Here’s my advice if you extend your stay on any trip by tacking on a day or more at the end or beginning of your travel: Immerse yourself in the local scene to get the genuine flavor of your host country. I did just that when I visited Singapore. Boy, was it worth it! Following are some specifics.
My Top 10 fun and informative facts I learned on three brief visits to Singapore.
(1) Singaporeans live to eat
One cannot write, talk, or think about Singapore without including the national obsession with food, as evidenced by the humble hawker centers all over. In the United States, we might associate a hawker center with a food court, but that doesn’t really cover it. Singapore’s hawker centers are like huge covered patios filled with individual food stalls serving all types of food. Singaporean food is largely influenced by Chinese cuisine with scoops of Indian, Arabian, and British flavors blended into the pot. There are an estimated 6,000-plus such food stalls in Singapore.
(2) Seeing stars at the food stalls
Hawker prices are very low but that didn’t prevent two of these tiny kitchens from reaching Michelin Star status. Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodles in the Chinatown Food Complex has dishes starting at $2 Singapore (about $1.50 U.S.) and received one star. The other Michelin Star recipient is Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle on Crawford Lane. Bak chor Mee (minced pork noodles) is the stall’s most popular dish. Menu item prices begin at $5 Singapore, about $3.50 U.S.
(3) Save your seat with a tissue
When eating at a hawker center, do as the locals do: Save a table and your seat by leaving a packet of tissue on the table, then go order your food. Remember, this also means that if you see a fresh packet of tissue on a table you should not sit there.
Here are some other fun facts about Singapore:
(4) What to call a food stall hawker or taxi driver
Singaporeans tend to greet taxi drivers and hawker vendors with a casual address of “Uncle” or “Aunty.” It is a combination of an honorific and familiarity. Typically, Uncle or Aunty is used for those who are middle-aged and older.
(5) How to tell if someone is a real Singaporean
Most Singaporeans speak both English and the mother tongue of their home, such as Mandarin, Bahasa, or Tamil. Singaporeans also share a common language, Singlish. This is a special mix of English, Mandarin, Chinese dialects, and Bahasa often strung together in one sentence. Singlish is so unique it is how Singaporeans can detect each other when out of the country.
(6) The Singapore stopover secret
Here’s why Singapore is such a popular port of call or layover choice. Because of its size — small. It only takes 30 minutes to travel from one coast to another. And there’s a lot to see (and to eat!) in between. What a great place to spend time before your next embarkation.
(7) There’s an art scene, to boot!
Singapore’s thriving art scene is another for-those-in-the-know activity. There’s something for everyone from the well-known masterpiece museum pieces to the avant-garde. Gillman Barracks, the former British military camp is packed with contemporary art, and the National Gallery Singapore is housed in the former Supreme Court and City Hall buildings. Art events include Art After Dark and the Affordable Art Fair.
(8) Gardens and other earthly delights
Must see, whether you’re a flora fan like I or not:
- The Gardens by the Bay is not to be missed if you are a lover of gardens and nature. It is quite magnificent.
- Singapore’s @gardensbythebay has beautiful scenery, featuring the Flower Dome, the world’s largest glass greenhouse.
- When I last visited, Sunflower Surprise sprinkles a shower of “sunshine.” The Flower Dome features over 10,000 sunflowers which illuminates scenes from “The Wizard of Oz.” I am sure when you visit, your eyes will be treated to a beautiful visual feast.
(9) Quench that thirst!
Where to grab a cocktail? On top of the National Gallery Singapore you find Smoke & Mirrors, a fun and elegant cocktail rooftop bar. Gorgeous Singaporean night skyline with perfect weather. Fabulous drinks all around.
(10) Little India, big delight
If you like a riot of colors, make sure to visit Little India. Brilliant statues of Hindu deities decorate the iconic Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. The jewelry stores and variety of spices stalls lining the streets remind me of a kaleidoscope. And the Indian restaurants serve some of the best traditional Indian food anywhere.
Insider tip: Sightseeing on my own, I discovered cabbing or Uber-ing around Singapore is the way to go. Can’t wait to visit Singapore again with its 6 million inhabitants! That is roughly .001 food stalls per capita!