National holidays in Taiwan largely follow the lunar calendar, and this year the mid autumn festival fell on October 4th and the National day is on October 10th. With a weekend between the two, it means a lot of people only have to take a few days off to get a full week’s vacation. Naturally Renegade Wife and I made use of this opportunity.
My parents are going on a tour in China but will stop in Hong Kong for a few days before it starts. We wanted to see them but we couldn’t spend an entire week in Hong Kong so we started searching for a place we could see in just a few days. The lot fell on Singapore, none of us have been there before and it’s sufficiently small that you can do most of the sights in a few days (besides, you can’t live several years in east Asia without going to Singapore at least once).
There isn’t that much to see and do in Singapore that each day requires its own post, instead I will sum up my general impressions in one post.
Singapore is a truly multicultural country and though most of the population is ethnically Chinese you have several different ethnic groups and communities, all concentrated in their own areas. The main ones are Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam. The first two are pretty self-explanatory, the third is the Malay or perhaps better put, the Muslim area.
Chinatown is pretty similar to other Chinatowns I’ve seen with red and yellow paper lanterns strung across the street and lots of signs in Chinese. It’s also very touristic with a street market the first thing you see when you step out from the subway, most of the vendors selling stuff aimed at tourists. Smack in the middle of this market is the Chinatown Heritage Center, and old shop house that has been converted into a museum. It works by audio guide which are always too long, but the things they tell you are pretty interesting.
Little India is much more lively than other parts of the city, the buildings are painted in bright colors and plenty of shops line the streets. Except for the lack of cows in the streets, it’s pretty similar to what I’ve seen of real India. Unlike Chinatown, where the vendors market themselves towards tourists, the shops in Little India are aimed at locals. They sell a lot of Indian style clothing and massive amounts of gold, just shop after shop of golden necklaces. When we were looking around Little India we also found a market in preparation for the Deepavali festival which apparently is one of the biggest festivals in the Hindu calendar. It’s one of the most amazing markets I’ve ever been to, with lots of colorful everything whatever direction you turn.
Kampong Glam is, like I mentioned, not typically Malaysian; in my opinion it’s much more middle eastern with street names like Arab Street and Baghdad Street, Turkish and Lebanese restaurants and a big mosque at the upper end of Arab street. There is also a Malay heritage center which showcases some of the history of the Malay community.
All over Asia there is plenty of street food to be had but with the strict laws in Singapore there is none. Instead the street food vendors have been gathered in food courts. These are indoor market type places with permanent stalls which I guess the vendors rent, and a bunch of shared tables, just like in a shopping mall food court. It means you get cheap street food in a place which is cleaned regularly and trash gets taken care of properly, which the government probably likes. There is a bit of mixing going on but the food available is largely dependent on which area the food court is in. For Chinese food, I recommend Maxwell food court in Chinatown and for Indian food, Tekka food market in Little India is a good choice. Some vendors are more popular than others; if you want the best, or at least most famous, food on offer, go for the stall with the longest line.
One aspect of Singapore that I found surprising is how colorful it is. When you leave the central areas and go out to places like Little India or Chinatown, you notice that a lot of the buildings are painted in bright colors and there is some pretty colorful public art as well. Considering that Singapore is basically just a metropolis, which you’d expect to be mostly skyscraper grey, seeing so much color is a nice surprise.
Another surprising aspect of Singapore is how green it is. Again, its country which basically doesn’t have any countryside, so you’d expect most of it to be steel, concrete and glass, but there is greenery absolutely everywhere. Many of the larger streets are lined with trees or have lawns bordered by bushes running down the center, and there are several big parks where people can stroll around among the trees. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a government directive to squeeze in plants where ever they can fit. I’m not really a city person (so why did I go on a city vacation?) so for me it’s unexpected but very nice.
Despite all this, there is still that side of Singapore that you would expect based on the stereotypical Asian metropolis: a concrete jungle abound with glass and steel skyscrapers lining the busy streets. Sure, the government has kept some green spaces between buildings, and they’ve crammed the side streets and little alleys full of low, colorful houses, but at heart it is still a large, sprawling city.
So, if you’re idea of a vacation is to spend your morning at the pool, go shopping in the afternoon and spend the night having drinks at a rooftop bar then Singapore is the place for you. Personally I prefer to see other things so Singapore isn’t exactly my favorite place to visit. However, because of the different aspects I mentioned above, the trip was much more interesting than I expected, and I did enjoy myself.
I should also mention that there are a few others attractions in Singapore except shopping and rooftop bars for example the Singapore Zoo, the Universal Studios theme park and the beaches of Sentosa island. However, I never visited any of these places so I can’t say much about them.