set loose in singapore
February 15, 2008 7:16 PM   Subscribe

My brother (almost 15) and I (19) are going to Singapore this March by ourselves. I've been planning the itinerary though my dad says it reads like an educational field trip. Help me undorkify it, then.

We'll be there three days, with a trip to the Singapore Zoo + Night safari, Sentosa Island, and, okay, the Science Museum. A trip to the humongous wheel opening that month.
How long should a trip to the Singapore Zoo take, anyway? Three hours enough so we can go exploring the rest of the city beforehand? How about Sentosa? I guess it'd be okay to forgo the dolphins and the trapeze, maybe I'll save the Light Show for Vegas, if ever. I just want the rides.

Anyway. Helpful tips appreciated. If it helps, we're staying North of Little India (the hive), so keeping us from going round in circles throughout our stay is a plus.
posted by drea to Travel & Transportation around Singapore (24 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
When we went, one of our favorite things was the bird park. It was spectacular. We only did the Night Safari, we never went to the zoo during the day, but I felt that it was fine b/c most of the animals only come out at night anyway.

Sentosa Island was OK. We also really enjoyed visiting the ethnic neighborhoods. Part of my advice is just to wander those neighborhoods. And make sure you go to a hawker center for food. It has been awhile since our trip, so I am having trouble remembering everything we did. If you don't get enough advice in this thread send me a MefiMail and I will email my good friend who is a native and who was our guide.
posted by bove at 7:56 PM on February 15, 2008

My only advice is food. Never eat at a fast food joint (McDonalds, etc.). Always eat local and hawker food. Cheap hawker food. Open air hawker food. The food. Oh, the food. Makes me want to jump on a plane to Singapore.
posted by Xere at 8:08 PM on February 15, 2008

Response by poster: Bove,
thanks I'll take your word on bird sanctuary = spectacular.
although I'm not sure that my bro will enjoy walking around ethnic neighborhoods.

What would you suggest in the Boat Quay area? I wanted to try the famous black pepper crab but it didn't look like our budget's up for it.
posted by drea at 8:20 PM on February 15, 2008

If you can afford it, I would go to a really nice Cantonese restaurant one night. I had some amazing Cantonese food in Singapore, highly recommend. And for what you get, it isn't that expensive. And of course the local places are great too. If you have weak stomach or are at all worried about the food, just make sure you go to somewhere that allows you to sit down, even if its on plastic chair outside. I've gotten sick from the food at the stalls, but never from a place that was actually a permanent restaurant, no matter how grungy it was.

Oh and try the fresh lime juice, it's awesome and so much better than anything you can get in the states.

Also, going to Raffles and getting a Singapore Sling is pretty fun. As is Chinatown.
posted by whoaali at 10:58 PM on February 15, 2008

The Science Museum is awesome! Also, Singapore is TINY, so you could get things done in a few days.

I forgot which area this is, but there is a place up North where you could see farming firsthand and have a go.
posted by divabat at 11:24 PM on February 15, 2008

Visit the botanical gardens, they're amazing! It's free, though I think you have to pay to get into the orchid garden (I recommend Sosan Orlean's "The Orchid Thief" if you wanna know why people go nuts for orchids, though it's set in florida).
posted by Jhoosier at 11:34 PM on February 15, 2008

Response by poster: Jhoosier,
Botanical gardens: check. We plan to visit it at night before we head to the airport.

Farming -- now this is really starting to look like an educational field trip. Come from an agricultural country myself so I don't think this is necessary.

Food = awesome. I _think_ I've got an okay stomach considering the kind of street food we have in my country (Philippines) so I'm not worried. The lime juice you're referring to might either be: dalandan juice (a green orange. I know right) or, kalamansi, smaller limes found in SEAsia.

I'll go google Raffles City and Singapore Sling now.
posted by drea at 12:22 AM on February 16, 2008

Does the zoo still do a "breakfast with orangutans" thing? When I was last there they were promoting some kind of breakfast zoo experience where you'd eat fruit (and presumably other stuff like tea and coffe) with their primates. I was never out of bed early enough to get there, but it sounded like an interesting idea.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:29 AM on February 16, 2008

Response by poster: Okay, singapore sling has alcohol. Thanks for the suggestion, but please keep in mind I'm asking for travel suggestions for TEENS.
posted by drea at 2:01 AM on February 16, 2008

Response by poster: And I just realized Raffles is a hotel, and a singapore sling was the point of going to raffles.
posted by drea at 2:04 AM on February 16, 2008

Sentosa Island is like Disneyland. Everything is man made and designed. There's a beautiful beach, a small aquarium and a couple of pink dolphins, as well as many other attractions. A visit to Sentosa is at least half a day.

