It was 10th March and following an early start, I had just left Kuala Lumpur and arrived in Singapore after only an hour in the air. This was the penultimate country of my 19-country trip and a chance for me to explore Singapore as a solo traveller before I would soon be heading home.
My flight got me into Changi Airport at around 10 am, so I wanted to ensure I made the most of the day. A 15-minute taxi drive later, I had checked into my hostel, dropped my luggage into an eight-person room (nobody was here though as I’m sure they were all out and about in sunny Singapore) and took advantage of the hostel’s free cereal to set me up for my busy day of exploring!
It wasn’t long before I was ready to head out, and I had been given a list of must-see sites from one of my lovely travel friends. I only had two days in Singapore so I didn’t know how much I would actually be able to fit in, but I was determined to try and cram in as much as possible and also fully take advantage of exploring the main city on my own. Previously I had been part of a group, or had not strayed too far from my accommodation as I hadn’t felt that safe, but already in Singapore I could tell this was a great place for solo travellers and an easy city to traverse on foot.
A half an hour walk took me into downtown Singapore and to the famous Gardens by the Bay. Opened in 2012, the huge nature park was part of the nation’s plans to transform the already ‘Garden City’ of Singapore into an actual ‘City in a Garden’. This was in order to raise the quality of life by enhancing greenery and outdoor recreation space, as well as to create a national icon for the city.
Singapore’s quest for a better quality of life didn’t just start there though, as after separating from Malaysia in 1965, the then-prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, had grand ambitions for Singapore to become, in his own words, a “first-world oasis in a third-world region”. Yew wanted to differentiate Singapore from the rest of South-East Asia and he started an annual anti-littering initiative called ‘Keep Singapore Clean’.
Even after only a morning in the country, I could tell that this was a beautifully kept place, with litter-free streets and spotlessly manicured green spaces. I was also aware of the chewing gum ban and had heard many scary stories about the repercussions of anybody found chewing. Its illegal status started in 1992 (it can be bought from a doctor or registered pharmacist for health reasons), but it has definitely led to much cleaner looking streets than the gum-littered pavements you find in London!
I walked around the Gardens by the Bay, Singapore’s national icon, and came across many of its varying gardens and areas in its 250-acre space. I was especially impressed by Supertree Grove. At 50 metres high, Singapore’s Supertrees are futuristic-looking structures that grow and display plants inside them.
The Supertrees are known as vertical gardens, and they contain orchids, tropical climbers, bromeliads and ferns. There are eighteen Supertrees in total, and seven of them are specifically designed to harvest solar energy, whilst all of the trees also collect rainwater and act as exhaust air towers for nearby conservatories.
I walked around the gardens, had lunch in the mall and thought up a basic plan for what I would do for the rest of the day and what I would look forward to the following day.
I saw people queuing to climb the tallest Supertree and thought I’d join in as I could imagine the views would be breathtaking. The tallest tree is about the height of a 16-storey building and once up in the observatory, I could see views of the gardens and the Marina Bay waterfront site, with the iconic shape of the Marina Bay Sands hotel in the middle.
Whilst I was up there, it began to get dark so I got my first glimpse of Singapore at night, and the Supertrees were lit up in bright colours.
Upon disembarking the observatory, I realised that the garden’s light show was starting and this was a beautiful display of rainbow coloured lights and classical music. Named Garden Rhapsody, I was glad I was there to watch as the trees flashed and dazzled brightly to the beat of the music.
I ended the evening with dinner at Satay by the Bay, a food court inside the gardens with lots of local delights and international cuisines and more views of Singapore’s lit up cityscape.
The following morning I woke up with a mission, as I had plenty I wanted to see on my second and final full day in Singapore.
I powered myself up with the free cereal and then started my outing with a short walk to a café I was recommended, for coffee and cake. Selfie Coffee is not just any coffee shop as here you can literally drink your own face. Sounds weird, but they cleverly have a machine that transforms a photo of you onto your drink! Also, rainbow cake is definitely a win in my book (though admittedly more for the aesthetics than the taste…).
