36 hours in Singapore

H has had many visitors over the past 7 years of staying in Singapore and I would say on average most of them are here on transit. The daunting tour guide responsibility falls on my local shoulders where I am tasked with showing them around my little island in 24-36 hours. Honestly there is not much sightseeing to do in my petit country, but I try my best to offer a true Singaporean experience, filled with local hideouts and flavours.

36 hours in Singapore

Start the day early with a local breakfast of kaya(coconut jam) toast, soft boiled eggs and local coffee or tea. My favourite is Killiney Kopitiam, but there are many alternatives like Ya Kun and Toast Box which are equally as good. Powered up for the day, take the MRT to Bayfront to start the day at the newly opened Gardens by the Bay before it gets too hot. Next, cross the bridge to Marina Bay Sands where a ticket to the SkyPark will give you unblocked views of the city. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see far past the city skyline into the residential area and the ocean littered with shipping vessels.

Take the MRT to Chinatown for some cultural immersion. Walk along the old shophouses and stop at the Chinatown Heritage Centre for a peak into the lives of Singaporean’s early immigrants. Pass by Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, Sri Mariamman Temple and admire its colourful architecture. Hungry? Stop for some Dim Sum at Yum Cha or walk further to Maxwell Food Centre to sample local cuisines. Tian Tian‘s Hainanese chicken rice is considered one of the best on the island. On the way back to the train station, pop into Mei Heong Yuen Dessert House for traditional Chinese desserts like mango pudding, mango sago, peanut soup, sesame paste…

Recharged and ready for another cultural experience? Take the MRT to Bugis and walk towards Arab street to visit the Kampong Glam district. This area in recent years has been sporting the “bohemian” vibe with the emergence of new restaurants, bars, cafes and independent fashion designers setting up shop along Haji Lane. To experience the traditional feel of the area, just walk across to the street parallel. Arab Street is lined with colourful fabric shops and the Sultan Mosque is considered one of the most important mosque in Singapore. If visiting at night, stop for a smoke at the many shisha bars or head to Blue Jazz for their live jazz band.

Tired? Head back to rest before dinner or use the time to pack in some shopping. The most common things that our visitors have bought are electronics like cameras, ipads and iphones as they are cheaper here than in Europe. Head to Sim Lim Square, Lucky Plaza or Funan DigitalLife Mall for electronic products but beware of touts that are out to cheat naive tourists (esp at Sim Lim and Lucky Plaza). Also note that Apple products are price controlled so just buy them from any Apple store. For the ladies, go shoe crazy at local brand Charles & Keith or Pedro. Comb Far East Plaza along Scotts Road for some cut-label designer clothes or just relax to get your nails done at the countless salons in the building. Along Orchard, most shops or clothes are imported so they will not be cheaper, but a few local standout brands to check out are M)phosis for casual comfortable wear, Alldressedup for fancy delicate dresses and Raoul for business smart shirts.

Have dinner at Newton Food Centre to sample the local staples. Chilli crab, sambal stingray, oyster omelette, bbq chicken wings, satay, hokkien noodles and popiah are must tries! Wash it all down with ice cold Singaporean Tiger beer and to end the meal on a sweet note, try the local deserts like ice kachang, bobo cha cha, tau suan.

Filled up and ready to party? Start the night with a few artisan cocktails at 28 Hong Kong Street or The Library or a slow beer along Emerald Hill or Duxton Hill. The night life starts to be happening around midnight so once you are ready head to Clark Quay for bar hopping or to Mink for some serious partying. If dancing is not your thing, The Vault offers a laid back venue for drinks without rubbing shoulders with sweaty people on the dance floor. There are plenty of venues to party the night away in Singapore, with most clubs closing at 3 or 4 in the morning. Take note that most bars and clubs have a dress code, and you will be denied entry even if they are Gucci flip flops and shorts.

If you are hungover the next day, I suggest putting on your aviators and heading to PS Cafe at Dempsey for a laid back brunch before heading to the airport. Try to sit outside facing the forest for some sun and mother’s nature remedy.

If you have more time in Singapore, here are my other suggestions:
Universal Studios at Sentosa– at least half a day
SEA Aquarium at Sentosa
The Zoo if you have young kids – at least half a day
Visit a local wet market, I suggest Tiong Bahru market or Chinatown market (only open in the mornings)
If you have time for another meal I suggest Jumbo Seafood for their chilli crab and black pepper crab. Don’t forget the fried buns to dip in the chilli crab sauce!

You’re dead tired and on the way to the airport but the past 36 hours have been worth it. You can sleep on the flight back!

Further details
Map of the MRT (metro)
-Taxis are cheap by European standards and are all metered
-Skypark visits are only at scheduled timings
-Maxwell Food Centre 1 Kadayanallur Street (Chinatown or Tanjong Pagar MRT)
-Blue Jazz Bar 11 Bali Lane
-Newton Food Centre 500 Clemenceau Ave North (Newton MRT) My favourite stalls are #66 Sin Sin Seafood BBQ for chilli crab and sambal stingray, #73 Hup Kee Fried Oyster Omelette, #69 for fishball noodles, #72 for BBQ chicken wings and satay.
-The Library 47 Keong Seik Road
-Emerald Hill bars: No. 5 and Ice Cold (Somerset MRT)

For more local insights to Singapore please check out my other posts:
Singapore’s Local / Asian food scene
Singapore’s Western food scene
Singapore’s party scene

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USA

We’ve been to USA twice together, once to the east coast for our honeymoon in 2007 and the west coast in 2010. Road trips are a great idea in the USA as the roads are wide and the highways are endless. Don’t stinge on renting a GPS, it will save you lots of time and energy quarrelling and getting lost.

