Singapore, As Advertised

Getting to Singapore is a bit of a marathon…. Thirty hours transit, including a 7-hour flight AFTER the trans-Pacific flight to Tokyo. All of this had us pretty wiped out when we finally got there. Like many of the flight itineraries originating from the US, our flight had us touching down just after midnight. At that time, public transit is closed and the shops and stalls in the airport are a ghost town. Anticipating this, we had an overnight stay booked at the Crowne Plaza on the airport grounds. It was nice to just pass out directly and reset for the next day without being bothered by further land transit logistics. That morning was like waking from a coma, and we were both reasonably ready to head out for a full day around town.

My initial impressions of Singapore deviated very little from what I imagined ahead of our visit. The city is impeccably clean. Signs everywhere suggest Draconian fines for all manner of small infractions. Insane amounts of money are on display. As a financial and shipping hub in Southeast Asia, the cultural blend of Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian influences make sense and do give the place a multicultural feeling that seems unique for the region. Like many port cities around the world, there is a rich and celebrated culinary tradition. Food offerings in Singapore do seem to represent a blend of cultures as well. Of course, food was the main line item on our short Singapore itinerary.

Singapore is serious about rules
Pretty stiff fine for leaving french fry crumbs
Money can’t buy good taste

Starting our first day off right was a full hotel breakfast spread that made sure to account for the blend of cultures in Singapore. On one side, we had a spread of Chinese offerings like congee and steam buns, Malaysian fare such as fish and noodles and a few Indian items like paneer masala languishing on the end. Finally, there was a whole separate area of western offerings, as if things like hash browns and eggs shouldn’t even be on the same countertop. Transit from the airport to downtown was pretty fast and straightforward. We stayed at a smaller boutique-style hotel rather than one of the big high-rise places.

The Marina Bay Sands looms large over Singapore, but we opted to save some money and just visit for a rooftop meal there. We started off our first day visiting a market and doing a little shopping. We caught the subway for a visit to Gardens by the Bay. The “Supertree Grove” was closed on our first day, but we got tickets for the two enclosed biomes they have there: cloud forest and flower dome. The cloud forest was really incredible and highly recommended. Our next stop and where we closed out the day was in Chinatown. As a side note, the day-passes for the subway seem to be a rip-off unless you’re making a ton of different stops. We only needed a couple of individual subway tickets to fill the day. We ended up getting an early dinner at a place called Hawker Chan, the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. Hawker Chan specializes in Hainanese chicken rice, which features a glazed/candied skin on the chicken. It was good. I’m gonna leave it at that, as I’m not an expert on this dish. However, I was struck with wondering if, just maybe, quality control may have suffered after a lowly and unknown hawker stall was handed a Michelin star and suddenly thrust onto the must visit list of every food fanatic that comes to Singapore. Besides Hawker Chan though, there seemed to be more than enough on offer around every corner to spend multiple days in Chinatown grazing.

Cloud forest in Gardens by the Bay
Hainanese Chicken Rice from Hawker Chan

We managed a pretty full first day in Singapore but were totally wiped out early in the evening. Day two had our clocks lined up much better, getting up early and heading out to the Marina Bay downtown area to visit some of the iconic Singapore sights. We went through the “Durian” buildings (Esplanade) and saw the Merlion statue and lots of public art all around Marina Bay. In front of Marina Bay Sands is a convention center and shopping mall far too expensive for us lowly worker bees. We did have lunch at “Spago” on the roof of the Marina Bay Sands. We also took a ride on the “Singapore Flyer,” the worlds second-largest Ferris wheel. It was a cool view and a different perspective than the Marina Bay Sands… but for $33? It could be skipped. Dinner for our second day in Singapore was…. Really, really good. I had high expectations the first night for the Michelin-starred hawker stall, and I didn’t leave entirely satisfied. For the second night, we visited an organized group of hawker stalls called “Gluttons Bay.” They delivered. We got chili crab, beef satay, wings, baby squid and rice. Seeing a group of organized hawker stalls like this gave me an appreciation of what is being channeled at some stateside Asian-fusion establishments. I definitely recommend this area for at least one dinner on a visit to Singapore.

Spread of Hawker fare near Esplanade

While we certainly had a nice time, I do have to say that Singapore offered very little in the way of surprises. Expect a clean, comfortable, and safe visit, but not too much else. Our next stop is a short flight to Bandar Seri Beguan, Brunei. The plan is to overnight in the capital and then spend a few days in a remote rainforest resort. Below is our full Singapore gallery:

3 thoughts on “Singapore, As Advertised

  1. Singapore has changed quite a bit and has made it a very different city from when i was there in 1982 I dont think the stalls where organized as they are now. Its nice to see the new perspectives of the new singapore.

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