If you’re expecting the gritty hustle bustle of most other Asian countries then best you exit stage left. Singapore is one of the cleanest cities I’ve been to, in the world. Not only is it clean, it’s easy to get around, there are some great environmental initiatives, the shopping is vast and the food is an education in flavour.
My mission was to get as much done in four days as I possibly could and I almost needed a holiday from my holiday. The island city-state of Singapore is a crucible of cultures inhabiting 719 square kilometres of land, translating into some scrumptious combination of spices and delectable creations.
I love good food – Chinese food, Malay food, Indian food, and all fusions between – Chinese food, Malay food, Indian food, and all fusions between - so I ate my way around Singapore, with a few activities to even things out.
Singapore is known for its culinary delights and the Singaporeans’ love of food has attracted a plethora of celebrity chefs including Gordon Ramsay, Tetsuya Wakuda, Jamie Oliver, Wolfgang Puck, Jason Atherton, and Luke Mangan. You can pay anywhere from $3 to $500 (SGD) for a meal and I suggest beginning at the well known and inexpensive Hawker or Street Food Centres to sample a kaleidoscope of dishes.
Enjoy a taste of history and colonial architecture of Lau Pa Sat, a lunch-time food coma at Tiong Bahru Hawker Centre, Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice at Maxwell Road Hawker Centre, and traditional dishes at arguably Singapore’s best Hawker Centre, and wallet friendly Old Airport Road Food Centre. For the late night revellers Chomp Chomp Food Centre opens from 5:00pm until late. There’s no need to be concerned about sensitive tummies as all stalls adhere to strict hygiene laws and it’s even believed the loo lid should be clean enough to eat off.
I arrived at Changi Airport at the civilised hour of 5pm, was reunited with my luggage and in a cab, just outside of an hour. The public transport in Singapore is an example of efficiency, and getting around is easy, inexpensive and very clean. With a population of around 5.6 million people, 1 million cars, and 12% of the land used for roads, it’s no wonder the government is gearing towards a ‘car-lite’ society, piloting the first driverless cars by the end of 2016. The range of accommodation in Singapore is endless but booking accommodation was easy using the HotelsCombined app.
I chose to stay at the Mandarin Orchard, on Orchard Road, Singapore’s infamous shopping strip with 22 shopping malls and six large department stores, and around 5,000 brands to choose from. Orchard Road, Marina Bay, and Harbourfront Shopping areas are home to the big brands like Hermes and Tiffany, ice-cold air-conditioning, and lots of lights, glitz and glam. If you prefer a more intimate and unique shopping experience then I suggest hitting Haji Lane, a small lane filled with hipsters, local designers, and quirky cafes. Check out ‘Dulcetfig’ for cute frocks and trinkets, as well as the 3 rescued street cats (they have their own Instagram page @dulcetkittehs) or grab an iced coffee with your ‘selfie’ on it, a rather narcissistic, but novel concept at the ‘Selfie Coffee Café.’
There’s Holland Village to get your Bohemian lux fix, Bugis Street for the sheer fun of the buzzing atmosphere and cheap souvenirs, and my favourite “Kilo Fascion Asia’ where you can pick up European Designers by weight, paying anywhere from four cents to six dollars per gram. Singapore’s shopping scene is not as affordable as its Asian Pacific counterparts but it makes up for this in terms of choice and proximity. Most shops open at 10:30am, leaving plenty of time to sleep in, closing around 9:30pm, but if that doesn’t please, you can ‘shop-til-you-drop’ at the 24 hour ‘Mustafa Centre’ in Little India.
Singapore’s government takes sustainability and creating a better living environment for its inhabitants seriously. There are initiatives for almost everything, from creating better parklands and improving the quality of waterways, to using advances in info-comm technology to facilitate communities in finding better living solutions. A lack of natural resources and a growing population, has resulted in a desire for Singapore to become an eco-friendly city with a "zero waste" culture and a flourishing green economy by 2030, as outlined in the 2015 Sustainable Singapore Blueprint.
This forward thinking has seen Singapore advance from squalor to a solid international player in just 50 years, and culminated in a city with over 300 parks and reserves, the perfect place to walk off the guilty pleasures of the night before. Take an early morning meander along the Southern Ridges and see the city from a different perspective. MacRitchie Reservoir Park, plopped in the centre of the island, is where you can walk the 250 metre suspension Tree Top walk, take in the rainforest on an 11km trail where you’ll most likely encounter long tail macaques, hire a canoe, or laze about with a picnic.
It’s easy to see why Singapore is dubbed the City in a Garden. If you’re after a little more adventure then catch the gondola from Mt Faber to Sentosa Resort Island – fun for little kids and big kids alike – you’ll find Universal Studios, encounter 800 species of sea life and feel like you’re walking amongst it all at the SEA Aquarium, and strap in for a 450 metre shot of adrenaline at 60km/hr on the Mega Zip. If Lego is your thing then take a day trip to LEGOLAND in Malaysia, where kids of all ages are bound to be exhausted with choice overload. There’s even a 4D cinema – the younger audience were delighted with getting wet and snowed upon.
Changi is a world-class airport and my favourite route on the international leg between Sydney and Europe but I’d not previously considered a stopover in Singapore. It has a reputation for being boring and rather strict, which it is in regards to drugs, and chewing gum, but ‘boring’ is a grand misperception. This ‘little red dot’ serves up a fun and furious agenda with fabulous food, frenzied shopping, a great selection of outdoor activities, as well as a myriad of bars to relax with a cocktail and contemplate the day. Singapore strives to be the best versions of itself, and with tropical year round temperatures of 25 to 36 degrees, this underestimated Asia Pacific jewel is worthy of a short, or longer, more relaxed break.