Often dubbed a playground for the rich, the sparklingly clean city-state of Singapore does indeed have its fair share of lavish hotels, top-end restaurants, luxury spas and shopping venues for those who don’t need to check the price tag before buying. All of these are right up there and on a level with the best in the world.
However, beneath this high-end, skyscraper-swept sheen lies another city which relates a story interwoven with elements of multi-cultural trade, a colonial past intertwined with the British Raj and a World War II occupation by the Japanese. For centuries Singapore was a major trading port which saw it visited, settled and influenced by a variety of nationalities while also attracting a wealth of workers from China, Malaysia, India and other Asian countries. In 1819 it was claimed by Stamford Raffles as a British trading post before eventually becoming independent, more than a century later, in 1965.
Such a long and varied back story has left its mark, physical evidence of which can be found everywhere. From the lovely old shophouses to the World War II bunker in Fort Canning Park and from the experience of sipping a Singapore sling in the Raffles Hotel where it was invented to sipping a coffee in a former convent, Singapore has an incredible variety of history to be discovered and explored.
And it isn’t just in the architecture, buildings and monuments that the Singapore story is told. This island nation is not simply one culture but a marvelous melting pot of several. It has a diversity of languages spoken (with no less than four official ones), a variety of spiritual beliefs and traditional practices and a cuisine which reflects all sides of its ethnic color. This vibrant cultural diversity is evident everywhere in this country but nowhere is it more obvious than in its ethnic enclaves – Chinatown with its Buddhist shrines and swaying lanterns, Little India with its Hindu temples and colorful textiles and the Muslim quarter with its stunningly exotic Masjid Sultan Mosque.
Aside from its many attractions – such as its wonderful collection of museums and art galleries to explore, lovely public gardens and outdoor spaces to enjoy and a range of river cruises for sightseeing and dining – Singapore is a visitor’s delight; it is perhaps the most comfortable and easiest of the South-East Asian destinations. Not only is it incredibly clean (chewing gum is illegal here and there are large fines if you don’t dispose of litter in the designated boxes) but also English, the uniting language, is widely spoken everywhere. You can also add in that getting to see the sights couldn’t be easier. Singapore is principally one main island which isn’t even as big as New York City and if walking from A to B seems like too much effort the city has an incredibly efficient metro transport system. Additionally, taxis are plentiful and cheap and for those who want to do things in a more traditional way there are an abundance of rickshaws too.
While Singapore has enough to keep a visitor busy for a prolonged period its compact size makes it possible to see many of its major attractions in just one day. The following shows you how.
A Morning in Singapore
The Marina Bay Sands Skypark – ‘The Boat in the Sky’
As a skyscraper city Singapore has plenty of opportunities for vantage-point views and what better way to get your bearings in a new destination than to take it all in with one high-rise glance. At 194m the Marina Bay Sands Skypark doesn’t even feature in the list of the city’s 30 highest buildings but as a landmark it is about as iconic as it comes.
The triple set of distinctive glittering towers which house a 57 floor luxury hotel, restaurant and entertainment complex are connected and topped by the open-air and fantastically-designed Skypark. While many elevated viewing platforms are called ‘decks’ the Skypark’s ship design gives it a greater claim than most to such a name. Seen from below this truly does look like a flying ship which is why its alternative title is that of ‘Boat in the Sky’.
Along with actual palm trees, the vast ship’s deck is also home to one of the most sensational infinity pools you are ever likely to see. The pool can only be used by guests staying at the hotel but the soaring observation platform is open to everyone.
The 360 degree view from the Skypark is every bit as sensational as you might expect. Every corner of Singapore is visible, taking in the lovely Helix Bridge, Marina Bay and ocean, the islands, the port and the whole skyline. On a clear day your far distant gaze will even be able to take in Malaysia and Indonesia hundreds of miles away. You will also be rewarded with a view directly from above of the kaleidoscope colors of the Supertree Grove in the Gardens by the Bay – your next stop.
An Alternative High-rise View – The Singapore Flyer
Soaring to 165m in height, the observation wheel known as the Singapore Flyer is the second highest in the world, only beaten by Las Vegas’s High Roller by 2.6m. In common with other wheels of its kind, passengers ride in glass-topped capsules for stunning 360 degree views of the city and beyond. Tickets for the Flyer come in a variety of forms starting from the 30 minute basic ride to champagne and dining in-capsule options with private capsules also available.
As the Flyer operates until 10.30 pm you might want to save this one for after dark to enjoy Singapore’s night-lit spectacular from above.
