Thursday, November 7, 2013


Two weeks ago we returned from a full week in Singapore.  Now that we've had some time to reflect, and
procrastinate, I felt it time to give an update on our trip there.

First of all, the cost to get there: flights from Hong Kong were very cheap, at $226 each for roundtrip tickets (the flight is a little over 3.5 hours, so it was a rather good deal).  We booked a private double room at a hostel for seven nights, which came out to SGD568, or about $460.  Not cheap for a hostel, but not bad, either, and it was two blocks from an MRT stop and a food hall.  All told, transportation and lodging came out to a little over $900 for two people for a week.  Not bad at all.

Singapore is an odd city in many respects.  Travel on the metro, by bus, or in a taxi is all fairly cheap--the MRT in Singapore was even cheaper than the MTR in Hong Kong, which is already one of the cheapest subway systems I've seen.  Food, depending on where one buys it, can be either absurdly cheap and delicious, or eye-rollingly expensive and delicious.  More on that later.

It's a very tourist-friendly city, with tons of museums, restaurants, events, and attractions (an opera, a casino, Universal Studios, dozens of museums and art galleries, food halls and celebrity restaurants, ethnic neighborhoods like Chinatown and Little India... it goes on and on), and all fairly close together.  So it's a great place to be a tourist.  But it can also a very restrictive city.  You can't bring in chewing gum or tobacco products.  You can be fined for a number of things like spitting, littering, bringing the wrong fruit on the subway, eating or drinking on the subway, smoking in the wrong location (seriously, pay attention to the signs).  Americans worried about a "nanny state" should come here and realize how truly far from that the Democrats actually are; in singapore, people are required to visit their elderly parents in nursing homes.  By law.  Or be fined.  Also possession of even a small amount of illegal drugs is punishable by death.  So leave your pot brownies at home.

We walked our feet off nearly every day, and there were still a few things we didn't see (the Night Safari, Universal Studios, the new aquarium, a couple traditional villages...).  But we were happy with all the things we did get to see: Chinatown, Sentosa Island, Marina Bay, the Skypark, a river cruise, the amazing Singapore Zoo, the Museum of Asian Civilizations, a ton of other sights.  But I don't want to give the wrong impression; there's really one reason Nora and I wanted to go to Singapore so badly: the Food.

For food lovers, Singapore is one of those unbelievable, heavenly places that you thought only existed in dreams.  They have everything you ever wanted to eat here, and a whole lot of other things you never knew you wanted to eat before, but will leave wondering how you ever went your whole life without.

Singapore has a great natural harbor, and is positioned perfectly along the trade route between India and China, right on the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula.  This brought the British, and trade, and it became a wild mixture of cultures, mostly but not exclusively Asian cultures, who all brought their food with them.  There's Malay, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Indonesian, and on and on and on.  And the best thing about Singapore is that most of those great culinary traditions evolved on the street; as Singapore modernized, the government sought to clear the clutter and centralize the food stalls, so they built what might be the greatest monuments to eating in the world: the famous Singapore food halls.  And not only is the food really good at the food halls, but it's cheap.  Really cheap.

For example, we bought chicken rice (at Tian Tian Hainan Chicken Rice, recommended by Anthony Bourdain), for about $3 a plate, and it was the best thing we ate our entire trip.  We also bought chili crab, the other very well known dish from Singapore, at Jumbo Seafood for a little over $80.  It was our second best meal there, but for all the work involved, not to mention the over-the-top mess, and the price tag, we were a little disappointed by it.  The chicken rice was much better.

We had soft boiled eggs with toast covered in coconut jam; ice cream in fun flavors like green tea chocolate chip and salted caramel, made with Hokkaido milk; fish ball soup (which sounds unappetizing, but is shockingly good, and a personal favorite of mine); dim sum; fresh baked buns stuffed with butter, cream cheese, coconut jam, or things like sausage, barbecued chicken, and pork; fresh fruit smoothies and milkshakes; noodle dishes, rice dishes, seafood dishes; and of course chicken rice (3 times).  We ate three times a day, and were sad that we just couldn't muster the appetite for more.  [I don't have many pictures of food; I was too busy stuffing it in my face.  For more, see Nora's Instagram. She has a good one of us prepping for the chili crab.]

Seriously: food mecca.

There is one downside to Singapore, however: Alcohol is very expensive (for the first time in my life, I paid $15 for a pint of draft beer).  We like to sample local beers wherever we go, but we cut back a lot here due to the expense.  Still, we managed to visit three microbreweries on our tour: Level33, a novelty kind of place on the 33rd floor of a financial tower in the business district; Red Dot, a cool, outdoorsy kind of place in a quiet, wooded area (with a really good oatmeal stout); and Brewerkz, Singapore's first and biggest microbrewery, right on the riverfront (and with a world gold medal winner in its XIPA).  Our favorite was Red Dot for the location, but in my opinion the beers at Brewerkz were a bit better.  They also had staggered (and staggering) pricing, so if you arrived between noon and 2pm you paid less than half the cost ($7) for the same beer as you would during peak hours ($16).  Needless to say, after visiting for the first time at night, we went back the next day for lunch to finish tasting all their offerings.

I've tallied up our all our charges and withdrawals throughout the week, and aside from lodging and flights, we spent approximately $1,220.  That puts the grand total--flights, lodging, food, drinks, souvenirs, sights, everything--for the entire week at just over $2,100 for two people.  Not bad at all.

Before we came to Singapore, we had several people tell us that it was a good place for a weekend trip, or just a few days, but that it would not be fun for anything longer than that. Certainly not a week, they claimed, and very knowledgeably we thought.

They were all wrong.  Singapore is awesome, and we wouldn't have regretted a few more days there to catch a few more sights and plates.

This one definitely gets our seal of approval.