Why you should visit Singapore at least once in your life
My first time in Singapore was back in 2001. It didn’t make a great impression on me. I thought it was bland, featureless, and commercial. People were well dressed, everything was clean and organized. I met up with a friend of mine who had university friends in Singapore. We spent a few days with them and went out for drinks and fancy dinners, sitting outside looking at the stars and the lights of Singapore’s skyscrapers. During the day I went sightseeing on my own while he went shopping with his friends (it’s what a lot of Singaporeans seem to do). I remember the highlight being the zoo.
This time I came with Lissette. Singapore marked the end of a 5 week overland trip that we had started in Chiang Mai.
Arriving in Singapore you can’t help but be impressed. If you’ve travelled through South East Asia and just arrived in Singapore you’d think you’d just arrived on another planet. Streets are clean and lined with trees and flowers. Modern, futuristic highrises gleam with reflections of metal and glass.
We checked in to the Hotel G. $125/night. It was the best deal I had been able to find. The room was small and brought back memories of Japan. We went downstairs for dinner. A trendy Bistro packed with young beautiful people, a mix of nationalities. It’s what I remembered of Singapore. Everyone was dressed up and sipping on cocktails or wine and eating stuff like fois gras, snails (“Burgundy Snails”, yours for $19!) and beef tartare (but not any beef tartare, this was “Beef Tartare a la Montmarte” for $28). We did a rare splurge – got the lamb shank ($32) and Lissette the salmon (but not any salmon, this was “Scottish Salmon”, also for $32). We had a French Medoc wine listed at $45.
By the time we walked out after coffee and dessert we had spent over $200.
Being in Singapore brought back pangs of nostalgia for me. In the old days I used to do a lot of foreign exchange and would often get up in the middle of the night to talk to Paul at Scotiabank’s Singapore office. He was a typical expat you see in Singapore – young, highly educated, probably single and/or gay. They come to Singapore, make a lot of money and spend a lot of money. They have a good time. Singapore is that kind of place. Last time I had come here back in 2001 I was in the same category. I had a good job and I probably spent more than I needed to. This time, coming back as a retired travellers, Singapore reminded me what it was like to be young, beautiful, and with your whole future in front of you. It was also a reminder that I’m on the downward slope of my life.
That sounds depressing when I re-read it. But Singapore is one of those places where you feel on the outside looking in. It’s a very industrious, dynamic, young-orientated place where streets are empty during working hours – to suddenly wake up during lunch hour and after 5 pm. I sometimes felt like I was playing hooky from work walking the streets during the day. I think the only other place that I felt that as much was Tokyo.
The essence of Singapore hasn’t changed. It’s still bland, featureless, and commercial. But more than ever the city is booming. The skyline is unrecognizable from my last visit in 2001 and there are cranes everywhere signalling new construction. And where in the past the construction was geared towards business investment, today it is also geared towards tourism. All of Singapore’s highlights are man made.
The highlight these days is the huge Gardens by the Bay nature park (built in 2012). It’s what every visitor to Singapore comes to see. You’ll see the Supertree Grove, a couple of conservatories (which reminded me of the Biodome in Montreal), and vast gardens. Right next to Gardens by the Bay is the Marina Bay Sands Resort which holds a luxury hotel (2,561 rooms!), the highest infinity pool in the world, and all of the world’s high end shops (spelled “shoppes”, because shops like Chanel, Cartier, Prada and Ralph Loren deserve their own spelling).
Everything is super expensive and super exclusive. It makes the ordinary person feel like a pleb. I looked up the cost of a room at the Marina Bay and the cheapest I could come up with was $500/night (have a look at that link every once in a while. You’ll sometimes see discounts). Even when I was making big bucks I would have never paid that much for a hotel room.
Related: Hong Kong or Singapore?
Below: Gardens by the Bay and the Marina Bay Sands Resort
I recommend the Hop On Hop Off Bus as an introduction to the city. For a more intensive tour, I’d recommend this 3.5 hour City Tour. A few more interesting tours:
So why do you have to visit Singapore? It’s the perfect utopian city. If you had to plan a city you probably couldn’t beat Singapore. Wide clean streets, pavements lined with bushes, trees and flowers, an incredible metro system. No wires hanging everywhere, no tacky neon signs. A multicultural society with 4 official languages all living together free of crime. And there’s no doubt – everything that they’ve spent on Gardens by the Bay (and every other tourist/nature site) in Singapore is top notch and spectacular. Staring up at those Supertrees you really do feel that you’ve landed on another planet.
My ex-boss Tony put it all in perspective:
“In 1965, the year before I went off to Rhodes University (I was 18) , Singapore, which was then part of the Malaysian Federation, separated and broke away from the Malaysian federation. It was a rather acrimonious separation with Malaya blockading the island of Singapore etc. Anyway in the schools (yes, in Africa!) we all had fund drives to raise money for poor Singapore. It was basically a 3rdworld city at the time. Today it’s in the top 5 highest per capita economies in the world!”
Yes, Singapore is all man-made. And it’s incredibly commercial and incredibly expensive. But you can’t come here and not be impressed by what Singaporeans have achieved. Singapore – in it’s own, unique way – is spectacular. It has to be visited at least once in your life.
– Accommodation. We stayed at the Hotel G which was the best deal we could find. As I mention above, it has a very good restaurant.
– Getting to Singapore. Singapore’s Changi Airport (code: SIN) is rated the best in the world and is a tourist attraction in its own right with gardens, fountains, even a swimming pool. More on all that here. We book all plane, train, bus and private transport using 12Go Asia. They’re the best booking site in Asia.
Have you been to Singapore?
Related: A Detailed Guide to Malaysia covering Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo
Related: Hong Kong or Singapore? Which you should visit on a stopover
Related: Which to visit: Bangkok or Mexico City?
