As far as I can tell, Singapore seems fabled in the American lexicon for one thing, and one thing only: illegal chewing gum. I remember so clearly learning about this in elementary school and thinking, among a few other places, that this was about as far outside my world as I could imagine. A place where the government decides everything, even the availability of chewing gum! In Singapore, I thought, everything must be so clean, so precise.
And so, I stepped off the plane from Hanoi into what is routinely voted the world’s best airport and had a look for myself. First stop customs: on the counter was one basket of candies, for while you wait of course, and a tiny receptacle, for ‘candy wrappers only’. Where was I? The bathrooms had touch screens with surveys for you to rate your experience. Walking to the ground floor, we hopped on the spotless MRT subway system, and with the help of our free city map, easily found our stop three lines over. Then it was onto the street, where there was not a single piece of litter and everyone used the crosswalk. And so it was, the fabled land.
As one of the richest nations in the world, the city-state-country of Singapore rests far outside our meager traveler’s budget, making it a place that had to be seen but not one for lingering. Two nights and a day for Singapore. True to character, we spent most of our time at the city’s free, sprawling botanical gardens.
We just hopped off the MRT at the stop labeled Botanic Garden and turned right into a stunning expanse of greenery; every part of this sentence unimaginable in our last six weeks of travel. With flashy tourist attractions like the island-dwelling Universal Studios, the “world’s first angry birds cable car experience”, and many other self-proclaimed biggest and brightest and firsts, it would be easy (and confusing) to blow a week’s Malaysian travel budget on a single day in Singapore. Luckily, we are suckers for flora; wandering instead for hours in a lush urban landscape.
Throw in lunch in Little India, dinner at the People’s Park Complex of Chinatown (great for a $3 backpacker’s feast), and an unexpected visit to an MRT-attached shopping mall which boasted $15,000 furniture and $200 steak dinners for two, and we found our way through one day in Singapore: