Singapore: Where to Stay and Eat

Singapore is the perfect Asia layover.  It’s what I would call “Asia for the non-ambitious traveler.” What I mean by that is Singapore is incredibly comfortable, making it also incredibly standard.  It’s a very, very easy city to negotiate; it’s super clean, modern, and everyone speaks English.  The tap water is potable, and you really don’t need to worry about the food at all.  The money is in Singapore dollars (SGD) and the exchange is an easy 1 SGD for every 75 U.S. cents (essentially making everything there a tad cheaper).  Also, the subway is the most user friendly public system I’ve ever been on; it puts the subways in the U.S. to shame.

So would I go to Asia to visit Singapore specifically?  No.  But I would definitely use it as a jumping off point for the rest of the continent as it’ll help ease you into the area while you recover from jet lag.  Which is what we did for a weekend before heading off to Vietnam for 2 weeks.

Where to stay

The Quincy Hotel
22 Mount Elizabeth, Singapore 228517

I would highly recommend the Quincy Hotel, but only if you don’t mind walking about 20-30 minutes to get to the historical sights.  Keep in mind, it can get really hot in Singapore, so that 30 minutes walk gets pretty long. If you’re okay with that walk every day, then stay here.  Also, it’s located just off of Orchard Road, the main boulevard with dozens of shopping malls (literally dozens of 9 level shopping malls), so if shopping is your thing you’re right where you need to be.

This surprisingly chic hotel has super modern rooms with some perks I’ve never really seen at any other hotel I’ve stayed at. The first big perk is this: free minibar access in your room.  Yes, free. Every day they restock it with a few sodas, juices, and a couple beers that you can dive into without costing you extra.

Free minibar, restocked daily.
(If you don’t watch “Fresh Off the Boat”, you should. It’s funny as hell.)

The second perk is they’ll wash 2 pieces of laundry a day for you. Again, because you’re in a country that’s right on the equator, you’ll want to take advantage of cleaning up some of your sweaty garb. The breakfast buffet is excellent and the gym and pool are extremely nice.  The pool in particular is outdoor, but covered, and the water runs to the edge giving it an infinity pool feel right into the Singapore skyline. And the hotel is relatively affordable; it only cost us a reasonable $150 U.S. a night (through Expedia).

Where to eat

Singapore is world-renowned for having amazing food.  I don’t see why.  I don’t mean to sound snobby, but the reality, in my opinion, doesn’t live up to the hype. I’m not saying the food was horrible; quite the opposite, the food was actually very good. It all tasted very fresh, and was super cheap (most entrées are under $5 SGD).  And the Kopi coffee is delicious. But is it deserving of this whole, “Oh my god, Singapore has the best food in the world” reputation?  Nope, not in this travelers opinion.  But I’m fully willing to admit that maybe I didn’t go to the right places or maybe I am just a snobby dick. Who knows? But anywhoo…

Hawker Centers & Food Courts

These bad boys are where the local folks, tourists, pretty much everyone goes to get their grub. Many locals told me they rarely cook because it’s just cheaper to eat out. The Food Courts are usually located in the giant malls that I mentioned before on Orchard Road and other areas.  They are a step above Hawker Centers which are their own standalone collection of food stalls.  Both offer the same types of food, it’s just that the Food Courts are a little cleaner and a bit more expensive.  We went to both, and both had very good fare at a very cheap price. But again, a lot of the food that you find in the Hawker Centers and Food Courts you can easily find in an American Super 88 Asian market. People would rather travel 10,000 miles to get the “real thing” than go probably 30 minutes down the highway for the same thing in the U.S.…

Keep in mind, not all Hawker Centers are 24 hours (a mistake we realized after going to one and finding it closed for lunch), so check the times. Also, for some reason Singaporean food centers seem to hate napkins.  I don’t know why, but there were no napkins anywhere.  So either bring your own or I hope you like having food grease on your pants (thank god for the free laundry service at the Quincy…).

