Singapore. A city that felt like a breath of organized, Western air during my Asia trip. While I only spent four days there I tried to make the most of every moment in this colorful, clean and multicultural city.
As English is one of the official languages of Singapore, I found it much easier to meet locals there than in other Southeast Asian countries.
I fell in love with the food and jewel-toned colonial architecture, though the suffocating humidity was worse there than anywhere else in Asia. Hey, no place is perfect, right?
Here are my favorite moments in the Little Red Dot.
Eating Absolutely Everything at Hawker Centres
Oh, god. Singaporean food. During my four day stay in Singapore I tried as many Singaporean dishes as my stomach would allow. To find the city’s best I visited a gaggle of hawker centres, including Old Airport Road Food Centre, Lavender Food Square Centre, Maxwell Food Centre and Jin Shui Kopitiam.
For those who don’t know, hawker centres are a Singaporean thing- clean, open-air food centers with stalls offering everything from Chinese to Indian to Malay. And best of all, the food is cheap!
While Singapore is certainly a melting pot, the most prominent ethnic group is Chinese (around 74% of the population claim Chinese heritage). During my short stay in Singapore I tried so many different types of Chinese food: Hainanese, Fujian, Shanghainese, that by the end I was dreaming about a foodcation to China.
Lunch at Maxwell Food Centre
Side-note- my hero/role model Anthony Bourdain is working on opening a hawker centre in New York which needless to say is a fabulous idea. You rock, Tony.
Tasting My First Durian with a Middle-Aged Singaporean Couple
While I was having dinner by my lonesome at Lavender Food Square, a super friendly Singaporean couple invited me to their table for dinner. When I mentioned I had never tried durian before they exclaimed, “Really? NEVER?” and rang up their “durian dealer” who agreed to meet them for a quick sale.
We then hopped into their Audi and drove to go fetch the durian.
I soon discovered durian has a horrific smell and a sweet, candy-like flavor. It also bears a strong resemblance to chicken fat.
I was surprised- despite it’s extremely unflattering reputation, it wasn’t that bad.
After I successfully swallowed the first piece, my generous hosts insisted I have another. And I won’t lie- I struggled to get the second piece down.
And my new friends were even so generous to give me a doggy-bag of durian to take home to the hostel! (Which the hostel owner promptly forced me to throw out due to the odor.)
But did you know durian is actually really expensive? It’s about $12 a kilo, or $26 a pound. And they weigh the entire fruit, not just the pulp inside- making durian a very pricey little stinker.
And then the couple gave me a driving tour of Singapore’s red light district and dropped me off at my hostel. True story.
Stumbling Upon Pristine Colonial Architecture
After combing Southeast Asia for traces of the colonial era who knew I would find the most beautiful colonial architecture in Singapore?
Sitting Down with a Young Singaporean Over Chicken Rice
While I didn’t fall for chicken rice, I had a great time sitting down with the stall owner’s godson, who taught me so much about his hometown of Singapore.
When I asked him if he loved being able to eat at hawker centres all the time, he confessed that he gets sick of hawker centres even though the food’s really good. How is that POSSIBLE.
And I couldn’t help smile inside when he explained the food he encountered on his trip to Turkey. “We had so much bread. Morning, lunch, dinner- can you imagine?”
Which mirrors exactly what westerners say about Asia. “They eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Can you believe it?”
And then he told me about Singapore’s darker side.
Apparently Singaporean citizens can’t speak out against the government; if you offend the government they will sue you for libel until you’re bankrupt. And if the government sues you, good luck- no lawyer will represent you in court.
He also told me that there’s only one political party with any sway- out of 88 seats, 80 are from one party.
And then he bought me a Singaporean egg tart and took me to the top floor of his gym so I could take panoramic shots of the city. All in all a pretty sound afternoon.
Looking Around Little India
The colors, the saris, the lights, the food. Magic.
Strolling the City at Night
By night Singapore is absurdly photogenic. Just look at that skyline!
Taking the Spotless MRT
After living in cities with despicably dirty metros like Chicago and Paris, riding the Singapore metro was truly was a joy. Clean, inexpensive, fast… can the rest of the world please take a tip?
For such a law-abiding town, Singapore sure has a lot of gorgeous street art.
How much does Singapore cost?
Singapore was less expensive than I imagined. Hostels cost $22-30 SGD a night, and food at the hawker centres was inexpensive- on average I paid $3-6 SGD a meal. The MTR, or the local subway, was $1.00-2.00 SGD for most trips.
Alcohol is highly taxed and therefore pricey- a local Tiger beer is about $5 SGD. Imported products are also expensive- I spent $11.50 SGD at Starbucks on a tall soy chai latte and mints. What?
Finally the attractions are reasonable priced- the Gardens by the Bay are free (even for the lightshow) and the museums I visited, Asia Civilisations Museum and the Peranakan Museum were $4 SGD and $3 SGD respectively with a student id. (I’m shameless.)
What do you love about Singapore?
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