Singapore is special. Among many Southeast Asian travel experts, it gets a bad rap for being too law abiding (if there is such a problem), too clean, too artificial, and too expensive.
We loved it! It was a breath of fresh air for our family and the ease came at a perfect time. We relished in sidewalks with all the tiles attached, no gaping manholes, or swinging power lines. The Mass Rapid Transit system (MRT) was spotless, color coded, and clean. Most signs were translated into English which was a huge luxury for us, and the cabs were all regulated and metered.
Enjoying Cultural Opportunities of Saavy Singapore
Singapore is expensive by Southeast Asian standards but very reasonable compared to many of the world’s sparkling cities that we have called home. For the first few days, we enjoyed the traffic free, walkable city, taking in many of the sights our kids had on their must see lists.
We walked almost every corner of the 10 million square foot (5 billion USD) Marina Bay Sands development. We marveled at technology that literally rendered us speechless at the Art Science Museum. We rode up and down the elevator in the massive The Shoppes mall to take in views of the futuristic, illuminated trees at the Gardens By the Bay. We watched the sunset at the lily pond backed by the city lights just starting to fill the skyline. As darkness descended, and the Wonder Full light and water show commenced, we were completely at ease. We knew it was time to mix things up a bit!
Appreciating Neighborhoods by Looking a Little Deeper
We spent the rest of our time in Singapore looking a little deeper, wandering a little further, and asking a few more questions. The result was that we broke through the “sterile city” exterior and met with an international fabric of communities, steeped in ancient traditional cultures, all accessible by wandering aimlessly through a network of well-planned streets.
Within minutes of leaving our apartment on foot, we found ourselves following the call of Perisan carpet salesmen and traditional fabric merchants. The Arab Quarter was intoxicating. The aroma of curry and coffee scented the still air as we gazed over the gate of the Sultan Mosque. At night, paper lanterns illuminated the mesmerizing graffiti. The sound of muslim prayers followed us into the night as we wandered through Little India on our way back to our condo. Happy hour goers at the friendly Countryside Cafe gently touched our children’s cheeks as we passed sleepily on our way home.
As the days passed, we found ourselves in the Far East Organization’s children’s garden at the very back corner of Singapore’s Botanic Garden Complex. Our children played for hours in the fountains with an international set of friends from all corners of the globe.
On our way home, we visited Orchard Street, a shopping mecca that was once blanketed in nutmeg orchards. While shopping at Ion Square was fun, we found the side streets truly intriguing. After an audio tour at the National Museum of Singapore, our new found appreciation for how much this city-state has grown, changed our perspective on the present dramatically. As the rain poured down on the beautiful colonial row houses, we caught glimpses into daily life that were fascinating and laced with incense creeping through the stately shutters.
On our search for the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, we found an unforgettable corner of Chinatown called the Chinatown Complex. The tourist menus disappeared and the English translations were non-existent. The locals were very conscious of our presence, and considerate of our struggles while selecting food. We somehow managed to stuff ourselves silly with popiah (hoisin and beansprout roll) passion fruit smoothies, and scrumptious chew kwa (steamed rice cake with preserved radishes).
Wanting to Stay … Maybe Next Time
We planned to spend more time in Singapore but, not surprisingly, there are very strict sub-letting laws which make 1-3 month affordable, furnished apartments hard to come by. We missed the Night Safari and Sentosa Island but we found what we were looking for and it was so much more than we anticipated.
Although chewing gum is still illegal and there are signs banning the pungent durian fruit from public places, we found the city warm and welcoming. If you can find an apartment, it is a perfect home base for exploring Southeast Asia. Singapore is safe, clean, organized, and multi-cultural. It is even a little sultry and soulful for those who wander with eyes wide open.
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