Singapore

I never imagined that I would one day be living in Singapore but in late 2016 when an opportunity came up for us both career wise, we jumped at the chance to start a new adventure and live not only in a new city but on a new continent. Singapore is a melting pot of Asian culture and history combined with western/European influence. Every trend that surfaces will find itself in Singapore soon enough. A foodie haven, there is so much choice in Singapore – from the local hawker centres and cute brunch spots to fine dining and Michelin stars. As the gateway to Asia, the travel opportunities are endless so you will see a bit of a shift on my blog as we start to explore Asia and beyond. As a new Singapore city dweller, I wanted to share with you some things to do and places to visit as I get to know this interesting city.

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Singapore is definitely unexpected and I love that you can be walking amongst skyscrapers and turn a corner and be confronted with heritage shop houses and old school charm. From a sleepy fishing village to a buzzing metropolis it is easy to forget that this city state, often referred to as an ‘economic miracle’, was built in just one generation.

Singapore is a sovereign city-state and island country in Southeast Asia lying one degree north of the equator at the Southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. It has a tropical rain forest climate with no distinctive seasons which takes getting used to if you live here – the temperature and humidity remain rather constant with temperatures between 22 and 35 degrees meaning my hair is constantly a bunch of curls and no amount of chemical straightening or GHD usage quite does the trick.

Singapore used to be known as Singapura, or Lion City in Sanskrit, nicknamed by Sang Nila Utama, a Sumatran Prince after he thought he saw a lion on the island but there have never been lions. It has been said that it was most likely a tiger he saw as tigers used to be found in the wild in Singapore, up to the 1930s.

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Best Brunch spots I’ve been to;

O Battignolles
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Tiong Bahru – matcha almond croissant
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My Awesome Cafe
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Poke bowl from Aloha

Noteworthy dinner places;

  • Moosehead & Birds of a Feather, Telok Ayer – Telok Ayer & Amoy are great streets for trendy cocktail bars and restaurants so you can’t go wrong
  • Lucha Loco, Duxton Hill for festive Mexican in a great outdoor setting
  • Muthus, Little India for authentic Indian food
  • Fabrica, Kampong Glam for pizzas in a relaxed and trendy setting
  • Mitzo, Grand Park Hotel, Orchard for understated deliciousness – try their pork belly and truffle duck
  • Botanico, Botanical Gardens for delicious flavours inspired by botany
  • Como complex, Dempsey Hill – stylish interiors to complement the memorable food. Also try Morsel
  • The Halia, Botanical Gardens for ginger inspired delicious dishes (live jazz on Sundays)
  • Burnt Ends for an open kitchen and Australian barbecue style dining with flair
  • Tim Ho Wan for the best dim sum
  • Bottega for authentic Italian flavour, a real find!
  • National Kitchen by Violet Oon at the National Gallery Singapore for local dishes celebrating our culinary heritage.

Healthy lunch spots in the CBD

  • Salad Stop, One Raffles Place
  • Aloha Poke, Amoy Street and Apoketheory on Boon Tat
  • Kitchen by Food Rebel, Stanley Street
  • My awesome cafe, Telok Ayer
  • Free the robot, Telok Ayer
  • The Daily Cut, Raffles City MRT
  • Grain Traders, Robinson Road

Watering holes – although drinking is an expense in Singapore, here are the best cocktail bars we’ve visited so far.

  • Employees only, the first international outpost of the famous New York cocktail bar
  • Operation Dagger, a mysterious and award winning basement bar serving sensory cocktails (sister bar to Outrage of Modesty in Cape Town)
  • Ce la vie, on top of Marina Bay Sands
  • Level 33, the world’s highest microbrewery with great bar snacks – a firm favourite
  • Jigger and Pony, Amoy Street
  • Bitters and Love, Telok Ayer
  • The Lantern, rooftop bar on the Fullerton Bay hotel
  • Altitude for epic views
  • Tanjong Beach Club, Sentosa (tip if you just feel like a day on the beach you can opt of out TBC and just BYO and set up picnic on the beach)
  • Raffles Hotel for the signature Singapore Sling (check opening times as they are currently closed for renovations)
  • Southbridge rooftop, Boat Quay
  • Potato Head, Keong Saik Road
  • Lots of great spots on Club street/Ann Siang Hill eg: Oxwell & Co and Screening room
  • 28 Hong Kong street
  • Atlas bar, a Gatsby-esque bar in Kampong Glam area
  • Piedra Negra, Haji Lane for margheritas (ask for the guacamole which is made at your table)
  • Smoke & Mirrors, National Gallery
  • Kinky, an edgy outdoor bar with great views of the marina (a favourite)
  • Tippling Club (Top 50 best bars in the world 2017)
  • Artemis rooftop bar
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A noodle story, Amoy street market
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Muthus curry, Little India
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Mitzo
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Bottega
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A Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel
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Beautiful Raffles