An Alternative Start to Your Day
If you would prefer to keep your feet at ground level to start your Singapore day you can opt for a quick river tour on a bumboat. As an island nation and with its long history as a port, the waterways of the city play an integral part in its culture and story. The bumboats serve as both water taxi and tour services so you can opt to just take in a stop or two of the route or go with a full 40 minute tour to see a few of the famous sights such as Clarke Quay, the Merlion Statue, the triple-towered Marina Bay Sands topped by is boat, the Raffles landing site and several of the city’s bridges.
Departure jetties for cruises and taxis are the Esplanade, Boat Quay, Clarke Quay, Clemenceau and Robertson Quay.
The Gardens by the Bay
Located a short stroll from either of your high-rise view choices can be found the fabulous Gardens by the Bay which features trees, plants and flowers of both the natural and fantastical kind and all kinds of stunning attractions. So special are these gardens they have scooped multiple awards of both a national and international nature in the fields of tourism, sustainability, landscaping, design and architecture.
Essentially a huge nature park, the space is made up of waterfront open-air gardens interwoven with lakes and is home to two giant conservatories which house the Flower Dome and The Cloud Forest. Dividing up this 101 hectare oasis are weaving pathways, elegant pavilions, some truly intriguing sculpture dotted around and all kinds of treats both hidden and obvious to discover along the way.
Stroll the open-air space to explore the individually themed sections of Bay East Garden with its wonderful view of the city skyline, Bay South Garden which is a riot of tropical greenery along with stunning artistry and the Chinese, Malay, Indian and Colonial sections of the Heritage Gardens. These take you on an interactive journey through Singapore’s history as well as a discovery of plants and blooms.
Sculptures made from steel, bronze, flowers, wood and glass which you will encounter on your garden journey include a 7m floral clock, silver-colored ants dotted around, a pair of stunningly beautiful giant dragonflies with their delicate glass wings and Planet. This latter is a visually stunning 9m statue of a baby which gives an impression that all 7 tons of it are floating above the ground.
The principle gardens along with their grove of Supertrees are free to all visitors. If you want to explore either the Flower Dome or the Cloud Forest, each has a separate entrance fee.
The Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest Greenhouses
The inside space is contained within two mammoth-sized conservatories. The Flower Dome – the largest column-less glass greenhouse on the planet – transports you to a land where it is always spring, filled with a magnificent riot of rainbow-colored blooms. Replicating a mild, arid climate of around 24°C, the whole is centered around the stunning ‘Flower Field Display’ while elsewhere such things as ancient olive groves and giant creature sculptures all form part of the greenhouse’s spectacle.
The Cloud Forest’s replicated climate is that of high altitude tropical regions where wet conditions give rise to all kinds of exotic plants and flowers including orchids, dripping ferns and carpets of thick moss. The central feature here is a 42m ‘mountain’, encrusted with tropical plants and complete with a cascading waterfall, which you will ascend by elevator and descend by way of a spiraling pathway taking in such sections along the way as the ‘Secret Garden’ and the ‘Lost World’.
The Supertree Grove
While Gardens by the Bay’s natural plant-life draws the visitors in in high numbers it is perhaps its fantastical Supertrees which provide the park’s most spectacular visual display. This gorgeous grove of man-made structures – the highest of which soar to 50m – is so unique it has been recognized on a global scale, claiming the Architecture Festival’s ‘World Building of the Year’ when it opened in 2012; just one of an enormous trophy cabinet of awards these incredible gardens have accumulated.
From foot to spreading canopy, each tree is encrusted with living vines, ferns, orchids and other exotic plant-life which help to create the multi-colored effect. The rest is provided by way of artificial lights which can only be truly appreciated once the sun sets.
And while the futuristic Supertrees are wonderful just to gaze upon their uniqueness is by no means just due to their visual appeal. These environmentally-conscious sculptures are designed to mimic the functions of their living cousins by providing shade, collecting rainwater, generating solar energy and otherwise acting as working cells for the gardens. Sustainable energy production, irrigation provision and offering a helping hand in the cooling systems of the greenhouses is all in a day’s work for a Supertree.
The OBC Walkway
While the majestic Supertrees are, to say the least, attention-grabbing at ground level you can also take a closer look at their upper sections and the intricacies of their practical functions on a weaving walkway which lifts you 22m into the air.
Such a height also of course gives you some lovely sweeping views of the gardens in their entirety and the sea which they border.
Morning Coffee Break in Singapore
After ascending a ‘mountain’, encountering giant dragonflies and wandering pathways filled with the fabulous and the exotic you will no doubt be ready for a pause before you continue your morning adventure.
