A taste of Singapore…our first impressions, observations and a few interesting Singapore facts

singapore sunset from top of marina bay sands

Last Updated on October 7, 2021

Singapore was a bit of a mystery to us before our recent visit… how is that some countries in South East Asia exist in messy, varying stages of development and Singapore boasts incredible architecture, essentially no crime and one of the most resilient economies in the world?kampong glam with sultan mosqueThis stark contrast really smacked us in the face, flying straight in from Cambodia. Singapore is a city-state (like Monaco or Vatican City), but really just feels like a cosmopolitan mega-city, whereas even in Cambodia’s largest city of Phnom Penh we witnessed remaining signs of rural life. Where much of Cambodia has dirt roads, Singapore has highways. While Cambodians haul livestock on mopeds, Singaporeans haul iPads in brand new Mercedes.

The disparity was shocking, but it was not difficult to jump right in to urban life. We had always heard that Singapore was this kind of Asian wunderkind and can confirm the rumors to be true. One of our first observations about Singapore: The public transportation system is modern, clean and on time.

Another fascinating Singapore fact: 5.8 million people are successfully housed in high rises across only 272 square miles. There are no homeless people, at least none that we saw and we did some definite exploring outside of popular spots like Marina Bay in the week we were in town.singapore factsIn fact, we probably walked an average of 10 miles a day while in Singapore, not including our strolls through the twenty or so mega malls that line Orchard St. There are enough touristy things to do to keep visitors busy for weeks, including highlights such as the Singapore Flyer observation wheel, countless museums, the popular Singapore Night Safari, beautiful Botanical Gardens, Chinese Buddhist and Indian Hindu temples, and even a Universal Studios Theme Park.

We couchsurfed in a friendly neighborhood, made it out to a farm, went to the eccentric Haw Par Villa, Sentosa Island, but no matter how much we took in, many of my questions about Singapore were left unanswered. For now, we want to take you on a quick photo-tour of this magnificent city, share some of our first impressions and observations about Singapore.

Singapore facts
Arab Street, Singapore

One of our favorite neighborhoods was Kampong Glam, Singapore’s ‘muslim quarter’ – there are mosques, muslim schools, arabic cafes and along Arab Street, you can find Persian rug stores, burkah shops, Turkish cafes and Egyptian restaurants. The whole area is filled with colorful Chinese shophouses, the streets are lined with palm trees and cafes spill out on the sidewalks.kampong glam lampkampong glam street

Palm tree-lined street in Kampong Glam

singapore muslim wedding
A Muslim wedding at the Sultan Mosque
Singapore facts
Turkish influences in Kampong Glam

This neighborhood has loads of street art, colorful murals and mosaics.

kampong glam muralkampong glam street artstreet art in kampong glamWe loved that the traditional neighborhoods like Little India, Chinatown and Geylang Serai remain much the way they always were, despite more and more skyscrapers going up in downtown Singapore, billion dollar hotel projects, futuristic eco-gardens and the newly designed Marina Bay Promenade.

Singapore observations
The Marina Bay Sands Building and Singapore’s mascot, the Merlion.
singapore at night from marina bay sands
Singapore’s skyscrapers at night

singapore skyscrapers

esplanade singapore
Singapore’s futuristic Esplanade Theater

singapore esplanade theater

singapore marina bay sands
More futuristic architecture: the lotus flower-shaped Arts & Science Museum in front of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel Casino

singapore with flyerWe loved that there were still old-fashioned ice cream vendors at Marina Bay, despite the modern buildings and the revamped promenade. We had to of course try Singapore’s special ice cream sandwich: mango ice cream in white toast.

singapore ice cream sandwichWe found that Singapore in general seems to have a sweet tooth – there are hundreds of bakeries around town – much to Dani’s delight…cream puffs singaporeStarbucks in Singapore has some of the most delicious cakes we’ve come across, better than most Starbucks cafes around the world for sure…peanutbutter cake in singaporeYes, there are plenty of Starbucks, Coffee Bean and other coffee shops, but we loved that there are just as many traditional Singaporean coffee houses, where coffee is still made the old-fashioned way.

Singapore observations

Singapore factsA well known fact about Singapore is that it is sometimes called ‘the police state of South East Asia’, or the double entrende ‘FINE city‘ and for good reason. There are many laws that are strongly enforced with huge fines, like up to $500 for eating or drinking on public transportation. Just in case you are nervous about breaking a law, don’t worry, as there will most definitely be a sign for that. Contrary to popular belief, gum-chewing is no longer illegal but you can’t buy it in the country. However, the rules do seem to actually work here: Singapore is by far the cleanest city we’ve visited in South East Asia, and where we felt the safest.

sentosa island beachWho would have thought that Singapore has gorgeous beaches like this? Sentosa Island is the perfect getaway from the city – just a short 10-minute gondola or metro ride across the bay.

Singapore observations
View towards Sentosa Island from the Singapore Cable Car

The creepiest place in Singapore? Definitely Haw Par Villa, founded by the brothers who invented the infamous Tiger Balm (read more about it here.)

haw par villa singapore 10 courts of hellhaw par villa singapore feetless ratOverall, we loved how colorful Singapore is – no matter which neighborhood we strolled through, the houses were always painted in bright colors, like here in Clarke Quay.Singapore factskampong glam bullchinatown singapore

Colorful Chinatown

colorful building in singapore

We also loved the many hawker food stalls all over Singapore and in the food markets, as well as the busy street markets.Singapore observationsSingapore observationsAuthentic Indian Idli in Singapore

dani & jess southern most point of asiaWe made it to the southern most point of Continental Asia!


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    1. It is an interesting piece of architecture Annie, I hated it at first…but now I actually really like it. And the views are really incredible.

  1. All these looks so great!! I think I can walk 10 miles in Singapore too. It is a small place full of interesting places to visit.

  2. Haha, the gum chewing law caught my cousin out once, she’ll be glad to know it’s no longer in effect. I’ve heard great things about the night safari in the Singapore Zoo!

    1. What did they do with your cousin, Lindsey? Did she just have to pay a fine? We heard great things about the night safari, too, but we’re both not really big zoo fans, so we didn’t go.

  3. I’ve been to Singapore several times but never been to Kampong Glam. Next month I must go there..for the murals! thanks for sharing the pictures πŸ™‚

    1. Vira – absolutely! Kampong Glam is well worth a visit, not just for the murals. Such a cute little neighborhood, doesn’t feel like a big city at all. And there is so much street art… I took dozens of photos!

    1. I loved the Art & Science Museum too, Barbara, and it’s one of the Must-visit-places for our next visit. I was bummed that we didn’t have time to go inside.

    1. Yesss, we did have kaya toast and it was delicious!! We also loved the peanut sandwiches! Should’ve both been included here because it’s one of the best things about Singapore πŸ™‚

  4. You two did an amazing job of seeing and documenting Singapore! We were only there for two days, straight from America, so we didn’t see nearly as much as I had hoped. Although it was an incredibly easy transition into Southeast Asia, seeing as everything was in English, and how developed it was. This post made me want to travel back there and explore some more πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks, Laura! You are right, Singapore is a really easy transition into Asia – we love the mix between traditional Asian and Western culture there. We were surprised to find out that it’s one of the 10 richest countries in the world – even richer than the U.S. and Switzerland! We spent a week there and we still didn’t manage to see all the places we wanted to check out… a great excuse to go back πŸ™‚

  5. Wow, you guys really did get around town! Can’t wait to read more of your impressions. By the way, you *can* buy gum in Singapore — it’s just only available in pharmacies.

    1. Edna – your tips definitely helped!! Thanks so much again for all the recommendations. And thanks for letting us know about the chewing gum – good to know for our next visit πŸ˜‰ We will return for sure!

  6. Wow I didn’t know it was so colorful. Most people I hear talk about Singapore right it off as just another big city in the world. From the looks of it though it has a lot to offer. I am interested in visiting while I am in SEA. Hell I’d go there for the street art alone.

    1. Jaime – it is definitely a big city, but it has a very unique character. Should definitely be on your list of places to visit in South East Asia… it’s an amazing place! And best place for street art in South East Asia.

    1. The skyscrapers actually only make up a small part of Singapore – there’s so much more beyond that! Kampong Glam was one of our favorite neighborhoods, but we also loved Little India and Chinatown.

  7. I love Singapore, mainly for the food. To me, it is one of the world’s best food cities, second only to Tokyo. Where else can you get so many different cuisines at a very low price, while also not having to worry about sanitation?

    1. Daniel, you’re so right – Singapore is that coveted sweet spot of delicious street food meeting acceptable sanitary conditions – which equal maximum mouth-stuffing power!

  8. This was right before we met up, right? Yeah, sadly we only drove through Singapore ,but we did stop at a hawker center for some laksa, and it sure lived up to the hype. Definitely an intriguing mix of things going on in Singapore.

    1. Yes, that’s right, Scott. We had such a great time there, I hope you’ll get to visit Singapore properly one day. A hawker center is a good start though πŸ˜‰

  9. One of the less known facts about Singapore is that there’s a Thieves’ Market / Flea Market on Sungei Road. Anything from second hand clothing and shoes to old coins, bags, cameras and other electronic items. We found the vendors to be very elderly people. The market is typical of any Asian city but very ‘un Singaporean’ :p

    Thank you for those cool pics and interesting info on ‘The Lion City’ πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks so much for sharing this, Arun! We’ll make sure to visit this flea market next time we’re in town – definitely something we’d enjoy.. a shame that we didn’t know about it before our last visit.

  10. The only and only one word which is perfect to describe Singapore is just incredible. Singapore is just out of our imaginations, Singapore is really very beautiful. Its culture, food, festivals and moreover, Singaporeans over there, everything is awesome.

  11. Haw Par Villa seems really interesting (a bit creepy though). I’ve been living in Singapore for half a decade and haven’t been there myself; looks like you really did make the most out of your Singapore travel experience. And the ice cream sandwich, God I love those!

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