When it comes to leisure travel, this year has been remarkably slow. Chuck’s schedule is itinerant, and we haven’t been able to lock anything down. One night, after imbibing a few spirits, I spoke with girl friends about taking a short getaway trip of our own – somewhere the guys wouldn’t miss. Singapore, perhaps? I knew Chuck wasn’t interested in Singapore, but it would offer all the essentials for a cosmopolitan girls trip – food, shopping, dancing, and shining lights! It would provide a glitzy adventure to balance our laid back lives in Okinawa…
My friend Sally agreed to book the trip with me, and we set out on our long weekend adventure full of energy, laughter, and hope. Never mind that we ended it hungover and exhausted, despite our best intentions to avoid such a scenario… but I guess there are some lessons we will just never learn!
Anyway. We arrived late on a Thursday evening, so after checking into the Regent Singapore and grabbing a quick bite at the hotel’s Manhattan Bar, we went straight to bed. We woke earlier than expected on Friday morning and ventured to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, where we frolicked for hours. I truly had no intention of staying that long, but both Sally and I are nature girls (within reason!) We had a wonderful time exploring the extensive grounds. It was founded in 1822 and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014. It’s also been ranked Asia’s top park attraction every year since 2013. I had no idea of any of these things at the time, but I can surely believe it! It was beautiful.
Of course I took many photos of the flora (please excuse the quality, as I left the real camera at home and snapped these with my iPhone), but the Gardens were also the perfect setting for a series of girly photo shoots. We just couldn’t resist.
We broke up the day with a refreshing beverage at the Halia Restaurant in the Ginger Garden, which had a rainforest quality. A thunderstorm passed through, creating a truly delightful tropical experience. We donned ponchos purchased from the gift shop before venturing into the Orchid Garden and searching for the black swans.
After covering a lot of ground and working up a hearty appetite, we figured it was time to move on. We hopped on to the clean and efficient public rail system, the MRT, in search of Little India.
Little India is an ethnic enclave known locally as Tekka. One thing Sally and I had independently observed about Singapore was its racially compartmentalized nature. Ethnic neighborhoods were very… not separate or segregated necessarily, but … distinct? As it turns out, we were on to something. My research indicates that Little India was originally a division of colonial Singapore where Tamil immigrants would reside under the British policy of ethnic segregation. Of course that policy is no longer in place, but its effects linger.
I loved the lively and colorful nature of Little India. We made a beeline for one of the first eateries we saw: a hole-in-the-wall vegetarian restaurant called Ananda Bhavan. It wasn’t much to look at, but holy crap, it was so good! At only $7.60, it was easily the cheapest meal we had, too 🙂 I was disappointed when I became too stuffed to keep going…
Rejuvenated, we walked Little India and took in the vibrancy. We browsed the shops, inhaled the incense, and visited a Hindu temple called Sri Veeramakaliamman. Try saying that 3 times fast! I wish I had more photos of the temple’s interior, but we did not want to disrespect the worshipers inside. I do love visiting places of worship with active prayer going on.
I honestly could have spent more time in Little India, but the day was waning and we had more to do! Specifically: find party dresses. We set our sights toward Orchard Road…
We didn’t end up finding dresses that were right for us, but we did enjoy browsing the sparkly stores that we sometimes miss living in Okinawa. We were good girls, however, and didn’t spend a dime!
Instead, we spent 3 hours dolling up with what we had (which was plenty!) Yes, you read that right… 3 hours! This was supposed to be the quintessential girls trip. So what else would you expect? We sipped wine, jammed to our favorite tunes, and helped each other with eye shadow, curling irons, and lots of bronzey shimmer. Pleased with the fruits of our labor, we caught a taxi to Clarke Quay and quite literally danced the night away.
As it turns out, we forgot to have dinner that night… which might have something to do with the way we felt the next morning (the 3 AM pizza was too late to be all that helpful.) We were in rough shape, but we pulled it together and struck out for the next item on our list: Chinatown!
The concierge at the Regent told us that Chinatown was her favorite area in Singapore, which is why it climbed the ranks on our to-do list. Always take note of what locals recommend! She said Chinatown is most like “what Singapore used to be.” Indeed, I was surprised to see the unique blend of old and new, East and West. There was heavy colonial influence, juxtaposed with distinctly Chinese features. I feel like I have seen a million Chinatowns, and while some parts were very much would I would expect, others were extraordinarily… not.
Sometimes, it felt like we were in Europe. Other times, it was Asia through and through. Since our stomachs were still rather wobbly after our antics the night before, we opted for lunch in a more European area. I’m ashamed to say we stuck with the simplicity of bread and soup at a charming Italian cafe. It was really good bread and soup, though!
We then wandered the Street of the Dead, or Sago Lane. The lane’s famous Chinese death houses came into existence here in the late 1800s – where people near death were left to die. Uplifting, huh? The death houses were banned by the government in 1961, and now, the Lane consists primarily of an open air market and traditional shops.
After we had our fill of Chinatown, I set my eyes on Kampong Glam, which was home to the Malay aristocracy of Singapore before 1819. Today, it has a heavy Arab/Muslim presence and influence. Unfortunately, after futile attempts to hail a cab that knew where Kampong Glam was (or agreed to drive us anywhere at all, for that matter #howrude), the heat and our hangovers got the better of us and we opted to go back to the hotel to rest. We had big “classy night out” and dinner plans, after all!
Alas… the night out was not meant to be. Cab rides made Sally in particular even sicker, so we struggled through dinner before ultimately making our way back to the hotel again. However, I was able to make it through most of the courses at Pollen, an adorable restaurant inside the Flower Dome at the glittering Gardens By the Bay. I thought it was an exclusively vegetarian restaurant, but it wasn’t. That said, it had the most delightful 9-course vegetarian tasting menu, which we ordered without hesitation. Of course, I captured the food porn for your viewing pleasure 🙂
We took a few moments to admire the Gardens by the Bay, which reminded us both of something out of Avatar! Very unique and unusual.
We very much regretted our rookie decision to drink too much the night before at Clarke Quay, thus impacting our ability to see Kampong Glam, eat chili crab soup instead of bread, and sip a cocktail at Marina Bay Sands’s rooftop lounge, Ce la Vi. But, we had a great time nonetheless, and have seen and experienced more of Singapore than most. Better yet, I was able to experience it with a wonderful friend 🙂
Singapore, we won’t likely be back, but thank you for the wild ride!