Singapore was never on my bucketlist. I had no aching desire to explore this city-state, but it happened to be the cheapest place to fly into on my way to Maldives. My fellow travelers recommended 2-3 days in Singapore. I gave myself five full days, assuming two of them would be spent sleeping off jetlag. Cities have never been the highlight of my travels but Singapore offered me something many cities don’t – an easy escape. Every day I could add some sort of garden or park to my itinerary. It was a chance to get out of the loud, busy city for a few hours. For this reason I have dubbed Singapore “The Garden City.” If you like gardens I would recommend 3-4 days here, and only 2 days if you don’t.
Gardens By the Bay
These days, Gardens by the Bay is a major icon of Singapore. However, the gardens are new and have only been open since 2012. It’s been a major hit with travelers and in fact, is the only attraction I knew about before my visit. Gardens by the Bay has so much to offer, including Supertree Grove, Flower Dome, Cloud Forest, and over 1 million plants! Gardens by the Bay is a must-see unless you’re a nature-hating, flower-despising meany.
This is usually what comes to mind when someone mentions Gardens by the Bay. These man-made trees are between 25-50 meters tall and covered in lush foliage. It’s just a really cool concept and people flock to see these awesome looking trees. Thanks to my jet-lag I was there at sunrise and had the whole place to myself. Get there early because the grove will be crowded by 9am.
The OCBC Skyway is a walkway hanging between two of the Supertrees. It opens at 9am and is $8sgd to enter. An elevator zooms to the skyway where there is a 360 view of the city. The 15 minute time limit is hardly enough to take it all in, but thankfully it’s not strictly enforced. 20 minutes was enough time to look around and take plenty of pictures. It felt like some sort of modern Lord of the Rings Elvin fortress up there. Totally worth it!
It’s any flower-lover’s dream to get lost in the Flower Dome. This giant green house is a journey through different gardens all around the world. Walk through a land of unique trees, fairy tale sculptures, colorful flowers, and pretty butterflies. I was there during Orchid Extravaganza; it was like Monet got his hands on a million orchids and went artistically wild.
Many people zip through Flower Dome at a fast pace, but there are several hidden gems. Allot plenty of time to explore because it would be a shame to miss something. Orchids may be the highlight, but peek around hidden corners to find other amazing things.
I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Cloud Forest, but imagine walking onto the set of Jurassic Park. There is a giant waterfall at the entrance, falling from a towering mass of plants, flowers, and moss. A path leads around the tower to some unique statues and sculptures. There is even a lego-model of carnivorous plants (my favorite).
An elevator speeds to the top for an easy stroll down. There are many exciting things to see including some lovely woodwork. A gorgeous fairy pond is the first surprise. Continue down and see the unique flowers hanging all over the tower. Head to the top of the waterfall and look down at the newcomers. It’s a long way! The walkway eventually leads away from the tower and gives nice views of the whole forest.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
Take a 45 minute train ride to the Botanic Gardens and surround yourself with nature. It’s a good way to get out of the hustle and bustle of the big city. Don’t get me wrong, there are still a ton of people here, but at least there are no skyscrapers. The Botanic Garden is quite large with multiple visitor’s centers, restaurants, and gift shops. Seeing the National Orchid Garden was my main goal, but it’s a 1 kilometer walk through the garden. There are gazebos, ponds, waterfalls, and all the pretty things you’d expect.
National Orchid Garden
The Botanic Garden is free but the Orchid Garden is $5 and positively worth it. The national flower of Singapore is the orchid, so it makes sense there would be such a fantastic orchid garden here. Being the first person to walk in at 8:30am, I had the place to myself for the first hour. Meandering through the garden and seeing so many beautiful things made my day.
They really go crazy with the displays and there are seriously orchids EVERYWHERE. There are fountains with orchids, overhangs with orchids, and works of orchid art. It felt like walking through a fairy tale. The section dedicated to rare and unique orchids was my personal favorite. These were orchids on steroids, full of beauty and delicacy (I guess the opposite of steroids, actually).
Singapore is not just gardens and flowers; it’s an incredible mixing bowl of cultures. Little India, Chinatown, and Arab Street are all great places to experience an array of food, architecture, and shopping. The beautiful temples from all over the world are particularly enjoyable. Appropriate dress is required to go into many of them.
The food in Singapore was the highlight of my trip. After hearing many horror stories of food poisoning in Asia, I was happy to learn Singaporian food is perfectly safe to eat. The best part is it’s cheap! There are huge food courts with delicious smells wafting through the levels. Food hawkers are sprinkled across the city offering fares from all over the world. Some are fancier than others but they are all delicious. Typically there are different portions with different prices S($3)/M($4)/L($5). It’s a great way to try a variety of fares and not go over your budget.
Sentosa Island was too crazy for me, but people flock to this entertainment island for a reason. There is a beach, Universal Studios, a casino, shops, a huge merlion, indoor skydiving…the list goes on and on. Personally, I went there to visit Fort Siloso. After a few days of gardens, food, and fun, I was ready to get serious with some history. Singapore’s perfect trading location makes it a very desirable place to gain control. This tiny country has a complex history, all worth learning about at Fort Siloso.
Singapore is incredibly modern and shows it off by numerous light displays. Supertree Grove has a light show at 7:45 and 8:45 daily. Sentosa Island has two light shows, one at the Merlion (7:40 and 8:40pm) and one at Wings of Time – a light show over the ocean ($18). Finally, Marina Bay Sands puts on a light show too (8 and 9pm daily). It can be watched from any part of the bay, but the best spot is directly in front of Marina Bay Sands. I watched it from across the bay from Merlion. The view of the light show was perfect, although I couldn’t make out the fountain display very well.
Singapore is known to be the perfect “practice country” for Asia travel because it is very Europeanized. Most people speak English, the amenities are modern, and public transportation is easy. Singapore is enjoyable, but I agree that it is simply a “fly-through” city. Don’t fly half way across the world just to come here. Singapore Airport is huge and in a great location, so you will have a layover at some point.