When you think of the great world cities, certain images come to mind – London - Buckingham Palace and Big Ben; Sydney - its Opera House and Bridge; New York – the Statue of Liberty and Empire State building; Paris and the Eiffel Tower; Kuala Lumpur and the Petronas Twin Towers.
Certainly when you think of Singapore, you may just have thought of Singapore as just a 'transit stop' that you fly into and out of, and possibly of Duty Free shopping, a hot tropical climate and good Chinese food.
That perception still persists, but is changing fast.
Of all the things you can see in Singapore, four things to me stand out – the Gardens by the Bay, the Art Science Museum and Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Night Safari Zoo and Raffles Hotel. These are all 'MUST SEE' attractions.
The Gardens by the Bay – is pure genius.
In the world of buildings and architecture, it seems that architects and builders only know two angles 90 and 180 degrees, yet when you look at the natural world it is a world of curves, bends, shapes and colours, and here in these gardens these angles and colours are everywhere. Even if you have never been interested in Gardens, these gardens will inspire you through its design, micro-climate re-creations, architecture, plants, flowers and trees. It may well be the most beautiful garden in the world. See the Supertree Grove tree sculptures, Cloud Mountain, Flower Dome, Dragonfly Lake, the secret underground world of plants, and Heritage Gardens – Indian, Malay, Chinese and Colonial. The Gardens are located at 18 Marina Gardens Drive and cover 101 hectares beside the Marina Reservoir.
Art Science Museum –
This Art Gallery Museum is designed in the shape of a Lotus Flower and is part of the 5 Star Marina Bay Sands Hotel – which is equally spectacular in its design – with what looks like a floating spaceship hovering over the top of the three hotel tower buildings under it. On the 57th Floor there is the rooftop infinity pool (only open to guests), while below are Hotel rooms, restaurants, a Casino and also Shoppes built on each side of a waterway canal with a wooden Sampan boatman taking passengers.
In the Art Science Museum there are 21 Gallery spaces covering an area of 50,000 feet in area with both permanent and changing exhibitions, the Gallery's philosophical challenge being to discover "What drives creative people" – a mix of Curiosity, Inspiration and Expression.
Singapore Night Safari Zoo –
Many cities around the world have zoos, and some also open at night, but this zoo is especially inspiring. The Night Safari involves taking a 40 minute long journey through the park on an open sided tram, travelling through 8 geographical zones – Himalayan Foothills, Indian Sub-Continent, Equatorial Africa, Indo Malayan Region, Asian Riverine Forest, Nepalese River Valley, Burmese Hillside and Australian Wallaby Trail. Most animals come to live at night, and the special lighting, sound effects and atmosphere create a highly memorable experience. The Night Safari is just one of the attractions here. There is also a Panda Forest, River trail through the Amazon, and you can see these also in the daytime, as well as the Jurong Bird Park with some 5000 birds and 400 species that you can see in 4 Free Flight Aviaries. See www.birdpark.com.sg and www.nightsafari.com.sg The Zoo and Aviary are located at 80 Mandai Lake Road.
Raffles Hotel –
Raffles Hotel, built in 1887 is an institution in Singapore, creating a real feel for what Singapore was like in 1887 when it was built by the four Armenian brothers Martin, Arshak, Aviet and Tigran Sarkies. Even though it was built by the Armenian brothers, it epitomises British Colonial Architecture, an architectural style designed by the British to provide as much coolness as possible in the hot tropical climates in Africa, India and the Far East. Air conditioning was not invented at that time, so creating large breezeways, wide verandas for shade, shutters to keep out the heat and marble floors also for coolness became to reflect this architectural style. Raffles Hotel with its white exterior, four storey high atrium, large hotel suites, balconies, gardens and fountain all symbolize the 'best of British' and enjoying a high tea, staying here and just soaking up the atmosphere is very much a way to feel a little of what life may have been like for the British Colonials in the late 1800's. Raffles Hotel is located 1 Beach Road.
While these four places that I feel are the MUST SEES in Singapore, there is much more to see too – and these are some of them.
