Exploring the Food, Culture & Art of Singapore

September 23, 2018

by Mikaila Hudson

This young country was born from a fishing village, and having embraced the world market has sprouted skyscrapers and become a fast-paced, multicultural city with lots to offer prospective visitors. I spent a total of 10 days there in 2017 exploring food, culture and art, and the following are some of my favourite destinations in Singapore plus some tips.

Chinatown

My first visit to Singapore fell right over Chinese New Year, and Chinatown was, without a doubt, the best place to celebrate it. On a normal day, there is a great variety of stalls including clothing, art, Singaporean knick-knacks, tasty foods and fruits. Also, a daily occurrence (and a great visual image in my memory) were the local old men smoking cigarettes and playing chess in the park. On Chinese New Year the streets become so crowded that canned sardines would pity anyone out there, but even that’s quite an experience in its own way. The people constantly bumping into you and shuffling in the opposite direction would readily offer smiles, and the whole mood was highly festive – I felt very welcome. The streets were decorated with giant roosters (animal sign of the year) and stunning strings of lanterns. The fireworks went off with a bang at midnight. Within Chinatown is also the Buddhist Tooth Relic Temple and Museum which has free admission, as well as the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple were a fire walking ceremony takes place in October/November. Both are quite intricately decorated and interesting places.

Hawker Centres

With the great taste and variety of authentic foods at such affordable prices (as low as S$3 per meal), hawker centres are by far the best place to eat. Maxwell Food Centre (located in Chinatown) is recommended and visited by both locals and foreigners. Perhaps the most famous stall is Tian Tian Chicken Rice which was awarded a Michelin Star and featured on a Gordan Ramsey show, but there are many other high-quality stalls to choose from there as well. There are lots of hawker centres scattered around Singapore so it would be a good idea to ask your host or hostel which one is located closest to you.  Sadly, it’s not common for younger generations to pursue this work and recipes are being lost one by one, so this is the best time to get out there and try these great dishes before they disappear! Vegetarian options are readily available.

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay is where you will find the giant mushroom-like sculptures (Supertrees) that light up every night as part of a spectacular light show in time with the music (famed in Singapore). Access to this part of the garden is free and well worth the visit. A friend and I took some snacks and a picnic blanket and had a great time of it. The gardens are also home to the largest greenhouse in the world (pretty spectacular), the Flower Dome, the Cloud Forest, and fantastic art sculptures in addition to the beautiful flowers and plants that they have around. The Helix Bridge is also very close to the gardens and is worth taking a look at too.

MacRitchie Reservoir Park & TreeTop Walk

This is an excellent spot for hiking and wildlife watching – you will almost certainly see Macaque monkeys here up close and personal. The two main tracks are between 3 and 5km long, including one section where you are suspended over the canopy with unique views of the forest. Kayaks and canoes are also available for rent at the reservoir. Tip: Keep plastic bags, water bottles and food completely out of sight around the monkeys.

Shopping

The malls along Orchard Road are famed for being one of the best fashion shopping destinations in Asia. Paragon and ION Orchard are very luxurious, catered towards the most high-end of shoppers and are big enough that you can get lost in them. I had fun window shopping. The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands also falls into this category, with all the most well-known luxury brands as well as some up-and-coming ones and VIP shopping services available. Marina Bay Sands has an assortment of other activities which makes it stand out to me including theatre, the ArtScience Museum, and a free light and water show at 8 pm and 9 pm, Monday through Saturday, with an additional 10 pm showing on Fridays and Saturdays. Bugis Street and Lucky Plaza were suggested to me as more affordable options.

Karaoke

I had never tried karaoke before, but a Singaporean friend convinced me to give it a try and now here I am telling you that you should do it too. It’s a popular Singaporean pastime. If you’re travelling with friends then that’s great, or if you’re in a hostel you can put together a group of people who want to go and make a night of it. Teo Heng and Party World KTV are two options for you to consider.

Jurong Bird Park

Jurong Bird Park is internationally renowned with over 5000 birds and one of the world’s largest walk-through aviaries at 2 hectares (the size of two international rugby fields), including a 30-metre-high waterfall. They are also involved in conservation and successfully breed threatened species of hornbills, macaws and cockatoos. They have excellent animal care standards. Tickets were S$29 for an adult – worth it for me, but I am an ecology student… Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to visit Singapore Zoo although others do recommend it.

Tips:

  • The subway is clean, regular, easy to navigate and well located. If you plan to move around a lot then the Singapore Tourist Pass can save you time and money. It’s also an easy city to walk around, and in my opinion, that’s always the best way to experience a new city if you have the time.
  • English is widely spoken and people tend to be quite friendly if you need to ask for directions or any other help.
  • I felt very safe travelling as a woman alone, even walking around in the evenings. Even so, make sure to use your common sense and read up online for advice on travelling alone if this is your first time.
  • Stick to the laws – they are strictly enforced. Drugs are prohibited and are simply not worth the risk in this country. As long as you stick to the laws, you shouldn’t have any problems. Other noteworthy laws can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/singapore/local-laws-and-customs

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