What to do (aside from shopping your mind out on Orchard Road)
1 Beach Rd, Singapore 189673
Raffles Hotel is like the “Cheers” of Singapore. It’s a super touristy site that you kind of have to go to if you’re in Singapore for the first time. The hotel itself is pretty cool; it’s one of those turn of the 20th century looking, old school hotels that gives you the feeling when you walk in that you’re a European on some grand, exotic journey.
It costs a pretty penny to stay there, but most people only visit for its claim to fame–the site of the creation of the Singapore Sling. Note: There is no dress code to get into the bar, despite what the guidebooks say. There is however a dress code to enter the hotel, but when we visited they weren’t letting non-guests into the lobby to take pictures anyways, something they supposedly normally do.
I had heard of this cocktail before, but as far as fruity cocktails go I never really tried it because a Pina Colada, Mojito, or Daiquiri was always closer to the top of my preference list. When in Singapore though, get a Singapore Sling. So we went to the bar, waited a generous 20 minutes or so to get in, dove into the free bowls of roasted peanuts they have out (there are peanut shells all over the place so if you’ve got an allergy, stay away) and ordered our whopping $31 SGD Singapore Sling cocktail. The drink itself is essentially pineapple/cherry juice with gin (a whole lot more juice than gin I’m afraid…). Was the drink worth that price? No. Was it good? Actually yeah, it was super refreshing after a hot day of walking around.
Afterwards, you can pop into the nearby St. Andrew’s Cathedral which is down the street. It’s worth seeing while you’re there, but nothing special so you can just make it a quick stop.
National Museum of Singapore
93 Stamford Road, Singapore 178897
The museums aren’t worth visiting just for the historical lesson; they are a great excuse to get out of the heat! If you only have time for one museum, this is the one that I would suggest prioritizing. From this museum we discovered that for such a small city, Singapore does have an incredibly rich history. The closest thing I can compare it to is Jerusalem. Singapore, like Jerusalem, is a giant melting pot of so many Asian, European, Arab, and Australian cultures, and much of that history is on display at this museum.
A lot of the museum is dedicated to Lee Kuan Yew who in 1965 was elected the country’s first Prime Minister after years of French, Dutch, and Portuguese colonization. The highlight of the museum is watching him give his acceptance speech and pointing out that Singapore is “not just Malay, not just Indian, not just Chinese,” but a the “multi-racial” country that values all its diversity.
One rather unique exhibit is the Glass Rotunda upstairs. In there, projection lights shine through stain glass displays creating a pretty cool revolving show. And if time permits, stop into the Food for Thought café in the museum lobby. The food is more expensive than you would typically pay for in Singapore, but a portion of the proceeds go to aid charities.
39 Armenian St, Singapore 179941
The Peranakan Museum is dedicated to the local Peranakan culture and is an idealistic showing of how their local culture is a successful mix of several races into one. The museum is broken up into separate rooms, each displaying different parts of Peranakan culture: weddings, religion, home life, education, etc.
The big exhibit consists of really impressive glass beaded artwork from blankets to kitchenware to clothes. Other items on display include a cool food and feasting gallery, a room filled with shrines worshiping deities (including an odd Asian Christian one that has Jesus Christ surrounded by bunch of Asian stuff) and funeral room exhibit.
The funeral room in particular is a little creepy to be honest (there are signs warning visitors that it might not be good for children) with a coffin on display and examples of unsettling mirrors marked with a big “X” to mark the death of a family member. I’m not usually weirded out by that kind of stuff, but it did send a bit of a chill down my spine (though nothing compared to what would come in Hanoi…more on that later…).
Fort Canning Park and Marina Bay
Singapore has a ton of green space and a great harbor that are fantastic areas to just lounge around, people watch, and relax. Problem for us was that it was raining–a lot. So our trip from Marina Bay to Fort Canning was a deluge of a mess. As such, we opted not to spend the $$ to go to up to one of the popular rooftop bars on the water just to get the same sight that I saw on Table Mountain in South Africa…
That being said, the walk around Marina Bay is worth doing.
It’s also not hard to see that Fort Canning Park is a great spot to take a long walk as well on a sunnier day. One thing we did miss out on that I really wanted to see was the Battlebox Museum. Our Lonely Planet guide gave us incomplete visiting hour information–while the museum, yes, is open during the range of hours that the guidebook provided, it’s only open to those who have a guided tour, which happen only at 3 or 4 selected times during that range of hours…I was none too thrilled to discover that.
Also, if you happen to be around Fort Canning on a Sunday, and you time your walk right, you can catch the ceremonial changing of the guard at the Istana (President’s residence) on Orchard Road.