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When you have only 24 hours to spare in a city, being in one as small and compact as Singapore is an advantage. The size and efficient public transport system of the fondly nicknamed ‘Little Red Dot’ makes it easy for you to cover its cultural, architectural and culinary highlights in a day without feeling like you are in an episode of The Amazing Race. Culture Trip tells you what not to miss when spending one day in the city.
Start your day with a traditional Singaporean breakfast. Make your way to Katong – a Peranakan neighbourhood in the eastern part of Singapore – and fill up with kaya (coconut egg jam) toast and soft-boiled eggs, paired with a cup of steaming hot kopi (coffee). This fool-proof breakfast combination is best savoured at Chin Mee Chin Confectionery, an old-school coffee house reminiscent of Singapore in the ’70s. It is still serving up generous amounts of homemade kaya and butter spread on huge home-baked buns ever since it opened its doors in the 1950s.
Once fuelled up, wander around this neighbourhood where the legacy of Peranakans – descendants of Chinese and Indian immigrants who married indigenous people from the Malay Archipelago in the 15th century – is most visible. Stroll along East Coast Road lined with historical shophouses and residences, their ornate facades and colourful ceramic tiles gleaming brightly in the morning sun.
To get a better understanding of Peranakan history in Singapore, make an appointment for a tour at The Intan, the private home-museum of owner Alvin Yapp. The house is packed with a whopping collection of 1,500 pieces of objects from Peranakan culture, most notably kasot manek (ornate beaded slippers worn by Straits Chinese women) and enamel tiffin carriers hand-painted in delicate floral patterns. Choose to partake in the one-hour tea tour and let the friendly Yapp orientate you on the ins and outs of Peranakan culture.
If you want to get a couple of Peranakan souvenirs to bring home, load up at Rumah Bebe, a 1928 shophouse selling Nyonya kebayas (traditional costumes worn by Nyonya women) and intricately-woven beaded shoes. For lunch, stop by the famous 328 Katong Laksa for a piping hot bowl of laksa. Slurp on the noodles cooked in spicy curry soup topped with fish cake, shrimps and cockles. Once you’ve got your fill of this local delicacy, take bus number 10 from the stop in front of The Holy Family Church (just next to Chin Mee Chin Confectionery) to Bayfront for an afternoon at beautiful Gardens by the Bay.
Gardens by the Bay is Singapore’s very own Avatar’s Pandora where gigantic “supertrees” (50-metre-tall tree-like structures) jut out of a carefully manicured 101-hectare garden. This massive nature park built along the Marina waterfront is a must-see, if only to ponder on how immaculately clean and well-structured it is. Learn about the history of Singapore via its native plants in the outdoor Heritage Gardens before going indoors to the ingenious cooled conservatories of Flower Dome and Cloud Forest – both superb renditions of their wild twins flourishing somewhere faraway in another corner of the world.
Should you be drenched in sweat from the walk in the Heritage Gardens under the hot Singapore sun, stepping into Cloud Forest is all the freshening up you need. The forest has a 35-metre-tall waterfall situated near the entrance, its waters cascading down in soothing and refreshing rumbles – you might just refuse to move further. However, you will not want to miss out on the perpetual mist hovering on the higher levels of this forest, recreating a cool-moist tropical montane ecosystem.
Spending a whole afternoon here is totally possible, but to see more of Singapore, head out for some lovely walks around Marina Bay. This is the crown jewel of Singapore’s sights: the imposing Marina Bay Sands being its star attraction. Other architectural wonders here include the lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum, where you can easily duck into if you encounter one of Singapore’s passing showers. Immerse yourself in exhibitions from combined art and science as well as design and architecture inspired themes.
If you need a respite from all that walking, know that food is always within reach in Singapore. Go into any hawker centre for some icy cold sugarcane juice and a taste of local treats.
The liveliest one to go to would be the one next to the Esplanade – Theatres by the Bay, aptly named Gluttons by the Bay. Here you can have an early dinner and order yourself a feast of must-try foods like satay and barbequed sting-ray served on banana leaves.
When dusk falls, Marina Bay is at its most glamourous. This is the time to tear yourself away from the smoky hawker centre and station yourself in a cocktail bar overlooking the Singapore skyline – Lantern at Fullerton Bay Hotel is a safe bet. You can even see the Spectra light-and-water show (a free-to-public outdoor show displayed over the water at the Event Plaza in Marina Bay Sands) from here. Once you’ve had your fill of the dazzling dance of water and light, head to Little India on the MRT train. A 10-minute ride will take you to an area with a totally different vibe.
Night time in Little India is a chaotic whirl of activity. Shops with blinding lights continue hawking vegetables and fruit till late on streets bursting with colours from the saris flying in the balmy breeze, and featuring an assortment of medicines, fabrics and spices on sale. Walk through the meandering streets of this vibrant Indian enclave and soak in the sights and intoxicating smells.
Treat yourself to a roti prata (Indian-influenced flatbread) snack dipped in heavenly curry at one of the many eateries found in the neighbourhood before heading to Clarke Quay (also just 10 minutes away on the MRT train) to round up your night. Go to converted warehouse club Zouk if you want to dance the night away, or Crazy Elephant for live rock music and cheap drinks. You can park yourself here the entire night, hopping from bar to bar, or think about hitting the sack if you don’t want to miss the flight to your next destination. All is possible in Singapore – so much so that you’ll want to be back again for a longer stay.