What are the best day trips near Singapore?

Jamie L.T. Mapa

It is easy to assume that Singapore is only one island, but most - even those living on the main island - often forget that Singaore is actually comprised of 63 different islands.  The largest and main island is referred to as Singapore Island or Palau Ujong, which literally means island at the end in Malay.

If you are spending some time in Singapore and looking for a different experience outside of Orchard Road and Clarke Quay, here are a few ideas for day trips near the main island:

Pulau Ubin: is one of the remaining areas of Singapore that has not been urbanized, retaining its old world rural charm.  Many say if you're looking for life in Singapore decades ago, then just hop on a bumboat to Pulau Ubin and you would have travelled time in just 15 minutes and S$2.50 later.  There are approximately 100 villagers residing on the 10km island and the main mode of transportation are bicycles.  Bikes can be rented near the jetty once you step foot on the island.  Though finding your way around the island should be much easier than decoding the bus map on the main island, residents are nonetheless very helpful (with some even offering invites into their oldschool bungalow homes, clearly created before the highrise condominiums) and happy to see visitors.  There is one local eatery on the island not far from the jetty and a wetland reserve on the southeast coast which you can bike to for a coastal beach view.

Sentosa: is located on the main island of Singapore and is comprised of resorts and reclaimed land with man-made beaches using sand from Indonesia and Malaysia.  While Sentosa can be reached by car, the easiest way to get to the island during the day is via the Sentosa Express monorail from the Harbourfront MRT station.  Total commute time is ~15 minutes and transportation on the island is free with the exception of taxis.

Sentosa is a great way to spend a day in Singapore or plan a staycation at for couples and families.  There is the Forbes four star rated property Capella which also houses the five star rated Auriga Spa.  Other popular accommodations on the island include Shangri-la Rasa, W Sentosa Cove, and Amara Sanctuary Resort Sentosa.

Shortly after the entrance into the island there is the Resorts World complex - Singapore's first casino and home to Universal Studios theme park, a hotel and shopping malls.

Activities on the island include Sentosa Golf Club, the only golf course in Singapore open to the public and the location of the annual Barclays Open; Wavehouse, an artificial wave creator where you can learn to surf; ziplining and the luge and skyride.  After a day of fun in the sun, indulge in a dinner at one of the acclaimed restaurants opened by these world renowned chefs: Joël Robuchon's restaurant at Hotel Michael, the recently opened Ocean Restaurant at Resorts World by Iron Chef Cat Cora or the japanese restaurant and chef kunio tokuoka joining his fellow michelin rated chef.  

  • On November 12, 2011
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    What are the five best Singapore food experiences?

    Hawker food, the city’s version of street food, used to be the defining cuisine of Singapore, and to a large extent it still is. But the constantly changing landscape, influx of imports and melding of cultural differences and similarities have had a significant effect on the defining food experiences of this city-state. When you dine here, don’t miss these dishes:
    1. Chili crab. The chili crab, made with Sri Lankan crustaceans in a thick sweet and spicy gravy, is a food experience that is difficult to re-create anywhere outside of Singapore. Even entry-level local seafood restaurants like Long Beach and Jumbo create smoldering versions. For the full experience, request that a female spawning crab be the dish’s main ingredient, and deep-fried mantou (sweet-dough buns) as sides to sop up the rich gravy. Ming Kee Live Seafood offers the most authentic take on the dish.

    2. Grilled sambal stingray. Since Newton hawker center took a turn for the tourists, Chomp Chomp is now the spot to have grilled sambal stingray and a cold giant glass of pressed sugarcane juice. The ray’s fin is grilled over charcoal and served smothered with a slightly spicy and sweet chili paste, calamansi lime on the side. The mug of refreshing green juice soothes the heat and intense surge of the spices in the dish.

