Hashtag Life Magazine sent writer Marina Comes to Singapore for a week of discovery and exploration with The Singapore Tourism Board. Read her review below on her experience and 5 reasons you must visit!
I am sure that every time somebody mentions Singapore you see it as the perfect stopover on longer journeys to South East Asia. Am I correct? Well, it happens to be much more than that. With so much more to offer than big skyscrapers and fancy rooftops, Singapore is a true Asian gem in itself. You would be crazy not to spend a week there if you had the opportunity. Let me tell you why.
- The Mix of cultures:
Singapore is not only comprised of the financial district seen in the backdrop of almost every picture of the city. It actually has very different neighborhoods, each of them with their own ethnic identity, traditions and festivities, their own food markets and stalls, etc.
For instance, Little India will take you back to the colorful and hectic life of the Indian cities. You can actually buy a wide range of souvenirs from India, from sarees in every imaginable colour to Indian sandals or any type of spices used in Indian cooking. I had been to India just recently, so I felt tele-transported walking around its narrow streets, with fruit and local food stalls all around, and amazing graffiti recreating Indian scenes and symbols in almost every street. Don’t be afraid to get lost in this neighborhood, you will actually love it and, if you are a woman, you may end up picking up colorful dresses and skirts (at very reasonable prices).
Another quarter that you can’t miss is Chinatown. From its massage centers to its daily market, Chinatown seems to be awake 24h! Nestled between the highest buildings of the financial district, this quarter keeps its strong Chinese identity with a slight touch of colonial sophistication when needed: many restaurants, boutique hotels and cool cafes have made this neighborhood the ‘place to be’ for a sunset drink, an after-work reunion or a brunch with friends. There are lots of cozy rooftops from which you will enjoy amazing views of the financial district, but don’t expect to be on sitting on a 33rd level floor. In Chinatown, the buildings have a maximum of 4 floors! This made things even more unique for me.
Kampong Glam -also known as the Muslim quarter- still retains a strong flavor of the Malay and Arab traditions of its immigrant population. Take a walk around the famous Arab St, Baghdad St, and admire the magnificence of the iconic Sultan’s mosque at Muscat St. The whole neighborhood has been restored and looks brighter than ever. You’ll find a wide range of eateries, bakeries, shops and even a pedestrian mall. And last but not least, the famous Haji Lane is also located in this quarter and it’s considered to be a fashionista’s paradise, so save some time to go shopping in this hidden lane full of independent boutiques that has become the ‘Parisian Marais’ of Singapore. I challenge you to be able to walk the whole lane without buying an item (or two!).
- The Food
If you are a foodie, Singapore is your city. If you are not, you will become one after your stay, believe me. The city boasts the widest range of eateries, restaurants, bakeries, bistros, cafes, food markets and street stalls that you have ever seen in your life. Everything revolves around food, and eating becomes a ceremony in itself. Singaporeans get together to have lunch, dinner, brunch, drinks… the possibilities are endless. The multi ethnic DNA of the city is key when it comes to food. The variety of cuisines and prices is astonishing. From Michelin starred restaurants (like Candlenut) to Indian or Chinese food stalls on the street where you can eat for 5 dollars.
Walking around the narrow alleys of the daily markets of Little India or Chinatown is also a must. You will get to see the most amazing raw ingredients used by the best restaurants and hotels of the city… from fresh sharks and lobsters to tropical fruits and vegetables that you will have never seen before. They also usually have a few food stalls to have enjoy a local snack or a fresh juice, just in case the market has sparked up your appetite.
You cannot say you have lived a real Singaporean experience unless you visit at least one of their ‘Hawker Centers’, which are typically found around the city center or near to the main train stations. You will only find this type of open-air complex in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia and they have many food stalls which sell all types of inexpensive food to eat in common areas or to take away. Moreover, all food retail businesses in Singapore are rated by the health authorities depending of their level of cleanliness from A (being a score of 85% or higher) to D (being a score of 40% to 49%) and it’s mandatory to show the score to the public, so don’t be afraid to try new flavors and dishes from all over the world. This is probably the safest place to do it…after all, we are talking of one of the cleanest cities in the world!
