Singapore was the first country on our RTW trip.
When Jennie and I told people we were staying in Singapore for a week, the first thing they asked was, “Why? A week is too long for Singapore.” Then the follow-up question: “is it because you saw Crazy Rich Asians?”
No, we still haven’t seen Crazy Rich Asians.
Whether a movie boasts an all Asian-American cast or an all Somali-American cast is beside the point. In the final evaluation, Crazy Rich Asians just isn’t the kind of movie I’d go out of my way to see. Then again, I’m also the kind of asshole who resents being told what I should see based solely on what I look like. It’s almost as if the studio is saying, “This movie’s Asian. You’re Asian. What’s the problem here? Where’s my money?”
Don’t sell me on something being Asian or (insert minority identity), and therefore, groundbreaking and significant by default.
Instead, sell me on the actual work being groundbreaking and significant.
The First Stop on our RTW Trip:
Why We Traveled to Singapore
Jennie and I had a very practical reason for why we wanted to spend a week in Singapore:
We’re looking for the next city to live in once our RTW trip is over. And Singapore is on our list.
On paper, Singapore checks a lot of our boxes:
It’s a financial services hub with a growing technology and cybersecurity industry.
Singaporeans are well-educated, speak multiple languages and have an entrepreneurial spirit.
We also got the sense that Singaporeans actually felt the rest of the world had something to offer them. That different countries, cultures and ethnicities could *gasp* learn from each other and get along.
I know, truly groundbreaking stuff.
5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Singapore Now
1. You can have a good time on almost any budget
Singapore enjoys a higher standard of living than most cities in the world, with a GDP per capita ($55,235) that’s slightly higher than the U.S ($53,128). That said, you arguably get much more for your money relative to other places. You notice this right away as you land in Changi Airport, rated the world’s best airport by Skytrax. Immigration was a breeze and the subway (MRT) to the city center took 40 minutes and cost less than $2 USD. The public transportation system is so efficient that we never had to take a taxi or Grab (Singapore’s Uber equivalent) during our entire week-long stay.
The only thing that could break your budget is accommodation. Jennie and I were lucky in that a friend let us use his apartment while he was away on sabbatical, but it’s possible on the low end to get a dorm bed for $15-20 USD a night or a private room for around $50-60 USD a night.
Outside of rent, there’s a wide range of things you can experience on any budget. Hawker centre meals cost $3-5 USD each. If you want to live the expat lifestyle during your stay, you can - for a price. Free tours are available in different neighborhoods across the city and local meetups and the dating scene (so we hear) is quite active and diverse.
If I could describe Singapore in one word for visitors it would be: seamless. Everything about Singapore is perfectly held together and without you knowing it, there were years of thoughtful planning behind it.
2. Singaporeans are great conversationalists, ambitious, career-driven, and that’s stimulating
One of the things you hear often about Singapore is the idea of the city-state being a “meritocracy.” This means that from a young age, the education system segregates students based on test scores into different “streams,” leading to intense competition and an overemphasis on study.
Predictably, this has had negative consequences, including mental health issues and growing inequality between different “streams” of students. But what the visitor actually experiences are well-educated, highly ambitious people who are knowledgeable about the world around them. Combine that with a dry sense of humor and their own brand of English (Singlish), and it’s almost impossible to have a dull conversation.
3. Foodie and hawker center culture is king in Singapore
Singaporeans live to eat - and the options in the city are limitless. A quick Google search will turn up hundreds of Singaporean food blogs dedicated to a specific niche. Everything else a visitor does in Singapore can be considered filler for the next meal.
This is a true food haven for people who want great quality food at an affordable price point. There are few places in the world that can match Singapore’s quality. More on this in an upcoming post about Singapore’s hawker centre food culture next week.
4. Exploring different neighborhoods and public spaces
Arguably, outside of the famous Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay (arrive well after dark), the other “tourist attractions” in Singapore are pretty sanitized and unimpressive. The appeal of the city is actually in picking one or two neighborhoods to explore for the day, choosing a few local food spots and just lounging at a cafe from midday to mid-afternoon to escape the oppressive heat. Then as night falls, join a group of locals for conversation and drinks.
This might not sound like a fun, action-packed way to spend a trip, but as two type A personalities, Jennie and I never felt close to being bored during our one week stay.
5. Singapore has modern conveniences and infrastructure that actually works
If you’re unfamiliar with Singapore’s history, you should know one thing: Singapore became an independent country in 1965; it’s a little more than 50 years old.
Whatever the downsides of Singapore’s government (and there are downsides), it just feels refreshing to step off a plane and arrive in a city where public infrastructure actually works the way it’s supposed to. To experience even the semblance of competence and streamlined government was a huge revelation to us, and raises some questions about the American model.
5 Places in Singapore We Recommend
1. Our favorite Singaporean hawker centers & stalls
Learning how to order coffee at a Singapore kopitiam. Lime juice and barley drink from any drink stall. A Noodle Story in Amoy Street Food Centre, Hong Lim Centre near Chinatown, wan tan mee at Old Airport Road Hawker Centre, and satay skewers with Tiger beer (satay stalls No. 7 and 8) outside Lau Pa Sat food court were some of our favorite food experiences. More details in a coming post.
2. Tiong Bahru neighborhood
Singapore’s hipster neighborhood. Highlights include lunch at Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice and BooksActually, a vintage and independent bookstore store that publishes local Singaporean writers. It opened my eyes to a talented and hugely underrated Southeast Asian literary scene.
3. Bugis & Kampong Glam neighborhood
A Thursday evening starting with craft beers at Good Luck Beerhouse on Haji Lane ($18 USD), dinner at Michelin-starred Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle ($16), followed by a Korean movie (Burning) based on a Haruki Murakami short story at the The Projector ($20) - barely scratches the surface of a night out in Singapore after a long day of work.
4. Geylang Serai district after dark
Red light district of Singapore. Grungy shophouses and late night eateries with plastic chairs and outdoor seating - all under the glare of fluorescent lights and electric ceiling fans. Cheap, delicious food, beer, and people watching in a “seedy” part of town, in a country with one of the lowest crime rates in the world.
5. Little India
We joined a free walking tour with Monster Day Tours to get more context and local recommendations on Little India (they do tours all across the city. You should tip the guide afterwards). It was also an opportunity for us to chat with other visitors over some roti canai.
3 Places in Singapore We Avoided
1. Orchard Road
Orchard Road is Singapore’s 2.2 km stretch of shopping malls. Unfortunately, we can’t (and don’t) really shop because we have to fit everything we own inside two 40L backpacks. So for us, malls are only good for two things: air conditioning and clean bathrooms.
2. Marina Bay Sands
Marina Bay Sands (or MBS as locals call it) is owned by Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp. Mr. Adelson is known for other tasteful establishments like The Venetian in Las Vegas and an entire strip of casinos in Macau. MBS provides the essential service of redistributing wealth from the bottom 99% to the top 1%, as well as populating Instagram with infinity pool shots which, by some miracle, manages to crop out the other 976 people in the pool trying to take the exact same photo.
3. Sentosa Island & Universal Studios
Sentosa contains two of our least favorite activities: paying a lot of money to wait in line for a two minute ride - and being anywhere in the vicinity of a casino.