    3. Chicken rice. A plate of glistening garlic-, ginger- and pandan-laced (screwpine) rice topped with tender gelatinous-skinned chicken is one of the simplest, most heady food experiences in Singapore. Tian Tian Chicken Rice at Maxwell Road Hawker Centre serves its variety with a mound of spring onion, a bowl of soup, some sweet dark sauce and a vinegary chili sauce. The white chicken is the traditional version of this dish.

    4. Nyonya cuisine. Fusion cuisine is done superbly well in Singapore, spearheaded by the culinary art form of the Peranakans. Nyonya cuisine, as it is known, is a developed mix of Malay spices with Chinese cooking techniques. At True Blue Cuisine, Benjamin “Baba Ben” Seck serves up his mother’s dishes in the museum-like Peranakan grounds. The ayam buah keluak (chicken stewed with black buah keluak nuts) is a must-try.

    5. Celebrity chef joints. Celebrity chefs Mario Batali, Wolfgang Puck, Daniel Boulud, Tetsuya Wakuda, Guy Savoy and Joël Robuchon come together in — almost — one spot, bringing about an unparalleled concentration of high-caliber culinary experiences. Robuchon holds it down in the Resorts World Sentosa, while the other chefs have restaurants in the Marina Bay Sands, about a 15-minute drive away. Satisfy your craving for a good oven-baked, thin-crust pizza by the orange-clogged chef, move from room to room for Tetsuya Wakuda’s precise Japanese courses, carve up Robuchon’s quail stuffed with foie gras or take all of them in one night. It’s fun to restaurant-hop among the culinary celebs’ spots.
  • On November 12, 2011
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    What should I pack for a trip to Singapore?

    The hot and humid Singapore weather calls for light, airy clothes, like those made of cotton, linen or silk blends. The outfits can be separated into two styles: casual and semiformal. While casual will get you into almost any establishment in the day, folks tend to dress up at night. Pack one long-sleeved top and pants or a long skirt if you plan to go to a temple.

    As far as footwear, sandals are acceptable. But bring along good walking shoes and another formal pair for those nights out. Sunscreen is necessary, too, even if you bring a hat and an umbrella with you. Bring a fan to keep cool.

    It goes without saying that you’ll want to take in the city’s varied architecture and snap up encounters of the distinct daily occurrences in Singapore, so bring along a small but powerful camera. Electricity in Singapore flows at 230 volts with a 50-hertz frequency using three-pronged G plugs and sockets.
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    Where are the best places to hear live music in Singapore?

    The Esplanade, otherwise known as “The Durian,” is the biggest and most all-encompassing live music venue in Singapore. Apart from free gigs by local and visiting artists every week, this performing arts center organizes more than 14 festivals and 20 ongoing series in a year. Among the offerings, the 10-day Mosaic Music Festival and series is most tuneful. International jazz, funk, hip-hop and world music artists like Wynton Marsalis and Joanna Newsom have dropped in to perform at this jamboree.

    Most local artists get their starts and residencies at Timbre. A stint at one of this live music bar and restaurant’s three locations is a rite of passage for up-and-comers who wish to cast their notes in the industry. It’s the guitar-strumming cover bands that usually stay — the Goodfellas’ adaptation of rock, pop and Motown have struck a lasting chord, while Michaela Therese has graduated to self-penned jazz tunes. In April, this nurturing band circuit puts together the Timbre: Rock and Roots festival. Past fests brought in big names like the legendary Bob Dylan, the ethereal Imogen Heap and soulful John Legend.

    Timbre’s predecessor, Wala Wala, is now one of the smaller, standalone venues, alongside CMPB in Dempsey and the Hard Rock Café. The set list encompasses mostly covers of pop songs for the first two venues, and rock for the latter.

    Jazz fiends should head to the smart-casual Ink Bar at level one of the Fairmont Singapore hotel, where Jeremy Monteiro and his band have been tinkering the keys for several years. The grittier, more laid-back BluJaz at the back of Haji Lane also touts jazz nights. It has a larger, more improvisation-friendly atmosphere with 10-piece band Omniform on the first Monday of every month, a quartet on alternate Fridays and scat-singing Alemay Fernandez every now and then.
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    What are the best Singapore museums?

