Singapore - Travel Journal from Three Days in Singapore

Things to Do and See in Singapore

Singapore Botanic Gardens
••• Singapore Botanic Gardens. Singapore (c) Linda Garrison

Cruise ships often embark or disembark in Singapore, so it's a great idea to spend at least two or three days in this unique city before or after your cruise. I've visited Singapore twice and stayed both times at the Marriott Hotel on Orchard Road. This busy street is lined with huge shopping malls and you could spend hours in each of them if time allowed. We shopped a little in the heat of the day when it was over 90 with over 90 percent humidity.

What else can you expect only 60 miles north of the equator? Prices in Singapore were about the same as home, so we just looked but didn't buy.

After settling into the room, we took a taxi to the Singapore Botanic Garden. Taxis are plentiful and very cheap here. Singapore is definitely the neatest, cleanest city either of us has ever seen.

Singapore had a Prime Minister in the 1950's-70's who was a real visionary and leader. He managed to convince the residents of this tiny nation (one city on a small island) that they needed to be a first world nation in a third world area in order to thrive and survive. Many of the jokes about Singapore being a "fine city" (it's even on coffee cups and t-shirts) are true. Among other things, he imposed fines for smoking, littering, gum chewing, spitting on the streets, jaywalking, etc. and encouraged people to be happy and friendly. Even today, they make announcements on inbound airplanes about not chewing gum in Singapore.

You can't even buy it here. Crime against tourists is almost non-existent, and the place sparkles. Because of the extreme heat, the city planted hundreds of thousands of trees. Today, many of these are humongous and gorgeous, providing shade over the wide, gum- and spit-free sidewalks. Every bathroom -- even the public ones in tourist spots -- are clean (and western style).

You do not tip taxis, but a 10 percent service charge is added to everything, along with a hefty tax, so this city is expensive.

Our first day in Singapore (May 1) was Labor Day across Asia, so the city was packed with people enjoying a long weekend. However, since everyone obeys the traffic laws, which was quite different than Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, things seems to move smoothly. We took a taxi (less than S$5) to the Botanic Gardens, which have a free entrance. Before wandering around the gardens, we ate a light lunch in the food court. It was packed with families and was great people-watching for us. The gardens were just like the city, well planned and crystal clean. It was very hot, so we took our time, searching out frequent shade to rest in. The Orchid Gardens were especially nice and well worth the S$5 charge. The Singapore Botanic Gardens are definitely a must-see, especially if you love flowers and lush tropical gardens.

We got back to the room in the mid-afternoon and took a very short rest before going to Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling. Even though taxis were cheap, we rode the subway (MRT) to see if it was as nice and easy to navigate as in Hong Kong. It was. We only rode 3 stops (about $1 per person) to the City Hall stop and walked the short distance to Raffles, the oldest hotel in Singapore and one of the world's most famous.

Raffles Hotel was built in English colonial style, with beautiful grounds. The Long Bar, which invented the Singapore Sling, was very casual. It has a long wooden bar, and serves small peanuts in their shells for snacking. Unlike the rest of Singapore, Long Bar patrons are encouraged to litter, so the floor was strewn with peanut shells. We both thought the Singapore Sling was way too sweet, and certainly overpriced, but we can say we've "been there, done that". While sitting in the bar, we ran into two couples from the ship, who were doing the same touristy thing. Price for two sweet, practically non-alcohol drinks was S$55. Reminded me of having a Bellini at Harry's Bar in Venice.

One thing you will quickly learn in Singapore--drinks are expensive wherever you go. A small bottle of water was about S$5, a local Tiger beer was S$8 or more, one cup of coffee (non-Starbucks, not at the hotel) was S$3, etc.

The exchange rate was about S$1.45 to $1 US, so it's a little less than it seems, but still expensive, especially when visitors are constantly looking for something to drink.

We took a taxi back to the hotel, cooled off, and freshened up a little before heading out to dinner at Clarke Quay, an entertainment/restaurant district on the river. We got there about 6 pm, walked around a little, and settled on pizza and beer for dinner (S$50). Prices reminded us of London.

From the Clarke Quay, we took a long taxi ride to the Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo. Talk about a madhouse. It was packed with tourists. What a mistake. Due to the holiday, we had to share the park with thousands of citizens (and tourists). Poor planning on my part. The Night Safari opens at 7:30 pm, and they have a "Creatures of the Night" show (geared at kids) and a tram that rides you through the park where you can see nocturnal animals. They also have several trails for exploring, but it was way too hot and we were way too tired to do the trails after our long day. The animals were definitely more active at night than in the daytime, and the park has special lights allowing us to see the animals, but not disturbing their normal behavior. I think mom and I were a little spoiled since we had such exciting game viewing in Africa just three months before. Oh well, the Night Safari was a top 10 tourist attraction, and what a great idea for the zoo to open at night. It just had too many lines -- a line at the ticket window, a line for the show, a line for the tram, and a line for a taxi home. Standing in the lines reminded me why tours are good since the guide is often standing in the line or you get to bypass the lines all together to stay on schedule. We got back to the hotel about 11:30 pm, had showers, and fell asleep.

