Photos by Goats on the Road
Singapore is a unique island city-state packed with iconic buildings, fantastic foods and a huge mix of cultures. There's now more than enough to entice even those on a stopover to stay a little longer and explore further. Here are three top areas not to miss when planning to travel to Singapore.
Buzzing away under the shadow of the skyscrapers from the CBD, you'll find Singapore's Chinatown area. Although a shadow of its former self, it's still home to a large, mostly Mandarin speaking, Chinese community in the heart of the city. If you want to throw yourself into the history of the area, then check out the Chinatown Heritage Center at 48 Pagoda Street. Here you can learn about the humble beginnings of this area, through the days of slaves, prostitutes and opium dens up to the modern era.
As you wander through the streets of Chinatown, be sure to look up at the buildings to see the mix of architectural styles that converge here. At certain points, the area has more of a European feel in both the buildings and street designs, but the signs and items for sale will soon remind you of where you are.
If you're feeling hungry, then check out the nearby Maxwell Road Hawker Center on the junction of Southbridge Road and Maxwell Road. This is one of the many wallet-friendly Hawker Centers scattered around Singapore which host a wide variety of street food style stalls. Dishes start from around $2.50 SGD, so grab a table first and then pick the best smelling place to order some food. Beers here are cheap as well.
To get to Chinatown, jump off at either Outram Park or Chinatown MRT stations which are both on the North-East line.
Marina Bay Area
To get some respite from the bustling streets of Singapore, head down to the water’s edge for a relaxing stroll around the Marina Bay area. Thanks to a series of linked up development projects, it is now possible to walk a full circuit of the bay by the water without having to deal with any road traffic.
Marina Bay is flanked by the ever-expanding CBD Downtown area to the south, and the now iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel — with its three mighty towers and protruding rooftop platform — to the east. There's a wide variety of bars and restaurants along the western edge of the bay which features the notoriously exclusive Fullerton Hotel and the iconic Merlion statue.
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The bay area is great to walk around in the daytime, but is best enjoyed at night to capture some great views across Singapore as the buildings light up in dramatic style. There's even a funky nightly light and fountain show called “Wonder Full” in front of the Marina Bay Sands hotel which is free to view, check their website for timings.
To save your legs, you could always take a boat trip around the bay and along the Singapore river. There's a ticket booth and boarding point near the Merlion and a 40-minute trip costs $25 SGD per adult and $15 SGD per child. Jump off the MRT at Bayfront or Raffles Place for easy access down to the Marina Bay Area.
To the east of central Singapore lies an area few visitors take the time to explore, with most passing right by the Katong/Joo Chiat area on the way from and to the country's Changi International Airport. So make a point of jumping off the MRT at Paya Lebar and taking a stroll into this fascinating part of the city.
Exploring here is like taking a step back from the modern high-rise buzz of today's Singapore into the city of years gone by. It's a melting pot of Peranakan Chinese, Eurasian, Malay and Indian cultures, many of which moved here from the increasingly busy and expensive center in the 1920s and ‘30s.
To orientate yourself, start at the end of Joo Chiat Road and head towards the East Coast Road. These two form main thoroughfares with quieter residential roads forming a grid in between them. Make sure you stop at the western end of Koon Seng Road where you'll find two colorfully painted rows of pre-war shop-houses. They are great examples of Singapore's architectural heritage being influenced by design details from both East and West.
Further down toward the coastline, you'll find another set of unique buildings at 150 East Coast Road. The conserved terrace houses here are built where the beach used to be so the living areas are raised up to protect against the rising tides. The sea is now further away but the homes remain, giving them an interesting style not found elsewhere in Singapore.