Uncovering the real Singapore

Welcome to Singapore

I got as far planning my trip to Singapore as I did with my “life to do” list back home in Portsmouth, which is quiet frankly zilch. Less than a week after deciding where to go I was off again, this time in the luxury of Jet Airways. I bloody love budget airlines and not just because they are cheap, but because they give me an insight into a different country without actually visiting it.

My third curry on Jet Airways

Everything about a country’s airline is so stereotypical; the food, magazine articles, notice signs and the appearance of the staff. My 17 hour journey with Jet via Mumbai only made me want to visit India even more, despite having curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

National University of Singapore

I touched down at Singapore’s Changi Airport which is a backpacker’s heaven with free massage chairs, peaceful places to sleep, a cinema, games room and even a 711. The wifi is pretty shoddy (confusing registration process where your user name is xxx@sinwifi not xxx like your registration SMS says) but apart from that it’s a good place to spend a bit of time. After a strong coffee I made my way to the National University of Singapore to embark on my first couchsurfing experience in the student halls. Well, technically I didn’t sleep on a couch and I had met my host, Etkin from Turkey, at a bar in Yangon, Myanmar when slightly tipsy, but there seems to be a unity among travellers in which people go out of their way to better the experience of others.

Chinatown in Singapore

My first day in Singapore was spent walking around Chinatown in search for some local culture. Singapore seemed just like London but cleaner. There were nice areas and not so nice areas, posh restaurants and back ally eateries, an extensive tube system with so many stops it took forever to get anywhere and an array of tall and interesting looking skyscrapers. In my eyes this wasn’t Asia and I made it my mission to find the real Singapore I had imagined.

Long queue = great food

I found a Hawker Centre in Chinatown called Maxwell’s Food Centre which looked fairly busy so I decided to stop for lunch. Hawker Centres are outdoor food markets and the trick here is to join the longest queue and order what everyone else has. I ended up queuing for 20 minutes for some soy sauce hainanese chicken and rice from Tian Tian and very nice it was too.

Soy sauce chicken and rice from Tian Tian at Maxwell’s food court

That afternoon I got lost, very lost, and ended up walking for a good couple of hours, which if you’ve ever been to Singapore isn’t fun. Hot and sweaty I gave up and caught the tube to meet Etkin and his friends, a group of lovely local girls, at Fat Boys where we had super-sized greasy burgers washed down with a litre of beer.

Yu Kan Kaya Toast – the perfect breakfast

I started my second day with a Kaya Toast from famous Yu Kan Kaya Toast  which you must have for breakfast if in Singapore. This morning delight consists of two slices of bread, toasted and smothered with kaya jam (a coconut honey paste) with slabs of butter sandwiched between. You then crack two runny half boiled eggs into a bowl, season with soy sauce and pepper, ready to dip your sweet toast into. It was possibly the most wonderful breakfast I had ever had. I had also missed Asia-style coffee enriched with condensed milk – yum!

Learning about Islam from locals at the Mosque in Little India

I caught the MRT to Little India in search for the culture I just wasn’t getting from the touristy parts of town or the CBD. Although the architecture was there in a mishmash of styles and the people were Chinese, Malay and Indian, I still felt I wasn’t seeing the real Singapore.

A temple close to Chinatown in Singapore

On my walk back to town I spotted a mobile repair shop at Bugis Junction and enquired how much it would be to get my iPhone screen fixed. The young chap said S$50 which is around £25 and that it was a super easy job and would be done within 40 minutes. Fantastic I thought, so I left my phone with him and wandered around the mall. An hour later I returned and he looked at me and said “I took the screen off and then shit happened” I replied “what do you mean ‘then shit happened’?”. It turns out that he’d done something to my phone for it to no longer work. I explained that I need my phone, it’s my LIFE (well a big part of it) and that I’d be back in an hour.

Just after this fruit stall on the left is the phone repair shop in bugis – be warned!

I waited and waited. I waited some more. I returned every 30 minutes for the next three hours until it was time to catch my bus. My patience had run out by this point and within the last five minutes he got it working, although I am having to use that stupid little white circle cursor – you know the one I mean? Not one for confrontation, he was wrong to tell me it would be done in 40 minutes with no warning about the risk of something going wrong, so I said I’m not paying the full whack.

The famous Raffles Hotel which I could have visited if I had time

He had wasted my last afternoon in Singapore and as a result there were a lot of things I missed out on seeing like a birds-eye view from a sky scraper. I think he felt bad for not warning me about the risk (I heard the shop owner warn people after me) and breaking my phone, he let me have it for free.

A mishmash of cultures – Chinese temples, colonial buildings and modern-day skyscraper

I left Singapore feeling that I still hadn’t quite seen the real Singapore, but I’m not entirely sure that’s the case. I spent a good full day wandering around trying to find the little things that make Asian culture so different (like being given chocolate as change in Indonesian shops or men standing with their bellies out in the Philippines) but there was nothing I saw that was unique to Singapore, it is a mishmash of a Chinese, Malay, Indian and British culture. This is when I realised that the real Singapore had been staring me in the face all along as I witnessed an abundance of different cultures combined to make Singapore, and that in itself is unique.

I did love the architecture in Singapore

Singapore didn’t “wow” me as it was just like any big city. I missed the street food of Bangkok, the dirtiness of Manila the poverty of Bangan and Singapore just didn’t take me out of my comfort zone like the others did. Travelling is all about taking yourself out of your comfort zone to experience new things and learn more about the world and apart from learning that Starbucks is the only place with consistent wifi and purchase isn’t necessary, I didn’t learn an awful lot. Singapore makes a good stopover if you’re heading to Aus’ and would be pretty fun if you had some cash, but as for Asia goes, it’s the more remote places I enjoy more.

Living life, loving travel,

H x



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