Marie and I went to Southeast Asia for three weeks in March, and because Marie is a talented photographer, we have incredible shots to document the trip. I’ve already shared an itinerary showing how long we were in each city (Suitcase Six in Southeast Asia: Our Itinerary), but I wanted to post more thoroughly about each city to share what we loved and what we could have skipped, and showcase Marie’s great artistic skill behind the camera.
We were there for 5 days in total, split between the beginning and end of our journey, which I’ll try to indicate in the agenda. We stayed in the Little Red Dot hostel all four nights in Singapore, which I would recommend for those on a budget. See my review on Trip Advisor here.
Mar 1 – Arrive in Singapore (9:15 am)
Subway to Hostel & Lunch
The subway system in Singapore is incredibly easy to navigate and efficient. You can purchase a pass for each ride or put a little money on a card to use for several rides – either way I would recommend utilizing this form of transportation as much as possible as its a really inexpensive way to get around.
We had a really nice lunch at a cafe near our hostel, getting a coffee and a lunch combo that included soft-shell crab for about $15 USD total – pretty reasonable compared to what seafood can cost in the states sometimes. After using the wifi to research our next move, we settled on the Gardens by the Bay and made our way to the subway station.
Gardens by the Bay
We absolutely loved the Gardens and would recommend them to anyone who is visiting Singapore. You can walk through a lot of the grounds for free, but there are two domes (The Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome) which are completely worth the admissions ticket you need to enter. We spent several hours here taking photos and enjoying the enormous, beautiful landscaping – so much so that we came back at night on the tail-end of our trip because we wanted to take in the Gardens with the evening lights. Open from 9 am – 9 pm, admission to the Cloud Forest AND Flower Dome are $28 for adults – you can save money by buying tickets online, or by booking through your hostel.
Located close to the gardens, the Marina is an area on the Bay in Central Singapore where there are restaurants, hotels, shopping centers, and many other major attractions. We walked around a while, and having worked up an appetite at the Gardens, set off for a nice meal by the water. The first restaurant we visited informed us they weren’t serving food after we had ordered a drink, the famous Singapore Sling, so we visited another restaurant immediately after to finally curb our appetites before returning to our hostel.
Mar 2 – Singapore
National Gallery Art Museum
After having breakfast at our hostel, we set off for the art museum where we spent a couple hours exploring the exhibits. The building and collections were beautiful, and it really helped to give a background to Singapore with each exhibit focusing on a different era in the city-state’s history. The museum was a nice air-conditioned break from the intense heat we were experiencing during our visit – I would expect most people to spend around 2 hours here but you could easily spend more if you had the time.
Walking through the city surrounding the museum was a treat in itself as the cityscape is a unique blend of modern architecture and imposing skyscrapers with an abundance of tropical trees and gardens on the rooftops and balconies of every concrete tower. As I’ve shared with several people, I thought of Singapore as a mix of Jurassic Park and Outer Space.
Sentosa Island – Aquarium
Sentosa Island was a very interesting place that felt to me like the entire island was a theme park. It is not far off, as there is a Universal Studios on the small island, and their motto is “The State of Fun”. In addition to a few beaches, there are many fancy resorts and golf courses, a waterpark, a butterfly kingdom, dolphin island, the SEA aquarium, a Mega Adventure park, and several other attractions.
The aquarium itself was not all it was hyped up to be, in my opinion. It was very crowded and the enclosures for some of the larger animals seemed small for how many big fish were sharing the tank. I’d heard this aquarium was one of the best in the world, and while I certainly enjoyed it, I found other aquariums like the one in Atlanta, Georgia to be comparable if not marginally better.
The whole island was certainly an experience, and it would be a really fun place for younger kids. I enjoyed the day but the island gave off vibes of it being a large tourist trap that required a fair bit of cash to enjoy, and overall, it isn’t a place I am dying to revisit.
After stopping by the hostel to freshen up, we set out for a little Harry Potter themed cafe that served HP themed cocktails. I was surprised to find they had a wardrobe with robes, wands, and other HP attire and I had to take advantage of the opportunity. I ordered the Goblet of Fire, which true to its name, was served ON FIRE – I loved every second of it. I haven’t yet posted about the Harry Potter themed trip three of the Suitcase Six took through the U.K. but eventually I will get to blogging about that adventure and you’ll understand how excited I was to find this place.
I also ordered a fancy dessert which I thoroughly enjoyed even though I was unsure what I was eating most of the time. Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t the cheapest place we could have gone but if you are a Harry Potter fan, it’s definitely a novelty shop worth visiting.
