A Local’s Guide to Singapore
If you think Singapore is just a place where Insta-celebs go on vacay, think again.
This little tiny red dot on the map is an island nation that’s well-known for incredibly spicy chili crab, blooming orchids, the infamous cherry-tinged gin-laced Singapore Sling, and recently, a place Insta celebrities can geotag to fetch more likes.
As someone who was raised in Singapore, I am very proud to call it home. Since childhood, I’ve been surrounded by multiple cultures, countless museums, memorable concerts, and endless glasses of Milo.
Before you buy another copy of Lonely Planet, let your girl show you around town. And to all the Insta celebs out there, please grab a pen and paper stat.
1. The Food
Thanks to its multiethnic population, you have so many food options to choose from in Singapore, but what sets this country apart from all other Asian countries is its own local cuisine, which meshes Chinese, Malay, and Indian cuisines. While every travel bible will tell you to munch on some chili crab (a.k.a. the national dish), what you need to try is the laksa.
Laksa is a very spicy coconut-based rice noodle dish with shrimp or chicken. Its spiciness is just as potent as chili crab, but this dish is even more mouth-watering.
Another dish you MUST try is rojak. This ain’t your basic ass salad. Instead, it’s pieces of fruit tossed with shrimp paste, chili, and lime juice.
My best recommendation to find local cuisine is in Singapore’s “hawker stalls,” which are basically street food inside of a building. If you are extremely picky about which hawker stall to eat at, my dad swears by the one at Old Airport Road.
If you head on out for brunch, ask for slices of kaya toast. Kaya is a type of coconut jam and it’s usually served with butter. The toast is sweet, but not overly sugary. Ya Kun Kaya Toast or Killiney Kopitiam have some of the best kaya toast.
Lastly, check out Hungry Go Where. This is the Yelp of Singapore.
WARNING: In Singapore, restaurants come and go just like fashion trends. Some close down and some reopen after temporarily halting their business.
2. The Drinks
While LA babes and New Yorkers swear by cold-pressed juices, us Singaporeans swear by traditional Asian medicine-influenced drinks. No doctor’s prescription is needed to get these drinks, instead they are served at most hawker stalls.
If you’re only going to try one drink, try some grass jelly. It treats ulcers, fevers and has vitamins A and B as well as some calcium. Another oldie, but goodie is a glass of sugarcane juice. Sugarcane juice is sweet, but it’s very cooling and helps to battle fatigue. Plus, these are cheaper than a bottle of juice from Pressed Juicery.
If you’re craving some chocolate, try some Milo Dinosaur. It’s a chocolate drink sprinkled with more chocolate that you can’t get it most places in the U.S. But if you hate chocolate, try going over to Koi. This is my go-to bubble tea (or boba, if you’re from Cali) joint. Try the hazelnut milk with golden pearls and 0% sugar. It’ll give you a dose of sweetness without being overly sugary.
3. The Clubs and Bars
What’s a vacation without spending a night out? The most-talked about club in the world is Zouk, which happens to be one of the oldest clubs on the island. The rooms may be ugly as fuck, but the music is what everyone comes here for. Legends like Steve Aoki, Diplo, Zedd and Krewella have all DJed there.
If you like Elvis Guesthouse in NYC, head to Cherry Discotheque. This lit joint has neon signs, retro font, and rad tunes. Hip-hop heads rejoice: this club exclusively spins your favorite genre.
If you aren’t into clubs, Chupitos is a great bar. It’s the only shots-based bar in the city and you can’t go wrong with their flavors. They have a good mix of the conventional (e.g. Slippery Nipple) to the unconventional (Pandan cake, anyone?).
If you want something a ‘lil classier, try the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel. This is the place where the Singapore Sling was birthed.
4. The Museums
If you are an art lover, you need to put the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) and SAM 8Q on your bucket list. It’s pretty similar to The Broad and The New Museum, but it’s heavily dedicated to Singaporean and other South East Asian artists. Another perk about these museums is that they’re hosting the Singapore Biennale, which runs every two years.
If you are more of a Met type of person, try going to the Singapore National Museum. It focuses more on the classics and sometimes, they’ll bring in cool exhibits from other museums like The British Museum.
If art isn’t your thang, don’t overlook the Science Centre. This space runs pretty sick shows and has an observatory that’s literally next to the Equator.
5. The Lingo
There are some terms in Singapore that you’ll frequently hear on the streets. Most likely, they’ll be tinged with a Singlish accent and make you scratch your head the first time you hear it.
