Spring Break 2018 – Singapore and its gems
In addition to the major neighborhoods of Singapore, there are plenty of other little gems in the city if visiting during peak tourist season.
We explored the Singapore Botanic Gardens, which are a must if you love orchids and exotic plants and flowers. Even in the heat, it was a pleasant walk through the shaded paths. The bird calls were like listening to a rainforest symphony. I highly recommend a stop there if you have time. It’s a great retreat from the city and the noise of traffic. The gardens are enormous, with children’s areas, a band shell, and different botanic zones. Easily accessible from the yellow Circle line or the blue Downtown line, the free gardens (save for some of the specialized exhibits, such as the Orchid House) are perfect to enjoy.
Another destination I recommend in the city is the Asian Civilizations Museum. Their exhibits are well-laid out and explore the trade routes of the Silk Road and colonial history on level 1. There was a massive exhibit on Cambodia’s Angkor civilization coming soon, but I missed it by a few days when I visited in April. Otherwise, the the 9th century Tang shipwreck is fascinating, especially if you wait for a guided tour. I wouldn’t have noticed half the tiny details on the shipwrecked items if not for the guide. Level 2 explores Asian religion throughout history with brilliant displays on religious artifacts, and Level 3 focuses on design. With loads of chilly air-con abounding, it’s a good break from the heat of the afternoon.
Outside the Asian Civilizations Museum is the Singapore River and some of the British colonial buildings from its founding as a Straits Settlements colony in 1826 and then as a Crown colony in 1867. Notable architecture include Cavenagh Bridge, built in 1870, and it doesn’t allow horses or cattle to pass over it (per the historical signage). It’s now a pedestrian bridge for getting great views of the area and the river. It was manufactured in Glasgow, Scotland, and shipped to Singapore for assembly – a pretty amazing feat in the 19th century, even with the Industrial Revolution shuttling along. Nearby Anderson Bridge took over the car and increased pedestrian traffic in the early 20th century. Both are quite lovely to photograph.
Along the river are more beautiful colonial buildings and sculptures/art depicting the development of Singapore as a trading port. There’s the classic Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall nearby, Raffles Hotel, Fullerton Hotel, and the Supreme Court Building. Of course, there’s the blindingly white statue of Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles (oh my goodness, Mr. BINGLEY), one of the colony’s original founders. It’s a great walk up Connaught Road as well, under the towering and shady trees, back toward Raffles City and the Swissotel Stamford.
One of the reasons for the visit to Singapore was to see the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which had been playing in Hong Kong, but by the time I’d read the book and decided to see it, the tickets were completely sold out. It went to Singapore next, to the Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay. It was an easy walk there through the underground mall ped-way, which avoids the traffic on the busy streets above and keeps you cool along the way. We ate at the Makansutra Gluttons Bay, which has a beautiful view of the bay, Marina Bay Sands, and allowed for open air dining with a great breeze. The food runs the gamut of Thai, local Singaporean, and Chinese – expect mostly Asian-inspired dishes with seafood, rice, and loads of veg. The sweet-and-sour pork, dumplings, pineapple-fried rice, and shrimp skewers were excellent choices.
Another interesting dining destination, if you’re into a touristy area, is the Chijmes complex on Victoria Street. The complex was a former convent and church, and now it is full of restaurants of all kinds, from Mexican, Thai, Indian, American, pub-style, and even New Zealand. Quality varies from place to place, but the setting is stunning at night when the sun sets and the lights come up on the white church and convent buildings. Be prepared for wedding photography galore!
Lastly, another dining and entertainment venue is Clarke Quay. If you’re interested in a river cruise to take in the architecture and lights of the city, most of the tours leave from Clarke Quay and stop near the Merlion, Marina Bay Sands, and Theatres on the Bay. The hour-long narrated tour is a good opportunity to take pictures of the buildings and bridges. I recommend going at sundown to capture sunset shots and city lights, followed by a dinner at any one of the many restaurants at Clarke Quay. That night we went for Mexican food, following by Singapore slings (ask to make them less sugary with more bite if you’re not a sugar fanatic) and churros with chocolate dip. Fort Canning is nearby if you fancy a walk in the park to get rid of a heavy dinner.
Singapore has plenty to do over the course of a few days, and, of course, there are still the Gardens by the Bay to visit and the Singapore Zoo, if you have children with you – or if you just like zoos and funky animals. Or, if you’re happier with fake animals, visit the Merlion statue on the bay, taking the obligatory selfie or tourist photo of trying to drink the fountain water spitting from the Merlion’s mouth, or make it look like it’s spewing onto your head … that too. The possibilities for a ridiculous shot are endless.