The Slow Traveller’s Guide to Two Weeks in Singapore
Have you seen anyone write about how they spent two weeks in Singapore?
Two weeks in Singapore without leaving the country? You mad, bruh? I’ll die of boredom there.
Perhaps I am. The average visitor stays in the country for 3.5 days. The Lonely Planet guidebook provides only a one-day itinerary. Even the Tourism Board doesn’t have a plan that lasts more than seven days, and some stay only a few hours. What are people to do if they’re staying with their friends or loved ones in Singapore for a few weeks, though? It’s tempting to spend a significant number of days in Penang, Bali, Bangkok or some nearby city, but that needn’t be the case.
So here’s the brief I set myself: Create a two-week itinerary for slow travellers that takes in the major sights and more. Give them a glimpse of everyday life and introduce them to the history of the country from more than one perspective.
Day 1 – Marina Bay
The first day starts with a walk around the Marina Bay area. Follow the perimeter of the Marina Basin for postcard-friendly views of the city skyline, the Esplanade Theatres*, the Merlion Park, the Singapore Flyer* and the weird-looking Sands hotel. The oft-raved infinity pool at the top is only for hotel guests, while the observation deck costs $23 to enter. Save the money for the Flower Domes at the Gardens by the Bay behind instead.
Check out the travelling exhibitions at the ArtScience Museum, or catch one of the performances at the Sands theatres or the Esplanade – a few of those at the latter are free. You won’t regret either the Garden Rhapsody or the Spectra show if you have to choose one, but I prefer the former.
*Access to this place can be difficult during the Singapore Grand Prix weekend (mid-September) because it is within the circuit.
The area around Raffles Hotel
The Raffles Hotel is a stone’s throw from the Esplanade. The Grand Old Dame has hosted the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Bill Clinton, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Michael Jackson, It reopened on 1 August 2019 after extensive renovations, so you can go to the Long Bar to drink pre-mixed Singapore Slings and toss peanut shells on the floor if that’s your thing. The collection at the Mint Museum of Toys is worth a gander, though, and it’s just behind the hotel.
While there are several restaurants owned by Michelin-starred chefs in the Sands and a plethora of less expensive outlets in the Marina Bay area, I don’t have any recommendations for cheap local food. It’s not because the food at Gluttons by the Bay or Lau Pa Sat is bad, but the other places that will be featured later offer better value. Just enjoy the open-air dining experience while you’re there. Besides these, Sin Swee Kee next to the Mint Museum is a decent introduction to Hainanese chicken rice.
Day 2 – Heritage District
There will be plenty of museum-hopping on this day. Start with the National Museum for a quick trip through Singapore’s history, then wander through Fort Canning Hill‘s spice garden and old gates for a view of the city. You’ll also pass the grave of at least one ancient Malay ruler, for this was their former burial ground.
At the foot of the hill is one of my favourite places, the Peranakan Museum (currently closed for a revamp). You can buy admission to that and the Asian Civilisations Museum on a combined ticket. Add the National Gallery to the itinerary, and you can make it a pleasant walk through the Heritage District.
Other highlights in the Heritage District
- Hill Street fire station
- Armenian Church of St Gregory, the oldest church in Singapore. A pot of the national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid, stands next to the grave of the woman who discovered it.
- St Andrew’s Cathedral
- The Padang (inaccessible from July to September 2019)
- Victoria Concert Hall
- Both statues of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (the founder of the Zoological Society of London also claimed the island for the British Empire)
- Fullerton Hotel (the former general post office)
Admission to the museums is free on certain public holidays. On Friday evenings, admission to the Peranakan Museum and the Asian Civilisations Museum is half-price and both open until 9 p.m. Once again, this area is not kind to gourmets on a budget, other than those who can afford to reserve a table at Odette or National Kitchen. If you’re adventurous, however, you can find Burmese food at Peninsular Plaza.
Day 3 – Central Business District, Chinatown and the River
Start in the heart of the Central Business District, at the UOB Plaza. You will find sculptures by Salvador Dali and Fernando Botero here, plus one of Henry Moore’s Reclining Figures at the OCBC Centre nearby. Head south along Robinson Road to see the distinctive former Telok Ayer Market, also known as Lau Pa Sat.
To the northwest, you’ll find the old Thian Hock Keng temple among the shophouses along Telok Ayer Street. Have lunch before the office crowds arrive at either the Amoy Street Food Centre or Maxwell Hawker Centre. Tip: Tian Tian Chicken Rice is good but not worth the wait; their former chef runs the nearby Ah Tai stall.
