02 October 2019

Two Days in Singapore: Things To Do, Places to Eat, Drink and Shop

When I was planning my trip to Australia and New Zealand in 2017, I thought I could include an eight-hour layover in Singapore. I spent some time researching what I would do during this time, but then it didn't work out with the flights in the end, and I just spent a few hours at Changi Airport instead. I was sure to make time for a visit to Singapore at the end of my Malaysia holiday, however, and loved spending time in the green but high-tech and historic but multicultural city-state.

As I flew back very late on Saturday night, I had two full days in the city-state, plus Thursday evening. I was fairly sure I would want to return to Singapore in the near future, but that didn't stop me trying to pack in all of the things. I even managed to visit eight speciality coffee spots, which I'll be covering in a separate guide. Here's what else I got up to.

Gardens by the Bay. One of Singapore's biggest attractions, these huge and often futuristic-looking gardens are worth visiting by day and by night. I first went on Friday in time for a quick bite at Satay by the Bay, and one of the twice-nightly light shows that take place at the 'SuperTree' grove at 7:45 and 8:45 pm. Entrance is free to the gardens and the light shows.

I went back the following morning to visit the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest; the combined ticket cost SGD $28 (about £16.50). The Flower Dome, as the name suggests, is a huge, glass conservatory kept at a cool, Mediterranean climate. There was a 'rhododendron radiance' focus while I was there, and many colourful flower species. For me, though, the Cloud Forest was much more impressive and interesting to visit. Located in another large glass dome, you are encouraged to walk through the cloud forest that has been recreated, starting with a 30-metre waterfall cascading over a verdant 'mountain.' You then take the lift to the top and circle down along various canopy walkways, experiencing the different plant life at different elevations.

Pinnacle@Duxton. On my first morning in Singapore, although it was a little hazy, the sun was shining and I decided to go to an observation deck to enjoy the view. Although the SkyPark on top of the futuristic trident that is Marina Bay Sands is well regarded, it costs $23 to go up to the observation deck. Instead, I opted to go to the viewing deck on top of the giant public housing complex that is the Pinnacle@Duxton, which only costs $6.

To go up, follow signs for the observation deck and then pay your entrance fee (cash only; exact change preferred) at the small office near the lifts. If you have an EZ-Link card (for public transport), they will add the access to the pass so you can can your pass on the turnstile at the top. I didn't have an EZ-Link, but the officer said he'd watch the CCTV and let me in when I reached the gate. The panoramic views were impressive, although as I suspected, the combination of sun and haze didn't make for the best photos.

National Museum of Singapore. I visited this informative and engaging museum on Friday afternoon — not just because I was in need of air con, filtered water and a bathroom! The permanent exhibition ($15) on the history of Singapore, including the colonial period, the brief membership of the Federation of Malaysia, and independence, was really well done. There's a great museum shop too.

Red Dot Design Museum. This small museum, on the water next to Marina Bay Sands, is a must for design buffs. There's also an excellent shop, with plenty of beautiful homewares, jewellery and accessories, and gift ideas.

Exploring the Quays and Colonial District. I ended up walking over 18 miles on my first full day in Singapore (yes, I know the MRT is great, but I wanted to see as much of the city as possible). My Lonely Planet guide had a walking tour that I followed in reverse, from my hotel in Chinatown up to the river, round to the famous 'MerLion' statue and over various bridges across the quays to the attractive colonial district. I particularly liked the old Hill Street police station with its colourful shutters, as well as the Raffles Hotel, which just reopened after a refurb, but which was rather out of my budget. I also enjoyed strolling along the waterfront, taking in the skyline and the statues and other public artworks.

Chinatown. I was staying in this neighbourhood and found it to be a good base. I loved the colourful buildings, and the multi-tiered pagoda of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, which is just a couple of blocks down from the ornate Hindu Sri Mariamman Temple. With lots of eateries, shops and markets, this is a great area for wandering.

Tian Tian Haianese Chicken Rice at Maxwell Food Centre. I ate chicken rice a number of times during my time in Malaysia and Singapore, but Tian Tian was easily the best and well worth the 15-minute wait at the Maxwell Food Centre (it can be much longer). The chicken was incredibly juicy and the rice perfectly fragrant. A delicious lunch for just $5 for the medium portion.

Lau Sa Pat Hawker Centre. By the time I got to my hotel on my first night in Singapore, it was late and I was tired and hungry. I asked the receptionist for tips for where to get a quick dinner and she suggested Lau Sa Pat (also called Telok Ayer Market), a large hawker centre with a big variety of stalls. Of an evening, satay is the way to go, and the BBQ prawns and chicken that I tried were very good.