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Best Hawker centres

  • Lau Pasat particuarly for their Satay in the evenings (otherwise known as Telok Ayer food centre)
  • Maxwell food centre
  • Amoy Street hawker centre
  • Tiong Bahru market for Dim Sum at Tiong Bahru Pau

If you are interested in trying different Asian foods, BonAppetour brings a variety of food tours to choose from. We did the Michelin hawker guide which takes you to authentic and famous Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice. Our guide, Kenny made the tour so I would ask for him by name if you can.

Places to stay

There is no shortage of great places to stay in Singapore from designer boutique hotels to the big hotel chains – bear in mind hotel prices in Singapore do come with a high price tag.

The great outdoors

  • Macritchie Reservoir for their tree top walk and peaceful surroundings
  • Southern Ridges for great views and perspective of the city
  • Pulau Ubin – Take note to use Changi Point ferry terminal not general Changi ferry terminal (watch out for the monkeys) A great spot for lunch or a drink afterwards is Little Island microbrewary.
  • East Coast Park – a great place to hire bikes. There is a park connector that you can use to to cycle into the city.
  • Fort Canning – a green space close to the city CBD (look out for concerts/cinema in the park series)
  • Bukit Timah Nature Reserve for the highest point in Singapore
  • Botanical Gardens, a UNESCO heritage site and porbably our favourite spot in Singapore (again look out for concerts, order a picnic from Bees Knees to enjoy in the grounds or visit the Orchid and Ginger garden)
  • Labrador Park for water front walks and greenery

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MacRitchie rooftop walk

Things to do (some I have yet to tick off)

  • Duck tours (amphibious vehicles taking you around by land and water)
  • Bum Boat tours around Marina Bay
  • Singapore zoo – night safari and river safari, we haven’t been but this always comes highly recommended
  • Gardens by the bay – visit the iconic supertrees, cloud forest and flower dome (you can buy tickets online here to avoid the queue). They also have a daily lightshow at 7.45pm, 8.45pm. You can also visit the flower dome and cloud forest. Pop into Pollen for their high tea.
  • Spend the day on Sentosa, Singapore isn’t known for the best beaches but this is where you will find them. Tanjong Beach is a great spot for a day out and bite for lunch/cocktail.
  • Look out for Singapore’s open air film series at Fort Canning or Sentosa.
  • Catch a show at the Esplanade theatre
  • Soak up some history at the Chinese Heritage museum in China Town
  • Take to the waters with DBS sailing at the bay for a free sailing trip around Marina Bay
  • Check out one of Singapore’s many museums eg: National History museum, Asian Civilisation museum and the Changi war museum for wartime history
  • Walk around the bay for the best views of the famous Marina Bay Sands hotel and Merlion and cross the pedestrian Helix bridge
  • View the Marina Bay Sands light and water show displayed over the water on the promenade, a 15 minute show that takes place Sunday to Thursday – 8pm & 9pm and Friday & Saturday – 8pm, 9pm and 10pm
  • Treat yourself to a manicure/pedicure at one of the many spots around town
  • Rent bikes along East Coast park or anywhere in Singapore from popular Obike app (a bike sharing app) or electric scooters from Go Scoot
  • Check out a sporting event at the National stadium, we watched the Singapore Sevens in 2017.
  • Catch the annual Singapore Grand Prix, usually in September
  • Take in the beautiful shop houses on Blair Road
  • Try an all you can eat brunch at one of the many top hotels

Areas/neighbourhoods to explore

  • Tiong Bahru for Art Deco architecture, old school charm filled with independent coffee shops and book stores
  • Little India for its vibrant and colourful streets and tantalising curries
  • Chinatown for its charm and history
  • Bugis/Arab quarter for its buzzing bars, design and ethnic enclave
  • Dempsey for upmarket shopping and restaurants with a quiet suburbia feel
  • Duxton Hill for stylish bars and eateries in a single stretch
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Busy China Town
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Shophouses of Singapore
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Cloud Forest, Gardens by the bay
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Watching the Singapore Symphony Orchestra at the Botanical Gardens
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Park Royal on Pickering
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Super Trees at Gardens by the Bay
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Sunsets on Sentosa, Tanjong Beach Club

Seasonal activitivities/festivals

Because of the multitude of cultures, various holidays are celebrated and observed for example;

  • Chinese New Year (Jan/Feb)
  • Hari Raya Puasa (June)
  • National Day (9 August)
  • Deepavali (October)

As a South African in Singapore, African Marketplace has been my go to for South African wine, biltong, rusks and even a few Woolies goodies. You can buy online with delivery.

