The city state of Singapore is a former British colony and, now, one of the financial capitals of Asia. It is the third most densely populated country in the world (behind Monaco and Macao) and it really is just a perfect little bubble. The rule of law in Singapore is enforced with an iron fist, right down to the tiniest infractions, such as littering and smoking in public. The result is a quiet, clean, orderly, urban paradise. And while I disagree that drug-related infractions should carry the death penalty, this dose of peace and quiet was just what the doctor ordered after a year in Hanoi, Vietnam. Because... yikes.
Despite its upscale living standards and economic prowess, Singapore is not as well known in the world as you might think. A couple days before I left, my own parents admitted that they didn't know where Singapore was. So for all you other people out that also don't know but are too cool to admit it, here's a map. That'll just be our little secret.
BIG shout-out to my girl Kendal who put her Singaporean childhood to good use by sending me an exhaustive list of everything to do here. You have her to thank for the itinerary of this trip.
Let's get started....
Arriving In Singapore
It was a smooth flight to Singapore and when I arrived, what I saw on the other side of customs was a sight for sore eyes. It was a Subway. I ate fresh for the first time in over a year, and it was amazing. Then I got on the train (called the MTR) to head out in search of my hostel. There's no wifi in Changi Airport, so I couldn't look up directions to my hostel. I did know that I was staying in Little India, but for some reason I thought it was a better idea to go to another nearby stop called 'Bugis', instead of the 'Little India' stop. I would have been lost as soon as I left the station regardless so it didn’t matter too much.
Starting from the Bugis MRT stop, hunched beneath the weight of my enormous backpack, I lumbered from street corner to street corner trying to hail a cab. Nobody would pick me up though. Finally I came to a place where taxis were stopping and people were waiting in line to get in. I got in line and finally I got a cab. The cab driver, who spoke in a gruff Chinese accent, told me that taxi drivers can be fined 500 SGD (Singapore Dollars) (about 356 USD) if they are caught zigzagging to attempt to find passengers on the street. He told me that you will rarely see police on the streets of Singapore because there are cameras everywhere. I told him that I was not used to all these rules after living in Vietnam for so long. “In Vietnam, I think there is more freedom!” he proclaimed. “It’s a trade-off I guess…” I murmured, suddenly noticing the cameras every 10 feet.
Inn Crowd Backpacker's Hostel 2
I was staying in a hostel called Inn Crowd Backpacker's Hostel 2. It is in the middle of Little India at 73 Dunlop Street. After my awesome experience with my Backpacker's Hostel in Sapa (Vietnam), I was eager to do it again, but this particular hostel was far less of a social place. However, it did have redeeming qualities. It was cozy, it was next to a 24-hour 7/11, the wifi was fast (ish), it had a big screen TV in the common area that played funny movies at night, and the staff there were great. It was a bit quiet for my taste though.
It's also in a cool neighborhood. Little India is not only an interesting place in Singapore, it is also it's own stop on the MTR, so you are close to a subway stop. Here's a peak at Little India:
Walking From Little India to Clark Quaye
When I finally got to my hostel I was far from tired, so I headed out for a walk. I walked from Little India to a place called Clark Quaye (pronounced "clar-kee" for some reason). Clark Quaye was okay, but for me the best part of that night was the walk. The streets were just so QUIET! And CLEAN! And ORDERLY! After living in Vietnam for so long the walk was downright therapeutic. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the first world.
On my way I came across a few cool things as well, including a church that had a large bar scene tucked away sort of behind / beneath it. I took a walk through but I didn't stick around.
Finally I got to Clark Quaye. It was cool, but nothing to write home about. But then again, it was midnight on a Tuesday when I was there. Clark Quaye a little bar / restaurant area on the river. I walked around, poked my head into a few places, got told that you’re not allowed to take pictures inside restaurants in Singapore, and took some pictures anyway. Here’s some of that:
Then, since I had already gotten a blister somehow, I took a cab home. Off to a great start!
The next day, I wasn’t sure what to do. I made a new friend at the hostel though and the 2 of us headed to a place called Santosa. For whatever reason, this word immediately reminded me of “carcosa” and the devil worship from season 1 of True Detective. Idk man, I'm weird.