Satay by the Bay I also indulged in some satay the following night, while waiting for the Gardens by the Bay light show. This time, I went for chicken and pork ($7 for 10 sticks). As there was a 15-minute wait, I got some pork dumplings while I was waiting (also $7).

Warong Nasi Pariaman. On my way to a coffee shop in the Kampong Glam neighbourhood, I referred to my Lonely Planet for a lunch recommendation and picked out Warong Nasi Pariaman, a long-running and well-loved Indonesian restaurant that serves nasi padang (steamed rice with a variety of toppings). I ordered the rice with ayam bakar, a spicy grilled chicken. With jackfruit and beans, and a limeade, the meal cost about $9 and was very tasty, and the staff were all really lovely.

Brunch. After two weeks of consuming only Malaysian dishes, I indulged in a couple of Aussie-style brunches, at Strangers' Reunion and Bearded Bella, both of which will also feature in my forthcoming Singapore coffee guide. At Strangers' Reunion, I ordered buttermilk pancakes with macerated strawberries and Greek yoghurt ($12.90), whereas I went savoury at Bearded Bella, ordering pistachio-encrusted salmon with potato rösti ($24). It was almost like being back in Melbourne...

Ding Dong. On the last night of my holiday, and just before I headed to the airport, I treated myself to a higher-end dinner at Ding Dong, in Chinatown. I started with a lavender cocktail (I later discovered that the cocktail menu was devised by the Tippling Club folks) and tuna tataki, served with cucumber carpaccio and a sorbet of the very sour calamansi fruit. My main course was an absolutely delicious pork collar char siew with caramelised pineapple and pork crackling. At $88, this was by far my most expensive meal of the trip (it's about how much I spent on a week of food in Malaysia), but the food and service were really good.

Cocktails. I went to two of Singapore's top cocktail bar while in the city. At Operation Dagger, the menu details numerous ingenious ingredient pairings but you don't find out the spirit until after ordering so as not to bias your choice. I started with a deliciously umami black garlic, brown butter and sherry vinegar combo ($25), which turned out to have dark and light rum as its base. Then, for 'pudding', I had the Hot and Cold, a very cool twist on a piña colada: pineapple- and lavender-infused tequila, with hot white chocolate and foam on top; a delight for the senses. On my last night, I went to  Tippling Club, where the current menu features libations inspired by chef Auguste Escoffier. I had the Velouté ($23), which combined gin, pistachio, lemonbalm and carrot. It smelled like macaroons, and looked like carrot soup, but was the perfect blend of sweet and savoury.

Although I don't usually spend a lot of time in shopping malls on my foreign trips, I make an exception for certain Asian cities where the proportions of the clothes tend to fit my petite frame a lot better, including at stores like Uniqlo. If you're in need of retail therapy (or air con), Orchard Road is the place to go as there are numerous malls with both local and international brands. I also discovered a great shop called Design Orchard, which features a well-curated mix of local brands. For high-end shops, try the Vegas-like Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands — where you can also gawp at the small tourist boats moving along the artificial waters of the lower level. If, like me, you're a big fan of the Japanese store Tokyu Hands, there is even a branch at Changi Airport.

Accommodation. Singapore is not a cheap city for lodging, especially compared to Malaysian prices. I ended up staying at Hotel Mono, a boutique hotel in a series of converted buildings on Mosque Street in the heart of Chinatown and a short walk from the Chinatown MRT station. My single room was small but comfortable, clean and well-designed. I paid about £70 per night, booking a couple of months in advance (for comparison, my KL hotel, with its large rooms and rooftop pool, was about £55 per night).

Arriving and getting around. From Changi Airport, it's about an hour on the MRT underground train into the centre. As I had had a long day and was hungry and tired, I got a Grab to my hotel in Chinatown, which was $18 and took about 25 minutes. I spent my first full day exploring on foot. Then on my last day, I bought a one-day Singapore Tourist Pass ($10, plus a $10 deposit), which gives unlimited rides on public transport, so I used that to zip around (and enjoy the air con) and to return to the airport. The latter journey took just under an hour, with a change of line at the Expo station. I was then able to return my pass to the ticket office at Changi Airport to reclaim my deposit. The Tourist Pass is also available in two-day ($16) and three-day ($20) options.

If you have some extra time to kill at Changi, in addition to the numerous existing diversions, you can also visit Jewel, where there's a central 'rain vortex' (with regular light shows), canopy walkways and some fantastic shopping.

Money. At present, there are about SGD $1.70 to £1. I had a few Singapore dollars left over from my last layover at Changi, and was hoping that would be enough, but I ended up withdrawing some more cash from an ATM, which I mainly used at hawker centres, one of the speciality coffee shops I visited (Nylon) and at the Pinnacle@Duxton. I spent my remaining dollars at Tokyu Hands at Changi!

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