The zoo is awesome! I went there during regular hours. Two-three hours are just enough for walking around the zoo. It's huge. They also have animal shows during the day. It's about 15-20 minutes cab ride back from Orchard and it set us back about $15. But ask first.

As mention, try a lot of of the cheap local food. You can find food courts everywhere, and food is usually sold for less than $5 per meal. You can find black pepper crab there too. Boat Quay has mainly restaurants and is a lot more expensive.
posted by ye#ara at 2:44 AM on February 16, 2008

When I lived in Singapore in the mid-80s and was just about your brother's age, I dug the zoo something serious - highly recommended. Hawker's centres, yes! The bird park, yes! Sentosa *used* to have a cool British military base on it from WW2 and probably still does. It also used to be where the government kept political dissidents.

If MacRitchie reservoir is still around, try going to that. Nothing completely badass, but I remember it being the most rural place I'd been in Singapore, no small feat. Jungle and wild monkeys.
posted by the dief at 7:03 AM on February 16, 2008

Raffles is a pretty amazing old hotel that I would suggest with or without the Singapore Sling, really nice for just like a coffee or something in the afternoon.
posted by whoaali at 7:05 AM on February 16, 2008

Check out this New Yorker article by Calvin Trillin on the joys of hawker food in Singapore. The link will take you to an abstract only. Go to the library or find an old copy of the New Yorker in a doctor's waiting room. It will give you lots of ideas on where to go eat, what to eat and how to find new places to eat.

Have fun.
posted by brookeb at 7:27 AM on February 16, 2008

Sentosa is a lot of fun, not an "educational" excursion at all. It's more like half-resort, half-theme park.

As far as food - try the lime juice. Get one and think of me, while you're at it. I have never had anything at all like it back in Canada and I miss it so much! Try Chicken Rice. It sounds really basic, but it's pretty much the national dish, for good reason. Char Kway Teow is my favorite meal, it's wide noodles with all sorts of seafood and stuff in it. Super.

Other than that, I spent my time in Singapore at Rotary club meetings and openings of dialysis centres. That's all I got, unfortunately. If you have time, Johor Bahru (Malaysia) is just a couple of kms away.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:28 AM on February 16, 2008

Just to add to the previous comments:
* Raffles Hotel is a beautiful building. There's a small, free museum on the third floor, which has some old photos of Singapore, etc., mostly colonial history. I'd avoid buying anything at Raffles if you're on a budget. I think the Singapore Sling at the Long Bar costs S$20-$30. (I think they have a nonalcoholic version too.)
*Outdoors: MacRitchie reservoir has a treetop walk which is an interesting view of the forest. For more of a workout on steeper jungle trails, another option is Bukit Timah, the highest hill on the island. Best to go to either of these places in the morning, when it's a bit cooler. Neither park is particularly touristy, and depending where in the Philippines you're coming from, you might not find the forest very interesting. Another outdoor option which could be fun is East Coast Park, where you can rent inline skates or bicycles.
* I'm not sure if the zoo does the Breakfast with orang utans any more. Unfortunately, the zoo's most famous orang utan, Ah Meng, passed away last week. Still, I highly recommend the zoo, as well as the Jurong bird park. I personally would spend half a day at the zoo, but three hours would be fine too.
* On the way to or from Sentosa, you can take the Mt. Faber cable car.
* Indeed, the lime juice here is typically made from kalamansi.

As everyone has mentioned, there's no shortage of food choices. If you want crab at Boat Quay, there's a Jumbo Seafood restaurant on the riverwalk between Clarke Quay and Boat Quay that has pepper crab and chili crab. Take a look at the menu and see if its in your budget. It's certainly a Singaporean specialty.

As for cheap food, any of the food courts and hawker centers offer plenty of selection. Lau Pa Sat is one of the more famous ones, located in the heart of the city, near Raffles Place. In the evening, they block off a street and grill satay.

Of course, there's every kind of restaurant you can think of. If there's a particular cuisine or dish you want to try, I can probably recommend some place.

