Hassle-free SingaporeIt’s often the little things that set the wrong tone at the beginning of a trip.
The moment I landed at Singapore’s Changi International Airport I wondered if I would meet an honest taxi driver.
I chose the first firm I saw, a premium limo taxi service that uses Mercedes-Benz cabs.
The desk attendant charged me a flat rate of S$45 ($32.37). I nodded and went along just to see how this would play out. I have learned from past travel experiences to be wary of anyone offering taxi service at airports.
The trip to my hotel took about 20 minutes. I got out, picked up my luggage and headed to the hotel entrance.
That was it.
No hidden fees, no arguments.
So if taxis are representative of a country ― or city-state in this case ― Singapore is truly a hassle-free destination.
I took cabs all over Singapore during my stay and I never once got the merry-go-round, unlike in some cities.
Singapore often has a reputation for being boring, but this is unfair. It is a very relaxing place to visit, and places like the Merlion Park are typical.
The Merlion ― a lion with the body of a fish ― symbolizes Singapore. The park, located next to the Fullerton Hotel, is a popular tourist haunt.
To skip a trip to the famous Merlion statue would be like visiting Paris and ignoring the Eiffel Tower.
The head represents a lion spotted by Prince Sang Nila Utama when, according to legend, he founded Singapura a thousand years ago. The fishtail symbolizes the ancient city of Temasek, which means “sea” in Javanese, by which Singapore was known before the prince named it Singapura. “Singa” means lion and “pura” means city in Sanskrit.
While the Merlion is not a breathtaking giant of a statue, it does offer a decent spot to take your I-have-been-there standard shots.
After the photos, you could try the nearby seafood restaurant called The Palm Beach Seafood, but just as relaxing is a stroll beside Marina Bay.
There’s also a Starbucks and a souvenir shop behind the statue.
If you want a photo of the front of the Merlion, you can walk along a viewing platform. From here you can also see the Esplanade, a distinguished-looking art center that opened in 2002.
I went to the park during the afternoon, but I heard that a night-time stroll is pleasant, particularly for honeymooners who include a walk through the park in their wedding rituals.
Another recommendation is the National Museum of Singapore, which is housed in an iconic neo-classical building dating back to 1887.
The history gallery in the museum offers a crash course on the city’s history, highlighting the who’s who and the where’s what. Set aside an hour and you will leave the museum fully conversant in the events that shaped the foundation and development of the city.
If you are in Singapore this month, the museum is exhibiting Greek masterpieces from the Louvre in France until March 16.
Sinking your teeth into Singapore’s distinctive culinary culture is a highlight of any trip to the city. The population of 4.8 million embraces a number of ethnic groups, each with its own cooking delights.
Lau Pa Sat is a mammoth food court, which is packed at lunchtime ― and most others ― with the hungry looking for cheap, tasty meals. The market restaurants are housed in the oldest Victorian cast-iron structure in Southeast Asia. Located in the middle of Singapore’s business district, Lau Pa Sat offers a selection of cuisines including red-hot Indian curries and oily Cantonese dim sum.
I tried several dishes at once, but I still found the final bill reasonable.
The heat was bearable for me, but if you don’t like to sweat while you eat, you can try the air-conditioned Italian restaurant nearby.
Also across at the Hong Leong Building is Watsons, a convenience store, while Lau Pa Sat has its own Cheers store where you can buy things like cigarettes.
Lau Pa Sat is certainly not luxury dining, but a meal here is a must. It served as my emergency food top for my entire stay.
I went there in the early morning for breakfast and I stopped by for snacks. The satay ― meat kebabs served with rice cakes, cucumber and peanut gravy ― are especially filling and flavorful.
One reason people go to Singapore is for the shopping, and Orchard Road is synonymous with high-end brands and good bargains, not that the stores here offer more unique items than you would get elsewhere. What shoppers like about this area is the sheer number of stores in such proximity to each other.
There are other shopping districts, but Orchard Road is a mecca.
Both sides of the road are packed with everything, from high-end boutiques like Ermenegildo Zegna to more conventional stores like the Gap. But one particular place caught my eye: the Kinokuniya bookstore located inside the Japanese Takashimaya Department Store.
This is a place for an intellectual cruise. If your wife or girlfriend is tied up (again) looking at the 10,000th pair of shoes and you want to take a break, this place is a perfect sanctuary.
It’s easy to get lost reading books. The store stocks half a million books, mostly in English. But being a Japanese chain, it also carries a huge selection of Japanese books including manga as well.
After Lau Pa Sat, you might want to try a different venue for dinner. Try the chicken rice dish for S$23 at Chatterbox inside the Meritus Mandarin Hotel at 333 Orchard Road.
After dinner, you can find a heap of upscale bars along Dempsey Road. This is where young, restless Singaporeans hang out.
I tried a roast pork dish for S$35 at La Forketta, an Italian restaurant, with a good friend from college one evening. The food was very good, not to mention the great atmosphere eating outside ― perfect for a glass of wine and a relaxing conversation.
To sum up, Singapore is not a place to look for ancient landmarks or breathtaking natural scenery.
But Singapore is clean and a fine fusion of shopping and eating. English is the norm for communication, so getting around town is relatively easy.
But if you need a taxi, take one. No one is going to argue with you.
Korean Air and Asiana both have daily direct flights to Singapore.
The National Museum of Singapore
93 Stamford Road, across from the Singapore Management University.
Tel: (65) 6332-3659
Admission costs S$10 (6,800 won, $7.19) for adults and S$5 for children and senior citizens. The museum is open from 10:00 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Lau Pa Sat
Boon Tat Street
Take the subway to Raffles Place Station and walk towards Robinson Road.
Chatterbox, Meritus Mandarin Hotel
333 Orchard Road
Tel: (65) 6831 6291
The restaurant is open from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sundays to Thursdays, and 24 hours on Fridays, Saturdays and public holidays.