Buckle up for a short, sweet, sensational stay in the Lion City
Most people know Singapore as a modern metropolis with tall buildings and huge shopping malls but few know that beyond the glitz, there is an old Singapore waiting to be discovered.
Here we give you a guide on how best to spend three days in Singapore with tips on visiting some of the places that regular tourists may not know about.
Start your day early by exploring Changi Village, an old leafy neighbourhood near the airport. Enjoy a hearty Nasi Lemak at the Changi Village hawker centre. Look for either Hjh Salbaiah (#01-04) or Mizzy Corner (#01-26) stalls but be prepared for a long queue. After breakfast, hop across to one of the shops to rent a bicycle to cycle around the neighbourhood. Head towards Halton Road if you want to see some of the old colonial buildings. Nearby attractions include the Changi Boardwalk and the Changi Beach Park. If you feel adventurous, board the bum boat at Changi Point Ferry Terminal and hop over to Ubin Island for more cycling. Ubin offers a glimpse of the rustic village lifestyle in Singapore before it was modernised.
By afternoon, make your way to Katong along East Coast Road, hailed as the cradle of Peranakan culture in Singapore. Katong is famous for food, especially the unique Katong laksa, a flavoursome noodle in spicy soup served in a bowl. Look for 328 Katong Laksa restaurant (51 East Coast Road) which serves the best rendition of this dish. Over at Rumah Bebe (113 East Coast Road), you can savour even more Peranakan dishes.
As the sun sets, head to the Marina Bay area which gets even more beautiful when the lights are turned on. Gardens by the Bay (www.gardensbythebay.com.sg), open until 9pm, is a popular man-made attraction that mimics a natural forest. If you don’t feel like spending money on admission tickets to the Gardens, take a stroll around the Bay starting at the One Fullerton hotel, stopping at the iconic Merlion statue for some photos before continuing your walk to Helix bridge on the other side.
You can also pop into Marina Bay Sands for dinner. For a less pricey option, make your way to Telok Ayer Market, a restored Victorian-style food market to try the local foods. Satay, which is seasoned, skewered and charcoal-grilled meat served with peanut sauce, is famous here and you can dine al fresco.
Start the day healthy by taking a morning stroll at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a 160-year-old tropical garden located at the fringe of Singapore's Orchard Road shopping district. It is the only tropical garden to be honoured as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Halia restaurant (thehalia.com) within the Gardens opens at 9am and you can have your breakfast there surrounded by greenery. For lunch, try the best fish head curry in town at Samy's Curry Restaurant (www.samyscurry.com), located about 1.5 kilometres from the Botanic Gardens entrance. If you find prices at Samy’s too much to stomach, there are other choices at the surrounding Dempsey Hill, which used to be an army barracks now turned into an entertainment hub with cafes, restaurants, wine and antique shops.
After lunch, hit the shopping trail starting with Tanglin Shopping Centre, Tangs, ION Orchard Mall, Takashimaya at Ngee Ann City and ending with Plaza Singapura and Raffles City Shopping Centre. This could easily take up your whole day even if you are just window shopping.
Or you could just skip the shopping and explore the Civic District. If you are a history buff, Fort Canning Park would interest you. At the park you will find World War II relics and an old cemetery which was used in 1819 as the first burial grounds for Christians. If you find it too hot, hop into the National Museum of Singapore, Peranakan Museum or Singapore Art Museum, which are all within the same district.
Nearer to the Marina Bay area, you can check out the Asian Civilisations Museum, Victoria Theatre, National Gallery Singapore, the grand City Hall building and St Andrew's Cathedral, which are all colonial buildings.
For the later part of the day, make your way to Chinatown to check out the stalls along the street or visit the Chinatown Heritage Centre (www.chinatownheritagecentre.com.sg) to find out more about life in Chinatown in the old days. Nearby is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple (www.btrts.org.sg) which is also quite interesting. For dinner, try the local food inside Chinatown Complex which houses a hawker centre on level two. The steamed fish head in hot sauce at Seng Kee 119 (#02-190) is highly recommended.
If you are a party animal and need to find a watering hole after dinner, both Boat Quay or Clarke Quay are famous bar streets, popular with expats and office workers. The Kampung Glam heritage area is also popular in the evening and the numerous pubs and cafes along Bali Lane and Haji Lane are usually crowded. Outside the city centre, Lorong Mambong at Holland Village has several bars catering to a more suburban crowd.
If you have a full day, visit some of the popular attractions on the outskirts of the city. Labrador Nature Reserve or Labrador Park (www.nparks.gov.sg/gardens-parks-and-nature/parks-and-nature-reserves/labrador-nature-reserve) is an interesting and quiet place to unwind and explore the only rocky sea-cliff on the island facing the sea. There are several World War II relics around the park like cannons and bunkers. For lunch, check out Tamarind Hill (www.tamarindrestaurants.com) which offers Thai-inspired fine dining in a beautiful colonial bungalow setting.
If you have kids in tow, take them on an interesting outing to the remote north-western part of the island for lunch at Bollywood Veggies (bollywoodveggies.com), which is a farm and fruit orchard. They have guided tours around the farm and cooking classes but if you just want to relax, head towards their Poison Ivy bistro to try their homegrown veggies and farm fresh produce. Nearby is the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (www.nparks.gov.sg) where you can experience a real mangrove swamp ecosystem without getting your feet muddy. Rare migratory birds, monitor lizards and other animals are common sightings.
Back in the city, you can check out Singapore’s coffee culture which is quietly brewing along Yong Siak Street, located in the old but trendy residential suburb of Tiong Bahru. Forty Hands (40handscoffee.com) cafe would be a good starting point.
Before you fly out of Singapore, allocate some time to explore the award-winning Changi Airport. The latest attraction at the airport is Jewel, a complex with over 280 retail and F&B outlets, a hotel, the world’s tallest indoor waterfall and a four-storey indoor forest. Jewel is accessible from terminals 1, 2 and 3. You should also check out the latest Terminal 4 which houses Food Emporium, a food court featuring comfort foods that most Singaporeans are familiar with, from banana leaf curry rice and Nyonya dishes to meepok noodles and Katong laksa. Another attraction you should not miss at T4 is the nostalgic six-minute “Peranakan Love Story” at the Heritage Zone, an immersive 3D audio-video show which depicts families living in a block of heritage shophouses.
TIPS FOR TRAVELLERS
One could fly into Singapore’s Changi Airport via numerous airlines including Malaysia Airlines, Jetstar, Singapore Airlines, AirAsia, SilkAir, Malindo Air, Scoot, Air Mauritius and Ethiopian Airlines.
Do note that it can get very hot and humid during the day, so plan all your outdoor activities either early in the morning or at the later part of the afternoon. Bring your passport along when you do your shopping. As a tourist, you are entitled to claim a refund on the 7% Goods and Services Tax (GST) if you make a purchase of more than S$100 at participating shops. Your claim can be made at the airport before you leave the country.
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