Singapore is like stepping into the an episode of the Jetsons. It's unlike any other place we’ve ever been, and it stands in juxtaposition to all other countries in SE Asia with its cleanliness, efficiency, and economy. Needless to say, the nerds in us loved this place.
A quick back-story—Singapore was a British colony until granted independence shortly after World War II. Unfortunately, the war had destroyed its infrastructure and the country was a mess. The government merged with Malaysia in an attempt to get balance and upswing, but the two governments disagreed on huge amounts of policy. The result was a vote in 1965 by the Malaysian Parliament to kick Singapore out of the club . What happened next defies all normal standards.
Singapore was left with no economy, infrastructure, or organization of any kind. A family friend, who has lived through Singapore’s tumultuous 50 years, describes the Prime Minister’s speech as saying “We are on our own.” The government’s first stroke of brilliance was allowing the British forces to stay on the island at their base, therefore protecting the island from invasion. With safety guaranteed, they fixated on economy. To oversimplify, the government focused on making Singapore the ideal place to invest. In the span of a single generation, Singapore moved from a third-world economy to first-world affluence. Today, it is an international hub of commerce, finance, and transportation with the 3rd highest GDP per capita in the world.
There is nowhere else like it. The taxi drivers beam with pride when speaking of Singapore’s technology sector. It’s illegal to chew gum or spit in the street (after going to the rest of SE Asia, we understand why…). The Botanical Gardens alone are a testament to scientific achievement and advancement.
Unfortunately it’s also expensive, so we were back on the hostel route so we could focus on activities. First up was a walk around to get our bearings and admire the gorgeous architecture. WOW. Next we hit up a Blakely delight—the Gardens by the Bay. Gardens by the Bay is a national park spanning 350 acres and is part of the strategy to transform Singapore into a “Garden City.” The Gardens consist of three waterfront gardens that each showcase different flora and fauna. They hold conservatories, themed gardens, a flower dome, children’s garden, and on and on.
The Supertrees deserve their own entry—they are vertical gardens for unique and exotic ferns, vines, and orchids. They are outfitted with technology that mimics the function of trees—harnessing solar energy, rainwater, and even serving as part of the conservatories’ cooling system through intake and exhaust functions. So. Cool. As if that isn’t enough, at night there is a music show called the OCBC Garden Rhapsody, and when we went it was Broadway themed. Blakely’s heaven realized.
In a world of juxtaposition, it somehow fits that besides efficiency, cleanliness, and economy, Singapore is known for its street food. Our two favorite places were the Singapore Food Trail and the Maxwell Food Hawkers. Absolutely delicious.
To complete our garden tour, we headed to the famed Botanical Gardens, which holds the world-renowned Orchid Garden. Of course, being Singapore, this isn’t merely a garden, but an opportunity for botanists and scientists to mix super-orchids. Then, the PR team comes in to dedicate each unique orchid to a world celebrity. Brilliant. We even went back later for a picnic and performance by the orchestra!
The last nature activity we recommend is a MUST: The Singapore Zoo. You’ve likely been to zoos before, but none like this. The cleanliness, organization, and range of animals are of course incredible. But feeding the giraffes stands as a highlight of our entire trip. Their purple tongues are huge and it was such a surreal experience (in a trip of many surreal experiences).
When this next museum was recommended to us, we were a little skeptical. However, it’s no exaggeration to say it was one of the most fascinating we’ve ever been to. The Singapore City Gallery is a museum dedicated to Singapore’s development over the past 50 years (sounds like a snooze fest, but trust us). Full of interactive exhibits and even an enormous model replica of the country, we never expected a development museum to be so cool. Living in New York has given us a huge respect for city planning and efficiencies, and learning more about Singapore was invaluable in understanding its uniqueness. The museum is an absolute must.
We didn’t only tour and nerd out—one night we dressed up and headed to swanky cocktails at Mischief and the fabulous Marina Bay Sands casino for a taste of how Asians gamble. VERY bizarre experience.
Gambling is HUGE in Asia, where luck and superstitions are constantly considered when making everyday choices. Even casinos in the U.S. have caught on and market heavily to Asian tourists as well as provide food and entertainment to interest them. But this Singapore casino was far from the Vegas experience—no smiles, no loud voices, and we were the only ones we could see drinking. The blackjack dealers don’t give advice based how close you are to 21, but how lucky the numbers are that you’ve been dealt. The patrons took their gambling seriously, and it was clear that this was not a game to them.
Our last favorite was one of luxury, and cheating on the roughing it theme of our adventure. But when spending 12 months in transit through foreign lands, these breaks become necessary. We treated ourselves to a full American diner dinner, a walk around one of the gorgeous luxury malls, and a full movie in blissful air condition. Worth the cheat night.
This break was especially necessary because of where we headed next. Continuing our current theme of contrasts, we headed to a country that is possibly Singapore’s opposite: India.