I have been to Singapore four times now, always on a long layover while enroute to destinations like Indonesia, Australia or India. Every time I leave the airport and try to see as much as possible of the city (Singapore airport is so close to the city that even if you only have a few hours it’s worth heading out)! For this edition of the Travel Like A Local series Michelle of The Munching Traveller shares with us local advice about Singapore, where she has lived for 28 years. I’m looking forward to my next long layover (or you know, actual trip!) to Singapore so that I can try out her suggestions!
Hi Michelle tell us a bit about yourself! What city do you feel like a local in?
I’m Michelle, a former teacher turned freelance writer and serial foodie cum traveller! I blog at The Munching Traveller and I love going on food hunts whenever I’m overseas. I’m born in Singapore and have been living here ever since!(Although I did stay in Bern, Switzerland for approximately 6 months)
How long did you live in Singapore for?
Ever since I was born, so that makes it 28 years!
What are your favourite places to eat?
My favourite places are hawker centres in Singapore. Hawker centres can be found everywhere in Singapore. They are essentially a collation of a variety of individual food stalls, almost like a market that you see in other cities. One of my favourite food centre is the Amoy Street Food Centre. At Amoy Street, you can find many local cuisines, budding entrepreneurs that create fusion western-local cuisines (Noodle Story), as well as a very good Thai food on the first floor that is opened by a Thai-Singaporean couple. The price range in hawker centres is also extremely affordable! You can get a full meal for about 5 SGD (under 4 USD).
For a luxury experience, my favourite’s the Ritz Carlton Colony’s buffet. A buffet is essentially an all-you-can-eat. You pay one price, and you can try a variety of different foods from all parts of the world. I especially like Ritz Carlton because they serve Asian cuisine alongside Western ones. I can have my dim sum (almost like Asian tapas) with a piece of steak, or Italian pasta. You can have the best of all worlds as you try a little bit of Asia while still getting your fill of your familiar foods. Oh yes, their Indian food is really good too!
Do you have a favourite place to study or work?
My favourite place to study or work is one of the various cafés that are available in Singapore. For budget travellers, try our local Ya Kun. I especially like the one at the 5thfloor of Orchard Central, Orchard Road. It has a nice floor to ceiling window which you can sit and sip on local coffee or tea, and read a book or whip out your laptop – all for 2 SGD (1.50 USD).
For a more hipster vibe, head to Arab Street! There are countless cafés there but I still like my traditional kopi and toast at Dong Po Colonial Café. Otherwise, All Things Delicious serve extremely yummy desserts too!
If you want luxury, head to the Atlas Bar at Parkview Square and be transported to Gotham City. I have yet to try it because every time I am in the area, it happens to be on a Sunday and they are closed! I have got to plan for it the next time!
What about when you want to relax? Do you have a favourite relaxing spot?
Not exactly relaxation for some, but I love cycling! You can cycle from East Coast Park to the Gardens By the Bay area. Rent a bike from the stores at East Coast Park, or try out the bicycle-sharing OFO, MO-Bike, or O-bike services.
I also love heading to Sentosa Island. It is an island just a few minutes away by monorail or by foot from Singapore. It is where Universal Studios Singapore is located. The theme park is nice, but sometimes when I just want to get some sun, I’ll head to Siloso or Palawan Beach on the island. There are also several cool beachside bars that you can get a drink and unwind or cool down after sunbathing!
Is there a typical activity locals do in their free time?
Most locals would head to the malls during the weekends while some families will also head to East Coast Park for cycling or having a picnic. Orchard Road becomes extremely crowded during weekends as locals will go shopping and hang out with their friends in the cafes and restaurants.
What is your favourite activity or thing to do in Singapore?
Well, Singapore is rather small, so most things are more or less repetitive but I really like cycling in Singapore. The parks are well-equipped with nice and smooth roads that you do not need to be afraid of tripping over a stone while riding your bike. As you cycle along the beach area, you can also feel the sea breeze and admire the beautiful trees. Lately, there are also several new cycling spots that I’ve tried and also enjoyed: Punggol Waterway and Coney island.
Do you have a favourite photo spot?
My favourite photo spot has got to be the Marina Bay Area. Here, you’ll get a picture of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Convention Centre, and the tall skyscrapers on the other side.
When is the best time to visit Singapore?
Any time is a good time to visit Singapore as we have sunshine all year round (except for the months of December to January, and June to July where it can get a little rainy).
What’s one “touristy” thing in Singapore everyone should actually do?
To visit the Merlion park! It isn’t quite the Merlion park that you should actually do, but the landscape of Singapore there is simply beautiful. You get to see the Esplanade, Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Convention Centre, and the Art Science Museum!
What’s one “off the beaten track” place people don’t normally know about but should know about?
It would definitely be the heartlands. Any other town aside from Orchard Road and the usual touristy areas would be good as you can experience the local scene. Head to Toa Payoh, just a little outside the city, to explore the HDB flats (public housing in Singapore). Most Singaporeans do not live in houses but in apartment-like flats in tall buildings.
Any tips or tricks on how to navigate Singapore?
If you’re coming to Singapore, the easiest way to get around is the MRT. The public transport in Singapore connects you to every part of the city. From the airport to your hotel, and every other attraction has a MRT station. Otherwise, buses are quite convenient. As Singapore’s language of instruction is English, you’ll definitely have no problem asking for directions.
Any tips on how to visit your city like a local so that travellers reading this can blend in?
In Singapore, you can learn to speak Singlish! Singlish is a colloquial language that is a mix of various languages in Singapore. Singaporeans add an additional word at the end of their sentences that may mean slightly different things!
I don’t haveliao= I used to have it, but I no longer have it.
I don’t have lah= I really don’t have it
I don’t have lor= I wish I had it, but unfortunately I don’t have it.
I don’t have leh= For some reason, I don’t have it.
What is the best area in Singapore to stay in? Any specific hotels you can recommend?
The best place would be at Bugis! Bugis is close to several attractions yet in a district where you can find more affordable hotels. For a more budget-friendly accommodation, try Chinatown. There is a bunch of hostels there that you can get to make new friends!
What do you love most about Singapore?
I love Singapore’s diversity of food the most! You can find almost everything in Singapore. Everytime I feel like heading back to Japan, I’ll head to a Japanese restaurant and that will make me feel a little better. Whenever I miss my Swiss Rosti, I’ll head to Marche!
Have you been to Singapore before? How did you find it? Let us know in the comments below!