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.
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 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.