Although very small in size, Singapore has a population of 6 million people making it a fairly crowded city-state. What makes Singapore a real pleasant place is that, although densely populated, 50% of its area is covered in greenery with over 50 major parks and 4 nature reserves.
Singapore is made up of many different ethnic areas each with their own unique vibe. Our goal was to stay in or visit all of these areas in an effort to take all this diversity in. Upon arrival, we checked into a Chinatown restored pre-war shophouse hotel for a few days in the heart of the action. In every major city, Chinatown is notorious for being filthy dumps. Not so in Singapore as it was spotless clean. Even the bustling outdoor Chinatown food areas usually crawling with cockroaches in other cities were immaculate. It was a pleasure to walk around, eat and stay in without the smell of funk in the air. In addition to Chinatown, we also explored Singapore’s Little India, the Malay section as well as the Arab district. What was most incredible to me was how different and distinct each of these areas turned out to be……from the food that’s hawked, to the smells that run through the street, to the unique sounds of each different area. We even ventured deep into the suburbs for 4 days for various activities via the super efficient MRT subway. Leaving the city centre, we were really the only westerners to be seen and we got a taste of how clean, normal and pleasant suburbia life is all about in Singapore.
People warned me Singapore was expensive and boy were they correct. Its a great place to blow thru your moolah quickly. In a country not exactly known for being budget-friendly, you can surround yourself with locals and eat some of the best food by hitting up the many economical local joints. With food being the 2nd biggest expense after lodging, I had to draw from my ‘old school’ New York City experiences and sniff out these casual locals places. This helped keep the cost of food down and since we were eating out every single meal, we had to avoid getting hosed at some of the overpriced restaurants which are in abundance. I actually prefer to search out and feast at these hidden gem local joints. Most of these local places have their own special unique ‘go to’ dish to try. They also offer a more colorful and vibrant atmosphere. (check out some of the videos below of some of the unique ethnic signature dishes that are dished out.)
Singaporeans love their food. In Thailand, every other storefront is a massage parlor. In Singapore, every other storefront is a place to eat. Nobody is going hungry in Singapore. In most parts of Asia, street food is so prevalent and can be purchased on just about every corner. However, street food has been banned in Singapore since the 1970’s and all the food action are in the Hawker Centers. Singapore hawker centers are king of the culinary scene and for a true taste of Singapore, you gotta hit up these hawkers. This is where you can find the city’s best eating and at the best price. We really enjoyed eating at these food ‘Hawker Centers’. They are basically outdoor food courts with small stalls serving up ethnic food with a focus on Chinese, Malay, Indian and Arabic dishes. Here is a simple tip for any first timers and hawker eating simpletons. Let’s say you are an amateur, overwhelmed by the number of choices and are unsure of which food stall to select to chow down at…..you simply go to the ones with the longest lines of locals. Basically, any stall with a line of locals, translates into get your ass in that line asap, cause the locals tend to know their shit.
There are tons of these ‘Hawker Centers’ spread throughout Singapore and it was our mission to eat at as many as possible. You probably have seen these ‘Hawker Centers’ featured on many food and travel shows. (i.e. Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmerman shows….etc.). My personal favorite hawker center, Tiong Bahru Hawker Centre, will require a short MRT train trip into the suburbs. The food stalls here were simply awesome and they were also probably 50% cheaper than the more touristy centers in the city center. The big kahuna of hawkers and my personal fav in the city centre was Maxwell Hawker Center.
Every country has its signature dish, and in Singapore, the competition begins and ends with HAINANESE CHICKEN RICE. I was on a mission in Thailand searching out the best Khao Soi and I was successful in locating some killer stuff in Chiang Mai. I continued on my mission in Singapore in search of the best Hainanese Chicken Rice. Anthony Bourdain touted on his show Tian Tian and Chin Chin Eating House. I can confirm both were awesome. However, just listening to a TV guy would be lazy, so I set out to find my own hidden gems. Overall, all of the ethnic food was simply outstanding throughout Singapore. After our previous three months in Asia, it was a lot like having an all-you-can eat buffet thrust upon us after having subsisted on a steady diet of various versions of white rice and noodles.
As for lodging we stayed in Chinatown for a few days to get a good taste of that area. We then moved to an Airbnb condo rental in the bustling Bugis area. Many people have raved about the Airbnb experience and this was the first time I have pulled the trigger on an Airbnb rental. I always found it kinda strange living in another persons place. However, it really works well in that we were able to experience the heart of the Singapore life, as a local would, given that we were living in a condo rather than a hotel. We rented the condo for one (1) week and will continue doing this Airbnb thing in other cities assuming we are going to spend a week or more in one location.
We have been traveling a bit over 3 months and have been to four (4) countries: Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore. Of all these countries Barbie and I have been the most active in Singapore. Most backpackers/flashpackers either skip Singapore because of the high costs or just allocate a few days. Unfortunately, there is no way you can cover all the sights and attractions that Singapore has on tap in just a few days. We have been here for 10 days and feel we covered a great deal. We are off to Malaysia for about 2 weeks but will be returning to Singapore for another two (2) week stint over the holidays and into the New Year. We initially planned for a much longer stay in Malaysia but we are cutting it short because we will be returning to Singapore to housesit and take care of a really cool dog named Hector. This German Short Hair Pointer is really athletic and requires alot of exercise so Hector is bound to keep us very fit. It is our first housesit and we plan on exploring other housesit opportunities during our journey.
Chinatown/Clark Quay Area – Tong Ah Eating House, Good Morning Nanyang, Song Fa Bak Kut Teh (2X), Shiraz Mazzeh
Hawker Centres – Maxwell, Tiong Bahru, Newton, La Pa Sat, Smith Street
Bugis area – Chin Chin Eating House (2X), Alex’s Eating House (2X), Senjyu, Desert First, Ah Chew, Bugis Junction Mall, Chong Qing Grilled Fish.
Orchard Road Area – Food Republic @Wisma Atria Center, Takashimaya Food Court
Arab/Muslim Area – Zam Zam
Suburbs – Jarong Point Mall
LOOSE STOOLS INDEX – 5 (You would figure eating the freshest food of this journey in Singapore, the index would surge. However, we stuffed our faces with so much variety of ethnic food, my bowels were in overdrive just trying to process things.)
THRU THE BINOCS –
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