Visiting Singapore from Kuala Lumpur, intrigued me with – a city of contrasts. Both share the same island and people, yet Singapore, being a more authoritarian country has its own sense of purpose, bustling yet friendly, strict yet safe.
Arriving at the vast Changi airport it’s an hour’s journey into the heart of the city. The underground system is a breeze to use and we took advantage of the three day tourist card. Trains are regular, never overly full, clean and safe.
As is Singapore’s character there are many advertisements warning against harassment of women, and scams. Whilst the fines and imprisonment (and even physical punishment) are in your face, there is no heavy police or security presence.
We based ourselves near Little India train station so most of our sites were no more than four stops away from us. We stayed at the Great Madras Hotel. Part-hostel and part-hotel with a pool. It was competitively priced in a boutique style. Rooms are small and and the air conditioning weak.
We ate at two tekka centres. These are part hawker food courts and part shopping mall. They are part of Singapore’s own history. They are interesting to walk around before you eat. Several ethnic communities come together to create a multicultural attraction. These breathe and work as where local workers meet and eat.
Whilst the setting has the feel of a factory (food is being cooked in front if you) – busy and basic – the people in the units are friendly and food is fresh and good value. The units tend to be grouped by Indian and Chinese. I enjoyed a roti Chennai in the morning and a biryani in the evening. You know you’re in Singapore as you’re reminded to clear the table yourself or expect a fine.
There is plenty to see that is cultural, however, some are away from the city centre. We visited the Indian heritage centre in Little India, Sri Mariamma Hindu temple and the Bhudda Tooth Relic temple in ChinaTown, and the botanical gardens (at sunset). Of course, China Town itself is its own street attraction.
The Sri Mariamman Temple is Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple. It is an agamic temple, built in the Dravidian style. It has a place at the start of Singapore’s modern history, where Tamil immigrants would converge when arriving in Singapore, is hugely significant. Intricate and facilitating on the outside the temple is simple and utilitarian on the inside.
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum deserves a couple of hours visit followed by refreshments in the basement. What an historical monument it was built only recently in 2007. You can visit all the floors. The interiors are richly designed interiors with comprehensive exhibits on Buddhist history. The temple name derived from what the Buddhists regard as the left canine tooth of Buddha, from his funeral pyre in India and displayed in the temple.
The famous attractions are at Marina Bay. The setting is compact and stunning at sunset with the collection of skyscrapers dominating one half of the skyline and Marina Bay Sands on the tourist side. We went up the sky garden, 57 floors up the building. This is a bucket list moment as the sun sets over the sky line. We were glad we had to wait for the storm to pass and then go up after 5pm. The space is compact with a small bar only.
Nearby is the equally futuristic Gardens by the Bay. A vast parkland with a collection of horticultural domes – the top attractions at high prices. Singapore was sunny as sealed through the gardens – the unrelenting heat meant water stops undercover were frequent. As we walked through the Supertree Grove the combination of the artificial and natural is daunting yet visually dramatic.
We visited the smaller Floral Fantasy Dome. A cacophony of colour, perfect for wedding photographs. It’s only a half hour visit but beautiful in how the flowers are cared for. Nearby is a huge baby art installation. Very odd.
Aim to be at the bay front at 7.30pm ready for the sound and light show with its holograms. Then at the gardens by the Bay which has its own sound and light show at 8.00pm. The Marina Bay Shopping mall has the feel of being in an airport, in particular like the shopping at Changi Airport. The mall is divided into affordable and designer areas. We didn’t spend much time on this as it could be any high end mall in the world.
A special mention to Raffles hotel. Out of the way from the bay side we found the hotel a pleasant surprise as it is an old colonial low rise building based around a number of courtyards that can be walked around, with open bars, obviously the long bar if you want the try the famous Singapore Sling.
Singapore has a mixture of the old colonial combined with the futuristic modern. It’s compactness encourages taking in both the culture and the obvious attractions. It’s pleasing to see both Chinese and Tamil Indian cultures respected. Though not that cheap when to take in the attractions it is a worthy city break that feels in another ten years will have further developed.