In 2017 my friends and I packed our bags for a place I never dreamt (or even thought) of visiting: Singapore.
The annual World Airline Road Race, or WARR, that year was set to take place in Singapore, hosted by Singapore Airlines. It would be my first time running what has now become my absolute favorite race. The best part of this race is exploring a new city (and country!) and interacting with flight crews from around the globe. The best part about this particular race in 2017 was that it gave me a great excuse to visit a destination that would never have made it to my top of list otherwise.
We had an awesome time in Singapore, and though I won’t be packing my bags to move there, I am certainly glad I went. Right now, the tiny Southeast Asian nation is in phase 2 of reopening within the country, but its borders are still mostly closed to U.S. citizens who are not permanent residents. It won’t always be that way, and I hope if you get the chance to go when this is all over, that you have an awesome time too. I put this list together to help.
Top 10 Things to Do in Singapore
1. Explore gardens from around the world and learn about cloud cover at the Gardens by the Bay.
One of Singapore’s top tourist attractions, Gardens by the Bay comprises 250 acres of land along the water. One of the domes on property houses flowers and vegetation from around the globe. The other contains the world’s tallest indoor waterfall and allows you to walk amongst the treetops, taking in the cool, misty air (a welcome change from the swelter that is Singapore) and various plant species. It is not only fun to immerse yourself in the green atmosphere, but there is an exhibit at the bottom that gives insight into climate change and the disappearance of much of the environment on display.
The Supertrees are one of the most famous landmarks in Singapore and can be seen at night lit up brilliantly. There is an aerial walkway from which you can view the Supertree Grove and the gardens below. Start your visit in late afternoon/early evening and stay for the light and music show once the sun goes down.
Spending the day, or evening, walking around the grounds will make you feel like you’ve melted into a Lisa Frank acid trip. The colors, the lights, the creatures and features, it looks as if reality were painted with vibrant, pure imagination. (Note: I wouldn’t recommend actually tripping, since Singapore has some of the strictest drug laws & penalties in the world.) This attraction is not to be missed.
2. Visit the top of the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel.
You’ve probably seen the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in photos as it’s a prominent part of the Singapore skyline. Its rooftop infinity pool—the largest in the world—perched high above the city on the 57th floor is the stuff of Instagram dreams. This is one of the most popular things to do in Singapore. If you have the budget to stay at the Marina Bay Sands hotel on your next trip to Singapore, do it—and invite me!
Rooms start at S$400, roughly $289 USD. A splurge for me if traveling solo, but not a bank-breaker for everyone. Don’t get it twisted though, those rates are for garden view. Stay on a weekend, during a busy time, or upgrade your room and the price only go up from there. Thinking about that going big with a high-level suite? Looking to take in all the harbor or skyline views from the comfort of a cushy bathrobe? These luxe rooms will run you in the range of S$2,000-6,000 PLUS! That’s a cool 4,000 USD per night. But like I said, if you want to invite me..
If this level of luxury is not in the budget, you can still get your fix of fancy shmancy and killer views by visiting the rooftop observation deck or one of the three restaurants at the top. A friend of mine who was living in Singapore at the time, brought me here on a girls’ day out. We each paid the S$23 entry fee to get up to the rooftop, but the money we paid could then be put towards our drink tab upstairs. We sat ourselves by a glass wall, overlooking the harbor and the long, long way down, and sipped on expensive, extravagant cocktails while we caught up. It isn’t quite the same as getting that infinity pool selfie, but for the price, it’s almost just as good.
3. Check out Chinatown.
Visit ornate temples, stroll down the street market, making sure to snack on some fresh fruit from a local vendor along the way. And EAT. You’ll find food that’s cheap, authentic, and fricken’ delicious. Purchase cosmetics and medications that might be more expensive or not over-the-counter elsewhere. Hey, I don’t make the rules.
From Hotels.com: 17 Best things to do in Singapore’s Chinatown
4. Watch the free lights and water show at the harbor.
Spectra, the show is called, happens twice a night, once at 8 and once at 9pm and lasts for 15 minutes. The water, colored by vivid lights is synchronized with the music and is mesmerizing. Think the Bellagio in Vegas, but with 1000x more thought, technology, and color put into it. It is a pretty dope way to spend fifteen minutes while you’re out and about in Singapore. There are viewing points all around the harbor, but our big group sat on the steps near the Louis Vuitton store, which also sparkled with lights during the show. In a city that can be pretttttty pricey, taking advantage of free entertainment is a definite boss move.
5. Be on your Best Behavior.
Singapore has some wild & interesting laws. From having some of the strictest drug laws & corresponding penalties in the world, to a ban on singing offensive songs, walking naked in your home (in front of windows), or the ever-famous chewing-gum ban, you can find rules that will make you laugh, cry or scratch your head. Singapore is big on surveillance, with much of the city being filmed at all times. While this brings up a lot of questions about privacy and rights, it also makes Singapore one of the safest destinations in the world to visit.
