My Favorite Moments in Singapore

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.  IMG_0907

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

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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.

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Looking Around Little India

The colors, the saris, the lights, the food. Magic.

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Strolling the City at Night

By night Singapore is absurdly photogenic. Just look at that skyline!

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Taking the Spotless MRT

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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?

 

Street Art

For such a law-abiding town, Singapore sure has a lot of gorgeous street art.

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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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37 Comments

  1. Your photos are lovely (I adore those pink shutters!) and you have me CRAVING a trip back to Singapore :) Eeee!

    xo,
    Lela
    Lela recently posted..What I Wore – The Windy CityMy Profile

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    • It’s definitely a wonderful place! And those shutters were on Arab Street for the record :)

  2. Excellent interaction with locals! Anthony Bourdain trip to Singapore was one of my fav episodes. Any chance you tried a Singapore sling?
    Shaun recently posted..A six hour layover in CopenhagenMy Profile

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    • I loved that episode too! And no, I never did. Someone told me they were super expensive… not sure if that’s true though!

  3. Chicken rice is my favourite! It looks so simple but to get chicken that sucelent is sooooo difficult. I’ve made it five times and on each occassion taken 5 hours to make it… so painful lol

    Singapore looks beautiful and from what I hear is a foodies heaven whether a hawker food stall or a high end eatery. Tetsuya Waduka who owns a French/Japanese fusion restaurant in Sydney just opened a place in Singapore that sits only 20 or so people and I would (almost) give my left arm to eat there
    Jimmy Dau recently posted..The colours of Valparaiso: Photo EssayMy Profile

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    • I can’t even imagine how hard it would be to make at home! That’s impressive :)

  4. I love that you were able to capture Singapore’s colourfulness so well! Another great museum in Singapore is the National Museum – there’s an entire section dedicated to street food. Heaven!
    Caitlyn recently posted..How do you solve a problem like Albania?My Profile

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    • I would love to see an exhibition about street food, how cool! Alas, there’s only so much you can do in four days… next time!

  5. I loved seeing the pictures of the colonial era buildings, it’s a period of history I’m so fascinated by. If you ever have the chance I recommend seeing the film-Paradise Lost. It stars Glenn Close, a young Cate Blanchet. It’s the true story of a group of American & European female POWs at a camp in Sumatra during WWII, but the film opens on the night the Japanese invade Singapore.
    Julie recently posted..Five Foods to Try in-Costa RicaMy Profile

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    • Wow that sounds absolutely amazing! I’m so interested in WWII history. Thanks for the tip, Julie!

    • Wow, it’s a good thing my work week is over…I clearly need sleep.

      The title of the movie is Paradise Road, not Lost as I previously listed! No idea why John Milton was on the mind. Although I’m sure you would have found the correct title anyway :)
      Julie recently posted..Five Foods to Try in-Costa RicaMy Profile

    • Haha I was actually wondering why the movie would have the same title as the novel… thanks for clearing that up!

    • Haha I just had to smile and eat it because they had been so sweet in driving me to the durian stand! But like I said, it wasn’t sooo bad.

    • Haha don’t worry… you didn’t miss much! :)

  6. That story with the durian couple! So awesome! I also didn’t think it was thaat bad.

    Also pretty hilarious what the Singaporean said about bread. Classic! Great stories that probably make all that time alone worth while now? ..Maybe? ;)
    Jessica Wray recently posted..This is the In BetweenMy Profile

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    • Haha as they say, travel is always more glamorous in retrospect.

  7. Singapore. Was a last second addition to our RTW trip. We go on the 19th and couldn’t be more excited after reading your posts! Thanks for the inspiration!
    Simone recently posted..January Travel Expenses: Australia and BaliMy Profile

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    • Great decision, that’s awesome! Enjoy yourselves!!

  8. The architecture is really interesting. The colonial architecture is not what I was expecting – I guess I assumed it would be big and modern like Hong Kong. Love the overview of SIngapore, even though the dark side of the government is staggering. My friends who live in Singapore claimed you could sleep on the MTR and coming from Boston I refused to believe it – looks like you have confirmed the same!
    Bridget @ A Traveling B recently posted..Skiing in SugarbushMy Profile

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    • Haha I would NOT try sleeping on the El in Chicago, I’ll tell you that! How interesting.

