This is the second out of four posts about my trip to Asia this past January! I can’t believe it’s been nearly two months since I visited Singapore and that I’ve been back in New York for a month! I have been very, very busy so my updates have been slow. I will share why soon, but until then let’s revisit the little Southeast Asian country! If you are my friend on Facebook I’ve already written a short version and if you follow me on Instagram you’ve seen some of these photos, but there’s still so much more.
On January 9th, I packed my stuff and left Hong Kong by myself, flying four hours south to Singapore. I’ve wanted to visit for many years so it felt surreal. My parents never got to take me there for our family vacations because it’s so far from the USA, so I grabbed my chance this time since I was so close! It was my first time traveling all alone, and to a completely unfamiliar country.
I spent 10 days in Singapore (2 of which I went on a short trip to Malaysia) which got mixed reactions from friends and family about what I can possibly do for that many days in such a small place. There’s plenty to write about so I’m breaking this post down into categories after a general overview of my time there:
- I stayed in an apartment in Tiong Bahru with an Indian-Chinese family who were extremely friendly hosts. They gave me a private bedroom for only $29 per night!
- The apartment building has an open hallway that kind of resembles a balcony. I think that allows it to be ventilated, since it’s hot all year long and using A/C would be costly and unfriendly to the environment.
- It was warm enough that I didn’t even need to heat up the water to shower – and I had really wanted a hot shower after 10 days of cold showers in Hong Kong.
- Most Singaporean apartments are public housing provided by the government so they appear in clusters of identical buildings, which makes the residential areas of the city confusing to get around. One block looks exactly like the next and the street names are usually in Malay.
- Everybody speaks English, but Singlish can be hard to understand since the people developed their own way of saying certain phrases and generally speak really, really fast.
- The transportation system doesn’t show you how big the country actually is – people from bigger countries think Singapore is just an island, but I spent hours a day trying to get from place to place. The stops on the train are farther apart than you’d think.
- The weather is nice – this was the rainy season so I heard it’s cooler than the dry season but it was very humid during the day and quite cool at night.
- There aren’t that many people at all … where are all the people?!
The city is beautiful! It actually is very small and I was surprised by its size, but I’m so used to being in New York that I forget other cities aren’t supposed to be 13 miles (21 km) of skyscrapers. The city part is just a small corner of the country, but I think it’s more interesting than New York.
The main attraction is obviously the Marina Bay Sands, the symbol of Singapore and a luxurious hotel that costs more per night than my entire stay. The architecture is creative and unique – the guests stay in the three pillars and there’s a observation deck, restaurant, and infinity pool in the boat-like structure top. It overlooks Marina Bay, where the whole city is built around.
There’s a shopping center inside, with very expensive brands that I didn’t dare look at. The mall has canal on the bottom floor. Hotel guests stayed up top and their hallways overlooked the shopping center like a balcony.
The Marina Bay is fed by the Singapore River, and is lined by little restaurants and big office buildings. There’s not much else downtown except for the Merlion – lion head + fish tail – another symbol of Singapore, which I later learned is based off the legend of a friendly lion that early Malaysian settlers saw and was retold to be a sea spirit that watched over the land of Singapura. The Merlion statue is a fountain that pours into the river!
On the other side of the Marina Bay Sands, there’s an artificial garden called Gardens by the Bay mainly dominated by the Supertree Grove of several tall tree-like structures. You can climb up inside and walk across them on a bridge to look at the gardens from up top! It’s really scary to walk up there because the bridge is wobbly but you also get a nice view of the Marina Bay Sands.
The Supertrees are especially pretty at night because each night there’s a lights show that lights up the tree in different colors and changes based on rather hip music. You can lie on the ground and gaze up at the sky to watch! I luckily managed to grab a spot on the bench.
There are two indoor gardens at Gardens by the Bay and the one I was more interested in was Cloud Forest. It is well-named because the entire place is cooled down to mimic tropical highlands and contains plants that you’d find up in the mountains. It’s freezing in there which nobody warns you about, but it’s comfortably moist after being dehydrated all the time. The main structure is Cloud Mountain, which features a waterfall and different levels to look out from.
There are many other gardens in the bay, probably enough for a photographer to spend an whole day. The entire place is very well-maintained and must cost millions. I learned that Singapore is trying to green the entire country since so much is built on landfill.
Deeper in the country you’ll find more green in Singapore Botanical Gardens. From its name I thought it was another artificial garden, but this one’s a big park! It reminded me of Central Park in New York. There were a lot of people walking their puppies and it was absolutely stunning in the sunset. I wanted to visit the orchids section since Singapore seems to be famous for orchids, but the park was too big to walk across!
Singapore has a unique cuisine and very interesting desserts. Food is extremely convenient here because each neighborhood has a Hawkers Market on the corner that serves different styles of food with different options to choose from. The chefs often just whip up your plate of food for you in a few minutes so you can order whatever you want and get it fresh and hot. It’s also super cheap! The most basic dish, char siew rice, is only $2.50 USD. I had prepared a lot of Singaporean cash because I thought things would be expensive but I ended up having a lot left over! My favorite dish is probably chai tow kway, a radish cake cooked in some sort of dark sauce. You can also get coconut ice cream in an actual coconut! The most interest dessert I tried was ais kachang, which is a mountain of shaved ice topped with corn, beans, jello, and other little refreshing bites.
When I first got to Singapore, my purple hair had faded to hot pink. My friend pointed out how my hair, accessories, and phone matched, and showed me a lovely drink that matched me as well! Bandung is condensed milk with rose syrup and has a really sweet. I’m not a fan of milk so it was not my favorite drink, but Singapore’s drinks menus are filled with many different kinds of natural juices. It’s so costly to buy drinks back home, but here you could get a cup of cold lime juice for less than $1 USD.