The Hawker Center we ended up going to is the popular Lau Pa Sat, which is open 24 hours, and got a slew of entrees including Char Sew Noodles, Hainanese Chicken Rice, Basil Chicken (from a Thai stall), and Fried Kway Theo (essentially chow fun noodles).

We also stopped into a Food Court chain called Food Republic and had their version of Hainanese Chicken Rice, and a roasted duck dish.

Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fungs are located throughout Singapore, and I later realized when we got there that it’s actually an international chain that we’ve been to! We went to the location in Sydney in 2015 (I clearly need to read my own blog more often…). So it’s not exactly a local spot, but the locals themselves seem to love it as the location we were at inside the Wisma Atria on Orchard Road was packed. As with most of the locations, the Din Tai Fung kitchen is open for all the customers to see the dumpling chefs hard at work.

Just like in Sydney, I wasn’t blown away by the good, yet unspectacular food. However, their claim to fame in Singapore is the Truffle & Pork Xiao Long Bao, a steamed truffle/pork soup dumpling (I legitimately don’t remember this offering being in the Sydney location, and looking through the Aussie menu now I don’t see it). It ain’t cheap, even in American dollars. One dumpling is $5 SGD (to give you a reference, 6 of the regular pork dumplings is $8 SGD).  But that one dumpling…ooh boy…it was damn good.  It’s a delicious mix of truffle mushroomy, earthy, salty pork meaty, brothy, explosive flavor–all packed into one little bite.  I chewed very, very slowly and let the flavors just marinate on my tongue.

Truffle & Pork Xiao Long Bao

Sydney – Part 1

You may or may not be aware, but Australia is in the middle of its summer around December, so when we arrive the country is in its nice and warm climate.  However, the same months that it’s in summer also happens to be the same months as its rainy season.  Sadly, during our time in Sydney it rained quite a bit.  This did not dampen the time there however; we just ended up spending a little less time at the beach.

Luckily Sydney offers plenty to do other than the beach (which we did visit at one point as you’ll read about later on), but the first day was spent getting our bearings and recovering from the jet lag a bit.  Before I get into our zombie day of walking around, I just wanted to point out one thing about the Sydney airport.  If you’re flying into the international terminal and want to get to the domestic terminal, you have to take a shuttle bus that costs $5.50.  We weren’t alone in our flabbergast as most of the other travelers commented with astonishment and a fair amount of cursing for the fee just to go from one terminal to another (and if you’re thinking about walking, it’s not possible).  So just a heads up.

So back to the summary.  We ended up wandering around to get a lay of the land.  My initial reaction to Sydney was this – it’s very similar to southern California.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re looking for something exotic when you’re traveling, don’t expect to get it from Sydney.  Like most metropolitan cities, Sydney has commercial buildings, shops, restaurants, museums, busy city streets, and some parks.  The best way I can put it is it felt a lot like San Diego.

Our hotel was located in a very good spot (see details below), and gave us easy walking access to most of the parts of Sydney that you’d want to see in a few days.  We also took the Sydney ferry from Circular Quay (pronounced “key” apparently) to Darling Harbor for only $6 — which, considering you pay $5 for a big bottle of water and $5.50 to go from a terminal to a terminal at the airport, is a pretty good deal.  The ferry ride offers stops along different points on the harbor and provides fantastic photo opportunities of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.  Other ferries take you to places such as Manly Beach and other spots near the city.

Like I said, our first day was just random wandering so I’ll just give you details of where we ate and where we stayed, and get into the more specific sights later on.  It’s a miracle I’m even able to read my notes that I wrote on that day with my jet lag — they look like they were written by a gorilla on a trampoline.

