The Lion City, Singapore, with the Tribe
Singapore or Sing-a-bore? Oppressively organized or blissfully convienient – we’d heard it all about this city-state. We figured it was time to see what the Crazy Rich Asians of Singapore were up to, so we packed up the wee ones and made our way to Singapore!
HISTORY GEEK MOMENT (we’re looking at you Em) This little island nation punches way above it’s weight class. If you are into a good underdog story, then get ready to get hot and bothered for Singapore. Imagine, after unthinkable amounts of tensions along racial lines, you wake up one morning to find that you’ve been voted out of your country. There you are – cut off politically and geographically. You’re an island with next to no natural resources and you’ve been handed a death sentence by being given the boot. And so you take a deep breath, pause, and decide to make something of yourself.
URBAN DESIGN GEEK MOMENT if you’re childhood imagination caused you to stack blocks and build urban landscapes in your living room, then Singapore is for you.
It’s the perfect make-out session for history and design geeks. Singapore had to make itself into something and so it designed a bright, sleek future.
WHY WE LOVE SINGAPORE
- Linguistically it is absolutely cheating as the level of spoken and written English is high – super, super high. If you can function in English, you can function in Singapore.
- When it comes to getting around town, Singapore is well laid out and is easy to navigate. Roads are clearly signed (in English too).
- We live in South East Asia in a bustling city of millions. We love it. But sometimes it is nice to be surrounded by a certain level of order and organization. No motorcycles on sidewalks. No cars inventing their own lanes. The efficiency of Singapore was soothing to us (though for some Singaporeans the strict Do’s and Do Not’s are hard to live with…we might feel that too if this weren’t just a visit).
- People seem genuinely kind and helpful. It’s easy to strike up a conversation. If you don’t know where to begin, ask about their retirement plan. In fulfilling a certain stereotype, Singaporeans seem to be financially minded and perpetually concerned about their financial health in the future.
if all the best parts of Western / Northern nations had a love child with Asia, Singapore would be that baby
WHERE TO STAY
When looking for accommodation in Singapore, think in neighbourhoods. The city is clearly delineated into different boroughs and they all have their own charm. Prices tend to climb in the downtown / Marina Bay area and on Sentosa Island (the home of all things entertainment and beach and a completely different kind of experience).
There’s little fun in staying in a great hotel in a dud of a neighbourhood. Friends, both Singaporean and Western, had spoke so enthusiastically about Katong that we knew where we wanted to base ourselves. Katong was once filled with waterfront plantations before land reclamation and well-to-dos reshaped this area in Central Region. Now it is an eclectic mix of architecture and cultures. If you’re looking to stroll and be wowed, then make your way to Joo Chiat – Katong’s historical centre and a great way to expose yourself to Peranakan (local born) culture. Our kids didn’t care about the historical saga memorialized in architectural changes – but they liked all the colours!
Village Hotel has several properties around Singapore. We stayed in a Family Room at The Village Hotel – Katong. When we first entered, we worried we’d booked at a business traveler hotel. We quickly saw the details that make this hotel family friendly. Our room had 2 queen beds and we had a cot for our youngest. Like most spaces in Singapore, this room was tight. When we were in for the night, we pushed the cot by the door for some extra room to maneuver. The room was clean and modern. Our only critiques are that the bathroom door is frosted glass – a challenge with any number of family members making bathroom runs. The balcony, which was spacious, had no furniture. As the parentals, we love a well appointed balcony space as it becomes our haven post kiddie bedtime.
The hotel had a focus on “living like a local”. The lobby had a food cart with local food samples and sweets. They also provided a red neighbourhood guide to steer you towards a more authentic experience of Katong. The hotel features a nice pool that we never touched since we were always out and about!
From the hotel lobby, an understated glass door gives you access to the Katong V shopping centre with a small grocer. Snacks a plenty were purchased here. If you exit the mall onto East Coast Road, there is a bus station located nearby.
HOW TO GET AROUND
Singapore is well served by it’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system. It’s said that 8 out of 10 Singaporean households are within walking distance of the MRT. The Light Rail Transit (LRT) serves newer communities and feeds into the MRT. If you’re staying in Katong or the the downtown area, then buses will also serve you well. There are a number of bus companies that operate in Singapore and the public buses are bright green and easy to spot.
Before arriving in Singapore, download and set-up GRAB (one of our favourite apps in South East Asia). We’re frequent users of GRAB and if you’ve already got the app, then when you arrive in Singapore it will update the options available in the Lion City. This ride-sharing app will allow you to book what you need and schedule it for when you need it. FAMILY TIP: Singaporean law requires children to be in car seats so be sure to book a family vehicle in the app. Public taxis are exempt from this law.
There is a healthy supply of taxis in Singapore. We had nothing but wonderful experiences with taxis. You can hail a cab on any public road except for in the CBD (Central Business District) where you’ll need to wait at a taxi stand. Taxis can print receipts for you if requested.
From the airport, we pre-arranged for a van transfer. We booked through KLOOK (details below). Our drive contacted by WhatsApp days before our arrival to confirm our flight info. He was punctual, helpful, and friendly.
With little geographical features to market to tourists, Singapore went ahead and made world class attractions. The Singapore Zoo, Farmart Centre, Hay Dairies, Wild Wild Wet Waterpark, Jurong Bird Park, and the numerous theme parks could never be squeezed into one visit so we want to highlight some of what we enjoyed!
