When borders are reopened, the first and most likely country many Malaysian’s will visit could probably be Singapore. While both nations currently battle the rising Covid-19 cases, the vaccination programs could help in easing the infection rate and bring the herd immunity target closer, this could possibly lead to travelling yet again.
If we were to make a short trip for the weekend, what are the best things we should do and see? Singapore is a contrast of old and new, metropolis and — to the surprise of some travelers — unspoiled nature, there’s plenty to explore in pint-sized Singapore over a weekend. Wander historical shophouses, marvel at modern art, trek through mangrove swamps, and feast on local delicacies and imbibe futuristic cocktails — the garden city is more than its immaculate image.
Founded in 1822, the Singapore Botanic Gardens is a lush mini-ecosystem home to a gigantic, wide-spreading, 100-year-old Penaga Laut tree and a large, magnificent kapok tree planted in 1934. Start your weekend exploring this 153-acre rainforest and the lovely orchid garden with more than 1,000 species; then take a seat on the terrace next to banana trees at The Halia restaurant for a poached-egg breakfast.
Continue to Tanjong Pagar district, its well-preserved shophouses flanked by modern skyscrapers, stopping for fish ball noodle soup at Telok Ayer Market. Opened in 1838, it is colloquially known as Lau Pa Sat, which means “old market” in Singaporean Hokkien.
Wander past Thian Hock Keng Temple, Singapore’s oldest Chinese temple; Sri Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu Temple; Masjid Jamae Chulia, an 1820s mosque noticeable by its pastel green facade; and St. Andrew’s Cathedral, the largest of its kind in Singapore.
After getting your fix of places of worship, head to the Coconut Club on Ann Siang Hill and order the signature dish, nasi lemak — fragrant rice cooked with coconut oil and served with crispy chicken, anchovies, peanuts, cucumber slices and sambal with a side of otak otak, grilled ground fish meat mixed with spices and wrapped in banana leaf.
Many of the neighboring refurbished colonial-era shophouses are now speakeasies, among them The Spiffy Dapper, which transforms from a coffee shop to a bar serving gin-based cocktails, and Employees Only, which serves an excellent Mata Hari (cognac, chai-infused Italian vermouth, pomegranate juice) in a gilded 1920s setting.
Thanks to heritage conservation, the Katong and Joo Chiat neighborhoods’ skylines remain low-rise, so it’s no wonder the sky seems wider here.
Before the day heats up, slurp on prawn noodle soup at Beach Road Prawn Mee Noodle House and walk down Koon Seng Road to admire the pretty 1920s shophouses built by Peranakans (descendants of early Chinese migrants) and tucked behind frangipani trees.
Browse sarong kebayas — the traditional dress of the Nyonyas, or Peranakan women — at Kim Choo Kueh Chang and sample kueh, a sweet glutinous rice cake dessert.
Have lunch at 328 Katong Laksa, which makes vermicelli noodles with fish cakes, shrimp, cockles and chili in a coconut broth. To cleanse the palate, Birds of Paradise sells refreshing gelatos with flavors such as lychee raspberry and lemongrass ginger.
Head west and walk off the feast by tracing the Singapore River along Boat Quay to the Merlion and across Anderson Bridge. Visit the Asian Civilisations Museum (note its neoclassical facade), home to art and antiquities spanning millennia, or the National Gallery Singapore, which boasts one of the world’s largest collections of modern Southeast Asian art.
Come dinnertime, head to True Blue, which occupies a stately Peranakan house on Armenian Street. Inside is a treasure-trove of antique wood cabinets and wares and patterned tiffin carriers (lunchboxes). Order the ayam buah keluak, chicken stew cooked with the acerbic truffle-flavored nut picked from kepayang trees.
Wind down the night at The Other Room, a snug speakeasy behind the lobby wall of the Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel. The bartender makes spirits in-house, cask aging whiskey, gin and rum in wooden casks to lend his cocktails nuanced, multilayered flavors. Try the Reversed Gin and Tonic or Improved Whiskey Sour.
Wake up to catch the syrupy pink-orange sunrise over Changi Point Ferry Terminal. Pulau Ubin, a sparsely-inhabited 2,520-acre island in northeast of Singapore, is only a 15-minute boat ride away, but the bumboat (small water taxi) only leaves once 12 passengers are on board.
While you wait to depart, walk two minutes to Changi Village Hawker Centre and order ipoh hor fun, flat rice noodles soaked in chicken and prawn broth with shredded chicken, prawns and spring onions.
Once you arrive in Pulau Ubin, you’ll find it dotted with kampung houses — traditional Malay homes constructed with wooden planks and on stilts — a classic style of Singaporean architecture from the 1960s.
Rent a bicycle by the jetty and cycle 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) east to Chek Jawa wetlands, stopping at Ubin Fruit Orchard to see durian and breadfruit trees. Mangrove swamps, coastal forests and pebbly beaches with a millennia-old coral reef comprise the wetlands, which is also home to mud lobsters, fiddler crabs and junglefowls.
A late lunch is in order, so cycle back to the Smith Marine Floating Restaurant by the jetty, which serves delectable fresh crab, sea bass and oysters. Stop by Butterfly Hill, a lush sanctuary with more than 100 butterfly species, and then set sail to the mainland.
Round out the day in East Coast Park, stopping at East Coast Lagoon Food Village and sampling hawker delights such as satay and char kway teow, stir-fried flat rice noodles cooked in dark soy sauce with prawns, cockles, fish cakes and bean sprouts, washed down with a cold Tiger Beer. Watch the sun dip into the Singapore Strait and the moon gently illuminate cargo ships in the distance.
by Dana Ter for Marriot Bonvoy Traveler