Take a respite from the heat in the URA City Gallery, where you can see how the city was developed, before walking through the Chinatown area. It is not a place for people who are averse to crowds, especially in the lead-up to Chinese New Year. But where else in the world will you find a Hindu temple and a mosque in Chinatown?
The world’s cheapest Michelin-starred meal is Stall No. 126 on the second floor of Chinatown Complex Food Centre. If Liao Fan is closed for the day, it has an air-conditioned branch called Hawker Chan in one of the Smith Street shophouses. From Tuesday to Saturday, you can check out Smith Street Taps, one of the only places in the world that serve craft beer in a hawker centre (the other is 3rd Culture Brewing in Maxwell).
Head west to Pinnacle@Duxton for the cheapest rooftop view in town ($5, payable using a public transport fare card), or east to see the monstrosity that is Clarke Quay, a bunch of converted godowns that now house restaurants and the local nightlife doyen that is Zouk. Enjoy a beer at the Brewerkz microbrewery or pre-game with the kids on the Read Bridge. There are more pubs downstream at Boat Quay and Circular Road – just remember to avoid the seafood restaurants.
Day 4 – Little India, Bugis and Arab Street
We’re finally leaving the city centre! In the Bugis area (which is a lot tamer than it used to be – did you watch Saint Jack?), you catch up on your travel research at the National Library or view a public exhibition at one of the area’s galleries and art schools. If not, head straight to Little India.
Take your time to explore the district, from Tekka Market to Dunlop Street, from Race Course Road to the 24-hour Mustafa Centre. Unlike the other parts of Singapore you’ve visited thus far, the manicuring has been minimal. Mom-and-pop shops still lay their wares out haphazardly along the covered walkways. Need recommendations for lunch? Usman Restaurant is famous for naan.
From Little India, Kampung Glam is a short walk away. Missing the Sultan Mosque and its golden dome is impossible. The Turkish restaurants on the pedestrianised street aren’t worth your time; people visit the area for the murals and the boutiques along Haji Lane. Have a murtabak (a crepe stuffed with meat, eggs and onions and served with curry dip) at either Zam Zam or Victory Restaurant. After that, walk on to Golden Mile Tower, where The Projector screens old movies, foreign films and local productions.
Day 5 – The Zoos
You could spend the entire day in the Mandai area in the northern part of Singapore. Three zoos are located side-by-side: the Singapore Zoo, the River Safari and the Night Safari. All of them have enclosures that are designed to resemble the animals’ natural habitats. The food is expensive and not terribly good, however, so bring at least one packed lunch.
If you have money for only one of the parks, visit the Night Safari after spending the day at Bukit Timah (Day 10) or on the Southern Islands (Day 12). You’ll miss only the big apes.
Day 6 – Orchard Road and the Botanic Gardens
This day begins at Orchard Road. While it’s Singapore’s prime shopping district, you’ll find the same chain stores over and over again. Many Filipinos gather in the malls on Sundays, so be prepared for crowds on that day of the week. You can start walking from Plaza Singapura in a westerly direction:
Highlights along Orchard Road
- The Cathay was Singapore first skyscraper and also its first air-conditioned building. Only the art deco facade was saved when it was redeveloped in 2000.
- The Istana, which is the residence of the President of Singapore. It opens to the public on festive occasions; on those days, go early with your ID and no bag to beat the queues.
- Emerald Hill is a row of houses decorated with Peranakan (Straits Chinese) motifs. It’s also pretty quiet compared to the main street.
- Lucky Plaza is chockful of Filipino and Indonesian businesses, including restaurants. That means you’ll find bebek goreng (fried duck), ayam penyet (smashed chicken) and lechon (roast pork) under one roof.
- A few Asian Michelin-starred restaurants have set up outposts in Pacific Plaza, namely Kam’s (Hong Kong), Tim Ho Wan (Hong Kong) and Tsuta (Japan). Across the lane is Les Amis, a similarly-decorated local establishment.
- The Four Floors of Whores exists – it’s called Orchard Towers. The Thai restaurants are a legitimate reason to step inside.
Continue walking along Tanglin Road, and you’ll reach the country’s only UNESCO World Heritage site, the Botanic Gardens. How does it differ from Gardens by the Bay? Instead of “supertrees” and glass domes, you’ll find colonial-era gazebos and black-and-white bungalows. It also has an orchid garden at its heart.
When you leave via the gate on Dunearn Road, mod-Sin restaurant Relish is nearby, as is the Adam Road Food Centre. If you feel like splurging, reserve a table at Candlenut and try its creative take on Peranakan cuisine.
Day 7 – The East Coast and Pulau Ubin
We head further to the east and begin with a boat ride from Changi Village to Pulau Ubin. It gets its name from the granite quarries in the area that are no longer in use. The village near the jetty feels like a relic from a bygone era.
