It’s no secret that old friends are worth their weight in gold. Kristin and I met over 15 years ago in Atlanta due to the kismet of our mutual
obsession mania appreciation of wiener dogs. She texted me this week; “I’ve just read the street food article, so good!! …. Oh hey, headed to Singapore for work soon- any advice?’ She knows that my love language is words of affirmation because she’s one of those rare humans who manage to balance her considerable intellect with an emotional agility that endears her to people. She’s going to tell you the truth about whatever needs telling, and everyone should be lucky enough to have a friend like that.
It takes a long time to grow an old friend.-John Leonard
So, Singapore. Have you been? Some think it lacks a soul, that it’s sterile and micromanaged and that the cultural atmosphere is store-brand vanilla. Don’t listen to them. Singapore has an exotic contemporary past, with the British, the Japanese and the Malaysian governments successively staking claims until Singapore became an independent republic- just in 1965! Quickly, it’s become a sleek city of modern convenience (and ok ok ok, rules) and it runs like a Swiss timepiece. It’s one of the most prosperous nations in the world and invests heavily in public education. Singapore is very safe to visit- so safe that people will reserve seats in the hawkers market with their iPhone or laptop and walk away. Crime is extremely low, so low that many stores don’t even bother to lock up. This is because, well, you’re being watched. Surveillance cameras are more common than cell phones and this is one of the most digitally connected cities in the world. Singaporeans have one of the longest life expectancies among all peoples, English is the most highly spoken language, and scores on indexes of multiracial, multicultural and religious diversity are consistently high. It rates among the least corrupt of nations, however, freedom of speech and freedom of the press is restricted and civil and political rights are limited. What do you think about that?
- There are no seasons here except HUMID. Think of wearing a wet coat that you’ve put in the dryer for 10 minutes and then pulled out while it was still damp. Monsoons are between Nov. and Jan and the hottest of the hot months are Apr-May. The silver lining is your skin will look like you’ve been using LaMer since you were three years old- dewy and perfect. During the day, people move from one air-conditioned space to another, and when they brave the outside, they’re moving in slo-mo. Things get going once the sun goes down.
- Take a Grab wherever you need to go. Grab is the equivalent of Uber in Singapore. Taxies are fine too, and both are shockingly inexpensive.
- Food and beverage are costly in restaurants, think $25 burgers, and a decent glass of wine will set you back $20. You can take 2 liters in with you, duty-free. Do it.
- You won’t get into the Marina Bay Sands pool unless you’re staying at the hotel. It’s locked up tighter than Fort Knox, and you do NOT want to hear your name and the word ‘detained’ in the same sentence whilst in Singapore, kay? You can, however, enjoy that same view, dry, by going up to the bar and restaurant- though, believe it or not, they charge you for the privilege of being there if you’re not a hotel guest.
- The water is safe to drink. You’ll want to carry a bottle with you and can refill it from any tap.
- Currency is the Singaporean Dollar or SGD, and you can claim a 7% GST refund on most purchases over $100, similar to the VAT tax refund in Europe.
- You’ll never have a problem with wi-fi or connectivity.
