man, did it leave an impression. I even tried going back with my sister and a friend, but it turned out to be closed on Sundays. This is definitely a must-go for coffee lovers out there. The interior’s pretty simple but is given character by the assortment of artwork lining the walls. Also loved the ambiance; it’s great for studying, having an intimate cuppa or meal, or writing (like what I did). This brings us to number five–
5) Ann Siang Hill
My semi-local friend was that one who recommended this place to me. Tucked away in Chinatown, Ann Siang Hill is a rolling road that’s decked with colorfully restored shophouses, now home to cafes, bars, vintage shops and more. I liked the quaint feel of it, liked how no two storefronts looked entirely the same. The ambiance is somewhat reminiscent of small towns in Europe.
One of the stores that caught my eye was K ki, which is actually a patisserie/cafe which also housed the little drom store. They have a lot of charming knick knacks that are fun to sift through and would make for unique souvenirs. As with shots cafe, they feature interesting pieces of art: watercolor paintings, particularly. I would’ve wanted one of the designs, but was too scared to ask about the price.
6) The beach at Sentosa.
I must say, this wasn’t on my must-see list when I set out for Singapore. If it wasn’t for the recommendation of my sister’s friends, I would’ve happily skipped out on this destination…and what a shame that would’ve been.
I’d actually been to Sentosa when my family first visited Singapore. I don’t really remember much of it aside from the cable car and the night fountain show. Imagine my surprise when there turned out to be a lot more to Sentosa than just the rides and kiddie shows.
Since I wanted a different environment where I could write and contemplate about my life (yesforreal), I decided to check out the beach. Among the three beaches, Palawan was my choice, mostly because I got a kick out of thinking that I’d go to Palawan in Singapore (we have the original one in the Philippines).
There wasn’t much contemplating done, since a bright, happy beach isn’t exactly a place for deep, muddy thoughts. I did enjoy myself though, basking in the sun and chilling with the reggae music in the background. For someone who isn’t all too fond of water, I took to that beach like, oh, a fish does to the sea (even though I basically just waded a few steps into the shore). Also enjoyed my experience both in and going to/from the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia.
7) The Marina Bay Sands.
I’d heard a lot of hype about this that got me into thinking whether it was overrated or not. I was pleased to discover that it met my expectations, surpassed them even. What can I say? The architecture and interior design alone is stunning, especially inside the hotel lobby. I was clicking away with my phone/camera…to think that I’m not really an avid photographer.
Sure, the stores are freaking expensive. There are lots to do besides that–from checking out the waterfall from the oculus, to visiting the ArtScience Museum (I was there in time for the Harry Potter and Andy Warhol exhibits. HP was a bit blah; Warhol rocked!), to just walking the stretch of the bay front. I actually did the half-circle walk from the Fullerton Hotel to MBS, and enjoyed seeing the occasional sculptures lining the path. The view from the top is also a must-see, especially at night when the city’s all lit up. You can pay to take the elevator up to the Sky Garden, or do what we did and eat at Ku De Ta, an Asian Fusion restaurant/bar. Our dinner was quite pricey, but the bill also covered the admission to the Sky Garden, as the resto’s just a floor up from the view deck.
OH, and the Lights & Water Show! Truly “Wonder-full”. It felt so magical how those bursts of water became screens, upon which the laser lights depicted a story of life. AND there were bubbles, too! Best thing about it: it’s free and shown nightly.
8) The Esplanade.
I went here two different times–the first was at night, with my sister and some friends. We just came from Universal Studios and headed to the Esplanade to catch the Saturday night fireworks that we’d heard about. While waiting for the 8 pm show, we had dinner at Makansutra, the outdoor food court. It was funny because there were so many Pinoys; some of the food vendors even knew enough Tagalog to try to get us to choose them. Starting ’round half past seven, we’d be surprised with sudden bursts of colors in the sky–they were definitely eye-catching, but were nothing compared to the main event. Man, do the Singaporeans know how to put on a show! I’d lost track of the time, it could’ve been ten, fifteen, twenty minutes of superbly stupendous fireworks. It felt like Christmas and New Year’s, all in one.
The second time I came was during my last day in SG. I walked from my sister’s office near Fullerton Hotel (again!) to the Esplanade–my way of savoring the sights. Checked out the Merlion, but it was “closed” in preparation for its anniversary. Then I discovered how restful it was to just sit (or lie down) underneath the billowing white cover of the Outdoor Theatre. Some people were having a picnic there, while others were reading or, like me, taking a breather from walking.
The inside of the Esplanade was also worth exploring. I appreciated how art is promoted through the paintings and artworks displayed on the walls and the makeshift “chandeliers” descending from the ceiling. For those who want to do some research specifically on performing arts or who just want a quiet, cool place to study/read, there’s the library@esplanade located on the third floor.
9) I went MAAD.
No, I don’t mean crazy. MAAD stands for “Market of Artists And Designers”. It’s an event that the red dot design museum hosts one Friday a month. From 5pm to 12 mn, the museum is, in their own words, “transformed into a creative playground”, wherein you’ll find anything from clothing/ jewelry/ specialty stalls to art workshops to live music and beer–all local talent, of course. You’ll also be able to view some of the red dot design exhibits for FREE. Read more about MAAD and the red dot design museum here.
This was actually a spur of the moment thing for me–I found out about it online, but thought to just visit the museum on a regular day. That Friday night (August 3), I met up with a college friend, and we were on our way to Emerald Hill for drinks. In the middle of some idle chitchat while waiting for the pedestrian light to turn green, we simultaneously had that light-bulb moment of crashing the event.
It was sometime past ten when we arrived, just in time to catch the last few songs of the band. We enjoyed browsing through the unique shirts and hand-made earrings, then ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the innovative red dot awarded products on display. Later on, we got ourselves some beer and settled in inside one of the tents set up facing the makeshift stage. Makes for an interesting and truly one-of-a-kind Friday night gimmick.
10) Snow Patrol Live at Fort Canning Park.
I must admit that I wasn’t really a Snow Patrol fan to begin with. Before the concert, the only two songs of theirs I could remember were “Run” and “Chasing Cars”. So when my sister asked me if I wanted to watch, I was all, “Hmm…let’s see if the price is right”. Then I found out that she bought tickets for the both of us. Yay! 🙂 (Thanks again for that, sis!)
The night before the concert, we did our research by looking up their music videos on YouTube. That did NOT prepare me for the magnitude of their awesomeness. They did an INCREDIBLE job performing live! The production was brilliantly synchronized, with the seven video screens and colorful beams of light. Gary was a pro at working the crowd, and he was kind of adorable with his mussed-up hair. I realized that there were some other songs that I actually knew (“Just Say Yes” and “Crack the Shutters”), and they definitely won me over with those that I heard for the first time.
Needless to say, I downloaded their albums when I got home (currently loving “Signal Fire”)…and I definitely recommend watching one of the shows in Fort Canning, if you have the chance. 😉
How about you? What’s YOUR favorite experience in Singapore?