- The Nature
People usually think of Singapore as a concrete jungle of skyscrapers and modern architecture but truth is that nature is very present everywhere. I have to admit that this was the biggest surprise of my trip…greenery is everywhere and you feel that Singaporeans have great respect for nature and the environment. Not only do they have many parks and gardens (like other big cities) but they also boast many huge reservoirs inside the city that have become real green lungs for Singapore’s citizens, with lakes, trails and lagoons where you will find people running, practicing yoga, canoe paddling or even enjoying their Sunday lunch under a tree. I was able to spend some time in the idyllic Mac Ritchie Reservoir Park but there are many more (i.e. Fort Canning).
However, the gem of Singapore’s greenery is its magical Botanic Gardens. Even if landscape design or botanical experiments are not your thing, you will love getting lost in this verdant wonderland. The range of trees and plants is obviously impressive, but the silence and peace that surrounds the place will seduce you and you will never want to leave. I felt like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ wandering amongst the most spectacular tropical flora of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. And if you want to wrap the visit up, pay the symbolic entrance fee to the National Orchid Garden and your eyes will thank you forever. With more than 1000 species on display and located in the highest hill of the Botanic Gardens, this garden has a very particular design concept that presents the orchids in four color zones: spring, summer, autumn and winter.
[If you are traveling with kids, Singapore’s Zoo may also be worth visiting, since it is located in the vast Seletar Reservoir and animals are displayed in spacious and open exhibits (not in cages) which makes the experience less painful for animal lovers like me. Their main attraction is the Night Safari show which takes place every day after sunset and takes you on a tram ride to encounter the most fascinating species at their most active time of the day: the night. For me, the best things about this visit were the tropical landscape and lush rainforest that covered the whole site and the fact that the Zoo has embarked in many rescue and conservation projects to protect endangered species.]
- The Architecture and design
As a visitor, it is impossible to ignore Singapore’s first visual attraction: its futuristic skyline and modern architecture. The financial district has the tallest buildings and the latest trends in architecture. Hotels compete to have the most impressive interior designs and the trendiest shopping malls pop up like mushrooms.
If you want to have a bird’s eye view of Marina Bay, take the elevator to LeVel33, the World’s highest urban craft-brewery (at Marina Bay Financial Centre) and enjoy the best ‘cocktail with a view’ ever. Your friends will hate you for a long time if you send them the picture from their amazing terrace. And of course, you can also go to the touristy terrace of Marina Bay Sands Hotel, but be ready to pay a generous entrance fee and be surrounded by hundreds of selfie sticks trying to get the best picture of Singapore’s skyline for the umpteenth time. You decide!
However, I highly recommend that you admire the city’s architecture from the ground. And one of the best locations to do this is Gardens by the Bay. This futuristic garden that makes every visitor feel like being part of a movie Avatar has something magical. Its famous supertrees and the long aerial walkway are an experience not to be missed. Wander around its four themed gardens, get lost in the paths surrounding the Dragonfly Lake and admire the mesmerizing waterfront views along the way (probably the best views over Marina Bay skyline). As I see it, this place is the perfect example of how nature and human interaction can do great things together.
- The Hotels
Singapore boasts an endless range of hotels, from the cheapest options to the most luxurious experiences, so that everyone finds what their budget needs.
But if you are looking for a unique lux-for-less experience, The Club Hotel should be your choice. This boutique hotel is a brand new F&B-led lifestyle concept housed in a 19th century colonial house located along the historic and vibrant Ann Siang Road, in the heart of Chinatown.
Designed by the award winning interior designer studio ‘The Distillery’, The Club has three different restaurants-bars and 20 luxurious rooms (including 2 spacious suites of 41sqm) that will make of your stay the ultimate hotel experience. Start your day with a healthy brunch at the Disgruntled Brasserie and end it with a nice cocktail and some music at Tiger’s Milk (my favorite rooftop in Chinatown), a Peruvian bar&grill which overlooks the nocturnal skyline of the Financial district.
The friendly staff at The Club will make you feel at home and will take care of every detail so that you will never feel alone in such a big city. The familiar environment of this boutique hotel and their passion for food and their cosmopolitan city will help you to better understand and live Singapore from a local’s perspective rather than a tourist. So even if you are on a business strip or only for pleasure, the Club will meet the needs of any real traveler.
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