Singapore is good news for coffee fans where quality coffee tends to be the norm rather than the exception. The city hosts a multitude of choices for those who are discerning about their coffee beans and is home to a huge number of skilled baristas. Coffee shops and cafes range from the tiny and traditional to 21st century-modern affairs.
To make your life super-easy simply head to one of the Gardens in the Bay’s very own cafes which include the Hill Street Coffee Shop, Cafe Crema and the Conservatory Cafe. Just outside the gardens and located mostly bay-side you can also find a cluster of options. These include the modern and airy Sweetspot with its artisan coffee and freshly-baked sweet treats and the artsy FabCafe – both of which are found within the Marina Bay Sands complex.
If you are looking for a coffee break setting which fulfils the criteria of both lovely and unusual while also located within easy reach of both your last and next destination head to Chong Wen Ge. Located next door to the ornate Thian Hock Keng Temple and housed within a heritage building which is home to a tile gallery and museum, this cafe is a profusion of Peranakan Chinese tiles with exquisite and intricate designs covering floors and tables. The food fare here is also Peranakan (a term used to describe those of Chinese descent in the area) with coffee choices in both the traditional kopi and Western-style variety. There is also an open-sided pagoda (also tile-bedecked) if you would prefer to go alfresco.
Another gem in this area – just a 5 minute walk from the National Museum – is the greenhouse-like Glasshouse. Nestled inside the lovely 19th century building of Chijmes, which was once both convent and school, your refreshment break here is guaranteed to be one to satisfy the connoisseur thanks to the coffee passionate owner. This peaceful airy conservatory space features clean, modern lines with wooden tables and chairs and a plentiful supply of greenery and plants.
The National Museum or the National Gallery
Considering its size Singapore has an incredibly diverse collection of museums and art galleries to boast of ranging from the tiny and private collection kind to the multi-million dollar installations.
To make life even easier the majority of them are all clustered together. The National Museum, Battlebox, the Asian Civilisations Museum, the Peranakan Museum, the National Gallery and the Singapore Art Museum are just some of the choices found within throwing distance of each other.
This means if you want to explore more than one of them it couldn’t be more straightforward.
The National Museum of Singapore
For years known as the Singapore History Museum, this iconic attraction is today the result of a $ 118 million updating which took three years to complete. The new improved version was finally opened in 2006 at which time it also reverted to its previous name of the National Museum of Singapore.
Though it has not always been in the same place, the National Museum is the country’s oldest museum, dating back to the 1800s. The grand 19th century Neo-Palladian dome-topped building in which this impressive collection is housed is stunning enough both inside and out to merit a visit in its own right.
The first of the two principal galleries take the visitor on a 700 year journey through Singapore history using sight and sound to bring the past to life. The second gallery is subdivided into the themes of film, food, fashion and photographs, this latter of which is packed with archive photos including the oldest known captured image of the island state.
The National Gallery
If you would prefer to gaze upon art works rather than historical artifacts Singapore has an incredible diversity of galleries. The most significant and largest of these – located just 1 km from the National Museum – is the National Gallery which displays around 1,000 works at any one time from its 10,000 piece national collection. The gallery’s principal focus is on South-East Asian art from the 1800s to date; nowhere in the world has a South-East Asian modern art collection as large as that here.
Like the National Museum the National Gallery has been treated to a multi-million dollar overhaul in recent years, so extensive it took five years to complete. Also, like the National Museum, Singapore’s flagship gallery is found within a beautiful historic building, or to be more precise, two historic buildings. The 64,000 square meters of the gallery take up the space of what were in former times the City Hall and the Supreme Court which date from the British colonial era.
While the art collection is impressive so too are these elegant heritage buildings. The facades are a grand display of towering Corinthian columns, stone sculpture and relief work while the interiors are a collection of terraces, lobbies, chambers and link bridges which combine the classic with the contemporary.
Besides their obvious beauty these buildings have also been the stage for some major historical events in the Singapore story. The City Hall was where the Japanese officially surrendered in World War II following their three year occupation; it was where the prime minister of the time announced the island state’s self-government in 1959 and in 1965 it was where the new sovereign nation government was sworn in when Singapore became independent of both Britain and Malaysia.
The National Gallery’s collection is divided into two distinct sub-sections with the City Hall home to Singapore art and the old Supreme Court exhibiting works from the wider South-East Asian region. The City Hall is also where the Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery can be found which hosts temporary exhibitions arranged in partnership with such global giants as Britain’s Tate and Paris’s Centre Georges Pompidou.
Other Museum and Art Gallery Choices
Because so many of the museum and art gallery choices are clustered so close together it is easy to divide your time between two or more venues if settling for just one seems too difficult a decision. The following – although by no means an exhaustive list – highlights a few of the other choices.
