So, you’ve only got a few days in Singapore?
Singapore is home to the best airport in the world with everything you can possibly need for an entertaining layover—Shake Shack, Tokyu Hands, Guardian, Apple to name a few—or emergency. It has an abundance of shopping centers in every corner (see Orchard Road) but there’s more to the island city-state than modern establishments and ubiquitous hawker centers. Just see for yourself!
Opening Hours: 10AM to 7PM daily
Address: 6 Bayfront Ave, Singapore
Fee: $18 (Single Exhibit for Adults)
You can find everything in Marina Bay Sands from luxury retail stores, a SkyPark to the ArtScience Museum. The world-class exhibition space fuses the relationship between art, science, technology and culture. Future World: Where Art Meets Science is a permanent exhibit made in collaboration with Tokyo’s teamLab art collective. Meanwhile, 2219: Futures Imagined and the Disney: Magic of Animation are temporary until the summer of 2020. Book your tickets online here.
Bras Basah Complex or “The Book City”
Address: 231 Bain Street, Singapore
On my way to the National Library, I chanced upon a building crowded with secondhand bookstores showcasing a broad selection of titles new and old. Bras Basah Complex, otherwise known as “The Book City,” is a haven for bookworms. The communal retail space built in the ’80s has five floors of shops featuring contemporary bestsellers, classic literature, scholarly publications and rare gems—some which are already out of print.
A favorite is Evernew Bookstore, which has been around since 1988. The owners host book fairs in different shopping centers all year round. The hideaway is adorned in Communist paraphernalia dating back from China’s bloody 10-year Cultural Revolution. Here, I chanced upon Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists and On Love in mint condition—still with the Kinokuniya price tag attached. Books from renowned authors like C.S. Lewis, Haruki Murakami, Jonathan Franzen and more are also available.
Opening Hours: 10AM to 9PM daily
Address: 100 Victoria St., Singapore
If you have time to slow down and do a bit of reading, I highly recommend passing through the Nationa Library. It houses the Central Public Library, the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library and the Drama Centre. It’s also home to My Tree House, the world’s first green library for children. Guest speakers also have literary events such as book launches, exhibitions and meet-and-greet sessions in the area.
Little India is a vibrant cultural heritage site known for its affordable shopping and food (see the Tekka Hawker Centre.) It is an enclave for places of worship, shopping centers like the Mustafa Centre (open for 24 hours), the Indian Heritage Centre housing a wide range of Indian artifacts and more. If you have time to go around, visit Arab Street, Singapore’s historic Muslim neighborhood and hub for creatives.
After an hour of looking around Little India, I spotted Chimichanga, a Mexican restaurant and bar tucked inside. It has a fine selection of tacos, quesadilla, chimichanga and burrito to satisfy your cravings. The Salt Pork Tinga Chimichanga ($12) is a must-try!
A cautionary message for women: Maybe don’t travel alone. It’s very uncomfortable to wander around the area with men constantly looking at you. I thought I was exaggerating until I read similar reviews and comments about the place.
Opening Hours: 10AM to 9PM daily
Address: 810 Geylang Road
I researched “cheap clothing in Singapore” and was pointed to City Plaza, their Greenhills-like shopping center. Clothes, vintage toys and beauty products are for sale. None of my purchases exceeded $10 but some of the pricier items in some stalls ranged from $40 to $70. Considered an alternative to flea markets, secondhand boutique REFASH—Singapore’s largest online and offline store—is also located in the area.
Note: Keep in mind that Geylang is the infamous red-light district of Singapore.
Opening Hours: Sat to Thu: 10AM to 7PM, Fri: 10AM to 9PM
Address: 1 St. Andrew’s Rd, Singapore
Fee: $20 for non-Singaporeans
National Gallery Singapore is home to the largest public collection of Singapore and Southeast Asian modern art in the world. It is housed in two national monuments, the Supreme Court and City Hall, which have been restored over the years. Guided tours are free of charge; limited slots are available online or at the Gallery’s Ticketing Counters (Basement 1.) For visitors who prefer to explore at their own pace, the Gallery Explorer App is also available for download.
In Suddenly Turning Visible, the interconnection between art and architecture is examined. In 1981, Filipino artist and curator Raymundo Albano used the phrase “suddenly turning visible” to describe the rapid transformation of the urban landscape in Manila. The show running until March 2020 traces the story among three influential art institutions within Southeast Asia.
Showcasing an overwhelming barrage of color, Chinatown is a melting pot of cultures. It’s also a photographer’s dream with Chinese murals, temples and boutiques. It has crisscross roads with places of worship like the Thian Hock Keng and the Sri Mariamman Temple. For a feast to remember, restaurants and stalls with mouthwatering dishes are found in every corner.
During my travel, it rained for a short while, and I sought shelter in the nearest building, which just so happened to be the Singapore Coffee Museum housed under Nanyang Old Coffee. It is described as a “traditional café with a touch of contemporary image.” I read a few pages of I Am Malala while drinking their Iced Blended Kopi with a generous serving of condensed milk.
Singapore is a foolproof destination for travel enthusiasts and creatives alike—and for good reason. Spend a few days, and you’ll easily fall in love with the area brimming with history and culture.
Photos Elisa Aquino
Art Alexandra Lara