In December 2012, I had been lucky to see Singapore during my layover from Brunei to Texas. I explored alone to three major attractions of Singapore in a rushed manor and did not realize how much of the city I actually missed.... especially the FOOD. I left Singapore with the not thought of "good bye" but really "see you sometime later!" and that is exactly what happened.
With Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia being only 50 minutes and 16USD flight away (one way AirAsia), I had to go back! Last time I was in Singapore, I knew no one... this time was completely different since I met two awesome friends during Mississippi training, Keith & Ashok, who currently reside now in Singapore. For my second visit to Singapore, I had tour guides and a fellow foodie (Keith's mott: I don't eat to live, I live to eat). Even with short notice, I had two full time local tour guides and a free place to stay! Man I have some great friends !! Keith asked me exactly what I wanted to see which were the places I missed last time and the places I did not get to spend enough time at: The view at the top of Marina Bay Sands Hotel, walk through the Helix Bridge, explore the Gardens by the Bay, shop more at Bugis Street, Singapore nightlife, and EAT!!! Keith came back with a detailed hour to hour itinerary that included all of these things and more. The "more" part being the food places we were going to go to and try! Yay! All of this.. in 36 hours in Singapore! Challenge, ACCEPTED!
Leaving KL and my friends was bittersweet, but I was moving on to spend a great weekend with Keith and Ashok. I hopped onto my AirAsia flight and 50 minutes later, I found myself at Changi Airport in Singapore. I took a taxi to Ashok's humble abode on the western side of Singapore, in which he shares an apartment with a very sweet couple, Ashok #2 and Lavender.
Just like Malaysia, Singapore has three dominant ethnicities: Chinese, Malay, and Indian. I have honestly never been interested in Indian culture, not even the food! (Bad digestive experiences with Indian food... let's just say... I was scared to fart after eating Indian food). But after meeting Ashok, he has sparked my interest in Indian culture, food, architecture, mannerisms, and even the Bollywood films (they're hilarious!). So during my time with Ashok, he really showed me a part of his culture here in Singapore. Lavender made traditional Indian food for me when I was staying at home and even let me help! At their cute little apartment, I tried some super spicy fried rice (?) with Indian milk tea that soothed my burning mouth, a roti style pancake with homemade chutney, homemade yogurt on the side, and these little rice batter puff balls. SO GOOD. Seriously the best Indian food, ever! I also got to enjoy ice cold beers with Ashok catching up on our lives since we last separated in March!
After dinner, Keith invited me out to the bumpin' & hoppin' spot of Singapore called Clarke Quay. SO. MANY. ASIANS. I mean, okay yes, I am in Southeast Asia, but I just felt so overwhelmed by the amount of Asian people in one place, at one time. This little marina area had tons of bars and restaurants lined up, most of these places were more dressy than casual (I looked completely out of place). Keith took me to a homey little bar called "Shuffle" that has giant Eiffel Beer Towers filled with Kronenbourg 1664 and other specialty cocktails. There's also a live band covering top 40's American pop (This seems to be the popular way of entertainment at clubs in SE Asia, even in Malaysia!). It was a really good night catching up, listening to live music, and having a drink... enjoying the Singaporean nightlife. Whenever you are going out in Singapore for nightlife, don't be shocked at the bill... it WILL be expensive! Surprisingly almost as expensive as Norway!
The next morning, I spent the start of the 26 hours in Singapore left sharing a meal with Ashok, eating another delicious home cooked Indian meal. Then Ashok took me to the Indian mall to go shop for a sari for me and for me to see the Indian gold/jewelry market. We both ended up buying a suitcase each (I knew I was going to need another luggage after the damage I was going to do at Bugis Street shopping later). Then we walked a couple blocks down the street from the mall to Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple. What a sight to see! Completely different from Batu Caves... it was so much cleaner and less touristy. This temple was actually used for a place for worship. It was an interesting juxtaposition next to all the commercial skyscrapers and office buildings. It must really be nice to have a place to getaway when the stress of life and work gets too tough.