Singapore has a hot tropical climate, and almost wherever you look you will see trees, orchids and gardens. Being hot and humid too, means pacing yourself relatively how far you intend to walk and where you want to go. All the big shops and shopping centres are air-conditioned, but getting out and about can get hot and sweaty too. If you want to see and learn more – head to the Singapore Botanic Gardens at 1 Cluny Rd (See www.sbg.org.sg ) where you will find trees that date back to the time when the Botanic Gardens was first established in 1859. There is also a Rainforest section, a Healing Garden and the National Orchid Garden that has 1000 species of Orchids and some 2000 hybrids. Stunning colours.
Malay Heritage Centre – is located in the Istana Kampong Gelam at 85 Sultan Gate (Tel: +65 6391 0450). This was the original Palace home of Sultan Hussein Shah who sold Singapore to the British East India Company, represented by Sir Stamford Raffles. As part of the Agreement, the Sultan retained the Kampong Kelam area and built his Istana (Palace ). Here guided tours of the building and 9 gallery spaces tell the story and you can learn about Malay history, trade and culture. The building itself is worth seeing in its own right. Also nearby is Arab Street with shopping and food.
Districts – there are a number of Districts in Singapore – the Historic District where the first British Settlement took place; Chinatown; Little India; Arab Street and Kampong Gelam and the Orchard Road area. Each of these districts has their attractions and you may well visit all of them while here in Singapore. In many ways the best way to get a feel for the city and its different districts is to take a half day or longer tour but here is a brief list of some of the main places to see in these districts –
Historic District – is near Marina Bay on the north side of the Singapore River. This is the oldest part of the City and is where Raffles first established the town that was to become Singapore. Places to see here include –
- Raffles Hotel – 1 Beach Rd.
- National Museum of Singapore – 93 Stamford Rd (in 1887 building)
- Asian Civilisation Museum – 1 Empress Place. In former city Courthouse Building, built in 1864-65.
- Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall – 9 Empress Place. This classic theatre dates back to 1862 when it was built as the town hall.
- Singapore Philatelic Museum – 23B Coleman Street.
- Peranakan Museum – 39 Armenian Street (in 1912 building) Showcasing the fusion of Malay, Indian and Chinese heritage and culture.
- Cathedral of the Good Shepherd – 4 Queen Street. Built 1840's. Catholic.
- St Andrews Cathedral – 11 St Andrews Rd. Built in 1830's. Anglican.
- City Hall – 3 St Andrews Rd.
- Armenian Church – 60 Hill Street. Singapore's first Church built in 1836.
- Old Parliament House - 1 Old Parliament Lane, with its bronze Elephant in front of it dates back to 1822.
- Singapore Art Museum – 71 Bras Basah Rd. See www.nhb.gov.sg
- Kuan Yin Thong Hood Cho Temple – Waterloo Street. Kuan Yin (Quan Yin) is the Goddess of Mercy.
- Chettiars Hindu Temple – 15 Tank Rd (near junction of Clemenceau Avenue and River Valley Rd. Built in 1862 it is one of the biggest Hindu Temples in Asia.
- Chijmes - 30 Victoria Street. Built as a Convent in 1854, this is now full of activity with retail shops and restaurants.
- The Padang – St Andrews Road is an open field and first home of Cricket in Singapore. It is mostly a sporting field, but also used for open air concerts.
- Fort Canning Park – 51 Canning Rise is on a hill overlooking the City. The only remains of the old fort is some of the walls and the old fort gates.
- Singapore River – separates the Historic District on the north side from Chinatown on the south side. Head to Clarke Quay – River Valley Rd, Esplanade Park and Queen Elizabeth Walk. Merlion Park is located on the south bank as is Boat Quay. Along the river side you will find lots of entertainment, food places and bars too, as well as boat trips to take you on the River – See www.singaporeexplorer.com.sg and www.watertours.com.sg
Chinatown–is on the south side of the Singapore River and dates back to 1822 when the first Chinese settlers arrived to work here on the docks, setting up market gardens, trading, sewing, cooking, fishing and trying to earn a living. The Chinese came from different parts of China, and the Hokkiens, Teo Chews, Cantonese and Hakkas all created their own small enclaves within Chinatown. The area wasn't exclusively Chinese, so along with the Chinese shop houses that were built, there were also Indian Chulias, Tamils and Malays who lived here too. The small narrow streets no doubt were just wide enough for a rickshaw or trishaw to pass along, and today those same streets are filled with both locals and tourists.
