Singapore: Up, Up and Away

Words by Ben Walker
Photos by Ben Walker

It’s morning, but the heat is already picking up outside the terminal at Changi, the world’s best airport. We’ve just arrived in Singapore and we’re getting into our rideshare to head to our hotel and begin our journey in this beautiful, near-mythical place. Our driver speaks perfect English to us as we get going, which is to be expected as it’s one of the four official languages here. The others are Malay, Chinese, and Tamil.

We stare out the windows at the beautiful, tree-lined streets and gaze in awe as each huge, new building comes into view. It’s a bit surreal because our arrival to Singapore and staring around at everything feels almost exactly like the scene in Crazy Rich Asians where they first arrive and are driving into the city. Needless to say, there’s a lot of neck-craning involved to try and take it all in.


What to Expect

For the avid traveler and Southeast Asia connoisseur, Singapore has surely been a go-to destination for some time now, but for the rest of us it has more recently popped up on our radar as one of the hottest locations in the area to visit. After years of development, this tiny city-state connected to Malaysia has emerged as a huge point of interest for all kinds of travelers, including both the luxury- and budget-inclined.

It is certainly not as easy to be on a budget here as other parts of Southeast Asia (like Vietnam), but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. You can find relatively cheap hostels around and the hotel situation isn’t absolutely insane. It’s actually quite normal, especially from an American perspective. Also, you can find plenty of cheap eats all around the city at markets, hawker centres, and shopping areas. If you’re a foodie, it’s a dream come true to be here.

For those seeking a more lux approach, there will be plenty for you in that regard. Crazy Rich Asians is more than just a fun movie about modern-day Singapore—it actually hits home quite hard. There are a lot of rich people in the city and a lot of rich people that visit for business and/or vacation. This means there are a lot of super nice hotels, restaurants, and other attractions for your enjoyment.

For me, I researched a lot about the different things I wanted to see and do while we were in Singapore. One of the most interesting things to me about the city that I wanted to see was it’s connection to nature. This is actually something that interests me just about anywhere we go, but it seemed to be especially important to Singapore.


Everything is Interesting

In a lot of places around the world, including back home in the USA, it can be easy to just go around and see the top things of the area and then find little else to hold your interest too much, at which point it’s just relax time. I think Singapore is a bit different. There is something very unique about this place. Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s both a city and a country and it can get confusing what to call it sometimes. Maybe it’s because the smallest state in the United States (Rhode Island) is more than four times as large as Singapore, but there are more than five times the amount of people living in Singapore than Rhode Island. Or, possibly, it could be because Singapore is one of the greenest cities on the planet.

As it turns out, just about everything here is interesting.


The Upward Adventure

I first thought of our time in Singapore as a rollercoaster ride because of the thrill and excitement of each new thing, but really it’s more like a rocket. A rollercoaster has both ups and downs, whereas a rocket just goes full blast for the sky.


Find Nature

You’ll find elements of nature all over the city. There are so many trees, plants, flowers, and parks that you won’t know what to do with all that fresh air! However, for a real dose of some splendid nature, you need to check out the Gardens by the Bay. It’s one of the coolest places in the world because the domes literally have air conditioning and the attractions are just awesome.


Flower Dome

The Flower Dome is one of the two domes you can visit at the Gardens by the Bay. As you may have guessed, you will find a lot of flowers inside. This was our first stop at the Gardens and it was straight blissful being able to get out of the Singapore heat, but still have the opportunity to enjoy nature.

You’ll find all sorts of plants throughout the dome, so it’s not necessarily just flowers. The different areas are separated into plants from different regions of the world. In one area you’ll be checking out plants from South America while in the next you’ll be enjoying shrubbery from the USA. I believe the only thing in here that will dramatically change from time to time is the flower display. When we attended we were able to see a beautiful display of tulips, which was a nod to the tulip mania that happens in Holland every year. They even had a small area of merchants selling food and products from different European cultures, like you might see in a variety of markets around Europe.


Cloud Forest

Arguably one of the most known and recognizable attractions at the Gardens, the Cloud Forest is not one to miss. I had seen photos of this natural paradise for years so I knew we had to come check it out.

Again, the air conditioning here is quite welcome, just like in the Flower Dome. We attended in April and it was quite hot outside, but really it’s going to be warm most of the year in Singapore so air conditioning is really great wherever you can find it.

As you walk into the Cloud Forest you come face-to-face with a giant mound of living green-ness and a huge waterfall cascading off of it. It’s a sight to behold and the reason this is a top attraction. It may be difficult to get the photos you want right at the entrance because of the crowds of people, but if you’re patient enough you should be able to get something decent. Also, if you return later when it’s getting darker and almost time for the show at the Supertree Grove then you’ll have a lot more space for photos since most people will be gone or will soon be leaving.

