Singapore (Feb 2016)

In contrast to New Zealand and Australia, Singapore wasn’t a place that we had a strong desire to see. It landed on our radar due to cheap flights getting in and out of the country. Singapore has one of the busiest airports in the world, flying just about anywhere you can imagine, with countless flights all over Asia. So that’s how it started. We then did some research and discovered that Singapore was a busy but safe, clean city with a lot of gardens, great public transportation, a few interesting sights, vibrant ethnic communities, and a reputation for excellent food. Did someone mention food? Let’s be honest, once we read about the food, we were sold.

In transit to Southeast Asia, we decided to extend a layover in Singapore into a weeklong stopover. For those not familiar with the concept, a great travel hack is that when a “direct” flight from point A to point C connects through point B, the same flight can be booked as a multi-stop itinerary, flying from point A to point B, staying in point B for days or even weeks, then flying from point B to point C, usually for the same price or even cheaper in some cases. This is a strategy that we are using frequently on this trip to maximize the number of places we’re able to see.

We didn’t have much of a plan for Singapore. We came up with a list of sites that we wouldn’t mind seeing and foods we wanted to try, but we weren’t set on anything in particular. We really just wanted to explore the city at our own pace and soak up some of the culture from the many different neighborhoods. Coming from New Zealand and Australia, we were overdue for a lower cost of living situation. We weren’t confident that we could achieve it in an area that is best described as a tropical Manhattan, but we made it our mission and we succeeded. The only non-food activity we spent money on was a cat cafe, and we had a few nice evenings out, including transportation and dinner for less than $20!

We spent many mornings and afternoons walking through the different parts of the city. We can easily say that Little India was our favorite. The CBD (Central Business District), while pristine and flashy, made us thankful to have a break from work and corporate America. One afternoon, we wandered to the outskirts of the city to walk through the MacRitchie Reservoir Park, in search of monkeys, lizards, and suspension bridges. After a long walk (much longer than anticipated) we ended at Vava Bistro, which made the walk even more worthwhile. Another morning, We wandered outside the city to visit Haw Par Villa, an old, defunct amusement park centered around Chinese mythology, built by the inventors of Tiger Balm. This place was bizarre. There’s just no other way to describe it. And we had to check out what the cat cafe scene was all about. Spoiler alert: it’s cats and coffee.

Did the food live up to its reputation? Hell yes, it did. Tripadvisor lists over 8000 places to eat in Singapore. You can’t walk one city block without seeing food; it’s just a part of the culture. Everything from authentic Chinese, Malaysian, Halal and Indian food to standard Western fare to the fusion foods that are unique to Singapore were readily available. We visited many Hawker Centres, Singapore’s version of street food, where we ate our share of cheap, tasty, ethnic food. We followed the advice of “go where the lines are” and found just about every “must-eat Singaporean food” that we had read about. It took a bit of searching, but we were even able to track down some Chili Crab and Fish Head Curry, two memorable eating experiences.

For a country that wasn’t really even on our radar, we were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed Singapore. It’s a big city that feels like a small town. After meeting up with one of Kevin’s former colleagues and hearing about the last few years he had spent there with his family (which sadly came to an end, he moved back to the US the day after we saw him, and he didn’t want to leave, but he received a job offer he couldn’t refuse) we realized that we could see ourselves living here one day. We just might keep Singapore in the back of our minds come September, when real life starts again and the job search begins!

Now, time for some more pictures: