Singapore in a Day

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Sadly due to Dengue Fever getting in our way (!), we only had one full day to spend in Singapore between the four-day train ride from Chiang Mai and our flights to Australia.

Interestingly, we weren’t sure if this was a curse or a blessing; it appears that people either love or hate Singapore. Here are some reasons why people could both love or hate it:

This post was originally published in 2008. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

Nora Dunn, The Professional Hobo, navigating the bus in Singapore

It’s a country that is a big city.

If you’re not a city person, then Singapore consequently wouldn’t be your cup of tea. If you are a city person, then Singapore is paradise, full of life, diversity, and brimming with “success”. Either way, I have to say that there are many huge parks, beaches, and resort-like areas that even a non-city-person should have been able to find something satisfying in Singapore.

It’s very expensive.

I can’t find many positive points to this reality, except to observe that the biggest complainers of cost in Singapore are those that just came from considerably less expensive areas of Asia (like Thailand), and go through some serious sticker shock. When you compare the prices in Singapore to those of any world-class large city, then it’s actually not that expensive – in fact in some cases it is way cheaper.

It’s very clean.

Now I would view this observation as a positive one through and through, however naysayers of Singapore cite the cleanliness as a kind of sterile lack of personality. I say it’s better than garbage and garbage-related pests lining all the city streets.

It’s very crowded.

In just five minutes of strolling through Bugis market (the city’s largest outdoor marketplace), we were poked, prodded, tripped over, pushed, beaten up, and generally manhandled more than our entire trip through the rest of Asia! In trying to board the public bus, an old woman hit Kelly repeatedly with her cane trying to push by us as we clumsily discerned how much we had to pay the driver, that he has bruises. Yup. It’s crowded. But again – welcome to the big city; you either succumb and love it or fight it all the way.

It’s very fashionable.

It appears that in Singapore, even people who aren’t trying look like a million bucks. Singapore is the height of fashion, and we felt a little grimy and tired looking in comparison to our haute-couture citizens.

It’s very multi-cultural.

Almost nobody from Singapore is actually from Singapore. Hmmm….memories of Toronto. You walk down the street and see people from Thailand, Mayalsia, India, China, and the western world. Many people speak English, and the rest usually speak Chinese. It was refreshing to have a greater chance of being able to communicate with strangers in English after traveling through areas where we were in a minority. It was also refreshing to see so many different cultures (and foods!) collide and co-exist. Similar to Toronto, Singapore has pockets dedicated to many cultures: Lucky Chinatown, Little India, Little Italy, and so on.

It’s very high-tech.

From the huge number of retailers of the latest consumer electronics, to the awesome public transportation system, technology is in abundance in Singapore. Taking the bus was a treat. The bus stop we waited at was at a convergence point of about eight buses. An LED sign gave us up-to-the-minute updates as to exactly when each bus would arrive at the stop. This ain’t no pre-posted schedule either; it is GPS technology at its best. Once on-board the bus (bruises and all), we decided to climb up to the second floor (it was a double-decker). Before we did so though, we could see on another LED screen just how many seats were vacant so as not to waste a trip up the stairs if it was too crowded.

It’s very safe.

I guess the only people who wouldn’t like this attribute are the drug dealers (or users) who face a death penalty if caught trafficking or in possession. Otherwise the ability to walk around late at night (as we did when we got off the train at 11:30pm with no place to stay and over an hour of wandering in search of accommodation), without risk of being mugged or otherwise mutilated is a treat.

hanging out by an artsy water park in Singapore

After only Singapore in a day, striking up conversations with extremely helpful shop-keepers and taxi-drivers, and wandering the streets and admiring the scenery, we certainly felt at home. In many ways it was a pleasant reminder of Toronto, and helped us to reminisce and enjoy a little piece of home while still being so far away from it. Singapore is most-certainly on our “must-return-to” list.

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12 thoughts on “Singapore in a Day”

  1. I was surprised (pleasantly) by Singapore too – we had 3 or 4 days there on the way from Europe to Oz when we were migrating (I hoped then my husband’s first impressions of Oz would be good, rather than a jet-lagged haze). It was much more interesting than I’d expected – it actually had some “culture” beyond the shopping and all the rules.

  2. hey love the way u describe about singapore and singaporean. i’am smiling when i were reading your blog . i’m a singaporean n i love the place n the people, maybe the next time u in town i bring to some cheap place for food 🙂

  3. I quite liked Singapore. It was very expensive compared to the rest of Asia and I had bad sticker shock but I like cities and I love clean, hi tech cities..making Singapore a favorite of mine.

    Plus, their airline is amazing!

  4. Nora…I come to this post later – much later, but I loved Singapore. I also worked (3 months-2005/6) in the building there in front of where you are standing in your picture.
    I make a point to stop off there for a day or three every time I visit Chiang Mai now.

  5. I’m from Singapore and lol, actually there are plenty of Singapore-born people who no longer identify with their ancestors who came a few generations ago from various parts of the world (my paternal great-grandparents came from China). We are always grumbling about various issues, but it’s always nice to feel proud of this tiny nation we grow up in.

    There are plenty of cheap good food here and the need to have eaten the best dish in town has basically evolved into a culture. If the food is great and value for money, we would not mind queuing up for an hour even if the service is crap (we do constantly grumble about that, but food is so much more loved).

    And our cleanliness is all due to the unsung heroes who sweep the roads and tend to the trees. There are many litterbugs around, and it is only *slightly* curbed by the enormous fines we have here.

    Hope you’ll come back soon and have fun!

    • Hi Peiyu,
      Thank you for your input! I absolutely loved Singapore, and look forward to going back (for more than just a few days next time too!) Cheers.

  6. Hi Nora, I just came across this posting and I do think it is a great post…but before I go further, let me tell that I re-looked at your blog and changed my mind about it being too busy….now I am used to it and kind of like it…sorry to have raised an unnecessary alarm there.
    As far as Singapore is concerned…it is very expensive if you are an expat or tourist…but if you are a local…life is pretty good and not expensive at all…
    for example: if you are an expat living and working in Singapore…you can expect your company to pay upwards of $6K US a month for your apartment… if you are a local living in local housing…the cost is minimal and sometimes as low as $300 Singapore $
    Most people eat in hawker centers where delicious food is served is served at a nominal price…example…Chicken rice $ 2.00 to 4.00chicken curry, fish, lamb, roasted duck, etc…all for the same price range…the food is very clean and the prices are very cheap…a few Sing $$
    If you go to a touristy hawker area like Newton Circus, then expect to pay a lot more….
    One of my favorite meals there was Fish head curry with rice…an amazing delight….

  7. @Baron’s – I loved the hawker centers…such variety, and great prices!
    Singapore is certainly one of the most expensive places in Asia, but an eclectic place full of variety.

    And if I were an expat and my company were paying $6k/month for my place, far be it for me to stop them! 🙂

  8. hi nora! i just came across your blog today.and i love seem happy and content with your life. and anyway, its Malaysia.=p

  9. @Mya – Thank you! Happiness is a process I think and an evolution. What makes us happy today might not make us happy tomorrow. It’s all about being in touch with ourselves I think, and having the courage to make the necessary changes to stay happy.

  10. hey nora!
    i’m planning to go down to Singapore to visit a couple of friends who are studying here. where would you recommend.
    Love your blog post btw

  11. @Marcus – It has been years since I was there, so I can only give you suggestions for areas. I stayed in Chinatown, which I quite enjoyed, but I know many people who have enjoyed staying in the Indian area, where there’s awesome food and a wide range of accommodation (including lots of hostels).
    And Singapore is small enough that you can get around quite easily I found.
    Hope this helps!

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