Singapore! I wanted to take a little trip with my mom, and Singapore seemed like the perfect choice. We could easily get there from Taiwan since we were already planning to go there in February, and it’s a safe, easily accessible, English and Chinese-speaking country. Plus, with the runaway success of Crazy Rich Asians, Singapore seems to be a hot new tourist destination. And who wouldn’t want to go and eat all that delicious hawker food? See our four fun days of heat and humidity, delicious eats, and even a luxury stay at the Marina Bay Sands below!
We started off our first couple days with a home base in Chinatown. Singapore has such an interesting blend of cultures including Malay, South Asian, East Asian, and European, it’s fascinating to see how it’s manifested in different neighborhoods, religions, the language, and in the food.
First food stop: Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice and some Fuzhou fish balls in the Maxwell Food Centre.
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown.
Lots of little shopping stalls all around the temples.
A little stroll down Bukit Pasoh Rd. where they filmed the bok bok b* scene in Crazy Rich Asians.
And for dinner, we headed to Lau Pa Sat where the street turns into a big satay market (meat skewers) and there are tons of hawker stands inside as well.
Oyster pancake on the left, Hokkien Prawn Mee on the right.
I got up for sunrise the next morning to do my photo session with the Bermudez family! Here’s a look at sunset over the water by Keppel Bay.
And back at our place in Chinatown, a look out over the balcony — all those red roofs are the heart of Chinatown.
We set out to explore Tiong Bahru, a hip neighborhood anchored by a traditional market. Here I first saw these “snake skin fruits.” I didn’t try one, but now I wish I had. Apparently it’s sweet and sour.
On top of the market is another food court!
My mom got food from a very popular vegetarian stall and I got Bak Chor Mee, minced pork noodles.
Murals all around the neighborhood.
And a great bookstore with lots of local publications, Books Actually.
Next, we headed back to Chinatown again and visited another temple, Thian Hock Keng. Lots of offerings still for Lunar New Year, since we were there in the second week of the new year.
Just down the street, a small shop/museum of Peranakan Tiles.
In fact, we were noting all sorts of floor tiles throughout our time walking around Singapore!
A mural on the back of the temple.
Next, we set out to visit Little India. It also has a big market with lots of food stands on the bottom floor and rows and rows of clothing shops above.
So fun to walk around the neighborhood afterwards.
Tan Teng Niah, a very colorful Chinese villa built in 1900.
And our delicious meal at Komala Vilas.
The cutest rainbow house. And then we visited the National Gallery Singapore, their big art museum in their converted old city hall.
It was really fun to explore the art and architecture here, and it was a lovely respite from the heat with their air conditioning.
I discovered a new favorite artist, Georgette Chen. I love her post-impressionist style and love seeing her French and American training meet the Singaporean subject matter.
Here’s my mom interacting with a fun digital table where you can collect paintings into a digital poster you email yourself.
And here’s my little poster:
After the museum, we walked around some more and saw the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel which would soon be our home!
We also peeked inside the Fullerton Bay Hotel.
There also happened to be a light show all over the city that night.
And finally, we decide to partake in chili crab, which was a long wait, quite expensive, and very messy. But tasty!
The next morning, it was time to check out of our place in Chinatown, so it was also the perfect time to go to our nearest Ya Kun Kaya to try out the national treasure of kaya toast breakfast! We got one french toast version (bottom middle) and one regular kaya toast (right). Each toast comes with lots of butter and kaya jam, which is a coconut egg spread. And you also receive a side of lightly poached eggs, which you mix with soy sauce and white pepper, and you dip the toast in. It’s so tasty and wonderful.
Afterwards, we checked in to our new digs at the Marina Bay Sands but headed out again to go explore some more. Here’s a stop by the National Design Centre where we found a cute boutique filled with local-themed goods. I purchased an enamel pin of a Peranakan tile but really wish they had this pin that said Chin Cai. One of the main languages spoken in Singapore is Hokkien, which is almost the same as “Taiwanese” or Minnanese, because they all trace back eventually to southern China. Anyway, ‘chin cai’ is kind of like ‘whatever’ in Hokkein, but it’s also ‘green veggies’ in Mandarin, hence the very cute and punny pin. This shop didn’t have it in stock, so if anyone comes across it, feel free to buy it for me.
Another Crazy Rich Asians stop, Chijmes, the wedding church!
Next, we visited the Peranakan Museum, where we learned all about Peranakans and Peranakan culture. I had been seeing the word thrown around in reference to Singaporean things but wasn’t quite clear what it meant. But it literally means ‘local born’ and typically refers to the people descended from Chinese settlers who came to Southeast Asia, even though Peranakan can also be more broadly used to refer to other locals descended from other immigrants, such as Indian Peranakans.
At any rate, the Chinese Peranakans embraced a distinctive and colorful style, with many of these bright pinks and blues running throughout.
I especially love the Peranakan porcelain which was made in China but just so popular with the Straits Chinese in the late 1800s.
I was particularly excited to see some of these pieces in action at the Peranakan Afternoon Tea I booked for us at the Pan Pacific Hotel in the afternoon. Look at how adorable that photo is in the menu!
But I am a little disappointed to report that there was no actual Peranakan porcelain used in any of our tea items. What false advertisement.
I mean, we still had a lovely tea. But where are the tea wares I was promised?!
