Bucket List Travel Asia: Singapore, the Garden City

To visit Singapore is to see a stunningly modern city-state which only became an independent nation in 1965. It is a global economic powerhouse which ranks very high in terms of quality of life and safety in global surveys. These qualities, together with its diverse world-class tourist attractions and first-rate cuisine, make it a must-visit when planning a trip to Asia.

Getting There

Singapore, composed of one main island and several islets, lies at the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula in Southeast Asia.  It has hot, humid weather due to its proximity to the equator, like living in a tropical rainforest. Major U.S. and most Asian airlines service Singapore. If you can judge a country’s greatness by the looks and quality of its airport, Changi International Airport certainly proves it. A recipient of many “best world airport” awards, Changi is a microcosm of Singapore – state of the art, highly efficient, and people oriented.  Its many attractions and amenities include a rooftop swimming pool, a 24-hour movie theater, several gardens (including sunflower, cactus, and butterfly gardens), plus a wide variety of restaurants offering delicious fare.

Wonderfully Multicultural

The three major ethnic groups that comprise the population of Singapore are Chinese, Malays, and Indians, making for a highly multicultural setting. Throw in the British influence after 100 plus years of colonization and you’ve got a nation that has set a perfect example to the world of how diversity works to its best advantage. For a more succinct taste of this multiculturalism, visit the thriving ethnic enclaves Little India, Chinatown, and Haji Lane (Arab St.) to enjoy various local sights, flavors, and goods.

Nature at its Best

Singapore’s drive to modernize has resulted in the demolition of much of its natural forests. The government has compensated by building numerous gardens around the city to help improve their residents’ quality of life. It is safe to say that the country has earned its “Garden City” moniker. Visit the imposingly beautiful national garden called Gardens by the Bay, which showcases the diversity and beauty of the plant kingdom in a highly entertaining and educational manner. The vast Botanic Gardens will wow plant and orchid lovers with its over 1000 species of orchids. And if you’re an animal lover, the Singapore Zoo is a fun place to be, especially if you do their famous Night Safari tour.

The popular island resort of Sentosa offers more entertainment and accommodation options for the traveler.  One of the more pleasing ways to get there is to take the Sentosa Boardwalk, a mostly covered walkway that’s set amidst gardens, shops, and eateries. You can also get to the island by aerial tram, bus, or car.  While there, enjoy a visit to kid friendly Universal Studios and Marine Life Park which has an excellent aquarium.

Glorious Food and Shopping

Singapore is every inch a food lover’s paradise. Its hawker centers have some of the best street food in the cleanest of settings (due to very strict hygiene laws). At places like Maxwell Road Hawker Centre and the Chinatown Complex Food Centre, you’ll find mouthwatering local dishes such as Hainanese chicken rice, Singapore’s national dish, made of tender poached chicken and served with rice that has been steamed in its very flavorful broth. Hawker centers, as well as Little India eateries, also offer the delectable and spicy fish head curry, another must try specialty. For breakfast, check out a kopi tiam or traditional coffee house and order kaya (coconut jam) toast.

Shopping is undoubtedly one of the Singaporeans’ favorite preoccupations. Orchard Road is the main shopping artery, full of upscale malls and big brand names as well as many fine restaurants. For bargains,  go to Bugis Street, a mammoth bazaar with crowded alleys full of clothing for sale. Or wait till the annual Great Singapore Sale held in June for huge bargains and discounts on goods all over the city. Many Asian cities offer their charms in a third world setting, but if you’re looking to see the multifaceted beauty of Asia from a first world perspective, you’ll surely find it in Singapore.

The awe-inspiring vertical gardens at Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay are tree-like structures that provide shade during the day and entertain with a light and sound show at night. Above, an aerial view of the strikingly modern city-state.
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