The Chinatown Visitor Centre is located at 2 Banda Street, and it is best to just wander the streets nearby to get a feel for the area. Pagoda Street is known for its souvenirs, South Bridge Road for its 'Bak Kwa' Bar-b-cue meats and Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple, Smith Street for food and Telok Ayer Street is where you will find Nagore Durgha – a Muslim Shrine, Thian Hock Keng Temple (Temple of Heavenly Bliss) and Al-Abrar Mosque. The Lau Pa Sat Market is at 18 Raffles Quay, in a great pavilion style building with cast iron columns and decorative cast iron work. Here you can find lots of food and atmosphere.
Little India – is located north of the Historic District and it developed in the 1920's when building in Singapore attracted Indians to come to Singapore for work. There are a number of Buddhist Temples, Hindu Temples and Mosques here, with Seragoon Road being the main centre of Little India.
If you are looking for a great curry and Indian food, clothing, jewellery and atmosphere, then Little India is the best place to find it, along with The Tarik (Stretch Tea) and Chai tea.
Tekka Centre Market is located at the corner of Serangoon Road and Rochor Road and one of the most interesting places to see is the Tan Teng Niah House located on Kerbau Road. Just as Chinatown has Indian heritage too, here in Little India, there is Chinese heritage too. The House is definitely worth a visit if you are in Little India.
Singapore's Heritage Houses - In Singapore most of the population now live in high rise apartments, which you will see throughout Singapore, but in earlier times most people lived in Kampongs or Shop Houses – where the front room facing the street was a shop or small manufacturing site, or repair shop such as Bicycle sales and repairs, sewing work, Kopi Shop or other enterprise, with the family living above the shop. For the richer people and British Government and Army people, there were bungalows – a name derived from early British Indian Colonial days. In Britain in the late 1800's there was a renewed interest in Tudor Architecture and what became known as the 'Arts and Crafts' movement.
Between around 1898 to the start of World War Two, wealthy Singaporeans, Rubber Barons (Plantation owners) and British Colonial Officers and Government Officials built large Tudor style mansion Bungalows with their distinctive whitewash walls and black timber work. Most of these 'Black and White' Tudor homes have sadly been demolished and replaced by high rise buildings as land has become scarce and costs of retaining such Bungalows increased, but still see a few of them tucked away along Orchard Road, Tanglin Road and Leonie Hill.
Three big colonial homes that have been turned into Museums are –
- Sun Yat Sen – Nanking Memorial Hall. This is a big home built in the 1880's that was used by the Chinese leader, Dr Sun Yat Sen (1866-1925) in the lead up to the Chinese Revolution in 1911. It is located at 12 Tai Gin Road, near Toa Payoh New Town (Tel: +65 6256 7377).
- Our Museum @ Taman Jurong - 1 Yung Sheng Rd Tel: +65 6265 1711. A community museum reflecting on the history of Taman Jurong.
- Reflections – at Bukit Chandu 31 –K Pepys road (Tel: +65 6375 2510. This traces the story of the Battle of Pasir Panjang in World War Two, when 1400 Malay Regiment troops tried to stop the advance of some 13,000 Japanese.
Orchard Road – was once an orchard, hence the name, but these days it is the retail and commercial hub of the city where the shops, bars, hotels, theatres and restaurants are all here to enjoy, along with a crowd of people. There are also Tour Operators based here too and the Singapore Visitor Centre is located at 216 Orchard Road with information and touch screen technology.
There are Department stores like C.K Tang, John Little , Robinson's, C& A, Marks and Spencer, shopping arcades, designer boutiques, fast food and local food places, cinema complexes, jewellers, and the list goes on, with the shops mostly opening about 10 am in the morning and not closing until around 9pm at night.