The Singapore Zoo (80 Mandai Lake Road) is a beautiful facility that exercises high regard for its animals. There are no dancing bears or tiger selfies – the focus is on conservation and education. More of a wildlife reserve, it’s rated as the best in Asia. The first time I was there in 2012, I saw (drumroll for namedropping) The Irwins! Cue me fangirling over Bindi! And tiny Robert! And Terri! While you’re there, check out the closeby Jurong Bird Park- unless you have a bird phobia. You’re going to be up close and personal with these feathery cheeseballs using you as their personal perch- your arms, the top of your head, it’s all fair game. You know getting pooped on is good luck, right? (2 Jurong Hill)
Hawkers Markets are the equivalent(ish) of an outdoor food court. Except not really, coz they are immensely better. Unlimited choice, cheap and hot and delicious and clean. Seriously, some of these vendors have Michelin stars. Each stall will typically specialize in a dish or possibly two. Give yourself a walk around and do some reconnoitering. Prioritize. What suits your fancy? Pumpkin and black rice congee? Fried Kway Teow? Fish head curry? Whatever you do, you simply MUST have the dish that Singapore is known for- Chili Crab. Did you see Crazy Rich Asians? Then you saw the Newton Food Centre (500 Clemenceau Ave North.) Very popular, it has over 100 hawker stalls and is an institution in Singapore. Another great choice and perhaps less popular among tourists, is the Old Airport Road Food Centre (51 Old Airport Road.) Try the Yan Ji Seafood Soup- it’s a well-kept secret. Amoy Street Food Centre (7 Maxwell Road) offers more modern fare along with the tried and true Singaporean favorites. This is where you’ll find the Michelin dish of Japanese ramen with dumplings, roasted meat and prawns. La Pa Sat (aka Telok Ayer Market) is near the CBD and runs alongside the famous Satay Street. Some of these stalls are open 24 hours, so you can get your 3 am laksa fix, you naughty thing. The architecture here is smashing, and you won’t regret going. (18 Raffles Quay- pronounced ‘key’)
The Buddha Tooth Temple (the full name is The Budda Tooth Relic Temple and Museum) is a quirky place, and y’all know I like some unusual amusement. (Remember the freezer full of rattlesnakes in Vegas?) The story here goes that in 1980, the relic upon which the temple is named was unearthed in sacred ground in Myanmar, previously Burma. You can actually view it on the 4th floor, but alas- no photos. What you’ll love about this place is the muted hush and accessible reverence that abounds. Monks are chanting and exquisite buddhas adorn the walls. If you wish to meditate or watch a Buddhist ceremony you are welcome to do so, but before entering the temple you are required to observe the customs of modesty by covering your legs and arms. Shawls can be borrowed at the entry. Don’t miss participating in the 100 coins ritual. In exchange for $10SGD, you are given 100×10 cent coins; one coin to be deposited into the donation box for each of the lovely buddhas you will encounter on your walk through the temple. At each buddha, you make a wish, state an intention, or express gratitude. Located in Chinatown (288 South Bridge Road.) I recommend that you allow an hour to visit, more if you’re doing the 100 coins ritual.
Changi Airport is a destination in and of itself. Who wants to hang out in an airport? YOU DO- believe that. It’s actually dazzling and honestly, you’ve never seen anything like it. Containing an exotic butterfly garden, monumental shopping (my girlfriend in Sydney buys almost all her shoes here), a Canopy Park, myriad sculpture and art exhibits, a cloud greenhouse, an entertainment quarter, a kinetic rain display, spas and nap pods. It’s been rated the World’s Best Airport since 2012 by SkyTrax for very good reason. You could stay here all day.
Singapore fancies itself a city within a garden, and nowhere is this more evident than at Gardens by the Bay. Though the name’s a bit unimaginative, the architecture is anything but. Upon arrival, I recommend that you start with the Cloud Forest. Comprised of several levels, you’ll find yourself in the world’s largest glass greenhouse which happens to house the tallest man-made waterfall on the planet. It’s spacious and you won’t feel crowded or rushed. Take your camera, it’s insta-tastic. Allow an hour or two unless you’re in a hurry. In another conservatory, The Flower Dome is just that, except this is Singapore and nothing is done half measure. Everything you see is riotous in color, texture and variety; this is not your mother’s flower display. Make sure to check out the OCBC Skyway, part of this complex, where you can walk amongst the Supertree Grove and enjoy spectacular views from 70 feet (22 metres) above the ground. At night, beginning at 7:45, the light and sound show begins. Bring a picnic, throw out a blanket and enjoy it for free.
So let me know, does Singapore look vanilla to you? Do you know your love language? Do you have an old and gold friend?