Singapore holidays for 12 days. What to do?
12 days in Singapore with 2 teenagers. What to do?
Some have argued that it is a very long time to spend in a city with not many touristic activities. After all, Singapore does not have many beaches, high peak mountains, or monuments. Most people come here either for work or as a stopover on the way to or from somewhere else.
We didn’t feel like hurrying from one place to the next though, and very much as we did while cruising, preferred to settle in and experience the city like locals.
This post is a recount of what we did in Singapore ( besides revisiting our old haunts ) rather than a guide of What To Do. As the four of us have different interests, it was very much a matter of pleasing the most while accomodating the few!
We took a guided tour of the city. Although Singapore is a very easy city to self-navigate we wanted someone to give us the heads up about all the changes that occurred in the past 30 years and help us get our bearings. It also was Marc and Anne’s first visit and I felt it best to have a local showing them around. We organised a tour themed ” Singapore Miracle Tour ” with Betel Box Tours, which took us thru the 4 main historical and cultural precincts of the city: Chinatown, Kampung Glam, Singapore River and Marina Bay. Our guide Leong Woon, was well versed on the issue of land reclamation and urban planning, and gave us fascinating insight into the rationale behind the continuous expansion of the island. My favourite part of the tour was the visit of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) display, a reduced scale of the island showing existing dwellings as well as planned developments. Always love people with a vision! The tour also includes visits to a wet market and food centres, with tips and recommendations on which is the best stall ( though, in Singapore, everyone has their own favourite, so if you ask 10 people you may end up with 10 different answers!) For a history and food enthusiast like me that ticked a lot of boxes!! Ours was a 4- hour private tour, which involved pick up and drop off from our accomodation. The walking was minimal, much to Anne’s satisfaction as she was struggling with the heat in the first few days.
We walked till our feet hurt. The app on my phone shows that I averaged 16500 steps every day, that is about 12 kilometers. Whether we were exploring, shopping, or simply commuting, I am glad we packed comfortable shoes.
Starting with a stroll along the Riverwalk, from Robertson Quay to Marina Bay and back. It is not a particular hard walk, but it is a long and hot one, especially on a sunny day. As you make your way down river, along Clarke Quay and Boat Quay, there are plenty of restaurants and bars to check out, amongst colonial buildings.
The reward at the end is Marina Bay, a stunning development on reclaimed land which houses not only a 5 star hotel complex but also a super luxurious mall, food centre, entertainment precinct, city park and museum. We first discovered it after a hot and sweaty 90 minute walk, and the kids and I were totally gobsmacked wondering who could come up with the idea of sitting a giant ship on top of 3 high-rise buildings, and digging a fully air-conditionned shooping centre underneath. No so Terry whose aversion to shops and crowds is well known, and was much happier walking around the waterfront.
As Anne gave up on walking after day 2 and decided to stay in for a while ( too hot, sore feet, etc…),Terry offered to keep her company and spent most mornings studying in our apartment ( I find that WIFI and aircon have such a strong hold sometimes! ). Lucky Marc likes exploring as much as I do so he turned into my walking buddy/model/food taster/assistant, tagging along wherever I was heading.
We came back to Marina Bay twice, to take another look at the shops ( sans Terry! ) but also for cool photo shoots. In fact, I declared every walk a Street Photography workshop and we had fun strolling thru Fort Canning park,
wandering around the CBD looking up skyscrapers,
sticking our noses inside Raffles Hotel for a bit of nostalgia,
hopping on the MRT for excursions in random neighborhoods to experience some of the local life. Tiong Bahru and Little India were my favourites: one for its cool vibes with bookshops, cafes and old school market and food centre in the middle of art-deco housings,
the other for the colours, scents, sari shops and temple hopping fun.
The kids loved Haji Lane in the Kampong Glam area , which Marc nicknamed “ the Newton of Singapore ” because of its hipster bars and local fashion boutiques.
Outside of the city, Punggol Point offered a nice respite with its wide boardwalk and restaurants and Sentosa was a world of its own, which deserves at least 1 full day of exploration if you’re into amusement parks and beach bars.
We split teams to visit museums, as we all have different interests. Terry liked the URA with its display of “before and after” pictures of Singapore, while Marc could not get enough of the urban landscape and the hundreds of ships crowding the harbour. Anne’s preference was for the ArtScienceMuseum in Marina Bay and I was left on my own to visit the remarkable Asian Civilisations Museum where I lost myself in centuries of ancient ceramics and china, carvings and textiles.
We shopped a lot. From iconic malls to independent bookshops and curated local boutiques, there is something for everyone. Our visit coincided with the Great Singapore Sale, so Anne and I were really excited at the prospect of a shopping spree. Sadly Singapore isn’t the wallet friendly paradise it used to be ( partly due to our dollar but also the high cost of living ) so we merely looked at the high street chains and luxury brands on Orchard Road and the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, amazed at the numbers of customers actually buying! Marc was not shy and walked into stores like Valentino or Gucci and chatted with some of the sales staff, who were super friendly and approachable ( we could have been billionaires for all they knew! ). Places like Zara and Uniqlo were where Anne gravitated, much to Terry’s dismay “ you can buy the same stuff in Australia! “. Well, he was partly right, it turns out they have different styles for a different clientele.
