This is an article in the 36 Hours In… series. To find more in the series, head here.
When you think of big Asian cities, words like crowded, dirty, smelly and even dangerous come to mind.
Singapore doesn’t really fit that mould, does it?
With its open green spaces, extraordinarily clean streets (you’re not even allowed to chew gum there!), and incredibly low crime rate, it’s quite unlike any other Asian city.
That’s why Singapore is the perfect place for a city break or a stopover. It’s also the perfect introduction to Asia for those who are apprehensive about visiting the region.
The perfect itinerary for a fun-filled 36 hours in Singapore!
We flew to Singapore with Singapore Airlines on their new Capital Express route, which links Wellington (New Zealand’s capital), Canberra (Australia’s capital) and Singapore. This route operates four times per week. Singapore Airlines also flies seven times weekly from Auckland and is the world’s most awarded airline. Our experience was fantastic!
Welcome to Singapore, a mixing pot of different cultures. Most people Chinese descendants, but there are also sizeable Malay and Indian populations. As a result, Singapore has a vibrant food scene. It’s time to head out there and experience it!
The best places to eat, we think, are hawker centres. We’re always on the hunt for cheap places to eat while travelling, and in Singapore it’s easy to spend a lot on eating out. However, you can also get meals for as little as $2!
Hawker centres, Singapore’s version of food courts, are everywhere. They’re busy and their stalls sell all kinds of different dishes. Some even have Michelin stars – if you want to eat from one of those you might be waiting for a few hours!
One bonus is, being in Singapore, you don’t have to worry about getting food poisoning like you might in less hygienically-conscious parts of Asia – there are actual food safety standards here!
Dinner at Chinatown Complex hawker centre
We had some excellent hawker meals at Chinatown Complex on Smith Street in Chinatown. Head upstairs to the second floor and wander around the rows of stalls until something catches your eye. I had a delicious chicken curry ($3) and Shaun had a beautiful chicken rice meal ($2), one of Singapore’s national dishes.
You can get mainstream brand beers at numerous stalls, but in Chinatown Complex there are two stalls that sell craft beers! One is called The Good Beer Company (stall 02-58) and the other one is Smith Street Taps (stall 02-62). The beers are pricey (around $12 a bottle) but it’s nice to be able to drink craftys if you want to!
Cocktails at a speakeasy bar
After a delicious dinner at Chinatown Complex, walk five minutes east to the appropriately named Club Street. This street, and Ann Siang Road next to it, are chockablock with cool bars and restaurants. If you want a drink with a difference, see if you can find Operation Dagger, a speakeasy cocktail bar hidden behind a nondescript door and down a grubby stairwell.
The cocktails were exquisite – my ‘Fallen Fruit’ was concocted with poached pear, burnt sugar and curry leaves, and served gently smoking with dry ice. It was like being inside an apothecary with little bottles lining the walls and instruments the mixologists use to create drinks in one corner. What a bar!
Kampong Glam hipster neighbourhood
Take yourself to Kampong Glam, Singapore’s hipster neighbourhood. There are heaps of great places to eat and more than a few good cafes for brunch. Check out Eat and Travel With Us’ list of great places to eat in Kampong Glam!
Bali Lane, Haji Lane and the surrounding streets offer lots of cute boutiques selling clothes, locally-made designer goods, and freshly roasted coffee. It’s definitely worth having a browse!
The other side of Kampong Glam is that it’s Singapore’s Muslim neighbourhood. With street names like Baghdad Street and Muscat Street, it’s no wonder. There are tons of Turkish restaurants and the wonderful Sultan Mosque. It’s an impressive building and it characterises an important part of Singapore’s history.
For a different culture after wandering through Kampong Glam, walk ten minutes down the road to Little India. You’ll be forgiven if you think you’ve stumbled into Mumbai for a minute (although it’s a lot more chaotic there I imagine!). The air is filled with the scent of flower garlands and statues of the Hindu god Ganesh are everywhere. The striking Sri Veeramakaliamman temple takes pride of place on Serangoon Road and is well worth a look inside.
The easiest way of getting around Singapore, if you haven’t discovered it by now, is the MRT or underground rail. It’s cheap, and like the rest of Singapore, it’s safe and clean.
Singapore’s ArtScience Museum
This afternoon we recommend beating the heat at the ArtScience Museum beside the monstrous Marina Bay Sands hotel (that one that looks like a massive boat balanced on three huge skyscrapers). When we visited, there were two fantastic exhibitions, one about the mass of data that today’s world creates and how it’s used and managed (it sounds really boring but it was conveyed in a super-interesting way!).
The other exhibition was called Future World, and although we had to dodge loads of kids, it was great too. You could colour in a turtle, lizard or bus, scan your drawing and it would appear animated on the wall or floor of the room. We wrote our names on our drawings so we could tell which ones were ours! The Crystal Universe, a room filled with strings of LED lights that changed colour, was dazzling.
Don’t miss Gardens by the Bay!
One of Singapore’s absolute must do’s is the gobsmacking Gardens by the Bay. Even if you’re like me and not a garden type of person, make sure you go. This billion dollar development by Singapore’s government is truly amazing. The gardens cover 101 hectares of reclaimed land on the waterfront, and the main attractions are the massive conservatories and giant Supertrees.
