At 6:00 am on the morning of our last day in South East Asia, we arrived at our final port of call, Singapore. The Singapore Cruise Centre is located in the downtown area at Maritime Square and right next to Harbourfront Centre. Our disembarkation process was very smooth and quick. We walked off the ship and crossed over into Harbourfront Centre where we found lockers to store our luggage. Since our flight home was scheduled for 11:00pm, we had the whole day to explore this wonderful city. Kim had arranged a private walking tour with a local guide and we were to meet her at a subway stop in downtown Singapore. After leaving our luggage in the storage area, we took an escalator down to the Harbourfront MRT (subway) Station, and after a quick 10 minute ride on the quietest, cleanest subway I have ever seen, we emerged into a small square just off a busy street where we met our guide.
Our walking tour was going to take us through the heart of Singapore with an opportunity to experience the diversity of this multi-racial, multi-cultural city. To give us a bit of perspective on where we would be going, our guide took us into the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Singapore City Gallery which is home to 3 very detailed scale-models of the city-state of Singapore. These massive models show virtually every building, park, roadway and waterway of the entire area along with the projected developments that will continue to expand the city’s modern and environmental footprint. It was a great visual that you don’t normally get when you arrive at a new place and just start walking around.
Today’s tour would take us through Little India, Chinatown and the Arab Quarter, all reachable on foot and Mass Rapid Transit (MRT). What is different about Singapore from other cosmopolitan cities is that although there are identifiable ethnic districts, they are primarily set up for business. Residents of the city are integrated based on the relative population of the country. The demographics of Singapore’s nearly 6 million people comprise of approximately 75% Chinese, 15% Malays, 7% Indian and 3% other. The residential communities consist of the same proportion of ethnic groups as part of Singapore’s integration policy. This has led to a high degree of ethnic and religious tolerance throughout the country.
We began our walk through the district of Little India, with our first stop at a Hindu Temple. For most of our trip in South East Asia we had visited countless Buddhist temples that were adorned in deep red fabrics laced with heavy gold trimmings and gold script. This Hindu temple, equally ornate and elaborate as its Buddhist cousins, presented a lighter and cheerier atmosphere filled with pastel blues, pinks and yellows.
After passing through the temple, we continued to the Indian market filled with bright, multi-coloured fabrics of ruby red, emerald green, and sky blue. Poignant spices and burning incense permeated the air as we made our way through the various stalls.
The next stop on our tour was a visit to Chinatown. While this area was very reminiscent of the markets that we had visited in Hong Kong with many Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shops, dried vegetable and fresh fish markets, there were a few peculiarities that we had not come across before. One of the TCM’s that we visited specialized in Chinese Bird’s Nest soup. This is a concoction made from the nest of swiftlets, a small South East Asian bird that lives in caves near the sea. The extraction of the nests is quite a process and very labour intensive. The nest itself is made from the bird’s saliva that has become dry and hard. The nests (bird saliva!) are boiled and dissolved into a broth. It is used primarily to aid digestion, strengthen the immune system and to increase libido, all for a mere $5,000 USD per pound of nest!
As we continued our journey through Chinatown, our guide pointed out the street sign at one of the intersections. It read “Street of the Dead”. She explained that in earlier times, Singapore’s poor Chinese immigrants lived in very tight quarters. When they became severely ill, they were moved to “death houses” that were attached to funeral homes because it was considered unlucky to die at home. These death houses lined both sides of Sage Lane, referred to as Street of the Dead, in Chinatown. The practice of sending the ill to death houses was banned in 1961.
One of the markets that we visited was the Chinese Wet Market. This is a very large, fish and food market situated under the ground floor of a shopping mall. The market has rows and rows of raw fish of every description along with fresh vegetables.
One of the markets that we visited was the Chinese Wet Market. This is a very large, fish and food market situated under the ground floor of a shopping mall. The market has rows and rows of raw fish of every description. Around the perimeter of the market are hawker’s stalls selling every kind of Chinese food dish. One particular hawker stall was much busier than all of the others with a queue that extended several hundred feet through the market. This is a daily occurrence at this particular stall with patrons often waiting in line for their specialty of chicken & rice for more than an hour. In 2016 this food vendor was awarded a Michelin Star, the only such designation ever to be given to a hawker stall.
