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Travel to Singapore

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

Asia Light

'Crazy Rich' at Marina Bay Sands

There was a point in my career when I had an opportunity to work for a hotel company based in Singapore. I already had experience living abroad and quite a bit of travel in the Americas and Europe under my belt. So a stint in Asia seemed like an interesting complement. As it turned out, I chose an alternate opportunity with Hilton, which resulted in a rewarding 15-year tenure in hotel development throughout the Americas.

While I do not regret having passed up on the prospect of living and working in Singapore, I could never ignore what it might have been like to experience that country. During a posting in Hong Kong recently, I was determined to visit and see what I might have missed.

My impressions of Singapore were limited to what colleagues had told me of their visits, and the movie, “Crazy Rich Asians”. I knew those were narrow impressions, so kept the bar low and did a bit of research of what might interest me over a weekend visit. I guess not surprisingly to readers of my blog, one thing stood out – the food! I also got the sense that we would be experiencing a clean and orderly ‘entertainment park’, of sorts, based on the list of ‘must see’ attractions.

menu says this is carrot cake?

Starting with the priority (food), the Singapore food scene is anchored by a culture of street markets, which are called ‘hawker centers’. I covered some of our favorites in a previous blog about food halls in the orient . You can find a melting pot of cuisines under one roof in many of these hawker centers, much of which can make the Western traveler a bit wary.

Lau Pa Sat hawker center

We enjoyed these Singaporean-style food courts so much that we found ourselves dining in them most days. They were authentic and reliable, with a great variety of cuisines at reasonable prices. They also were lively places that made for great people watching, as well as a haven from the intense afternoon humidity and heat that is relentless (and year round) in Singapore.

udon made to order at La Pau Sat hawker center

The various lists of ‘must see’ attractions consistently recommend a visit to Gardens by the Bay. Besides providing a fabulous view of the Singapore Skyline, Gardens by the Bay is an expansive nature park in the downtown core that comprises three attractions in one: the Flower Dome, the Cloud Forest and the Supertree Grove. The Cloud Forest replicates a tropical mountain region in a dome, not unlike a rain forest inside an aviary, complete with waterfall. The Supertree Grove is a unique attraction unlike any I have seen and comprises vertical gardens that deliver an amazing light and music show known as the Garden Rhapsody. I would agree that the Gardens by the Bay are not to be missed during a visit to Singapore.

Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay

A second attraction that appears on most ‘must see’ lists is the Singapore Zoo Night Safari. As the name suggests, the tour occurs after dark via a 45-minute tram ride, with the option of a self-guided walking tour along a system of trails that meander among the enclosures. For my taste the experience was a bit contrived and disappointing, as many of the enclosures appeared empty. I did not think there was great value in making the long trip out to the Night Safari.

An iconic feature on the Marina Bay is the Marina Bay Sands (see feature photo), which comprises a casino and hotel, expansive shopping mall and skytop infinity pool. Without question it is a striking design and eye-popping in extravagance, but a complex that pretty much could be found anywhere along the Las Vegas Strip. The Bellagio even out does the fountain and light show at Marina Bay Sands. There are definitely better places to visit in Singapore.

Rain Vortex at Changi airport

We were fortunate to have visited Singapore shortly after the opening of Jewel at Changi Airport. So, prior to our departure from Singapore we arrived well in advance of our flight to experience the Rain Vortex, which is the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. The complex houses a tropical garden and a variety of dining options that are scattered among the gardens, some with views of the Rain Vortex. We were too early to experience some of the other attractions now offered, such as glass-bottomed bridge and a forest valley with walking trails.

While much of Singapore felt like an Orlando of the Orient – i.e. an endless entertainment park – there was enough of the exotic to provide a touch of authenticity. The ‘hawker centers’ certainly contributed to that, as did strolls through neighborhoods like Little India and the Civic District, which hosts many historic structures that evoke the early days of post-colonial Singapore. Overall, it is an enchanting place that provides a unique travel experience in Asia.

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