Singapore's tourist web site has other ideas and suggestions.
posted by blue mustard at 9:18 AM on February 16, 2008

N'thing the Jurong Bird Park - not to be missed! Buy a few cups of grubs inside some of the large aviaries and feed the birds. They will land all over your arms and head to get at the tasty treats in your hands - there's nothing like looking 10 grams of iridescent feathers right in the eye. I could easily spend a whole day here, armed with camera and several memory cards.

I found Sentosa a waste of time (but I don't like amusement parks, so YMMV). The aquarium was OK, though.

Lime juice is AWESOME and ubiquitous and cheap. It's often just called "limau" (= lime, in Malay), even though it's diluted juice, not the whole fruit. Don't waste your time drinking anything else - get as much lime juice as you can because you probably won't get it at home unless you live in Southeast Asia. I've never found it here in the US and it sounds like articwoman has the same problem up there in Canada, too.

I also recommend the Chinatown Heritage Center, a museum that recreates several eras in Singapore's Chinatown. It's not a happy museum, for the most part; Chinatown was a slum for much of Singapore's history and the museum doesn't shy away from showing how poor people lived in overcrowded tenements. Please don't dismiss it as being too dorky, for it's quite eye-opening for anybody who grew up in a comfortable middle class home. I don't cry easily but I went through a few tissues here.

Enjoy your trip!
posted by Quietgal at 10:16 AM on February 16, 2008

there's a chinese toy museum around little india (oh... museum of shanghai toys) that's quite quaint and informative if you have a little time to spare (esp. if you're going to be lodging around little india). i love the katong laksa around the little india area... around jalan besar i think? it's SGD$2.50 per bowl, although the helpings aren't very big. then again, there are lots of other good katong laksa places in singapore...

there is plenty of good food in singapore, really. have you checked out the 'uniquely singapore' website?
if you want good seafood, it's on the east coast. East Coast Seafood Centre.
if you're interested in arts-related exhibitions/shows/performances, the esplanade might interest you. suntec city has what they claim to be the largest fountain in the world.
if you go to clarke quay / boat quay, you could try one of those touristy bumboat rides along the singapore river...

what are you and your brother interested in? animals and museums...?
not sure whether it'd be that good to visit the botanical gardens at night; it's kinda dark then and seems better viewable by day. not that you can't go there at night, but the only memorable time i spent in the botanical gardens after dark was when i made off with a huge lotus flower of some sort years ago.
my sister has been wanting to try the ducktours for sometime - a ride on a vehicle that is amphibious. looks like it would cost SGD$33 each for both of you, though - not sure whether it's still within your budget.
that's all i can think of for now. email's in the profile if you want to ask/talk more.
posted by aielen at 11:13 AM on February 16, 2008

forwarded for someone without an account.
Some answers to your questions:

1. Three hours sound good enough for the Singapore Zoo. Don't miss the Siberian tigers, the pygmy hippos, the treetop trail and the primates! I'm not sure if the Night Safari will be a wildlife overload, but it's awesome (and you can see the baby capybaras!). The zoo's website mentions a shuttle bus service departing from Little India for the Zoo at 2pm (SGD4), which sounds like a good option for you. The bus service operates to and from the Night Safari as well.

2. I'm not sure what you intend to do at Sentosa. There's dorky (WW2 forts), sporty (beach volleyball, bicycle/in-line skate rentals), awfully touristy (giant merlion, light show), and genuinely cool (Underwater World). I'd be happy with the Underwater World, a monorail ride around the island, then a cable car ride back the mainland.

As for other things to do, I'm not sure what you and your brother are interested in, but here's a list of some places and activities that shouldn't take you too far away from your intended itinerary:

1. For a satisfying meal near your hostel, have your lunch at the corner of the row of shophouses opposite The Hive. It's called, for some reason, Beijing 2008. Ask for char siew (sweet bbq pork with deliciously charred edges) and shao rou (bbq pork belly with perfectly crisp tops) rice. And don't forget to take the free soup that comes along with it. It is sooo good.

2. You really should at least take a walk through Little India. It's much more culturally authentic than Chinatown. Try the curries at Banana Leaf Apollo or Muthu's Curry along Race Course Road! The Little India district gets a bit too crowded on Sundays, so if you need to take a slight breather, the Museum of Shanghai Toys is right in the middle of the area at 83 Rowell Road. There's also a little indie boho enclave shaping up along the same road - check out the art gallery and vegan cafe at Post Museum and Food #03.

