Monday, April 16, 2012

Singapore: The Lion City - Part 1

A dear friend of mine who wants to plan a trip to Singapore suggested that I write a post about this amazing city-state. So, this post has travel tips and the next one will have reviews and suggestions. For a small city, there is a ton of things to do and I have not seen even half of it all.

10 Things to know about Singapore:
1. English is spoken everywhere. If you don't know English, getting around Singapore will be difficult unless you know some Chinese, but even then, most signage is only in English.
2. It is hot, hot, hot...and humid. You will be making all of your plans around getting in and out of air conditioning. The sun is also very strong. It is only 1 degree north of the equator which is roughly 124 miles or 200km.
3. The subway system, SMRT, is the best way to get around town. Get the Singapore Tourist Pass that is good for the subway and the buses. It will save you a ton of time and some money too. Taxis are everywhere and relatively cheap and I've only ever used them to get to/from the airport, late at night, or getting somewhere the subway doesn't go.
4. It is very clean and I have never encountered any of those things you have probably heard about the strict rules regarding chewing gum, littering, and flushing public toilets. It's really a matter of common sense and decency.
5. Nice hotels are not exactly cheap, but there are deals out there to be had. It's still cheaper than Tokyo or NYC though. Look at Singapore is so clean that just about any level of hotel will be acceptable. Definitely take a look at tripadvisor for suggestions. I always burn points to stay at the Conrad, but the Mandarin Oriental is a world-renowned hotel that is awesome too.  I will post my reviews of these hotels.

6. Food is amazing and cheap. I should put this as #1 because I tend to plan the whole day around where I want to eat which means choosing the appropriate hawker center or shopping mall food court. If you are not familiar with Asian cities, then pay attention. Mall food courts in Asia are good and some are AMAZING. Forget your conception of Hotdog on a Stick and Panda Express. They will undoubtedly be packed with people, which is always a good sign, and each stall will usually only sell a few things with some variations. Since Singapore has tons of shopping malls, finding a food court will not be difficult. Hawker centers are basically permanent street food carts that are now in the form of a stall. In Singapore, some are outdoor and some are indoor. I'll give you none guesses which ones are more comfortable, but I have eaten at outdoor ones too. Check out these websites: makansutra and hungrygowhere. Singaporeans love their food and it's difficult to have a bad meal there. Gluttons Bay and Lau Pa Sat are two of the outdoor ones that are really good.
7. Eat the dish called chicken rice. Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations did a great episode about Singapore that had great suggestions about where to get chicken rice. You can actually get it at just about any hawker center, but go where you see lines of people. Chicken rice is just that. It is boiled or grilled boneless chicken over a bed of rice. But the rice is the best rice you will ever have...EVER. They use chicken broth to cook the rice so it has a meaty taste. It's awesome. Get the boiled, it's much better even though it doesn't look as appetizing. With the spicy condiments to add, it will knock your socks off.
8. Eat the fruit. There is something so much more refreshing about eating fruit in S.E. Asia than at home. I think because it is so freakin' hot, the flavors are much more intense. If you don't want to eat the fruit, then drink it. All food courts and hawker centers will have drinks for sale in separate stalls than the food and they all have juice or grind fresh fruit. A certain person I always travel with always gets watermelon juice, which makes me gag, but I know it's good for those who actually like watermelon.
9. Spend some time in the airport. Changi Airport is super nice and has really nice shopping. It has everything from a gym, swimming pool, spa, butterfly garden, rainforest, dayrooms, and a hotel. All of this is within security--airside. So you don't even have to pass through immigration and customs to enjoy this. Because Singapore is a stopover point for many travelers to/from Australia and Europe and elsewhere, the airport caters to these travelers who may or may not leave the airport. Geting out of Singapore can be very cheap. There are lots of low cost carriers (LCCs) such as Air Asia, Jetstar, Tiger Airways just to name a few that fly to Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, and many more countries, and even Australia and New Zealand for very cheap. Air Asia and Jetstar are very good no-frills airlines. I have flown both and they are just fine for a 1-2 hour flight.

10. Understand the culture. Singapore is a wonderfully unique blending of east and west even more so than Hong Kong, in my humble opinion. This is a huge oversimplification of the situation, but here goes. When you walk around you will see that the people are mostly Chinese. You will notice lots of Indian, Malay, and British too. All of these groups influence the cuisine and the overall vibe. You will see mosques, Hindu temples, Buddhist temples, and churches all near each other. Everything works and everyone gets along.

1 comment:

  1. OMG Drew! Thank you soooo much for this! I cannot wait to visit! This is only the first part? Can't wait for part deux!