Singapore: Southeast Asia’s Success Story
The word Singapore comes from the Malay word Singapura, meaning Lion City, named for the lions that were native to the densely forested area. Today, there is no sign of wild lions in the one of the world’s most densely populated metropolises. Singapore is a strange story, geographically being one of the smallest countries in the world yet having one of the highest GDPs in the world. The country has almost no natural resources, but the former leaders of the country strategically set up the country to become a banking and corporate headquarters mecca. Companies started moving to Singapore and have become an important hub for business. We originally had no plans to visit Singapore, but all the cheapest flights to the Philippines from Cambodia had stops in Singapore; booking the flight with a few days layover had almost no increase in cost, so we decided to make it a 3 day stopover.
While in Halong Bay, we had met Yamin, a girl from Myanmar who happened to be living and working in Singapore. A few days before going to Singapore, she kindly offered to host us for our few nights in the city. Of course we took the offer; it’s always great to know someone living in the city, and we had a nice time with her in Halong Bay.
The airport is on the east side of Singapore whereas Yamin lives on the west side (very close to the border of Malaysia). So we arrived, jumped on the metro, and within an hour we had crossed almost the entire country. Strange.
Coming from Cambodia, Singapore was quite the culture shock. Whereas Cambodia can be described as chaotic and unorganized, Singapore is clean and orderly. It’s even illegal to chew chewing gum. We really enjoyed the development of the city after having traveled through Southeast Asia. The incredible architecture, the free live music, urban hiking, and variety of foods were some of the highlights of the trip.
An interesting part of Singapore’s culture is how shopping malls are a significant part of daily life. The food courts, offering any kind of Asian food from Indonesian to Chinese, are popular places to eat out for lunch and dinner. For about $5, you can get a nice, filling meal. Malls are also where supermarkets are located. And malls are even used to walk through to get from place to place. Not to mention how shopping crazy the people are in the city. As you can imagine, malls are a huge part of life, moreso than I’ve seen in any other country. Malls can be found anywhere you go. Although we did enjoy the delicious variety of food in the food courts, I was sick of malls after just a few days.
Marina Bay and the Surrounds
The most memorable part of our time in Singapore was walking around the Marina Bay area. It’s what it sounds like, a developed area around a bay that leads out to the sea. It’s the most popular tourist spot in the city. Around the bay are fancy hotels, nice restaurants, and incredible architecture. The most notable feature is the Marina Bay Sands. Its distinguishing feature is seemingly large ship resting on top of three 55-story buildings. It truly looks like a boat somehow got stuck on stop of these buildings, which happen to be part of one hotel. On the boat are palm trees and the very famous Infinity Pool, famous for its glass casing giving fantastic views of the city. One the backside of the hotel, on the 15th floor, is a walkway leading towards the sea, giving views of the fluorescently lit trees at Gardens by the Bay, which looks like it is from the movie Avatar. Also back there is the Singapore Flyer ferris wheel, which was the tallest in the world until earlier this year. Walking through and the around the hotel was just shocking. Every time I thought we had seen it all, Yamin showed us something new that was even more impressive.
The area around the Marina Bay is also a perfect route. There is a concert hall, a big shopping mall (with a small river running through where you can take a boat ride), a fountain show in the bay, and great views of the skyline. One thing we really liked was the Rain Oculus, an acrylic bowl outside of the shopping mall. It looks like an oversized salad bowl, spanning 70 feet in diameter. For whatever reason, sound transfers surprisingly well on the bowl to the other side. On the other side was Chika, 70 feet away, and I was talking in a normal volume; she could hear it as if I was next to her. We were so astonished by it that we played around with it for a good 30 minutes before pulling ourselves away.
Yamin also took us to a closed off street that is full of street food vendors. After traveling in Southeast Asia, we typically see very low prices on food, especially at street vendors. We were shocked when we saw that a family style meal for 2-3 people was in the $40-$50 range! After getting over this, we ordered different types of meat on a stick, a type of Indian naan bread, and sting ray. It was my first time eating sting ray, and I enjoyed it. Tasted like a typical fish, pretty soft and had tiny bones that we were able to eat.
The Marina Bay area was very impressive, especially at night. We were awe-struck by the architecture and had an awesome time just walking around. Other than food, we didn’t have to spend a dime to enjoy the surrounds!
Urban Hiking and City Parks
Although the urban city of Singapore takes up most of the land in the country, they have kept and also created beautiful gardens and hiking within the city. Although you may be in the metro area, you’d never guess it when in some of the parks of Singapore. Our kind host, Yamin, decided to take a day and show us around the different hikes and parks of Singapore.
After a 30 minute bus ride, we were at the entrance of the Southern Ridges park. After taking the walkway over the 4-lane but not busy road, we were already in it. We followed the 50 foot high walkway for about a mile, being surrounded by trees but seeing parts of the city skyline in the distance. We finally arrived to the Southern Ridges famous bridge, which is known for its wavy shape. The nature in this park, although very close to the city, is a nice asset to the city. Singapore’s tropical climate means that it’s always very green, and there are apparently monkeys in there as well. Although it feels a bit man-made, I can imagine it’s a nice place for families to “escape” the urban lifestyle for a day.
From the bridge, we walked down to the shoreline, had lunch at a mall (Indonesian BBQ!), and then walked over the bridge to Sentosa Island. Sentosa Island is essentially the Disneyworld of Singapore. To get onto the island, one must pay $1. Once on the island, there are plenty of things to do, some with entrance fees and some without. The highlight is Universal Studios, but they have plenty of other attractions like movie theaters, a zoo, etc. But the best of all is the beaches, the man-made beaches. Singapore really does try to have everything, as shown by the import of sand to create beaches on the south side of Sentosa Island.
With views out to the large cargo ships passing by, we hung out on the beach for a bit, sitting on fake grass. They literally had a strip of fake golf putting green laid out on the sand. This shows the essence of Singapore. Everything is so well planned for them to have everything; but it loses some appeal when it does feel artificial and without much character. But let’s be honest, what they’re doing is working, shown by the popularity of Sentosa Island, the amount of wealth in the country, and the number of foreigners moving there.
That ended our short time in Singapore. We spent a total of 3 nights and 2.5 days in the city, which was enough to see the highlights. The stop was a welcome break the rest of Southeast Asia. It’s funny how jumping into such a wealthy country left us shocked by the green parks, big buildings, nice cars, and fancy stores. The contrast between Singapore and Cambodia, countries that are just a few hours apart, is crazy to see. Singapore, being such a small area of land, is a great story of how important city planning can be. They had a great idea of how they wanted their country to be, and it worked in creating what is now the world’s most expensive city to live in.