Things are different in Singapore. It’s been awarded accolades such as World’s Safest Country, World’s Smartest City, and World’s Most ‘Technology-ready’ Nation. It is placed highly in key social indicators: education, healthcare, life expectancy and quality of life. Also, The Economist has ranked Singapore as the most expensive city to live in. This all becomes abundantly clear when you take a bus across the bridge & border from Malaysia. The traffic is funnelled down multiple paths, all clearly labelled and directed by different traffic light systems. They all lead to separate stops, where immaculately dressed security teams guide you to a well-lit, glass-walled customs & security foyers. Everything is so clean and organised, but never clinical and soulless due to how much plant life they use. Indoor water fountains and green spaces are everywhere, and beautifully well maintained. If felt as though we were leaving the chaos and uncertainty which is the majority of Asia behind us. That relief was short lived, once we found out that our bus at the other side of security had left without us.
It’s only in hindsight that we realised we were the only white Europeans on the coach. The rest of the passengers were Malay, and who were most likely commuting across the boarder for work, as many do. This meant that we needed to join a different queue at security, and probably therefore took longer than everyone else to process and pass through (not that we had any obvious delay at security). And even so, you would think the driver would have spotted he was missing the only two white passengers. Never mind. I’m over it…
After two hours of realisation & disbelief we spotted a coach owned by the same company that had abandoned us. We explained the situation to its driver who luckily had free space and took us the rest of the way. (He spoke perfect English, and didn’t ask for money. Things are different in Singapore).
We stayed in Singapore’s Little India district. It’s one of the more affordable places to stay (but still not cheap) and is well connected to the rest of the city by use of the Singapore subway (MRT). The MRT, much like everything else in Singapore, is incredibly clean, well laid out and organised. Even Little India, which you could have assumed was chaotic and clustered was very modern and sterile.
Our first sight to see (and the main reason I was excited to go to Singapore in the first place) was Gardens By The Bay. This billion dollar nature park spans 250 acres of reclaimed land in the Central Region of Singapore, adjacent to the Marina Reservoir. It’s home to the famous Supertree Grove as well as the Flower Dome, which is the largest glass greenhouse in the world. The whole park is the focus of Singapore’s plan to develop as a green nation. They want to expand with nature being the forefront of their design, not as an afterthought. The official tag line for their plan is to transform its “Garden City” to a “City in a Garden”… As pedantic as that sounds, there is no doubt that they are succeeding. You can see it in all areas and at all levels as soon as you cross the border.
The park itself is made up of dozens of areas dedicated to different themes. You can walk through quiet Japanese gardens, out into open fields of wildflowers then cross bridges over rivers & waterfalls, and then over walkways which take you through rainforests at canopy level. Along the way you pass statues, artwork & information about the plants and wildlife. The attention to detail across the park is breath-taking – and it takes a small army of caretakers who are constantly working on upkeep.
The Supertrees are tree-like structures that dominate the Gardens’ landscape with heights that range between 25 metres and 50 metres. They are effectively vertical gardens, which provided a base for many plants and shade for others. Every night at 7:45pm and 8:45pm, the Supertree Grove comes alive with a coordinated light and music show known as the Garden Rhapsody. The accompanying music to the show changes every month or so, with certain themes such as A World of Wonder and A Night of Musical Theatre, which features excerpts/pieces from films like Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean.
It was incredible, and one of the highlights of my entire trip. All the tourists lay on the floor below the trees and watch the lights break up the trunks and across the branches. Like everything in Singapore, it’s incredibly high budget, and well thought-out – making a show more spectacular than any fireworks display.
Outside of the park, Singapore prides itself on the quality of its street food. People rarely cook at home (I assume they are all too busy working), and so there is a huge demand for street food, or hawker food as they call it there. The combination of fierce competition and rich diversity has led to multiple food stalls which have been awarded Michelin stars for their cuisine. We went in search of the cheapest Michelin starred meal you can buy, and found Hawker Chan’s – Liao Fan’s Hong Kong Soy Chicken Rice & Noodles. I’m not sure if we hit it at peak time or if it’s always busy, but the tender soy sauce roasted chicken was worth the 45 minute queue.
We were also recommended a dish by a friend we had met in Cambodia – Claypot Frog Porridge. It is as the name suggests: a warm rice porridge with frog and pork, served with a dark gravy on the side and pork crackling to sprinkle on top. It’s nowhere near as repulsive as it sounds. The frog itself tastes just like tender chicken, and the porridge with gravy has a satisfying sweet and sour quality. My main issue I had was with the miscellaneous pork parts within the porridge itself. There was a texture to some of the bits which eventually put me off finishing the dish. It didn’t seem to bother the locals however, as the whole food court was packed with people sharing the clay pots. It was an experience for sure.
For those who want to get away from—and above—the city and a little closer to nature, the Southern Ridges is a great place to explore. As a bonus, you will also get one of the best panoramic views of the city, harbour and the Southern Islands.
The Southern Ridges is a ten-kilometre stretch of green open spaces spanning the hills of some of Singapore’s most popular parks and gardens, connected by picturesque ridges and pathways. It’s strange to walk for so long through green space when you know you are surrounded by a bustling city of 5.6 million – but the parks are arranged in such a way that you can pass through them all without so much as needing to cross a road!
The walk connects Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park, Hort Park, Kent Ridge Park and Labrador Nature Reserve. Mount Faber & Telok Blangah Hill Park are mostly unspoilt rainforest, and are favourites among bird watchers. Hort Park advertises itself as the first one-stop gardening lifestyle hub in Asia, and is broken down into various greenhouses, allotments & beds. Kent Ridge Park is located between National University of Singapore and the Singapore Science Park, and is used for study of local fauna and flora. Much like the first two parks, it’s kept as a natural habitat, however to ensure it remains unspoilt the path through the park is on an elevated boardwalk, allowing you to explore at canopy level. It’s also a place of historical significance, as is the site where one of the last battles for Singapore was fought during World War II. The final, and newest of the parks is Labrador Nature Reserve, which is dedicated to preserving the marine and coastal life just up from the main bay. From there you can see the gondolas taking guests across the water to Disneyland Singapore on one of the southern islands.
The parks themselves are spectacular, but so is how they are linked. Henderson Waves, a structure not to be missed, connects Mount Faber Park to Telok Blangah Hill Park. Standing 36 metres above Henderson Road, it is the highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore, and is frequently visited for its artistic, distinctive wave-like structure consisting of a series of undulating curved ‘ribs’.
As expensive as it is, I think Singapore was worth every penny. It is world-leading when it comes to living in harmony with nature, and it has a knock-on effect to the general quality of life of everyone. It could easily have been another busy, polluted Asian city, but it now benefits from green space which I will definitely miss in every other city I visit afterwards.
RHYS & GABS’ SINGAPORE HIGHLIGHTS
|Food||Hawker Chan’s soy sauce chicken & rice||Frog porridge|
|Drink||Lemon ice tea||Chardonnay with our friend Jonathan|
|People||Jonathan! Good to see you||Jonathan! Same!|
|Place||Gardens By The Bay||Southern Ridges|
|Experience||Light show at Gardens By The Bay||Light show at Gardens By The Bay|
|Culture shock||So much green in such an urban space||The crazy busy lives that locals lead in this city – our friend told us that he has basketball training at 1am!|
|Any other||I hope it gets cheaper so that I can go back!||Super clean – didn’t see one piece of rubbish on the street|