Mar 3 – Singapore
We stopped by the mall food court for brunch on the way to Chinatown, which was conveniently located by the subway station. For about $2.50 USD, I got a plate of rice, vegetables, and tofu from a Chinese restaurant that held me over till lunch and gave me a little extra lunch money (which I definitely needed for our next meal).
Chinatown – Chinese Heritage Culture Center, Lunch
We took the subway to Chinatown and walked around a bit exploring the streets and checking out a few of the shops before heading to the Chinese Heritage Culture Center.
Marie and I really loved the Heritage Culture Center. There was an audio guide that led you through each room on the center, and it was an enlightening look at the challenging lives Chinese immigrants experienced in Singapore. I left this place feeling as if I had a much better understanding of the Chinese culture.
For lunch, we stopped at a busy restaurant across the street where we order Chili Crab, a famous Singaporean dish. It was one of our more expensive meals, but it was a huge portion of fresh crab and was absolutely delicious – well worth the experience. We needed a bib and countless napkins to make our way through the sweet chili sauce and I’m still shocked we didn’t ruin any of our clothes in this endeavor.
We had a few mishaps with the zoo. Having bought our tickets through our hostel, we didn’t receive the email with our tickets and had to use a phone at the zoo help desk to call our hostel receptionist and have her resend the tickets. We didn’t realize the zoo closed so early, so we only stayed for the night show for which we’d also bought tickets.
The show included about three different kinds of animals, a few crowd participants who were able to help with the show, and a lot of unacknowledged requests from the trainers for audience members to turn their camera flashes off to protect the animals. If I were to go back, I would skip the show and just enjoy walking around the grounds while the crowds are in the theater. I don’t blame the zoo for us missing the closing times, but the zoo is harder to access than many of the other attractions that are more centrally located, and I would say it isn’t worth the trip unless you get to spend more than a couple hours there.
Mar 4 – Leave for Malaysia (fly out at 9:15 am)
We didn’t have much time for anything except for getting to the airport on this morning so we grabbed coffee and a few snacks once we arrived in our terminal, but this doesn’t really count as a day in Singapore.
Mar 21 – Arrive in Singapore from Hong Kong (6:20 pm)
Gardens by the Bay (at night)
When we finally checked into our hostel after our flight, most of the attractions were closed for the day. We had enjoyed ourselves so much the first trip to the Gardens by the Bay that we decided to return and have an inexpensive night wandering the free parts of the Gardens, taking in the views with the impressive lights. The views were beautiful and the weather at night cools off to be quite comfortable, so I would definitely suggest this as a stop if you’re looking for an activity to fill an evening.
I made a misguided attempt to find food by crossing a bridge near the Gardens that appeared to be going toward the main city. I had little to back this navigational assumption up and we wasted some 30 minutes walking before we finally decided to just head back the way we came, catch the last subway, and get food at a restaurant we’d tried on our first night. Though we somehow ended up with an extra appetizer we didn’t order and we were slightly irritable because of my unnecessary detour, we were so hungry that we didn’t protest and scarfed down some Singaporean cuisine and tea before crashing in our pod-bunkbeds at the hostel.
Mar 22 – Leave for Chicago (8:20 pm)
Little India – Shopping, Lunch
After another breakfast at the hostel, we checked out, storing our bags there for the day, and went to Little India for our final day of sight-seeing. We walked around a while trying to get our bearings straight, but we were both pretty tired and struggling with the heat and humidity, so our adventurous spirits were slightly dampened. We eventually settled on an Indian restaurant for lunch and retreated into the air conditioning, enjoying a relaxed meal and lamenting the long journey we were about to make from Singapore back to Chicago.
After lunch, we explored the town a bit more, buying a few souvenirs and stopping into an enormous seven(ish) story superstore that sold anything you could ever need – Marie had gotten a burn from our cooking class in Thailand a few days prior and we were needing some basic medical supplies.
Tired, overwhelmed by the chaotic superstore experience, and ready to get started on the long homeward trek, we left for the hostel to pick up our backpacks, caught the Subway to the airport, and began making our way back to Indiana. From the time we’d checked out of the hostel in the morning to the time we hit our beds in Indiana, 50 hours passed and we had made the full transition from humans into zombies. I would absolutely do it again though – I had an incredible time exploring both Singapore and the rest of the Asian cities with Marie, and am grateful for her artistic eye who captured our journey so well.
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