Feel like going to Singapore? Great, let’s go.
Imagine the weather quite hot and humid, sun shining down on you. You’re wearing your favorite summer clothes and maybe zipping some cold drink. Around you there are people, lots of them, lots of different cultures and ethnicities and languages. When you look up you may see some skyscrapers but if you look around you see also old buildings from the era Singapore was the trading center of the whole Asia. Green color is quite apparent, parks are everywhere and flowers bloom in streets and bridges. You’re most likely hearing the sound of water, whether it’s coming from the Singapore river or from fountains that can be found all around the city. Everything around you is very very clean, it’s hard to spot even one rubbish on the ground, and no wonder, you get a fine if you do throw one. You look around yourself and think that everything looks just so pretty, very tempting and something that eagerly waits to be discovered and unfolded. There you go, you’re in Singapore now.
So I was there for six days on my winter break from school with my mom and sister. We stayed in this little, very basic, hotel near Chinatown and then one night in the glorious Marina Bay Sands. But I’ll get to that later. The flight there from Finland is about 12 hours which sounds worse than it is because it was a night flight so I actually got some sleep in the plane and the flight and jet lag weren’t that bad. I won’t tell you absolutely everything we did there because that’s why there are travel guides but I will tell my favorite things and I know this is anyway going to be super long, sorry! 😉
I remember my first impression from the afternoon we arrived, from a taxi window, being that everything just looked so taken care of: there were these lovely pink flower bushes on the sides of the roads to the city. Sun was shining down on high apartment houses and their windows and the city and the sea glimmering on my left looked like a dream of some sort after leaving the grey and cold Finland.
On the first evening we went to Chinatown for the first time (these pics aren’t all from the same day). We were lucky to go to Singapore on Chinese New Year’s and it was veeeery visible in Chinatown. There were lots of decorations for the New Year, red and orange lanterns and goat statues since it’s now the year of the goat in lunar calendar. And people, so much of them and that wasn’t even crowded compared to the Eve. Chinatown there consists of little streets with pretty, old-fashioned houses and stalls selling all kinds of usually useless stuff and restaurants selling fairly cheap Chinese dishes. There are locals but also loads of tourists and many say that Little India has stayed more authentic than Chinatown. That’s true but I’d still go to Chinatown again because that’s a part of Singapore’s idea: there really isn’t one culture in there, its culture consists of so many different ones and the Chinese culture is probably the most visible.
Since I started talking about cultural areas I definitely want to tell you about Little India. Being much less crowded and more quiet, Little India is a charming tiny area with its completely own kind of people and environment. First we visited this big food market hall called Pusat Tekka Centre which is a place where lots of locals eat and work daily. Singapore is otherwise super clean and quite modern so it was refreshing and nice to see a bit more ”real” and imperfect place. In Pusat Tekka eating is really cheap so people complaining that Singapore is just an expensive city should definitely visit there. Wandering between food stalls that sell a huge variety of Indian but also other Asian dishes, the hardest part was really just to try to make a choice where to sit and eat something. I ended up taking vegetable egg noodles, I’m sorry I cannot remember the Indian name, and they cost maybe 4 Singapore dollars, so about 3 euros and were SO GOOD. Next to me sat an old gentleman drinking a coke and at the same time talking with someone on WhatsApp and I thought that that tells so much about Singapore, such a mixture of old and new, traditions and new trends. I had problems with opening my water bottle (I know, pathetic but it really was sooo tight, believe me) so after watching my helpless attempts for a little while laughing, he offered to help me and got it opened. I thanked and he just smiled widely, waved and left. It’s funny how little it takes to leave you a good or a bad feeling about a certain place. For me it was him, added to that lovely, a little sleepy atmosphere that Little India and its cute colorful streets had.
On many days we just wandered around the city, looking what came across and that’s almost my favorite kind of time when I’m traveling. When you don’t have any destination you can find wonderful places you wouldn’t have gone to otherwise. One time we ended up to Theatres By the Bay, these very uniquely shaped theatres that have got their shape from a fruit called durian, you can see it up there. In front of them there was a beautiful little park and a cool fountain where we stayed awhile. The sun was going down but it was still so warm and I took my shoes off. It was a really heavenly feeling after walking all day and I sank them into the water. It was such a pretty and cosy place we returned there later again, just to sit for moment and really absorb the sun into us and breath in the new city.
From Theatres By the Bay starts a beautiful bridge with lots of flowers and tourists walking across it and from there you can perfectly see Marina Bay Sands. We sat there also a few times, just watching as tourists, some Buddhist monks and joggers passed by and the flow of people showed perfectly how diverse and multicultural the people of Singapore are.
I don’t know about you but I love parks, especially in big cities. You really can’t call Botanic Gardens a park because that would be in my opinion an understatement, it could maybe be called a garden-jungle-park. It’s a wonderful and so beautiful piece of nature and heaven in the middle of Singpore and it’s free. It’s huge and we didn’t even see it completely but visited the best places there which include Orchid Garden which the place is famous for and also Ginger Garden where there grew gingers. That was my most memorable experience there because ginger is on of my favorite spices and it’s actually a root from a beautiful plant. And I hadn’t known there were so many different types of gingers! My love for ginger got stronger when I saw how beautiful the flowers were and now it’s so much more fun to eat it when I know where it comes. There are also ponds around the Gardens and in them there are turtles and fish. Oh and there was also this fun lizard, free, enjoying the sun. He (or she?) let me come very close, looked at me suspiciously and then smelled the air a couple of times with his tongue. Then he put his head down, closed his eyes and kept on sunbathing. He really looked like he was enjoying and it made me really happy to see a wild animal not being captured to a small cage.
One other place I really liked is Raffles Hotel, a colonial-style hotel from the end of the 19th century, squeezed between the skyscrapers. I think staying there would be crazy expensive but luckily you can visit there and the bars etc. without staying a night. It is named after Stamford Raffles who is the founder of the modern Singapore and it’s a good fact to know since there are lots of Raffles-named places in Singapore. Anyway, it is a gorgeous building and really represents well Singapore’s colonial history. Lots of beautiful stairways and pillars and a stunning Victorian-styled courtyard.
And it has a famous and traditional bar called Long Bar and even though it’s a bit pricey, it’s really an experience. Its most famous drink is called Singapore Sling which my mom took but it also has some good non alcoholic drinks like mine in the middle. And the best and weirdest part about the bar is that every table has a big sack of peanuts with their shells on and even though there is a cup to put the shells to, apparently it’s a habit to throw them to the floor so the floor was in many parts covered with the shells.
Also in the list of fancy places we went to I can definitely add Swissotel The Stamford which is actually one of the highest hotels in Southeast Asia. We went up there in the afternoon, to a lounge bar called City Space. There was nearly no one there at that time and it wasn’t crazy expensive if you think that you’re also paying for the view which must be one of the greatest in the city. I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.
Now I must share my still ongoing excitement about Marina Bay Sands. You cannot really avoid seeing Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, it’s so high that it can be seen from almost anywhere. Oh and if someone doesn’t know, it’s a hotel, the one with the pool on the rooftop that looks like it’s so on the edge that you could just fall down, the one you always see pictures of on the internet. So yeah, having seen all those pictures before we left we were like ”we have to go to that pool!!” But then we found out that you can’t go to the pool if you’re not staying at the hotel. Blah, we thought, because it’s quite (very) expensive and we still wanted to go so bad. Then mom found one night that was a bit cheaper than the others (for some weird reason) and even though it was still pricey we saw our chance and booked it for that one night. And oh my, we all think it was more than worth it. And because it was our first time, we got a room with the city view (!!!) from the 20th floor so quite in the middle of the left tower. Obviously the whole hotel was just incredible and so over the top: it maybe tells something that it has its own mall with a skating ring and a river in it (I know, like why on earth?!?) and also some tennis courts etc. Yeah, you can imagine the rest. Obviously the fanciest hotel I’ve ever been to and maybe ever will be, just so incredible. And the pool. Oh, the pool. The first time I got up there to the 57th floor with my sister I just kept saying “oh my goooood!!” and probably looked quite silly, just walking back and forth the roof and trying to understand what I was looking at. I was basically the monkey emojis all over again for like an hour. I think I can’t really describe how cool it was and even though the picuters aren’t half as impressive as the reality, they do quite good job showing what it was like. Oh, and I’ll tell you a secret: the pool really doesn’t just stop right to the edge like it seems on pictures. Below it there’s an observation deck so you really can’t fall or if you do that’s quite impressive.
