I grew up in small farming villages and historical towns. I had literally no interest in Singapore and wasn’t even sure where it was. To me it was a country of towerblocks with the 3rd densist population in the world (as of July 2015). Even worse, I’d been told it was like Dubai, a place that to me seemed very contrived and uncomfortable. Nevertheless, we went because Sam wanted to. To my surprise, within 5 days I was ready to move there.
The East Coast Park
The day we arrived we took a bike ride along the east coast. 15km of breezy cycle path flow through a busy park. It’s packed with kids on scooters, roller blades, or running up and down in their swimming suits. For those who don’t have a bike of their own, there’s even a bike rental. There’s camping spots, barbeque pits, shops and an Asian food village. Not to mention the idyllic scenery of white sand beaches, palm trees and blue sea.
We stopped for a rest and a wander up Bedok Jetty, the largest fishing jetty in Singapore. Looking back towards the shore you could see the buildings rising above the park but they seemed a million miles away.
The National Stadium
Thanks to the kindness and generosity of my parents’ old friends, we stayed in their apartment that overlooked the National Stadium. An impressive sight costing over S$1.8 billion, it dwarfed the nearby tower blocks. At night it lit up the sky with its “Merry Christmas” flashing across the roof.
We visited it on our second morning. It’s part of a Sports Hub complex, designed to help people make the most of it. Along with the 55,000 seater stadium, there’s a running track around the perimeter, an indoor gym and swimming pool, a childrens’ water park, a water sports centre and more. If that wasn’t enough, next door is the Kallang Wave mall with, among it’s many shops and restaurants, a climbing wall.
Little India, Arab Street and Chinatown were all easy to reach with the LRT (Singapore’s rail system). We did them all in a day and Chinatown was by far my favourite. With old, short buildings that looked out of place in a modern Singapore, they each had their own individual charm. Little India sold fabrics and gold, while Arab Street teemed with restaurants and housed Masjid Sultan, one of Singapore’s most important mosques.
Chinatown was the largest with restaurants, market stalls and Food Street, an outdoor food court. They sold personalised grains of rice, jewellery, bikinis, squeaky dog toys, bag labels, you name it. We headed there a second time for lunch. It was slightly more expensive than elsewhere in Asia but it was authentic.
Gardens by the Bay is an extensive public park with winding paths and rivers, and a huge variety of plants. While most of it’s free, there are several paid attractions such as the Flower Dome, Cloud Forest and Supertree Grove skywalk. We kept our feet on the ground and walked around the Supertree trunks, 25 to 50 meter tall metal trees that light up when it gets dark.
Cycling through the park in the evening, it was still busy with people having picnics and drinks. We sat with our feet dangling in a river enjoying the view of the Marina Bay Sands and Singapore Flyer.
We were also lucky enough to be there for New Year’s Eve. We sat among hundreds of others on the open lawns of the gardens to watch the fireworks explode over the iconic skyline.
On our final day, I finally dragged Sam to Sentosa, a small island to the south of Singapore, known for it’s man-made beaches, Merlion statue and Universal Studios. You can reach it by LRT, cable car or boardwalk. With its ticket booths at the entrance, colourful decorations and “Hollywood”-style sign, the whole island feels like one big theme park.
We had a lazy day on the beach but for those who are splashing out, there’s an aquarium, golf courses, indoor skydiving and plenty of hotels and restaurants to keep you there forever.
In many ways Singapore is like Dubai. A very well-off country, populated with expats, it has little of its original culture left. However, where Dubai have used their money to try and impress the outside world, Singapore has used theirs to improve life for its people. The result is an extremely safe and relaxed atmosphere where you’ll never get bored.