    If you want to visit Singapore’s best museums, you’ll find one of them at the forefront of the skyline, the ArtScience Museum. The lotus-shaped structure houses three rooms of material that straddles the art and science realms. It is here that an ancient Chinese scroll, Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine and the Kongmin lantern come together. This is also the temporary resting place for international traveling exhibitions, like Salvador Dalí’s surreal Dali: Mind of a Genius’ and the epic Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition.

    A rival to this prominent structure is the Maritime Experiential Museum & Aquarium at Sentosa’s waterfront. This newly anchored steel-and-glass hull space houses permanent exhibitions based on the theme of the Maritime Silk Road. A replica of a 9th-century Arab dhow that was a gift from the sultanate of Oman is moored permanently here.

    The largest museum on the island keeps the focus local: The National Museum traces the history of Singapore back to its beginnings in the 14th century. Its Living Galleries explore the food, fashion, film, photography and wayang (Javanese shadow theater) components, while the newly opened William Farquhar Collection archives important botanical and zoological discoveries made and commissioned by the first resident and commandant of Singapore when she was still a British colony.

    The Asian Civilisations Museum is similar in that it specializes in the material history of China, Southeast Asia, South Asia and West Asia. The interactive touchscreen kiosks and barcode readers help customize your tour through the historic Empress Place Building.

    The most comprehensive collection of Peranakan artifacts in the world resides in the Peranakan Museum; 10 galleries explore the various facets of this vibrant Nusantara Chinese-immigrant Nyonya-Baba culture. The importance of the sarong kebaya — the inspiration for the Singapore Airlines flight attendant uniforms — is displayed in the Nonya Gallery. In the Conversations Gallery, a myriad of the culture’s clothing, food, jewelry and artifacts are laid out.

    Unlike the rest, the Singapore Art Museum has never held blockbuster shows. Because of its small, unusual and hidden gallery spaces, it specializes in smaller exhibitions, mostly 20th-century Asian visual art. It often draws from its own collection of Southeast Asian pioneer art.
  • On November 12, 2011
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    What is the best Singapore nightlife?

    Long before any club hit Singapore, Zouk helmed the nightlife scene. It has been the go-to club since it launched in 1991, and it’s still going strong: International guest DJs deliver top Balearic beats and its cheesy Mambo Jambo nights (Wednesdays) still make for fun, must-experience-at-least-once entertainment. On weekends, let go to global decksmiths such as Sven Väth and Infected Mushroom, and in December, put on your beachwear for the annual ZoukOut rave on the beach.

    Following intently on this powerhouse’s heels is Butter Factory, the club of choice for younger, Top 40-loving, might-have-been-a-Zoukster-in-the-’90s crowd. The second-floor space at One Fullerton is much cozier than the previous, so clubbers heave together to the strong bass beats.

    The recent months have seen celebrity-endorsed Avalon — think Ashton Kutcher, Cameron Diaz and Black Eyed Peas — hit town. Stretching across the top two levels of Marina Bay Sands’ Crystal Pavilion, this glass-encased 12,000-square-foot club features a state-of-the-art visual and lighting system. The world’s leading DJs, including Kele and Boy George, spin the decks here before heading directly underwater to ultra-lounge Pangaea for a more intimate set to the likes of Madonna and Lou Reed.

    Avalon and Pangaea aside, it’s ladies’ night every Wednesday. The fairer gender gets into clubs for free not to mention complimentary free-flow of drinks for around three hours starting at 10 p.m. Clarke Quay is best destination to club-hop. Go from the live-band-powered nostalgic-tuned Pump Room, to mainstream chart-topper Attica and a mix of both at pool-hall-with-a-dance-floor China One. When every other club has closed, traipse over to Dim Sum Dolly for live Mandarin concerts until the sun rises.