Where we stayed

Travelodge Hotel Sydney
27 Wentworth Ave
Sydney New South Wales 2010
Australia

Not a bad place to stay, it was clean and relatively new.  It’s got a good location right near Hyde Park, close enough to all the sights, but not right on top of them so it’s nice and quiet at night.  One not so good thing (and this applies to pretty much all the hotels in Australia I think) — no free wifi; it costs $10 a day.  You do get 15 minutes free in the lobby every 24 hours though…

Where we ate

Din Tai Fung
Multiple Locations

Before we left for Sydney, we heard from lots of people that there is a really good Asian cuisine scene.  So, naturally for our first meal we wanted to try out some Asian food and we looked to our Lonely Planet guide for a lead.  It pointed us to Din Tai Fung, which they said was a great, affordable place for good dumplings that locals love.  Now in general, Lonely Planet usually suggests local places, backpackers venues, things of that nature when they give a one “$” rating.  So when we showed up at an outdoor mall housing Din Tai Fung, we were pretty surprised at how “chainy” it felt.  It wasn’t until later in the trip when I had wifi access that I was able to discover that, well, it was in fact a chain.  Regardless, the food there wasn’t bad, just not great.  The best offerings that they had were the soup dumplings, so I would stick to those, but even those weren’t the best I had ever eaten (that’s reserved for a few places in New York City’s chinatown).  They did have a quote from Anthony Bourdain up that said, “I’d travel halfway around the world for Din Tai Fung’s soup dumplings.”  Personally Anthony, I wouldn’t.

Macchiato
338 Pitt St.
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

Here’s a place I’ll say to just do take out.  Don’t go there for table service.  The service there was horribly slow.  Yes, the waiter was friendly, but the service was so slow that whatever kindness the waiter had was kinda nulled out.  Yes, it was Christmas Eve, but the place wasn’t that busy (no busier than any typical weekend night), so I can’t really give that as an excuse either.  Our food, which was just a pizza, took an hour and a half to get to our table.  They had lost our order so had to put it back in once we reminded them, but to add insult to injury, the people who sat next to us, who showed up far after we were seated, still got their pizzas before us.   So why do I say just do take out?  Because the pizza I had once we did get it and ate at the hotel (we had them box it to go and to give a tiny bit of credit they gave us a 20% discount for the wait) was really, really good.  I had the Shanghai Pizza which consisted of roast duck, mushroom, snow peas, cashews, plumb sauce, and mozzarella.  It was delicious — I really can’t find anything bad to say about it.

So as you can see, there wasn’t a whole lot from Day 1, but Day 2 was much more productive.  And that’s coming up.

I have several friends who had visited or lived in Australia who provided advice on where to go, and what to do.  My one friend, Beth, who lived in Australia for a year, had her own experiences which she emailed to all her friends and gave me permission to add to my blog posts.  You can never have too many opinions when it comes to travel, and like I’ve said many times, this blog is meant to be as much for you as it is for me.  So at the end of my Australia posts, I’ll be adding Beth’s tidbits in “Australia from Beth”.

“Australia from Beth”

http://surfcamp.com.au/ (creatively named Surf Camp Australia). I did the five day “Ultimate Experience”. I would absolutely recommend it! I stayed at Wake Up hostel in Sydney and the bus for surf camps leaves straight from the hostel. The camp itself is situated in a trailer park oddly enough, but it has it’s own vibe with cabins of I believe 8-10 people and a separate bathroom block with showers/toilets. The common area is all outside; basically just rows of picnic tables and a TV that is constantly streaming cool surf videos. This is where the groups meet to talk/learn about surfing, eat, socialize, etc. It’s a very bare bones place, but you don’t need much because you’re spending most of the time at the beach or eating/drinking/playing games in the common area. Curfew is a strict 10pm because the camp is in a residential area, but everyone leaves to drink at the beach beyond that time. On a clear night you will see more stars than you can in the wilderness in Wyoming, they are absolutely stunning. I made a lot of friends here that I still keep in touch with (I was the only American strangely enough out of close to 100 people).  $100 and everything is included (food, lodging, beach, etc.)

Note: Unfortunately, it was cloudy our first day.  Better pics and weather for the next galleries.

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