The inside of Sri Mariamman temple was stunning. Colorful, elaborate yet simple, serene. When you zoom into one sculpture or carving you are stunned by how detailed this one little sculpture is, but when looking at the temple as a whole, it is simple, like every detail is there for a reason without "trying too hard." I was really glad that Ashok brought me to see the temple and show me more of his culture. Unfortunately, there was not enough time for me to go see the "famous" temple further down the street, and even worse, with Ashok's bad ankle, he could not join me and Keith for a full day of activities later on :(
First matter of business was my belly. Can't start a full busy day with an empty stomach, so I met Keith at Bugis Junction. We went up a never ending amount of escalators until we hit the complete jackpot! Similar to Lot10 in KL, this place was a huge "hawker stand" style food court with all the Asian food you can possibly imagine. Keith was pretty excited to show me authentic Singaporean food, so we might have went a little overboard... I was completely stuffed after two tigers and our 5 dishes... Yay! Start of a good Sunday Funday!
We tried to walk it out getting lost and shopping through the little side streets of Bugis Street. I came to Bugis last December and had the time of my life shopping for super cute, cheap things. This time, was no different. Keith said I was bringing in money for his country, so he allowed my shopping monster to be unleashed. After shopping, we were both parched, so he took me to a mall across the street that is supposedly the best milk tea in the world, Koi Cafe. It is literally just a little window stand at the corner of the mall outside. There was a HUGE line, but they were efficient by being technology savvy and using iPad's and smart tablets to personalize your drink down to the percentage of sweetness! To be honest... It was pretty damn good! I slurped that boba up real quick.
Keith then led me through the never ending hallways and tunnels of the mall, down the escalator, some more tunnels, and then finally a metro station, the SMRT. This metro was probably the cleanest one I have ever been on. It was very efficient and planned thoroughly taking account the flow of the people, waiting areas, etc. After taking so many metros through various of cities around the world, I have started to get a hang of how to get to where and where to walk within the metro stations. Even though Singapore's MRT was very efficient, it was really nice to have a local tourguide to just lead me around without me having to stress over how to get to where! We entered through the Bugis MRT station to get to the Gardens by the Bay MRT station. Our next stop was to walk through Gardens by the Bay to see the skeleton domes and the Super Tree structures.
If you are going to take time exploring Gardens by the Bay, bring good shoes! From the station to the entrance of the park is already a long walk. There is a trolly that picks you up at certain pick up points, but we honestly had no idea where it picked up since this park is HUGE, like 10 million sq feet huge. You could probably take a full day going through the park and all the buildings. There is an observation bridge on top of the Super Trees structure as well as 3 conservatories which are made up of two glass domes (I call these buildings "Skeleton Domes"). These domes are filled with all types of greenery, but because I knew it would take forever, I did not want to go inside of them ( It is also very expensive to go inside all these buildings.). Instead, I walked around to appreciate the structure of these domes from the outside.
In the middle of the park, there is an outside cafeteria area with a mix of different Asian food stands. Keith and I decided to take a break and have giant Tigers while enjoying the weather and our view of the park skyline of the city. Satay is a very traditional Singaporean food, so even though I was stuffed from earlier, Keith made me try it. SO GOOD. Succulent chicken meat skewered and grilled with a side of peanut sauce. Cheap and delicious!
By the entrance of Gardens by the Bay, there is a great observation deck/bridge connecting the park to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. The view from here is amazing! You can see the split of both the commercial and greenery side of Singapore with the river being the boundary. This is a great place for a photo op.
But the real ultimate place in all of Singapore for a photo op is on top of Marina Bay Sands Hotel. This hotel has a roof top observation deck with an amazing infinity pool with it's waters cascading into the city scape. It literally looks like the water is falling right off the side of the 57 floor hotel. In order to get to this observation deck, you need to spend $22/person. Keith did not want to spend that money to go up, even after I offered to PAY! So instead, we beat the system. If you do not want to pay for the Sky Deck, but still want to see the view from up there, here is how we did it. We went into the main lobby of Tower 2, took the elevator up for the bar/restaurant and say we are going up for a "drink," then when we exited the elevator we repeated that we are going up for a drink at the bar, we were be escorted towards the direction to the bar, but this is the part where we ran away (or really, took the opportunity for a great view). Here, you don't have to get a drink at the bar, or pay $22 to get onto the deck, or stay a night at the hotel to enjoy the view from the infinity pool. There is a little balcony that you can get to once you get off the elevator where you will have the best view in all of Singapore. You can see the complete Gardens by the Bay with all the structures lit up as well as the boats along the horizon of the Singapore Straight. The only downfall with this "free" viewing from the top floor of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel is that you cannot get the view of the financial part of the city (across the Marina). To be honest, I don't think there is not much to see from that side of the hotel! You can see the exact thing for free from the other Southwest side of the Marina Bay.
