March 8 – 15, 2016
Singapore, back where it all started. My desire to travel. My desire to see the world. My independent spirit. I lived with my dad, who was an expat there, for 6 months (3 months with my siblings in the summer, 3 months with just dad in the spring) and it was the best experience my parents could have given me. At the time, I didn’t want to leave my friends but looking back, living there, exploring the city/country alone, played a pivotal role in shaping who I am as a person today.
Arriving in Singapore this past March was nostalgic for me. I remembered the days roaming Orchard Road with my siblings and alone. I remember eating tons of chicken rice which is a Singaporean “must-have” at the hawker centers. I remember sweating because both the temperature and humidity were 90 (it was still the same when I returned), and I remember sitting in a coffee shop, making friends with the international school kids .
As an adult, I had the chance to experience the other side of Singapore – cocktail bars, clubs, nice restaurants, an infinity pool 57-floors in the sky, and Tanjong Beach. Luckily, my dear friend moved there earlier this year so we were each other’s partners in crime again, just like in LA, but let’s start with the malls on Orchard Road. First, I had just come from 3rd world countries, so I was reverse culture shocked coming back into the 1st world especially with malls like Ion and Paragon where you’ll find luxury at its finest. Even the food courts were pristine. Ion was my favorite (also the closest to where I was staying) and where I discovered chendol, a Singaporean dessert made from shaved ice, coconut milk, green pandan jelly, red beans, and gula melaka, at the Food Opera. Paragon is another ridiculously fancy mall just a few blocks down with every major designer you can think of–makes me wonder who even shops at these places.
Nightlife. Although alcohol is ridiculously expensive (avg. $40 per bottle of wine in a grocery store), there isn’t a shortage of bars, lounges, and even specialty cocktail bars like 23 HongKong St or Potato Head Folk. A glass of wine is even higher than NY prices (avg. $18/glass) and cocktails are easily $25+! Luckily, Wednesday was ladies night at Kyo so for the first time I appreciated those “on the house” cranberry vodkas lol (I hated them). Boat Quay, Robertson Quay, Chijmes, and Club Street are just a few other areas packed with bars and expats after work.
Food. Singapore is all about being the best at everything–home of the longest “indoor” slide, tallest “indoor” waterfall, the largest “indoor” flower garden, etc., so there is no doubt that you can find top of the line Michelin Star restaurants in Singapore, but the food courts, in my opinion, are the best places to eat and going there is one of my favorite childhood memories. The food is fresh, tasty, and one of the few things that are reasonably priced in Singapore. Top things to try are chicken rice at Tian Tian Hainese Chicken Rice (as suggested by Bourdain), laksa, roasted duck over rice, and of course the only ‘fast-food’ dumpling place that has a Michelin Star, Tim Ho Wan… but really, try anything! It’s all good. For late night roasted pork in an amazing sauce over rice, Bak Kut Teh is the spot. The pork melts in your mouth. The Banana Leaf Apolo is a good spot for Indian food and Jumbo Seafood is one of the best places to get spicy crab!
Marina Bay Sands. So I’ve seen all the hype about MBS’s infinity pool and I was lucky enough to experience swimming in it! Since it has become a popular attraction in Singapore, yes like a theme park attraction, MBS now requires one room key per person to use the pool. Yep, that means even if you are staying there, they will charge you an extra S$30 for an additional room key! They even have security gates that require you to swipe in/out of the pool area. Once you’re past the multiple security guards, you’re greeted with a jaw-dropping, spectacular experience with lounge chairs in the pool, attentive waiters, and a view of Singapore’s growing skyline. Oh yeah, not to mention you are 57 floors up in the sky swimming in a pool that stretches across three towers–that’s pretty amazing. If you can’t obtain pool access, don’t fret, you can simply visit one of the restaurants for a pretty penny.
Now, the Gardens by the Bay… this was the real highlight for me. Next to the surfboard-like pool in the sky, you’ll see the Supertrees in the middle and the two conservatory domes (Flower & Cloud Forest) surrounded by artificial nature. While picture perfect and stunning on the eyes, the real story and what makes Singapore one of the leading global cities of the 21st century is what this ecosystem does. It is essentially an energy efficient showcase of sustainable building technologies. The system uses natural resources, such as rain, to create energy. I’m not an expert but from the information I gathered, I can tell you that the domes are created in such a way that it catches the rain that runs off them, circulates the water in a cooling system, which is connected to the Supertrees that are used to both vent hot air and cool circulated water. It’s mind blowing, ok its just a great example of innovation and what cities should be striving for.
Beach and Water Days. When I think of Singapore, I don’t think of blue waters and white sand beaches but it is possible to find man made versions at Tanjong Beach Club. Just a cab ride away is an oasis that can make you feel as if you were in SoCal, except with blue water ;). Again, here you’ll find lots of expats soaking in the sun while playing beach volleyball, paddle boarding, and again, the all time favorite for everyone but Singaporeans–drinking. For the more adventurous, and I mean adventurous enough to swim in questionably clean water, there is Punggol. This area is on the opposite/northern side of the island bordering Malaysia and is known amongst those who wakeboard and waterski. Most boats depart from the Marina Country Club and from there you’ll pass the shipyards and make your way into the brown-colored waterway. While it’s a little nerve racking wondering which is cleaner, this water or the Hudson River in NY, it’s not that bad to wakeboard in, at least that’s what I kept telling myself. Just get up on a board as fast as you can and don’t fall in!
Changi Airport. Now this is like an amusement park that is not to be missed! There are three terminals and each has it’s own entertainment value to keep you from getting bored during a layover. From an outdoor pool, legit movie theaters, outdoor gardens (including a butterfly garden), and the longest indoor slide in the world, it’s worth going to the airport early just to explore one of the best airports in the world. I went 5 hours before my flight and that wasn’t enough time!
All-in-all, if Utopia existed, Singapore would be it–clean and safe streets, compliant citizens, innovative and technology focused, close to all the cheap Southeast Asian countries and islands with crystal clear blue water and white sand–no wonder its the place to be for expats working in Asia. In fact, I’m even considering moving there for a few years.