I stopped over in Singapore on my way to India. I arrived at 2:30 in the morning. But, with jetlag, my body didn’t know what time it was. I love the Singapore airport because you can take a shower, a nap, get a massage, drink a glass of wine and more. But, that is only for those transfering there. So, I went through customers which was quick, got my bag, and a cabbie awaited me.
At the airport in Singapore, they have already checked your bags before you get them. So, you just pick up your bag and leave. A country designed for efficiency. I love it! The cab driver spoke Chinese and some English which was convenient for me because I happen to speak English and some Chinese. We drove to the hotel. It took only about 20 minutes. Singapore is a very small country, and there is never serious traffic since the government manages traffic so, sorry to use the same word again, efficiently!
The hotel was a four star hotel not far from downtown. I loved the staff there. It was very beautifully designed and comfortable. I took a shower, slept, and the next day, I was ready for battle.
I had a long list of things I wanted to do in Singapore. I wanted to go hiking, see gardens, eat gourmet food, meditate with people from my group, and see the zoo. Oh, did I mention seeing museums too?
Sungei Buloh Wetlands Reserve
It is all a blur now. I got a taxi to take me straight to this park. I remember taking a very nice hike at a park near the straits that separate Malaysia from Singapore. I’m pretty sure it was Sungei Buloh. They had nice hiking trails and a nice cafe as well. You could see views of the straight, and I believe that there was a large lake or lagoon in the middle of the park. I was enjoying a nice walk, when suddenly, about 50 feet in front of me a four foot long creature that looked somewhat similar to an alligator darted across the trail. I am glad that he didn’t bite me. You can walk around, and take a bridge over one of the inlets which is nice. Bird watching is one of the main activities at this park, and there are many species to watch! This was a fun way to start my day. Getting out of there was not so easy since I was in the middle of nowhere in this city-state. I was in the Northwest corner of the island. Luckily, Singapore is one of the most tourist-friendly countries in the world and lots of people speak English. I hopped on a bus that took me walking distance from my next destination. People were helpful, so I didn’t need to know how the bus system worked in advance! Oh, by the way, I had some nice street food including noodles and fish cakes on the way.
So many years after the fact is it hard to remember which place is which. I remember a hiking trail in the middle of the island. Bukit Timah was on my list. I remember the name, and it is indeed in the middle of the island. It was a steep trail going up with different trails you can take going down. I got slightly lost, but the park isn’t that big, so I got it straightened out. I remember warnings about poisonous snakes at the visitor center. Luckily, nothing bit me. But, it is strange hiking in a tropical place when you live in a semi-arid place near a desert! Bukit Timah is a nice place to hike. I’m amazed I had energy after my long walk at my previous destination.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
I took a quick cab ride to the botanical gardens which are only a few miles Northwest from downtown. There was a wonderful orchid garden to see. There were huge expansive lawns as well. You could do a lot of walking in this beautiful place. The Ginger Gardens sported a beautiful waterfall. I wish I could remember more details, because I really enjoyed walking around this park which was fit for royalty. I remember that it was huge, and that I really enjoyed it.
Fort Canning Park
You can see WW2 relics at this nice relaxing urban park. It is very near downtown and Chinatown. To me, 80% of Singapore is Chinese, so the whole country is Chinatown apart from the Malay sections.
I was walking around near the hotel, doing some work on the internet. I stopped by a cafe for a bite to eat. The owner was a friendly and talkative guy. He took me on a ride to Sentosa Island. He needed to go there for business in any case. It was beautiful and there is a lot to do there if you are a tourist. There are beaches, there is underwater world, Sentosa cove, and more. This is just a few miles South of Downtown and a great place to relax and go walking.
The National Museum in Singapore
I got lost in this museum. I had to catch a flight, and there was too much to see. The history of Singapore unraveled before my very eyes. So much to read. I read how the government changed the island from a gang infested hell hole into the safe, modern, wonderful country it is today. Additionally, they have a rock from China that smells like chocolate. I sniffed this rock and it really does smell like chocolate. How bizarre. Singapore has many wonderful museums. Next time I go, I want to see at least a dozen of them and write about my experience.
