I've said it before, and probably will again, Singapore is so much more than a stopover! A true melting pot of cultures and people, it is a dynamic and truly multicultural city, full of fascinating sights and interesting neighborhoods.
Myths and Merlions
With the body of a fish but the head of a lion, the merlion has been a symbol of Singapore since 1972. The lion’s head comes from the Malay term for the city ‘Singapura’ meaning ‘lion city’, and the fish body represents Singapore’s origins as a fishing village. The statue faces east, which is believed to be the direction that brings prosperity. At regular intervals each day the 6.8 metre merlion spouts water from its mouth into the river, with a 2 metre Merlion cub behind it. It is easy to get up close and personal with the merlions, either from a boat or by visiting Merlion Park close to the Fullerton hotel.
A true mixture of Singapore’s various cultures, Chinatown boasts Chinese traders, Buddhist temples, Hindu temples and more food than you could ever eat! Of particular interest is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, which is an impressive combination of temple, museum, kitchen, shop and gardens spread over several floors. Chinatown’s Hindu temple, Sri Mariamman is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore and the colourful and detailed gopuram has become an iconic feature of Chinatown. If you want to understand what life was like for the original occupants of Chinatown, the Chinatown Heritage Centre is worth visiting.
Explore the colour of Little India
Walking along the street in Little India, it is easy to imagine you are strolling in downtown Delhi. Amidst shops selling sari fabric, Indian confectionary, music and clothes are shops selling flower offerings to take to the temples. Hindu temples Sri Veeramakaliamman and Sri Srinivasa Perumal are on the Serangoon Road and Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple is an interesting Buddhist temple in the area. Read more about experiencing Little India here.
|Fruit and Vegetable Shop, Little India, Singapore|
Taste Arabia in Kampong Glam
Originally settled by Malay immigrants, Kampong Glam is the muslim centre of Singapore. Built around the impressive golden-domed Sultan Mosque, the area is a maze of streets offering shopping and middle-eastern cuisine at cafes and restaurants where you can sit out in the street to enjoy people-watching while you eat. Some of the possible purchases from local shops include perfumes, brass items, glass lanterns, carpets, semi precious gemstones, jewellery and fabrics. Arab Street and Haji Lane are particularly picturesque. Kampong Glam’s former royal residence has been redeveloped and is now the Malay Heritage Centre, and well worth a look to discover more about the culture. Read more about Kampong Glam here.
Bustling Clarke Quay
Previously a strip of dilapidated 19th century warehouses run by the Chinese, Clarke Quay today couldn’t be more different. Named after the second governor of Singapore, Sir Andrew Clarke, Clarke Quay is a vibrant area containing shops and restaurants. It really comes alive after nightfall and is a popular place to enjoy an evening by the river. It is also a hub for riverboat cruises.
|Clarke Quay, Singapore|
Shop Orchard Road
Singapore has a reputation as a shopping destination, and not without good reason. Orchard Road is the epicentre of everything shopping. A plethora of malls stretch along what used to be a sleepy plantation-lined avenue, but is now a series of enormous shopping malls. To reduce the temptation of jaywalking, many of the malls connect via underground tunnels, so it is quite possible to get completely lost underground between shops! Orchard is the largest mall containing many international brands. Tanglin is good for antiques, old books, maps and furniture. Centrepoint contains lots of western fashions on the upper floors, including Marks and Spencers. It also has a large supermarket in the basement. Among the malls there are also bars, pubs, clubs, cafes, restaurants and international hotels. Peranakan Place is a popular social spot for cafes and pubs.
Built as a self-contained island of tranquility for Europeans amidst the chaos of south east asia, Raffles Hotel retains its peaceful environment of colonial years. Cool, calm courtyards, gardens, covered walkways and beautiful restaurants make a calming escape from the heat of the city. The lobby is home to the writers’ bar and features photos of writers that have stayed at the hotel. Home of the Singapore Sling, the Long Bar makes an interesting rest spot. It is like stepping into history and, while enjoying a cool cocktail, it is easy to imagine visitors such as Noel Coward, Charlie Chaplin and Michael Jackson enjoying the surroundings in the hotel’s heyday. If you’re interested in exploring the hotel’s history there is a hotel museum, and if you need a souvenir, the hotel also has a shop. Read more about having a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel here.
Besides Raffles, Singapore’s Civic District boasts lots of historic buildings. A playing field in front of Singapore’s City Hall borders several significant examples of colonial architecture. Along with City Hall, the Supreme Court, Parliament House and the Singapore Cricket Club are all interesting to have a look at. The Asian Civilisations Museum near the river and the Capitol Building are also magnificent structures.
|Marina Bay Sands Skydeck, Singapore|
City views from the Skydeck at Marina Bay Sands
The Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore is an extremely expensive high-rise hotel offering impressive views over Singapore from their rooftop infinity pool. However, while pool access is reserved for hotel guests, it is possible to get to the top of the building without paying over the odds to sleep up there. Visitors are welcome in the restaurants on the high floors, but the cheapest option is to visit the skydeck, which is a large open deck on the top of Tower 3. From the skydeck you can take in views across the river to the city and out to the east of the island. There is an entry fee but it is much less than a night in the hotel.
Gardens by the Bay
Another part of the Marina Bay Sands area is the Gardens by the Bay, which is a weirdly futuristic feeling botanical garden on the south bank of the Singapore River. If flowers are of greatest interest to you then visiting during the day might make more sense, but personally I enjoyed strolling through the illuminated tree structures at night, when it is also cooler.
What are your favourite things to see and do in Singapore?