    If an indie night is more your style, pull up at Home Club. Up-and-coming local DJs pay to showcase their skills on the decks. Members of local audio-visual collective Syndicate regularly battle it out among themselves here, one-upping each other with hip-hop, deep house, techno, indie, electro and drum ’n’ bass on-the-spot mixes with matching optical illusions in screen.
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    What are the five best free things to do in Singapore?

    Singapore may play the high stakes economically, but there are still a lot of free activities you can do for fun in this burgeoning city, especially when it comes to the great outdoors and the arts. Here are our picks for the five best free things to do in Singapore:

    1. Bridge up with nature. Past the rubber trees and pitcher plants at the MacRitchie Reservoir Park — open since 1868, it’s Singapore’s oldest reservoir — is an 820-foot suspension bridge that is part of the HSBC TreeTop Walk. All along this hanging link are vantage points to look out onto the park’s mature secondary forest. Those not quite willing to leave the city behind should head up to the Henderson Waves, a modern wave-like pedestrian bridge that gazes onto the city’s skyline.

    2. Visit the places of worship. Get to know the melting pot of cultures in Singapore by visiting the various religious places of worship. The Sri Thandayuthapani Temple (Chettiar Hindu Temple) at Tank Road is where the steel-spiked Kavadi carriers end their walks every Thaipusam, the yearly wintertime Hindu festival. Daily ceremonies can be observed here as early as 8 a.m. For a similarly welcoming experience of a different belief, visit the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho temple in Bugis. Grandmothers come daily to offer lotus flowers, incense and prayers to the benevolent Goddess of Mercy.

    3. See the art galleries. Stop in at the dozens of art galleries and spaces in Singapore to admire contemporary work. The Substation Gallery is known for supporting quirky local artists, who do everything from poetry to installations; Gallery Krisstel Martin showcases regional talents like Japan’s Taiji Hayama; and while 2902 Gallery focuses solely on photographs, it brings in artists from all over the globe. John Clang, Marc Chagall, Joan Miró and Balthasar Lobo have all been here.

    4. Head to Marina Barrage. On top of Marina Barrage is an expansive windy green field conducive for kite-flying and picnicking. This space sits across the mouth of Marina Bay, creating the country’s 15th reservoir and the only one in the city. This seamless feat of architecture that has won international awards for its environmental engineering is a Zen space from which to look upon the business district skyline.

    5. See a performance at the Esplanade. Duck into one of the city’s most iconic buildings, the Esplanade, for free performances by local and visiting artists like the Klunchun Dance Company from Thailand. At the concourse, dances and mini classical concerts featuring instruments like the gu zheng (Chinese plucked zither) take place to the backdrop of extensive rotating art installations. Rock bands perform at the On the Waterfront stage with the Fullerton Hotel lighting up background.
  • On November 12, 2011
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    What’s the best time to visit Singapore?

    Festive and festival seasons are the best times to visit Singapore, and they happen almost every month. There is always something to do in Singapore, and unlike most countries, the city does not shut down when Christmas or New Year’s rolls around. The multicultural elements and economic acumens of the city allow for businesses to remain open during typical holiday seasons.

    The Chingay Procession — a parade of Carnivale proportions — takes place during Chinese New Year in January; the government throws a nationwide party in August to celebrate the country’s independence day; mooncakes are baked in September for the Mid-Autumn Festival; the Formula One Grand Prix zooms in during the last week of September; and Little India lights up for Deepavali in November.

    Perhaps the only period to avoid Singapore is during the monsoon season. It starts pouring in November and tapers off in January, just in time for you party at the Chingay Procession.
  • On November 12, 2011
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    What is the best way to see Singapore in one day?

