Ask the average American what they know about Singapore, and I’d hazard a guess that most would say something to the effect of: “Isn’t that where they cane people?” Shamefully, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you much more than that even just a few months ago; and sadly, yes…it is one place where caning is legal punishment (both for the judicial system and for parents). I’ll save the spanking debate for another forum, and put all differences aside about how our countries prosecute crimes. What you should know about Singapore and what I learned is, that is actually a very cool city for both visiting and expat living.
Over a recent long weekend, we had the chance to visit Singapore with both perspectives in mind – as tourists on holiday, and as potential residents scouting out the city. We had a blast! We were able to stay with Mr. Gilbert at the Hard Rock Hotel during his interviews at Universal Studios, so perhaps our cushy experience biased our perception of the city through luxuries not part of a typical holiday there, but it was great fun and even without all the perks we enjoyed, Singapore stands on its own as a must see if you make it to Southeast Asia. Here are seven reasons why:
Singapore, like much of the region, has a wonderful mix of flavorful, internationally diverse, culinary delights. As we are used to in Malaysia, there is a blend of influences including Indian, Chinese, Malaysian and dishes that have become known as Singaporean originals (E.g. “Laksa” – one of my favorites). There is also no shortage of Japanese, Korean and Western eateries as well. While it may be pricier to dine out compared to where we are in KL, it’s still quite reasonable and often cheap compared to US and UK prices. Plus, you can choose a new location every night of the week and not hit the same restaurant for at least a year, enjoying a variety of delicious options night after night. Travel Tip: Try to avoid the urge to go with something familiar and easy, and instead branch out and look for something new. You may be pleasantly surprised, and besides…you can order that BigMac anywhere you go!
Whether you are looking for glamor, budget finds or something in between, Singapore has options. You can’t visit the city and not check out Orchard Street. It resembles the “Mag Mile” in Chicago, lined with upscale shops and mall after mall to suit both label and price conscious buyers. Next, one of the largest malls in the city is located near the harbour and just across the water from Universal Studios. It’s called Vivo City and any taxi driver would know it by name. Think of your typical mega mall in the US; stretch it out, give it an odd curvy shape, make it taller and wrap it with a cool avant-garde exterior and you have Vivo City. Very cool and plenty to keep you busy for days. Finally there is Little India & Chinatown. This is not for the faint-hearted shopper, but the true deal hunter who can handle a crowd. Be prepared to negotiate, or way overpay! If you are up for the challenge, these markets have just about anything you can think of for sale on the street.
If you find yourself moving to Singapore or even just there for a while on business or vacation, you’ll quickly realize there is a lot going on. Kids actually play outdoors. Ball fields and courts abound. There are runners, cyclists and even water-sports. The day we visited the east coast shore, there was a Triathlon earlier that morning. Also, the city has a government agency whose sole purpose is to develop sports at the youth level. There is a noticeable focus on sports and outdoor activities that contrasts what we’re used to in KL. If you like the outdoors, Singapore is a very active place; bring your “A-Game” and try to keep up!
4) Mt. Faber.
Even if you only have a short time to enjoy Singapore, a trip to the top of Mt. Faber is worth it. It doesn’t take long at all and you can drive up, hike/walk, or take the scenic route like we did through the Jewel Box Cable Car Ride. If you don’t have the budget to dine at the Jewel Box, fear not…there is a laid back cafe just down the hill, and the views of the city are well worth it.
5) East Coast Beach.
This reason to see Singapore combines several of my favorites – #1, #3 and it involves water. I love cities with water, preferably a coastline or a nice river running through the center. Both is even better! The East Coast Beach is a popular place at all hours of the day. From joggers enjoying the cool hours before dawn and after dusk, to the myriad daytime watersport activities available, and to the scores of fresh seafood restaurants with shoreside dining and delicious food. There is something for everyone and it’s no wonder why the area is such a popular place to wind down and relax, especially on the weekends.
6) Universal Studios.
We were able to visit the resort and theme park because of Mr. Dennis’ interviews, so we had an amazing hotel room, enjoyed some of our best meals ever and kicked back for a day of fun including the park, rides and shows. These photos tell a better story. Definitely worth a visit if you make it to Singapore for several days, but just remember it’s newer and smaller than its Orlando cousin.
7) Charles Quay.
One of the last things we did in Singapore was visit this area near the heart of the business district. It’s a stop on the subway so it’s pretty easy to find if you are interested in shopping, a good meal and/or the interesting architecture. I personally enjoy the river cutting right through the skyscrapers, the pastel waterside restaurants and the block of eateries from just about every culture/country you can think of.
7.5) As a bonus… Clean.
Singapore is very clean. The streets, the subway, indoors…it all feels very safe, organized and well-cared for especially compared to the average city in the region.