16 May 5 Things That Surprised Me About Singapore
I admit it. I flew into Singapore with some sort of expectations. I hate doing that when visiting new places. I like to allow my senses to do the exploring from scratch, and not be biased. Forget what I read and thought and just open my senses, take it all in, and be humbled. Be changed. But with a well visited place like Singapore, it was hard not to imagine something.
I pictured a futuristic feeling, pristine streets- almost sterile, eclectic mix of people and sky rocket prices.
I did find all of that. But it was the details that I couldn’t read about in guidebooks, and the little things, what made Singapore unique for me. It’s what creates its identity.
During our time there I often found myself surprised by this and that and slowly this list came to be.
Here are 5 things that surprised me about Singapore, which without, Singapore wouldn’t be what it is.
1) The ahhh-mazing bakeries.
Think of an Asian country. Any country. What’s the first thing that pops in your mind?
You may have thought of beaches, temples, culture, friendly locals, adventure. But I bet not a single one of you lusted for the smell of homemade bread, that your mouth didn’t water imagining a buttery croissant melting in your mouth, nor did you picture tenths of bakeries around the city.
I didn’t either. Those are the kind of thoughts I reserve for my loving relationship with France.
Well, the baking culture in Singapore blew my mind. I was hesitant of trying it at first. After all, wasn’t I supposed to go looking for noodles, rice, and curry? But we were running late one morning and the quickest bite we could find was at a bakery.
Nothing was ever the same. I think we went to five more bakeries before we left. We just couldn’t get enough! It became a problem. We tried garlic bread, puffs, croissants, green tea madeleines, kaya waffles, butter and sugar loafs…you name it. I don’t know how they do it, but if someone asks me reasons to visit Singapore now, I’ll definitely throw the bakeries in.
2) Southern Ridges
Again, when I thought about Singapore, this urban, almost sexy destination, I didn’t think it would have as much green areas as it does. Guess it’s hard to remember, as you’re looking at Singapore’s skyline, that it’s actually right in the middle of the jungle. It is though, and there are places where you can appreciate this.
Southern Ridges is a multi-park trail with views of the jungle and the ocean, and it’s one of the things we enjoyed most during our time here. We almost missed it, but we made time on our last night and walked the stretch that goes from Kent Ridge Park to Mt Faber.
Boy, am I glad we did.
It’s an easy-but long-trek through the jungle, without ever leaving Singapore’s modern architecture behind. It’s unlike anything we’d ever seen. All parks are different, each with its own quirkiness. There are themed parks, elevated walkways which have you walking through the tree-canopies, sculpturally marvellous walkways suspended above the forest trail, and viewpoints over Mt Faber. If I lived in Singapore you’d probably find me at Southern Ridges every day. It’s perfect for working out (though I salute anyone who can do a single push up in that kind of humidity), walking, or just chilling and watching the sun set.
If Singapore had already impressed me with its city-like glamour, discovering that it also has a place like this was like the rainbow sprinkles on my frozen yoghurt.
3) The too-fake Sentosa
We’d obviously heard and read quite a lot about Sentosa before visiting. The selfie by the world at Universal Studios must be one of the most popular photos of the city. But it did surprise me, and I’m sad to say that not in a good way.
I already said it here, but I felt like it was too touristy, too fake and too complicated. Sort of like Disneyland without the smiles, and the idiot proof maps. I’d been amazed by Singapore the first few days, exploring Chinatown, Pulau Ubin Marina Bay, and the Quays, so I’d thought Sentosa would be just as cool.
In my opinion, it wasn’t.
We didn’t go to Universal because we’d just been to the one in California recently and the waterparks looked way too crowded for actually enjoying them. We found that even though the buses that take you around the island are free, understanding the system can be a little difficult (especially in the heat)
We got to do two cool things though. Always try and have a good time wherever you are, right?
What surprised me the most was that a culturally rich, completely clean and structured city like Singapore could have a place like Sentosa. If we ever go back to Singapore, I’ll try to give Sentosa a second chance to see if we can discover why so many people find it so alluring. But for now, we leave disappointed.
4) Gardens by the Bay
These gardens surprised me in a whole different way. I’d read all about them before seeing them so I couldn’t be surprised by their existence. But actually laying eyes on them was a whole other story. It was an amazed, jaw-plopped-open kind of surprise.
“Wow” is the most eloquent word I can think of for describing this futuristic garden, where I felt as if I’d unknowingly stepped into an Avatar’s scene. It’s a fantasyland and I seriously couldn’t stop muttering wow, wow over and over again.
It sprawls 101 hectares, and just as it says in the Lonely Planet, “it’s as thrilling to architecture buffs as it is to nature lovers” and I’d add- and everyone in between.
The supertrees are genius work of botanical art. Day, night, or during the nighttime Garden Rhapsody sound and light show, they are always mesmerizing. When people back home saw some of our pictures I got all these kind of comments like: “You look like Alice in Wonderland of the future,” or “it looks like a celestial postcard from another solar system,” and I couldn’t help but nod at all of them. That’s the kind of feelings these 18 soaring structures inspire.
Then, there’s also the Conservatories. The Flower Dome is a multilvel green house host to flowers from all over the world. We were there the day of the Tulip festival opening but it was so early on that most of the tulips hadn’t bloomed. I just can’t imagine what it will look like when all the flowers open and paint with color the entire first floor.
The Cloud Forest also feels like an alien planet, as steam covers the forest, and it has you shivering the whole way down and around the waterfall, as it replicates the climate at a 3000m elevation. If you let your mind wander, you can almost really feel like you’re in the clouds.
Then, I learned that the gardens are environmentally sustainable and that they make efforts to educate all visitors on climate change, so I was pleasantly surprised all over again.
5) Cultural Diversity
One morning you’re strolling in futuristic Singapore in Gardens by the Bay, by mid afternoon you’ve stepped into a tale from Arabian Nights in Kampong Glam, by dinnertime you’re already enjoying steamed dumplings in Chinatown. The next day you have brunch with Singapore’s hipsters at Tiong Bahru, and later on you let your feet drag you all the way to colorful, vibrant, pungent-smelly Little India. By nightime you’re already back in sleek Singapore in Marina Bay and the Quays.
It’s diverse, it’s rich, and it’s proud about it.
And the best part of it all? It all seems real and authentic. Maybe all the neighborhoods are modern, just as the city they’re a part of, but the essence of each place is, without a doubt, laying at their core.
Singapore as a whole captivated me. It’s a special destination. One no one should rush into getting to know. And just as these five things, there are a hundred other tiny things that caught my eye in a day to day basis. Despite my expectations I let myself discover Singapore through my own perspective, and I’m glad to say it was a sweet surprise.
Have you been to Singapore? What are some thing that surprised you? Have you been pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised by a destination? Let me know in the comment section below.