Then, just around the corner I found my next stop. Arab Street is the name of a road and neighbourhood that was owned by an Arab merchant and was also allocated to Arab and other Muslim traders in the 1800s, who brought their cargo into Singapore to barter with other traders. Its name has remained since then and now it is full of beautifully coloured buildings, textile shops, Middle Eastern eateries and quaint cafés. It is part of the Malay-Muslim quarter, known as Kampong Glam.
Within a ten-minute walk of Arab Street, I found the neighbouring area known as Little India. Similar in style to Arab Street, Little India is a vibrant area full of street art, market stalls and traditional Indian eateries.
Unfortunately I wasn’t having as much luck as yesterday with the weather, and heavy rain (as well as the very reasonable price) swayed my decision to take a five-minute taxi to my next destination, instead of a half an hour walk.
I arrived at Clarke Quay, a historical riverside quay, sprinkled with beautiful colonial-era architecture and more bright colours. This of course made me wonder why London is not this colourful everywhere as it brightens up your mood considerably, even in the rain. Speaking of bright colours, on my taxi journey over to the quay, I spotted a stunning-looking building just a short walk from my destination.
I knew I had to go back and see it, and when I did, I discovered that it was an old police station.
I went inside what is now a national monument and found a gallery with information about the building. The Old Hill Street Police Station was constructed for the Singapore Police Force in 1934. Originally, it was home to Singapore’s first prison, the Town Hall’s Assembly Rooms and police barracks. It was the largest government building in the country at the time and is built in Neoclassical style, an attempt at copying the public buildings of England.
There are 927 rainbow-coloured windows on the building and it is still in use today. As well as a gallery it now houses the Ministry of Communications and Information and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.
I walked back to Clarke Quay and looked around. It was quite empty, but this could have been because of the bad weather. Apparently it comes alive at night with bars, clubs and restaurants attracting many to the open-air pedestrian precinct.
Orignally Clarke Quay was one of the centres of trade in Singapore, and in the 1800s, barges would transport goods from the river into the quay for storage in the many warehouses. These warehouses were since painted the rainbow hues I found them, and this made it a lovely place to admire and snap photos before I moved on to my next destination.
I then walked on to the next place of interest, coming across lots of important buildings on my way, such as the parliament building, the luxury Fullterton Hotel (which used to be the General Post Office), The Arts House, Victoria Concert Hall, the Asian Civilisations Museum, Capital Tower and more.
I arrived at my next destination after much enjoyable mooching and saw a crowded area where another of the city’s national icons proudly stood. Though smaller than I had expected, the mythical Merlion, with the body of a fish and the head of a lion, was located at a scenic spot, aptly named Merlion Park, near the mouth of the Singapore River.
The fish-shaped body symbolises Singapore’s origins as a fishing village and the lion-shaped head represents the city’s original name of Singapura (meaning Lion City in Sanskrit). Legend tells of a prince who spied this strange creature near the river and this folklore is now embodied in the Merlion statue, which was unveiled in 1972.
Saying goodbye to the Merlion fountain, my next planned stop was too far away to walk, and as the skies turned more ominous in colour, I took a taxi to the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
Unfortunately, no sooner had I left the comfort of the taxi behind me, the heavens opened and the rain began to fall in abundance (the amount of water pouring from the sky reminded me of the crazy thunder storm I witnessed in Byron Bay, Australia).
This was such unfortunate weather because the gardens were evidently outside and the rain just wasn’t ceasing. I realised I had to cut my losses and abandon the Botanic Gardens for some indoor destinations.
My plan had been to go back to Gardens by the Bay after the Botanic Gardens anyway, so I headed there next and luckily they aren’t too dissimilar to the Botanic Gardens, as they offer a two in one ticket to their Flower Dome and Cloud Forest exhibits, which are a little bit like indoor botanic gardens too! For 28 Singapore dollars (around £15) I purchased the double ticket and started with the Flower Dome.
The huge Flower Dome holds the Guinness World Record for the largest glass greenhouse. It is the size of 75 Olympic swimming pools with 3,332 glass panels, and it aims to show the world’s flora and fauna under one roof.
The baobab trees reminded me of the enormous ones I had seen in Africa, and the Succulent Garden had a hidden treat as there was a cleverly named Aloes in Wonderland exhibit hiding among the cacti, aloes and crassulae.
Inside the cavernous, cooled conservatory there was also an impressive collection of driftwood sculptures by artist, James Doran. At 6-metres tall, the driftwood dragon stood high above the others.
The glass, botanical greenhouse gave views of the Singapore Flyer outside and I wandered around admiring the different styles of exotic plants and flowers and all of the different themes.
As you can see above, there were a lot of Japanese style artefacts in the gardens, and I found out that this was because the garden was commemorating Sakura Matsuri, the Japanese Cherry Blossom Tree Festival. The Flower Dome had a pop-up food stall and a little market too, with the same Japanese theme, and I enjoyed a quick browse and some food before heading over to the Cloud Forest.
It felt like the perfect time to go to the Cloud Forest, as my friend had advised me to see it in the day and at night, as during the latter time period the walkway lights up and looks beautiful. It would be getting dark soon, so it was time to see it in the light first.
The Cloud Forest holds one of the world’s largest waterfalls, which gushes down from a big mountain structure laden with plants, which again span from across the globe. Pictured above, the walkway at the peak of the tall structure provides views of the greenery below.
As soon as I stepped inside the Cloud Forest I was met with a gush of cold, humid air and was amazed at the architecture, the waterfall and the lush vegetation in front of me. The Cloud Forest is the size of one and a half football fields, the waterfall is 35 metres tall, and the humidity is at 80-90%.
I took the lift up to the top of the ‘mountain’ and the idea is for one to spiral their way back down the uniquely shaped aerial walkways, admiring the various displays as they go. The natural exhibits are intended to mimic the plant life that would be present at each altitude of the mountain. So at the very top you find a moss-covered ‘lost world’ with a lotus pond which would exist at 2,000 metres above sea level, then along the way down there is a stalactite and stalagmite display; an educational theatre (where I watched a film about global warming and felt terrified, but also motivated to make changes in my own life); and a garden with a plethora of orchids, carnivorous Venus Flytraps and pitcher plants, sunflowers, tassel fern and lilies.
After leaving the Cloud Forest, it was time to take a quick walk to the structurally fascinating Helix Bridge before heading to the river front to watch another stunning light show. I was so pleased that it had finally stopped raining!
The Helix Bridge is just over ten years old and was inspired by the geometric arrangement of DNA. It was developed in a 3D virtual environment and then brought to life in the city centre.
Yet again, the views at night were magnificent and the light and water show by the river, entitled Spectra, was a free outdoor extravaganza that I knew would be impressive.
The presentation was fifteen minutes long and I was able to immerse myself in the stunning symphony of an orchestral soundtrack, with dancing fountain jets, advanced lasers, colourful visual projections and lava and mist effects.
I then went to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel to view the city from above. For a small fee I was able to ride the lift 57 storeys up to the SkyPark Observation Deck, where I was greeted by scenic views of the panoramic cityscape and the now twinkling river. The bar was selling their famous Singapore Sling iced cocktails, so I obviously had to sip one of these while checking out the views! It was strong and my now-empty stomach made me feel the effect of the drink, but it was sweet and delicious and possibly my new favourite cocktail.
I had the chance to see the Garden Rhapsody show that I had watched the previous evening from above, and the trees looked a lot smaller from up here. I even saw the second Spectra show of the evening, this time from up high. This was a wonderful way to end a busy day of exploring, and a late dinner once I descended back down would top it off perfectly.
I was recommended Sin Hoi Sai Eating House by my travel friend, as supposedly it had the best chicken in the world. So this is where I had a late dinner, in a very understated restaurant and peaceful surroundings, with mostly locals.
I can’t recommend Singapore enough, as it was definitely the place I fully embraced being on my own and getting into the lifestyle of a solo traveller. I would go back without hesitation, as there is still so much I am yet to see here.
An early start the following day saw me leaving Singapore and heading on a two-and-a-half-hour flight to the final destination of my trip! Watch this space for my adventures in Bali, where I was joined by my friend and ended my travels in the most perfect of ways.