One of the places you might also put on your list to see is Suntec Shopping Centre at 3 Temasek Boulevard. Here you can also see the Fountain of Wealth – a waterfall cascade with changing light colours adding to the spectacle.
THEME PARKS –
Sentosa Island – is a small island that you get to by cable car from the Harbour Front, taxi or bus. The best way to get there is via the MRT stopping at the Harbourfront Station, from where the cable car leaves to cross over the water to Sentosa. You can also catch it from Faber Park too.
On Sentosa Island there are adventure park rides, a water park, iFly (simulates a parachute fall in a wind updraft that keeps you floating), two kilometres of beaches, a skyline Luge, ziplines, Butterfly Park, Universal Movie Studios, Madame Tussauds, Underwater aquarium, the real old Siloso Fort, Cinemania, Restaurants, 18 hole golf course and of course souvenir shops. The Island is open year round and at night til about 10 o'clock, and if you can pick a time when the crowds are not so big it can be a great day out for both kids and adults. There is also a Tram system on the island to get around and you can also hire bikes to ride too.
Legoland and Big Bird Theme Parks – these are located in Johor Bahru in Malaysia across the causeway, so you need to go through customs to get there and back. (See Malaysia on this website).
Wild Wild Wet – 1 Pasir Ris Close Tel: +65 6581 9128. This is another water park with all the pools and slides to enjoy.
Singapore Flyer – this is a giant 165 metre high 'Ferris Wheel' like the 'London Eye' and ones in Las Vegas, Melbourne and elsewhere. It is located at 30 Raffles Avenue overlooking Marina Bay and the City.
BINTANG ISLAND RESORTS - Bintan is in Indonesia and just an hour or so by Fast Ferry from Singapore. When the British and Dutch signed a Treaty in 1824, they agreed that anything to the north of the Singapore Straits would become British, and those islands and territories to the South would be part of the Dutch East Indies, now called Indonesia.
Bintan Island is the biggest island in the Riau Province covering an area of just over 1100 square kilometres, with 105 kilometres of beaches. The resident population is about 200,000 people and the biggest industry is tourist related, with a number of resort hotels having swimming pools, palm trees, sunshine and water and land based sporting activities. The biggest town is Tanjung Pinang.
Most people book a resort to stay at (see Hotels section under Bintang) and will simply stay and relax at the resort and do whatever activities are on offer. You can also play golf, go biking, take an eco-nature tour, climb Gunung Bintan Mountain to see animals and birds along the way, take a traditional fishing Sampan tour to catch fish and trap crabs, or even take a ride on an Elephant at the Bintan Elephant Park. Many of the resorts here are quite exceptional. There is also a Club Med resort on Bintan too.
Ferries leave Singapore from the Tenah Merah Ferry Terminal at 50 Tanah Mereh Ferry Road. Tel: +65 6542 4369. The Ferry trip takes about one hour, but you need to book and also be at the terminal about 1 to 1 ½ hours prior to the Ferry leaving. Also check to see if you need a Visa. Bintan is 1 hour behind Singapore time, and the only currency used on the Island is Rupiah. There are money changers to exchange currencies.
As much as we have talked about all the places you can see, perhaps the biggest attraction of Singapore is the food. Almost all of the big hotels have the own restaurants and bars, and often there are celebrity chefs and food festivals happening. There are also the fast food options, food courts in shopping centres, hawker stalls and the Chinese, Malaysian, Indian Restaurants that you find throughout the city. Singaporeans will all have the favourite places to eat, and if tell them that you are really wanting to find great 'Singapore Chilli Crab' or really authentic Indian or Malay food, they will no doubt tell you their favourite place to eat too.
The Hotels in Singapore are almost all exceptionally clean and comfortable and by international standards good value for money too. Most but not all will have restaurants, swimming pools, gyms, wi-fi, business centres and other services. Book on this website and check the location relative to how close or how far it is from the City Centre.
Have a great time in Singapore.