We Only Scratched The Surface of Things To Do In Singapore
We had spent a week in Bali with our travelling son Nick and he was joining us for 3 days in Singapore on our tour of SE Asia. We would combine his list with our list of things to do in Singapore and get a first taste test of this city.
It was a quick hop from Bali to Singapore on Air Asia. This was the first time that we flew Air Asia but not the last. As with most of the budget airlines we travelled in SE Asia , the rates start really low – if you are travelling with only the very small carry on allowance (7 kg or 15 pounds). You can upgrade from there to add baggage or to get more leg room. The cost to upgrade when converted to Canadian dollars seemed quite reasonable in absolute terms, even if they ended up representing a pretty high percentage of the total flight costs.
As we flew into Singapore we could see the busy port and how much green space there was around the city.
On the cab ride in from the airport, we immediately noticed how clean this very metropolitan city was. If you read about Singapore, you will very quickly learn about the strict rules that keep the city so clean. There are big fines for littering and we could see that enforcement of the rules really did make a difference. Chewing gum is still worthy of a big fine, as is eating durian (the “stinky fruit”) on the subways.
While we found the traffic in Bali and then later in Bangkok to be jam packed and chaotic, the vehicle traffic in Singapore was so much less and seemed so orderly. On one of our bus tours we learned about the measures put in place in Singapore to limit vehicle ownership, from high import taxes, to outrageous permit costs to the toll fees (Electronic Road Pricing or ERP) on most roads in the city.
But some of the people who could afford to have a car in Singapore made sure to get really nice cars!
To balance the penalty for vehicle ownership, the city had a very extensive public transportation network that seemed to really work. I am sure a lot of cities could learn from Singapore.
Public transit is a great option if you have a large and varied list of things to do in Singapore. Certainly returning home to Toronto, we would be reminded that Toronto had not done a great job of transportation planning as the city continued to grow.
We really only had 2 full days and 3 nights in Singapore. This would be a short taste test of things to do in Singapore.
1. Enjoy Clarke Quay
Our hotel was in the Clarke Quay neighbourhood. There were two subway stops on two different lines a short walk from the hotel. Nick was excited to find that the “7’s Rugby Tournament” was happening in Singapore when we arrived and after dropping his bags, he headed for the subway to catch Canada playing in the huge indoor arena. He had a lot of fun watching 20 short action-packed rugby matches in one day. Kenya with the massive upset to win it all! He was able to catch the big after party held outside in the courtyard at Clarke Quay.
We had picked a hotel within walking distance from Clarke Quay. If you went up on the roof patio, you could get a view far off in the distance of the main central business district (CBD) of Singapore (with the Marina Bay Sands Hotel) and Clarke Quay and Riverfront Point an easy walk.
Once on Clarke Quay, you could find any kind of bar or restaurant that you could want. We ate in that area several times, enjoying some people watching as we ate. The menus were all tourist priced so you will pay far more to eat here than we paid when we ventured later into local neighbourhoods. But of course we managed to find David something chocolate to tempt him!
A seafood feast was on our list of things to do in Singapore. It was suggested that we try Jumbo Seafood on Clarke Quay. Nick could not resist trying the touted “Chilli Crab” for his dinner. It came as a whole big crab (about a pound) in a deep dish, complete with a bib, crab cracking tools and finger dipping bowls. If you ate the crab without dipping it in the sauce, wimpy people like David and I could sample the crab. But Nick was ok having the crab drenched in hot sauce. It was a good thing the supply of beer was plentiful!
There was some shopping along the quay and if you were looking for a little excitement you could take a ride on the reverse bungy jump. We could hear the screams along the river as people took their first loop.
From the dock you could even catch a boat to do a river tour.
If you are not staying in the Clarke Quay area, you may want to consider heading that way on your list of things to do in Singapore.
2. A Hop-On-Hop-Off Tour Will Give You The City Highlights
David is always teasing me about doing a hop-on-hop-off (“HoHo”) tour whenever we hit a new city. We very rarely ever actually do the tour. But since we were in Singapore for such a short time, we actually bought tickets for the 3 of us. In Singapore you can even do a “Duck Tour” to get a water perspective of the city.
The HoHo map was not really specific about where to catch it and the bus stops were not really well marked, but after asking a few people we finally managed to find the stop close to our hotel and get on board the first bus. The pass was good for 24 hours, so boarding mid-day would give us an afternoon to get a quick overview of the city and then we could use the pass on the next morning to go back to anything that we missed.
While it was very hot in Singapore, the upper deck had a covered section that was cool enough when the bus was moving. We settled into our seats, put our headphones on and listened as we learned about the sights and history of Singapore. We took a couple of different lines over the two days.
Singapore has a number of different ethnic areas to explore when you visit. Beautiful temples show the difference in design and how colourful and ornate they appeared in contrast to a very traditional Anglican church.
We saw many of the city sights as we went by that may all be worth a hop off to visit. We could see the large shopping complexes, interesting architecture and historical monuments.
We were amused to spot a statue (Singapore Soul – 2011) in the Ocean Financial Centre Square that was by the artist Jaume Plensa, who had a similar statue (Overflow – 2005) in the Outdoor Statue Garden in New Orleans.