The ArtScience Museum – Making up part of the huge Marina Bay Sands complex, this art and science combination museum is housed inside one of the city’s most distinctive buildings. Constructed in the shape of a giant lotus-flower and resembling a hand from aerial views (hence its alternative title of the ‘Welcoming Hand of Singapore’), this multi-gallery museum has some impressive permanent features but is best known for its temporary exhibits which tend to be those of the blockbuster kind. Previous major successes have included those from the world of art such as Van Gogh, Dali and Warhol and those of movie magic where sets, costumes and props from such screen giants as Harry Potter and Titanic have been displayed.
One of the museum’s major permanent highlights is the incredible and perfectly preserved treasure collection recovered from a Chinese Tang Dynasty shipwreck in the 1990s.
The Asian Civilisations Museum –Singapore’s story is one of multi-cultural infusion which has woven together spiritual beliefs, architecture, food, language and art to shape the nation we see today. This museum – often shortened to ACM and one of the city’s largest – focuses on the Asian elements of this forming of Singapore.
Housed inside the Empress Palace – a lovely 19th century colonial building named for Queen Victoria – the ACM brings together a collection of thousands of historical treasures representing Chinese, Islamic and South-East Asian culture.
Divided into three themed floors, you can explore the history of centuries of trade and delve into the world of belief systems which have given Singapore such cultural color.
Battlebox – For all those interested in Singapore’s World War II story this wonderful museum is not to be missed. Situated in Fort Canning Park, the highly atmospheric Battlebox is essentially an underground bunker which served as headquarters for the British military command until Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942.
During an hour-long tour entitled ‘A Story of Strategy and Surrender’ you can explore this subterranean slice of history, visiting the very rooms where the surrender actually took place. Furniture, models and a variety of historic props recreate scenes exactly as they would have been during those tense and fateful days leading up to Japan’s whole scale occupation of this area.
The Singapore Art Museum – Otherwise known as SAM, this collection features contemporary painting, sculpture and photographic art works by Asian artists. It is another of Singapore’s museum and gallery choices which boasts a gorgeous historical building in which to house its collections.
Other larger offerings include –
– The 10-gallery Peranakan Museum housed within another beautiful colonial building which explores the China/Malay cultural fusion.
– The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum with its dinosaur skeletons and lovely habitat-themed gardens.
Where specific niche museums are concerned Singapore also has a diverse helping with inclusions such as the Vintage Camera Museum, the Republic of Singapore Air Force Museum, the Chinese Opera Museum, the Mint Museum of Toys and the Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum.
The Bronze Bridge Sculptures
While you are in the vicinity of the main museum cluster be sure to check out the ‘First Generation’ sculptures which are part of a waterside series entitled ‘People of the River’. Located on one side of the pedestrian Cavanagh Bridge – just 300m from the National Museum and even less from the Asian Civilisations Museum – can be found the most charming of the sculpted works.
This life-size bronze art piece features five naked children playing by the river. One is frozen in mid-leap, another gives his friend a helpful shove, the fourth is sat on the bridge edge and the last of the group is just coming to join in the fun.
Lunch in Singapore
Once you have wandered around the National Museum you will no doubt have worked up your appetite. No matter whether you are just looking for a snack-filled pause in your day or a full-on fine dining lunch you are spoiled for choice in Singapore.
One of the wonderful aspects of the marvelous melting pot of culture which represents Singapore is the incredible variety of cuisine which can be found here – from Javanese to Japanese and Indian to Italian. Everything it would appear is possible and the seemingly infinite variety of choice can be almost overwhelming.
To make life easy you can take a 400m stroll from the National Museum to arrive at the beautiful Chijmes. This neo-classical heritage building served as a Catholic convent school in the 1850s during which time it also housed an orphanage. The gate from Victoria Street – named the Gate of Hope – was where babies would be left to be taken in by the nuns. Although the chapel here was deconsecrated in the 1980s and the schooldays are long gone, Chijmes lives on – today as a dining, shopping and entertainment complex.
Chijmes is home to around 30 cafes and restaurants – mostly centered around the former chapel – and thanks to the building’s sensitive and glorious restoration in the 1990s the whole retains much of its atmosphere and elegance. Tree-planted courtyards, lawns, waterfalls, architectural features and cloister areas create a lunch venue backdrop which is hard to beat.
