Singapore is like landing into a perfect place. Everything is beautiful, clean, pristine and precise. The crime rate here is close to none and not a homeless person in sight. The traffic runs smooth and the cars are all clean and updated. Looking out of the window in the taxi coming from the airport, I was in awe of the huge sky scrapers with ultra modern designs.
Staying the first few nights in Chinatown I was waiting for the left turn into a run down area with trash and foul smells – WRONG. Chinatown in Singapore is cleaner than any Chinatown I’ve visited in the United States and beyond. Not one piece of trash on the ground or smell in the air. I was shocked to see Chinese food outlets spotless clean. The buildings were updated and beautiful with Chinese signs on them. It was quiet and peaceful.
Smith Street in Chinatown is a blocked off street filled with food stalls. Air conditioners are installed outdoors to blow in cool air around the area. Each stall specializes in a few dishes. Seafood, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, fresh juices and desserts are all sold here. It’s hard to pick just one but the portions are large so its next to impossible to eat at more than a couple.
A popular tourist attraction in Singapore is Gardens by the Bay. This was designed in 2006 and opened in 2007. The idea was to create a city within the city of beautiful lush tropical gardens. It worked! The area is over 250 acres and has three waterfront gardens The Marina Bay Sands Hotel is in the same area. Within the gardens are three mind-blowing attractions:
The Cloud Forest was probably the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. Singapore has found away to mimic the pH balance of the mountain air. This creates a habitat for plants and trees to grow in their natural environment. Not only were we observing nature it was being preserved. Unlike any conservatory I’ve been to this was the most dynamic, largest and extravagant conservatory in the world. It also has the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. On one of the levels was a room full of the largest natural crystals. Some of the crystals were over 7 feet tall. The smell of the conservatory was refreshing from all of the plant life. The air was so clean and it was very cool inside.
The Flower Dome is a separate conservatory in the same area filled with flowers from around the world. It is the largest glass greenhouse in the world (as big as 75 Olympic-sized swimming pools). The conservatory was broken up by country. Since it was Christmas time, there were many pine trees from around the world decorated for the holidays. It was stunning. The environment created in the dome is spring all year around. Most if not all of flowers are in bloom there.
Supertree Grove is another spectacular man made wonder in Singapore. Metal trees with over 162,900 plants and 200 species and varieties of bromeliads, orchids, ferns and tropical flowering climbers are planted on them. The Supertrees range from 65 to 160 feet tall. In the day, they provide shade and at night the trees light up and play music. Eleven of the Supertrees are embedded with photovoltaic cells to harvest solar energy. I didn’t see the night show but I was in awe seeing them in the day.
The Helix Bridge was stunning, even in the daytime. It’s a left handed DNA design, which is the opposite of normal DNA on earth. At night it lights up in red and green. These are the colors that represent the four bases of DNA. This is one of many architectural wonders in Singapore.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple was one of the first sites we visited. The temple is a Buddhist temple and museum complex located in the Chinatown. Built in 2002 it is now a huge tourist attraction in Singapore. Sacred artifacts of the Buddha, are on the third floor. A huge stupa made from 705lbs of gold is on display for viewing but only monks are allowed to touch it. The entire temple is lined with Buddha statues. A Buddha for every Chinese zodiac sign is in another part of the temple. My Chinese zodiac is the dog. I had to look it up on my iPhone while I was in there. People were praying to the Buddha statues throughout the temple. A small mediation section was set up for those who wanted to meditate in front of Buddha. I don’t see how the few people did it with all of the tourist walking around. On the roof of the temple is a huge Buddhist Prayer Wheel. It has handles around it which enables you to spin it while walking in a circle. We said a prayer and walked the wheel around a few times by pushing it. Each time the wheel completed a full circle a bell rang. I’m sure we didn’t do this properly, but I wanted to do something spiritual in a sacred place.
Hawker stalls are an alternative to restaurants in Singapore. Singapore is so clean and the people of Singapore have so much pride in their work, eating at a hawker stall is just as nice as a dining establishment. The stalls are regulated by a health department to ensure cleanliness. A dinner for two people in a restaurant (with 2 alcoholic drinks) can run as low as $100.00 and as high as $300.00+ (USD). Everything here is ultra expensive. Hawker stalls vary in cuisine. Most of the hawker stalls are Asian, Indian, and Muslim. Eating dinner at a hawker stall can be as low as $5.00 depending on the cuisine. Chili crabs are a popular dish in Singapore. The prices are based on the weight of the crab, usually starting at $40.00. The famous one’s we visited were Maxwells, Smith Street in China Town, Old Tiong Bahru and Lau Pa Sat.
The Jurong Bird Park was also a fun place to spend the day. Birds from all over the world are there. During the day some of the birds performed a show. One of the bird’s named Amigo could speak 3 different languages and even sang songs in each language. Some of the cages were elaborate and spacious. The birds of prey (Brahminy Kite, White-bellied Sea Eagle, African Fish Eagle, Palm Nut Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Hooded Vulture and the Harris’s Hawk) were in smaller cages. I believe they should be able to fly high and free. They were amazing to see in person. The cages made it extremely hard to take any pictures of them. The penguins were enclosed in a small area with just a skylight for sun. I didn’t like seeing them that way. Overall, it was a nice park with a beautiful man made waterfall. I paid $3.00 for nectar and had colorful lory birds eating out of my hands.
