Trip Report: Singapore Revisited

I’m writing this from the very back of the struggle bus. We got back from our Singapore-Bali-Indonesian islands vacation about a week ago and we are still trying to get back on schedule.

I don’t know if it’s because we’re old or just out of practice or what, but both XFE and I are having a hard time staying awake past 8 pm and we both keep waking up at 4 am, unable to get back to sleep. We’ve never had this type of jetlag before, at least as far as I can remember.

BUT, it was a truly great and memorable, once-in-a-lifetime trip, so there is that.

We started with three days in Singapore, which we’ve been to before. I absolutely love Singapore. It’s a vibrant busy city that’s a mix of history and modernity. There’s amazing modern architecture, plenty of things to see and do, most everyone speaks English, and the food is just phenomenal. It’s overall bustling and busy with these surprising pockets of peace and serenity (like a garden or a temple). I just really love it.

We stayed at the Westin Singapore which is right near one of our favorite hawker centers, Lau Pa Sat. We had a memorable dinner of satay skewers and beer while sitting at a communal table set up in a closed down street that just an hour before had been a major thoroughfare. It was busy and chaotic in the very best way.

We landed at 6 am after an 18.5-hour direct flight from New York to a soggy and very humid Singapore morning. After a quick shower and refresh, we headed out for (what else?) a private food tour with a guide from WithLocals.

Since it was our second visit to Singapore, we decided to skip the museums and arranged a couple of “insider” tours. A food tour seemed like a great way to get to know the city better and get acclimated to our Southeast Asia schedule.

Our three-hour tour with William took us from Kampong Glam to Little India and finished at a Chinatown hawker center where we had “the cheapest Michelin-starred meal in the world” – soya sauce chicken and noodles from Hawker Chan.

We finished the tour stuffed to the gills and while it was all very, very good, I think our favorite thing was the garlic naan served with a side of butter chicken sauce at Tekka Center in Little India. Not butter chicken, just the bright orange, creamy delicious sauce. Genius.

The next morning, armed with an iced coffee, we went back to explore the Kampong Glam neighborhood a bit more. We also wanted to stop in for an early(ish) gin and tonic at Atlas Bar.

While I gawked at the gorgeous Art Deco-inspired interiors, XFE put the bartender through their paces, ordering (and getting) the most obscure gins we’ve come across in our various travels and which we can’t get in the U.S. Handcrafted gin from the Swedish island of Hven? Oh yes, they carry that, and in a couple of different variations. South Africa’s Inverroche gin? One of the barbacks would have to go up the gin tower to get it, but Atlas definitely had it in amber, classic and verdant.

We skipped lunch at Atlas that day (though we came back for a late lunch the next day) and made our way over to Clarke Quay for chili crab at Jumbo Seafood. We had learned our lesson from our last visit and came prepared with a Ziploc filled with napkins, hand sanitizer and our own latex gloves. We were seasoned pros this time, ready to dig into our sweet, saucy bowl of chili crab with a side of fried rolls and large Tiger beers.

Stuffed yet again, we opted to walk back to our hotel, walking past all the fun bars and restaurants that line the Singapore River. XFE even recognized the bar we had stopped in for beers the last time we were here. Since it had begun to rain (did I mention we were there mere days after the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix, the start of which had to be delayed over an hour due to thunderstorms?), we did not revisit the bar, but kept on going, winding our way through Ann Siang Hill Park (a total oasis and hidden gem right in the CBD) on the way to our hotel. 

Our final day in Singapore we met up with another WithLocals guide (the delightful Joise) for an “off-the-beaten-track” tour of the Hougang neighborhood. It was really, really fascinating!

We learned all about Singapore’s unique housing situation – most of the homes (condos and apartments) are built and owned by the government, who then sells them at subsidized rates to citizens. Approximately 85% of homes in Singapore are owned in this way, with very few homes (and hardly any land) being privately owned.

This policy has guaranteed that most citizens can “own” their homes and has kept overdevelopment and speculators at bay. It also prevents foreclosures, since the government works with anyone who falls behind on their mortgage payments to keep them in their homes, sometimes putting a pause on the loan or even lowering the monthly payments.

We peppered Joise with questions about other public policies and citizen’s attitudes towards education, crime and punishment, retirement and aging, COVID and vaccinations, religion, same-sex relationships–all of the things. It really gave us a lot of insight into the typical Singapore person’s life.  

The rain started coming down pretty hard around noon, so we had a pretty low-key rest of the day, including room service dinner, catching up on some shows on our laptops, and packed up to leave early in the morning for our next stop — Bali.

A sign at one of the hawker centers, which apparently are quite dangerous and prone to fights breaking out.

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