Having heard many positive things about Singapore, I finally booked my flights and went to see what all the fuss is about. Fortunately, one of my close friends lives there and was happy to give me a guided tour.
Singapore is quite a small state in South-East Asia with a vibrant mix of cultures; here you can experience a unique combination of Chinese, Indian and Malay influences. You will struggle to find anywhere else like it.
Singapore is also renowned for being an extremely clean city (dropping chewing gum on the street is against the law and heavily fined), this is something I noticed as soon as I stepped off the plane. Those who have not explored Singapore in any great depth may label it as a place to simply eat and shop. This is true, but I found that Singapore has so much more to offer. I particularly enjoyed its brilliant nightlife, warm climate (it's pretty much the same all-year round), adrenaline fuelled activities and stunning architectural wonders. Here's my take on the real Singapore.
Famous sights you have to see in Singapore
If you really want to capture the extravagance of this place you need to view the city from above. One way to do this is to go up to the top of Marina Bay Sands where you can take in views of the entire city. It's difficult not to notice this magnificent piece of architecture, no wonder it's the world's most expensive building. I found myself staring at it from afar, imagining what it might be like swimming in the infinity pool at the top. I didn't get to take a dip in the pool but I did manage to enjoy a rather expensive cocktail in the rooftop bar, an experience I will never forget. Marina Bay Sands isn't just a hotel; it has shops, a casino and restaurants.
Another way to cast your eyes upon the skyscrapers and breathtaking skyline of Singapore is by hopping onto the Singapore Flyer, it's 165 metres high and the world's largest observation wheel.
There are a few must-visit local sites in Singapore. My friend insisted we go and see the Merlion, which has become a symbol of Singapore, reminding people of Singapore's origins as a fishing village. This iconic statue is based on an imaginary creature with a lion's head and the body of a fish. Water cascades from the lion's mouth into the surrounding reservoir. I sat amongst the crowds of tourists and saw the Merlion in the daytime, but it is perhaps even more breathtaking at night when it is illuminated in the darkness.
The Raffles Hotel is another iconic site and key tourist magnet in Singapore. We went to this legendary hotel on two occasions, once for delicious afternoon tea and another time we sampled the famous Singapore Sling, a classic South-East Asian cocktail made with Gin, pineapple juice and cherries.
Attractions and unforgettable experiences
If you are a nature lover then you might want to pay Singapore Zoo a visit. I went there for a day trip on my own as it was easy to get a bus there and back. Here I got to see all sorts of animals including Giraffes, White Tigers, Crocodiles and cute little Meerkats. I was lucky enough to have a quick ride on an elephant and see the Orangutans out of their enclosure. It's quite a special experience wandering round this place, it feels like you are in a jungle, especially as the air in Singapore can be quite humid. They also do a night safari where you can see the animals at night; this is something I will definitely do on my next trip.
Singapore is split into different districts, it feels as if you are in one part of the world in one district and then you can experience somewhere completely different when you get off at another stop on the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit). I spent some time discovering Chinese culture in Chinatown, browsing traditional products and picking up cheap souvenirs in the quirky shops. There are also some fascinating local museums and plenty of Chinese restaurants. It feels like you have been transported onto a street in China. In contrast to this there's also Little India where you will meet hawkers selling Indian merchandise and where you can treat your taste buds to some spicy Indian dishes.
Singapore can be a little overwhelming at times, some of the districts are extremely busy and there is a lot to take in. However, there are a few tranquil spots that allow you to steal some moments away from it all. Head to the National Orchid Gardens to switch off and immerse yourself in an abundance of colourful Orchids. See over 60,000 plants and orchids and the the Tembusu, a distinctive tree found dotted around Singapore. I spent some time wandering around the grounds and stumbled across some newlyweds taking wedding pictures amongst the beautiful scenery.
Another one of my favourite places in Singapore was Sentosa Island. You can get there easily on the MRT by jumping on the train towards Harbourfront MRT and taking Exit B (Harbourfront Centre). Sentosa is definitely worth a day trip, but you may not be able to cram everything into one day. Here you can enjoy white sandy beaches, nature walks, Sentosa Nature Discovery, golf and Resorts World Sentosa.
I always like to try something active on my travels, so I tested my balance at Wave House Sentosa. Here you can put your surfing skills to the test on a roaring 10 foot wave. This experience is a combination of wakeboarding, surfing and skateboarding and believe me, it is far more difficult than it looks. Expect to get very wet and fall over numerous times like I did, unless you are a pro. It's such a thrilling feeling when you finally master the wave and stay up for longer than a few seconds.
The shopping in Singapore also deserves a mention, especially because it offers so many different shopping experiences. I enjoyed bargaining with the locals selling traditional products in Chinatown and Little India, whereas some people would be in their element in the luxurious boutiques in the Hilton Shopping Gallery or the designer shops on Orchard Road. Singapore is well known for its impressive shopping so if you like a bit of retail therapy you will love the fantastic selection of shops.
Dining in Singapore - a taste sensation
If you like trying different cuisines then you will enjoy tucking into the food on offer in Singapore. Try a huge range of Asian dishes, whether you prefer Chinese, Thai, Indian or Malaysian food, Singapore has it all. I managed to try plenty of different dishes during my stay, they were all so good it was extremely hard to pick my favourites. I tried the famous Singapore Chilli Crab, which is infused with a combination of chilli and tomato, the best place to try this dish is at the Singapore Heritage Centre on Pagoda Street in Chinatown.
A dish that is particularly popular with the locals is "chicken rice" which is very simple yet delicious. We constantly saw local workers enjoying this dish during their breaks at Maxwell Food Centre. Don't overlook the street food in Singapore; I would say some of my favourite meals were from some of the stalls. You also get to soak up the atmosphere whilst dining outside with the locals.
Another dish that is a favourite with locals and visitors alike is the "Singapore Laksa", a fairly spicy dish packed with noodles, prawns, tofu, fish balls and coconut. We went for a relaxing cycle rise along the East coast and rewarded ourselves with a mouth-watering Laksa at Roxy Laksa which is located at the East Coast Food Centre. Make sure you get a coconut from one of the stalls, the coconut water inside is extremely refreshing and thirst quenching.
If you love Sushi then you won't be disappointed as there are plenty of restaurants serving fresh Sushi. Try the food court and restaurants in the shopping centre on Orchard Road. We enjoyed some Sushi at Sushi Tei where I tucked into an avocado and prawn dish.
Those looking for a sweet treat will enjoy Kaya Toast, a local special that I couldn't get enough of. Kaya is a jam-like spread made from sugar, eggs, coconut milk and Pandan leaf. It's usually served on toast with a generous helping of butter and is best enjoyed with "Kopi" which is coffee sweetened with condensed milk. We tried this satisfying treat at "Toast Box", where I frequently returned for some caffeine and a sugar fix.
Dazzling sights and a gastronomic gem, an unforgettable experience in Singapore
Singapore is not your typical holiday destination, it is a place to let your senses come alive and experience a vibrant mix of cultures. What sets it apart from the rest? The people are friendly, the streets are bright and clean and the food selection is unlike anywhere else in the world. Do not miss out on the staggering views from the top of Marina Bay Sands, I was mesmerised by the innovative architecture and buzzing city below. All in all it was an amazing trip and I plan to go back. Next time I go to Singapore I want to spend more time on Sentosa Island, go on a River Cruise and visit the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple.