Singapore: An Anomaly within South East Asia

PUBLISHED ON MAY 2, 2018 — TRAVEL

After my trip to the Philippines that I wrote about here, I decided to visit Singapore to meet up with a few friends that I had jokingly said I would meet about 6 months ago. It seemed distant and unlikely at the time, but we managed to make it work and had a great 4 days of exploration in the city.

Singapore greatly betrayed my expectations. Going into it, I knew it was one of the most advanced countries of South East Asia. What I got completely wrong was how drastic the level of development and planning is between Singapore and it’s neighboring countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Frankly, it was the most sophisticated and futuristic looking city I have seen in all my life. Seriously.

Buildings in Singapore

Shout out to my two good friends who were the primary purpose of making my way over to Singapore. Expats from NY, they showed me a great time and we fully took advantage of the 4 days I was there.

Let’s get Singapore straight

Singapore is in South East Asia, a city state, and pretty much adjacent to Malaysia. That being said, Singapore is nothing like the other South East Asian countries I have been to. To quote my friend “Singapores like South East Asia 101 for Americans.” - referring to the fact that Singapore is the easiest south east asian country to travel to if you’re from the States. There’s a few words that come to mind that separates Singapore from the rest of South East Asia. I would like to share with you these words.

*(Note: South East Asia refers to Indonesia, East Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, East Timor, Brunei, Christmas Island, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and West Malaysia)*

Ways Singapore is different from the Rest of South East Asia


  • Furturistic - Singapore isn’t modern. It’s futuristic. Like serious Brave New World vibes in the sense that it seemed like utopic planning to a certain degree. Urban planing is highly coordinated. The streets are incredibly clean. Electricity is conserved as much as possible. Transportation is efficient. The building and architecture are beautiful. Take a blank piece of paper. Write a few ideas of what a utopic city would look like. If you’re visions anything like most utopic conceptions from novels, Singapore ain’t too far away.

  • Diverse and perfect for foodies - You want authentic Chinese food? Indian food? Vietnamese food? Dim Sum? Japanese food? Singapore’s got the best of them. In Singapore, they have Hawker Centers for you to get your local food fix. Cheap (relatively), local, and authentic food that puts my asian food experiences in California to shame. There’s a ton of ethnicities in Singapore. To put it bluntly, I was shocked when I landed to find a whole bunch of “white people” around the streets. This was very different than my experiences in other South East Asian Countries.

  • It’s Expensive - Nearly all of South East Asia is cheap. Not Singapore. SGD is roughly 34 a dollar in value so don’t expect your money to go as far as in most South East Asian Countries.

  • It’s Clean - Most South East Asian countries I’ve been to are many things. Clean is not one of them. Singapore shows a different side to South East Asia being by far the cleanest country in the region.

  • There is no typical street food - Most Asian countries have an abundance of choices when it comes to street food. It’s one of the best parts about going to an asian country however it does come with health risks and little regulation. In comes the Hawker centers. Singapore does not have traditional street stalls. They have been combined together into the Hawker centers, which host venues that normally would take place on the street. You get street food, but health standards and regulations are better making it much safer for exploratory eating.

  • It’s Primary Language is English - To my knowledge, I don’t know of another South East Asian country who’s primary language is English. Most of the Philippines can speak English but their primary language is Tagalog.

What to do in Singapore?

Singapore is small. So small that if you’re going for purposes of exploration you probably only need a few days to cover most of the main parts of Singapore. There’s a couple things that stand out in my experience that you should check out if you have the time.

Visit the Marina Around the Marina there’s plenty to do. Lot’s of iconic buildings surround the bay, leaving an impressionable experience. Most notably, check out the Marina Bay Sands (which looks like a boat was placed on top of three giant buildings), Gardens by the Bay (James Cameron really filmed avatar in Singapore but didn’t tell anyone. Blamed it on “CGI”), and the Merlion Park. It’s a nice walk touring around the area that will take up at least a half, if not a full day depending on your level of detail.

Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the bay show these incredibly "tree-like" structures.
Gardens by the Bay
Merlion Park's famous lion statue

Eat, Eat, and Eat More Dining in Singapore is fantastic because you get to try authentic flavors of Asia without risking getting sick. Hawker centers are one of my favorite spots in Singapore because they provide authentic, predominately Asian cuisine at cheap prices but with higher health standards than most experiences you’ll have outside of Singapore. Make sure to take advantage of this opportunity and gorge yourself with food.

Gardens by the Bay
Plenty of amazing food.

FYI: Drinking alcohol is expensive. Be prepared to shell out $15 - $20 for a cocktail.

Gardens by the Bay
Drinks

Check out some temples There’s a few cool mosques, temples, and churches in the area. While you’re foodsploring it’s worth it to head over to the mosques and enjoy the amazing calming atmosphere.

Mosque
Catherdral

Check out the many cultural zones (Indian, China, Japan, etc) One of the coolest things to visit in Singapore are the different zones, which provide an authentic micro-community for expats and immigrants living in the area. If you go to the Indian or Chinese area of Singapore, be prepared to find awesome markets with authentic goods and many people native to the zone’s focus living in the area. Although I grew up with something similar in LA (china town and little tokyo), these seem more authentic and accessible.

Go to a tea-sitting I went to a tea-house and had a tea sitting with some friends. An awesome and relaxing way to enjoy a few hours. Head over there for a great and memorable time.

Gardens by the Bay
Tea Sitting

Walk on the streets and check out the architecture My favorite part about Singapore was the amazing urban planning and architecture. Walk down the streets and near the Marina to be surrounded by a symphony of buildings. The Urban Redevelopment Authority, is responsible for the urban design of Singapore.

Gardens by the Bay
Amazing urban planning.

Botanical Gardens I didn’t manage to see the gardens but I heard it’s fantastic. Check this out if you get the chance and email me about you experience!

Conclusion

Head over to Singapore to get your South East Asia 101 experience. Enjoy the amazing architecture and have a blast exploring the cleanest city in South East Asia. I’m compiling a list of 5 reasons to go to Singapore and 5 reasons not to go. Take a look and see if it’s right for you.

5 Reasons to travel to Singapore:

  • Food is authentic, diverse, awesome, and SAFE
  • Architecture is amazing
  • Night life is popping and safe
  • It’s a futuristic city
  • South East Asia 101

5 Reasons not to go to Singapore:

  • It’s South East Asia 101 and you might be looking for Course 450.
  • It’s more similar to modern countries compared to most of South East Asia
  • It’s not cheap
  • It’s small
  • Out of any South East Asian country, it least represents the region.

Good luck in your travels. I’m off to Chennai, India to explore a country that’s love of spices may put my stomach on hold. See you on the other side!

Cheers,
Andor

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