Think you know what Singapore is all about? Whether you’re a repeat visitor or heading here for the first time, the multi-faceted city unveils layers of character with its intriguing contrasts.
It’s perhaps more famous for its casino and sky bar, but Marina Bay Sands is also packed with attractions to please the old and young (I’ve entertained both here myself). My first stop is always the ArtScience Museum. Host to an impressive range of international exhibitions, its art-meets-science brief guarantees some history for the older folks, and lots of buttons, lights and action for the kids. One tip: choose Family Friday, when kids under 12 are free. Next, take a cheesy but fun sampan ride along MBS’s indoor canal, before the hourly release of 22,000 litres of water from two storeys above. And more? There’s always a great live musical playing upstairs: rest your feet and let the imagination soar.
Veggies and Otters
After having embraced the modern, head out to the countryside. Singapore has no farmland, but Kranji in the north-east comes close — and Bollywood Veggies is our version of a slice of Bohemia. Host Ivy Singh-Lim is a self-styled eccentric, who has set up her 10-acre site as a huge organic-style veggie garden, perfect for discovering local plants, before enjoying wonderful home-cooked food at the Eurasian-themed Poison Ivy café. On the way back to the city, catch a dusk walk around the 130-hectare Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. Home to mudskippers, water snakes, monitor lizards and otters — and an amazing array of birds — its raised platforms are perfect for all ages. Or if you’re super lucky, you might even spot a crocodile: some four-metre crocs have turned up near here.
Glam It Up
To me, the best tourist buzz in Singapore is in the lively embrace of Kampong Glam. As well as a proud heartland of Malay and Middle Eastern culture, it’s also home to some of Singapore’s most hipster-y bars. Shoppers, spend the afternoon at Arab Street perusing Persian carpets over cups of hot tea and heartfelt bargaining. Meanwhile, the kids can drool over local retro toys at the nearby Children Little Museum. Then head to Maison Ikkoku, a funky F&B establishment with French toast for the youngsters and cocktails for the Millennials.
I’m not in love with new shopping malls: here, the older ones are way more fun. Many have food implications: like, Golden Mile is great for real Thai food. But the real fun is at Mustafa Centre — a sprawling all-hour celebration of all things retail in Little India, and one of the friendliest tourist spots to shop. Check out this expat mum’s handy map and 30-hour tour.
If you and the family get through all that, your final day should be easy on the nerves yet dazzling on the eyes. Start with an early-morning cable-car ride over to Sentosa Island. Many visitors I know have missed this ride from Mount Faber onto the leisure island — for me, it’s a scenic highlight not to be missed. Then once on the island, visit the S.E.A. Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa. With 100,000 marine animals of over 800 species, it’s a gentle yet fascinating stroll that the whole family will enjoy.
Hit the River
In the afternoon, venture out to the Singapore Zoo, where the new River Safari, replicating a boat ride along the Mississippi, Congo, Nile, Ganges, Mekong and Yangtze rivers, is a great way to go easy on the feet, yet enjoy a breezy and educational afternoon.
Old meets New
Afterwards, gain a real insight into Singapore by finding a quiet corner of it: and Old Habits café is one such spot. Housed within an old and breezy HDB estate near a popular fruit market, the owners lovingly collect (and sell) ‘Singaporiana’ from the past — and reimagine old favourite dishes as well. Granddad can show your kids the joys of Viewfinder toys, while you feast on a Coke float. The friendly hosts are kid-friendly, and eager to share their slice of heaven with visitors.