Traveling is amongst my favorite things on earth – right up there with breakfast in bed with my fiancé, coffee, photography and Theory sample sales. But seriously, is there anything better than taking off in a plane headed for another country? I love dozing off to “This Time Tomorrow” by the Kinks and being woken up by announcements from the pilot in a foreign language, feeling groggy and disoriented knowing that I am about to step off the plane into an entirely different reality from the one I left behind.
One of the most eye opening and foreign feeling trips I have taken was to Southeast Asia. It’s one thing to be able to read signs but not comprehend them and quite another to not even be able to recognize the letters. The smells (some good, some truly terrible), the architecture, the food and the language bear no resemblance to the pseudo-familiarity I feel when when traveling in Europe or South America.
On the first part of my trip I decided to ease into this new world by starting in Singapore. Singapore’s location, highly developed market economy and parliamentary governing system make it an appealing locale for foreign investors and as such the city-state has adapted to suit its Western visitors. Old colonial buildings recall the British and Dutch influence while the prosperity in current times has enabled Singapore to develop a style all its own. When talking to fellow travelers and friends the reviews are incredibly mixed. Some people love Singapore raving about its hawker centers (food markets) citing it as a microcosm of all of Asia with amazing shopping and a truly diverse population. Others see it as a sterile wasteland of mall after mall, oppressively hot temperatures and little in the way of site seeing. I understand both sides and found that twenty-four hours was the perfect amount to explore on my way to Bali.
See, Eat & Do
Riverside. Much of Singapore’s historical attractions are found by the river and the best place to start your tour is at the mouth of the Singapore River. The Riverside area has formed the heart of downtown Singapore since the early 19th century, but sadly, most of the once-iconic shop-houses and street markets gave way to modern skyscrapers and shopping centres in the 1980’s. Not all is lost though, and several important government buildings and places of worship dating back to the 19th century still stand providing a rare glimpse into the city’s colonial past.
Chinatown. Singapore’s Chinatown is the island’s traditional Chinese quarters and retains some of its original charm. The area is also known as Niu Che Shui (牛车水) in Chinese and Kreta Ayer in Malay, both names meaning “bullock cart water” referring to the carts that used to haul in drinking water. The Buddha Relic Temple is a great stop. For food head over Smith Street, a single row of fancy stalls and Maxwell Centre at 2 Murray St. Most of Smith Street’s stalls are open for dinner only, while Maxwell Centre is open 24 hours. Those seeking an overwhelming and comprehensive food experience may also wish to check out the 2nd floor of the Chinatown Complex, which hosts one of Singapore’s largest hawker centres with over 200 stalls
Orchard Road. A showcase for the material delights of capitalism, Orchard Road was once was lined with nutmeg and pepper plantations. Today, it’s where you find Singapore’s elite and well-heeled tourists drawn to the shopping centres, nightspots, restaurants, bars and lounges. A great stop for acquiring last minute travel needs – I got a great purple Jansport at one of these malls, as well as a place to get wi-fi, and cool off in the air conditioned food courts. The most recently constructed malls have a sci-fi appeal and look wonderfully modern lit up at night.
Singapore Zoo. One of the world’s best and most diverse zoos – this rain forest zoo is a must for animal lovers. Naturalistic, broad enclosures on 28 soothing hectares on a lush peninsula jutting out into the waters of the Upper Seletar Reservoir.
Hawker Centers. Envision a table full of heaping plates of noodles, meats, and vegetables as far as the eye can see. A unique version of what Americans think of as a food court, Hawker centers feature tons of food vendors serving heaping portions of a variety of Asian dishes for less than $3. For a more comprehensive listing you can go here.
Raffles Hotel. With its grand royal ivory frontage, the famous Sikh doorman, and maze like luminous hall, this is a must stop for photographers and lovers of colonial architecture. The structure recalls the days when Singapore was a swampy, tiger-tempered outpost of the British Empire. Enjoy a Singapore Sling where it was invented.
Marina Bay Sands. An architectural feat reaching toward the clouds on Marina Bay, this 24 hour casino is a must-see from afar at least.