Rent a bicycle and follow the trails. A popular one leads to Chek Jawa boardwalk, where exceptionally low tide exposes the reefs and the creatures that dwell on it. You’ll pass at least one abandoned and flooded quarry – diving in one of these is incredibly risky. Another trail leads to Butterfly Hill, where specific plants are grown to attract the winged critters.
Back on the mainland
The Changi Prison Chapel and Museum is a short bus ride from the jetty. It is dedicated to the memory of the prisoners of war who were incarcerated by the Japanese Imperial Army here during World War II. (Note: The Changi Museum is closed for two years from April 2018)
Spend the rest of the day in the Katong area. Once the go-to place for all things Peranakan, it’s becoming increasingly gentrified, so you’ll find English-style pubs and vegan ice-cream parlours among the traditional shops selling dumplings, popiah (turnip-stuffed spring rolls) and laksa (rice noodles in spicy coconut gravy). There are still some architectural gems, however. Look for the houses in the header image at the junction of Koon Seng Road and Tembeling Road.
The evening bazaar at nearby Geylang Serai is worth checking out during the month of Ramadhan, though you’ll mostly find fried food items to sate your appetite. If you’re adventurous, proceed to the Geylang area in the evening. It is known as a red-light district, but that’s restricted to the even-numbered lanes. The famous food establishments (such as Claypot Rice and the expensive Sin Huat) are in the odd-numbered ones.
Day 8 – Sentosa
Are we really only halfway through our itinerary?
I never really liked Sentosa Island, but you could spend a full day there if you like these things:
- Universal Studios (to avoid the worst of the crowds, go early on a weekday that’s not a school holiday)
- The S.E.A. Aquarium (actually, don’t go – it houses captive dolphins)
- The southernmost part of continental Asia (it’s as underwhelming as it sounds) at Palawan Beach
- Fort Siloso
- Skyline Luge (there’s only one track, unlike in Queenstown and Rotorua)
- Bungy jumping by AJ Hackett
- The iSky skydiving simulator
- Tanjong Beach is the “quietest” easily accessible beach, especially on a weekday morning. The sand underwater is still gross, though, so swim on the right-hand side.
Day 9 – Jurong to the Southern Ridges
Start the day out in the west, at the Jurong Bird Park, which is one of the world’s largest aviaries. It’ll only be around for another four years before it joins the other zoos in Mandai. After that, check out Haw Par Villa (when it reopens on 1 March 2019), the only theme park in Singapore that Cracked.com has featured. Built by the brothers who created Tiger Balm, it’s filled with polychrome sculptures of Chinese legends and moral tales – including a woman breastfeeding her elderly father (I’m not kidding) and all the gory punishments that await in Hell.
To digest what you’ve just seen, take a walk through the forest along the Southern Ridges. You could start at Reflections at Bukit Chandu, a small exhibition near the site of a fierce battle before Singapore’s fall to the Japanese, or at HortPark. The route includes the Henderson Waves bridge, the cable car station and the view of the city from Mount Faber. Descend the steps and finish the tour at the Vivocity mall – or the Seah Im hawker centre, if you prefer that.
Day 10 – Bukit Timah
In the morning, head to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. It’s the home of Singapore’s highest point and one of only two primary rainforests in the world that are within city boundaries. You can choose to climb the tarmac road if it’s your “legs day”, or take the recently-restored jungle trails. If you’ve worked up an appetite after all this, I’d recommend Al Azhar, Bukit Timah Food Centre or the food court at Beauty World Centre.
On some Saturdays, the craft beer bar Sixteen Ounces holds runs along the other trails in the Dairy Farm area. You can follow them on Facebook or UnTappd to stay tuned. For Instagram photo opportunities, the railway bridge over Bukit Timah Road is a short distance away. To access the bridge, walk along Rifle Range Road and cross the grass verge.
Day 11 – TreeTop Walk
Another early start beckons. It’s another walk through the jungle, via the TreeTop Walk. It’s more time-consuming but less strenuous than yesterday’s hill climb. You’ll encounter wild macaques on the ground; they’re cute, but they have no qualms about rifling through your bags and stealing your food. You can get away from them on the water by renting a kayak at MacRitchie Reservoir. Somewhere in the jungle are the ruins of a Japanese shrine; go only with someone who has been there.
The old Chinese cemetery at Bukit Brown is currently off-limits due to development (in spite of the efforts of heritage groups); hopefully, when that is complete, we’ll still be able to walk around the more magnificent graves.