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Singapore is one of the best destinations in the world for tourist. Once I was there and explore almost all the places that you have mentioned, It was an amazing experience. It looks more beautiful than picture when you see in real life. Thanks for posting such a nice and great info.
Thanks for the feedback Jim! Glad you enjoyed Singapore.
I have never been to Singapore, but I certainly would like to visit. I like cities, so I expect I will enjoy it there, perhaps it will be a stop over for a trip I am planning to do in January….possibility, but no firm plans yet? I like your site revamping Frank
Thank you very much! It was about time. I wanted the photos to pop a bit more and there was too much dead space on the other theme.
It’s worth a stopover Gilda. Doesn’t have to be long, a few days would be good. But there are some unique things to see and it’s so different than anything in Thailand or Malaysia.
Conrad and I visited Singapore in January 2016 to see a friend who grew up there–so we had our own personal tour guide. We stayed at the Park Hotel Clarke Quay which was reasonable– $155 USD I remember–and included a very nice buffet breakfast. Having Mak to show us around was lovely and efficient–not having to roam and discover on our own. He took us to the Hawker’s Market and we ate wonderful, inexpensive food. He showed us the building where he grew up in extreme poverty, and spoke lovingly about Lee Kuan Yew, the prime minister who transformed the country to the prosperous place it is today. He practically teared up when talking lovingly about the man and the change it made for his family and country. Having Mak as our friend there made all the difference for our enjoyment and understanding of the place. We came to have a respect for the sparkly city. I totally get why people call it a city with no soul, as someone from Australia described it to us, but we’ll always remember it fondly and would love to go back.
That’s a nice story Josie, thank you. Nothing beats getting shown around by a local.
$155 USD! Prices in Singapore still shock me. So different than anywhere else in SEA.
Michael and Graciels
We traveled to Singapore five times staying approximately a month each trip. It is a place I could live though Graciela finds it too hot for her liking. We wrote several blogs about the island country.
Really one needs time to explore everything the island country offers. Many of the best attractions are free. For example, Hort Gardens is where they test for the beautiful exhibits you see at Gardens by the Bay. Then there is the Stamp Museum, the Pernakan museum, Little India and China town. Shopping is also a pleasure and not everything is in the high end stores. Singapore is a fashion design center for Asia and one can find pieces by up and coming designers at Bugis Village.
Yes, I see you did spend a lot of time there!
I agree with Graciela. Too hot. But we were there in May which is one of the worst months of the year. Unbearable except in the evening.
Thanks for the feedback Michael.
Singapore is out there. and expensive. And a lot of fun too! Interesting post Frank!
Gorgeous photos and I’m loving the new blog look, great work Frank. While Singapore looks inviting, I’ll pass until I can order a beer and not concern myself if I can order a burger too? Glad you guys enjoyed yourself, having a splurge now and then is needed.
I totally understand, I hate spending money on basics.
Imagine, $16 for beer in the hotel restaurant (and $7 at 7/11). I went (mostly) dry those 3 days and wasn’t so happy about it…
I was there maybe 12 to 18 months ago. Thanks for letting me bellyache a little. Its not my favorite place. I forgot to say that at least I now know where zip ties got their name…
Totally understand and I wouldn’t be happy either.
Had my own weird story. Got in the elevator at the Hotel G (9th floor) and it started bouncing around for 5 minutes before coming to a stop between the 5th and 6th floors. They had to call the elevator company to come and get me out which took 30 min.
On the plus side, they gave me $100 bar credit and it paid for a couple of hamburgers and beer 🙂
The point is that it’s not always perfect.
PS. I prefer Hong Kong to Singapore by a wide margin.
We have been to Singapore for the first time in the 1990s. And then again around 2004 I think. Isa went on a conference and I went along and we spent a few weeks in Singapore and Malaysia after the conference. We both liked everything about the city, although we did miss a little bit the adventure part of traveling. Everything works so smoothly without trouble. Vegetarian food is also amazing in Singapore….
Thanks for the comment Natascha. Yes, despite prices we had good food experiences as well in Singapore.
Singapore is amazing! Great pics!
Thank you Blerim. Have you been?
Sonam from Bhutan
It indeed sounds like an expensive city. Great photos and its amazing how clean the city looks. Seems like Singapore sure has come a long way from a 3rd world status not very long ago.
Thanks Sonam 🙂
Oh Frank! How can Singapore be “super inclusive” but “meant to make the ordinary person feel like a pleb”? I am a pleb (or worse) and I would rather not be reminded. I visited recently and my memories were of riding in that rotten train from the airport with just enough (a few) people to occupy all the seats and having to stand up all the way. I am sure its efficient but its not so comfortable. I went into a huge mall carrying my (small) backpack to buy a souvenir trinket for a friend and had to have all the zips on the backpack zip tied I presume to stop me stealing anything. I bought the trinket and the little plastic bag it was given to me in was also zip tied around the end. I was reminded many times that there are fines for spitting, chewing gum etc. They say “Singapore is a Fine Place” or something similar. I believe there are also fines for eating durians on the train. Never mind. I enjoyed reading this though…
Thanks for catching it John, I meant exclusive.
Interesting anecdotes, surprised about the tying up of your backpack.How far back were you there?
Yes, fines for everything including Durians.
But the worse thing? $7 for a beer at 7/11 !
It looks almost too clean. Many years ago I was asked to come DJ the party circuit there, money was very good but had a bad feeling about it and turned the deal down. Nowadays everyone seems to want to go to SEA because it’s cheap and Singapore is the exact opposite of that.
Very clean. Singapore just different from everything else in SEA. But too hot, I don’t think I could ever live there…