Page 2 > > Day 2 and Day 3 in Singapore > >

We lazed around our nice hotel room our second morning in Singapore. The Marriott is an octagonal hotel, so all rooms have many windows overlooking the city. We wandered through some more of the malls for a couple of hours, checking out a huge shoe/bags sale, but resisted the temptation to buy.

Next, we took a taxi to the Mount Faber cable car. This cable car, and adjoining "Jewel Box" series of restaurants (Opal, Emerald, Sapphire) are on top of a lush mountain, and the cable car goes to the Harborfront Mall, which houses the Singapore Cruise Center, and onto Sentosa Island, a Disney-like resort.

We bought round trip tickets from the Jewel Box and loved the cable car ride, which passed over dense jungles and two cruise ships docked at the cruise center on the way to Sentosa Island. Mount Faber was at least 10 degrees cooler than the city and had a wonderful breeze, so we opted for a long, leisurely lunch in their open-air restaurant with great views of the city before going back to the hotel for naps.

That night mom and I took a taxi down to the Singapore Flyer, the city's equivalent to the London Eye (only larger and newer, as all the guides point out). I always forget how fast the sun rises and sets when you are near the equator. We left the hotel about 6:00 pm and by the time we got into the Flyer, it was almost dark. The views of the city, marina, and ships in the bay were terrific. A young man in our "car" played tour guide for mom and I, pointing out all the sights.

There are two large "integrated complexes" under construction in Singapore - the politically correct term for casino resorts.

Singapore has never had casino gambling, and evidently it was a hotly debated topic. Workers are going 24/7 to get them complete. One (being built by Sands Casinos) was at the marina near the Flyer (where they were still frantically working at 7:00 pm on a Saturday night) and the other was near the marina and Sendosa, where we were the day before at lunch.

We noticed many of the other construction sites were busy, and our taxi driver said that they all even work on Sunday because the "sooner they get finished, the sooner they get paid". The ride on the Flyer took about 30 minutes and was worth the price. We saved S$6 on mom because she was over 60.

We then went over to the Esplanade, a theater/entertainment complex shaped like two Durian fruits or two microphone tops, depending on whom you ask. We planned to eat there, but couldn't find anything that looked right, so we went back to Clarke's Quay where we had eaten the previous night. This time we walked across the river to the Riverview Point area and got lucky - a table for two outside on the riverfront at the Jumbo Seafood restaurant. Their specialty is"chili crab", but it looked too rich and messy for us, so I had shrimp and mom got fried rice. The food was good, and the views of the river and the people enjoying a night on the town were even better.

We had a leisurely dinner, enjoying a pitcher of Tiger beer along with our meals. We also got some oil roasted peanuts along with a chili sauce to eat with the beer while waiting for the entrees. Reminded us of home in Georgia! After dinner, we ambled back through the complex along the river towards the bungee and giant swing, watching the action for a while before heading back to the hotel.

Another late night for us, but in bed before midnight.

Our last day in Singapore, we had a light breakfast at Starbucks before heading down to Chinatown for some shopping and sightseeing. Tons of bargains, but didn't buy much. After walking around Chinatown and touring Singapore's largest Hindu temple (which looked a little out of place in Chinatown), we rode the ultra-clean (what else) subway to the City Hall. We walked around the historical area for a couple of hours before reboarding the subway for the ride back to the hotel. We even took time to watch a cricket match in the Padang, a large grassy area in front of the old city hall. This grassy mall was famous because the English surrendered to the Japanese here during the war, and the Japanese surrendered to the British in the same spot in 1945.

We hadn't ridden the subway back to the hotel, and forgot to notice which entrance/exit we used, so we managed to exit in the wrong place and had to walk around for 30 minutes before we got back to the hotel. We could see the hotel, but couldn't find the underground tunnel to get under very busy Orchard Road, and we certainly didn't want to jaywalk in the "fine city" of Singapore. Very frustrating. The subway stations are well air conditioned, as are the train cars. One factoid about the subway. The fares are cheap, but you have a S$1 deposit on the cards used, which you have to remember to get refunded at the machine. It was S$2 to City Hall, and S$2.20 to Chinatown per person.

Although it was extra hot (as always), we managed to find an air-conditioned mall and some cold water and a clean bathroom for a rest at mid-morning. It really makes touring such a hot city easier when you know there's one or more air conditioned malls with clean toilets per block. Even after returning home, I still can't get over the number of shops in Singapore.

Our flight home to Atlanta was at 6 am the next morning, so we had to leave the hotel at 3:30 am for the ride to the airport. We pre-arranged a taxi with the hotel, and he was prompt. The ride to the airport only took about 30 minutes since there was no traffic. Our flights home were uneventful, but long. The twelve hour time difference and crossing the international date line meant we left Singapore at 6 am and arrived home that same evening, miraculously finding the day we lost on our flight over to Asia.

In summary, Singapore is a fascinating city, with friendly people and superb cleanliness. A few days in Singapore can easily be combined with a cruise to southeast Asia, and the number of ships visiting the city each year demonstrates its popularity with passengers. Cruise lines with Singapore itineraries include Azamara, Costa, Crystal, Cunard, Holland America, Princess, P&O, Regent, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Silversea, Star Clippers, and Voyages of Discovery.