A short layover is a great starting point to explore this epic city. If there was a contest on Earth for the title of “Most Futuristic City”, Singapore would show up to it in a DeLorean with Doc Brown to accept the trophy.
It feels unfair that Singapore somehow ended up with a reputation as merely being something of a launch pad to more interesting SE Asia destinations. This is a city that deserves to be getting some love from the backpacking/budget traveler crowd. At the very least, Singapore deserves a long layover before you hightail it South to Bali or North to Thailand.
Why is Singapore great? To kick things off, its an architect’s dream. Every skyscraper looks like it was designed to be cooler than the building next to it. With so many iconic buildings I have no idea how its hasn’t been featured in movie getting nuked by aliens or trampled by Kaiju.
What else is great about Singapore:
- Easily the cleanest city I’ve ever been too. (Joke about chewing gum being illegal all you want- If Chicago could be this clean, I never need another stick of DoubleMint the rest of my life).
- Taxis are cheap, drivers are friendly and efficient, and you aren’t expected to tip.
- Diversity is real here. Aside from the “Hey, we can all get along!” vibe, diversity means that you can get any type of world cuisine you want and its going to be awesome. Whether you want to spend $3 or $30, you’re going to get an authentic meal anytime you want around here.
So, for the sake of getting the most out of this destination in less than a day, lets check out how to have the perfect day in Singapore…
1. Hike at MacRitchie Nature Trail and Reservoir Park
Kick the morning off with a stroll through the jungle. Trails at MacRitchie Reservoir are a great way to get to see what Singapore looked like before it was covered in concrete. Its free to use the trails and there is even a suspended bridge for an elevated walk through the treetops. You’re basically going on a free jungle safari, so keep your eyes peeled for lizards and monkeys!
2. Shop the Market and Eat like a local in Little India or Chinatown
Cost: Food $4-6 USD
The market experience is a bit homogenized compared to what you might typically find, but they are uncharacteristically clean and devoid of high pressure sales guys breathing down your neck. The food is plentiful, varied, and cheap. You can pick up a great lunch for less than $6 USD.
3. Drink a Singapore Sling at Raffles Long Bar
Cost: $21 USD
Crowded markets and spicy food will leave you feeling parched, so head to the birthplace of the famous Singapore Sling. Haven’t heard of a Sling? You can read the drawn out history of it here, but this is the abridged version:
Way back when in Singapore, ladies were not allowed to drink adult beverages. This made the gentlemen that lived there very sad as the dance floors were empty. Ngiam Tong Boon, bartender extraordinaire, stepped up to save the day. Why not make a boozy drink that is camouflaged as healthy fruit drink? Thus, he created the worlds first jungle juice so that bittys could get tipsy on the DL.
Order up a Sling and you can get tipsy too. In addition to having a sip of history, the Long Bar feels like you’re drinking on the set of a movie in which Indiana Jones might stroll into.
4. Dinner at Sawadee Thai Cuisine at Tan Quee Lan Street
Cost: $20/Person on Set Menu
Singapore is home to a melting pot of world class cuisine- the bills for some of these eats can melt your credit card as well. After splurging on drinks at Raffles, dial it back a bit while you raise your expectations. Sawadee Thai Cuisine served the single best meal we had during the first 5 months of travel. We had the set menu option which included Mango Salad, Tom Yum Soup, Stuffed Chicken Wings, Grilled Seabass, Stir Fry Veggies, and Pineapple rice. This is of course topped off with sticky rice and mango for dessert.
Every one of these courses deserves a paragraph but the mundane sounding Stuffed Chicken Wings were the standout part of the meal. Imagine a perfectly fried chicken leg drenched in a sweet hot sauce. Now, imagine that some crazy food wizard (a chef?) removed the bones from inside the chicken leg and magically replaced them with tasty mushrooms. I have no idea how it works but once its in your mouth you’re not going to care.
5. Take a Walk Through Gardens By the Bay
After dinner, grab a taxi and head toward the Gardens by the Bay. Aside from the cab fare (~$8USD), you are now set for a free visit to a neon clad version of a forest from Avatar. Everywhere you turn at Gardens By the Bay, there are 120 ft tall faux tree superstructures reaching toward the sky. While the ‘trees’ are fake, the ivy, vines and ferns growing up the trees are very real.
The foliage manages to conceal the LED lights that otherwise cover the entire span of each tree. Make a beeline for SuperTree Grove so you can check out how those lights make the trees come alive during light shows at night during the music/light show known as Garden Rhapsody. While most of the park is open (and free!) until 2AM, the Rhapsodys usually happen between 7 and 9PM. Check the website as the times change monthly.
6. Stroll Over to Finish the Night at Marina Bay Sands Fountain & Light Show
Catch the show from both sides of the bay: sit in front of Marina Bay Sands for the fountains and again across the bay for the laser show
Suggesting you see the fountain show while in Singapore is akin to telling someone Paris bound to be sure to catch the Eiffel tour. What you don’t know yet is that the fountain show is going to exceed your expectations. A live band performs in the background while fountains, fire, and bubbles (Yes, bubbles) brings the audience to its feet. The fountain show (formally called Wonder Full) will make you feel warm and fuzzy in all the ways DisneyWorld tries to.
Marina Bay Fountain Wonder Full schedule:
- Sunday – Thursday: 8:00pm, 9:30pm
- Friday & Saturday: 8:00pm, 9:30pm, 11:00pm
While Singapore falls outside of what some would called budget travel, there is no reason to write it off completely as a stop on your world trip. The best of Singapore can be had completely free of charge and the full experience will set you back less than $60 USD for food and entertainment per day. Hostels, cheap eats, and free entertainment abound in this great city so there is little reason to not give it a try. I think you’ll find that it turns out to be one of the most interesting and inspiring destinations to visit.