Singapore Zoo was my favorite part of Singapore. I don’t normally patron zoos because I’m not a big fan of animals in captivity for entertainment purposes. I believe they should be free and live just like human beings do. We all share the same planet. What makes this zoo different from others is the freedom the animals have and the heavily forested area the park is located on. The monkeys, orangutans and other little creatures are free to roam within areas of the zoo. There are electric wires to keep them from mixing with other animals but the space they have is vast. Granted the lions and tigers have smaller areas but there are no fences to make them feel trapped. Animal interaction was a big part of the zoo experience here. Some of the animals you can reach out and touch. I was able to feed carrots to an 85 year old tortoise and pet him. I also had my picture taken with orangutans! I spent ALL day here and could have gone back a few more times during the trip, but time was limited and there was way too much to do and see.
Arab street which is in the Kampong Glam district was a highlight. This area has been around since the early 1800s. There were many silk shops and colorful material shops that lined the streets. Sultan Mosque is a beautiful landmark in this area. It started as a brick mosque in the early 1800s but then developed into what it is today in the 1920s. Since then it has been renovated but always remained. I didn’t go inside but it was beautiful on the outside.
The famous Zam Zam restaurant is in Arab quarter. It’s been around since the early 1900s. This is the place we tried murtabak. Murtabak is a stuffed bread filled with meat and then fried. It was delicious. At Zam Zam restaurant we tried the chicken, cheese and onion murtabak. Mutton is a meat served at most if not all of the Muslim and Arab restaurants in Singapore. I learned that mutton is lamb. When a sheep is under 1 year old it’s called lamb. Meat of an adult sheep is called mutton. Knowing this, I am going to expand my horizons and try it. I always thought mutton was like spam or potted meat. It doesn’t sound too appetizing just hearing the name – mutton.
Haji Lane, is full of funky little boutiques and shops. Each window had a creative dressing that made the store unique. The street is so narrow only one lane of traffic could fit through it. This is a place I could be found if ever missing. The shopping was great. Most of this area had funky coffee shops, restaurants and shops. I bought a bikini at a unique bikini boutique.
Little India was colorful and vibrant. The Tekka Centre is full of beautiful colorful dresses for women. Most of the clothing there caters to Indian and muslim women. It was fun to see but very hot inside. Downstairs is the food market, by this time of the day I was stuffed from eating on Arab Street.
Singapore Turf Club was where the horse racing is. We went on a Sunday. It was the last races of the year. Since we love the track this was a must see for us in Singapore. This is the place where men let loose. Men dominated the place. For every 50 men was one woman. When I say, let loose I mean this is the place where everything that is not allowed on the streets of Singapore is happening. Littering, smoking, yelling, loitering and spitting is happening here at any given moment. The horses were beautiful and the clubhouse was huge. There is even 2 food courts there. One of the food vendors was labeled Economy Food. This stand had the lowest prices offering rice, noodles and fish balls for under $2.00. The longest lines were at the drink stands. Unlike American tracks, soda, tea, water and coffee were everyone’s choice of drinks instead of beer and wine. We bet a couple of races and lost. It was fun.
Orchard Road is a street with high end shopping with upscale malls. The Wisma Atria mall was beautiful with a well known food court called Food Republic. Most of the stores were recognizable from upscale malls in America. The Takashimaya Mall was the nicest mall I’ve ever seen. Every upscale shop is in this mall from Tiffany to Herrods. The food court is located downstairs and it was even nicer than the Wisma Atria’s Food Republic. Most of the food vendors were Asian delights. There were many bakeries and high end fruit stalls there too. The less expensive stores were strategically put on the lower level of the mall with the food court.
The last week we stayed in the Bugis area of the city. This is a trendy, cool and happening area in the heart of the city. Tons of restaurants lined the street we were staying on. At night it was always packed with people eating and socializing. All restaurants and not one bar in sight. Still it was packed with people having a great time. On the weekends the street is closed to traffic and the atmosphere is even more lively and crowded.
There was a place named Ah Chew Dessert that had a never-ending line every night. We finally tried it one day around 5:00pm before the crowds. It was outstanding. Strangely the dessert menu was all liquid desserts which at first didn’t look to appetizing. But we figured if people waited for this, it’s got to be good. The famous dessert here is called Mango Sago. Its fresh mango, sugar, coconut milk and ice blended together and served over crushed ice topped with more fresh mangoes. Since then, we’ve been eating it everywhere we see it. Some places are better than others but it’s always great.
Hainanese chicken rice is the staple dish of Singapore. Anthony Bourdain featured Chin Chin’s Restaurant while filming in Singapore. It just so happened we were right down the street from it. They are famous for their Hainanese chicken rice dish. The chicken is steeped at sub-boiling temperatures in a pork and chicken bone stock, reusing the broth over and over and only topping it up with water when needed. This creates extremely tender, fall of the bone meat. The rice is boiled in chicken stock which makes it kind of oily but really flavorful. Everyone claims to have the best Hainanese chicken rice in town. Chin Chin’s is at the top of our list.
Singapore has been my favorite stop on this world journey so far. I could easily see myself living there. Not only is Singapore ascetically beautiful, the feeling of safety and the diversity of people was like anything I’ve ever experienced before in a city.