Two perfect weeks in Singapore between cruises was just enough time to fall in love with this small but mighty island-city-nation.
Singapore is energetic, young, and ambitious, but with a strong respect for tradition, tolerance, and courtesy. We felt entirely welcome, not least because Singapore, like Canada, is proud of its multiculturalism, a mosaic that we witnessed in abundant Hindu and Buddhist temples, British colonial architecture, colourful local markets, and above all the ubiquitous and delicious Chinese, Malaysian, and Indian restaurants reflecting the country’s constituent founding groups and ongoing cultural traditions.
Sam and I unfortunately remained bystanders for many of the street food extravaganzas due to our nut allergies, but we watched Patrick graze his way through the city and then I replicated some of the greatest hits at home in the kitchen of our fantastic Airbnb find. Sam really appreciates a dish that we now call “That Delicious Chicken, Mommy,” which is easy to make without stocking up on multiple ingredients that we’d just need to throw out at the end of our stay: bites of pan fried chicken breast seasoned with soy sauce and honey (which we always include in our initial grocery shopping). We did manage to sample some local delicacies in a few of the more touristy restaurants and shopping malls, where we could ask questions about the ingredients and feel confident in the answers. Since we didn’t have any allergy incidents, I think this was a good strategy, one we’ll repeat in Thailand and Malaysia even though it isn’t the way we’d prefer to eat if we didn’t have to worry about nuts.
The nut issue forced us to be tourists in a way that we generally prefer to avoid. We mitigated this by choosing an apartment outside the usual tourist zone, in a neighbourhood dominated by young Singaporean professionals and families. This meant that instead of other tourists and shops catering to them, we had hawker stalls and markets, as well as easy access to the spotless, inexpensive MRT (mass rapid transit) system that made it simple for us to get everywhere (though Singapore is also exceptionally well served by Uber, which we used for a few longer journeys). Our Airbnb was beyond amazing – brand new and high spec, with access to 21 different pools (like a cold-water Jacuzzi and one with underwater cardio equipment), a great gym, and its own well stocked, affordable mini market along with larger grocery options nearby. We much preferred this to a hotel.
I had some deadlines to meet between cruises, so it wasn’t all fun and games, but we managed to get to all of the attractions on our Singapore Top Five:
5. The Artscience Museum, where (as the name implies) art and science come together in a celebration of creativity and innovation. Sam enjoyed all of the museum’s permanent interactive experiences as well as the NASA and Escher special exhibits.
4. I was planning to surprise Sam with a day at Universal Studios, which he didn’t know even existed, but as we were waiting for a taxi after our cruise a fellow passenger spilled the beans. It was a highlight for Sam because the rides are appropriate for tweens and teens, so they allowed him to expand his comfort zone with some terrifying roller coasters that I skipped. I feel like I spent a lot of time waiting for him and Patrick, who rated the park very highly. As you’ll see in our Hong Kong post, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” eventually became my motto, but at this stage I wasn’t quite prepared for Sam’s bravery to surpass my own.
3. Singapore’s Science Centre is so epic that Patrick and Sam spent two full days there and still only scratched the surface. We had free admission to the permanent exhibits with our Ottawa museums membership, and that was enough to fill an entire day; the outstanding Avengers exhibit was worth an additional day and the price of admission.
2. Gardens by the Bay is a must-see in Singapore. The outdoor gardens are free and include a fantastic splash park for kids, which was full of pint-sized tourists and locals having a great time within the very specific rules that Singaporeans seem to love in all contexts. I think we could have spent a full day exploring the outdoor stuff and come back a second day for the indoor conservatories, which deserve at least a couple of hours each. If you only have time for one, the Cloud Forest with its indoor waterfall is even more extraordinary than the exquisite Flower Dome, and the evening show in the Supertree Grove (which only lasts about 15 minutes) is cool but not unmissable.
1. What I would classify as unmissable are the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, and River Safari. These attractions can be visited separately, but they’re all in the same place: the ticket including all three (plus the Jurong Bird Park, which we didn’t visit) doesn’t commit you to seeing them all in one day, so if you find, as we did, that a day out in the heat and humidity followed by a late night would be too much, you’re covered. We especially loved the Night Safari, an extraordinary opportunity to see the zoo’s nocturnal creatures when they are alert and active. There is an option to get off the tram and walk through some of the habitats, plus shows featuring some of the animals as well as fantastic onsite restaurants, so it’s best to allow 3-4 hours for this, ideally not on the heels of a full day at the zoo but perhaps combined with 3-4 hours at the River Safari in the afternoon, as we did. If you are here during the day keep an eye out for bao, delicious Chinese steamed buns that, at the zoo, are filled with chocolate or sweet red beans and decorated to look like pandas. There is a bao cart near the zoo entrance and a restaurant near the panda enclosure in the River Safari.
Besides these highlights, we enjoyed the really extravagant movie theatres, some with seats that vibrate, tickle your neck, and punch you in the back as events on screen dictate. We saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Moana, and the Pokemon movie in Singapore, did a little Christmas shopping, and even visited our first cat café. We can definitely see ourselves returning to liveable, loveable Singapore some time.Destinations