  9. Singapore looks great and I’m surprised by the cost- it sounds much cheaper than I imagined. Your photos in this post are great! I have to ask- for the night shots with lights, what setting do you use to make them look so great? I can’t take a city night shot to save my life. Or if you have a DSLR then Im outta luck :/, maybe you use a certain editing trick? haha, I’m clearly desperate.
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..First time abroad… Blissfully Ignorant?My Profile

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    • Thanks, Rachel! I used a Canon EOS Rebel T2i with the kit lens for the nighttime shot. And I can’t remember if I shot it in manual but most times I just shoot in no-flash mode- the built-in flash kind of ruins pictures. You can actually get my camera pretty cheap used on Amazon… like $299!

  10. I had stopped over so many times in Singapore, that last year when I flew back to Australia I decided it was time to actually spend the night in Singapore and have a look at the city.

    I didn’t know I would love it so much! I really thought it was just a drab, cosmopolitan city with nothing particularly special to offer, but I was totally wrong. One night was not enough time, so I am definitely going to have to go back. This post just makes me want to go back more, it’s one place I never bother reading much about either!

    I agree with only eating at the Hawker centres – they were the only place I ate in my brief day and a half, and each time I had the most amazing food.
    Cyra @ Gastronomic Nomad recently posted..Cuba’s far eastern region: Is it worth going to Guantanamo?My Profile

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    • That’s awesome you stopped over there! Once you get a taste (literally) it’s hard not to go back. I am trying to swing a way to return too!

  11. We really enjoyed our time in Singapore too. The fact that we got to meet up with Edna and go on some food benders together certainly didn’t hurt! :) After a couple of months of traveling through countries that were very ethnically homogenous, it was so nice to be somewhere that was so diverse and multicultural!

    The only point I’d disagree with you on is the cost of attractions in Singpaore. While I would agree that the museums were reasonable, literally everything else was very expensive. If you actually go into Gardens By the Bay, for instance, it’s S$26 to visit both greenhouses. Visiting any of the zoos or aquariums are similarly priced. I wouldn’t say these attractions are poor value because they were all very high quality, but they definitely weren’t cheap. Obviously you can enjoy the city without doing any of those things, but if you do intend to see things like that, you’ll need to budget a lot more.
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Chewing the Fat with Anjanee of Fig & Honey!My Profile

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    • That’s a really good point, Steph, I actually didn’t go to any attractions besides the museums and Gardens by the Bay (the free light show) so I didn’t know they were so expensive. Wow, $26 to visit a zoo!

  12. This brings back so many fond memories – I loved Singapore! I was living in Shanghai when I visited and the cleanliness and order felt like such a reprieve! The underground air-conditioned malls are amazing and I couldn’t get enough hawker food. Did you happen to visit the zoo? That was probably my favorite attraction. We ate breakfast with the orangutans!
    Heather recently posted..New York City Revisited: A Fanciful RetreatMy Profile

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    • I didn’t make it to the zoo but I totally know what you mean about the cleanliness! Having just come from Saigon I was so happy about the lack of traffic and crime.

  13. I’m so happy you love my country! (: It is always great to see my home through the eyes of others. Food is definitely a national pastime and something all Singaporeans are always passionate about. Hawker centres are the cheapest & best places to taste what we have to offer. There’s so much more you need to come back and try! Attractions wise – I agree with Steph that they are expensive. Out of all of them though, I would say the zoo is definitely worth it. We have one of the best (if not the best) zoos around.

    One thing – it’s called the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) & not MTR. MTR stands for Mass Transit Railway in HK. (:

    Living here is definitely not cheap though. Public housing & owning a car costs upwards of 6 digits, private housing upwards of 7 digits. *OUCH*

    Come back again for a visit soon!

    Reply
    • Thanks for that correction! I’ll fix that immediately :). And living there does seem really expensive but I guess you get what you pay for- it’s a lovely place!

  14. Great post, Rachel! I have never been in Singapore but after reading it, I’m more than sure I’ll go one day. I never thought it’s so colorful place, especially love the pink and blue shutters.
    Kadri recently posted..Thailand, Put Yourself ReadyMy Profile

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  15. This is very interesting and great article.
    Thanks for sharing this great article.

    Reply

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