Big City Life in Singapore
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Officially clocking in as the smallest nation in Southeast Asia, Singapore is decidedly anything from small. Home to nearly 5 million people and more high-rise apartment complexes than the sky can possibly handle, comparisons to Manhattan are easy to draw. In fact, as I write this, a car horn is blaring incessantly outside my hostel window…
Obviously a very proud city with an eclectic blend of Chinese, Malay, and Indian culture, Singapore goes above and beyond on seemingly everything it can possibly think of. The airport and public transportation facilities are immaculate, well-staffed, totally convenient, and people all over the city are eager to help and lend a hand. The variety and availability of mouth-watering ethnic cuisine at cheap prices is laughable, and with English as the official language getting around town couldn’t be any easier. Even the zoo is completely out of this world.
So, after slipping out of The Hive hostel on the outskirts of LIttle India, we acted on a tip from a fellow traveler and we spent our first morning taking in the world-famous Singapore Zoo. Aside from the fact that virtually every animal you could ask for is residing inside the complex, what makes the Singapore Zoo unique is the concept of open air pens and a seemingly total lack of cages and fencing. Irrigated moats separate many of the exhibits, and many of the animals are allowed to live freely as they would in their natural habitat. There is even a tree-top orangutan pen where you can walk through the canopy with free-swinging orangutans! Reachable by a $4 bus from the city center, the trip is well worth the $18 entry for the up close look at many animals you could only dream of seeing in the wild.
After the zoo it was time to head downtown into the urban chaos of the city center. Noticing an offer for a free tour of three festivals currently lighting up the town, I deviated from my anti-tour platform and hopped on a Hippo Bus down to Chinatown. While touristy and cheesy, some Hippo deals can be great for those on a tight city-budget. Needing to kill a couple of hours, Chinatown was totally the place to be. Endless hawker food stalls steam fresh plates of laksa and dumpling noodles, and tailors try their absolute hardest to make you a new pair of pants. Red lanterns swinging above the narrow alleyway, the city really starts to come alive with light once the sun finally drifts away.
Hopping on the upper level of a doubledecker bus, we whisked across town from Chinatown to Little India to take in the spectacular light display of the Singapore waterfront and the Deepavali Festival. On Serangoon Rd, the main vein of Little India, golden elephants peer down from lofty perches over tiled corner stores selling everything from phone cards to pig organ soup. Hindu temples illuminate sporadic sections of the thoroughfare, and endless pairs of slippers lying in the covered sidewalk denote the proximity of a temple in session. It is a vibrant section of the city to say the least.
Waking to torrential rain, we had to cancel our plan of an early morning run to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the last remaining rainforest reserve on Singapore island. It turned out to be alright, however, as we got our fair share of rainforest action over on the neighboring island of Pulau Ubin that afternoon once the rains ahd stopped. A densely forested and sparesly populated island, Pulau Ubin is best known for bike riding and seafood, both of which it offers in spades. The biking on the island is a perfect blend of pavement and off road, and the muddy trails wind under humdity soaked canopies as wild pigs chase rolling coconuts through the underbrush. Back in town, local restaurants serve up incredibly fresh plates of seafood fried rice for under $5, and a daytrip to Pulau Ubin is highly recommended for anyone looking to escape the city grind.