48 Hours in Singapore: Little India, Hawker Center and More


(photos by Rachel Sterling and Jeremy Sharff)

My friends Rachel Sterling and Jeremy Sharff spent a few days in Singapore in February and managed to squeeze in most of the highlights of this diverse city-state. A few weeks ago, they shared their photos of the Singapore Zoo (remember the Probiscus monkey?) but there's way more to do in Singapore beyond the famous zoo. Here, Rachel gives the low-down on the must-sees of Singapore and explains how to make the most of a short visit and why you absolutely have to eat an ice cream sandwich there.


Singapore Botanic Gardens:
The garden was spectacular, most notably for their diverse and large collection of orchids. There's even a collection of orchids named after Asian royalty. If possible, go early in the morning because of the late-day heat.


Little India: Singapore has a large Indian population and there is a whole area of the city dedicated to celebrating Indian culture. There's a large Hindu temple (Sri Mariamman) that is a working temple, and not simply a tourist attraction (pictured right). When we visited, people were actively praying and preparing food for the worshipers. To be respectful, we didn't stay very long. There's also a giant "department store" called Mustafa in Little India that allegedly offers everything, although we didn't end up going inside.

Sing3 Another reason to visit Little India is because it contains the iconic shophouse architecture (pictured left) that Singapore is famous for, albeit most of the buildings are run down.

Chinatown: In every Asian city (heck, in every major city), there's a Chinatown and Singapore has an especially vibrant one. There's a pedestrian mall that contains many stalls with people hawking touristy products, flowers, food, etc. When you see the fruit stands, look out for the durian fruit. This fruit is allegedly so smelly it's illegal to eat it on public transportation in Singapore. The conference center across the river from downtown Singapore was designed to look like a durian.

Sing5 Also, don’t miss the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple (pictured right). It’s relatively new, but the architecture and the Buddha imagery at this functioning temple was spectacular.

Downtown/Financial Center: Take a walk on the Cavenagh Bridge (pictured below left), wander through the Fullerton Hotel and then check out the Merlion statue, a creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish that’s often used as a mascot of Singapore (pictured at top).

The most important thing you need to do when you're downtown is grab an ice cream sandwich from the stand by the river. A Singapore ice cream sandwich is literally a cut block of ice cream pressed between two wafers. The sandwich is then wrapped in wax paper. You have to eat a Singapore ice cream sandwich fast because the weather is so hot. Don't even think about asking for napkins. There are none. So make sure to bring some with you.


Hawker Center: This is Singapore's answer to the food court. There are stalls with all different types of food including Chinese, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, pizza, fast food, etc. A pack of napkins holds your table for you so people will walk around with individual packs of Kleenex for you to buy. Fun dining fact about Singapore: You don't bus your own table. You just leave your stuff on the table. This seems counter-intuitive to the foreign opinion of Singapore as being this clean and orderly place.


Raffles Hotel: Sir Stamford Raffles was the British “founder” of Singapore, creating a valuable trade outpost. If the colonial implications don’t bother you, then you must check out the world-famous Raffles Hotel. Or at least the courtyard, which contains a high end shopping area and a bar where the Singapore Sling cocktail was created. The actual hotel is off limits unless you're a guest — you can't even walk into the lobby.

Orchard Road: Singapore’s flashiest street is one part New York City’s Fifth Avenue and one part the Las Vegas Strip. These fancy stores are literally covered in lights, there’s one high-end store after another, including multiple Louis Vuittons. In addition to the Pradas, Hermes and Burberrys, there's also a Takashimaya department store from Japan and a Desigual store from Spain.

Emerald Hill Road: This nightlife mecca is a small street off Orchard Road that contains meticulously restored shophouses with bars and outdoor seating on the first level. Alley Bar had a nice mix of expats and locals. Emerald Hill would have been difficult to find without our expat friends with whom we were staying showing us the way. It’s nestled back from the shops on Orchard Road and we wouldn't have noticed it had we not heard the music coming from one of the outside bars.

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12 Responses to 48 Hours in Singapore: Little India, Hawker Center and More

  1. RennyBA's Terella April 15, 2010 at 3:23 am #

    What a great round trip post! I was in Singapore more than 10 years ago – quite extic to a Norwegian you know; Some have changed, but mostly the highlights are the same.
    Thanks for taking me down the memory lane!

  2. cheap traveler April 15, 2010 at 9:21 am #

    Some find the most fascinating thing about Singapore to be all the signs telling you what to do and not do. Check out this article, The Sign that Swayed in Singapore:

  3. jessiev
    Twitter: WanderingEds
    April 15, 2010 at 10:32 am #

    great recap of what was for sure a fantastic trip! thank you!

  4. Jason of Two Backpackers April 15, 2010 at 11:28 am #

    Thanks for the great summary on visiting Singapore. We have never been, but have met many travelers that always have it on their list.

  5. Jen Laceda April 15, 2010 at 11:28 am #

    I love the Raffles Hotel. Classic Singapore. And of course, the Singapore Sling!

  6. patricia April 17, 2010 at 2:37 am #

    If you go to the Botanical Gardens have afternoon tea – its amazing!

  7. Aly April 22, 2010 at 12:24 pm #

    Singapore has always fascinated me, specially since my family “almost” moved there when I was younger. It sounds like you get a slice of everything in one central location!

  8. Wli 888 April 24, 2010 at 4:03 am #

    I’m in Singapore now and will try and visit most of these places. For a discerning view on the area hawkers, check out I emailed him and we are going to get together for a hawker feast.

  9. Heather on her travels April 24, 2010 at 4:55 pm #

    I’ve only been to Hong Kong and I imagine Singapore as similar but cleaner. I like the sound of sitting with a sundowner in one of thos bars on Emerald Hill Road

  10. Vera Marie Badertscher
    Twitter: pen4hire
    May 3, 2010 at 3:47 pm #

    I visited Singapore in 2000. I would say that you have some great highlights here, but 48 hours is about all I could stand. Much too controlled and uptight society. (Not the people, who were lovely, but the government controls).

  11. Steve May 9, 2010 at 4:31 pm #

    I was in Singapore a few years ago. Those pictures brought back some memories for me. I visited the Merlion and the Hindu temple you have pictured. They were good times for me. I had a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar where it was invented. It is connected to the Raffles Hotel so I don’t know if that area is open and the hotel is closed or what, but I had it there. It was a great way to end a trip.


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    […] a whirlwind 48 hours in Singapore last spring, which included a trip to the world-famous Singapore Zoo, Rachel Sterling and Jeremy […]

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