The last time I was in Singapore was 2006 and a lot has changed since then. Entire neighbourhoods have been built, literally from the sea. Marina Bay did not exist in 2006, nor did the now famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the Gardens by the Bay. This will be a short post because I only got to spend a long weekend in Singapore, but there are lots of images.
Prior to the Marina Bay Sands and the Gardens by the Bay, perhaps the most famous landmark of Singapore was the Merlion. I think one could argue that it still is the most famous landmark because it’s so accessible in the city.
To avoid the crowds, you can take three approaches: 1. Go at sunrise which is what we did; 2. Take multiple images and then stack them in Photoshop or Affinity Photo using a median filter; or 3. Use an intense neutral density filter and hope that people move around enough that they don’t reflect enough light to appear in the image.
The latter two takes some effort, so I recommend you go at sunrise. However, one thing you should factor in is that the Merlion doesn’t shoot water 24/7! It actually starts at 8:30AM and we saw several disappointed people leave after waiting for nearly two hours after sunrise, which was around 6:30AM when we were there.
Gardens by the Bay
The Gardens by the Bay is a huge park area that has a number of attractions to visit within the park. Even though the pictures make the Supertree Grove look larger than life, they actually make up a somewhat small part of this immense park. If you have the time, it’s worthwhile to wander around and take in the other attractions like the Flower Dome, Serene Garden or the Cloud Forest. If the weather is on your side, you can also buy a ticket to walk along the OCBC Skyway.
The Supertree Grove is open from 5AM until 2AM, with the best view around sunset, with Marina Bay Sands as the backdrop. To get the spot where we took the images in this post, we went up two levels along the balconies and camped out as close to centre as we could. Depending on the season, there may be greenery that will block the view so you may not be able to exactly replicate the images you find on the internet. It’s important to go early if you want a sunset picture as spaces for tripods get claimed quickly as the sunset approaches and the best spots are fairly limited due to the greenery blocking some of the view.
At 7:45PM and 8:45PM every night, there is a light show with music that is pretty fun to watch. The best way to view it is to get right under and look up, or lay down on the benches and try to look up. When we went, there were very large crowds due to the Deepavali Festival and there was no way to discretely use a tripod while not disturbing others. Everyone sat on the ground and watched the show, trying their best not to block the view of others.
One of the coolest neighbourhoods in Singapore has to be Haji Lane or Arab Street as most locals called it. This wonderful colourful and lively area is filled with small bars, cafes, restaurants and arts and crafts shops. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon walking around or catching drinks before turning in at night. The area has a buzz day and night and we loved exploring it. The beautiful Masjid Sultan is the anchor to the neighbourhood and is a great way to orient yourself.
It was a big childish of us but we got a kick out of seeing Kyoto’s most famous coffee shop, Arabica, opening on Arab Street. We lucked out being there right when it opened and had one of the first cups of their excellent coffee, now available in Singapore. I’ll spare you the image that everyone was taking of the Arabica shop sign along with the Arab Street sign in one take 🙂
There are few hotels in the world that evoke a sense of history like the Raffles, built in the 1830’s as a beach house and re-opened as a hotel in 1887. In 2017, the owners embarked on a restoration of the building to bring it back to its formal glory, with the re-opening coinciding with our trip in 2019. I’ve been to the Raffles before in 2006 and I can say that the restoration turned out incredible. They kept all the history and design intact, while bringing the hotel up to modern standards and expectations.
The Raffles Hotel is also the birthplace of the famous Singapore Sling. A drink that was designed for the wives of the British businessmen and government officials who used the hotel’s lounge as a place to conduct important business. The drink took off and has become world famous, available in lounges across the globe (and at varying levels of strength!). We had to wait in line for 20 minutes to get into the Long Bar, but it was time well spent. The Singapore Sling lived up to expectations and the bar has retained all its charm and character, even after the restoration.
Deepavali Festival (Festival of Light)
We were in Singapore for a business trip with a weekend added on, so luck was on our side when we found out that Deepavali was being celebrated while we were there. Deepavali is the Festival of Light, an annual Hindu celebration of the triumph of light over darkness.
The Deepavali night market was well worth the effort of getting through the bustling crowds, with beautiful colours, happy people, and lots of cool things to buy. With Singapore’s heat, drink lots of water before entering the market because it will be packed full of people and it is single file through the whole market.
Is this the most beautiful bar in the world?
A colleague and friend recommended we try Atlas Bar, which happened to be near our hotel, the excellent Andaz Singapore; upon entering a rather unusual and ornate building, the grandness of the Atlas Bar becomes apparent. It’s a beautiful space in the inner courtyard of the first floor. We arrived early on a Friday evening and were able to get a bar seat after a 30 minutes wait. However, once the offices nearby closed, the lineup became long, so go early if you want to experience this unique space.
The bar itself is gorgeous and perhaps the most beautiful bar that I’ve been to. The service and cocktails were impeccable and perfectly matched the ambience.
The World’s Food
Singapore is home to so many cultures and people of all nationalities call it home. As a result, you can find world class cuisine from anywhere in the world in Singapore. The locals always recommend the Hawker Markets and you can’t go wrong with visiting Maxwell, Newton, and Lau Passat Hawker Centres, or the various restaurants around Clark Quay. Some great local specialities to try include Mee Goreng, Murtabak, Carrot Cake, Popiah, and Oyster Omelette.
Singapore always has been and continues to be a wonderful destination, whether it be for a weekend away or for an extended trip. With extensive flight routes from Singapore, it also makes a great hub from which to explore the wonders of Southeast Asia like Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.
While you transit through the airport, be sure to save some time to eat, shop or walk around the new Changi Jewel shopping complex. There are several highly rated restaurants in the mall, but I recommend you make reservations since they get very busy and you may end up having to line up (or queue up as the locals would say).
I hope you’ve enjoyed this short visit to Singapore. It’s a city I’d like to explore more, especially wandering around the smaller streets in Chinatown and Little India, but alas, the weekend came to an end far too quickly and I headed back to Beijing.