And that is exactly what Keith and I did. We went through the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands and out to the Marina Bay exit right by the lotus shaped ArtScience Museum. Such a beautiful, dramatic building that just intensifies the beauty of the Singapore skyline. From here, we walked straight into the Helix pedestrian bridge... Another amazing structure that was designed using the structural influence of DNA. Not to mention, it was engineered by ARUP, which is a structural engineering firm I highly respect as an architectural engineer. With all this said, I was ecstatic to be able to walk through and admire this piece of art and engineering feat.
Singapore at night becomes extremely colorful and lively. There is a light show every hour and a half after 8:30, which we made just in time for at the Helix Bridge. I have seen this light show last December as well from the Southwest side of the Bay. The show from this perspective was great with a frontal view of the Marina Bay Sands Bridge. But the view from here at the Helix Bridge was phenomenal. Here you can see not only the lit up Helix Bridge, you also have a view of the ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Theaters by the Bay (Durian Building), Merlion Statue, and the commercial area (all the sky rises) of Singapore... all in one spot with everything lit up! The lights change to various colors and you can see all these different areas glowing. There are also lasers spraying out from the ArtScience Museum lotus flower structure and off the Marina Bay Sands Hotel... kinda looks like aliens are coming to take over.... just sayin'.
If you have one night in Singapore, I would DEFINITELY recommend taking this type of "walk" Keith and I had today from Gardens by the Bay to Marina Bay Sands up to the top floor for the view, down past ArtScience Museum, through the Helix Bridge, and to the Southwest side of Marina Bay. This is something that you cannot miss, especially during one of the light shows!
As the finale for my tour, Keith took me to a place famous for chili crab, which is an extremely popular dish (and supposedly one of the best dishes) in Singapore. I have been thinking about and drooling over Chili Crab ever since Keith mentioned it to me back in Mississippi, so I had to try it! Keith researched long and hard to find the best place to have Chili Crab and off to Kimly Live Seafood it was! Ahh seafood and spicy.. a combination I highly appreciate and enjoy! Keith ordered steamed buns, scallops with broccoli, chili crab, with a side of steamed rice. SO. MUCH. FOOD. but so damn delicious!!! Especially as the last supper before my long journey back to the US, this was one of my favorite meals in my life, seriously. Every plate was cleaned out. SO. DAMN. GOOD.
This was the end of Keith's tour of Singapore. It was definitely a memorable and fun trip hanging out, especially because I wasn't alone this time. With Keith's tour, I was even able to see all the things I missed the first time in Singapore and really enjoy the food. Staying with Ashok really opened my eyes to the Indian culture and influence onto this country. I got to see through Ashok's point of view, eat homemade Indian food, and even shop around at the Indian Mall! One thing though, that I have learned, is to never buy a suitcase from the Indian Mall... Totally tried to test the lock on my empty suitcase before I stuffed it with all the things I purchased in Singapore... the lock (with the zippers in it) never opened even after both the Ashok's frantically tried EVERY possible lock combination on the suitcase with the little time I had to get to the airport. We ended up just bring the zippers... No more suitcases from the Indian Mall.. haha.
I always say that it is better to see a city with a local. I was lucky to have two locals to show me around. I really just want to say THANK YOU SO MUCH to both my very good friends Keith and Ashok for being my tour guides, spending time with me, and for all the free stays and meals... I am seriously SO lucky and blessed to have such hospitable and amazing friends who always give and never expect to receive. I will pay you guys back one day, promise ! :) Thanks guys for such a memorable Singaporean experience. I will never forget it! I will come visit again, hopefully sooner than later :) Miss you both already!