East Coast
We drove Miami – Key West – Florida, and flight to New York

West Coast
We drove Las Vegas – LA – Carmel by the Sea – Napa Valley – San Francisco

Things to do

(Key West) Drive to Key West
The 150 mile drive from Miami to Key West on Highway 1 is scenic. It is a straight road of bridges with the longest at 7 mile, and at some point of the drive, the road seems endless, and you are surrounded by ocean as far as the eye can see. Go on a sunset cruise while you are there and visit the Southernmost point of continental USA for a kick.

(Vegas) Visit the Grand Canyon by helicopter
What better way than helicopter to see one of the 7 wonders of the world? This was my second time visiting the canyon but seeing it from the air and landing in one of the canyons was an amazing experience. We sat right up with the pilot and the views are breathtaking. We landed in the canyon and had a picnic packed lunch.
Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters at $300/pax with pick up and return to your Vegas hotel

(Vegas) Be entertained in Vegas
Vegas does not sleep! Your senses are overwhelmed with endless entertainment choices other than parking your bum at the casinos. There are many Cirque du Soleil shows staged at different hotels, magic shows, theatre musicals, the list is endless! We watched O at the Bellagio in awe and Phantom of the Opera at the Venetian. We went out of our way to visit the Rio (not on the main strip) just to visit the WSOP site and buy some souvenirs.

(Los Angeles) Visit a movie studio
Take a tour of a movie studio while in Hollywood. We visited Warner Brothers Studio and they explained all the basics – movie and series making, onsite filming, screenwriters and the costumes. Each tour is different depending our your tour guide and which studios are free that day. We visited the old coffee house set of Friends and the office of The Mentalist. If you are lucky you might chance into a live filming of a series and see some actors.
Warner Brothers Studio VIP tour $48 /pax

(Orlando) Be a kid again
There is no shame behaving like a kid in Disney Land! I wanted to buy a Cinderella costume but it didn’t come in my size. If sugar and spice is not your thing, America is the land of amusement parks so you can take your pick from Universal Studios, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Sea World… there will be something for everyone of any age! We visited Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort in Florida but gave the two a miss when we were in California.

(Monterey) Take a 17 mile drive
Pebble Beach is famous for 2 things: golf and the 17 mile drive. The windy picturesque road starting from Carmel takes you through golf courses, huge mansions, the coasts, the beach and you end up in Monterey. Spare a few hours at Monterey Bay Aquarium – it’s a good way to spend a couple of hours, as there isn’t that much to do in Monterey anyway.

(San Francisco) Take a tour of Alcatraz & shop at the Farmers Market at the Ferry Plaza

(Napa) Try some American wines
Napa Valley is probably the most famous region for American wineries. Call in advance for wine tastings as most houses require advance bookings. We didn’t find anything particularly exciting about the wines and felt they were overpriced as they had the Napa brand. One winery we enjoyed was Honig, and it’s advisable to drink with your eyes closed to the price.
Honig Vineyard & Winery 850 Rutherford Road Rutherford, CA 94573

Shopping
Outlets in Orlando Premium Outlet at Vineland Ave, NY’s Woodbury Common and LA’s Desert Hills were the best. These were the outlets that had the most premium brands, and we bought the most in NY.

Food
We didn’t find American food particularly impressive and it’s definitely not healthy! Here are a few places that we liked

Pizza Mozza & Osteria Mozza
The pizzas here were awesome and we were thrilled to know they were opening a branch in Singapore. The potato pizza is surprisingly good – who thought carbs on carbs would work?! The Osteria next door is super packed and we star spotted Jack Black at the bar while waiting for our table.
641 North Highland Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90036

Bazaar by José Andrés
Hands down our best meal in the US
465 South La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90048

Spargo
We initially wanted to try Cut in our hotel the Beverly Wilshire but it was fully booked out. The concierge suggested Spargo, the flagship fine dining restaurant by Wolfgang Puck. The 2 star restaurant served good food but it was nothing impressive. A bit biased but I find that no one can compete with the French for fine dining. The highlight of our dinner was a surprise visit by Wolfgang himself!
176 North Canon Drive Beverly Hills, CA 90210

COI Restaurant
Contemporary California cuisine that was heavily Japanese influenced. Tastes were very delicate on the palate and each dish was complex except one which was just an odd egg chawanmushi style.
373 Broadway San Francisco, CA 94133

Bi-Rite Creamery
3692 18th Street San Francisco, CA 94110
Caramel sea salt ice cream is to die for and they have a grocery store that sells quality produce which is well farmed

Bouchon Bistro
I tried every humanly possible means to get a reservation at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry but no luck – I had to content with a drive past and a walk around the restaurant. We settled for dinner at his bistro Bouchon down the road, and it was good casual bistro style food and service. Keller also has a bakery next door that had good pastries as well.
6534 Washington Street Yountville, CA 94599