Singlish (Thank you to my colleagues and the Foodie Group for teaching me)

While you are in Singapore, you will hear a lot of Singapore slang/Singlish, here are a few words to get you started

  • Lah – a suffix used to place emphasis on a sentence or word
  • Chope – to reserve a place (a lot of locals use a packet of tissues or a business card to reserve a table while they queue)
  • Kiasu – competitive spirit
  • Alamak – equivalent of OMG
  • Can or Can not – a way of asking if something is possible or agreeing to something
  • Kopi – coffee
  • Ang mo – describes Western/European people and literally means ‘red haired’
  • Bo Jio – which means never invite but is applicable to almost every situation eg: when your friends fail to share something with you
  • You will also often hear older men and women being referred to as Auntie or Uncle.
  • Wah lau eh (Phil’s favourite) – expression of exasperation, surprise or frustration
  • no need – it is not necessary
  • Double confirm – a necessary double confirmation
  • Liddat – like that

Singapore is a buzzing, cosmopolitan city and there are always cultural and entertainment activities happening. Check out Sistic for what’s on.

For more helpful guides or to find out what’s on in Singapore visit;

My go to guide is Lost Guide’s Singapore edition by Anna Chittenden. By far the best account of restaurants, neighbourhoods and shops – a unique, stylish and offbeat travel guide to this city. You can buy a copy online here.

Some handy information

Getting around

The best way to get around Singapore is using the MRT and bus services. Visitors can buy either a tourist pass which will allow unlimited travel for 1-3 days or if you are staying longer purchase your own EZ-Link card costing $12 and comes with $7 credit which can be topped up and is valid for 5 years. You can buy these at any MRT station as the manned kiosk with cash only and can be used on buses as well.

Taxis are used a lot too and very affordable compared to other cities. You can use the Uber, Grab or Comfort app but there are lots of other companies to use. Just something to note, you can’t always flag taxis down particularly in certain areas like the CBD so rather find an allocated taxi stand close by where they can pick you up or you will more than likely find a waiting taxi here. If in doubt, find the nearest hotel. Cabs are metered but there can be a surcharges depending on when, where and which taxi company you board – it’s always a good idea to ask for a receipt at the end of the trip.

Arriving in Singapore we usually get a taxi from the taxi stand however, avoid the white, taxis as these are slightly premium. You can also get the MRT/green line which will take you to Paya Lebar (from here you can change to the circle line) or City Hall (from here you can change to the red line).

Nets v Visa

Something you’ll pick up quickly is that a merchant will always ask how you want to pay or just ‘Nets or Visa?’ so just a quick explanation; NETS is basically a direct debit electronically from you bank account with the funds coming off immediately. NETS is more common with merchants due to low fees. VISA is similar but less common and there can be an additional 2-3% charge. If you are using a credit card you will only earn benefits like points or air miles when using VISA and not NETS.

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Old meets new in Singapore CBD, Amoy Street
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Lau Pasat, Satay
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Otherwise known as the garden city

These are recommendations/suggestions we’ve collected over time but here are my personal top 10 highlights if you are here for a weekend/shorter break

  1. Botanical gardens (see notes above for food options) – could head to Dempsey after this for lots more eating options.
  2. Bonnepetour food tour (for culture/history and authentic food)
  3. Smoke & Mirrors and National Kitchen at the Singapore National Gallery
  4. Satay dinner at Lau Pasat hawker centre (5 could follow 4)
  5. Gardens by the bay (it is quite a good idea to tie this into an evening so you can view the garden light show and then head to Marina Bay for the real thing. Take note of the timings above
  6. Bum boat followed by drinks with a view at Ce la vie/Level 33 or dinner at Lau Pasat
  7. Dinner and drinks on Telok Ayer/Amoy street and then head to Ann Siang hill for a night out
  8. China Town (could be part of Bonnnepetour) and could include the cultural history museum here – nice to end here and then explore a bit more of the area
  9. A Singapore Sling at Raffles
  10. Something outdoorsy (see notes above for great outdoors options)

There isn’t anywhere else on Earth where people confluence – like the way they do in Singapore. From visitors and transients to citizens, this progressive island and gateway to South East Asia is a dynamic mix of cultures, ideas and histories neither ethnic nor exotic, instead, the essence of modern Asia – sparklingly savvy, with a touch of old school. The first-time visitor should expect to be surprised, confused, and, charmed.” Anita Kapoor, travel writer.

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