After spending a week in Singapore, I have two main pieces of advice: start saving and don’t go in September.
There are a lot of great reasons to take the kids to Singapore; it’s fun, clean, the food is good (and won’t make you sick), it’s safe, most people speak English, it has a great transport system and pretty much everything works efficiently. The biggest downside is it’s expensive. But once I got my head around the fact that I practically had to take out a second mortgage just to get a glass of wine with dinner, we had an absolute blast.
Oh yeah, and about September. Unfortunately, Indonesian plantation owners illegally clear land by setting fire to it around September every year. In the process, they smoke out the rest of South East Asia, which means that while we were there, the sky in Singapore looked like this:
But despite the smoke, we still managed to have an awesome time in Singapore, and here are some of the highlights.
On day 1, we headed out to Chinatown, which is home to a couple of really interesting temples. Our first stop was the Sri Mariamman temple, which is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore and dates back to 1827.
Our next stop was the Buddha tooth relic temple, which is a huge Buddhist temple built in a traditional Chinese style. The temple houses the 100 statues of Buddha, each with a different mudra (hand sign). The temple was a really great opportunity to explain some of the foundations and mythology of Buddhism to the kids. The temple gets its name because it houses what is believed to be a Tooth of the Buddha, which was discovered in a golden stupa in Myanmar.
Note: you have to cover knees and shoulders to enter the temple, but coverings are available free at the entrance.
After spending about an hour in the temple, we headed next door (past the tacky market stalls) to the Eight treasures vegetarian restaurant. The food at the second floor restaurant is fantastic, and it has a great view of the temple.
Gardens by the Bay
We headed off to Gardens by the Bay in the afternoon, which gave us enough time to check out all the attractions and stay for the light show at 7:45pm.
Gardens by the Bay is an enormous man made garden which is part of the Marina Bay development. It has several heritage gardens featuring plants from different areas, including Indian, Chinese, Malay and Colonial. On the other side of the gardens are two huge domes, the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest.
The kids (and us) were most impressed by the Cloud forest, which houses the biggest indoor waterfall in the world (about 35 metres), and thousands of tropical plants. It was a really cool experience (literally) to walk around the huge dome, as well as along the boardwalks, which are high up off the ground. There’s also a platform near the top of the waterfall which has a great view (if you can get past all the people taking selfies).
The Flower Dome, which is right next door, is also pretty cool. The Dome replicates the climate of the Mediterranean region. West Australians will also feel right at home, as there are heaps of native plants from WA, including a collection of the iconic boab trees. On our visit, there were also more chrysanthemums than you could poke a proverbial stick at.
The highlight of our visit to Gardens by the Bay was the Supertrees. They are massive tree like structures that act as vertical gardens for hundreds of plant species. The Supertrees are up to 16 storeys high and apparently house almost 163,000 plants. They’re not as spectacular during the day, but at night, they light up so brightly, even the smokey air couldn’t dim them.
We also climbed the stairs to access the OCBC Skyway, a 128 metre long walkway at a height of 22 metres that connects two of the Supertrees. On a clear night, I’m sure you’d get a spectacular view over Singapore. While we absolutely loved the skyway, it does move slightly, which freaked the kids out a bit.
We climbed down from the skyway just in time for the Garden Rhapsody, a spectacular light display set to music. It happens twice an evening, at 7:45pm and 8:45pm and is free!
Singapore Zoo and River Safari
Singapore Zoo has a reputation for being one of the best zoos in the world, and after visiting, I can see why. There are very few cages and wide open enclosures. We decided to combine the zoo with the river safari, and it took us nearly a whole day to get around to see everything.
The highlight for me was Inuka, the polar bear. We went at his feeding time and watched him swim around trying to catch a live (if somewhat lethargic) fish. Inuka’s enclosure allows you to see him both above and below the water, and watching this massive creature swim past was an absolute thrill.
Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said of the pandas! We’d never seen a panda before, and this was to be the highlight of the river safari trip. But even though they were super cute, one of the pandas refused to come out at all, while the other did nothing more than open an eye in the half hour we were watching him. We were left wondering if, when all the people leave, the pandas come to life and juggle fire while riding a unicycle and dancing to pumping house music, but I guess that will remain a mystery.
Despite the underwhelming (but still cute) pandas, the river safari was well worth the visit. We got to see so many interesting underwater creatures, and the river otters put on a hilarious comedy show at feeding time.
Universal studios, Sentosa island
Universal Studios is the kind of place that makes you feel like a kid as soon as you walk through the gates. We had an absolute blast, and we loved the fact that each of the rides has a theme, complete with storyline and props.