Some of the most essential words you need to add to your dictionary are blur (unaware), shiok (cool), wah (equivalent to whoa!) and can. Can is another way of saying “yes” or used at an end of the sentence to express if a plan is possible. Another thing to note is “auntie” or “uncle.” These terms are meant to be used for a waiter,someone at the cash register, or someone who is working. Usually, they are addressed to someone older than you. It might be a strange concept at first to call someone other than your relatives “uncle” or “auntie,” but it’s used as a way to express respect for the elders.
6. The Public Transport
Singapore is extremely commuter-friendly and you can get around town by either walking, taking the MRT (subway), or the bus! There are also a whole lotta taxis out there to take you around town. If you are used to driving, you can rent a car, but it’s def not a necessity.
7. The Selfie Spots
So many spots around the island are great for taking selfies.
The Henderson Waves, Helix Bridge, or the Singapore Art Bridges will give you some extra architectural feel. Another great place to get a good selfie shot is at the IKEA store.
My other oldie, but a goodie, is the exterior of the Singapore National Museum. You can’t ignore the dome and the pristine white walls. If you want to have a full maxed out selfie, go to the Chinese-style pagoda buildings around Chinatown. The red paint is poppin’ and you can’t ignore the killer architecture. Before I forget, you can also go for a full-body shot at the Singapore Flyer to show that you can get the best view of the city and look your best.
8. The Ethnic Hotspots
Just like NYC or LA, Singapore has cultural hubs. The two main biggies are Little India and Chinatown. At Little India, you can visit the temple, walk around the small stores, and grab some naan. There’s also a 24/7 mall that every local swears by, Mustafa Centre. You can bag some things at a hella good bargain.
Singapore’s Chinatown can’t even be compared to the Chinatowns in Manhattan and Downtown L.A. The Chinese food in Singapore’s Chinatown is way more authentic. Like Little India, there are temples and shophouses, but what makes the Chinatown in Singapore unique is the niche boutiques. My go-to spot is Books Actually, where it stocks books from local writers. You can also plop down in the corner, read a handful of pages and say “hi” to the cats.
9. The Music
Throughout the year, there are concerts in Singapore where all the big names, from Madonna to Lady Gaga, hold their world tours.
While arena shows tend to be expensive, you mustn’t miss out on going to the multi-day festivals. Here, the top two biggies are Ultra and ZoukOut. These festivals sell out very quickly thanks to bringing in the top names like Tokimonsta, Zedd, Martin Garrix, Kygo, Axwell, and Afrojack.
If you aren’t into concerts or don’t wanna waste your cash, treat yourself to a karaoke night with your girlfriends. More than a handful are mainly Mandarin-speaking spots that only cater to a Chinese crowd, but Manekineko and K-Box have great English selections.
10. The Gardens and Zoos
Gardens by the bay, o que dizer desse lugar? Surreal, sonho, mundo extraterrestre? Fascinante passear durante o dia pelos jardins e encontrar cantinhos fotogênicos em cada curva. Das super trees, das flores e do paisagismo, da belissima arquitetura do Marina Bay Sands, da roda gigante… uma infinidade de possibilidadee. À noite, os jardins se transformam num colorido mosaico de luzes e formas impressionantes e, agora no natal, ficam ainda mais emocionantes com músicas natalinas de fundo e decoração especial. Quero um jardim desse na minha cidade! Semana que vem volto nesse lugar, fique de olho no instastories cheio de detalhes da vida por aqui. Gardens by the Bay, what about this place? Surreal, dream, alien world? Fascinating to stroll through the gardens during the day and find photogenic little corners at each bend. From the super trees, to the flowers and landscaping, to the beautiful architecture of Marina Bay Sands, to the Ferris wheel … an infinity of possibilities. At night, the gardens turn into a colorful mosaic of stunning lights and shapes, and now at Christmas, they are even more exciting with Christmas background and special decorations. I want this garden in my city! Next week I’ll be back, keep an eye on instastories full of details of life around here. Photo @adri.lage
Singapore is known for its lush and incredibly beautiful gardens and zoos.
You must check out the Botanical Gardens. Every type of flower is shown there and the walking paths are tops. It’s also sweats and leggings-friendly enough for you to sneak in a jog.
If you want something a ‘lil more modern, try Gardens by the Bay. It’s a little more glam, but still beautiful enough to provide you with that #instapic you desperately need. It’s best to go there at night to see the neon lights.
Last but not least, go to the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari where you can check out a shitload of adorable animals.