Seeing Singapore in a different light

Seeing Singapore in a different light

by Kim Bosack
Stripes Guam

I think a lot of us have preconceived notions of what a place will be like before we travel there. People look at France as the land of love, croissants and sidewalk cafes, Australia as a place where kangaroos and koalas are abundant (and maybe some poisonous critters too!), Thailand as somewhere that is friendly on the wallet with incredible beaches and resorts, and Italy as a country where you can enjoy amazing food and enjoy historical monuments, for instance.
When it comes to Singapore, my preconceived notions before visiting there were based on the idea that it was strict, sterile, and super expensive. Pretty narrow minded, right? Those assumptions were based on hearing that chewing gum is illegal, littering is a crime punishable with hefty fines, and that the average cost of accommodation seemed higher than other cities I’d traveled to. I’d had opportunities to go to Singapore in the past, but always seemed to pass it up in favor of other countries nearby that were cheaper, or ones that in my mind had the grittiness and sensory overload of an Asian country that I loved.
I was wrong.  So wrong!

I don’t know if it is because I went into my vacation not expecting it to be as amazing as it was. Expectation is the mother of all disappointment, as they say. But Singapore is one of those places that I feel people seem to write off as somewhere that isn’t really a destination in itself. I know so many people that have gone on vacations and simply used Singapore as a transit point - and truth be told, I was one of those people. I had travelled through Changi Airport before, on a trip I’d taken to Vietnam. I saw it as simply somewhere to break up a long flight, get a cup of coffee and stretch my legs. How naïve I was!

So let me shed some light on some of my preconceived notions for you - and also share some of the things I loved about this small but mighty country!

It is true that Singapore does have a lot of laws that probably seem excessively strict compared to other parts of the world. There are fines given for littering, spitting, and for chewing gum. Caning and the death penalty are still used for certain crimes (such as drug offences). In saying that - it’s one of the cleanest countries I’ve ever visited. I also never felt unsafe, and that’s a big thing when it comes to being in a new place with new surroundings. I would recommend this for any country you plan on visiting, but it’s useful to check out the US department of State website, to get an understanding of the laws of where you are traveling to. You wouldn’t want to put a dampener on an awesome vacation by doing something like chewing gum or drinking a soda on public transport and getting fined for it!

I think my misconception about Singapore being sterile came from what I just mentioned briefly, about there being such heavy penalties for littering. The streets are exceptionally tidy - you don’t see litter just strewn about - but it’s actually a lovely thing, to have clean streets, spotless parks, and a population that seems well aware of the consequences of littering! Plus, it’s a wonderful thing environmentally too. The streets have so much character and charm that I think my ideas of it being not as interesting as other places across Asia were completely blown out of the water.

As for the expensive side of things, if you’re thinking Singapore will be as budget friendly as say Thailand or Vietnam, you will possibly end up disappointed, but in saying that it doesn’t have to break the bank. I feel like it’s a place where you can certainly choose expensive options if you have the capacity for it - but there are also ways and means to make it cheaper.

The hotel that my husband and I stayed at was only a one minute walk from the Chinatown MRT station. I would absolutely recommend staying somewhere close to a train station - Singapore’s weather seems to only know hot, sunny, humid and occasionally thunderstormy - just thrown in for good measure! Being conveniently located to public transport made it incredibly easy for us to get out and explore the city. Public transport is super affordable too, and you can catch the MRT directly from the airport to the central business district area. Getting to and from the airport itself cost only $2.50 Singapore Dollars each way - an absolute bargain when compared to the cost of a cab, and when compared to some methods of transportation in other countries!

One of the first places we made a beeline for once we had settled into our hotel was Gardens by the Bay - a massive area dedicated to adding green space into a vibrant city. There are two big indoor exhibits, which are the Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome - and walking around those was incredible. It was the perfect blend of seeing the wonder of nature as well as the achievements of man-made structures - it honestly takes your breath away! Outside the two indoor exhibits to me was probably the most remarkable thing - the super trees, which are so futuristic looking that they make you feel as if you’ve stepped into 2050! There is an observation skywalk which connects two of the super trees, and it was fun getting to see a bit of a close up of them, and also a lovely view of the city. We went up to the skywalk around sunset, and it was gorgeous seeing the city from above at that time of day!