In general, Singapore is famous for its Chili Crab, Singapore Slings (tastes like spiked Hawaiian punch,) and noodle dishes. The truth is that street food in Singapore costs only a dollar or two for a small meal and you can choose from half a dozen types of noodles plus chicken, fish cakes and other Southern Chinese type things to eat! I loved the street food, but got bored with it because it is all the same almost everywhere you go. I can eat Asian food every day, but honestly, I’m more of a Thai & Japanese food lover. Chinese food was popular with me until I turned 25, and then it got boring!
Singapore is multi-ethnic, and there are many Indians and Malays who live on the island as well. Rotis with sauce are a local Indian type of food. I had it on my list of things to eat while I was in town. Malay food includes lots of curry and rice dishes. Nasi Goreng is a famous rice dish. Rojak is a type of spicy salad. There are many other dishes that vary according to which province you are in. Additionally, the spice masala evolves and adapts from place to place. Many Indonesian masalas call for crushed macadamia nuts in many localities. I don’t know much about Malay food other than the fact that I like it, and want some now!
Additionally, downtown there are many “kopitiam.” In Mandarin, this would be called a ka-fei dian, meaning a coffee house. But, in fujianese which is commonly spoken among the elderly, it is called kopi-tiam. There are all types of coffee houses in Singapore ranging from those that actually specialize in coffee to those that offer all types of Chinese “Xiao-chi” or snacks! There are all types of dumplings, bao-zi, chicken wings, tofu dishes, and other culinary delights that you can enjoy on the streets of singapore. Downtown is a great place to see these little shops.
East of the Downtown near the Raffles hotel, there is a quay near Marina bay called Clark Quay. It is North of the Singapore River and South of Fort Canning Park. There is an inlet or harbor, boat tours, and a restaurant section as well. There are restaurants of all descriptions there ranging from Spanish, Moroccan, Thai, Japanese, European style coffee houses, and it just doesn’t end. It seems like Singaporeans live to eat, and at Clarke Quay, you could go back every day for a year and still have interesting things to try!
I enjoyed making small talk with the Islamic merchants on Arab Street. In a sense this was my favorite part of the trip. I met people from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Morocco, Indonesia, and even a Muslim African-American girl! I saw wonderful carpets, and had many great conversations. I’ll never forget that 20 something Afghani guy whose entry mat had a design of an automatic weapon on it. I guess in his country you live by the semi-automatic and die by the semi-automatic. He was the friendliest guy none-the-less. I’m glad I live in peace! I met a Muslim lady from Indonesia who lived on an island. She took a boat to Singapore to go rug shopping. I took a quick peek at the mosque too. Nothing was going on there, but it was fun to look. Al-ham-dulillah
A nation surrounded by islands
Singapore is an island surrounded by a Malay peninsula with plenty of tourist attractions, and many other islands. You can take boat trips to many Indonesian islands nearby. The language in all of these places is similar. Malay and Indonesian are technically the same language. However, dialects range quite a bit from place to place. You will notice lots of place names will sound similar in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
A final note
I apologize for not being more specific about my journey to Singapore. It was seven years ago, and I should have written about it then. I will say that I enjoyed being able to take a Mercedes cab for about US$25 to any part of the island, sit up front, and chat with the drivers. Singapore is a very safe, friendly, considerate country. The authorities are not heavy handed at all. They are much nicer than authorities in any other country that I have visited in my life — so long as you don’t litter, chew gum, smuggle drugs, or do anything else that upsets them (not necessarily in that order)! Additionally, Singapore is rated one of the world’s best travel destinations along with Japan, NYC, Dubai, London, Vienna, and a few other locations. Don’t overlook a visit to Singapore. It is small, and you might see everything you need to see in a week or less. You are walking distance from Malaysia and you can take quick boat trips to various Indonesian islands.