14 things I learned on my first trip to Singpoare

One of the most recognizable buildings in Singapore, the Marina Bay Sands
One of the most recognizable buildings in Singapore, the Marina Bay Sands

One of the most recognizable buildings in Singapore, the Marina Bay Sands

I just returned from my 5 day trip to Singapore. With limited time, I wasn’t able to visit every site that I wanted, but still was able to learn about the culture, people, and most importantly, the food of Singapore.

Since it was my first trip to Singapore, I really had no idea what to expect before I left. I knew it was clean, tropical, and that there were many hawker centres. That’s about all I knew.

Here are 14 things I learned on my first trip to Singapore.

1. It was ridiculously hot and ridiculously humid

I can’t stand hot and humid weather, but it didn’t stop me from wanting to visit Singapore.

I began to regret my decision the moment I walked outside the arrivals hall at Singapore Changi Airport. It was midnight, it was sweltering hot, and I was already sweating. Luckily, my taxi driver was cranking the air conditioner.

The heat and humidity definitely slowed me down and affected my itinerary. I just couldn’t move as fast as I wanted to. I found myself having to stop multiples times during the day for water and for air conditioning, whether at a restaurant, bar, or mall.

If you can, plan your activities early in morning or at night when it’s slightly cooler. Unless it was an indoor activity, I would avoid being out in the sun during the heat of the day.

2. Singapore is a mix of many cultures and ethnicities

Due to its strategic location at the southern tip of Malaysia, Singapore has become a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities.

Over the years, travelers from around the world may their way through Singapore. Many never left.

Today, the majority of those living in Singapore include Chinese, Malay, and Indians. There is also a growing community of Filipinos, Bangladeshis, and Thais.

With a wide range of cultures comes a wide variety of traditions and best of all, food. Singapore has one of the most diverse food scenes anywhere in the world. Just visit one of the many food hawker centres to see for yourself.

3. Literally, everyone in Singapore speaks English

I was surprised how many people in Singapore spoke English.

Since I have yet to learn Mandarin, Malay, or Hindi, I was a little worried that I would have trouble communicating while visiting.

Surprisingly, I never had any issues communicating with people whether I was in a taxi, at a restaurant, or at a hawker centre. Everyone seemed to speak English, or at least enough English to get by.

4. The food is diverse and delicious

As mentioned before, Singapore is a melting pot of many cultures. With many cultures comes a diverse range of foods.

After visiting Singapore, I now consider this city to have the best food scene of any place I have ever visited in Asia. From restaurants, to hawker centres, to 24 hour hole in the walls, Singapore is a great place to eat.

People in Singapore love their food and love to tell travelers where to eat. On multiple occasions I was approached by locals who gave me recommendations on where I should eat. But wait, there’s more. Every time I rode in a taxi, my taxi driver would point out restaurants along the route where I should eat. The locals always know best.

5. Hawker centres are theme parks for foodies

Without a doubt, the best part about visiting and eating in Singapore were the hawker centres. For those unfamiliar, hawker centres are open air food centres home to a variety of stalls selling inexpensive food.

In the past, street food was a big problem in Singapore. These unlicensed street hawkers were often unhygienic and served dangerous food. The government found a way to solve the problem: move these vendors from the street to government inspected food centres where proper food handling and food safety could be monitored.

If you are looking to eat for cheap, then head to one of the many hawker centres. But don’t be fooled by the cheap prices. The food is legit and often better than any restaurant in Singapore. Even celebrity chefs such as Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern have spent time eating their way through one of the many hawker centres found around the city.

If you have limited time, try to stop by Maxwell Road Hawker Centre, Adam Food Centre, and 51 Old Airport Road Food Centre & Shopping Mall.

6. Compared to hawker centres, restaurants were expensive

I was surprised just how expensive restaurants in Singapore were.

My chilli crab meal at Jumbo Seafood Restaurant set me back about $130 USD. Now I understand that crab is expensive in the first place, but I just expected everything would be cheaper in Southeast Asia.

After my first day in Singapore, I stuck with the hawker centres. For $130, I could eat like a king for a week.

7.Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice is overrated

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice inside Maxwell Food Centre is probably the most famous hawker stall in all of Singapore.

