Nate and I were especially giddy to get to Singapore because we missed the action of New York. Living in a big city, especially New York, imparts a craving deep down that will inch its way to the surface once you’ve left. That craving is for the melting pot, the walking, the rooftops, the city lights, the exquisite food, the cocktails, the public transportation and the quantity of people. All of it combined is what we were so excited to have back in our life, it felt familiar to us.
We knew little about Singapore except that we should be armed with deep pockets, manners and an empty stomach. I had researched a lot of free things to do, to keep expenses down and Nate reached out to his friend Max who used to live there. Between the two of us, we had a packed four days ahead.
Our flight arrived at 10:45 am. Singapore airport is known to many to be the best airport in the world. So, we had to take advantage of the FREE massage chairs before cruising through immigration.
We took the subway from the airport to our hostel, which is incredibly easy. Not only because of the color coded signage everywhere but also the locality maps, subway employees and clear speaker announcements (cough, NY take note, cough).
We arrived at the River City Inn hostel where we were “lucky” enough to be put in a 16 person dorm style room for $20 each per night. It was perfectly fine, two friends recommended it and the location was great. I felt like I was in the Girl Scouts again but only with boys and everyone is an adult. So here’s what we got into after checking in…
Maxwell Food Center- Singapore is known for selling the best authentic food at “hawker centers”. They are all over the city and each one has their top sellers. All of the food can be had for less than five dollars. We had the national dish here of chicken and rice from a stall call Tian Tian with a line of 25 people because Anthony Bourdain endorsed it.
The chicken is served cool and the rice piping hot. The rice is cooked in chicken fat/drippings so that is where the flavor comes from.
We personally thought it was just okay and we were quickly off to Tiong Bahru, another hawker center, to try their choice dishes. The Chwee Kueh, a gelatinous rice patty topped with pork, and Lor Mee, a noodle soup with tons of ingredients including fried shark nuggets.
After the heat got to us and it was late enough to officially get our assigned bunk at the hostel, we went back to recharge for a Saturday night out. We headed to a very cool bar/restaurant called Potato Head Bar, which is a 3 story Victorian style building. It’s a walk up with a wooden staircase that allows you to peak into each floor with its own vibe. We went directly to the rooftop, draped with string lights overhead and packed with young hip people!
We went to the rooftop at Oxwell and Company and enjoyed one $18 gin and tonic and one $8 sparkling water… Ouch again!
We had made reservations for our next stop which was a secretive bar called 28 Hong Kong. There is no signage on the door, just a light and the address number.
We both indulged in their famous cocktails, each one with a hefty $25 price tag. The atmosphere created a perfect nightcap.
I’m pointing out the price tags so fellow travelers truly understand the jump in price compared to neighboring countries. However, eating at hawker centers will help. We were well aware and increased our daily budget to about 3x as much as Bali so we could enjoy our time. What you will get in return is great service and excellent quality in Singapore.
Our first mission in the morning was to try some local Kaya Toast. This is a decadent local breakfast cuisine that is a must. We had ours at the Ya Kun Kaya Toast on China Street.
We ordered the set breakfast, that they make easy for foreigners. We read in advance how to eat this. Kaya toast is grilled bread, very dry with a smearing of homemade coconut jam and a pad of butter in between each slice. On the side, you get two soft boiled eggs, which you add the two condiments on the table, soy sauce and white pepper and stir it up. You get a brown gooey mixture to dunk your sweet, buttery toast in. The savory, salty and sweet balance is perfect, you can wash it all down with a strong Kopi (coffee).
Thankfully, I had plans for us to walk the Southern Ridges after that indulgence. The Southern Ridges are different waking paths that all connect and each have unique characteristics. We started at Mount Faber Park and finished our walk in three hours.
After the Southern Ridges, we did our stretch routine ( we decided back in Bali to do a 30 day stretch challenge, which is working!) and then caught a cab to a secret gem in the area for Laksa. We went to the Queensway Sports Mall and there are two Laksa joints. We ate at this one and washed it down with a large thirst quenching lemon tea. It was incredible.
We caught another taxi back to our hostel but stopped first at the nearby Clarke Quay Central Mall. Singapore is famous for its malls and shopping. We were still hungry because we only split the Laksa, so we stopped for sushi at JJ Fishmart and to our surprise it was fantastic!
We are sushi snobs, so that is saying something. We got to the hostel for showers and a rest before heading back out. Our evening plans took us to the top of Marina Bay Sands. Marina Bay Sands is an iconic hotel, casino and mall right downtown and on the water. We went to the restaurant at the top to have a drink and watch the sunset. We often try to do this because even though it can be a cheesy experience, sometimes it really does offer the best view.
This view was well worth it and not cheesy at all, we actually didn’t understand why more tourists weren’t up there! It was peaceful and the sunset was vibrant. The sun sets behind the ultra modern skyscrapers that sit beyond the water. Floating on the water is both a Louis Vuitton store and a soccer stadium.
We did something super touristy and FREE that one of our friendly cab drivers had recommended when he warmly welcomed us to his city. It’s called the Supertree Grove, which has 8 over sized (about 150 feet tall) man made “trees” that have natural plants covering them with embedded lighting.
At 7:45pm each night, the trees display a light show to music. We laid flat on the pavement below, looking up at the lights and thoroughly enjoyed the 10 minute show. It’s a cluster leaving but you eventually get out of the masses.
We hopped on the subway from there to yet another hawker center for more street eats. At Newton hawker center, we were instructed to try the bbq sting ray, the butter chicken at Indian Palace and the black and white carrot cake. Indian Palace was closed but we did try the other two.
They were all very good and we especially liked the black carrot cake. The carrot cake is an egg/rice mixture of sorts, and not carrot or cake in anyway. It had been a long day, so we rolled ourselves home and called it a night.
Believe it or not, after all of that, our final day in Singapore was another self made food tour. There were still several items on our food bucket list we wanted to try. We spent the morning getting some work done at the Delicacy cafe which makes an awesome yogurt/fruit/granola breakfast and my favorite drink, ginger lemon tea.
After our morning there, we headed out on the food crawl at various places around town for one item at a time.
Once again, we sludged back to our hostel to shower off the sweat from the heat and rest our tired feet. We went back out later that evening to one more hawker center called Telok Ayer Market in the downtown area. First we walked through Clarke Quay, the riverside walk that is popular at night for dinner.
Once we arrived at Telok Ayer Market, we finally tried Chili Crab. The Chili Crab is a lot of work and we both agree the ROI doesn’t justify it, but hey we did it.We tried the chicken and beef satay which is great, but you have to go out back behind the indoor center to find it.
We walked through downtown and stopped at a craft beer bar, which is the natural drink choice when you are stuffed to the brim. We chatted up the friendly bartender who relocated to Singapore from the UK.
After that, we walked to a more popular cocktail bar called the Cufflink Club and $50 later we toasted to our last night in Singapore.
Singapore was architecturally interesting, clean, safe, easy to get around and delicious. It’s a place that in another life we could call home for at least a little while. Singapore is truly a world class city. Somehow I sense this will not be our last time in the Lion City.