Destination Expert: Singapore
Since no one is an expert on everywhere in the world, ZipSetGo has decided to reach out to our favorite traveler's to dish on their favorite places in the world. This week Edna, an American expat living in exotic Singapore shares the best of what Singapore has to offer.
1. What makes you an expert on Singapore?
I lived in Singapore for fifteen months, having moved there on a whim after graduation. In that time I found a job with a Singaporean company and had Singaporean coworkers and friends; fifteen months also gave me plenty of time to explore the island.
2. What makes Singapore unique?
Singapore is unique for several reasons. It is incredibly diverse, with four official languages and immigrants from all over Asia; yet still very tolerant, as evidenced by the mosques, temples, and churches all around the city. Even the public holidays make sure to celebrate the important dates of multiple religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity). Singapore is also famous for having some of the best food in Asia, and this is partly due to the diversity of its people – here you’ll find Indian, Thai, Malay, Indonesian, and Chinese cuisine all coexisting in harmony, just like the people who cook it. Singapore is also unbelievably clean and organized, not just for Asia but by any country’s standard; it’s often referred to as “Disneyland for Adults”. The city-state is also a unique political model, because it has managed to become very successful under an authoritarian government. All of this is even more impressive when considering that Singapore is only 47 years old, and roughly 1/5 the size of Rhode Island.
3. Where are the best places to eat? What should visitors order?
For an authentic Singapore experience, the best places to eat are hands-down hawker centers – I’d recommend Maxwell Center, next to Chinatown. These are sort of like food courts, and you can’t walk too far without running into one. For a Singaporean breakfast, try soft-boiled eggs, kaya toast, and kopi (strong coffee). For any other snack or meal, sample dishes from various cuisines: chicken rice, fish noodle soup, roti prata, and bak kut teh are always big hits. Don’t forget to wash it all down with a fresh fruit juice -- don’t be afraid to get creative with your concoction, either, like soursop/guava or watermelon/mint. At night, head to Lau Pa Sat – a historical hawker center in the CBD, in the evenings they set up outdoor tables and stools and here you’ll find cheap satay and beer. And keep in mind this rule for hawker centers: the longer the line, the better the dish. Singaporeans know their food and are willing to wait for the good stuff.
For proper meals outside hawker centers, try the unusual but incredibly savory 8-flavor xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) at Paradise Dynasty. And of course, you have to try the Singapore staple: chilli crab. Jumbo Seafood is known for its chilli crab, while Long Beach Seafood has the best black pepper crab.
Black Pepper Crab
4. What are some must see/do activities in Singapore?
After you’ve eaten at a hawker center, walk around Marina Bay, where you'll see Marina Bay Sands and the Merlion; both are Singapore icons. You can go to the viewing deck at MBS for S$20 and get a great view over the city. Alternatively, spend a few hours walking through the city – due to its small size, Singapore is incredibly walkable. Start at Chinatown, head through the quays (Clarke, Boat, and Robertson), and you’ll end up in the CBD; just behind those skyscrapers is Marina Bay. It’s a great way to see a fair bit of the city in one go.
Also pay a visit to the Botanical Gardens, which are free and an excellent place to have a picnic (the Orchid Garden does cost $5 to enter, but it’s worth it). Both the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari are extremely well done; though if you only have time for one, I’d go with the Night Safari as it’s a more unique experience.
Also take a couple hours to pop over to Sentosa Island – it’s a bit touristy but can be fun to walk around, especially if the weather's nice. They are constantly building new attractions; recent additions include indoor sky-diving, a marine museum, and zip-lining. Sentosa is also where you’ll find Universal Studios Singapore.
5. Where are the best places for nightlife in Singapore?
Clarke Quay is the main nightlife destination, as it’s an outdoor complex full of clubs and bars. If you want to splurge, head to Marina Bay where you can party at Avalon or sip cocktails overlooking the city at Kudeta. Zouk is also a well-known, long-established club that often plays host to well-known headlining DJs.
6. Name three/five of your favorite places to stay: High end Hotels? Budget friendly places?
The best high-end hotel is the Marina Bay Sands. Not only is it in a central location and a new icon of Singapore, but hotel guests (and only hotel guests) have access to the Infinity Pool at the top. The Mandarin Oriental is a good choice among the several upscale hotels along the Esplanade at Marina Bay; for those who want to stay on Orchard Road, Singapore’s main shopping area, the Shangri-la is a good option.
For travelers on a budget, I recommend Prince of Wales – both locations are incredibly convenient, have a fun atmosphere, and are partnered with popular local restaurants: the Little India location serves great burgers, and the one at Boat Quay features The Mexican Taco Bar conveniently located in-house.
7. What is Singapore’s best kept secret?
There aren’t too many secrets in such a small country, but the biggest one for tourists might be the nature attractions that lie outside the urban city center. A bit further into the countryside you can find Bollywood Veggies, an organic farm that gives tours, has a food museum, and offers fresh organic meals. Another escape is MacRitchie Reservoir, popular with runners; here you can find a treetop walk, a large lake that sees some gorgeous sunsets, and no shortage of wild monkeys.
8. What souvenir should everyone leave with after visiting Singapore?
For foodies, a great souvenir would be ingredient packets to make Singaporean dishes like laksa at home; or my personal favorite, a box of Singapore Breakfast Tea from TWG. A common souvenir would be anything that features, or is in the shape of, a Merlion. Something less cheesy but still appropriate would be any memento with an orchid on it, as the orchid is the national flower of Singapore.
About the Author: Originally from Pennsylvania, Edna is a politics grad and serial expat who first moved abroad at 18. Since then she has lived in Shanghai, Singapore, and Paris; working in journalism, tech, and even one Asian reality television show. She also moonlights in international sports media; jobs which have so far taken her to Singapore, China, and Australia.