SPENDING TIME IN SINGAPORE
A quick look at my time in Singapore if video is more your thing:
GETTING TO SINGAPORE
For me, this summer has been a bit of a special one as my little brother just graduated from college and my mom just celebrated her fiftieth birthday. My dad wanted to do something big to mark both occasions, so he booked the entire family (my parents, both my siblings, me and my husband Raleigh) a trip to Singapore. My mom had travelled there for business in the past, had a great time, and since none of the rest of us had ever been, we decided to experience it as a family.
After meeting up at LAX, we boarded our flight on Xiamen Airlines towards Singapore with a short stop in Xiamen, China. This airline reminded me a lot of China Eastern Airlines (which I took to both Okinawa, Japan and Bali, Indonesia), but the entertainment selection is noticeably smaller and the carry-on requirements are much smaller (only 11kg).
(Flying Xiamen Airlines)
(At Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport)
Before I get into what we did while we were in Singapore, this was a family trip first and foremost - so we didn't do anything too crazy or active (in comparison to what my husband and I spend our time and money on while traveling). A lot of the things and places we went to were family-friendly (as well as budget-friendly) - just FYI.
As soon as we landed in Singapore, we went straight from the airport to our hotel on Orchard Road via the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) - very similar to the subway (and definitely the cheapest and easiest way to get around). This road is a very popular shopping street with a bunch of designer brands like Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dior as well as smaller retailers like H&M, Sephora and Uniqlo. I personally didn't do a lot of shopping while we were there, but the whole street is very lively (especially at night) and definitely THE place to spend some serious cash if that's what you're looking to do. During the day it was a bit too humid to be walking around outside, so it was nice to window shop in the air conditioning in order to escape the heat. However, I really loved how lit up all the buildings were at night - it reminded me a bit of being in Tokyo, Japan.
(ION Orchard Shopping Mall)
Our hotel was YOTEL Singapore just across the street from the ION Orchard mall (more details about the hotel on their website here), and while the triple room my husband and I shared with my brother wasn't anything out of the ordinary, it did have a pretty nice city view.
We didn't spend a whole lot of time in the hotel, but it was very clean with an outdoor pool, gym and restaurant on the 10th floor.
Our first full day in Singapore was spent on a hop-on/hop-off bus with FunVee City Tours and my family and I had a pretty nice time riding in the air conditioned double decker bus. This way we were able to catch a glimpse of a few things we were interested in seeing, while we also still taking the opportunity to explore when we wanted to.
Though we didn't get to explore Chinatown too much, it does feel rich with culture. The streets have a ton of little shops to browse through and Pagoda Street and People's Park Complex are both filled with countless restaurants and food markets.
GARDENS BY THE BAY
When I was looking up what to do in Singapore before we left, I was really excited to see that Singapore had several conservatories and gardens to visit (which is why it's referred to as "Garden City"). Though the city streets are filled with tons of green and foliage already, I was determined to visit The Cloud Forest in their natural park called Gardens by the Bay. There are several levels and areas within the structure, mimicking a tropical mountain climate, and the waterfall keeps the air cool compared to the humid weather outside.
There are several other areas within Gardens by the Bay, but another one I'd like to mention is the Supertree Grove.
These structures are vertically-built gardens shaped like trees ranging from around 80 to 160 feet high and harness solar energy to power the garden itself. You can also purchase a ticket ($8) to walk along the aerial walkway across the "trees" for a stunning view of the city (there is a 15 minute time limit though), and at 7:45 and 8:45, there is a light and music show called the Garden Rhapsody that we watched once on the ground and once on top of the aerial walkway.
SINGAPORE BOTANIC GARDENS
Another tropical garden we decided to visit was the Singapore Botanic Gardens nearby the Orchard Road shopping district. The garden is free to visit, but there are a few main gardens within the structure that are pay-to-see. This area is huge and you could definitely spend quite some time over here (especially if you like to snap photos of everything in sight like I do).
The only main garden we paid to visit was the National Orchid Garden (which was about $5 a person) and I"m glad we did! I ended up buying a bookmark from the gift shop with some pressed orchids on it before we left as a souvenir.
After a few days of walking around the city, I was pretty desperate for some beach time. It just doesn't feel like a vacation to me unless I can swim a little bit, so we took the MRT to the HarbourFront MRT station and then took the Sentosa Express monorail to Sentosa Island - a resort island with a number of different attractions and activities. There are a number of different things to do here along with a bunch of hotels, restaurants, theme parks, etc., but all we really wanted from this place was a little swim in the ocean and some time on the sand.
Raleigh and I actually went back to Sentosa Island a second time later on in our trip to swim without my family (my parents aren't really "beach people"), and there are three different beaches here: Palawan, Tanjong, and Siloso. The water isn't the cleanest, but it was super refreshing to take a break in.
If you're walking around and visiting a bunch of the attractions Singapore has to over, it isn't tough to catch a peek of the Singapore River. This river runs through the business district and empties into Marina Bay, and so we decided to hop on the River Cruise in Clarke Quay and enjoy the view of the city from the water. The tickets are $25 a piece for adults and $15 for children under 12 years old.
