I had planned my trip to Singapore long before the incredibly popular film Crazy Rich Asians was released around the world (hooray for Hollywood on an all Asian cast!). I arranged to visit an old friend who lives there and somehow convinced myself that watching it would be vital travel research. The romantic comedy has been widely talked about because of the razzle-dazzle lifestyle of the obscenely rich it showcases. It’s safe to say I left the cinema nervous that my funds would disintegrate substantially after spending just four days there. Thankfully, my time in Singapore did not break the bank and I managed to survive my four days there even as a Crazy(?) White Caucasian.
While driving from the airport to my hostel I caught a glimpse of why the country is known as one of the most prosperous in the world. Lush urban parks, glossy skyscrapers and flashy sports cars flashed across my window like cutting glass, each more grand and pristine than the other. Instead of staying at one of Singapore’s many luxury hotels, such as the Fullerton, Ritz – Carlton, Marina Bay Sands etc. I opted for a capsule hotel in the very accessible Chinatown neighbourhood, just a short subway ride to some of Singapore’s best attractions using one of the world’s most efficient public transport systems, the MRT. With my extendable three-day tourist pass, priced at $20 (GBP 11), I was able to use the MRT to whizz around the concrete jungle in a matter of minutes, as many times as I liked.
This proved useful when exploring the different neighbourhoods Singapore had to offer. Without spending any money at all I was able to discover the islands ethnic quarters of China Town, Little India and Marina Bay Sands by joining free walking tours. While exploring these different areas Singapore became more than just another metropolis full of suits and exposed itself as a cocktail of cultures and traditions from its Chinese, Malay, Indian and Western inhabitants. Because of its blend of ethnicities, it felt as though there were worlds upon worlds squeezed into the small island along with its four official languages of Malay, Mandarin, Tamil, and English. Luckily for me, English is the main language despite it not being the dialect of any of the major ethnic groups, so I was able to get around and converse with ease.
Much like my hometown of Gibraltar, which sports its own unique language called Llanito, I discovered Singapore has a widely spoken unofficial language called Singlish which is a more conversational, broken down version of English. While Singlish isn’t used in formal situations it is a reflection of Singapore’s multicultural society and is therefore of huge importance when trying to gauge what local life is like. Another vital part of Singaporean life and one of my favourite things to try in a new country is its food.
While reuniting with my friend she introduced me to one of Singapore’s many hawker centres (also known as food courts) called Lau Pa Sat, where we were able to find good local food at a reasonable price. It was over a delicious bowl of steaming ramen that I quizzed her about what growing up in Singapore is like. When describing life on the city-state she noted how a huge importance is placed on education when growing up in order to succeed later on in life. By succeeding she meant fulfilling the social expectation of landing a high earning job, owning your own home, getting married and having kids. In a nutshell, she described Singapore as a modern society with conservative values.
Aside from strolling around Singapore’s neighbourhoods, browsing through their various mall complexes, and sampling their street food, I managed to do a few of the more pricey tourist attractions using Klook. For those of you who haven’t heard of Klook, it’s a booking activities platform where you can buy tickets for attractions all over the world at a discounted price. Using Klook I was able to visit Universal Studios at Sentosa Island and fulfil my childhood dream of hugging my spirit animal the Cookie Monster (yes, I know I’m 23). Sentosa Island is often referred to as The State of Fun because of its various beaching, dining and shopping attractions.
While people visit Singapore for the shopping, upon visiting it’s clear they stay for the culture and fall in love with the art. One of the most artistic tourist attractions is arguably the Gardens by the Bay nature park which boasts a world-class magical forest light show against the backdrop of Marina Bay Sands. For those of you who have seen the film Crazy Rich Asians, this is where the wedding reception is held, at the bottom of the forest full of huge man-made metal trees. As well as a skyway bridge up in the treetops visitors can expect the spectacular light show lasting 15-minutes down below. The show consists of trees erupting in technicolour like fireworks while over 50 hidden speakers blast surround sound music in unison. It truly is a unique and beautiful experience.
Although Singapore did live up to the luxury highlighted in Crazy Rich Asians I managed to explore without spending in excess. In truth there are many free things to do in Singapore and with four main cultures all cohabiting, there’s a lot to learn. While the island/city/state doesn’t cater to travellers looking for monumental national parks and peaks to hike, it’s more than just a stopover with well air-conditioned shopping centres and is definitely worth a city break if you’re island popping around Asia.
Check out this quick video of my time in Singapore.