Short Stop in Singapore
Not going to lie, our trip to Singapore was quite a mess. It seemed like things kept going wrong. But we still managed to see a lot of the city (in between reworking our next month of plans!)
Singapore is an island, a city, and a country in South East Asia. So for us, our passports were stamped into country #9 of this long-term travel adventure. Side note: our goal is not to get to as many countries as possible. If that were the case we wouldn’t be spending 30+ days in almost every one. But it’s fun to keep track of how many we’ve been to along the way.
We only spent a few days in Singapore since it’s WAY over our average daily budget of $50. But since it was only a few days, we were fine to spend a bit more. Plus, we saved credit card points to use for a hotel so in a way our accommodation was free!
While in Singapore we had some delicious food, admired the vibrant street art, and took a walking tour of Chinatown.
Arrival in Singapore
We flew from Borneo to Singapore in the afternoon. It was quite different from our escape to the jungle on the Kinabatangan River. Thankfully, for US citizens (and many other countries) tourists can enter for up to 90 days visa-free. For countries like Vietnam and Cambodia, you have to pay for a 30-day visa and any extension.
Singapore has a huge airport and you could spend hours wandering through the airport alone. We didn’t spend much time in the airport because we planned to explore it when flying out (which didn’t end up happening).
Singapore also has a well-connected public transit system including an MRT (subway) and bus system. Since we planned to use it a lot during our time here, we bought tourist passes on our first evening. The 2-day tourist pass allows you to use the MRT and busses as much as you want.
What the person at the counter didn’t tell us was that once activated it would count as a day and our passes would then expire the following day. Instead of 48 hours like we thought, the passes were only valid for 2 CALENDAR days. We bought the $16 passes and used them to get to dinner around 7:30 pm, counting as Day 1 on our pass.
Tip for visiting Singapore, don’t waste your money on the passes OR know they work for 2 CALENDAR days.
A Change of Plans:
We woke up with plans to grab some breakfast and explore. But this changed quickly.
The morning of our first full day in Singapore we found out we wouldn’t be getting our visas in time for Vietnam (where we were supposed to fly to in 2 days). Because of current restrictions, we cannot get a visa on arrival like usual and have to apply ahead of time. For Sri Lanka, the automated system took less than 24 hours to send our visas. Vietnam requires at least 3 business days and we applied on a Thursday evening with plans to be there Sunday.
So instead of seeing Singapore right away, we spent a few hours figuring out what we were going to do. It was a bit stressful with visas, passport space, and prices. We ended up deciding to bus back to Malaysia the day we had planned to fly to Vietnam. Then, after a few days in Kuala Lumpur, we would fly to Cambodia. All of this was cheaper than another two days in Singapore, isn’t that crazy?
We were really worked up after all of this but we wanted to use the time we DID have left in Singapore and tried to focus on that.
A Modern City
Like most big cities in Southeast Asia, Singapore is like a paradox of modern ways and traditional living. Inside you’ll find skyscrapers, sustainable technology, and a bustling economy. But just a few blocks away from this you’ll find hundred-year-old temples, old Chinese shophouses, and bartering markets. There’s something beautiful about how everything coexists this way.
Singapore has the third highest population density in the world and has 4 official languages (English, Mandarin, Tamil, and Malay). Outside the skyscrapers and business center, you’ll find distinct cultural neighborhoods like Chinatown, Little India, and Kampong Glam.
The Gardens by the Bay
We visited the Gardens by the Bay and walked around for a couple of hours after making new plans. Most of the gardens are free to explore (which is super nice when everything else costs so much). Inside the Gardens by the Bay are multiple different garden exhibits, sculptures, and sections focusing on different plants found in Singapore and around the world.
There is a popular exhibit called The Cloud Forest, an indoor rainforest, which we skipped because we had just spent a lot of time in a natural jungle (and because it was pricey).
One of the coolest parts of Gardens by the Bay is Supertree Grove. Supertree Grove is home to giant “trees” that are not trees but vertical gardens that light up at night using solar energy. They are so pretty during the day but even more special at night.
Exploring Singapore’s Neighborhoods
The next day, we woke up early to join a walking tour in Little India. BUT we misunderstood Google Maps directions and didn’t make it in time. We were supposed to catch a bus but went down to the subway, missing the bus we needed. There was NO way we were going to make it to the tour on foot. Especially, out of breath from almost running to the station to catch the wrong transport. Just another hiccup in our visit to Singapore.
Side note: We are sharing all of these mishaps not to come off as whiny but we want to share things that aren’t always happy and awe-inspiring. Not going to lie, with all of these things happening, we were struggling to enjoy our time in Singapore. It felt like one thing after another was going wrong and it was very frustrating (not to mention costly). And when we did get out to do things, it felt like we were forcing ourselves to be happy instead of just being able to enjoy the moments.
After walking around for a bit, we headed to a hawker center for lunch. Hawker Centers, common in Singapore and Malaysia, are similar to food courts but with street food items. One thing we can say is that we really enjoyed the food in Singapore. It never disappointed from hawker centers to vegan restaurants! Yum!
Tour through Chinatown
That afternoon, we explored Chinatown ourselves for a bit and then we DID make it for the Chinatown tour.
Our guide was super nice and we learned a lot about the early Chinese immigrants, what the city used to look like, and what Chinatown is like today. The tour lasted a few hours and even included a sample of some street food that we had never tried. We ended up going back for more right after the tour. We tried Popiah, Rojak, and Sugarcane Juice!
Would you get married in a group of 30 of your closest couple friends? And we don’t mean with your friends there as guests but getting married at the same time…What about 30+ strangers? On our tour, we learned about mass weddings that used to be common in the Chinese community here. Because it was cheaper, and often sold in packages including everything from the venue to the outfits, people would get married in mass weddings with 30+ other couples. This mural depicts the history of Chinatown, including mass weddings.
We also learned about the mural’s artist, Yip Yew Chong. His murals are found all over Singapore, including the one above and below, and are stunningly detailed pieces of art depicting the culture and daily life. One special thing about his art is that each piece includes a cat somewhere in the mural. Can you find the cat in the mural below?
On our last morning in Singapore, we woke up early and explored the Kampong Glam neighborhood of Singapore. Kampong Glam is known as the Malay-Muslim quarter since it was once the designated area for the Sultan and Malay and Arab communities. Walking around we saw the beautiful Sultan’s Mosque, some adorable shophouses, and even a vegan shop we stopped in for ice cream.
There is also some beautiful street art and quirky shops in Kampong Glam. These shops range from silly board games, gummy bears, and the duck shop (we aren’t sure what was sold there since it wasn’t open during our visit). I think out of the 3 main neighborhoods (Chinatown, Little India, and Kampong Glam), it was our favorite because of the vibrant colors and little shops.
Not going to lie, mentally we had a rough go in Singapore. Having to replan our next month of travel while trying to enjoy our time there, left us frustrated and we felt rushed. Writing this now, we look back at our photos with mostly good memories, happy to share what we did see and do, but in the moment it felt like chaos. We will have to visit Singapore again one day when we can enjoy it to the fullest.
After Singapore, we spent a few days in Kuala Lumpur, ate delicious street food, and regrouped. Although we didn’t write a travel journal post for Kuala Lumpur, you can read about some of our favorite things to do in the city here and our favorite places to eat here.