It was a great way to get an educational overview of the city. We even used the bus for pure transportation on the second day to get us back to the hotel after we finished up our exploration of the waterfront area. If you want an easy way to get around town to see a wide range of things, the hop-on-hop-off bus in Singapore is a good choice. Having got our bearings around the city, we had a much better idea of the things to do in Singapore if we made a return.
3. Singapore Sling
Did you know that the Singapore Sling was actually invented in Singapore? In 1915, bartender Ngiam Tong Boon made the very first drink at the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel. If you are searching for things to do in Singapore, having a Singapore Sling at this original location is sure to be close to the top of the list.
We found the Raffles Hotel but be prepared to find a lot of “Raffles” things before you find the hotel since a lot of things are named for Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles who founded Singapore. Once you find the hotel, find the sign for the Long Bar and head up the stairs.
It was about 2pm and the bar was almost full. The bar menu had a selection of things to eat in addition to the original Singapore Sling, a modern Sling and a yard of ale. We had to try more than one.
As with most tourists spots in Singapore, the prices were high. But the food was good and plentiful and this got ticked off from the list of things to do in Singapore. If we returned to Singapore, we would not need to make this stop again.
4. Wander By the Water
Singapore is a major port city and as such there is a lot to do down by the water. You can take a river cruise or you can wander around the harbour front area. The Marina Bay Sands Hotel is perhaps one of the most talked about hotels with a water view, mostly for the great infinity pool with the commanding view of Singapore. If you don’t stay in the hotel to get access to the pool, you can go up to the Flight Bar in the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and get the same view, if not the same indolent experience.
Most people head to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel for their sky high view of Singapore but it was suggested that we would get a better and higher 360° view if we visited the 1 Altitude Bar in One Raffles Place. For all of the bars with a view, for the price of a very expensive cocktail, you can sit and look down at it all.
The Gardens By The Bay were across the bay from the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. This fanciful park was interesting during the day but we would be back at night to enjoy all its beauty.
The Merlions – part mermaid, part lion – are scattered about Singapore. We headed one afternoon to walk along the shore and see the Merlion located at the main harbour front. As you walked along the boardwalk you got a great view of many of the Marina Bay sights.
The Merlion turned out to be a bit less impressive than it appeared in videos we had watched in preparation for our Singapore visit. The statue was working, spraying far out into the bay.
Seeing the Merlions is one of the things high on most lists of things to do in Singapore and on this day there were large groups of tourists and what looked like a school tour. We managed to find a few viewpoints before we were done with this spot.
Located close to the harbour front you will also find the Singapore Flyer for a ferris wheel ride at day or at night. The Flyer also has a special private dining car if you want a unique Singapore experience.
5. Shop for Electronics
Singapore is a generally a very expensive place and it would normally not be on my list for places to shop for bargains. But both David and Nick had done their research and found the place they wanted to visit for electronics. Using our hop-on-hop-off bus ticket we headed to Sim Lim Square Electronics . This was a 6 story building fully dedicated to selling electronics. It was geek heaven!
We started at the top and worked our way down. Nick has a very specific shopping list and he did his comparison shopping top to bottom before he made his purchase decisions. David was just looking for a bargain on a small set of things. In the end both David and Nick left happy with their selections and feeling like they got a bargain.
If you shop for more than trinkets in Singapore, make sure you get a tax refund slip. It is a quick and easy stop at the airport to recover the taxes you pay on goods purchased.
After you finish shopping, head to the food court in the basement. You will find a great selection of food vendors at local prices. This was a refreshing change since we had found so much of the food in Singapore priced high for tourists. We ate well for just a few dollars! Good thing since we had to visit the ATM twice while shopping.
If you need your geek fix when visiting Singapore, I would suggest you browse through the 6 floors of the Sim Lim Square. It is one of the less publicized things to do in Singapore.
6. See the City at Night
Like most cities, Singapore takes on a magical hue at night.
There are lots of things to do in Singapore at night. When we bought our hop-on-hop-off ticket, we chose to add the night tour. This was probably the best thing we chose to do on our brief stop in Singapore and it only cost $10 per person.
We visited a local food market and got great local food for very little money. We also visited a night market to haggle for anything you might want.
We made a stop to take great night pictures of the harbour but the greatest treat was to visit the Gardens By The Bay and see the light show set to music. The light show alone was worth the price of our night tour ticket.
If you are in Singapore, try to do a night tour. If you don’t choose to do a full tour, do try to see the Gardens By The Bay light show up close and personal. A front row seat under the changing kaleidoscope will put a smile on your face.
Plan To Visit More Than Once
We had a fast but interesting few days in Singapore before we headed off to Thailand. We really liked the city and would definitely come back to see the things we had missed. There are just so many things to do in Singapore!
We might consider using Singapore as a gateway for future SE Asia travel or maybe we would catch a cruise that starts or ends in Singapore. Singapore has so many “pros” and so little “cons”! It is an easy hop to visit Singapore when you are in other parts of SE Asia visiting. Consider a taste test trip and we are sure you will want to go back.
Have you visited Singapore? What was on your list of things to do in Singapore? Do you agree it is a city you should visit more than once?