The stall became famous when Anthony Bourdain stopped by on his television show “No Reservations.” He claimed it was some of the best chicken dishes in the world.

Thanks to Anthony Bourdain, I had to wait about 30 minutes in a line of tourists before I even ordered.

With so many delicious options at Maxwell Food Centre, and other hawker centres, I just don’t get the point of waiting in line for more than a few minutes for cold chicken at Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice

8. The city seemed to come alive at night

When the sun set, and the temperatures slightly dropped, the city seemed to come alive.

People who stayed inside during the day, enjoying their air conditioner, made their way outside at night to eat, shop, drink, and enjoy the city

It seemed like every place was open late including restaurants, bars, and shopping malls. Even after midnight, I saw a constant flow of tourists around Marina Bay with their tripod and camera in hand. Along with tourists were groups of cyclists and those going for late night runs and walks around the bay.

9. Singapore is one of the safest countries in the world

Singapore is one of the safest cities in the world.

Whether you are out exploring the city late at night or during the day, you will never have an issue with safety. As with traveling to any city, always use common sense.

Crime literally does not exist thanks in part to tough penalties for all crimes, including low level crimes.

I know they are out there somewhere, but I did not see one police officer or any type of security guard in 5 days.

10. Chewing gum is banned

I always bring chewing gum along with me on any international trip I take. When I visited Singapore, I had to leave the gum at home. Chewing gums, except dental and nicotine gums prescribed by a doctor, are banned in Singapore.

I’m not making this up.

In 1992, Singapore banned the sale and importation of chewing gum after vandals disposed of gum in mailboxes, buildings, keyholes, elevator buttons, and MRT trains.

This law is strictly enforced. Those caught importing gum into the country can face fines up to S$1,000.

Instead of gum, bring breath mints.

11. The city is expanding

In the tiny city-state of Singapore, land is at a premium.

While traveling around, I was surprised to see brand new financial buildings along with empty spaces of land. Turns out this land was created through land reclamation. It didn’t exist just years ago.

Since independence, extensive land reclamation has increased the total size of Singapore by about 23% or 130 km2. New land is made by draining submerged wetlands and filling areas with cement, clay, and dirt.

By 2030, the government has plans to expand Singapore by an additional 100 km2. So next time you visit, the city might look different.

12. Singapore is very green

Even with limited space, Singapore was surprisingly green. Nature lovers will be pleased to find so many green spaces and parks.

Thanks to a “green policy,” nearly 10% of land in Singapore has been set aside for parks and natures reserves. This policy was launched in 1963 in an effort to enhance greenery in the quickly growing urban city.

One of my favorite parks to visit in Singapore is Gardens by the Bay, a 250 acre nature park that was built on reclaimed land. The best time to visit would be at night when large vertical gardens known as “Supertrees” are colorfully lit.

13. Only hotel guests can swim in the infinity pool of the Marina Bay Sands

I know you’ve seen it. Those photos online or Instagram of people swimming around a rooftop infinity pool with stunning views of downtown Singapore. This infinity pool is located at the roof of the Marina Bay Sands hotel.

I wanted to be one of these people. I wanted to take those same awesome photos.

Unfortunately, the pool was reserved for hotel guests only. I found this out after I already booked a hotel.

Don’t want to drop $300 a night staying at the Marina Bay Sands but still want to experience the views? For S$23 (or about $16.97) you can take the elevator up 57 floors to the Sands Skypark Observation Deck. From here you can view stunning panoramic views of the city.

14. An EZ-Link card or the NETS Flashpay Card is worth the investment

The public transportation in Singapore is one the most efficient in the world. It’s clean, simple to use, and you can get pretty much anywhere you need to go in the city.

If you are planning to use public transportation on your trip, then I recommend purchasing either an EZ-Link card or NETS Flashpay Card. Both are essentially stored value cards, similar to credit cards, that can be used to pay for public transportation fares in Singapore.

If you hate fumbling around with coins to pay for fares like me, then getting one of these cards is a must. When you use the card, the fare is deducted from your pre-loaded. Cards can be easily reloaded at anytime.

These cards can also be used to pay for certain goods and services at merchants that display either an “EZ-Link” logo or “NETS FlashPay” logo.

Both cards can be purchased for S$12 (S$5 non-refundable card cost and a S$7 credit) at any TransitLink Ticket Office.

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