Singapore wasn’t originally on the itinerary for my around the world 50-day solo adventure, but fate stepped in and I found myself there instead of Mumbai due to an issue with my tourist visa. It wasn’t a quick fix, so going with the flow is always good to keep in mind when traveling, especially when traveling solo. Don’t panic, weigh your options, make a decision and don’t look back. Singapore turned out to be one of the best places to visit for the solo traveler I have ever been to anywhere in the world.
I loved Singapore because it is safe, spotlessly clean, culturally diverse, highly walkable, and a food paradise full of gardens and places to shop. I would consider this young city-state an urban utopia. It’s hard to believe that in a little over 50 years Singapore has gone from a third world trading outpost to a first world metropolis.
When traveling to this great city, it’s difficult to prioritize what to do because there are so many activities, sites and restaurants to explore. I never like cramming too much into an itinerary each day since I prefer taking time to savor an experience, one of the keys to meaningful, quality solo travel. The following is my list of the top 10 things a solo traveler should do when in the Lion City.
1. Stroll along or take a boat ride down the Singapore River
There is non-stop activity going on around the Singapore River both day and night. Shops, museums, cafes and evening entertainment venues line this lively area. I recommend breakfast at the elegant Fullerton Hotel, a visit to the Asian Civilizations Museum, and an afternoon coffee and dessert break at Prive along this picturesque, stimulating area of Singapore.
2. Spend some time and money at the Bugis Market
My love for shopping never stops, especially at low cost markets around the world. Once I arrived in this fair city and checked into the posh Westin Hotel, I asked the concierge for his recommendations of where to buy some inexpensive clothes. Singapore is hot and humid and most of the clothes I had packed were too heavy. He suggested I visit the Bugis Market. His recommendation did not disappoint. I bought an entire week’s wardrobe to include two pairs of fancy sandals plus souvenirs and face cream for less than $200.
3. Enjoy a Singapore Sling at the historic Raffles Hotel
Rarely does a hotel embody the true essence of a bygone era, but the Raffles Hotel does just that. Named after Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of the British colonial port city of Singapore, this world famous, historic luxury hotel was opened in 1887 and is still the hotel. Through the years it’s been the hotel of choice for movie stars, writers, fashion designers, world-class business leaders and socialites. Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, Elizabeth Taylor, Karl Lagerfeld and Queen Elizabeth II are a few of the famous people who have stayed and played here.
Another interesting historic fact that originated at this hotel is the birth of the cocktail known as the “Singapore Sling,” the national drink of the city. During the British Colonial era, it was considered improper for ladies to consume hard liquor in public and fruit juices and teas were the norm.
The hotel’s Long Bar was a favorite watering hole for Singapore’s who’s who. The bartender at the time, Ngiam Tong Boon, created a fruit juice based cocktail that was refreshing for the hot, humid climate. More importantly, it provided an alcohol disguised drink-- socially acceptable punch-- that soon became the rage for both men and women alike and is still considered one of the great names for cocktail drinks.
Since this iconic hotel was out of my affordable luxury budget and I knew I wanted to experience its luxurious ambiance, I decided to have a late lunch in the Long Bar and sample the famed pink drink. With the traditional sack of appetizer peanuts, I was served my first sample. I decided to give it another try and ordered a second one with my lunch because the first was good but not great.
I’m glad I experienced the famed “pink sling for pale people” in the historic Long Bar, but I’ll stick to red or white wine from now on. Whether you take to the drink or not, the Raffles Hotel and the compulsory Singapore Sling is a must do to get the feel of old, romantic Singapore.
4. Explore Little India
I’m a big fan of Hop-On Hop-Off bus tours for the solo traveler upon arrival in a new city.
It gives one a good idea of the layout, culture and must do sites to explore. You can usually buy multiple day tickets, which is wise for big cities with many things to do. In Singapore the first stop on my tour was Little India, which I thought was quite ironic since I didn’t end up in Mumbai after all.
I spent around four interesting hours in Little India shopping, eating, visiting the Indian Cultural Centre and the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. The distinctive smell of Indian spices, the colorful, sari-clad dressed women and the sound of Indian music set the authentic atmosphere for this third largest Singaporean ethnic enclave. The main thoroughfare through the area is Serangoon Road where three main shopping areas, Tekka Center, Mustafa Centre and the Little India Arcade, are located.
I started my leisurely shopping expedition at the Arcade that is filled with shops selling gorgeous Indian fabrics, ethnic clothing, handbags, handicrafts, jewelry and spices. The only thing I purchased, which turned out to be one of my favorite things I bought on my entire trip, was an elegant mumu made from a traditional Singaporean design fabric that is the material of the elegant uniforms worn by the stylish Singapore Airlines flight attendants. I love it because it’s so classic.
The most interesting thing I did while in Little India was my visit to the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, the spiritual center of the area. I had never visited a Hindu temple before so getting to experience this beautiful place of worship was thought provoking. Before entering the temple you have to remove your shoes, similar to when you go into a mosque.
The deities inside were exotic and otherworldly to me. I had no idea of their significance but I attempted to absorb as much as I could for future reference and enlightenment. The spiritual beliefs of an ethnic group’s culture lie at the core of their value system and how they prioritize and live their lives.
It is my belief it’s important to understand and respect the many faiths that exist in the world in order to get the most out of each travel experience. When I got back on the tour bus, I felt satisfied that even though I hadn’t made it to Mumbai , I had gotten the opportunity to be introduced to the Indian culture in this lively Singaporean neighborhood.
5. Sample the delicious eats at a hawker stall emporium
On my Singapore by Night Tour, our guide said the first stop would be to go to a hawker center. I had no idea what he was talking about. As we entered the lush Gardens by the Bay, our bus parked at Satay by the Bay that is located on the Singapore Food trail. Quickly, I realized we would be eating supper here. The guide shared hawker centers are where locals and tourist alike go to get inexpensive, freshly prepared, delicious food.
Hawker centers became popular in the late 1960s when the government set strict guidelines for preparing clean street food. These open air, semi-enclosed food emporiums are built and managed by the Singaporean government offering a wide variety of different ethnic food cuisines. These food outlets became popular fast with their open seating and self serve approach. Now there are hundreds of hawker centers throughout the city and every neighborhood has at least one.
I had decided I was in the mood for a rice noodle soup bowl. After perusing all of the stalls, I settled for one with giant prawns and a side of what I think was sautéed bok choy, an oriental long leaf vegetable. Hot green tea was my beverage selection. This meal was beyond tasty and all for under $8!
If and when you visit Singapore, do not pass up this dining option. Two excellent websites giving lots of great information about everything you want to know about Singapore’s hawker centers are hungrygowhere.com and TOPWOK.Sg. Happy Makan, which means happy eating!
Enjoy this informative video highlighting some of the many sights and things to do in Singapore. Would love to know your thoughts and comments about this post. Did it peak you interest enough to travel to this marvelous solo-friendly city?