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Across Asia in a Day: Sterilized Singapore

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Singapore is synonymous with cleanliness and perfection. Not the usual perception of the gritty and sultry streets of South East Asia. Nor is it at the same price point- it stands a one of the most expensive cities in the region. Not sold yet?

You can cross Asia in a day while in Singapore by visiting some of the major regions – Arab, Indian and Chinese. Taking the MRT subway you can easily discover food and people from the breadth of the Asian continent – albeit sterilized versions. Under strict regulations and threats of fines for just about everything like littering, smoking and spitting, Singaporean versions of Chinatown and Little India may seem a little like Dulock in the movie Shrek.

Actually Singapore itself brings that eerily perfect image to mind, including passing through immigration from Malaysia. It all may be just a little too perfect.

“Welcome to Dulock, it’s the perfect town… Shine you shoes wipe your…face…”

On the other hand, if you’re looking to escape the no-so-quiet streets of the general south east and you enjoy cleanliness (that’s me!) then you’re in for a treat. Even the taxi drivers are friendly here and they speak English (just try taking a taxi in Bangkok without directions written in Thai!). Coming from a Canadian background this city feels comfortable.

singapore map

Airasia flight map. Cheap flight connections around South East Asia – including Singapore.


Asia From West to East

Our exploration of the Singapore city actually followed a west to east journey of Asia – though not on purpose. Starting in the “west” we went to Arab Street for dinner the first evening. Expecting smoking street stalls and kebab shops, maybe a little taste of Turkey or similar, what we found was a cozy European cafe atmosphere. A street lined with outdoor seated restaurants, proper menus and well dressed clientele chatting over dinner. Naturally we headed for the busiest, brightest and relatively least expensive place, though it wasn’t middle eastern food, it was Malaysian and it was tasty.

singapore streetSingapore’s Arab Street has a European feel, and a stunning mosque that makes the scene unique.


singapore mosqueAgainst the black of the night the mosque is lit up beautifully on Arab Street.

The next day we hit Little India. A food stall area condensed into a sort of food court was the busiest most exciting area. Other than that it was pretty quiet, but we did visit in the middle of the day. There were intricately adorned idols portrayed on the Hindu temples and some color peaked through down some side streets, interestingly a laundrette was one of the colorfully painted buildings.

A 24hr shopping centre is on the edge of the area, the Mustafa Centre. We made a stop but we weren’t really in the mood for shopping. Basically it’s a local department store and we needed to save our energy for walking the rest of Asia.

A stop for lunch at a place where they made fresh chapati was the perfect end to our short tour around the area of Little India.

singapore little india

Colors of Little Indiasingapore hinduHindu temple


singpore little indiaFreshly made chapati at a restaurant in Little India


Getting Around

To cross this expansive city the MRT, or underground subway, is the best option. There are free walking tours within different areas but not between them as it’s quite far. Local buses are also an option, organized and clean like the rest of the city.

While tour buses may not be the first choice for independent travelers, the City Sightseeing bus tours actually seem reasonably priced for access to seeing the whole city in a short time ($27 SPD for 24 hrs access) which can be combined with river boat cruises as well for a bit extra. And the water ways are where the action is – but more on that later.


Final Stop: Chinatown

In our journey “across Asia” our next stop was in Chinatown. At first we mistook the small market next to the station and mall as the main attraction – disappointing – but then we followed the yellow snake over the road up to the heart around the heritage centre, and aptly named streets- mosque st., temple st., and pagoda st. With Chinese decorative lanterns overhead and souvenir stands through the streets it’s nice, but again toned down. We were there in the late afternoon early evening as we wanted to hit the laser show at 8pm.

singapore chinatown

The path down to the Chinatown markets.

singapore chinatown

Street of Chinatown markets

Chinatown Pagoda

Chinatown Pagoda


So from Arabian nights to East Asian days we made the “trek” across Singapore’s mini-continent. And while it’s just one city it is still a bit of a trek- my feet hurt from all the walking. Then from China town we seemed to fall off the continent into another world…

Surreal Symbols

We reached the water, of Marina bay, where Merlions splashed in the water and laser lights lit up the sky on a cityscape backdrop. Surreal in a way, yet kitch with an artificial feel in another. Nice to grab some photos though.  We watched the scene from Merlion Park, One Fullarton, which was great with lots of cafes and not too many people.

This creature, the half lion half fish, is the seemingly random symbol of Singapore. And it’s image is on almost every souvenir and postcard. It’s actually the nation’s personification of itself- an old fishing village and a previous name meaning “lion city”, according to Wikipedia anyway. A bit random nonetheless and a token photo of the famous statue was a requirement to top off the visit.

singapore merlion

Merlion fountain with laser show background, at Merlion Park, One Fullarton

That’s our whirlwind tour of Singapore. We even skipped the well known Orchard Street shopping; I think we may have been missing “home” and eager to get back to Thailand.

Singapore’s “Across Asia tour” – we’d recommend it for a safe, relaxed city break.


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