I have never been to the Far East, so I was very excited to travel to Singapore. It was a great place to start!
Prior to traveling with my brother, my sister-in-law, and her sister, I researched this country to get an idea of what to expect. Being there I learnt so much more. Singapore is commonly known as a multi-racial city being made up of Chinese, Malay, and Indian communities, with Chinese being the largest population among the three. It is also dubbed as a “fine city” , as there are many strict rules and laws that can get you fined if you break them. When we landed, we were given a small booklet outlining the forbidden products to carry into the country. Among the items listed is chewing gum under the category of ILLEGAL, or else you would need to pay a hefty fine of 1000 Singaporean Dollars (SD) because it is a form of littering. Even for committing something minor, a harsh fine awaits you for what could be a “sticky” situation! Singapore takes cleanliness very seriously, and it’s no wonder that I found it to be such a clean, organized, tidy, and orderly country.
As we were about to board off the plane, I realized that I had equipped a “special” pocket in my backpack with all kinds of gum before leaving for the airport, and I couldn’t decide where to put it or if I should get rid of it. I could have just tossed it in the trash but I couldn’t let myself throw all of that good chewing gum away. I must say, I had never panicked this much over a pack of gum (other than in school)! So in the end, in the spur of the moment, I decided to sneak it in and act oblivious. I thought the customs were going to be strict about it and was expecting it to get confiscated, but luckily, I was not caught red-handed carrying or putting gum in my mouth (I did not risk it in the first place!). I imagined the worst-case scenario: that if I were to throw my chew-ed up gum in the trash I would eventually be tracked down through my DNA in the gum and punished with a harsh fine. What should I expect when it clearly states that chewing is a prohibited item?! Even arms and explosives aren’t in that category. So I thought, they probably had better things to do than to sift through every single passenger checking for something like gum. After having a read about this law, I found out that the only type of gum allowed is medicinal gum (like nicotine gum, or gum for healthy gums).
Stepping out of the plane and into Changi Airport, I was astonished. The airport was a city all by itself boasting a butterfly farm and numerous endless things to do and see that even TIME flies! If you are stuck in a long-hour transit, fret no more…free WiFi covering the whole airport, amazing duty free shopping, a movie theater, spa, an arcade center, rooftop gardens, playgrounds ,and much more can leave you wishing your transit was a tad longer. This glorious airport should be the model for all airports around the world.
We stayed at the Regency Hotel for our 1 week trip. We woke up extra early every morning to savor each minute we had and my brother ensured that our schedule was PACKED so that we had time to see everything. We set out for an adventure on foot every morning or hailed a taxi for more distant places. For a country as small as Singapore, it really is mind-boggling how much there is to see, taste, and experience.
Most of the time we got on the metro to reach our destinations, which was lots of fun. Using the ticket machine to mark our destination, followed by finding the right metro was an adventure by itself. I enjoyed the feeling of being in an unfamiliar country that was a complete stranger to me. Getting lost, finding your way around, and exploring made it all the more exciting.
As with any other trip, I went into a photo-taking frenzy and could not stop snapping photos everywhere!
We stepped into the tropical humid weather and our first stop was Marina Bays. As we explored downtown Singapore on foot I noticed the building that Singapore is notoriously known for -the SANDS hotel- the most expensive construction in the world, and also famously known for the infinity pool perched on top of it.
From Marina Bays, we made it to Gardens by the Bay. On our way there we spotted the Singapore Flyer from afar, one of the biggest ferris wheels in the world. As we walked towards the Gardens we also caught sight of the the SuperTrees that looked much like Kuwait’s Water Towers in terms of shape. But, we weren’t heading there yet.
First, we headed to the Art and Science Museum followed by the Flower Dome and Cloud Dome!
After an educative and informative time, we were on our way to the Flower and Cloud domes. The domes are giant greenhouses that host a variety of exotics plants and are temperature-controlled to simulate a rain forest. It was a really calming and wondrous experience to be taking your time looking at variety of exotic plants and flower species from all around the globe, and ones that you expect to see in tropical rain forests.