Finding fun things to do out of the heat was something we needed to do as well - there’s plenty to do outside, of course, but when the temperature and humidity gets a little oppressive it’s nice to have some respite indoors for a while! Shopping at one of the many malls is always an option, but there are also some fabulous museums to visit. We went to the Art and Science Museum to check out their Future World exhibit, and the National Museum of Singapore.

Future World was a great way to spend a couple of hours, and it was one of those museum exhibits that was very age friendly! The way the exhibit is described on their website is a “fully immersive digital universe”, and I think they phrased it perfectly! One of our favorite parts of the exhibit was where you could color in a drawing (there were animals, cars, houses and other buildings) and then go and scan it, and your colored picture would show up on a projection on the wall as part of an interactive town! We found this super fun as adults - so I think kids would get a real kick out of it. The hands-on nature of the museum is what really won us over - getting to connect with the exhibits themselves was wonderful. The exhibit is a permanent one, and is scheduled to be at the museum for at least three years. It’s definitely worth a look!

The National Museum of Singapore is also interesting, but more so from the perspective of learning about Singapore’s history. I found out a lot about the period of British colonization, about the Japanese occupation and the post-war period, and about Singapore breaking away from Malaysia to make its own self governing country. When watching an interview at the museum with the former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, one quote he made really stuck out in my mind. He said:

We are going to have a multiracial nation in Singapore. We will set the example. This is not a Malay nation; this is not a Chinese nation; this is not an Indian nation. Everybody will have his place, equal; language, culture, religion.
Based on that, we really wanted to explore the different cultural areas of Singapore. In a country with four official languages (English, Malay, Tamil and Mandarin) it’s beautiful to see the mix of backgrounds and the way they intertwine so cohesively. We checked out Chinatown, Little India and Arab Street, the three well known cultural areas of Singapore. A good thing to keep in mind if you visit any of these areas is that there are hawker centers selling an array of traditional dishes for incredibly good prices! For instance, a couple of plates of different curries and naan at one hawker center in Little India cost us SGD $10 (about $7.40 US) - you can’t go wrong feeding two adults for that price! I would wholeheartedly recommend checking out the different cultural areas in the city. Each has a different feel, but they definitely gave me an appreciation of how cultures can live together so harmoniously and still retain their identity, too.

One other stop we were keen to check out was the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel. The bar is where the iconic Singapore Sling drink was created, and naturally we had to get one each to try! The Long Bar was a favorite hangout of the famous writer Ernest Hemingway, and it really does feel like you’re stepping back in time to the colonial era when you enter. There are  woven rattan chairs, and rows of unique looking ceiling fans on the roof to keep you cool - and of course the obligatory bags of peanuts that you can shell and throw on the floor when you’re having your drink of choice! It’s the only place in Singapore that seems to be okay with you “littering”!

And last but not least, the airport is worth spending some time at! Those are words that I don’t think I have ever uttered before - spending more time than is absolutely necessary at an airport is usually associated with frustration and boredom to me. But Changi Airport really does change your mind on what an airport can be like. We got there with time to spare because I wanted to check out all the fun things they had to see and do. We flew Japan Airlines, and their policy allows you to check in up to 12 hours before your flight at Changi - so shopping and exploring seems to be encouraged! Here’s just a little summary of the things we saw at the airport other than shopping and eating -- free movie theaters showing current films, a video gaming area, cactus garden, sunflower garden, indoor butterfly enclosure, swimming pool, and a day spa amongst other things (we indulged in the fish foot spa pedicure!)  There’s no shortage of ways to spend time there, and I felt like it was honestly an attraction in itself! It was no surprise that they have been voted the number 1 airport in the world for the past 4 years.

For a country that admittedly wasn’t at the top of my to see list, Singapore really found its way into my heart. It’s clean, safe, full of character and wonderfully easy to get around. There’s things to do for nature lovers, shopaholics, foodies, and history buffs alike. If you’re going through Singapore as part of a journey to other parts of South East Asia or beyond, I would recommend spending some time in Singapore too. It’s a small nation, but as another quote by their former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew states - “a nation is great not by its’ size alone”.

This couldn’t be truer for wonderful Singapore!

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