    If you only have one day to see Singapore, start off with a meal at Maxwell Road Hawker Centre. A strong cup of sock-brewed kopi (coffee) and some banana and yam fritters should tide you over until you come across your next food stall. If you’re adventurous enough, try the savory sliced raw fish congee.

    Spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon experiencing Singapore’s three major cultural groups’ way of life. Starting at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum across the street in Chinatown, this Tang Dynasty-style building is said to house the left canine tooth of the Lord Buddha. It was found in 1980 in a collapsed stupa in Myanmar. Afterward, leave this gold and red building to peruse the shophouse-lined streets for snacks and souvenirs.

    At the beginning of Temple Street sits the oldest Hindu temple in the country — the Sri Mariamman Temple. Founded in 1827 by government clerk Nariana Pillai, the entrance to this house of worship was initially made of wood and attap. Take your shoes off, step in and observe a lunch prayer session. On the next street is Masjid Jamae (Jamae Mosque), one of the earliest mosques to be constructed in Singapore. Non-Muslims are discouraged from entering this sanctuary, but feel free to take pictures beneath the onion-topped octagonal minarets.

    When through exploring, have lunch at Spring Court, Singapore’s oldest family-run Chinese restaurant. Now housed in a four-story banquet space, it has retained its traditional wooden chairs and elegant carpeted rooms with fabric-covered furniture and vaulted ceilings. Open since 1929, this Chinatown restaurant is best known for its crisp-skinned Peking duck.

    After your meal, make your way to Clarke Quay. Wander through the shops along the river as you walk down toward Boat Quay and the Fullerton Hotel, a former post office. Do a tour at the Asian Civilisations Museum or go through the free art exhibits and mini museum in the lobby of the Fullerton Hotel.

    Before the sun sets, head up to the Marina Bay Sands’ observation deck to watch the star dip under the horizon. Have dinner at regional celebrity chef Justin Quek’s restaurant Sky on 57. At Quek’s panoramic restaurant, hawker food — the street eats you had at breakfast — is prepared with luxury ingredients, plated in European style and paired with wines from all over the world.
  • On November 12, 2011
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    What are the five best things to do with kids in Singapore?

    Despite its reputation as a fast-growing economic metropolis, Singapore is very much a haven for kids. Uncover the history of a Japanese-occupied World War II, explore the nature trails of a tropical rainforest, delve into the world of cultural performances or simply hop onto roller coasters for a thrilling ride — there is much for young minds to do in this small but adventurous city.

    1. Universal Studios. Just off the south of the city on Sentosa Island is Universal Studios, Southeast Asia’s first blockbuster movie and television show theme park. In this fantastical enclave, the world’s tallest dueling roller coasters — the Human and Cylon routes of Battlestar Galactica — fill the skies at 140 feet, vintage desert jeeps roam ancient Egyptian lands, and pterodactyls soar through the Lost World. Eighteen of the theme park’s 24 attractions were specially adapted.

    2. The botanic gardens. The Singapore Botanic Gardens is a rich 183-acre cluster of flora and fauna in the middle of the city. What started out as rainforest has long been landscaped into a public park. Plus, the gardens have free entry, open from 5 a.m. to midnight every day of the year. Have a picnic, roam or slide out of tree houses and mazes. Or bring the little ones and take part in educational workshops at the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden, one of the first kiddie gardens in Asia.

    3. The Night Safari. Set in a secondary rainforest, the world’s first night zoo houses more than 900 nocturnal critters from 130 species. Opened in 1991, the Night Safari was the first to use special lighting techniques to highlight animals in their original surroundings without barriers. Observe in awe as lions gnaw on big-boned carcasses, mountain deer stop in their tracks and, if you’re lucky, rhinoceros taking their bath. Hop off the tram to go in search of flying squirrels, hanging bats and roaming leopards. As if that weren’t exciting enough, a River Safari will open in 2012.