The Upper Thomson Road enclave has no lack of food and coffee outlets to refuel at, such as Sin Ming Roti Prata. The nearest noteworthy hawker centre is at Sembawang Hills – the Teochew Minced Meat Noodle stall is run by a former apprentice of Michelin-starred Tai Hwa Pork Noodle.
The last village
The last remaining traditional village on the mainland is a couple of bus rides away, at Lorong Buangkok. Here, telephone cables still hang overhead while cats and dogs wander freely among fruit trees and songbird cages. In recent years, urban development has reached the kampung‘s perimeter, but deep in its centre, you can still imagine that you’re in another country or era.
For other scenes like this, see These are not Your Typical Singapore Pictures
Enjoy an early dinner at Chomp Chomp Food Centre, famous for fried Hokkien noodles and giant mugs of pressed sugar cane juice. You can end the day wandering one of the town centres, such as Toa Payoh, Serangoon or Bishan, and appreciate the facilities available to ordinary Singaporeans. Get lost in the housing estates. You might stumble across parties, wedding banquets or wakes in the common spaces, or just a bunch of elderly folks shooting the breeze over a few beers.
Day 12 – The Southern Islands
The best beaches in Singapore are not on the mainland, so take a ferry from the Marina South Pier to the southern islands. The boat moves in a loop between the pier, St John’s Island and Kusu Island twice a day (more on Sundays and public holidays). On the latter, there is a Chinese temple (that gets packed with pilgrims during the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar) and a tortoise enclosure.
There are also absolutely no businesses on either island, so, bring your own meals. Day trips are not the only option for visiting these sites: you could rent the holiday chalets and start an overnight barbeque on St John’s, or, if you have a large party, rent a yacht and sail into the lagoon. You might even spot dolphins and porpoises.
Thanks to all the shipping activity, the water visibility is terrible for scuba diving and snorkelling. However, if you’re lucky, you can join a private visit to the Sisters Islands or Pulau Hantu, where conditions are slightly more conducive to appreciating the macrofauna under the surface.
Day 13 – The Far North
(As of 1 July 2018, the shuttle bus service is suspended. You’ll need a local to show you around or hitch a ride from. Taxis are hard to come by in the countryside.)
From the Kranji MRT station, take one of the Kranji Countryside shuttle buses to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. The boardwalk will take you through some dense mangrove forests. You might spot mudskippers, a few migratory birds, monitor lizards or even a saltwater crocodile. Take the same shuttle bus to Bollywood Veggies for lunch; most of the fruit and vegetables used in the dishes are grown on-site.
The bus also takes you to a few other farms in the area and includes a ten-minute rest stop at the Jurong Frog Farm. Take it easy and don’t rush, however; this is as far from urban Singapore as you can get, so enjoy it. If you like it enough, you can even stay at the D’Kranji Resort. Sadly, all this won’t last long; the farms have to move out over the next three years and find new homes.
If you head back to the MRT station with the shuttle bus, you can walk to the Kranji War Memorial and pay your respects to the soldiers who died defending Singapore during World War II. You’ll also pass a challenging go-kart track, but kart racing in Singapore is an expensive hobby.
Day 14 – Options
Use this day to catch up on any sights (or hawker dishes) that you missed over the last two weeks in Singapore. If you managed to squeeze all of them in, visit a few old neighbourhoods. Tiong Bahru‘s art deco flats have witnessed some gentrification, but that doesn’t diminish the area’s charm.
Still not satisfied? Then check out the old fortifications at Labrador Park. Some of the tunnels are said to lead to Sentosa Island – if someone unblocks them. If you like art, you might want to check out the galleries at Gillman Barracks or Wessex Estate. What about a microbrewery tour? If you have kids, you can take them to the Science Centre, where they’ll learn about the world through interactive exhibits.
Resources for your stay in Singapore
Where to stay
I don’t get invited to stay in hotels unlike some of my friends (*shrugs*) but I’ve spent a couple of nights at The Southbridge Hotel in Chinatown on my own (and V’s) dime. While the rooms are small and windowless, they’re clean, it’s centrally located, reasonably priced and there’s a bar below (there were no noise issues for us).
Sorry if it’s not what you’re used to paying around the rest of Southeast Asia. You even need to budget S$30 a night for a dorm bed to be safe. If private bathrooms are not negotiable, the Hotel 81 and Fragrance chains are your least expensive option – though they have a rather sordid image.
You may also want to search the offers on Agoda (which happens to be based in Singapore):
Map of Singapore Attractions
Here’s a map of all the locations that I mentioned in the itinerary
And there you have it, two weeks in Singapore in 3500 words. Don’t you wish you had more time to play with now?