Singapore has so many great things to do and see for the solo traveler that it’s hard to narrow the list down to the top 10. Check out part one of my solo travel in Singapore guide and then read on in part two and discover my next five recommendations.
1) Visit Singapore’s bustling Chinatown
I arrived in Chinatown late in the afternoon, which I quickly discovered was a mistake. Many noteworthy sites close at 6:00 o’clock. In the hour and a half of daylight I still had left, I hit the most important, must-see site I wanted to check off my list, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. I knew this gorgeous five-story, Tang style Chinese temple was filled with interesting sacred things to explore.
The main floor houses the stunningly, beautiful altar and worship area. I was pleasantly surprised I was able to take pictures in this area because many temples will not allow photography. On the second and third floors was the Buddhist Culture Museum filled with many Asian religious artifacts from all over the Near and Far East.
The famed “tooth,” a donation from Myanmar, is located on the fourth floor dramatically preserved in a solid gold stupa. Additionally, on this level, you can purchase gold coins to make specific prayer offerings. Hurriedly, before the temple closed, I bought four coins, one for each family member, and said an individualized prayer for my loved ones. On the rooftop is a pagoda, beautifully landscaped with flowers and plants plus an oversized cloisonné prayer wheel. This area is a wonderful spot for reflection and contemplation.
My last spiritual act at this majestic temple was to purchase a bracelet blessed by a Buddhist monk for protection and good favor while on my travels. I did so not only for the personal blessing but I was told all money from the bracelet and incense sales go to the upkeep and further development of this lavish temple. I was happy to support this special Singaporean place of worship.
After leaving the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, I stumbled upon the area’s town square where that particular night a local Chinese dance club was dancing. A fellow onlooker shared with me every week individuals show up here at a set time and dance without partners to all types of music played over loudspeakers. Likewise, many non-dancers come to relax and admire the locals dance to the flow of the music. I loved watching this scene unfold and thought how wonderful it would be to have this type of dance forum in various American cities. Music and dancing have a natural way of uplifting one’s mood and soul!
Next, I wandered into the Chinese Street Market which was filled with ultra-inexpensive clothing, trinkets, souvenirs, jewelry and all sorts of Chinese paper goods such as the traditional red paper lanterns and the beautifully decorated hand fans. I didn’t purchase anything, which was shocking to me! Several years ago, I visited China solo for five weeks where I bought everything Chinese I had ever wanted. Additionally, in close proximity to the market on Smith Street was a food hawker center serving a variety of mouthwatering Chinese food such as roast duck, satay skewers, dim sum and of all things, stingray. Even though it was suppertime, I passed on eating because I was still stuffed from the delicious meal I had enjoyed at lunch.
Last, I stumbled upon Sago Street, formerly known as the “Street of the Dead,” which got its name from the fact that in Singapore’s early era this was the place where people would come to when they were dying. Now the nightly pedestrian thoroughfare is filled with numerous, frolicsome entertainment venues plus plethora of food and retail outlets. Two standouts include the Old Nanyang Coffee Shop and the Holland Village XO FIsh Head Bee Hun Restaurant.
My only regret was I missed getting to visit the Chinatown Heritage Center. The best daily itinerary will not always be followed! My final comments about Chinatown are to arrive in the area no later than early afternoon to avoid not being able to explore the temples and museums because of their dusk closing time. Also, beware there is an overabundance of inexpensive, potentially unappealing items sold here and last, the area is extremely touristy which takes away from what you hoped you would experience in an authentic Chinatown. Don’t miss going to the area but don’t set your expectations too high.
2) Experience Orchard Road, the city’s ritzy area known for its designer shops, upscale eateries and entertainment venues
I almost missed hitting Orchard Road on my trip to Singapore but this was by design. This popular, posh street is the city’s high end shopping destination. All the top designer brands such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and others have retail stores along this thoroughfare. Singapore is one of the most expensive cities in the world for luxury items. For this reason, I saw no point in trying to find luxury goods at a slight discount because of favorable currency conversion rates here.
If you are looking for the latest in designer fashion, you will definitely find it on Orchard Road but you will, likewise, empty your wallet fast! I didn’t want to be tempted so I spent less than two hours just window-shopping.
3) Wander through the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Singapore Botanic Gardens are over 150 years old, one of the world’s three botanic gardens with the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, and the only tropical garden type with this distinction. These magnificent gardens are something not to be missed. Over 182 acres of well-planned gardens connected by superb walking paths makes a half a day excursion here a pure delight.
You will see a rainforest, bamboo, ginger, cactus and bonsai gardens, plus the National Orchid Garden, the world’s most acclaimed of its type. Three beautiful lakes and lush lawns add to the majesty of this magical paradise.
On the day I toured the gardens it was oppressively hot and humid. Thank goodness I was prepared with my large brimmed hat, walking shoes and plenty of water but unfortunately, I was overdressed in heat producing jeans and a long sleeve shirt. Travel tip: wear light, cool clothing and bring an umbrella for extra sun protection.