Next, Cloud Dome…
Many hours later, we reached the end and spent more hours in the gift shops getting cool souvenirs for our families. By the time we finished, it was dusk outside and we made it just on time for the Super Trees light show.
Afterwards, we went all the way back and entered the Marina Bay SANDS mall…
Our next stop was China Town, my most anticipated place.
It is the place to go to get a good glimpse and sense of Chinese culture without going to China–that is one of most fascinating parts about Singapore. These Chinese, Malay, and Indian communities make you feel like you’re in three different countries at once, simultaneously experiencing different cultures. This fusion of all three cultures is apparent when you taste the food. Each ethnicity maintains the root of their culture in their food but at the same time intermingle with one another Singaporean style.
China Town had interesting snacks and souvenirs at every corner. You would find crafts shops, stores with Chinese trinkets, plentiful food stalls, and restaurants serving ethnic Chinese cuisine everywhere you looked. Again, there was so much to taste and look at, and I wished we had more time to spend in the local shops, but we were too busy taking in every small bit of everything with our limited time!
It was exceptionally hot that day and we’d stop by a fresh juice stall for some lime or watermelon juice-popular drinks that were very refreshing and thirst-quenching on a sunny day.
Up next was the Singaporean Zoo . As with any other place, the best time to reach the zoo was very early to avoid the volume of tourists. Many people have called it one of the best zoos in the world, and it certainly lives up to that title. We booked our tickets online and skipped the queue. I wondered why people were willing to endure the long queues when they could have just purchased the ticket online! The zoo was like no other zoo I’ve been to. A huge number of animal species were showcased at the zoo. It is the first open zoo in the world, and one of the few. Orangutans swung freely right above us on tight ropes, and there were so many opportunities to be up close with the animals. This is a perfect example of how zoo animals should be kept–roaming in an open wildlife-like enclosed environment where they can remotely feel that they are in their habitat, not in a cage! As we walked along the paths that took us to various animals, it felt like we were in the wild exploring and encountering them. Actually, it did not feel like we were in a zoo at all!
With every exotic animal we observed came an educational display. Usually the way the information is presented in zoos looks long and boring. But here, I enjoyed reading every single one of them. They were fun and interesting and had lots of cool facts!
That wraps up our trip to the zoo. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would not mind going again as there are many more things we missed like feeding sessions, the elephant show, night safari, river safari, and the bird park. We used up the entire day and it still did not suffice! But we still managed to go through the entire zoo. The zoo closes down at 6 p.m and it was time to go home after a looong day!
After a nice rest back at the hotel, we decided to head outside for dinner. It is very hard to resist the amount of food around you here in Singapore because of the variety of endless choices. The food culture is enormous. We had to apportion a part of our energy just to choose what to eat and to look for a spot at the crowded, open food courts called Hawker Centers. Hawker Centers are communal dining settings scattered all over the city and contain rows and rows of food stalls. The moment we entered a Hawker Center we were bewildered by the amount of choices. A “Hawker lady” holding menus would start beckoning to us and offering to find us seats. A word of advice is to read a “Hawker Center Guide book” to advise you on what to pick when looking for food here! Unfortunately, I discovered this book on the last day of our trip when I suddenly “noticed” it laying on the table in our hotel room.
I am very open minded about food and enjoy tasting new things, and usually I am rewarded with a pleasing taste. So I tried my luck by ordering strange dishes and surprising myself. Some would recommend going to a stall with the longest line if you are clueless on what to have. A lot of the Asians standing in line in front of me were ordering a Chinese dish called fish ball soup, seeing how it was popular, I thought it must be good and decided to give it a try and ordered it too. It was a familiar-sounding dish but I had never tried it. Just to clarify, the fish balls are made of minced fish fillet rolled into a ball and dropped into a broth with noodles. As I dived in to the dish with enthusiasm, I ended up being disappointed! The soup and fish balls were flavorless. The only thing I could eat was the noodles in it, and only because I was hungry! I thought that I was eating it wrong, but my guess is that there might have been some sauces that went with it or it was just meant to taste that way.
