Singapore Things to Do
Marina Bay shopping mall with canal boating. Photo by Daniel Nash II.
What is there to do on Singapore holidays or even if you're just passing through?
Shopping remains a raison d'etre for this city which proudly offers serious retail therapy. Long gone are the days of cheap and cheerful, though, even if visitors to Singapore receive Tourist Privilege Cards in the malls and a refund of the 7% Goods and Service Tax (GST) at the airport on departure - if over S$100 is spent with one retailer and the shopper signs up for the Tourist Refund Scheme. Shops are closed Sundays.
As in manufacturing, Singapore city has gone high end - you can find a tea pot for S$ 68,000 in a Chinese department store or 1970 portraits of Communist leaders at S$ 7,000 a pop. That said, the range of products available and greater confidence in their authenticity helps to compensate for the higher prices.
Most shops are in air-conditioned malls these days, sadly lacking the ethnic touch of a few years back but a truthfully the malls are a lot more comfortable, offering high quality goods from all over the world at competitive prices including top end European fashions, Asian antiques, modern art, the latest electronic equipment and more.
Traditional shopping malls on Orchard Road are now joined by newer outlets in HarbourFront and Marina Bay.
For non-mall shopping, there is a mixture of speciality stores as well as more traditional fare in Haji Lane, Bras Banah (opposite the Raffles Hotel) and Club Street as well as in Little India, one of Singapore's ethnic enclaves which still celebrates the traditional Hindu festivals of Deepavali, Thaipusam and Theemithi.
Bugis Street, once renowned for its slightly rakish atmosphere, is now sadly just touted as the largest street shopping location in Singapore.
Hints for bargain hunters
-you should haggle like a Moroccan carpet trader in Sim Lim or Lucky Plaza stores though many other shops have fixed prices.
A White Bengal Tiger in the zoo.
3 - Singapore Zoo
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve: Nature lovers may also want to hike or bike in this protected rainforest buzzing with birds, monkeys (don't feed them!), snakes, lizards, squirrels and all kinds of insects. It's hot and sticky but varied, interesting and trails are clearly marked. Avoid weekends (crowds) and afternoons (heat). Get there by MRT and bus, or just bus to Bukit Timah Shopping Centre (30 mins) and walk a bit.
Other established family favourites in the nature line are the Jurong Bird Park, the Chinese/Japanese Gardens and the Sungei Buloh wetlands reserve, offering quieter and less expensive alternatives towards the west and the north west of the city.
The Botanic Gardens concert setting. Photo by D.Nash II.
The Gardens are 3 miles from the city centre and delightful especially first thing in the morning when it's cool and island residents use the grounds for all sorts of exercise from dance to tai chi. The garden never ceases to impress as they keep improving it. With a multitude of orchids, nooks and views, it's truly a plant lover's Utopia.
MacRitchie Reservoir: A little further out, and a touch more natural, is the MacRitchie Reservoir where you can wander along a wooden boardwalk beside the water, watching monkeys one side and people kayaking the other.
Gardens by the Bay: The massive and super-stylish Gardens by the Bay project opened in 2012.
A glossy money pit. Photo by D.Nash II.
Opposite downtown on reclaimed land, couples stroll along the promenade around the Bay whilst families fly kites on top of the Marina Barrage Pump Room and admire the incredible skyline of the Marina Bay Sands complex, Singapore's latest wacky structure. The Marina South development connects cycle and pedestrian paths, as well as a new expressway, to the East Coast Park where tourists can enjoy both beaches and seafood restaurants.
Guided walking tours 'led by an eclectic bunch of researcher-guides' are highly recommended. Pre-booking is not necessary. Turn up at the designated meeting point, pay the guide and start walking.
Buddha's Relic Tooth Temple, Chinatown.
The bigger temples, Buddha tooth and Sri Mariamman, are bigger and more colourful than many in China or India, while the Heritage Center offers an engrossing display on the history of the Chinese immigration in Singapore. Chinatown architecture generally was most attractive and very different from the rest of the city.
Sri Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. Built in Dravidian style it's curiously but conveniently located in Chinatown.
Tourists enjoying Kerala-style kebabs and live entertainment in Little India. Next, Sentosa Island
Little India is a bit seedy and not as smart or clean as the rest of the city, more like an authentic Mumbai experience but without the beggars. Travellers who feel comfortable in a third world environment will enjoy the colours, sounds and smells of Little India, as well as the rock-bottom souvenir prices but those of a nervous disposition should stick with sanitized Singapore.
However, Little India is a must for folk who enjoy skewering their cheeks, tongues and other body parts during the Thaipusam Festival - January or February depending on the moon - or those who just like watching extraordinary scenes of mutilation and stamina in the name of religion.
Serangoon Road is the place to watch devotees walking, staggering and occasionally dancing along a 4 km stretch carrying ornate, hooked and spiked kavadi weighing up to 15 kgs. The parade starts at Sri Perumal Temple (photo above; MRT Farrer Park Station) and ends at the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple.
6 - Eating well and with huge variety. See separate Singapore Food page.
If you're downtown and have a few minutes in the evening don't forget the Marina Bay lightshow. 8pm Monday to Thursday but 09.30 pm Friday through Sunday – who says the government doesn't want people to have fun?
However, if you're thinking of visiting the cinema you should check what is being screened before setting off as films tend to have a strong PG bias. Excellent family fare but not exactly the most challenging viewing one can imagine.
Some content by Daniel Nash II