You’ll welcome the cool air inside the conservatories. One, named the Flower Dome, contains plants from mild and dry environments, such as the Mediterranean, South Africa, and parts of South America. You can see cacti from Mexico and a 1000-year-old olive tree from Croatia (yes, they actually brought in a 1000-year-old tree from Croatia!).
Some of the trees are enormous and it really makes you consider the scale of the project – trees that have come from the other side of the world, planted and growing in a big glass building in Singapore.
The other conservatory is called the Cloud Forest, and is representative of cool and wet environments. Here you’ll see plants from cooler tropical regions such as mountainous areas of Southeast Asia and Central and South America.
The best thing about the Cloud Forest conservatory is that the structure inside the conservatory is a ‘cloud mountain’ – a seven storey mountain covered in plants with a waterfall and cantilevered paths clinging to the outside. Crazy impressive! We missed the ‘misting’ event earlier in the day when a mist actually envelops the entire interior of the conservatory.
Along with the conservatories, the other impressive structures at Gardens by the Bay are the Supertrees. The Supertree Grove contains a number of these tree-like structures, which act as vertical gardens but they are also exhaust chimneys for the power plant that runs the gardens. The gardens’ power is generated by plant waste from the gardens themselves as well as other parks across Singapore – how’s that for sustainable! The elevated walkway between some of the Supertrees is well worth visiting as it offers beautiful views over the gardens and towards the city.
Stay close to Gardens by the Bay – you’ll be heading back there soon. We recommend having dinner at Satay by the Bay, an alfresco hawker centre only a ten minute walk from the Supertree Grove.
We had pork, chicken and beef satay cooked on skewers over hot coals and smothered with a spicy peanut sauce, as well as roti prata, a Malay/Singaporean dish consisting of a flaky pancake dipped in curry sauce. Delicious!
Head back to Gardens by the Bay to catch the light show in the Supertree Grove at 7.45 pm (it’s on every night, and there’s also one at 8.45 pm). Sit down somewhere and look up – the lights on the Supertrees dance to the music!
The world’s highest microbrewery
Singapore is well known for its rooftop bars – why wouldn’t it be when there are tons of skyscrapers! We recommend Level 33, which is actually the world’s highest microbrewery! We managed to score a table on the balcony (it probably pays to book first) and settled in for a few drinks.
The view is fantastic – you can see many of the city’s tall buildings as well as Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore Flyer. The in-house beers are good, although when we visited they had run out of the India Pale Ale which was disappointing. Nevertheless, if you want to combine craft beer with great views, it’s a spectacular place to go!
A traditional Singapore breakfast
Start Sunday the right way with a traditional Singaporean breakfast. Kaya toast is a tradition which I think would work well in the rest of the world – toast with a big blob of butter and smeared with coconut jam, and local coffee with condensed milk. YUM. We visited Ya Kun Kaya Toast in the business district, but there are branches all over the city.
Next, head to Singapore’s playground: Sentosa Island. It’s the perfect place to spend a day and is the complete opposite to the busy city you’ve just left. Sentosa can be accessed by monorail from the mainland ($4) or you can walk on travelators on a causeway for free to reach the island.
Sentosa Island: Singapore’s home of activities!
Sentosa is full of activities – there’s Universal Studios theme park, a kids only theme park called Kidzania, surfing on artificial waves in a pool, indoor skydiving, and a bungy jump that will be completed in 2017.
We offer you some slightly more sedate, but no less fun, activities. The S.E.A. Aquarium is seriously impressive – check out the walk-through shark tank and the massive ‘Open Ocean’ tank. Manta rays, nurse sharks and multitudes of fish call this exhibit home. It’s mesmerising to watch and I could’ve stood there for hours. You can also see jellyfish pulsating in their tanks and touch sea stars in the touch pond.
Once on Sentosa Island, all the public transport is free. This includes electric trams and the monorail. We recommend catching the electric trams that come every 10 minutes so you can see the different beaches that Sentosa has to offer.
Beaches? Yes! Singapore actually has some lovely beaches. The sand may be imported but the beaches on Sentosa Island are well worth spending some time at.
Laze on the beach
Tanjong Beach is the best beach on Sentosa Island, and it’s quieter than neighbouring beach Siloso. You should book a beach lounger at Tanjong Beach Club in advance, especially if you’re visiting on a Sunday afternoon as they host beach parties each Sunday! Unfortunately we weren’t there on a Sunday but the beach parties look like such fun.
The beach club serves great food and drinks at not over the top prices. If you dine there or rent a lounger you can use the pool – a definite bonus! Enjoy the rest of the day and relax at Singapore’s best beach.
What a weekend! We hope you enjoy exploring the different sides of Singapore as much as we did. From cheap food to fancy cocktails, from garden architecture to art and science, and even beaches, you will have a great time for sure.
Thanks to Singapore Airlines for sponsoring our trip to Singapore, and for Singapore Tourism for hosting us while there. We stayed at the fantastic and central Rendezvous Hotel. As always, you’ll always receive our honest opinion regardless of who is footing the bill!