Even with a full stomach, it is easy to succumb to the temptations…
We would make 3 rounds or more around a food center just to browse all the colorful menus and watch what the chefs were cooking up.
Everything looked very enticing. Every time we made our way to any of these food courts we stuffed ourselves and over indulged in the delicious food. We tried satay with a side of peanut sauce, glazed chicken wings, chilli crab (one of the most popular dishes in Singapore), Nasi Padang (a meal comprised of fragrant coconut rice, and a number of various vegetables and meats of choice to go with it), dumplings with a myriad of fillings, and the list goes on and on. Everything was so flavorful. When I returned to Kuwait, I could not look at any Asian restaurant in Kuwait the same way again! I craved the food back in Singapore for a long time.
After a nice dinner, we walked back home to a beautiful view…
We made it just on time for one of the events, the Earth Hour. I was imagining all the lights to go off in every Skyscraper. There was a noticeable difference after the Earth Hour began, but the entire city did not plunge into complete darkness as I imagined. A few lights here and there went off and that’s it! It was still a great atmospheric night. We sat on some steps and watched the skyline.
The next morning, while on our way to our next exciting destination, we passed by a lovely cafe called “Art House”. It contained a work shop for artists and a coffee shop beside it. I loved the delicious duck and cheese toast there!
After a hearty breakfast, we went to Arab Town. First, we were dropped off at Haji Lane.
Then we walked on Arab Street. I could smell the Hookah (sheesha) and spotted Westerners sitting at coffee shops puffing away.
As we crossed our lists of places to go and checked off Arab Town, Little India was our next stop. It was my least favorite place during my trip. There were big crowds of male workers staring at us because we stuck out like white crows! There was not a single woman or child in sight. We had to squeeze our way through crowds which involved lots of shoulder-rubbing just to end up somewhere. I am sure there were a lot of interesting things to see there, but our only way to see them was to navigate around flocks of men and we didn’t feel the least bit at ease. In fact, we were desperate to get out of there. It was pretty chaotic and there were police patrols everywhere monitoring the place and controlling the traffic. There are a lack of people obeying the road rules, so it was no wonder that nowhere in Singapore have I seen this many police patrolling. As we sweated in the heat between crowds. Bollywood billboards emblazoned the place. I felt the stares, smelt the fumes and the burning incense, heard the cars honking. But we still pushed away through all of this just to arrive at a place called Mustafa Center. We did not know what Mustafa Center was. When we finally reached there, it turned out to be a mall that is open around the clock for 24 hours. It has tons of things for a cheap price. Everything from electronics, clothing, watches, perfumes, DVDs, you name it! We looked around for a bit and left because it was getting late. After checking out the shopping center we got sort of lost and had a long walk back trying to figure out where to find the way out of Little India. At least now we can say we found what we were after, the Mustafa Center! And it was time to head back to the hotel.
Here are some photos…
It was now time, again, for one of my favorite parts, which was scouting for a Hawker Center! We felt hungry and it was already around 8 p.m. Once we arrived at Penang road, we were late to the party and all the Hawkers were full. Sometimes, our taxi driver would give us some tips on where to go and what to eat. He told us that if we were to plan on going to a Hawker Center, the best time would be anything before 7 p.m, as this is when it gets crowded. It always happened to be our luck that we were hungry at around that time or couldn’t make it on time. Nevertheless, no one ever uttered the words “there is nowhere to eat” in Singapore. There’s always a food place in every corner. We were at the Marina Bays area and browsed through some restaurants, and the only place that looked like we had a chance at finding a table was Thai Express. It had a queue but we didn’t mind waiting in line. Once we were seated, we enjoyed our time. The atmosphere was nice, the weather too, and there was a band playing music. On top of all that, I had some tasty pineapple fried rice!