Other than just seeing the mound you can actually walk up, inside, and around it as well. It’s a real treat to go up on the walkways and get different views inside the dome. I didn’t especially enjoy being all the way at the top of the mound (as I don’t like heights), but it wasn’t too bad. The lower walkways were more comfortable for me, though.


Supertree Grove

If you’ve planned your trip to the Gardens to coincide with one of the shows at the Supertree Grove (which you should), then you’re in for some fun! Walking around this part of the Gardens is free, just like many other parts. If you want to ascend to the OCBC Skyway (the walkways up in the air between the Supertrees) then you’ll have to pay.

The Supertree Grove is impressive at any time of day, but when night falls you’ll have the opportunity to rush over here with everyone else in the area to find a spot to sit and enjoy a free light and sound show named the Garden Rhapsody. With so many people around you’ll have to just find anywhere to sit. We sat right on the ground in the middle of the path along with plenty of others, which turned out to be a perfect spot for us to enjoy a collection of throwback tunes from the ‘70s that was labelled “Retro Fever.”

There really isn’t a bad spot to enjoy the show since all of the trees light up and the music is more than loud enough. I’m interested in how it all looked from the Skyway, but I also don’t think it would be much better than where we were on the ground.


Jewel Changi Airport

It would be remiss of me to not include something from the Changi airport on this list since it has retained its status as Best Airport in the World seven years in a row. As it turns out we just happened to be visiting Singapore right when the newest addition to the airport was opened to the public, which is none other than the much anticipated Jewel.

To be honest, Jewel is not much more than a huge shopping area, but don’t let that stop you from visiting and seeing the fantastic elements of nature within. Once you get inside you’ll almost immediately see in the distance the world’s largest indoor waterfall. You’ll inexorably be drawn to it and once you’re within the inner area you’ll find yourself in a dreamy wonderland.

The waterfall is the star of the show, but the accompaniment includes walls and walkways of green plants that traverse every level of the building. It’s really incredible to see in person and there isn’t a bad spot to view it all from either, although I recommend going around on the different walkways from top to bottom (or vice-versa) to get the full experience. The very top walkways weren’t yet open when we were there, but I imagine everything would look very nice from that vantage point.


Find Culture

Singapore is a melting pot of cultures with the main ones being Chinese, Malay, and Indian. There is also a small percentage of other ethnicities as well. With such a diverse blend of peoples, you are bound to have a diverse city.

Check out some of the interesting places we were able to see around the city.


Little Thailand

Little Thailand is located right next to one of the hotels we stayed at while visiting Singapore. The buildings that comprise the area of Little Thailand are called the “Golden Mile Complex.” Here, you will find plenty of things of Thai influence, including food and shopping.

While here, we ate in a small area that housed a few different restaurants with your typical plastic chairs and tables for dining. Pork with noodles and an accompanying wonton soup was delicious!


Haji Lane

Haji Lane was also very close to one of our hotels so we decided to go and check out the area. It can be described as very colorful and full of history, although it is, of course, now a very big tourist spot.

However, it is still worth a stroll because it’s interesting seeing the different pieces of street art and one of the important religious buildings in the city, the Masjid Sultan, or Sultan Mosque. If you come up to the Masjid Sultan from a certain direction you can see it looming large at the end of the street like something straight out of a movie.


Little India

A short distance away you’ll find yourself in Little India. It’s actually quite remarkable going to different parts of Singapore and having it seem like you’re in different countries, which is the beauty of a place like this.

Here, you will find many different religious buildings, like the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple and the Abdul Gafoor Mosque. There are plenty of others as well and they’re all equally interesting, but we were drawn to these two because of their unique looks.

As you’re exploring, make sure to stop by Tan Teng Niah, Tekka Market, and the Little India Arcade. They’re all right next to each other so it’s very easy to hit all three at once. The Tan Teng Niah is a brightly-colored Chinese villa that’s perfect for admiring and taking a few shots of. The Tekka Market is a busy complex where you can find all sorts of food to eat amongst the hawker stalls. The Little India Arcade is a big building full of little shops that somehow reminded me of being in India even though I’ve never been there before.


Buckle Up and Blast Off

I think a huge positive about visiting Singapore is just how much fun it is. For such a small place there’s a sure heck of a lot of things to see and do. We, unfortunately, were so busy we didn’t get to try as much food as we would have wanted to in such a legendary foodie zone, but I guess that means we’ll just have to go back. We also barely scratched the surface on visiting the many different points of interest throughout the city.

I don’t expect the buzz about Singapore to die down anytime soon. Really, it doesn’t seem like this is one city/country/place that has any plans of ever coming back down to earth, but the nice thing is they’re welcoming all of us along for the ride.

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