The criminalization of homosexuality was reaffirmed by courts in Singapore in 2020, which is not only terribly sad, but terribly surprising to me, after spending time there. At night, out with the boys, I was privy to a burgeoning and lively gay nightlife scene. It seems that this may be an on-the-books more than a strictly-enforced law, but I would have to take a deeper dive into Singapore social issues to say this for sure. Laws like this, that can be taken with a grain of salt for tourists visiting, are always more difficult for the locals who must live under them. I do hope that the officials in Singapore can get into step with the population, who largely support LGBT rights. In the meantime, I will say that there are plenty of places to bring your fiercest self, to meet like-minded kweens and to slay-all-day in Singapore. Just don’t get caught chewing gum!
See more weird Singapore Laws. Business Insider: 16 Odd things that are Illegal in Singapore
6. Let your flag fly
If having a gay local man offer to S*** your D***, and then look totally dismayed at finding out you don’t have one isn’t magical, then I don’t know what is.
That stuff I was just saying about Singapore and their anti-gay laws? Don’t let it stop you. I hit the gayborhood with my friends, and we found fun, full bars and a lot of variety. To be fair, I went with my male friends, so the lesbian scene in Singapore is not something I can speak on. We spent time at Tantric/May Wong’s Café, where the shocking but hilarious encounter mentioned above took place, and also at ebar, across the street.
Here is a great resource for traveling while LGBTQ in Singapore by the Nomadic Boys:Gay Singapore: bars, clubs, hotels & activities
And here is one from Travel Gay specifically on nightlife: Singapore gay bars & Dance clubs
7. Get henna’d in Little India.
Little India is SUCH a welcome change if you’ve spent most of your time in the more sterile, expensive, luxurious sections of Singapore (à la Quay, Marina Bay, and the Harbor). There is so much to see and do. Take your time moseying through the colorful markets full of bright traditional clothing, trinkets, watches, kid’s toys, and basically anything else you could imagine. Stop at one of the many henna artists to get painted. Prices are generally reasonable and negotiable (though I’d urge you to be fair and ethical anytime negotiating price in a foreign country.) And they are QUICK! Settle down to eat lunch at one of the bajillion restaurants dishing up curries and naan. THIS you will not regret. Our post-race eating, exploring, tattoo-getting girls’ afternoon in Little India was one of my favorite times with my friends in Singapore.
8. Get dressed and go out drankin’ in Clark Quay.
We asked around about where to go out at night and virtually everyone had the same answer: Clark Quay. (That’s pronounced “Key”) It’s a grouping of bars, restaurants and shopping along the river that lights up in brilliant colors at night. Was it my favorite spot? Def not, as a matter of fact, the vibe was a little chain-restaurant-over-hyped for my liking. (Think Orlando.) But this is decidedly the place to go for dancing and drinking, and my friends and I ALWAYS manage to have fun. Be forewarned: Cocktails are expensive. A vodka soda will run you somewhere around $20. Maybe have one or two at the hotel before you head out for the night. Will make the Quay more cool and your tab more manageable.
9. Spend the day on Arab street.
Visit the Sultan Mosque, mix up your own perfume or essential oils, pop into one of the many hip boutiques that line the street. Admire the street art bursting from the walls of buildings…and, of course, eat! You’ll find traditional Arab, Turkish and Malay food in this quarter. Quaint coffee shops, perfect for sipping a latte and writing a blog post, dot the neighborhood, as well as vintage clothes. This ‘hood is way cooler than the impressive but sterile Quay and Harbor, and you must spend an afternoon here.
scenes from Arab Street
Top of Marina Bay Sands
10. Run a road race!
Our course was a double loop that made its way around the harbor past some of the major tourist attractions: Over the helix bridge, past the Merlion statue, and then Lotus shaped Art & Science Museum. We began and ended at the Floating Stadium, and this course would have been a great overview of some of the sights, had we not already spent a lot of time in the harbor area in the days leading up to the race. Also, since Megan, my running buddy, and I ran both the 10k and the 5k back-to-back, these sights became a little too familiar by the end. (Note to race organizers out there: NO Repeats=Happy racers!)
Still, watching the sun rising between the Singapore Flyer and the Marina Bay Sands was quite an experience.
Bonus if you win a trophy!
And there you have it. My top ten things to do in Singapore. All of these things were significantly more fun because of the awesome people I did them with. I don’t think this is a destination I would repeat visit, but boy oh boy, we had a good time.
Thinking back on all the different neighborhoods explored, all the foods and sights and drunken nights, and all the fun we’ve had running around the world together has me feeling some serious gratitude. That I still have this incredible job, even as we make our way through new phases of the pandemic. That, through this incredible job, I got the opportunity to meet so many like-minded people. That, even if I lose my out-of-this-world, best-ever job tomorrow, I know that I spent the last six years taking full advantage of every moment. The doors that have been opened, the perspective, the opportunities, the expanded horizons, the people are all things for which I am so, so grateful.
And, with that being said, thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. I hope it will be useful to you in the not-too-distant future.
‘Til next time…