    4. Take the kids to the East’s Broadway. Catch some big productions at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands. The Lion King musical had a nice run in the 1,900-seat Sands Theatre. Though it’s too late to see the colorful life-sized animal puppets and hear African melodies composed and adapted by Elton John, the theater stages other popular shows like Wicked, the untold story of the witches of Oz.

    5. Fort Siloso. Go back in time with country’s largest collection of World War II memorabilia at Fort Siloso. Sign up for the tours that include a Fort Siloso History Passport — the passport route will take you through old tunnels of this vital point of defense for the Malayan region. Check out cannons and original guns — don’t worry, it’s all safe — from the Occupation era.
  • On November 11, 2011
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What is Singapore’s restaurant scene like?

    The restaurant scene in Singapore has always been picky and fickle — stringent characteristics that have been intensified by the arrival of the celebrity chefs at Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa.

    In the past, small- to medium-sized restaurants were mostly projects by foodies. Seasoned chefs remained with organizations and hotels. Many restaurants shut their doors for good every day, but new ones also seemed to keep opening up. These days, more independent restaurants are sprouting in the city, helmed by more serious foodies (ReStore, Strictly Pancakes), local chefs who have returned from stages abroad (Artichoke Café + Bar, the Dempsey Brasserie, Keystone, Le Bistro Parisien) and established insiders who have been in the professional kitchen for years (Antoinette, Luke’s Oyster and Chophouse). While these are not on the same international playing field as Mario Batali, Tetsuya Wakuda, Guy Savoy and Joël Robuchon, the caliber has been scaling to new heights.

    The restaurant scene is growing at a steady, vibrant rate, and branching into a larger variety of cuisines — it used to be dominated by Japanese, Italian, Chinese and French fare, but now there’s Russian, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Korean, fusion, progressive and molecular cuisines. There is, more than before, a dish for everyone’s palate.
  • On November 11, 2011
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    What are the five best kid-friendly restaurants in Singapore?

    Kid-friendly restaurants don’t just mean booster seats anymore — in Singapore, good food and fun entertainment come hand-in-hand. Bring your little ones to these top kid-friendly dining spots:

    1. Eco Gourmet Café. At the entrance of Eco Gourmet Café’s open-air space, daybeds face World War II storage tunnels. Separated by a wall of wines, the dining area at the back is propped up on stilts so it overlooks the lush trees and plants of the nature reserve. Kids get to dine like adults on their big-city menu of proper fish and chips — none of that out-of-a-box, deep-fried fish fingers. After the meal, stroll past the historic never-fired-before cannons out to the waterfront.

    2. Brussel Sprouts. The kids’ selection at Brussel Sprouts may not be as mature as Eco Gourmet’s — pasta in pink sauce and meatball with fries — but the little ones get to order bigger plates and the signature moule frites if they find their options stifling. Brunch is a fun affair here: Balloons and coloring pages will keep the little multitaskers occupied.

    3. The Barnacles Restaurant. This eatery overlooking the South China Sea is the perfect setting for a family gathering. Children have their own dedicated buffet section placed at their height, while parents can enjoy oysters, Alaskan crabs and barbecued meats. Magic shows and balloon-twisting acts entertain kids over lunch. Head down to the beach or kiddie pool with three slides and a water feature, or stick around the two-story indoor playhouse after the meal.

    4. La Villa. Bouncy castles of different themes pop up at La Villa every weekend. Kids can help themselves to the Italian buffet spread that includes classic cold cuts and freshly baked breads, eggs, salads and the standard desserts. The playground in the open field might make it difficult to pin these little adventure-seekers down, but you’ll probably find them at the machine serving fruit-flavored slushies.

    5. Little Fan Room. At Melt - The World Café, the Little Fan Room has been set up specially for three- to 12-year-olds. The room holds a special buffet of mini burgers, finger sandwiches, popcorn and a do-it-yourself candyfloss machine. There are also cartoon screenings and storybook sessions. The more independent and artistic kiddos can make use of the drawing materials to express themselves.