Marc and I went shopping for camera and audio equipment at the Funan Digital Mall and the Adelphi building, only to find that the prices were not as advantageous as we thought. Also neither of us really knew what we were doing so were not prepared to spend hours bargaining ( we’re amateurs, really! ).
More luck and more fun was had at independent gifts and bookstores in the Bras Basah Complex, as well as the beauty stores for cosmetics unavailable in Australia ( says Anne ).
I had a field day at the Mustafa Centre, Little India’s massive shopping complex open 24/7: dragging Marc along while on the lookout for cheap cookware, we wandered thru 6 levels peddling everything from electronics to shoes, luggage, dress material, even groceries! The indian copperware selection was disappointingly small, however there was an unusually large choice of melamine sets, ideal for props or casual dining so I filled a bag with a few items. But the most fun was in the gold jewellery section we stumbled on: Indian people like their gold, and we were surrounded by the stuff. Lavish sets, some plain others incrusted with precious stones…I asked for the price of a set of pretty earrings. They are sold by the weight and the price changes daily. Today’s rate was $$54 per gram, so the 46g pair would cost $$2500. Oh, they can only be sold as a set with the gorgeous necklace sitting next to it. Marc dared me to buy the lot and surprise Terry with it “ Go on Mum…” Love that boy. To his question “ Who on earth spends so much money on jewellery?” I replied “ Maybe your next girlfriend! ”
We went to the Zoo. This was Anne’s choice, once she recovered from her earlier walks with us. I’ve seen my fair share of zoos during our travels, so I tend to be a bit blase but I must admit that Singapore Zoo is impressive with its mix of interactive attractions and semi-freely roaming animals. Some of them were a bit lethargic, understandably so as we visited in the middle of the day but others bounced around full of energy. This was the case of the monkeys, probably my favourites along with the white tigers! There is a section for young kids, Rainforest Kidzworld, which Anne and I didn’t go in ( she is 14 and over it, she tells me) so it took us only half a day to tour the rest of the zoo. I must point out that getting there took nearly the same amount of time, as the MRT line from downtown stops in Ang Mo Kio, a major hub where you can take a bus for the zoo. What the guide books don’t tell you is that while the MRT section takes 20 minutes, the bus ride takes another 45 minutes. As the bus was packed it was standing room only and by the time we arrived at the zoo, my feet would not cooperate any longer in the heat. Lucky there is the option to hop on a small train for an extra S$5 which allowed us to move around the enclosures and attractions quite easily.Needless to say that I was happy hop on a cab for the return journey to the city ( S$19 for a 25 minute ride and saving my feet, bargain!)
We climbed buildings searching for the best panoramic view. Well, maybe not climbing, but took every opportunity to hop on a lift to a top floor for a view of the city. Hotels are good for this, from the Hilton to the Fullerton, but the best vantage point has to be at CE LA VIE bar atop the Marina Bay Sands Hotel with its jaw-dropping panorama of Singapore. For S$20 you can take the lift to the 56th floor’s Skypark Observtion deck and enjoy the most stupendous view of the city and the Singapore Strait. For S$23, you can take the lift to the 57th floor where the bar and restaurant await with the same view, and the added advantage that your entry fee is redeemable for food or drinks. What a wonderful idea, we thought we’d time our visit with sunset to watch the city by night. Except that a beer costs S$25, tables are nearly impossible to score, and another 500 people had the same idea as us making it difficult to even find a spot for taking photographs. I gave my drink voucher to Terry and let him queue at the bar, spending time snapping pictures instead. Yes, the crowds were frustrating and it was not the relaxing sunset drinks session we anticipated, but it certainly was worth the one-off visit.
We would not miss Gardens by the Bay, a massive green patch sprawling across over 100 hectares of reclaimed land. Not your usual park though, it features 18 high-tech Supertrees, steel clad concrete structures covered with over 162,000 plants, quirky sculptures, lakes, heritage gardens, and most wonderful conservatories shaped like giant nautilus shells. Access to the gardens is free, while entry to the conservatories cost S$28 per person. I could have spent an entire afternoon there, smelling the flowers and taking photos however we only allowed a couple of hours to coincide with sunset and the Garden Rhapsody, the light and sound spectacular that occurs every night. What an awesome sight, by day or night!
We ate. Until our sides split! I thought I was obsessed with food, but I have nothing on Singaporeans, for whom eating seems to be a national sport. Our routine was simple: breakfast at the apartment, cooked by the lovely ladies of Village residence. The we’d hit the hawkers centres for lunch, where I’d make a point of trying a new dish every day. Dinner would depend on our mood: neighbouring establishments when feeling lazy, local takeaway on tired days or high-end restaurants for celebrations. I would need an entire post to talk about the food alone so stay tuned. But let’s just say that while a lot of things are expensive in Singapore, eating is not one of them. Sure you can fork out S$400 for a fancy meal if you want to, and imported western food is pricey but with knockout street food at wallet friendly prices, we enjoyed the local fare so much I told Terry I would not mind stopping over for a few day just to eat!!
Phew, that is a massively long post, my apologies for it. But I just had so much to say about Singapore! Can you tell how much we loved it here? And we have not touched on the food scene yet…so stay tuned for more posts.