Behind Marina Bay Sands are Gardens By the Bay, definitely one of the coolest places there. Sounds silly though, an area with these sort of fake trees that are lit up in the evening and there’s a light show with music every hour and it’s just so impressive. Very hard to describe, pictures do it best. It was such a magical moment laying there on the benches rounding the trees and looking at the trees blinking with different colors against the dark night sky.
And I obviously need to say something about the food. So of course, it’s great and the variety is HUGE. Really any Asian food and you can find it there. My favorites, springrolls can be found anywhere really. And being mostly vegetarian wasn’t that hard since there are many vegetable dishes like currys, noodles and rice with different fresh veggies and also some soups. Seafood is very popular and even though I didn’t order that many seafood dishes I often tasted from my mom’s plate and it was all so good and fresh. They like to fry almost everything in Chinese and other Asian dishes so be preperad to that if you’re like me and don’t really eat fried foods otherwise. But they fried them well and none of the foods I ate were to greasy or oily so I guess frying is also something you can do well or badly. And fruit, oh those heavenly fruits, I just cannot describe the taste. This may sound funny to you if you live in a country with lots of local fresh fruits but me living in Finland, we really don’t have mango trees or pineapples growing around so everything is brought from abroad. So obviously, the fruits were A-MA-ZING. Like I didn’t even know a mango could taste like that, it was like a different fruit than the mangos I’d eaten and even the color was so bright orange. Also the pineapples and papaya, just incredibly juicy and fresh. And my first time eating a dragon fruit! That was quite good as well. And for the first time I tasted yellow watermelon! I didn’t even know that existed, tasted quite the same though. Most restaurants have fruit platters on their menus so definitely take that one if you ever go there.
So after 6 days it was time to say goodbye to Singapore. And like almost always, I had got attached to the city and knew I would miss it later and want to come back sometime. I’m a person who gets attached to places and things in general very quickly and very wholeheartedly. And there’s just something about Singapore that really got to me and I still don’t quite know what it is. Maybe it’s just the atmosphere. Many people asked me when I got back ”How was the culture in Singapore?” and I really didn’t know how to answer plainly. Because the thing about Singapore is that it doesn’t have one culture, its thing is that it’s a mixture of so many and therefore unique. I’ve heard many people say a bit same about New York and though I haven’t been there maybe Singapore is like Asia’s New York. I don’t know, it just left me a very good and somehow free feeling, a bit like saying ”come back if you like”.
So we left with a ferry that was to take us to Bintan, an island one hour away from Singapore but still a different country, Indonesia. Basically in Bintan there are different resorts and that’s pretty much it, it’s quite deserted otherwise. But it has beautiful beaches and especially after the weekend it was very calm and quiet.
So we were there three days and did absolutely NOTHING. I would like to tell something exciting about that but really, it was our plan to just enjoy the sun and sea and all that for three days and well, we succeeded pretty well. It’s funny my sister had a pedometer and in Singapore it was always something around 20 000 steps a day but when we were in Bintan, well, maybe 2000 a day 🙂 But it did so much good for me, otherwise I can’t really make myself to relax properly and I get easily distracted so just laying by the pool or staring at the sea was exactly what I needed. I had my heart full of gratitude and pure happiness and for me those feelings are the most precious ones. And I just LOVE seas, everything about them, the smell and color and the feeling of it running over your feet. I only wanted to embrace it and preserve some if it with me and in some way I think I did. And I also did one of my favorite ever things to do: first to look where the wave breaks down and then go and stand there and let it slam you down with it and take you closer to the strand. I don’t know why I have always found that so enjoyable. Maybe it’s quite liberating, just letting something take over and take you with it.