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Singapore can be a surprise for first-timers

Travel News from Stuff - 14-11-2022 stuff.co.nz

With the travel corridor between New Zealand and Singapore now open, it is the perfect time to visit the city for the first time. If you have never been, here are a few things that may surprise you.

We have all heard about the island nation's hatred of chewing gum but it is true that Singapore is obsessed with order. It has been a bit of a Covid-19 success story by following strict rules.

Masks are still required on public transport and are encouraged for indoor settings. Get the TraceTogether app before you go as a precaution and carry proof of your vaccination as soon as you leave the house. See:

Another fun "rule" is the practice of "choping". If you see a packet of tissues sitting alone on an empty hawker table, that table has been choped, or reserved, and the owner of the tissues is off ordering their chicken rice. Ignore this modern day planting of a territorial flag at your peril but how much space one tissue pack can reserve is still a matter of national debate.

Singapore has a reputation for fleecing foreigners but if you live like a local you can eat well at hawker stalls, shop at local designer stores and get out and into nature for next to nothing.

There is even a Makan Index (see:) that keeps an eye on hawker food and can point to the cheapest neighbourhoods to eat out in.

And taxis costs are minimal compared with the rest of the world, so grab your Comfort DelGro taxi app and take them everywhere.

Once a place has four walls and air-conditioning, prepare to pay big bucks. If it is an expat hangout, expect the price to rise even higher.

This is definitely a two-speed economy where you can pay $80 for a bottle of mid-shelf Jacob's Creek and fork out four to five times the price of the same beef you could be eating at home, but with more air miles to its name.

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That said, you do want to have that one cocktail next to the infinity pool at Marina Bay Sands. See:

Sunday is when all the helpers and nannies get the day off (if they are lucky) and, with no homes to entertain people in, they all hit the streets, parks and shopping malls. It really brings some areas to life with mini-parties and boom boxes (pre-Covid) but if you are after a quiet picnic, go for Saturday.

Singapore is known as a sterile cityscape but there are pockets of the island that are so full of greenery you would need a machete to get through the dense foliage.

MacRitchie Reservoir Park is a thick green rainforest in the middle of the island, a few hundred metres from apartment blocks.

The reserve is home to gangs of marauding macaques who will steal your lunch and disappear into the stands of rubber trees never to be seen again. And, with cleaner waterways and the Covid lockdowns, otters have returned to the Singapore River and Marina Bay area. See:

A surprising amount of the Lion City is connected via tunnels that can keep you out of the steaming midday heat or stop you getting soaked in a tropical downpour.

You can shop for hours, or even days, in Orchard Road and never have to breathe fresh air, or you can explore the network of tunnels around the Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) full of shops, train stations and plenty of buskers.

Anyone who has travelled through Asia knows that Buddha was pretty careless with his belongings and body parts, with temples to his handprints, robes and even teeth.

The fourth floor of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum in Singapore's Chinatown is an oasis away from the shopping and eating down below. There is even a giant prayer wheel for you to spin. See:

Yes, you have to have a Singapore Sling at Raffles, the hotel that emerged recently from an 18-month mega-renovation. It has retained its 19th century charm but even the Singapore Sling has had a slight tweak, making it a bit less saccharine.

It might be over $30 a glass but sitting in the Long Bar with a Sling in hand is still the closest thing we have to time travel.

Also the Singapore Zoo is quite simply how all zoos should be, semi-free-range where you can almost touch noses with a sloth as it climbs overhead. See: ;

If you have a Western tummy you can use the ratings at the hawkers stalls to be extra safe. Stalls have a rating from A to C but most come towards the top of the scale and a C is hardly taking your life in your hands.

Try the char kuay teow (fried flat noodles), bak kut teh (peppery pork soup) or roti prata (with a side of fish curry).

Head to the Makansutra website or app to find the most revered stalls or visit their own collection of hawker greatest hits at Gluttons Bay. See:

A pile of crustacean in a rich, red chilli sauce may be the poster child for Singapore dining but the black pepper crab is the go-to for those in the know. For a truly local experience head to No Signboard Seafood in Geylang.

Just as you can immerse yourself in a Chinatown here, Little India in Singapore is packed full of great eating, spice markets and pop-up markets that make you feel like you are in that country.

For the perfect mash-up of cultures, have a fish head curry at Banana Leaf Apolo restaurant, the eyes are said to be the best part. See:

Dendrobium Bindi Irwin can be found in the Singapore Botanic Gardens at the VIP Orchid Garden which has been an attraction since 1956. She is not alone, there is also a flower there named in honour of the late Princess Diana. See:

Unlike many Asian cities, cyclists used to risk their lives on the roads of Singapore where cars pay a premium to drive on the roads and behave like they own them.

But a new SG Bike bike-share system, and an increase in locals taking to two wheels, means cycling is no longer the sole domain of lycra-loving expats. See:

When it comes to hawkers, Maxwell Road is more famous, Lau Pa Sat more ornate but the food along the nondescript Balestier Road is full of hidden foodie gems.

Try the tau sar piah at Loong Fatt (bean paste in flaky pastry), have some rojak at Hoover Rojak (fresh fruit and veg tossed in shrimp-paste dressing) or grab a fresh and very smelly durian from the market. See:

Changi International Airport may have been eclipsed recently by Doha as the world's best airport but it is a wonderfully serene (there are no announcements) and interesting place to while away a few hours.

And with the addition of the multimillion-dollar Jewel Changi Airport next door, you will want to call that taxi a bit early. Locals actually head to the airport to spend time there, it is that good. See:

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