Our last stop in Chinatown was at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. This is a multi-story complex that was built to house a tooth relic of Buddha that was found in a collapsed Buddhist shrine in Myanmar. The tooth relic is enclosed in a glass case which sits on a pedestal that is roped off from all sides.
After finishing our trek through Chinatown, we descended into the subway and a few minutes later emerged onto a busy street just outside the downtown core. This area was quite different from the downtown district with its modern architecture and high rises. The Arab Quarter features 2-story 19th century houses that have been converted into shops with streets that are filled with Arabian textiles, colourful rugs and fragrant tea and coffee houses. Restaurants lined each side of a pedestrian street, many featuring blue and white mosaic tiled walls and tables that were reminiscent of our trip to Morocco a few years ago.
The central feature of the Arab Quarter is the Masjid Sultan Mosque which stands guard over the area and is considered the national mosque of Singapore. The large white building is capped by a golden orb that is visible from nearly everywhere in the district.
The next stop on our tour took us back to the downtown area where we exited the subway near the massive and impressive 2500 room Marina Bay Sands Hotel Resort. This is a signature structure at Singapore’s city centre. It consists of three 55 storey towers that are topped by a Skypark that spans all three towers and resembles a large ship that has set on top of the hotel. The Skypark actually houses an infinity pool that is the world’s longest elevated swimming pool which seems to spill out over the city’s skyline.
We walked around the Marina Bay Sands to the Waterfront Promenade where our tour guide purchased tickets for us to tour Marina Bay by boat. We boarded the tour boat and as we left the dock, we began to glide gently and noiselessly around the bay. Singapore is the embodiment of modern city eco-culture. The bay that we were boating on is a reclaimed marsh which serves, not only as a water-taxi route around the downtown area, but is also the main fresh water reservoir for the city. The tour boats that whisk around the marina are all battery operated creating a transportation method through the downtown that is virtually pollution free.
After our 45 minute ride around the bay and the surrounding canals, we disembarked and proceeded through the Marina Bay Sands to the adjacent Gardens by the Bay. Gardens by the Bay is an ecological marvel that features 3 major attractions - the Flower Dome (the largest glass greenhouse in the world), the Cloud Forest Dome (a mountain rainforest), and the Supertree Grove (giant tree-like structures that mimic the function of trees and sustain the park). We spent quite a bit of time admiring the myriad gardens from around the world in the Flower Dome and we walked inside and through Cloud Mountain in the Cloud Forest Dome. Gardens by the Bay is by far the most impressive technological wonder that I have experienced in any urban area I have visited.
After leaving the Gardens, we decided to get a birds-eye view of the city by taking a ride on the famous Singapore Flyer. The Flyer is situated just off Marina Bay and while it was once the world’s tallest ferris wheel, it was surpassed in 2014 by the High Roller in Las Vegas. We purchased our tickets and made our way up several ramps where we were escorted to one of the 28 air-conditioned capsules that rim the giant wheel. Each capsule has a capacity for 28 passengers, but because it wasn’t busy, we were allocated a capsule to ourselves.
The ride takes just over half an hour to make a full revolution, and that gave us plenty of time to take in the surrounding area. We were able to make out many of the places that we had visited throughout the day - along with a few we hadn’t, including a great view of the Formula One racetrack that sits just next to the Flyer. The view from the highest point of the ride was spectacular and enhanced my appreciation for this beautiful and eco-friendly city.
We left the ride and took the MRT to Clarke Quay on the opposite side of Marina Bay. We had passed this area by boat earlier in the day and had been told that it was a great spot to eat. There were dozens of waterfront restaurants that surrounded the canals and we chose one that had a patio near an MRT stop so that we could eat and get back to the Harbourfront Centre to pick up our luggage and head to the airport.
We had been in Singapore for just over 15 hours by the time we grabbed our luggage and hailed a cab to the airport. The day had gone by far too quickly and I have added Singapore to my list of all time favourite cities, one I definitely want to revisit.
Sharing Our Travel Dreams
Sharing our personal experiences onboard and on the road, along with tips and insight for creating memorable vacations.