Any casual glance at the list of the restaurant collection here will quickly lead to the conclusion that Chijmes represents every aspect of Singapore’s exciting cultural cuisine variety in one
same-location microcosm. The diversity is truly outstanding, offering something for everyone and for those with appetites ranging from small to colossal. Cuisine types include Mexican, Balinese, Indian, Italian, Japanese and a Brazilian-style churrascaria. Entitled Carnivore, this meat-lover’s paradise offers some great and inexpensive lunch deals which include a soup starter followed by a meat of your choice served with a choice of salad plus a side accompaniment. If you happen to be a seafood fan and want something classically Singaporean head to one of the complex’s newer choices – the New Ubin Seafood Restaurant.
The dining surroundings and price ranges cover a wide diversity too. Lunch-timers can choose casual options such as the Giardino pizzeria, the South-East Asian lunch tapas of the elegant Indochine or Bobby’s which serves American fare. Fine dining can be found with the award-wining Asian-themed Coriander Leaf or Whitegrass. This latter, which offers several lunch sets, is an elegant pastel-decorated dining space serving Australian cuisine with some Asian elements thrown into the menu mix
For a lovely alfresco lunch head to Privé. Hearty Western fare or snacks are the standard here where you will be surrounded by greenery in one of the biggest outdoor dining spaces found within the Chijmes complex.
There are of course plenty of other dining places to be found aside from the multiple options of Chijmes. Lunch sets are quite a thing in Singapore and tend to provide great value for money. Even the high-end options offer such choices with the quality French-themed Les Amis – which is walkable from Orchard Road or a quick taxi ride away – one such example. Lunch sets here range from the Lunch Menu Express up to 7 course options
An Afternoon in Singapore
With lunch out of the way you should be refueled and again ready to hit the Singapore sights. Your afternoon begins with one of the city’s major claims to fame – its shopping.
However, before you embark on your retail time you might want to make a quick detour (if you lunched in Chijmes) to take a look at Singapore’s first Catholic Church – St Joseph’s. Located on Victoria Street and just 300m from Chijmes can be found this splendid white and blue Neo-Gothic gem which is a national monument. Originally dating from the mid 19th century and rebuilt in 1912, this double-towered building is highly photogenic and worth a quick look inside the hushed and pure-white interior. Here you will find a collection of statues, walls decorated with beautiful tiles from Portugal, a range of altars several of which are Italian designed and stained glass windows.
Regularly claiming a top 10 spot on compilation lists of the world’s top shopping destinations, Singapore is undoubtedly heaven for the retail addicted. Glittering malls and ultra-modern complexes along with a plentiful supply of exclusive boutiques offer endless options for luxury and designer goods and are perhaps what Singapore is best known for. However, there are also all kinds of independent retailers and tucked away gems where you can hunt down one-of-a-kind souvenirs and gifts.
Orchard Road, the Raffles Hotel and Top-End Wares
It would be impossible to mention Singapore shopping without throwing Orchard Road into the mix. As iconic as it gets and generally considered the shopping epicenter, Orchard Road (often just referred to as Orchard) is a 2.2km long collection of the city’s most prestigious shops punctuated with hotels, spas, restaurants, entertainment venues and beauty salons. Boasting more than 20 malls, several vast department stores and all kinds of smaller exclusive boutiques, this precinct is South-East Asia’s largest shopping street and although it is most famous for its fashion there is very little it isn’t possible to buy here.
One of the district’s most well-known malls is the eight-storey labyrinth of ION Orchard which sprawls in all its futuristic splendor beneath street level. Mandarin Gallery is another of the mall options on Orchard, known for its high concentration of exclusive fashion choices of both the national and international brand variety.
With its brand name that is synonymous with the highest echelons of lavish elegance and luxury, the internationally renowned Raffles Hotel has played host to a multitude of royalty, movie stars and the otherwise rich and famous such as Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and the reigning queen of England.
Along with its iconic hotel, restaurants and bars this former colonial mansion is also home to a shopping arcade which, as you might imagine, only features brands of the highest caliber.
Souvenirs, Gifts and Handicrafts
If you are more on the lookout for something a little less mass-produced as an authentic Singapore souvenir there are several areas you can check out.
Like Chinatowns everywhere, Singapore’s version offers a colorful and culturally absorbing destination no matter whether you are on the hunt for interesting shops and goods, a range of great restaurant and dining choices or simply want to stroll amid the wonderful chaos and historical charm. You will find plenty of smaller stall-type set ups in Chinatown which offer an abundance of the cheap-and-cheerful ubiquitous souvenirs but there are some gem-like and lovely hand-crafted finds to be had in there too.
Little India, like its Chinatown cousin, also makes for an absorbing shopping destination as well as offering a chance to view another of Singapore’s distinct multi-cultural facets. If you are in search of exquisite silk saris, exotic spices, a range of handicrafts or some one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces you are going to have plenty to choose from here. Little India is also home to one of Singapore’s iconic malls – the Mustafa Centre. Its vast size and eclectic range of goods is a favored go-to spot for bargain hunters
Historically the city’s Muslim district, Arab Street (which is also the name used to refer to the area in general rather than just one specific street) has some incredible street murals and spreads around its beautiful 200 year old Masjid Sultan Mosque which forms the heart of its community. It also happens to be a good place to head for shoppers looking for something a little different. High-quality textiles displayed in cascades of rainbow colors are found in abundance here along with beautiful hand-made rugs, some lovely jewelry and all kinds of spices which you might never have heard of. One-off independent stores are not hard to locate and are typically where you will find some of the more unusual souvenirs and handicraft items. While quality is often high the prices are not. One choice is the Haji Lane Craft Assembly which only offers handmade items sourced from local artisans. You can also wander the rest of this shophouse-lined alley for a further choice of Singapore-made wares.
One last choice for the souvenir hunter looking for something a little more unique is the Joo Chiat Complex. Located further east on the island than the main tourist clusters, this huge Malay-theme mall takes a little more effort to get to but many would argue what you can find here makes it all worthwhile. Traditional Malaysian clothing is one of its treasures along with some handcrafted Peranakan-style pottery and jewelry.
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
If you chose to include Chinatown in your early afternoon shopping expedition be sure to make it your last stop so you can easily transition to the next destination on your Singapore discovery day – the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum.
Purposely built to the tune of $ 62 million and completed in 2007 to house the sacred relic, this colorful and ornate multi-story temple is an incredibly popular destination for visitors from overseas.
Modern it may be but the architectural style is a faithful reproduction of the Tang Dynasty which is considered to be one of China’s golden ages of arts and culture which spanned the 7th to 10th centuries. This impressive building’s four stories and roofs are packed with plenty to explore – liberally filled with Buddha statues, dragon-snake naga images, exhibits and flower-adorned altars both grand and tucked away in hidden corners. All come in a riot of rich reds and golds and adorned with fascinating architectural detailing and embellishments.
Each floor has its must-see highlights. On the first floor can be found the 100 Buddha images of the Hundred Dragons Hall and the Universal Wisdom Hall’s artworks; the mezzanine level Eminent Sangha Museum relates the stories of eminent Buddhist monks; the second floor has the 16 Prajna Guardians statues; the third floor is home to the Sacred Buddha Relics Chamber with its collection of artifacts and the Sacred Light Hall on the fourth floor is where the temple’s principal treasure is kept. There is also a lovely roof terrace and garden which features a prayer wheel and pagoda.
While serious doubt has been cast on the authenticity of the tooth relic (or even whether it is actually human) it is still the star of the show. The sacred relic is located inside a gold stupa which can only be entered by the monks. The public can get a glimpse from the designated viewing area at limited times which are listed on their website.
Although you can freely wander the temple it is worth taking one of the guided tours. Not only are these free to all visitors but they will also ensure you don’t miss anything and get a more in-depth understanding of the cultural symbolism and spiritual meaning behind its features.
Pre-dinner Drinks and Dinner in Singapore
Almost on the equator, the sun sinks early in Singapore so you have a perfect excuse for early sundowner drinks if you have finished exploring.
Just as with everything else on Singapore’s option list, its relatively small size doesn’t prevent it having more drinking venue choices than you could get through in a bar crawl lasting for years. Spots for drinking are dotted about at every corner and range from the atmospherically tucked away to those which sit atop roofs. There are also some areas known for their clusters of options. The king of them all in this respect is Clarke Quay which is just a short stroll from Chinatown’s Tooth Relic Temple.
Once-upon-a-time this riverside area was the site for warehouses involved in Singapore’s shipping trade. Today these same buildings have been reborn as a wealth of bars and restaurants making this area the city’s center of operations for nightlife as soon as the sun goes down. The location not only gives you some lovely river view options through a wealth of outdoor patios and decks but also gives you the advantage of the cooling breeze which blows over the water.
If you prefer your pre-dinner drinks with a slice of tranquility and want to escape the bustle and neon make your way to the lovely neighborhood known as Emerald Hill. Lined on both sides by historic shophouses in shades of everything from peach to purple and turquoise to terracotta Emerald Hill Road is a wonderfully unexpected find in Singapore. The whole oozes charm and atmosphere which is helped in no small amount by the wealth of palm trees and verdant greenery found here.
