My Family Adventure: Singapore Swing
By: Esme Taylor, contributing writer
Children: Arlo (5), Yasmine (4)
If, like us, you’re looking for a child-friendly introduction to Asian culture without getting your flip flops too grubby, then the garden city is the place to be. Singapore is a tropical, buzzy melting pot of pan-Asian culture with infrastructure that knocks the socks off any city I’ve seen. It’s Summer the year round, has children from all over the world to play with at rooftop ‘sky parks,’ (now a pre-requisite to all new builds) and outdoor water parks wherever you go. They seem to have it all worked out.
Super small and very easily accessible, Singapore is impeccably clean and culturally and culinarily miraculous. They’re so resourceful with what little space they have here, the main road from the airport doubles up as a runway.
Cutting edge horticulture of gargantuan proportions make for real-life James and the Giant Peach style adventure at the Botanical Gardens. Reached by the air conditioned MRT (get off at the stop aptly named ‘Botanic Gardens’) a whole day is easily whiled away gathering and identifying dropped seeds, leaves and fruits. At the far eastern edge of the 183 acres of verdant intrigue lies Jacob Ballas’ Children’s Garden, home to several play areas and water fountains. These were a huge hit with the sweaty children. Take lots of water.
You can’t avoid a bit of trinket shopping in a city as colourful as Singapore, even on a budget, and both Temple Street in Chinatown and the Serangoon Road in Little India offered the smalls’ top finds of bhindis and a lucky gold cat. Haji Lane, Arab Street and Cluny Court have some great indie labels for adults and children.
Whichever side of the ethical fence you sit on, it’s hard not to be impressed by Singapore Zoo, of 2008 tiger-attacks-cleaner fame. With enormous, quasi-open enclosures, it’s revelatory in terms of animal interaction and habitat authenticity. The smalls’ favourites were the boat ride, enormous false gavial, Asian elephants and Bornean Orangutans. The water slides were essential for a midday cool off, and since it’s a bit of a (MRT and) bus ride north of town, we squeezed in the adjacent river safari into the same day.
Opened just last year, the river safari is a beacon amongst aquariums. Walk through exhibits of the Amazon, Mississippi, Congo, Ganges, Nile, Mekong and Yangtze, there’s an enormous tank for the manatee (its really difficult to describe just how big it is) and the Giant Panda was, for us, a once in a lifetime experience, very much worth queuing for.
Cities have a reputation for being expensive, in my opinion; it’s largely the cost of accommodation. Once this is sorted, (it pays to have a pool in the tropics) it shouldn’t cost much at all – take packed lunches or eat at hawker centres, public transport is very cheap, and the majority of children’s’ attractions are free.
We spent a week in Singapore – which is probably about right. Any less isn’t really enough time to see what’s on top, let alone scratch the surface.
The Best Part
The smells, tastes and bustle of Singapore’s Little India was one my fondest travel memories as a child, and, for posterity, I wanted to share it with mine. Sri Veeramakaliamman temple on Serangoon Road is well worth a look; gilded deities adorned with floral garlands (leave your shoes at the pile by the entrance).
For amazing ‘hands-in’ South Indian vegetarian food, we went to Komala Villas on the Serangoon Road – authentic and super cheap. Popping holes in bhattura to let steam out of the ‘space ship’ was a winner, as were the ‘hat’ shaped dosai. For a more modern setting, the newly opened MTR (Mevalli Tiffin Rooms) is only marginally more expensive, and the food just as good.
Three Things You Should Definitely Do
1. Sunday brunch at Sentosa’s Shangrila is worth the splurge if the occasion arises. There’s a magic show and balloon sculpting and pools for the children and free flow wine and divine seafood for grown ups $138 (children are free)
2. The nightly lightshow at Gardens by the Bay Held daily at 7.45pm.
3. The sunset view of the Marina Bay Sands from The (durian shaped) Esplanade.
Esme Taylor writes about travel and family from Hampshire in the UK. She is a regular contributor to Mr Fox Magazine
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