Three and a half months ago, on our first weekend in South East Asia, we were sat at a Bia Hoi stall in Hanoi, on tiny plastic chairs, drinking beer for 5,000 Dong (16 pence) per glass, and we meet a couple of friends who are from Singapore. Fast forward 106 days and here we are, arriving in Singapore, and heading towards their home.
There are lots of reasons why we think the last six months have been the best of our lives, but right at the top of that list is the amazing people we meet everywhere we go. Meeting people in the street, sharing a few drinks and laughs, and those very same people inviting you in to their home, thousands of miles away, is just one of the many things that seems normal to us now but was something we had never experienced before.
I think our arrival, at half past one in the morning, was probably not the best way to say “thank you”, but they didn’t seem to mind. Every day, for five months, we have slept in one guesthouse then the next, then the next, not often taking the time to slow down and relax in one place, so for the first time in months, to be staying in a ‘home’ gave us the best feeling, well that and Ah-ma’s (Cherilyn’s Grandma) home cooking 🙂
Most travellers, especially backpackers, only stay in Singapore for a couple of days, because as everybody says “it’s expensive”. We were getting the luxury to stay here for more than a week and spend a little time enjoying the city rather than rushing through the tourist sights and leaving again, this was a luxury we didn’t take for granted. Whilst we’re on the subject of expensive, everything is relative, so yes accommodation is much more expensive than SE Asia for instance, and alcohol tax is so high even the locals complain about the cost of alcohol.
But, understand that the quality of living here is much higher, cleanliness, public transport and food are all far better here than most of the rest of the region, and the costs for such things are well below western prices for what is in general, better quality. A metro ride across the city is £1, try to get that in London, a meal from a local food centre is £2-5, that’s not expensive in our opinion, especially for the quality. We even had a meal at a Michelin Star hawker stall for £1 per dish, although that’s not the norm, and the queues would prove that (also, I think since the Michelin Star, the standards may have slipped a little).
I think these are all insights we were lucky enough to see, because we were very kindly invited to stay with friends here who could guide us through the city and its never-ending food options; so bliss for us 🙂
Because we had a good amount of time here, this probably should be a post showing every single part of the city’s extensive gardens, architecture, sights and cultural centres. But as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, because this is us, it’s effectively going to be a top-10 (or 20… maybe 25) of what to eat in Singapore. But you should know now, right at the top of the list, is Ah-ma’s cooking, and I don’t think that’s particularly accessible to everybody else.
We were staying a little away from the tourist centres, which gave us the opportunity to explore other districts of the city that we wouldn’t otherwise have seen. In Singapore, every district, no matter how small, has its own food centre or multiple of them, the centres vary in size and variety but they are the main hub of where the locals go to eat on a daily basis. Some of them are over half full of tourists and some others we were the only tourists there, the variety of food on offer in Singapore is definitely one of its highlights, although Stac mainly wanted to eat Beef Rendang, she does have a little bit of an obsession with it.
On our first day there, we woke up early and went for a walk around the Botanic Gardens which were quite close by, but not before a Nasi Lemak (popular breakfast dish of chicken, rice, peanuts, fried anchovies, egg and more) at the local food centre. Singapore’s gardens still have lots of wildlife in them and apparently the botanic gardens is still home to a few big monitor lizards and lots of monkeys, but unfortunately we didn’t get to see any, I think they were hiding away from the weekend crowds walking around.
In the afternoon we went down to the centre, by the bay, to see the iconic Marina Bay Sands building and the Gardens by the Bay, I’m sure everybody has seen pictures of these but they are just as impressive up close as they are on the photos. The Marina Bay Sands towers are huge, it’s very difficult to fit the whole structure in to one photo, you have to keep walking further away until it finally fits in to a camera lens.
The Gardens by the Bay are home to the Super-tree forest, the modern tree-like structures that you can see in the pictures and the two domes; the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. We waited for a nice day to go and visit and both were very impressive, although after about 45 minutes of looking at flowers in the Flower Dome i’d started to lose interest I’ll be honest.
The Flower Dome is home to thousands of species of plants and trees from across the globe, all from similar climates but grown together here in one place. The cloud forest is even more impressive than the first, a huge structure with a massive central waterfall and sky-walks all around showcasing plant life at different altitudes and attempting to educate the world on the potential effects on life of global warming. The final conclusion is that if changes aren’t made now, then by the end of this century the planet will have warmed by 5 degrees, which would have catastrophic consequences for the environment and us.
We’d talked extensively about visiting one of Singapore’s famous cocktail bars for a drink, due to the alcohol costs I mentioned previously we didn’t spend much time drinking out here, and for months had planned to go to Raffles Hotel and have the famous Singapore Sling that was invented here. Well, a quick google showed us that the famous Long Bar in the hotel is actually closed for a year for refurbishment, and upon hearing what was in a Singapore Sling, neither of us particularly fancied spending the £20 each on one in the alternative bar at Raffles. Instead, our only Singapore Sling came from a can in a supermarket, an experience we’re shamefully proud of.
Instead, we came across (well, Adrian told us about it) a bar called Manhattan at the Regent hotel, it’s as sophisticated as a bar can possible be we think, imagine dim mood lighting, dark wood, cocktails with ingredients you’ve never heard of and prices to match. In fact, it was named the best bar in Asia in one particular magazine, so just having one in there wasn’t really an option we fancied once we arrived.
Three drinks each later we left $180 (£100) lighter and happy that we’d done it, alcohol tends to have that effect doesn’t it, making you happy 🙂
Most afternoons we spent relaxing out on the terrace, reading, booking flights for the rest of the trip and playing with Kaye (the Corgi).
As it is the month of Ramadan, there was the annual festival on at Geylang Serai, where every evening, at the break of the fast the area would light up and the markets would be full of people having a good time and eating, the activity that Singaporeans do best. We joined in the celebrations with a particularly good Beef Rendang and Laksa.
The rest of the time was spent eating at the many food centres around the city, particular highlights were; beef rendang, chicken rice, won ton noodles, the famous Hong Kong chicken rice stall that has the Michelin Star, vegetarian Indian food, the Chinese rice-cake like dish with fried vegetable on top (I can never remember what this is called but it is greasy and delicious, the vegetables being cooked in pork fat probably helps) and a very good fresh Sashimi meal, which Stac still doesn’t really like because she would prefer they cooked the fish.
Probably Singapore’s most famous dish, is the Chili Crab, Cherilyn and Nikki picked up a selection of fresh Crabs one day to bring home for dinner and it was the most messy, delicious meal you could possibly dream of; Chili Crab, Black Pepper Crab and Salted Egg Crab (because salted egg is everywhere here apparently) were all on the menu. They were all amazing. Eating Crab like this without getting absolutely covered in it is just impossible, it’s exactly how food should be, and don’t let the pictures fool you, each crab weighed almost 1 kg, it was the tastiest Crab we’ve ever eaten.
On our last night in Singapore, Cherilyn and Adrian had arranged a barbecue at their house with some friends, and I can safely say, a Singaporean barbecue puts our British barbecues to shame. Alaskan King crab, Crayfish, Steak, Lamb and Cheese were all devoured, our input; a risotto, seemed a little bit tame in comparison 🙂
We’ve had the best time we could possibly imagine in Singapore, it is definitely my favourite city I’ve been to on this trip, even beating Tokyo, which is a tough call, and one of our favourite places ever, we both can’t wait to return.
It was all made by very friendly and kind friends who hosted us the whole time. All that is left to say is a massive “Thank you” to Cherilyn, Adrian, Nikki, Ah-ma and all the friends that made the trip so incredible, it really did feel like home for a week.