Once the area where wealthy Singapore Peranakans settled, the beautiful architecture owes its existence to their tastes and harks back to those early years of the 20th century. Today Emerald Hill is a collection of watering holes, atmospheric bars and respected cocktail establishments. Pick your spot and settle yourself at one of the tables which spill out of the restored shophouses-turned-bars for a sundowner drink as relaxed as it gets. Besides everything else Emerald Hill has going for it the prices here are also part of the attraction; located as it is a little north of the center you will pay less here than you would at venues within the downtown hub.
Wine fans should head to Que Pasa – once a shophouse in the early 1900s and today a Spanish-themed tapas bar. The global wine choices number around 60 while sangrias, sherry, port and brandy are also on the menu. The interior is charming in the extreme, fitted out like a countryside wine store with floor-to-ceiling wine bottle and with barrels as tables. If you prefer to be outside the pavement tables are no less lovely, overhung as they are with plants and palms.
Cocktail fans can make their way to the red lantern-adorned No. 5 Emerald Hill Cocktail Bar. Another of the restored shophouses, every inch of some walls are covered with framed photographs and the two floors offer a variety of different spaces in which to enjoy your choice of contemporary or classic cocktail. One of the bar’s specialties is their martini range which is served in various forms inspired by the exotic fruits and spices of the region.
For a sundowner drink of the highly unusual kind take your seat onboard the Singapore Flyer – the world’s second highest observation wheel. Ride options on this iconic attraction include the ‘Singapore Sling Flight’ where you can take in the city night-lights from on high while sipping at the famous gin-based cocktail which was invented right here in Singapore.
Of course where Singapore slings are concerned you might want to sample this in the very spot where it all began – the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel. More than 100 years ago a barman employed by Raffles created the drink which is now famous the world over. The cocktail may or may not be the best in town as is claimed but this opulent bar is certainly the most iconic from which to enjoy this Singapore celebrity. (Note -Raffles is due to re-open again in 2019 after a major refurbishment.)
Whether you would class yourself as gourmet or gourmand, Singapore is a food lover’s paradise. The rich tapestry created by centuries of cultural interweaving in the city has left one of its strongest marks on the cuisine. The most numerous options fall into the categories of Chinese, Indian and Malay but there is so much more. It isn’t simply that just about everything is possible here but all of it comes in the most authentic forms. You can also add into the mix a diversity of fascinating fusions which are both ages old such as the Chinese/Malay Peranakan dishes or the brand new which might weave together Thai and Japanese or combine French with Indonesian.
Of course there are obvious hubs for certain food types such as Little India for Indian cuisine, Bugis and Kampong Glam (the Muslim quarter) for Middle Eastern and Indonesian and Chinatown for Chinese. There are also areas known for their heavy concentration of restaurants such as Clarke Quay, Orchard Road, Marina Bay and the island of Sentosa.
Dining with a fantastic view as a backdrop never gets old and there are plenty of possibilities for this in Singapore. Spectacular rooftop dining spots on heady height skyscrapers are not hard to find and there are a multitude of riverside restaurants where lovely panoramas come as standard. Size, we are told, is not everything and this is certainly true of the Fullerton’s Lighthouse Restaurant. At only eight floors up it is not the highest you can dine in the city but the magnificent Marina Bay view complete with the night-lit Ferris wheel through the floor-to-ceiling windows is hard to beat. The fare at this elegant dining venue, which was once the site of a 19th century lighthouse beacon, is authentic southern Italian and Sardinian and the interior a refined palette of white with crisp table linen and sparkling glass.
If you can’t quite make up your mind which view to settle on for your evening dining head to the Prima Tower where you won’t have to. The restaurant’s revolving tower ensures a constantly changing view which will take you through a full 360 degree backdrop while you enjoy your Beijing-inspired meal.
Should you have something intimate in mind for a special dining date with that important someone Singapore also has plenty to offer on the romantic restaurant list of choices. One such is the lovely hill-perched Tamarind Hill which delights its discerning diners with a range of Thai and Burmese creations with some Western twists on the traditional. From the moment you walk up the mood-lit steps surrounded by greenery to arrive at this former 19th century colonial bungalow the atmosphere induces romance. The historical interiors with their high ceilings and huge chandeliers make for a lovely setting while alfresco lovers can opt to dine on the terrace surrounded by nature.
An Evening in Singapore
Romantic river cruising, live music choices, vantage spots from which to take in the night-lit skyscrapers, bridges and ocean or a light show of the spectacular kind. Singapore has them all. Here are just a handful of choices for how to see out the final hours of your Singapore day.
