20 April 2014

Singapore - 48 alternative and local hours in the Red Dot city

Have you ever thought about a 48h stop-over in Singapore?

The little Red Dot city has a lot to offer. In such a small island Singapore packs an incredible amount of sightseeing and experiential opportunities to keep you entertained.

Because Singapore is such a melting pot of cultures 48h in the city should give you enough time to sample its 4 main cultures: Indian, Chinese, Malay and expat. The itinerary below has a flavor of all and includes plenty off the tourist path options to make sure you have a more authentic experience.


4pm landing in Singapore

If you are flying from Europe chances are you will land around that time. if coming from Australia you may start the itinerary in the morning of Day 2 instead.

Check in into your hotel and freshen up. Ready to go out 

6pm - Head out to Little India's Serangon Road 

Serangon Road around Diwali celebration

Walk around the streets and alleys. Little India truly feels like being in India minus the poverty. As Wikitravel puts it, it is a sanitised version of the real thing. It is cleaner and safe but it will still be noisy and messy as much as Mumbai or Delhi. Most Singaporeans from Indian descend live there. 

The best way to experience it is by walking around. Check out the stalls selling saris, spices, nuts and shiny gold bangles which are everywhere. You are sure to hear Bollywood songs blasting from some stereo system and will enjoy as much cosiness and lack of personal space as in India, particularly on Sundays when the construction workers are off. For the most beautiful smell buy one of the jasmine garlands that are sold by the roadside stalls, they are not only pretty but they smell gorgeous.

If you are close by, walk into one of Singapore's institutions: Mustafa Centre, an incredibly large maze-like shopping centre where you can buy practically anything you can think off at amazing prices. It is mildly disorganised, stacked up to the ceiling with boxes and crowded with Indians at almost any time of the day or night. This is one of those things only locals know about and although not a tourist sight on its own it is fascinating to see.

Stop by at Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, a Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess Kali. Remember to take off your shoes.

Lastly, for authentic Indian food go to the Arcade where locals shop for their groceries.

8pm Dinner at Banana Leaf Apolo

One of the restaurants best known for its fish head curry eaten on banana leaves. It is a real experience, amazingly good South Indian food and a meal that will truly make you feel like in India.  

10pm Gardens by the Bay

Aerial view of Gardens by the Bay - photo by Jimaging

The incredible Avatar-ish Gardens by the Bay park is my favourite spot in Singapore. Super trees, a suspended bridge, the large orchid and tropical flower and plant greenhouse, it is all incredibly pleasant and a modern take on urban parks. It is a very large park with lots to see but, although most of its attractions are closed at night, I recommend going there after dark because it is less crowded and less hot. Also, as a bonus, the lights make it look like a fairy tale place. I love walking around wondering its trails and paths at night when the blue, purple and yellow lights illuminate the way.

Take a walk after dinner to enjoy the best of it.

11pm Marina Bay Sands Light and Water show (only if you are in Singapore on a weekend)

Lights show seen from across the water

Stroll from Gardens by the Bay across the main highway to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Be sure to follow the signs and note it may take you up to 20min to find your way.

Not as large as the Hong Kong lights show but a very popular event in Singapore the Lights and Water show is a 15minute show set in front of the Marina Bay Shoppes shopping mall by the water in the middle of the promenade. The show is projected on water steam for everyone to see. It is a story about life and in the 3 years I am in Singapore I have not seen them changing it. It is worth a visit

11,30pm Ku De Ta

Ku De Ta CLub - photo courtesy of

Ku De Ta is a club, restaurant and bar on the top floor of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel just above the Sky Park Observatory deck. Instead of paying SGD20 to go up to the Observatory I would recommend having a drink at Ku De Ta after the how. Just walk into he Marina Bay Sands hotel and ask for directions. 

The pool at Marina Bay Sands Hotel - incredible sunsets
Ku De Ta is a posh bar so dress appropriately, no shorts, no flip flops. It is a fashionable spot also popular with tourists because it is a better alternative to the Sky park deck and it is truly magical to see the skyline from there, the Singapore wheel and the marina. Truly worth the expensive cocktail you will have to pay for!

Unfortunately, seeing the pool on the roof of the Marina Bay Sands hotel is no longer an option unless you are a guest staying. It is a great spot and it has absolutely breathtaking views of Singapore's skyline and sunset but it is off limits to most of us

7am Early breakfast at Ya Kun Kaya Toast

Kaya toast breakfast

Singaporeans like to eat kaya toast, soft boiled eggs and teh/kopih tarik for breakfast so, when in Rome...

Teh tarik is a combination of not high grade tea and sweetened condensed milk. It is not for the faint of heart or for the diabetic. It has an acquired taste but I highly recommend trying the whole set even if simply to feel like a local. 

The drink is accompanied by a pair of soft boiled eggs served on a bowl which you can add spicy sauce to and then two toasts with kaya spread. Kaya is a spread made with coconut and pandan and it looks slightly green. The toasts are also likely to have a slice of cold butter in the middle along with the kaya spread. My suggestion? dip the kaya toast into the egg and if you are adventurous you can also add the chili oil and soy sauce the locals add to it, it's too much for me in the morning. 

Ya Kun Kaya Toast is a stall started by a Chinese immigrant in the 1920s and has been in the same area between Lau pa Sat and Telok Ayer street since then. Its current location is on far east Square and throughout the day the store is always bustling with people overflowing into the street on small stools and tables. 