Singapore’s airport, Changi Internatinoal, promotes itself as “more than an airport” and it certainly is. It continually wins global airport awards. Opened in 2019, it’s crowning jewel is The Jewel. This massive glass structure is curb side (not air side) and so you do not need to be flying to enjoy it’s many, many offerings.
Before our departing flight, we gave ourselves 3 hours and it wasn’t enough. Waterfall gawking by itself takes time!
Everything is set around the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. Even the restaurant offer waterfall views (3rd picture below). Most major airlines offer a bag drop service at a kiosk area on the main floor (first picture below). Be sure to check with your airlie about this service. It will allow you to explore the Jewel baggage free (we flew Scoot, Singapore’s budget airline, and this was not an option).
The list of activities and eateries within the Jewel is staggering. The prices can be too. It may be best to pick one main family activity and then simply adventure through the terminal. There are free interactive stations throughout the Jewel as well (second picture below).
Gardens by the Bay set out to be daring, iconic, and a source of national pride. When it opened in 2012, it ticked each of those boxes! To walk through the gardens surrounding these icons is completely free and an absolute wonderland for a child’s imagination. The Art Sculptures nestled throughout the gardens are a fantastic way to keep kids moving. You can use the garden map to make a plan of which sculptures to find and make an adventure of it all.
The Cloud Forest is the taller, but technically smaller, conservatory. It welcomes you with WOW as you are greeted by the brisk blast of a 35 meter tall (115 feet) waterfall upon entering. Literally right inside the door! The path will lead you around, up, through, and down the Cloud Mountain (there is a lift as well). The views inside are stunning but don’t forget to look through the glass dome to city world outside.
According to Guinness, the Flower Dome is the largest greenhouse on Earth. Our kids simply remember it as the place with the giant dragon statue! Parents be warned, there are cacti galore and we frequently reminded our kids that plants will fight back!
The Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome share a lobby area with a cafe, ticket booth, washrooms, and a view over the gardens. We did the Cloud Forest first, had a snack pit-stop in the lobby cafe, and then made our way into the Flower Dome. The sheer scale of the Cloud Mountain and waterfall made the Cloud Forest the dome of choice for our kids. We suggest starting there so you can really take your time and enjoy it before the little ones begin to fade. We brought our pram (stroller) and found all of this easy to navigate.
Supertree Grove may be the most literal venture into naming something, but it certainly lives up to it’s name. These urban structures stretch into the sky collecting rain water, housing vertical gardens, and welcoming travelers from around the world.
Make an afternoon evening of being in the gardens and then be sure to ooh and ahh at the The Garden Rhapsody light and music show. We got to the open lawn in Supertree Grove about 40 minutes before the 19:45 show. The lawn was already filling-up. We made a little spot using our pram and some other items. One parent camped there while the other ran laps with the kiddos (actual laps people). The show was truly lovely but more wonderful was hearing our kids laugh and squeal as the lights and music whisked them on a tour across Asia. Be sure to check the website for showtimes.
OCBC Skyway will have you feeling like a posh Ewok as you stroll amidst the canopy of the Supertrees. It is accessible with lifts at either end. The length of the Skyway won’t take you long to cross, but the views are unparalleled. While we were there, smoke from crop burning was crossing the Malacca Strait, but we were still able to see both far and wide.
The unexpected hero of the Garden by the Bay was the Children’s Garden. This FREE area is free – did we mention free? Singapore is not light on the budget and so this high quality play space was appreciated. There is a toddler play structure. shaded seating, a cafe, a giant splash pad with washrooms and change rooms, all encircled by a kid friendly obstacle course. We spent multiple afternoons here by request (demand) of our wee people.
Future World, at The Arts and Science Museum, is an interactive space which encourages children to get hands-on. There are rotating exhibits which cost extra, but we stuck to the main museum. It is engaging and awe inspiring – for both young and old. Head there in the morning and then pop over to the food court at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands to grab lunch. There is so much variety there, the entire family will find something they love (plus they have indoor canals, fountains, and waterfalls too).
Eating in Singapore will not be a challenge. It’s food offerings have all of the cosmopolitan flare and food chains your heart, and stomach, desire. Break away from fast food and dive into HAWKER culture. These hole-in-the-wall type restaurants have kept Singaporeans well fed for generations. Order a plate of char kway teow and savour it’s smoky tones (below, middle). Lap up spicy laksa with spoon and chopsticks. If you’re in Katong, make your way to 328 Katong Laksa – you’re welcome in advance! If your children are spice adverse, order a bowl of massaman curry with rice (below, right). The origin story of this dish is hazy (though Thailand’s Muslim community has a strong claim), but Singapore does it right. It’s sweet and uses peanuts – which may be a more familiar flavour for some kids.
HOW TO BOOK
We’re fans of KLOOK – an app helping to make travel more affordable throughout Asia. They don’t pay us to say that (though the link above will give us some points if you book through it – thanks in advance), but we thoroughly enjoy their easy to use booking platform either online or in their app.
We bought our SIM cards ahead of time and picked them up in Bangkok on our way to Singapore. Our van to our hotel was ready and waiting for us and it was also easily booked through KLOOK.
The OCBC Skyway, Cloud Forest, and Flower Dome tickets were purchased through KLOOK for a lower price. You pick these tickets up from the Red Dot Design Museum. The tickets are good for a few weeks so you do not need to pick them up and use them within the same day. However, once you use one part of them, you must use them all that day.
The tickets for Future World came through KLOOK as well and we simply showed the barcode in the KLOOK app at the ticket office in Future World.