While quite what might constitute the idea of a perfect night is likely to differ from person to person there is one element of a Singapore evening which is so spectacular it should feature on the must-see list of every visitor – its light shows. The city has no less than three options for fantastical light shows all of which are staged at least once every night of the week. Expect jet fountains dancing in perfect synchronicity with the music, high-power searchlights and lasers throwing their beams hundreds of feet into the air, incredible projections of stunning art and what is otherwise a sensational display of light effects, color and sound which is breathtakingly beautiful. Each of the three light shows – Spectra at Marina Bay Sands Resort, Garden Rhapsody at Gardens by the Bay and Sentosa’a Crane Dance – are all different and if you time it right you can even take in at least two of them.
Spectra is the most state-of-the-art technology choice of the Singapore light shows which replaced the Wonder Full light show in 2017. Free to view and staged twice every night during the week and three times on Friday to Saturday, Spectra’s extravaganza is an across-the-water 15 minute display set to a soundtrack composed by Singaporean Kenn C.
There are a choice of vantage points from which to take in the dazzle and drama of Spectra. The most popular spots are from Event Plaza from which you will have a front seat view for the art projections and be able to hear the orchestra-inspired soundtrack. From the other side of the water in Merlion Park you will have a stunning view of the lasers which light up the three towered Marina Bay Sands. If you’d prefer to watch the mesmerizing display from the water grab a river taxi or sign up for a dedicated laser show cruise.
Garden Rhapsody is set amid the fantastical giant ‘trees’ of Gardens by the Bay. The collection of soaring man-made trees are spectacular at any time of day but for the 15 minutes of their free synchronized music and light show they become magnificent on a whole other level. The colors have to be seen to be believed and the entire effect is something decidedly other-worldly.
The orchestral sound track is played from a multitude of speakers which create a surround-sound element from every viewing point although most agree beneath the trees themselves is the best spot.
The twice-nightly show ends with a crescendo of sound and the trees appearing to explode like fantastical fireworks.
The Crane Dance is held on the island of Sentosa and is distinctly different to its light show cousins. Once a night, two giant and incredibly lit metallic birds rise out of the water to perform a magical courtship dance accompanied by music and a light show which includes screen projections and spellbinding color displays. The dance ends as the cranes ‘fly’ away together into the Singapore sky.
The Singapore Flyer Night View
While a range of rooftop bars, bridges and observation decks will grant you magnificent views of Singapore in all its night-lit glory, one great option is that from the Singapore Flyer – the tallest observation wheel in the world until it lost its title to Las Vegas’s High Roller in 2014 (although only by a mere 2.6m).
Climb aboard the 360 view capsules for a 30 minute ride during which you can expect to be dazzled by the city’s display of lights from on high. If you want to make the occasion extra special you can opt for a ticket which includes champagne or the famous Singapore sling cocktail.
A Night of Music in Singapore
If your idea of a great evening is to settle yourself somewhere with relaxing drink in hand and listen to some live music you are going to have a range of options in Singapore. From arts venues to night cafes and bars, the music scene in the city is one which caters to all tastes and for occasions ranging from casual to formal. Just as with everything else in Singapore there are some known hotspots, one of which is the Clarke Quay area. Here you can wander until you hear the sounds of something which appeals and decide you want to check out further. One of the choices which is ideal if your tastes veer towards blues and traditional rock ‘n’ roll is the Crazy Elephant. A long-time favorite of music-loving locals, this jamming venue has a handful of resident bands with the opportunity of joining in should you have the talent or the nerve.
Another iconic choice – this time for jazz fans – is the Haji Lane BluJaz Cafe with its slightly elevated stage, laid-back atmosphere and music-passionate crowd. If you don’t want an up-close and loud music night you can head for the large courtyard outside. For all those who have their heart set on a night of improv and mellow music it pays to check the website listings for your chosen night. Occasionally the venue hosts hip-hop acts which of course gives the venue a very different vibe.
Another jazz venue is Monti which has live music every night and occasionally plays host to some big names. Aside from the music element Monti, with its lovely Marina Bay view, is also an Italian restaurant and cocktail bar.
Should Latin beats be more to your taste check out Bob’s Bar at Capella Hotel which not only brings Havana of yesterday to mind with its decor and fittings but offers a musical atmosphere to match with artists performing Cuban-inspired music. For salsa lovers who are not just content to listen to the music but want to dance the night away check out the Cuba Libre Cafe and Bar on River Valley Road. The venue’s two resident bands provide the salsa and bachata beats.
If you want to experience everything Singapore has to offer, contact one of our vacation planners and begin the trip of a lifetime.
what I see from my window, part 7: the strange white ship passes by the ferry boat
Image by Alessandro Grussu
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