8am Pulau Ubin bike ride

Arrival in Pulau Ubin village

Pulau Ubin feels like any place but Singapore. Away from the glitzy sky scrappers and the urban landscape the island is remote, quiet and wild.

Pulau Ubin translates as granite island because in the past granite mining supported a few thousand inhabitants. Today the quarries have been abandoned and remain as proof of Ubin's history. The forests that were cleared to cultivate rubber, coffee or pineapple have now been recovered by mother Nature with overgrow.

Pulau Ubin map

Life in the island is still as it used to be and a few kampongs or villages still exist to remind everyone of what Singapore looked like in the 60s: wells for water and generators for electricity. 

When you arrive on the island a few of the houses have been converted into bike rental stores and you can get one to tour the island.

To get there head to Changi Village jetty and take a dumboat to Pulau Ubin. It should take 10 minutes and cost less than SGD10.

1pm Lunch at Wild Honey on Scott's road

British fry up
Wild Honey is a well known breakfast all day cafe in Singapore. I recommend it because it is a good example of what Singapore has to offer: a global cuisine and influence. They have all sorts of breakfast dishes showcasing the palate of every country in the world. You can sample a Spanish dish, a Mexican breakfast, the French equivalent, a British fry up, a Tunisian shakshuka or practically any other breakfast dish. 

After lunch, have a walk along Orchard Road, the fashion centre of Singapore. Store after store of high end brands. Walk into Takashimaya's department store, Tangs or any of the international brands. 

Orchard road is packed in the weekends with people having a stroll, shopping, people watching or simply running heir errands.

4pm Cake and antiques

PS Cafe

Dempsey's PS Cafe on Harding Road is the go-to place for expat families and couples. It is a cafe with several stores across Singapore but the Dempsey one combines absolutely awesome signature cakes with greenery, glass walls floor to ceiling and the opportunity to walk around the Dempsey Hill area, a gem of antiques, restaurants and a few hidden gems. Make sure to check them out after the cake.

6pm River cruise

Take a cab to Clarke Quay and marvel at the most touristy area of Singapore. Clarke Quay is a covered fake looking area jam packed with restaurants, KT places, bars and all sorts of people from all ages. It is also a tourist's paradise where the shinny lights, the crowds and the river provide the right setting for a mesmerising back drop.

Singapore's Merlion from the water
  From Clarke Quay you can take a river cruise up and down the river. It provides a different view on the city and the opportunity to see much of the river facing buildings as well as the Marina Bay buildings, the sky scrappers and the heritage quays

Other famous Singapore sights as seen from the river cruise
8pm Dinner of chili crab

Shinny Clarke Quay

From Clarke Quay walk down the river towards the marina on the right hand side of the river and look for Jumbo restaurant. 

Chili crab is the most famous Singaporean dish and Jumbo is possible the most well known place to have it. Nowadays it is not necessarily the best chili crab in town but what it lacks in homeyness it compensates with a great view (by the river), Chinese efficiency deserving of admiration (the team manning the tables, organising the queue, taking orders, serving, etc.are quite incredible at churning customers). 

10pm Expat life in Chinatown

Club Street/An Siang Road

Head to Club Street to experience Singapore's expat life Club street is a heritage shop house lined-up small street which gathers most Westerners in the weekend. Since mid 2013 the government decided to close down the street to pedestrian traffic only on Friday and Saturday night from 7pm and the restaurants and bars have since taken over the pavement with chairs and tables. The streets fills with expats of all sorts enjoying a drink with friends, having food and chilling. You can have tapas at Los Primos, degustation style fusion food at Lolla, Japanese at Goto or gllitzy Izy, Italian at Da Paolo, Cucina or Spizza, French at O'Batignoles or Beaujolais, Moroccan at Mamounia, Asian at Ding Dong or international at 83 or Oxwell's. After food, head to one of the rooftop terraces either at Screening Room, Ying Yang or Scarlet Hotel.

10am Yum Cha and Chinatown

Buddha Tooth Relic Museum

You deserve a later morning today!

On the last day visit the Chinese part of town. 

Start with "Yum Cha" or dim sum with tea at Yum Cha Chinatown on 20 Tengganu Street. 

Sri Mariamman Temple
Dim Sum is a range of small plates made for sharing containing 2-4 pieces of the chosen type. Food can be steamed or fried and may contain sweet or savoury items. Tea is the drink of choice.

You will be provided a menu to mark your order quantities, a small bowl to eat your food with and a pair of chopsticks. Usually, napkins are not provided and instead people use wet towels and when they are done they wash their hands with soap. It is customary to serve tea to others before yous serve it to yourself. 

After breakfast, there are three main sights in Chinatown you don't want to miss before heading back to the hotel to pack and go.

  1. The Buddha Tooth Relic Museum and interesting temple and museum that is also very pretty and colourful from the outside.
  2. Sri Mariamman Temple, a Hindu temple in Chinatown, about 2 min walk from the Buddha Tooth Museum and which are a very active Hindu temple
  3. Walk the food stalls on Smith Street as well as the market area in the same street with all sorts of souvenirs to take home for last minute shopping

Have you been to Singapore on a short stay? What else would you add to the list?

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