3. Sungei Road thieves' market - it's an open-air flea market that first began in the 1930s, acquiring its name because the goods sold were allegedly obtained through dubious means. Unlike much of what you'll find in Singapore, the market's continued existence appears untouched by government or commercial agenda. Goods are placed on mats on the ground, and you'll find anything from manual typewriters to broken spectacles to strange amulets to vintage Chinese LPs. Worth a walk through. It's pretty much open every day from around noon to sunset, but go during the weekends when it really comes to life. It's not too far away from the main Little India district, in an area bounded by Sungei Road, Weld Road and Kelantan Road, near Sim Lim Tower.

4. Sim Lim Square for all your electronics needs! Then cross the road and walk through Waterloo Street, passing the Goddess of Mercy Temple along the way. The Bugis Street Market is further ahead, where you'll find cheap music cds, streetwear, accessories, souvenirs and snacks. This is the place where young people shop, outside of Far East Plaza along Orchard Road.

5. About three bus stops down from the Bugis Street Market is the the Kampong Glam conservation area. Try a mutton murtabak at Zam Zam's! Cross the road and admire Sultan Mosque; walk down Bussorah Street behind the mosque and poke around Grandfather's Collections, a lovely shop with lots of antiques and curios from Singapore's past. Order a cup of teh tarik (it's sooo good) at the unnamed hole-in-the-wall sarabat stall at the junction of Bussorah St and Baghdad St. Head over to the hip indie boutiques sprouting up along tiny Haji Lane, and end the night at the Blu Jaz Cafe at the adjacent Bali Lane.

6. Since you're going to the Singapore Flyer (the giant observation wheel), you can probably walk down to the Esplanade, where the Mosaic Music Festival is on from 7th to 16th March. You can check out the list of free performances at the festival website ( The Esplanade's website ( has more details on other events and performances that you may be interested in. Post-show, try out some hawker food at the nearby Glutton's Bay, or walk across the bridge from the Esplanade towards One Fullerton and see the original Merlion! Touristy fun. Then kick back and enjoy a drink along the waterfront at One Fullerton.

You should try to grab a free copy of I-S magazine ( from any Starbucks (or other cafes) for listings of events and places to go each week. There's also Time Out Singapore, but the print edition isn't free.

PS. The legal drinking age in Singapore is 18... :)
posted by jessamyn at 1:21 PM on February 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Although there's lots of good info here, I can't imagine the wonderful food in Singapore being of much interest to teenagers. (Note that, tragically, the New Yorker chose not to make Calvin Trillum's article available, online -- brookeb's link is only to the abstract). I'd think they might have more fun exploring the malls on Orchard Road.
posted by Rash at 3:33 PM on February 16, 2008

Response by poster: Okay, I think the shelf life of this question's done, so I'd like to thank everyone for their suggestions. :)

I do love food, so it's fine. And, malls aren't really my thing. They're everywhere anyway.

Thanks for posting! And to the guy who answered: thanks a million! that's really helpful and might save me from going round in circles.

The bird feeding sounds really fun so we'll definitely hit the bird sanctuary, and maybe sneak a peek at raffles hotel as well.
posted by drea at 2:29 AM on February 18, 2008

I do love food, so it's fine. And, malls aren't really my thing. They're everywhere anyway.

Excellent! In that case, I made notes from the New Yorker article, and these were Calvin Trillin's must-tastes at the food centres:
chwee kueh (rice cakes with radish)
grilled stingray
roti prata
curry puffs
chili crab and its cousin, pepper crab
fish head curry
carrot cake
charkway teow

Hokkien pan-fried noodles
rojak (both Indian and Chinese)
mee siam
fish-ball noodles
bak kut teh (breakfast pork-rib soup)
popiah (Hokkien-style spring roll w/ stewed turnips)
Good luck and happy (food) hunting!
posted by Rash at 9:39 PM on February 18, 2008

Response by poster: Rash,

This is great, thanks! I hope my stomach has room for all these.
posted by drea at 9:09 AM on March 15, 2008

Jessamyn helped me post my answer above (thanks!) but now that I've got an account of my own, feel free to mefimail me if you need any further information.
posted by hellopanda at 2:00 AM on March 23, 2008

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