However, Santosa is the polar opposite of this. Santosa is basically Singapore’s version of Disneyland. It’s a separate island to the South of Singapore that is connected to the “mainland” (if Singapore can even be considered mainland). It has pretty much everything you could ever want for a family vacation with small kids, from man-made beaches to it’s own version of Universal Studios. It all costs money though, so we decided to choose just 1 thing to do. It came down to the aquarium and the cable cars, and between the 2 of them we chose the cable cars. That seemed like it was a more uniquely Singaporean experience. It was cool, but it would have been nice if they extended a bit farther across Singapore. The cost of the cable cars was 29.00 SGD (20.66 USD).
From the zenith of our ride on the cable cars we were able to see the towering buildings of downtown Singapore in the distance. We decided to make that our next stop.
We went back into the MRT Station and asked what the best stop was to get to downtown. The woman was taken aback that we wanted to go there. “Why would you go there? There is nothing!” She told us lots of places that we should go instead, but we still went to downtown.
It’s definitely not a tourist attraction, but I just wanted to see it. It’s real! And aside from the ‘real life’ factor, in my years of business school I studied some of what made Singapore a financial powerhouse. I wanted to see where all the magic happens for myself!
So we went to the ‘Downtown’ MRT stop around lunchtime and took a walk. The buildings down in that part of Singapore are on a scale that I had almost forgotten existed. They are just so massive. We took a walk a fought the crowds of the financial sector’s lunch rush.
Beneath our feet, and beneath the sidewalk, stretched miles and miles of mall. The shops consisted of high-end clothing retailers and assorted restaurants hailing from all over the world. It was actually mostly just food. And after perusing the world’s best and tastiest, I chose Subway again. #sorrynotsorry
The Botanic Gardens
After that, we wanted to check out the Botanic Gardens. They are on nearly the opposite side of the island (or at least the train’s layout) from where we were, so it was going to be a long ride.
We tapped our MTR cards to add more credit, as we had to before every ride. Supposedly there is a 1-day tourist pass available somehow, somewhere, but we never investigated that. Anyway, the machine gave my friend a price of 2.50 SGD and me a price of 2.40 SGD. Which perplexed us. I think the idea of the subway cards is though that the more you use them the cheaper they become. I had tapped mine a couple more times than he had tapped his I guess.
We settled in for the long train ride (almost an hour!) to the other side of the island. On the wall was a typical Singapore sign listing all the things that are prohibited on the train. “No smoking. No food. No drinks. No durian.” I had to laugh at this. Thank you! The Singaporean government gets it! If you don’t know, durian is often called stinky fruit, for reasons that will become obvious to you as soon as you come within a 10-meter radius of it. Ew.
The train was cold like the arctic, but I shivered myself into a sleep-like state as we sped our way through Singapore’s underground tunnels. When we arrived at the Botanic gardens, the hot, humid air hit us like a sack of bricks as we walked outside. After that train ride I didn’t really mind though.
There is a solid 3 hours of walking to be done in the Botanic Garden, but we streamlined that into about an hour by walking fast and skipping over gardens that didn't sound engaging. If we’re being honest, it wasn’t always the most interesting walk. There were lots of pretty plants, but there were also stretches of plain grass and boring ponds. Overall though, it was quite a relaxing place. It would be a great place to bring your grandmother for some quality time.
At one point we crossed paths with a long line of school children that were on a field trip. We had been walking next to them for a little while when all of a sudden they all started yelling and pointing to something in the bushes. We looked, and there was a small monitor lizard quietly slinking through the garden next to us. It was not as big as the giant Dragons we had seen in the Komodo Islands of course, but it was still interesting. These were the best shots I could get around the excited mob of Singaporean children.
There is a large stage nestled nearby the National Orchid Garden and the Ginger Garden where the symphony often plays. I actually remember seeing a lot of things that made me think “Huh. I can totally see how expats raise families here”. Then again, I'm sure that that would come with challenges, as evidenced by the large numbers of Asian nannies and babysitters chasing around little British children in the park. These children were probably the sons and daughters of Singapore’s outsourced financial executives.
From there we got back onto the train and headed back to Little India. I had been hoofing it all day so I needed to rest my poor feet. But we couldn't relax for to long. We had plans for that evening.