Exploring Singapore: From the Utopian Center to the Graffiti Streets

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The brave Merlion Statue is a symbol of good luck in Singapore.

Singapore is a vibrant and and multicultural country off the coast of Malaysia with a gorgeous bay, beautiful gardens, and picturesque beaches on its southern resort island, Sentosa.  Similar to Hong Kong, the island capital Pulau Ujong is highly condensed with shopping districts and bars which means you can easily travel to a lot of destinations on foot.  Though it is somewhat expensive to live here due to the cost of fuel and electricity and lack of natural reserves, there are many backpacker hostels and cheap transport options (buses, Grab, and the MTR) that are readily available.  I would recommend staying 2-3 days here to see the major attractions.  You do not need any special visa to enter Singapore for the purpose of travel, and almost everyone in this country speaks very good English.

What fascinates me about this country is the center of the city is really futuristic and looks liked something out of a Utopian society, but the suburbs (where I stayed at in Spacepod) have a huge Turkish and Indian population, so all the temples and shops look like structures from another planet.  Each part of the city has extremely intricate architecture everywhere you look.  There are clear influences of Japanese culture here too; you can tell by the way some foods are prepared and the interior decor of certain places.  When traveling here you’ll truly find a fascinating blend of cultures!

Here are the four main areas of Singapore that I recommend exploring, and I will be writing a guide to Sentosa Island as well.

Worldly Temples

From my hostel, I decided to walk towards the City Square Mall to the public transit and stop by the nearby temples.  I saw a variety of Hindu and Buddhist temples including Sri Srinivasa, Leong San, and Sakya Muni Buddha.  It was surreal to see so many different worldly temples in such close proximity together!  They were absolutely beautiful and only required a small donation to go fully inside.

Since I went here during the obon season where people believe their ancestors’ souls return to Earth, there were a lot of ceremonies and decorations around.  Anyone is welcome to enter the temples as long as they follow the dress code.  For those wearing short sleeves or dresses, there are usually cloths available for cheap rental so you can cover yourself up appropriately before you go inside.

Singapore’s Chinatown, which you can reach by the MTR, also has a number of Chinese temples worth seeing.  I recommend checking some of them out because they don’t take that much time to see.

Haji Lane

After seeing the temples, I decided to continue walking south to Singapore’s Hipster Street: Haji Lane.  This neighborhood is full of beautiful graffiti murals, shopping boutiques, as well as restaurants and bars popular for day drinking.  This is definitely an exciting place to come and mingle!  I stopped at Pita Bakery for some delicious bread and hummus, then walked to Singapore’s popular outdoor art gallery: Gelam Gallery.  There were so many gorgeous hand-painted and graffiti-sprayed original works of art there that I felt as if I had entered a wonderland of psychedelic colors.  I recommend walking though all of the little streets and back alleys because you’ll never know what you’ll find!

Sultan Mosque

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At the end of Haji Lane is the Sultan Mosque, which was originally home of Singapore’s first sultan.  Its gold roof gleams beautifully in the sunny weather and looks almost tropical facing the palm trees!  There are visitation hours where you can enter and go inside the glass domes that are a unique part of Muslim architecture.  There are also a lot of Middle Eastern restaurants around for those who are interested in trying some local food.  This was my first time seeing a mosque and I was grateful for the opportunity to learn about a new culture.

The Merlion

The Merlion is a half-mermaid, half-lion mascot that watches over Singapore and is said to bring good luck!  The head of the Merlion represents Singapore’s original name, Singapura, or ‘lion city’ in Malay.  Its four teeth represent the four main ethnic groups that reside in Singapore: Malay, Chinese, Indian & Eurasian.  The Merlion just may be my favorite mascot in the world because I love how much symbolism was put into its design.

I rode the MTR from the Sultan Mosque to reach Merlion Park.  From Merlion Park, you can get a beautiful picture with the Merlion jetting water out of its mouth, and also eat Merlion ice cream from the shop nearby!

There is also a Merlion Observatory Statue you can see on Sentosa Island which I will be writing about in my next article.

Gardens by the Bay

When the sun finally set, I decided to go out again and see Singapore’s famous gardens illuminated at night.  Gardens by the Bay was designed by professional landscapers and engineers boasting over 100 gardens housed with state of the art technology.  My favorite garden was the Supertree Grove, where you can see the giant trees with dazzling lights that Singapore is famous for.  There is also a Skyway available so you can see a great view of the famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the surrounding area.  This area is quite large, so I recommend giving yourself at least an hour and a half to see everything.

Gardens by the Bay is located near the Merlion and stays open from 5am – 2am.  You can easily access them by riding the MTR.  The entrance price is $28 at the door, but you can get cheaper prices online or by asking most hostels.

As you can see, Singapore is influenced by many different cultures and is definitely worth traveling to for this unique experience.  I was happy I started with the historic temples and ended with the futuristic gardens, because it really gave me the chance to see everything.

For more information on Singapore’s nightlife, please see my Favorite Bars in Singapore article.

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