Waking up in Singapore to a breakfast of fiery pink dragon fruit and sweet papaya, I was more than ready for my first day exploring the Lion City. A quick glance at the map had confirmed that many of the Singapore attractions I was keen to see were in fairly close proximity; I decided to walk.
Knowing that the tropical weather in Singapore can result in epic downpours of thunderous rain, I headed to the Botanic Gardens to make the most of the morning sunshine. I had been warned that the humidity ‘might be a little high’: this was a categorical understatement. The heat was heavy, sticky and intense, but being the sun worshipper that I am, I revelled in the warmth. I could feel it in my bones.
The undulating swathes of green and colourful canopies of fragrant hibiscus and frangipani convinced me instantly that this was no ordinary city. The hum of traffic was soon dissolved in the rush of cascading fountains and the sound of bird song. That’s the thing about Singapore; for a highly efficient, urban city-state it is remarkably lush and brimming with wildlife.
Stepping out of the gardens into the flurry of inner-city activity, I couldn’t believe my luck; I had inadvertently found myself on the cusp of Singapore’s shopping capital: Orchard Road. Retail addicts from across the globe often travel to Singapore purely for the unparalleled shopping experience the city offers; I was in unadulterated high-fashion heaven.
My budget couldn’t quite take the heat, so I breezed past the ever-seductive, glossy Louis Vuitton displays and the glittering storefronts of Cartier and Dior, intermittently invigorated by the enticing gusts of cool conditioned air escaping from the adorned entrances. The gleaming windows, spotless streets and manicured hedges of Orchard Road perhaps play a role in Singapore’s misguided reputation of being a sterile, soulless environment; luckily I was on my way to a district that would blow that misconception out of the water.
Chinatown: Market stalls selling trinkets and gifts are crammed into narrow, colourful streets, each strewn with traditional lanterns. A smorgasbord of sights, sounds and smells emanates from the crowded passageways; steaming woks of spicy noodles and clouds of aromatic incense, lively music blasting from tinny car stereos and bustling throngs of people make for a deliciously chaotic afternoon.
Emerging from the depths of the dense clutch of bodies, I heard an ominous rumble; the sky was bruised with charcoal clouds. The atmosphere became stifling and a hush descended as the anticipated rain began to spill from the sky. Another crack of thunder was followed by a deep growl, this time from my stomach. Perfect timing.
Lau Pa Sat is one of Singapore’s well known hawker centres – a type of food hall located in the heart of the business district – where locals and tourists alike come to feast on the bounteous spread of outrageously good (and cheap) food. The un-air conditioned, packed-out hall is atmospheric to say the least; hundreds of food outlets infuse the space with sizzling heat, curious aromas and an energetic buzz. Unable to choose from the delectable array of noodles, curries, rice dishes and soups, I used my trusty traveller’s trick and joined the longest line. This way I was pretty much guaranteed a tasty meal; the reward for my wait? A peppery Korean BBQ. Delicious.
Stomach satiated and rain retreated, I wandered towards the marina to take in the sunset. The evening breeze was warm and the esplanade was lulled with the distant chatter of ex-pat diners enjoying the view from the waterfront restaurants. Across the water, the incredible Marina Bay Sands hotel stood as a startling emblem of the city’s architectural prowess. As night fell, the hotel burst into life; lasers danced across the building’s three pillars and jets of water leapt towards the sky. I could do nothing but sit and watch, spellbound. Of all the things to do in Singapore, this is an absolute must. A stroll along the water front is the perfect way to end a busy day.
Singapore is far more than an in-transit destination, but if you only have a short time in the city, you’ll find that you can pack in a lot of culture – and hopefully a lot of food – into twenty-four hours.
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