Family fun in Singapore

A tropical island in South-east Asia, off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore has long been a strategic port due to its position. A natural meeting point of sea routes, the city flourished as a trading post for vessels, resulting in it being the largest port in Southeast Asia and one of the busiest in the world.

Located just one degree north of the equator, Singapore has a year-round tropical climate rather than defined seasons. Warm and humid is the norm year-round with rain almost an everyday phenomenon.

With this in mind, any time of the year is a good time to visit Singapore, just pack a light weight rain jacket!

At just 710 square kilometres and with a population of five million people, Singapore jams a lot into a small space and this means you can too. But sensational Singapore deserves more than a quick stopover!

On route to Penang last year, Zoe and I spent four days in Singapore, only just scratching the surface.  And while many are drawn to the shopping, I can say we didn’t step inside a mall once, even if the air conditioned reprieve would have been nice.

In addition to it being a natural stopover point for Kiwis travelling to Asia, America or Europe, Singapore also offers a chance to discover a bustling big city, experience a number of cultures, eat amazing food, enjoy some thrills and much more.

As we drive from the airport to our hotel, our taxi driver points out the sights – the monolith building shaped like a boat that is Marina Bay Sands, the glass sail-like domes of the Botanical Gardens and the ArtScience Museum shaped like a lotus flower. Other than a trip to the top of Marina Bay, none of the sights our driver points out are on our packed itinerary. To ensure I am on the right track, I ask, “What’s the best thing to do in Singapore?” The immediate and emphatic response I get back is “Eat” – and we switch to a more entertaining conversation than architecture.

With 49 Michelin starred restaurants on this island you can definitely experience some high end cuisine that lives up to Singapore’s reputation for being expensive. But eating is one of the cheap things you can do in Singapore, so my advice is to forget the fancy restaurants and head to one of the many hawker centres.

We started at Chinatown and the Chinatown Food Centre, which has a wet market below with some of the best hawker food above. It is here you will find Hawker Chan, one of two Singaporean hawker stalls to gain a Michelin star in 2016. The soy sauce chicken is now famous and despite losing the star in 2021, the lines of tourists continue.

They may not have Michelin stars, but there are hundreds of other options. To narrow your choices down, look out for those with queues of locals, like those you will find outside Zhong Guo La Mian Xiao Long Bao for their hand made xiao long bao and la mian with fried bean sauce.

You know a vendor is good if they only serve one dish and Old Amoy Chendol are this, serving only chendol, an icy treat made with freshly pressed coconut milk, gula melaka syrup poured over a mountain of shaved ice and topped with red beans and pandan jelly.

Just over a kilometre from the Chinatown Food Centre is Singapore’s largest hawker centre, Maxwell Food Centre. Here you will find one of the must try Singaporean dishes, Hainanese chicken rice.  Arguably the best (and according to Anthony Bourdain) is at Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice.

The walk between the two food centres is a great chance to walk off a few calories as well as discover some more culinary delights.  Zoe’s was a rainbow ball of candy floss from a vending machine. Mine, while not an experience I’d like to repeat, was trying durian.

Chope – a pocket size packet of tissues – is essential in Singapore, especially in hawker centres where the tissues double as the perfect bagsing symbol and tool to clean up. Before ordering your meal, first find a spare seat. By placing your packet of tissues on your spot you can confidently head off to order knowing your seat will be there when you return.

My first visit to Singapore twenty-plus years ago as a backpacker had me splurge by enjoying a Singapore Sling and satay at Raffles Hotel. This iconic hotel was where the Singapore Sling was invented and while I couldn’t afford to stay there, I could soak up the experience. On this trip this theory lead us to Marina Bay Sands CÉ LA VI bar. Here the Singapore Sling came with eyewatering prices along with eyewatering views from the 57th floor of this modern landmark of Singapore.

While my food obsession is only heightened when I travel, the seven-year-old with me would be happy with a bowl of plain rice – compromise is the key! Luckily for us Singapore offers a long list of things to see and do and not just eat.

On our first day, in addition to learning the subway or MRT system, we explored Sentosa Island.  Sentosa is a resort island connected to Singapore by road, cable car and monorail. We bought a day pass and used the cable car for a scenic way to get to and see the island. Here you have a choice of a number of attractions from Madame Tussauds to zip lining, beach time or bungy jumping.

We narrowed down our adventures to the S.E.A Aquarium, before heading to Universal Studios and then on to Adventure Cove Waterpark. While all three were great fun, and we could have spent more time at them all, hands down the best was the Adventure Cove Waterpark.

We were here to get up close and personal with dolphins and after donning wetsuits and learning a bit more about these marvellous mammals, we jumped in the pool to be kissed, splashed and have an amazing up-close experience with them. On a high from the dolphins, we headed deeper into the water park to discover a whole lot more fun, including the Riptide Rocket, which is described as a water coaster.

Tip – Sentosa Island is pretty much cashless, so make sure you have a credit or debit card that will work.

The perfect spot to end your day is at Siloso Beach, which comes alight with a light show each night at 7.30, that is if nature’s lightning show doesn’t show up first.

Like many cities, a great way to get the lay of the land, see and learn lots is in one of the open air hop on hop off buses. Just watch the clouds above before you race to the top level, unless experiencing a Singapore shower is on your list.

On our last day we headed to Singapore Zoo. To get there you can catch the MRT to Khatib Station, where you can then catch the Mandai Shuttle for $1. Singapore Zoo is huge, so plan to be there all day and remember to pack the kids’ togs as there is a water park in the middle to cool off.

For us the zoo came with another unforgettable up close and personal experience with wildlife when a wild long-tailed macaque jumped on Zoe and tried to steal her ice cream. What ensued was a tense stand off between protective but terrified mamma and a crafty wild creature! We were luckily saved by some passing keepers whose job it is to mitigate the interactions between visitors and these free roaming wild monkeys. If you have more time, check out the neighbouring parks, Mandai River Park and Wildlife Park.

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