If you are in the dazzling Singapore with about three days in hand and have like me an aversion to do everything that is typical and touristy this travel story might pique your interest. My partner and I spent three beautiful sunny days in the city walking around, hailing buses and peeking into lanes of the city to capture its spirit. We met and talked to locals, casually strolled around the quay and grabbed a beer or two in small pubs listening in to conversations of travelers from around the world trying to do their own thing in this city.
When you land into the Changi airport and walk the gates you already know you are in a city that is clean, well organized and tremendously cosmopolitan. You hear people talking multiple tongues and in a very short time feel the causal, comfortable and chic vibe that the place exuberates. We made our way to our hotel in the East Coast on the Joo Chiat Road. This place is distinctive for its wide promenades, stunning French colonial style windows and a constant stream of travellers of all colors dotting its roads. In the three days that we were here, we often stole brief moments to take walks around East Coast, pop in to a local eatery to sample the Pad-Thai or grilled fish. We also made deliberate rounds to the neighbouring departmental store to get a sense of the grocery-economics of a city often touted to be one of the most expensive places to stay in.
Do note, that for most of our travels in and around the city we used the city buses and GPS for support. The buses and MRT (the city’s much celebrated rapid transit metro rail network) are the best ways to go around the city. The service is prompt and by the clock. If you wish to stay longer picking up a travel card for usage of the above services works really well. One our day one, we walked into the colourful lanes of Chinatown. The local markets, the grub-shops, the bright lanterns and the fascinating windows make this distinctive area a walker and photographer’s paradise.
One of the biggest Indian temples is also tucked in China town as is the beautiful temple of a 1000 Buddha where we spent quite a bit of time. You need to cover your shoulders and leg to enter and maintain silence as you marvel at the brilliant Oriental artwork at display. The Chinese lanterns, the wall carpets and the hidden Orchid garden with the chanting bell on the terrace makes this place an island of peace and calm tucked inside a very busy and thronging neighbourhood. While at Chinatown we also sampled local delicacies, picked up some souvenirs and chatted with local traders. The evening was romantic. We took a long walk around Clark Quay. For the uninitiated Clark Quay is a stretch up and down the Singapore River which has been set up as a pedestrian mall. The view from either side is gorgeous, especially on a breezy evening. It is here during one of my strolls that I met and made friends with a young boy from Delhi, strumming his guitar and singing along the river banks. We sat with him, sang along for a bit and in that brief moment of music, star-light skies and the lit up bridge on the quay you could possible see why so many people chose to leave their motherlands to settle into Singapore. It gives them a sense of opulence and yet helps them hold on to their roots sans any prejudice.
What make Singapore such a culturally open minded city? To answer that and then some more we found ourselves taking the Museum tour at the National Museum of Singapore. A quaint, relatively small museum it is a must visit if you are interested to know the history of the city and understand the strength of cultural diversity that has been a tombstone in the city’s development. The museum takes you through a journey ( you might prefer an audio or guided tour too) to understand the colonial past, Japanese invasion, independence and post modern development the city has embraced to reach the place it has. Post the museum we took a long walk to Arab street and gorged on some local must haves. That evening, we wanted to give our party spirits a spin. On strong recommendation we found ourselves at the One altitude lounge perched on the 65th floor of the One Raffle’s place. The view of the city from the lounge is heady. So is the high fashion, cool bar menu and avant garde house music they put on the play list. If you like a good party Singapore offers a host of options. It is better to check with a local friend before you draw up your clup-hop list, eitherways you wont be disappointed.
On our last morning in the city we decided to go for a hike. We found ourselves on the other end of the city at the entry of the southern ridges a network of skywalks built through a dense natural park that outlines the city. This was quite an experience. While we have hiked before this was more of a walk in the forest and a beautiful one at that. The idea of having such lush greenery ( almost like a forest and not a manicured park) among the concretes of a city seemed like a great idea to unwind and pump up some energy. On our last stop I met a dear friend from my childhood days over some beer ( some of hich was spilled over a laugh) on the Quay again. A sunny afternoon passed in nostalgia and banter and our time in the city was up.
Experiencing a city is like peeling an onion. Each layer gives way to something new and the more you peel the more you get to the core of spirit a city stands for. This is a city of diversity in its truest and most successful manifestation. No matter who you are you will not feel left out here. The city might be expensive and slightly proud when you first see it but as you peel deeper you see it for its strength and its vulnerabilities through the voice of the Singaporeans. It is a city where people from all over came in together to establish a unified identity. That is the beauty of it. And that is the pride of it too.
Shakuntala is an entrepreneur and runs a venture Maaati.com , in which she closely works with traditional artisans from corners of India and gets to the consumer markets Indian handmade products of diverse source and designs. In her personal life she is a book worm, hippie, lover of art and history, and strong feminist rolled into one. Her business partner, Debraj collaborates with her via his photographs in most of her travel writing, otherwise she is a self proclaimed Technology-Bum, and can not handle most things that come with a switch,!