We planned on flying from Japan to Sri Lanka, but soon discovered the flights were about £400-500 each, so that idea quickly went out the window.
Instead we managed to get a flight to Singapore for £180 each, so decided to head there for a few days before taking a bus up to the more budget-friendly Malaysia.
Public Transport in Singapore
We didn’t get to our Chinatown hostel until around 10.30pm, so decided to leave the exploring until the next day. The first thing we noticed was that the MRT (subway) system in Singapore is bloody brilliant. You can swipe in and out of the gates using your debit card, even international cards, and journeys are really cheap and straight forward.
It beats the Tokyo system by a long way, where there’s a mad mix of private and JR lines, and the stations are so huge you have no idea where you’re going. The Singapore system reminds me a lot of London, as it’s well organised and you can use your credit/debit card at the barriers, but beats London too, as the stations all look very new and clean, and the trains are air conditioned.
Marina Bay Sands
Our first stop was Marina Bay, home to the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel – you know the one… three ultra modern looking buildings with the Sands SkyPark in the shape of a huge ship or surfboard balanced on top.
The hotel looms over the beautiful Shoppes shopping mall, which is home to plenty of designer brands and even has an indoor river where gondolas can transport you from one shopping area to the next. We walked through and gawped at the shops but didn’t go in a single one… I bet they can spot backpackers a mile away.
Marina Bay Sands is also home to the ArtScience museum, which houses exhibits exploring new ideas and creations when art and science work together. The building itself is super cool – taking inspiration from a lotus flower, the building is designed by the same architect as the hotel, which is probably the reason why that whole area fits together so well – all the buildings come together to form an area which looks futuristic and beautiful.
We spent a few hours exploring the exhibits in the museum – they currently have an interactive digital art exhibit called FutureWorld by TeamLab, the guys behind the Planets exhibit we loved in Tokyo. Another good one at ArtScience is the Wonderland exhibit, which is celebrating all things Alice. It looks at all the different interpretations of Alice in Wonderland through the years, and how the story has affected pop culture.
We both found the Floating Utopias exhibit a bit too arty for us. It sounded good… a collection of artwork exploring giant inflatables and their social functions… but I think we were a bit out of our depth with that one. Although the giant moon was pretty cool.
Gardens By The Bay
After a good few hours roaming around the bay area, we eagerly headed to the highlight of our Singapore visit – the Gardens by the Bay. These gardens are home to two giant domes full of amazing plants, as well as the famous Supertrees. The aim is to showcase the plant kingdom in a whole new way, showcasing garden artistry and educating visitors.
The outdoor gardens are free to explore, but we bought tickets for both the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome. We visited the Cloud Forest Dome first and were blown away by the sight that greeted us when we walked in – the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, cascading down a 30 metre high mountain of plants. It was breathtakingly gorgeous. We went to the top of the mountain and made our way along the walkways spiralling around the dome, taking in the plant mountain from all angles.
Next was the Flower Dome, which showcases gardens from all over the world, and where it is forever spring. I don’t know how they do it, but I swear every single flower was in perfect bloom. Every one. They must have a legion of gardeners working their magic in that dome because it was just amazing.
After spending the afternoon in the beautiful conservatories, we finally made it out to the iconic Supertree Grove. These huge structures are up to 50 metres tall – the tallest is 16 stories high. Not only are the trees really impressive to look at, they also have photovoltaic cells to harvest solar energy, and others are connected to the cooling system for the conservatories. They also contain planters, and throughout the 18 Supertree structures there are over 180,000 plants with more than 700 species making up these vertical gardens. It’s absolutely incredible.
The best bit is when they come alive… As the sky gets darker, the grove is filled with hundreds of people all sitting patiently, staring up at the trees. Suddenly a voice booms out across the grove announcing the Garden Rhapsody light and sound show and for 15 minutes the trees pulse in time to the music, lights glow and fade and fairy lights creep up the trunks and through to the branches.
I think it’s fair to say the Gardens by the Bay left a big impression.
Sentosa Island Resort
Unfortunately, our second day was a bit disappointing. Maybe the first day was just too hard to beat, but day two left us feeling deflated.
We headed out to Sentosa, which is an island resort just off the coast. We thought we had to get there by cable car, which set us back about £20 each. Turns out there’s actually a free walkway and also a monorail which costs £4… this is what happens when you don’t do your research!
As we didn’t know about the other options, we took the cable car and to be honest, the views across the bay were very beautiful. We got off at the Merlion stop and walked down to Singapore’s S.E.A Aquarium where we discovered our second mistake of the day. It was Singapore’s National Day – a public holiday. This meant Sentosa Island was full to bursting, and the aquarium was no exception.
We fought our way through the crowds, most of whom seemed more intent on taking selfies at every single tank rather than actually looking at the fish. We saw parents who kept calling to their kids to look at the camera and getting frustrated when the kids were more interested in looking at the sharks. There were even people tapping on the glass tanks below big signs saying ‘Do not knock on the glass’. We still managed to see lots of cool fish and enjoyed it right up until we saw the captive dolphins, which left me completely horrified.
The ethics of S.E.A. Aquarium are definitely questionable. They have a huge focus on climate change and marine conservation, but then they have dolphins in captivity, imported from the Solomon Islands. How it that ok? Not only that, but despite their signs saying they won’t give you plastic straw for your drinks (a good thing, obviously), they print off every single picture the guests pose for when entering the aquarium and display them – only to be thrown in the bin when they aren’t bought.
After that, we continued to explore Sentosa but to be honest the whole island just seems like a massive tourist trap. After the beautiful design of Marina Bay Sands and the Gardens by the Bay, we expected the ‘playground’ of Sentosa to be equally as stunning but it’s quite tacky. Fake beaches, fast food restaurants, cheap souvenirs and chopped down jungle. It’s not for us.
Singapore – worth a visit?
Even if you only had one day in Singapore, you’d have a brilliant time. It’s a beautiful city and so easy to get around.
The food is wonderful – in Chinatown we ate delicious pepper beef noodles, and in Little India we had one of the best curries we’ve ever had. I can only imagine how good the food is around the bay area – unfortunately we didn’t have the budget to try any!
There was one dining option that nearly made us splash out… you can dine aboard the cable car from the mainland to Sentosa. You have a posh four course meal in your private cable car, with each course replaced by the next each time you arrive back at the restaurant stop up Mount Faber. It looked brilliant. Imagine taking someone to that as a date!
From Chinatown to Little India, Marina Bay to Sentosa Island, Singapore is a city of huge contrasts. Despite not splashing out hugely, we still definitely went over budget in Singapore – it’s not a cheap place to explore. It was worth the expense though, and we would certainly recommend a visit.