Monday, February 15, 2016

Where to go in Singapore

SINGAPORE'S FAMOUS ICON, the Merlion. But no, this is not the most photographed water-spewing statue that most tourists are familiar with. This one, albeit equally majestic, is the one in Sentosa.

"Did you ever work in Singapore?" My lawyer friend Grace once asked when I told her of travel anecdotes that is almost short of saying, "I love Singapore."

Yes, I keep coming back to Singapore. I love it in Singapore.

Maybe because Singapore was my first out-of-country destination when the travel bug first bit me. And since then, I've been there for more than eight times. I wouldn't mind having a long layover in Singapore.

"If you live in Manila, you would definitely want to be in Singapore!" said another high school classmate. She was pertaining to the horrendous Metro Manila traffic and the inefficient public transport system, which is a stark contrast to what Singapore has.

For the highly efficient train and bus system, the cleanliness, and for being an expert in giving tourists a treat, I would definitely come back to Singapore for more.

I thought I've already decided to turn my back on Singapore after I saw Bangkok. An international tourist quoted in a Philippine broadsheet even said that Singapore is "too predictable." But I don't know. I don't care. There's that lure to go back to Singapore. And for the many times that I am in Singapore, there is always something new to experience and enjoy.

The recent trip that I've had in Singapore was really meant to show my younger brother around. In crafting a four-day itinerary, the question I've had in my mind was: what's with Singapore that is worth seeing?

So here, I want to share with you a four-day itinerary that would fit a limited budget:

1. Singapore Zoo
Going to a zoo on a holiday may be just a waste of time for the adventure-seeker. For some, it can be a mere tourist trap. I've skipped many a zoos in my previous travels after realizing that a trip to Jurong Bird Park (also in Singapore) was not worth the SGD 20 entrance fee. But, as many tourists say, you haven't been to Singapore if you haven't seen the Singapore Zoo. This place is pretty well-managed, as it is as clean as how the whole of Singapore is. Divided thematically into 11 zones -- counting among them Wild Africa for the Lion King-esque array of safari animals; to Australian zone for your fare of kangaroos, koalas and other marsupials; to a Frozen Tundra in the middle of humid Southeast Asia. What was very interesting at least for myself, my brother, and my Singapore-based cousin is the Tropical Crops and Orchid Garden as we were so thrilled to see the same plants and vegetables that once thrived at our grandmother's backyard in the Philippines! The climax, for us, was the presence of betel leaves (locally called in southern Luzon as mam-in) which the elderly chew alongside smoking hand-rolled cigarettes.

Ticket prices: SGD 32 for adults, SGD 21 for kids, and SGD 14 for senior citizens. Less 30% when you book online!

2. Geylang
I was told during my first ever trip to Singapore that Geylang is the city-state's red light district. But for this trip, I had to look past the reputation and look for that store that sells film for vintage Polaroid cameras. The trip was so worth it, anyway, as the store that we went into could be a destination by itself for its vintage knick knacks ranging from wooden combs to pomade to moustache wax! To add to that, we've chanced upon a hawker stall that sells yummy cereal prawn noodle soup! 

3. Arab Street
Arab Street could easily strike to anyone as the center of Islamic activities in Singapore. BUT this place could easily be the hipster's paradise or artists' haven, what with the old structures that shout Peranakan architecture that now house stores that range from carpets to clothing and anything artsy fartsy! There are also rows upon rows of restaurants that serve Middle Eastern fare (we went to the Moroccan restaurant). At Haji Lane, there are colorful murals alongside rows of quaint restaurants and bars. There was even a band playing live music along the street! There's also a hostel right in the middle of the Arab Quarter and I would love to try to make this place my base, given the chance, just to experience the charm of the place.

Average price of a meal: SGD10-20

4. Universal Studios and Sentosa
We aren't really fans of theme parks so a stroll at the free areas of Universal Studios sufficed. There was also a new covered walkway going to Sentosa from Vivo City so if you're on a tight budget, you may consider the walk -- quite scenic because of the pocket gardens and a view of the river -- for maybe half the price if you were to take the bus from somewhere. What's also good about Sentosa is that you need not be loaded in order to enjoy what it has to offer. Sure, there's the skydiving experience and the other attractions where you have to pay, but sight-seeing around the place which is essentially free, should be enough. There's the Palawan beach where you can hang out by the sandy shores (never mind that the sand is imported). You can also have photo ops by the hanging bridge which Singapore claims to be the southernmost point of continental Southeast Asia.

5. Lau Pa Sat
Foodies will definitely have a grand time at Lau Pa Sat, which is located right at the heart of the business district of Marina. There are street foods (satay, anyone?) and a lot of Malaysian, Chinese, Singaporean, Persian, and even Filipino fare at the many stalls housed in this historic landmark!

6. Gardens by the Bay
The Supertrees Grove alone -- those colorful steel structures resembling trees in Avatar -- are a major draw, especially at night when a lights show is held. And then there are those glass structures that house impressive gardens --  called Flower Dome and Cloud Forest -- where visitors pay fees to enter. BUT, again, being the budget travellers that we are, not to mention that we were already tired of walking the whole day, we just contented ourselves strolling outside and admiring the structures around and even the steel structures that surround the gardens. And oh, we also gorged barbecue and satay and gulped Milo Dinosaur at Satay by the Bay.


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