(View From Marina Bay Sands shopping mall)
Our last full day we wanted to check out Little India, so we walked around for a bit and visited the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, I got a henna tattoo with my little sister, and ended up taking a look at some of the shops along the street.
WHAT TO EAT/DRINK
Since we were traveling as a family, we ate together as one and mostly kept to the mall areas to keep the cost down. Though, there were a few places we splurged on that I did want to share.
Apart from drinking the coffee at the hotel and the occasional Starbucks my family insisted on, Raleigh and I were able to check out two different coffee shops in the city.
The first was Jewel Coffee - pretty close to our hotel on Orchard Road. My first impression of the coffee shop was that it was very Instagrammable. The tables had a marble design perfect for flatlays, the floors (and some of the walls) were printed with an interesting geometric pattern, and there was a large neon sign that read “COFFEE” (which I obviously had to get a photo of). Raleigh ordered a chicken pot pie and a double espresso (Ethiopian - my favorite) that came with a side of sparkling water, while I ordered a soy milk latte with a salted caramel danish. The latte art was OK and the coffee & food were alright, but we loved this place for the ambience. It was also pretty busy with a lot of traveling families and some regulars while we were there, so it seems like it’s a popular place for tourists & locals to visit.
Common Man Coffee Roasters
The second place we were able to check out was Common Man Coffee Roasters on 22 Martin Road - about a 15-20 minute walk from the Somerset MRT stop. I AM OBSESSED WITH THIS PLACE. The decor was rustic, quirky and definitely ‘grammable, but what I loved most about it was what was on the menu.
Raleigh ordered a drip coffee while I ordered an oat milk latte, and we ended up sharing the avocado toast, a fruit bowl and a breakfast smoothie. The coffee was delicious and the food was fresh and really well seasoned (probably the best avocado toast I've ever had). This place was completely packed when we were here, but it was totally worth the wait (and the long walk to it in the humidity).
(Necessary bathroom selfie when the decor is cute)
At one point, the weather was so hot that we decided to get some ice cream and since my mom knows that I try to stay away from dairy, she pointed out a sign for coconut ice cream. Made from coconut milk and served in a coconut, this was SO delicious, refreshing and such a cute little concept. There were a bunch of these spread out among the city, so I recommend trying it out if you see it!
This place was pretty expensive, but we ate here for my mom's birthday because we wanted to try out the chili crab here. Singaporean chili crab was something we kept seeing at all the restaurants, and this was an Alaskan crab big enough to feed my entire family and cooked in a really thick tomato and chili-based sauce. It was absolutely delicious and definitely one of the most memorable dishes we had on our trip.
This area sits by the river and is the place to be if you're looking for a little for a little nightlife. Since my sister is underage, we didn't spend a lot of time here, but enjoyed a couple of drinks while walking by. There's a river cruise nearby that runs until late into the night, the walls are full of quirky signs and art, and the buildings are lit up with lights that reflect along the water - definitely worth checking out.
BUGIS STREET MARKET
If you're on a budget while in Singapore, you need to check out Bugis Street. Well known for being one of the cheapest place to buy souvenirs like clothes, accessories, cosmetics, electronics and more, it's also one of the biggest markets in Singapore with over 800 shops to choose from. My family really enjoyed looking around here and bought several things to bring back with them.
After spending a total of seven days in Singapore (not including travel time), I have to say that it's a very diverse location in terms of food and ethnic groups - with a huge variety of things to do and see. City view? Check. Beach view? Check. Forest view? Check. It reminded me a little of living in Los Angeles (being so close to a multitude of different activities and attractions), though I will say that it's also probably just as expensive. There weren't a lot of "free" things to enjoy when it came down to it (there were ticket costs and fees for almost everything we did), and the costs of everything felt very LA.
So, would I come back here? Honestly... probably not. Expenses aside, Singapore had all the elements I was looking for in a vacation: full of culture, lots of food, safe, clean and a TON of things to do, but as someone who's not really a fan of city-living, I found Singapore to be a slightly too artificial location for my taste. The architecture is no doubt incredible and extremely creative, but I always had a very "newly manufactured" impression of almost everything I saw, while I personally tend to appreciate the more natural or historic characteristics of a place when I travel.
Speaking to the heat and humidity, don't get me wrong - I also absolutely love hot weather! BUT only when I have a beach nearby to cool off. Though there are beaches in Singapore, it was a bit of a hassle to get to, and I'm definitely spoiled when it comes to the ocean because I live in Southern California and tend to lean towards more tropical vacations in general (so my standards are set pretty high in terms of cleanliness).
All in all, I was happy to cross Singapore off of my travel list, but I admit that it was not a relaxing vacation by any means. A lot of that probably had to do with the fact that I was traveling in a group of six people, but I ended every day exhausted from the heat and all of the walking around (not exactly the vacation I usually go for). However, I will say if you're new to traveling and have a lot of cash to spare, I feel like this would be a good place to start. Almost everything is in English (signs, menus, street names, etc.), the MRT is relatively cheap and easy to use in order to get around, and like I said, there's a large variety of things to see and do here. And even though Singapore wasn't one of my most favorite places I've ever been, I'd love to explore more of Malaysia someday.