This post first appeared on Diario de un Curtido as 24 horas en Singapur. Spanish version available for those who read español.
Singapore, the Lion City, is the smallest country in Southeast Asia but it is also the wealthiest. The country has a reputation of being clean, safe and strict in enforcing its laws.
For many travellers from the west, Singapore may only be the stepping stone to other countries in the region or to Australia. If you do end up in Singapore for only a day, here is a sample itinerary. I would recommend giving the city at least two days so there will be a second “24 hours in Singapore” coming up.
1. Explore Bugis area for food and temples
Take the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) to Bugis Station and head to the Bencoolen hawker centre on Albert Street. Choose between the Chinese, Malay or Indian stalls for breakfast.
For coffee lovers, skip the Starbucks and get a Kopi which is served with sweet condensed milk.
After food, head to the Goddess of Mercy temple, or Kwan Im Thong Hood Choo Temple on Google Map [178 Waterloo Street]. You won’t miss it because of the scent of incense. Outside the temple, there are flower sellers and fortune tellers who will read your palm or your face and tell you if you will have a good life or a bad one.
A couple of doors away is the bright and colorful Sri Krishnan Temple which is over 130 years old. You can visit the temple after taking off your shoes. The statues of gods and goddesses inside the temple are worth looking.
Opposite the temples are stores selling dried food. When you approach the stores, you will smell a unique scent of dried mushrooms and Chinese herbal medicine.
After the temples of Bugis, turn back into the shaded Bugis Street. Inside, there are many souvenir shops and drink stalls. If you are adventurous, at the other end of Bugis Street, right next to the bus stop, is a Chinese food stall selling marinated spicy duck neck and duck feet.
2. Arab Street
It is time to head to walk to Arab Street for more sightseeing and also lunch.
On Arab Street, you can visit the Sultan Mosque[3 Muscat Street] which is said to be the most beautiful mosque in Singapore. Tourists can go into the mosque at specific hours.
For food, you can visit the various restaurants on Haji Lane for Arabic food. For Indian food, I recommend Zam Zam Restaurant [697 N Bridge Rd] which also has another branch at the other end of the shophouse lot.
After lunch, you can wander around the area for trinkets and even Sari cloth.
From Arab Street, the easiest way to Chinatown is by bus. If not, you can take the MRT to Outram Park and change to the purple line and to Chinatown.
I’ve heard many tourists say that Singapore’s Chinatown is the cleanest Chinatown that they’ve visited. Still, the area is a bit stuff so try to be there when the sun is not too high up.
Chinatown Heritage Centre [48 Pagoda Street]
In this three-storeyed shophouse is a recreation of a typical Chinese quarters in Singapore’s early days. The early Chinese immigrants lived in tiny rooms during the night while they did labor work in the morning.
Sri Mariamman Temple [242 South Bridge Road]
If you did not visit Sri Krishnan Temple in Bugis, there’s another Indian temple in Chinatown. This temple is even bigger with even more painted statues.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum [288 South Bridge Road]
This Buddhist temple houses the tooth of Buddha. I find the exterior of the temple too “modern”–the walls too white, the paint too fresh and the lines too straight.
There is plenty to eat in Chinatown. Opposite the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is Maxwell Food Court where famous chicken rice stalls are located. I prefer the food court next to People’s Park Complex although it can get really hot in the day.
4. Clark Quay
After dinner, walk along Eu Tong Sen Street to Clarke Quay MRT station. This area comes alive at night, although I must warn that the restaurants and bars are targeted at tourists.
If you feel like it, take a boat ride on the Singapore River. I would not recommend this as it is too touristy.
Sit by the river next to The Central shopping mall and watch boats float by or hear people screaming on the G-MAX Reverse Bungy & GX-5 Extreme Swing.
Then take a stroll to the mouth of the Singapore river. You will walk through many underpass and past many bars and restaurants. Use the brightly lit Fullerton Hotel as your guide, walk towards it. On the left of the bank is the Asian Civilization Museum which has a good collection of Asian artefacts (but is closed at night).
After you pass The Fullerton Hotel, cross the road to the Merlion Park. Here, you will find two Merlions–half lion, half fish beings made up by the Singapore Tourism Board.
Opposite, the strangely shaped Marina Bay Sands sparkles. At night, it has lazer shows with light beamed to the sky.
Our last stop is the Esplanade, which is the shiny durian (prickly local fruit) building. It’s like the Sydney Opera House, but pricklier.
5. Mustafa Center
After the Esplanade, you can choose between going to more pubs, heading back to your hotel and rest or visit Mustafa Center. The nearest MRT station is Farrer Park.
The shopping center is 24-hours and has almost everything you need. If you want to get Indian spices, gold chains, a watch, T-shorts, souvenirs, this is the place.
After all that shopping, maybe it’s time to head back to sleep so you won’t miss your plane.
IF YOU GO
Rooms in Singapore will not be as cheap as the rest of Southeast Asia. As transportation in the city is convenient, it does not matter much where you are staying.
If you only have a short time in Singapore, the best locations will be near the sights: Little India, Chinatown, Bugis, Clark Quay etc.
This list is only a reference:
Five Stones Hostel http://www.fivestoneshostel.com/
Near: Clark Quay
[Disclaimer: One of the owners of the hostel is a friend of my colleague.]
From photos, this looks like a funky place to stay. All dorms and rooms have shared bathrooms.
Value Hotel Balestier http://www.valuehotel.com.sg/
Nearest MRT: Novena (It might be faster taking the bus./)
I’ve shared a three-person private room with my parents at this budget hotel.
Most money changers in Singapore are honest and give rates that are similar (even at the airport), although those inside shopping malls have more expensive rates.
While these are the more famous money changers, it’s not worth the transport fee to reach them just so you could save a few cents. “Best” (everywhere is quite good) places to change money are Chinatown and Mustafa Center.
Prepaid 3G in Singapore is not as cheap as Malaysia. There are only three mobile operators here: SingTel, StarHub and M1.
Personally, I use StarHub’s prepaid because it gives me 50 (yes, five-zero) free international SMS for the day when I send 5 international SMS in a day.
StarHub has a special Preferred Tourist Prepaid SIM Card with free 300MB data and has S$18 credits for S$15.
I’ll be doing a part 2 of 24 hours in Singapore. Have I missed out any must see sights? Tweet me or leave a comment below.