Coming back to the hotel, I was excited for the next day. We were going to Universal Studios! I could not wait to hop on the thrilling rides. The theme park is located on Sentosa Island, a resort with beaches and other fun attractions including Universal Studios. As entered we immediately spotted the Universal Studios globe circling in special effects fog. We paid an extra price for an Express ticket which gave us access to rides without waiting in line. We could skip the line only once per ride, and it saved us two hours of waiting in a queue! Since we got there early the lines were still short, so we saved the Express ticket for later. Our very first ride was Transformers 4D, a thrilling roller coaster that comes with special glasses. It looked very realistic with lots of special effects like wind, heat, and water spray, and there were moments where I shut my eyes even though I knew it was just an illusion. Big robots would fight you and toss you around making you tumble to the ground at full speed!
We were ready to hop on to the next ride called “The Revenge of the Mummy”, a high speed indoor roller coaster. I’ve heard it to be the scariest and best ride in the entire theme park. When it comes to roller coasters I am usually very stubborn and reluctant to go on one. This time, after hearing all the great hype around this ride, I thought I could be missing out! So I built up the courage and we made our way to the entrance of a giant and dim Egyptian tomb. Hieroglyphics were scribbled on the walls and statues of pharaohs towered over us. Very creepy music was playing in the background. I don’t know whether it was chilly too or just me being nervous and freaking out. As the path took us closer to the indoor roller coaster my heart was jumping out of my chest. At this point I was desperate to get over the feeling of the frightful anticipation. Fast forward, we are seated and bracing ourselves for the ride. It was completely dark, meaning we did not where there were twists, turns and drops. The theme of the mummy made it even more frightening. Yet it was the most fun ride I’ve ever been on, and one that I was really looking forward to go on for the second time using the Express ticket. There was a hidden camera that took a picture of us during the climax of the ride, we were all screaming except for my brother, who had an expression-less face. When we decided to go again before leaving Universal Studios, I wanted to look more photogenic in the next picture and tried to keep the same expression through out the entire ride because I did not know where the camera was hidden. I must say, it was not easy lol!
The last section of the theme park that we went to was “Lost World: Jurassic Park”. Almost all the rides are water-based. The first one we hopped on was a Jurassic Park-themed ride. The notice board warned that it was advisable to wear a trench coat as there is a possibility to get VERY soaked. When I saw the “drying pods” next to the ride’s exit, which are giant dryers, I immediately expected a good shower on this ride! When we got on the boat and buckled ourselves up, the ride began. We drifted calmly down a river. The drama began to escalate the further we went. Suddenly, an alarm went off and we were in the “danger zone” and had to find our way to safety. The splashes began to increase as we plunged into a flood. We encountered many dinosaurs along the way. I waited and waited for the “Big splash” to happen, and as we drifted through a dark tunnel, I anticipated it. Eventually, we reached a dead end and a vertical lift took us up. Suddenly, a dinosaur jumps out above us with an open hungry jaw and it looked like we were about to get eaten. Just in time, we managed to escape when the doors opened and we slid down a big waterfall and SPLASH!!! I didn’t have a trench coat on, as I was wearing shorts and a tank top so I didn’t think it was worth it. It just happened to be my luck that I was the only one who got completely drenched! It looked like I jumped into a pool. Who needs drying pods when you have Singapore’s hot sun ? I was dry in 10 minutes!
Then we went to Water World…
We went to several other rides like the Canopy flyer, Madagascar, Sesame Street and the Donkey show and Monster Rock concert!
After a long and exciting day at Universal studios, we decided to spend the last two days on shopping sprees. As a 5’1 girl I thought the shopping here was heaven! The sizes were custom-fit for petite Asians. My small feet of Size 35 were very happy. However, I noticed that all the petite sizes were usually sold out at every clothing store I went to! Even on the land of petite I had hard luck. Nevertheless, I still shopped ’til I dropped. My wallet needed some recovering! There is no shortage of malls, shops, and boutiques in Singapore.
We went to various different malls and bought a lot of souvenirs. Of course, we could not miss the famous Food Republic to enjoy satay for the last time.
I had a wonderful time in Singapore, and I’d love to visit it again! What an unforgettable and memorable journey! 🙂