It is a big city, a nexus of transit with a large and well-regarded international airline serving dozens of destinations. It is a melting pot of cultures. And, for whatever reasons, people I talk to about Singapore either love it or hate it. The city-state proves to be spectacularly polarizing for no apparent reason.
I’ve been four times now. Each successive visit gave me a greater appreciation for the city, though I remain firmly in the camp believing it is not a destination worth spending too much time in. Unless, of course, you’re willing to eat non-stop.
The cuisine of Singapore
The city’s geography and hydrography made it a crossroads for merchandise and people passing from Asia to Europe or Africa. That also brought the cuisines of those cultures into a single place and today they remain in the form of the hawker stalls (or, as Google Maps likes to call them, food centres).
Scattered throughout the city, the hawker stalls offer dozens of vendors each serving up a particular specialty from a tiny kitchen. And, because they represent the range of cuisines it is possible to build a feast, often cheap, with a variety of foods. Some are famous. Others are regular standbys for their devoted regulars.
Ask Singapore aficionados their favorite stall or center and you’re almost certain to get a couple recommendations. I’ve been to several and, while the suggestions can help, they’re not critical to enjoying the experience.
I’ve waited in lines or skipped them in favor of a quieter stall. I’ve yet to have one I found disappointing. The main problem is coming up with enough room in my stomach to fit it all in.
Wander the aisles and wend your way through the crowds. Pick something that looks good and get your order in. Soon you’re rewarded with a plate of deliciousness. Better yet, go with enough friends that you can expand the order to a wider range of food and not feel guilty about gorging or wasting food.
It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that Sling
Yes, the Singapore Sling was invented at the Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel. Yes, its purpose was to help women enjoy a tipple when such indulgence was considered déclassé. And, yes, the Long Bar still serves the classic. By the jug, it would seem.
We showed up for happy hour to a line out the door. Typically that would be enough to get me to walk away. But we had little else to do so we waited. Peanuts are served on the bar and at the tables, along with a variety of cocktails, including the Sling. Priced north of S$30, they are ridiculously expensive, even accounting for a hotel mark-up. But it was also a piece of history that we’ve now had the pleasure(??) of sipping. To be fair, it is a very well made cocktail. And there’s the experience of the Long Bar. But I’m also not too unhappy that I’d previously skipped the experience when in Singapore on my own.
Why, yes, we are tourists.
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) November 14, 2019
While food is the main redeeming value of Singapore for me, there are some sights to see between snacks. Arab Street dead ends at Masjid Sultan Mosque. The architecture is impressive, especially inside.
Beyond the mosque, the surrounding blocks spread to include a cute and quirky set of shops worth exploring. They range from touristy tchotchkes to local artisan wares to bars that can hop.
Arab Street is not alone in showing off incredible architecture. Indeed, I’m assuming there’s an architecture tour of some sort offered by an enterprising person or group. Maybe that will be my choice between meals next time I’m in town and looking for something to do, because the architecture is incredible and varied.
We accidentally “discovered” the Parkview Museum, brought in by the Art Deco facade of Parkview Square, the eponymous building it sits in. It is modern art, so expect a quirky experience rather than the classics. But it very much delivered on that.
We also were a little early for entry so stuck in the building lobby. As spectacular Art Deco bar experiences go, Atlas and its hundreds of gins, is hard to beat. The bar rations some of the more rare selections, with a set limited to one serving per visit and another, even more exclusive collection, limited to the management’s discretion. A fancy prix fixe lunch is also available, with a price point that is more about closing a deal than a casual meal, but within the ballpark of reasonable given Singapore and the setting.
Separately, we went to the National Library on purpose to see what we could see. That choice was rewarded with an awesome exhibit of maps around the region from prior to the British colonization in the mid-1800s. It was very cool for a cartophile like me.
Other Singapore highlights
I fully expect that some will try to tell me about the great things we missed. Should we have stopped for a drink atop the Marina Bay Sand (been there, done that), a walk through the botanical gardens, the night safari at the zoo or wandered through the Gardens by the Bay? Maybe we should’ve crossed the double-helix bridge and stopped by the Merlion for a bit (we walked past because it was on the route towards the Lau Pa Sat food center; didn’t bother for a photo). Riding the luge at Sentosa Island or just vising those beaches are also options, both of which I’ve done and don’t feel compelled to repeat.
Maybe I’m just cranky or maybe those things don’t appeal enough to me, at least not enough to go out of the way to make Singapore a destination worthy of repeat visits. Or maybe it is the general sweating every time I step outside that kills the vibe.
Don’t get me wrong: There are things to see and do. There are ways to enjoy a short stop in Singapore, especially if you’re up for eating. But, to me, it does not stand out as a strong destination, just a solid pause en route elsewhere. There are just too many other places I enjoy more. Fortunately for us, it was just a short part of a much larger adventure this time around.
Tales from our South Asia Adventures
- Six new (to me) airlines booked; more to come!
- An Amazing South Asia Adventure: Introduction
- A love/hate relationship with Singapore
- A Kuala Lumpur visit that was not to be
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