I admit it. The first time I came to Singapore, impressions were not exactly great. This tiny island located in the tip of the Malay Peninsula was too sanitised and too organised for me. Travelling around Southeast Asia more and more, I began to appreciate Singapore for what it is: a developed city-state where the different cultures of Southeast Asia came to live together, taking with them their temples, their festivals, and most importantly, their food. Singapore is after all a Southeast Asia foodie haven.
So how do you get a dose of Singapore in one whole day? Here’s my suggestion.
The iconic Singapore landmark: the Marina Bay Sands
Once you arrive at Changi International Airport in the morning, resist the temptation to stay a little bit longer. Singapore’s main gateway consistently ranks as one of the best, if not the best, in the world. To get to the downtown areas, you can a bus or better yet, the very efficient Singapore Metro. Many of the cheap hotels and hostels here are located in the districts of Chinatown and Little India. It’s best to base yourself here, too, as many attractions are nearby.
Once you drop your bags, take a short ride to Chinatown station. This is the perfect place to soak in Singapore’s Chinese origins.
The Chinese from Southern China came to Singapore in the 1800s to seek greener pastures. Today, they are the dominant ethnic group in the country. You can meander around the quaint and colourful shop houses here, dropping by the large Buddha Tooth Relic Temple or at the Chinatown Heritage Centre. By lunch time, pop in the Maxwell Food Centre to try what famous chef Anthony Bourdain called the best version of Singapore’s national dish—Hainanese chicken rice—in the Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice stall.
Singapore’s Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Perhaps the best Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore: Tian Tian Hainanese chicken rice
In the early afternoon, you might want to take it easy as it does get pretty warm, downright hot, outdoors in this equatorial city. The best thing to do at this point is to head to Orchard Road, the premier shopping destination of the city. You will find here large shops, many designer labels, restaurants, cafes and shopping malls. Even if you are not buying anything, pop inside any place here to relax and cool off from the heat outside.
After cooling down in Orchard Road, you can head to Little India. Like the Chinese, many Indians set sail for Singapore to work and try their luck. I like to think Indian culture made Singapore exponentially more interesting. That is certainly the case in the Little India district.
The shop houses here are home to spice shops, sari shops and Indian restaurants. Fragrant incense will fill your nose as you walk around this neighbourhood. Highly recommended is the Banana Leaf Apolo Restaurant, a Little India institution serving the best Indian food in the neighbourhood.
A Singapore institution: the Fullerton Hotel
The free lights show at the Marina Bay Sands boardwalk
As dusk begins, you can head to the Marina Bay district. The Bay is surrounded by well-known Singapore landmarks like the Merlion statue, the gigantic three-towers of the Marina Bay Sands resort and casino, the colonial-era Fullerton Hotel, the Esplanade and many others. Watch them all light up as the sun goes down. As a bonus, head to the Marina Bay Sands boardwalk to watch the free lights show. It’s definitely a free attraction worth seeing
Finally, you can head to the other side of the bay to any of the bars along Clarke Quay, a lively nightlife area. Drink up and wind down as you just had a full day in Singapore.