We started with a boat trip through Madagascar, which the kids loved, since they’ve seen all the movies and recognised all the characters. From there, we saw the Shrek 4D experience, which was highly entertaining. We moved onto the Lost World, where the signs warning I might get wet on the Jurassic Park ride turned out to be an understatement!
The two biggest hits for us were the Mummy Returns and the Transformers experience, which really blew our minds.
The adults also loved the Battlestar Galactica dueling rollercoasters, although my stepdaughter practically turned as green as Shrek.
Hint: the universal express passes turned out to be a life saver. They allowed us to walk past the queues once on each ride and saved us from spending half the day standing in line.
Megazip, Sentosa island
The Megazip is a 450 metre zipline, which carries you out of the jungle, across the water and onto the landing pad on a small man made island (except for my stepson, who got stuck right before the end and had to be rescued!) It’s a thrilling experience, and about as close to flying as you can get (safely).
The Megazip also has a climbing course, where you climb across ropes and moving platforms, up to 15 metres off the ground. I have to say, it was much scarier than expected, even despite wearing a harness. There's also a vertical skydiving experience, which requires you to jump feet first off a platform from 15 metres.
Shopping on Orchard Road
Orchard Road is the main shopping strip in Singapore, and even if you’re not into shopping, it’s worth walking along at night for a bit of people watching, as well as street theatre. You’ll find every brand of anything you can think of here, and the kids were pretty over-awed.
When you’ve had enough shopping, you can step off Orchard Road onto the hidden gem of Emerald Hill Road. It’s a quaint little street featuring historical houses, most of which were built in the early 1900’s. Some of the buildings have plaques out the front explaining their history. It’s a beautiful walk day or night, and allows you to forget you’re in a huge city. There’s also a couple of bars and restaurants at the Orchard Road end with good food and extensive wine lists (if you can afford to take out that second mortgage).
Chocolate buffet, the Fullerton Hotel
The Fullerton Hotel is a stunning colonial style hotel on Marina Bay which on Friday and Saturday nights (from 8pm-11pm) turns itself into the hotel equivalent of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory (minus the oompa loompas). There’s a chocolate version of pretty much everything you can think of, including a chocolate fountain the kids can dip a whole bunch of things into. It was an absolute hit with the kids (oh, ok, and me!)
Places to stay:
We decided to split our trip up and spent the first 5 nights in the city and the last two on Sentosa Island.
The Holiday Inn is located just off Orchard Road, and was the perfect base to explore the city by foot. It’s also only 5 minutes from the Somerset MRT, which means that everything is only a short train ride away.
We splurged and got a Junior Suite so that the four of us could share a room. The room itself was big by Asian standards and had everything we could ask for. Booking a suite practically paid for itself, as we got access to the Executive Lounge, which meant we had complimentary coffee and snacks anytime, as well as afternoon tea, and most importantly, free cocktails in the evenings. Given the price of alcohol in Singapore, I may have drunk the equivalent of the room price!
We were also impressed with the food, with the breakfast buffet having pretty much everything we could want. The Holiday Inn also has a special kids menu for other meals, and kids under 12 get to eat free.
The kids also loved the rooftop pool, which I’m sure would be even nicer when the air isn’t filled with smoke!
I was a little concerned about how I was going to go at the Shangri-La, as big resorts are definitely not my thing. But on Sentosa, there’s no other option, so I chose the Shangri-La based on the fact it’s down the other end of the island to most of the action, and is the only resort on Sentosa which is beach front.
The welcome we got could not have been nicer, and the staff were fantastic. The rooms far exceeded my expectations, and instead of the tackiness I had half expected, the décor was stunning, with wood carvings, false wood floors and olive green material on the walls. It was also lovely to have our own balcony, which looked out over the gardens, to the pool and then to the ocean.
Speaking of the pool, it was one of the highlights of the resort. They use a filtration system to keep the water clean without loading it up with chemicals, and you can honestly tell the difference. There was also an adults only quiet zone in the pool, which I really appreciated and made great use of!
The grounds of the Shangri-La are lush and tropical, and there is even a quiet garden at the end of the resort which features dozens of unique plants and herbs, which the kids really enjoyed trying to identify. There’s also a koi pond and peacocks wandering through the grounds, which gives it a very natural feel.
Another thing I was really surprised by at the Shangri-La was the quality of the food. The breakfast buffet is about a kilometere long and has more food than I’ve ever seen in one place. The dinner options were also fantastic, and the food absolutely exceeded my expectations, with heaps of vegetarian dishes.
All in all, we loved this hotel. It may not have fully converted me to big resort holidays, but I definitely wouldn’t rule it out in future!
Avoid Singapore in September/early October.
Australian passport holders don't need a visa for Singapore.