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.
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.
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.