Just these metal tins instead. Close but not quite.
Alas, moving on, next we visited the famed Gardens by the Bay, these crazy constructed giant atriums filled with fanciful gardens. First we visited the Flower Dome, where I was introduced to these super weird Dr. Seuss-lotus plants from Yunnan, China. So many people were here! And the whole thing, by the way, is air conditioned, which is so key in Singapore.
And then we visited the Cloud Forest! This is so cool to experience in person. You start at the bottom of these crazy waterfalls and are led up to the top and come down along walkways that jut out, offering different views of the whole system of plants around you.
A very fun experience.
And the we headed outside under the canopy of these iconic, strange, futuristic-looking metal trees which transform into a light show at night.
And the whole thing is next door to our hotel! The Marina Bay Sands.
It’s finally time to go take a look inside the MBS.
I timed my return to meet sunset at their famous infinity pool. No, it was not actually this empty in real life.
We then headed back to our room to watch the light show at the gardens from our own balcony.
The hotel was kind enough to give my mom a little birthday cake since I mentioned the stay was part of her birthday present!
And then we headed to the mall attached to the hotel for one more round of dinner– this time I we got laksa (curry noodles) and Nasi Lemak.
And then, with only one morning left in Singapore, I got up for sunrise, because why not go to the infinity pool at least twice during your very expensive stay in the MBS?
Ah, looking over the skyline. And making sure I don’t drop my phone over the ledge.
Saying farewell to our very lovely balcony where I had tea and read for almost an hour.
And finally, it was off to the also-famous Changyi International Airport, where they even have a butterfly garden inside.
Finally, a fun little compilation video, one second at a time from my adventures in Singapore.
Thank you for such a wonderful time, Singapore! Equator life– 89 degrees in February. But still so lovely.
Here’s a thorough recap of my itinerary!
THREE NIGHTS IN SINGAPORE:
Stay at the Marina Bay Sands for just one night, because it’s the only way to access their famed infinity pool on the roof. Yes, they really do have gates that require each person to swipe their key card for both entry and exit. I recommend a garden-facing room so you can watch the light show from your own room, and since the pool deck is city facing, you’ll have one facing each way. Alternately, if you don’t feel so compelled to go in the pool area, you can save your $$$$$ by skipping the hotel stay and just get the city view from their roof bar, Spago.
Visit the Gardens by the Bay. The main area with the robot trees is a park and free to walk through. But it’s worth paying the $28 to enter the two big domed (and air conditioned) conservatories. In particular, the Cloud Forest is a really fun experience. You can also walk through the free area at night during the light show to get the full experience amidst the trees. We watched from the hotel room, but you’re so high up that admittedly you’re mostly missing out on the soundtrack.
Visit Little India. browse the Tekka Centre, eat at Komala Vilas, walk around the neighborhood, and stop by the colorful rainbow house Tan Teng Niah.
Visit the National Gallery Singapore. It’s a beautiful museum with interesting historic and modern architecture and showcases a lot of interesting local artists. Nearby, stop by Chijmes to visit the Crazy Rich Asians church and maybe grab a bite to eat in one of the many restaurants located there. Stop by The Farm Store which is that cute boutique where I found some fun local souvenirs. I also enjoyed our visit to the Peranakan Museum, but it’s currently closed for renovations (April 2019-).
I’m a mixed review on the Peranakan Afternoon Tea in the Pan Pacific. I’m still very annoyed that they didn’t use any of the real Peranakan porcelain pictured in their photos– false advertising! So maybe skip that one. I do love afternoon tea though, and with any place that has British colonial history, there are always an abundance of tea spots available. So perhaps look into some alternate possibilities for afternoon tea.
Spend some time walking around Chinatown. See the Sri Mariamman Temple, Thian Hock Keng Temple (don’t miss the murals behind this one), and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Browse the tiles at the Peranakan Tile Gallery. Walk down the Crazy Rich Asians street and have a drink at Flagship. Have the full kaya toast experience at any one of the Ya Kun Kaya Toast locations all over the city (it’s a chain). Eat Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken and Fujian fish ball soup at Maxwell Food Centre. Have satay and other hawker food at Lau Pa Sat (this one is more downtown than Chinatown).
I’m also a mixed review on chili crab. It’s tasty, and an experience, but compared to all the other hawker food you could be eating, it’s way more pricey and so messy to have to go digging through all that chili and those shells get to the crab. I’ve done it once and that’s plenty. But we went to Jumbo Seafood Gallery and had a lovely seat right on the riverwalk, which was nice, if you do end up wanting to partake in this.
Visit the Tiong Bahru neighborhood. Start at the market, where yes, more hawker food awaits on the second floor. But I also really enjoyed perusing the market portion itself on the first floor, which was very clean and had lots of interesting food and produce including durian, those snake skin fruit, and plenty of other things to try. Shop the boutiques nearby. Look for the murals. Visit BooksActually for some local publications.
That should be enough to get you started! Have you been to Singapore? Are you planning to visit soon? What did I miss? What did you love most? Let’s discuss below!
Anna Wu is a wedding and portrait photographer based in San Francisco. She creates beautiful, soft, and timeless imagery while capturing the most fleeting of moments. View her work at annawu.com, follow her daily adventures on instagram, and contact her to book your own session today.