The gardens themselves were everything I expected them to be and more. A Shangri-La of nature is the best way to describe this special place because no words can properly illustrate the depth, richness and breathtaking beauty of the plants and flora found here.
The highly acclaimed National Orchid Garden will completely blow your mind. With over 1,200 orchid species and an additional 2,000 orchid hybrids, this garden is truly a paradise. To see an abundant display of every type of orchid imaginable is definitely a special travel memory. The coup de grâce is the over-the-top orchid arches at the end of the garden which you must pass through as you leave the area, spectacular!
Located close to the end of Orchard Road, a half-day visit to the Singapore Botanic Gardens and next heading on to Orchard Road would make a well-rounded day of sightseeing and shopping for the solo traveler in Singapore.
4) Day or night, enjoy the Marina Bay with its many hotels, shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues
The Marina Bay area has been described as the modern pleasure district of Singapore, and that is an understatement. There is so much to do here you could spend your entire visit in this locale. You will enjoy iconic architecture, nonstop entertainment, trendy shops, multiple museums, some of the city’s best hotels, plus the lush Gardens by the Bay.
Maybe the most celebrated architectural structure in Singapore is the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino. This epic resort features an open to the public SkyPark where you can marvel at the city’s dynamic skyline, the world’s largest rooftop pool, the Sky@57 upscale restaurant, the popular nightspot the KU DE TA Skybar, a 15,000 square foot casino with multiple levels of gambling options and an exclusive designer brand mall. I didn’t stay at the Marina Bay Sands but I did spend a brief time there checking it out. Grand, modern and unique is how I would describe this establishment. Travel tip: Visit the SkyPark at dusk to capture a stunning Singapore sunset!
Not to be missed is a visit to Gardens by the Bay, a 250-acre park filled with tropical plants, trees and flora. What makes this park outstanding is the Supertree Grove which is comprised of 12 giant man-made trees that perform a spectacular light and music show two times nightly which is free of charge.
For another spot to enjoy an overhead view of Singapore take a ride on the Singapore Flier, one of the world’s largest observation wheels. Additionally, if you want to enjoy a Singapore River cruise at night there is a dock landing in the area. Far too many desirable restaurants are located in the Marina Bay district to highlight but I will mention the Palm Beach Seafood Restaurant, one of the best places in the city to eat Chili Crab, a Singaporean specialty.
If you are in the mood for a museum stop, the ArtScience Museum will not disappoint with it’s focus on how science and creativity have been blended to create modern works of art. Many of the city’s award winning public art pieces are located throughout the Marina Bay area. Allot a day or two to fully discover this dynamic sector of Singapore.
5) Discover Kampong Glam, Singapore’s Muslim sector
At the foot of Arab Street is Singapore’s most beautiful and historic mosque, the Sultan Mosque, which serves as the Islamic faith and Arab cultural center of the city. The gold domed, white stucco with brown Arabic accented building is an architectural jewel. Open to non-Muslims only at specific times, it is worth trying to go inside and visit. Unfortunately, when I was there I was unable see the acclaimed interior because it was closed for renovations.
Arab Street and Haji Lane, filled with attractive shop houses and ethnic Arab/Turkish restaurants, are two pedestrian walkways where tourists and locals alike congregate in this area. As in Chinatown and in the Bugis Street Market, the prices of goods sold here are rock bottom, but what makes this area so pleasant is its laid back, relaxed feel unlike the other two mentioned. Additionally, you will find the latest, hippest, chicest inexpensive clothes in Singapore on these two streets, a fashion lover’s haven.
After indulging in some pleasurable retail therapy, I needed to refuel so I decided to dine at one of the many outstanding ethnic restaurants. One of the friendly restaurant owners invited me to sit outside and enjoy his delicious food. I obliged and was happy I did. For over an hour I people watched, drank several refreshing beverages and ate a tasty mid afternoon Arabic meal. After I thanked him and said goodbye, I headed to my last stop, the Malay Heritage Center.
Located in the former Istana Palace, this small but insightful museum gives one a good overview of the Malaysian culture, its traditions and the contributions this Asian, ethnic group made to the development of Singapore. I spent less than an hour there but thoroughly enjoyed my brief cultural enrichment lesson.
Currently, with safety at the forefront of every traveler’s mind, Singapore is an excellent destination to choose since it’s highly regulated, clean and extremely walkable. With the comfortable blending of Eastern and Western traditions and the vibrant international business hub it has become, Singapore a world- class, solo-friendly city. This marvelous metropolis just might be the most civilized place in the world today. Whether you have the opportunity to travel here for business or pleasure, I highly recommend you allot enough time to delve deep into its ethos and discover the many pleasures of Singapore that await you.
Enjoy this short clip showcasing the vibrancy of Singapore at night. Warning: if you watch this video you’ll immediately want to book a trip there!