While tourists head for the famed retail stretch of Orchard Road with every conceivable designer brand and gadget, discover instead the unique neighbourhoods where the real charm of
Singapore lies. The Colonial District, Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam all have their own identities.
At the Raffles’ Landing Site, Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, landed in 1819. Trace the river along Boat Quay, and view St Andrew’s Cathedral and other colonial buildings including the Supreme Court and Raffles Hotel.
To see how Chinatown was before the towering skyscrapers, head for Amoy Street to view Siang Cho Keong Temple built in 1867, Telok Ayer Street, Ann Siang Hill and Keong Saik Road, home to hole in the wall bars, cafes and boutiques and the best place to go late at night.
At Kampong Glam go past the fabric shops and gold domes of the Sultan Mosque and seek out great street art and quirky local fashion finds at Haji Lane.
Colourful Little India is a bustling, dazzling incense burning neighbourhood with temples, pastel-coloured shop-houses, exotic vegetable markets, and restaurants including my favourites Komala Vilas and Mavalli Tiffin Rooms. Along Serangoon Road you’ll pass Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple built in 1881 and Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple built in 1855.
One of the world’s largest greenhouses, futuristic Gardens by the Bay is an amazing 101-hectare fantasy park with towering high tech super tree sculptures of up to 16 floors high showcasing exotic plants – ferns, orchids, bromeliads and vines that light up at night.
Slip on the trainers early and head out to the 74-hectare Botanic Gardens, established in 1859, a cool retreat filled with joggers, dogs and tai-chi practitioners. Wander through the rainforest, palm garden, and lakes before visiting the National Orchid Garden.
If you want to hike along a nature trail there are many options. Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve offers mangrove swamps, ponds and forests and 140 bird species including kingfishers and herons. At MacRitchie Reservoir, the Treetop Walk is a 250m suspension bridge that looks out over the reserve. Southern ridges is a nine km trail that connects several nature parks while at Pulau Ubin you can explore trails to old rubber plantations and beaches.
Set in lush secondary rainforest, the Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo allows you to see over 900 nocturnal animals – including lions and leopards – in a natural habitat without barriers.
Fabulous food at affordable prices
Cheap and cheerful dining is easy thanks to the hawker markets that exist in every neighbourhood that are clean, crowded and noisy. You’ll be spoilt for choice food-wise with Peranakan, Indian, Malay and Chinese cuisine on offer. Unique to Singapore try chicken rice, carrot cake made from white radish, and rojak consisting of bean curd, potatoes and vegetables smothered with sweet sauce. For an authentic dose of old school open air hawker centres, two of the best are the Maxwell Food Centre and the Victorian splendour of Lau Pa Sat, where Chefs wok fry, griddle, grill and roast their way through preparing delicious food. Along Orchard Road you’ll also find Food Republic with a great offering of authentic food.
Start the day with coffee (kopi) and Kaya toast, green coconut and pandan jam sandwiched between toast and served with runny eggs and soy sauce. Seek out an old style Kopitiam coffee house with marble topped tables and whirring fans.
Drink at altitude
Singapore now has a thriving nightlife with bars and clubs but for glamour, head to 1 Altitude, the world’s highest rooftop bar, offering incredible views 63 levels up. Alternatively Lantern at the Fullerton Bay Hotel has views across the water.
Art and culture
It may seem odd to head to a hotel to look at artwork, but the Ritz Carlton has a museum worthy collection of modern and contemporary art featuring Frank Stella, Dale Chihuly, and Andy Warhol. The National Gallery of Singapore has a world class collection of contemporary Asian art housed in the historic Supreme Court and City Hall buildings, while the Asian Civilizations Museum has an exquisite collection. To learn about the origins of the Straits Chinese stop by the Peranakan Museum or visit Baba House built in 1896.
Known as the garden city, Singapore is a destination rich in contrast and colour with a souring skyline that rises above shop-houses, colonial buildings and lush tropical parks.
Changi International Airport is super-efficient and enormous boasting four terminals, with food halls, endless shopping, pay as you enter lounges, gardens, waterfalls, a butterfly sanctuary, and outdoor swimming pool. If you’re on a layover, this is the world’s best airport to be stranded in. For transit passengers flying Singapore Airlines, until 31 March 2019, enjoy a S$20 reward to spend at the airport.
From Australia fly with Singapore Airlines, Qantas or low cost Scoot. From the airport, the MRT will whisk you to the city centre for around S$2.30. The MRT trains are clean, safe, frequent and cheap, with tourist passes available. A taxi from the airport will cost around S$20.
At the airport, the award-winning Crowne Plaza Hotel. For budget stays, try the Hangout@Mt Emily or capsule hotels near Bugis and Chinatown. The centrally located G Hotel caters for solo travellers with single rooms as well as offering double rooms. The Ibis Bencoolen is another centrally located choice. But if its glitz and glam you’re after, the Ritz-Carlton with views of the city skyline, is sensational and the Club Lounge hard to leave.
The exchange rate is close to parity with the Australian dollar. Money changers, ATMs and banks are everywhere. Singapore is safe, ideal for families and solo travellers and the cruise terminals are ideal for joining a cruise.
Photos: Singapore Tourism Board