Southeast Asia is home to very different animals from Northeast USA, so I was very excited to finally see orangutans in their natural habitat! Singapore Zoo has the most friendly home for orangutans I could have imagined. The gorgeous creatures live FREE RANGE! They were not caged – they had a little pen to chill and were allowed to grapple across rope lines above my head. I was very impressed.
Lizards are also everywhere – I’ve seen little ones in my room even, which might be why there weren’t any mosquitoes though I always had to leave my window open to get cool air. Bigger lizards such as the water monitor seem to randomly wander the streets. I found on in the zoo that wasn’t part of any exhibit. My friend said I probably should not get too close.
Another beautiful animal that was new to me was the Malayan tapir, native to Malaysia and Indonesia. We have tapirs in the Americas, but they are not two-colored like the Malayan ones. I only knew what they are because the Pokemon Drowzee. They must be very tame because there was a tapir lying in the middle of the street as our car passed it in the Night Safari.
The Night Safari and River Safari are two smaller parks that advertises up-close encounters with animals only after 7PM or on the water, respectively. They are not as hyped up as they are advertised. They’re definitely worth a visit since tickets aren’t too expensive, but are more of a learning experience of nocturnal and river animals than actually getting to see them. There are two pandas at the River Safari though..
Singapore is a melting pot of different ethnicities. The majority of the population are ethnically Chinese. Chinese culture is deep set certain beliefs and a lot of it is also based on mythology and folktales. There’s a free theme park called Haw Par Villa where you can see sculptures as well as a pretty gruesome exhibit of the Ten Courts of Hell, what traditional Chinese belief in the afterlife.
I had fun climbing the sculptures, but I fell and cracked my phone for the first time in my life. That must be what I get the one day I wore flip-flops instead of sneakers. 🙁
Most Chinese people today though, I think, are Buddhists. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a huge museum built in Tang Chinese style, and has several detailed exhibits of the origins of Buddhism and the story of Gautama Buddha. The center of the building houses the tooth-relic of the Buddha. The temple is located in Chinatown, which was very festive since Chinese New Year had been coming up!
Another major population in Singapore is Indians. There’s a neighborhood called Little India, and lots of food courts serve authentic Indian food which I got to try! The Sri Mariamman Temple is a pretty interesting looking Hindu temple and the inside is really pretty, but photos were not allowed.
The origins of Singaporean culture is still Malaysian though. At the National Museum you can learn a lot of about the history and how Malay culture mixed with immigrants from China and India and created a brand new country! The museum is interactive and filled with 3D pieces from contemporary artists!
Contemporary culture as a whole is more Westernized than Asian. You can visit Haji Lane, a street with the most hipster shops and bars and wall paintings that felt more like Brooklyn, New York than Asia.
When I was in Hong Kong, the local people were very much Asian but I felt Singaporeans were more similar to Americans. We talk about similar topics and are interested in the same things.
- I visited a fellowship at the National University of Singapore and met a lot of students – the fellowship is so similar to my own at New York University! I wonder if that’s because our president is Singaporean.
- I met up with Lixin, a former blogger some of you might know, and had dinner with her boyfriend and his friend. Her boyfriend’s friend was a jokester who knows more about the USA than I do. They were super hospitable and treated me to dinner and drinks the entire night.
Other than the main island of Singapore, there’s a few reclaimed islands in the south for weekend getaways. I really wanted to visit them but the rain messed up my plans a little bit, and I only got to go to the main Sentosa Island resort. They have SEA Aquarium and Universal Studios but I didn’t want to pay for them since I’ve been to the ones in Florida. I kind of just spent the day walking at the beach and going on a few small amusement rides. Singapore’s beaches aren’t very great since they’re manmade, but there’s an interesting looking palm tree at the southernmost point of the country. I also held a boa constrictor … it was gross!
The Self Reflection
Why did I spend so long in Singapore? I can share that too! It wasn’t supposed to be a time of partying or time-efficient traveling, but a sabbatical away from my usual life. I chose to go alone just so I can spend time by myself. Most of my trip I was alone (except for meeting Lixin, and the few times that my Singaporean friends were free to meet up) which meant planning entire days, eating alone, and not being able to talk to anybody. I wanted to self-reflect on what I want to do now that I’ve finished my Master’s degree.
Being in Singapore, a brand new country, I got to taste lifestyle differences – finishing dinner before places close early at 10PM, law differences – not being allowed to eat or drink anything on public transportation, and language differences – most locals try to speak Chinese to me. Living in an apartment rather than pampering myself in a hotel made it seem more like I was getting to know the country on a closer level. I was able to learn about things I care about:
- Lixin took me to the animal shelter she volunteers at where I met a bunch of mongrel doggies. I’m not good with mutts because I don’t know what their temperaments would be to a stranger like me, but I am happy that Singapore’s trying to phase out cruel puppy mills as well. Puppy mills are horrible to mother dogs and treat them like slaves. They create overpopulation for profit and these dogs eventually end up on the streets.
- I also cleaned a cat’s cage and learned how to get a cat to trust me. There were two cats in the cage and one ignored me while the other was too shy. Once the shy cat warmed up to me the other one got jealous! They are very attention-seeking and affectionate creatures.
- I’ve never seen an orangutan before this trip but they are similar enough to humans that one was found enslaved as a prostitute by a village in Kalimantan, Indonesia. :O :O :O
- My friend brought me to her church and I met some of the elders who talked about their concerns for their country – especially its relationship with China.
I don’t think I will be moving to Singapore, but getting to know the country so well was a life changing experience for me. I’ll talk about that more in a future post! Until next time!