After watching Crazy Rich Asians, Singapore shot its way up to the top of my travel list. It's someplace that I never had a chance to visit when I was little, even though we were in Hong Kong literally every month. So it's remained on my list, and honestly, I never thought I'd be able to check it off until much later.
For Valentine's Day, Samuel surprised me with a trip to Singapore and Bangkok. Since our time in Singapore was extremely limited, we didn't go with a list in hand and instead allowed ourselves to explore, which is so much more fulfilling anyway.
All throughout the flight, between bites of my pasta, I kept telling Samuel how much I wanted (nay, needed) Indian food. When we landed, we dropped off our things and went straight to Sakunthalas in Little India, per the concierge's recommendation. I don't know what I was expecting the food to be like, but let's just say that the Indian food in Singapore is unusual. What I find with Indian cuisine is that no two restaurants make the same dish remotely similar, so it's always interesting to see what's served. The food wasn't terrible, per se, but it was casual and average. Maybe it's because I'm used to the Indian food in California and anything that strays from that style of cooking and those flavors is foreign to my taste buds.
Sakunthalas was, however, the best meal that I had on this trip. We ordered butter chicken for Samuel, aloo gobi for me, and some masala dosa, garlic naan, poppadums, samosas and mango lassis to share. We were famished by the time the food came around, so we ate up every last bite and then spent an hour or so walking around Little India. Most places were closed by 10 PM, so we went back to our room for a good night's rest.
I was up by 8:30 AM the next morning, munching on a variety of peanut, red bean, and coconut pancakes that Samuel ran out to a nearby hawker center to buy. He sure knows how to wake me up properly in the morning! Even though it was super early (for me, anyway), the sun was out as we walked down to Chinatown.
Since several blocks felt like miles in the heat and humidity, we stopped in a cute little café called Grids & Circles for some brunch before trekking on. The millennial-approved spot actually caught Samuel's eye, something that's happening more and more so lately. I'm so proud! Even though he could not care less about social media and photo shoots, he does his best to help me out whenever he can. And one of his favorite ways to do so is be on the lookout for trendy spots that could potentially yield some cute snaps and hopefully some yummy food. I was torn between the strawberry pancakes and the salmon burger (does anybody else have difficulty deciding if they want something sweet or savory for brunch?), so we ordered both. I thought our food was pretty delicious for a little café, but the portions for the prices that they were charging -- yikes! My "pancakes" were S$16 (~$12) -- one small pancake with some whipped cream and strawberries on top. The burger was slightly more sufficient, for the same price. Perhaps it's because I've spend the past few months in China where everything is cheaper than I'm accustomed to that when I'm back to paying US prices, I get major sticker shock. Anyway, the food was decent, but obscenely overpriced.
One block down from the brunch place was Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore's oldest Hindu temple. For those of you who know me or have followed along for a while, I have wanted to visit India for years. It's very high up on my bucket list. I am doubtful that we will actually make it because Samuel is so resistant to going due to all the horror stories of people getting food poisoning for a week. I am in awe of Indian culture; it's intricate and incredibly beautiful. Even though I don't understand it, I love all the music and dancing -- they sure know how to have fun! I've never seen, much less been inside, a Hindu temple before, so Samuel and I jumped at the chance to look inside. While small, we walked around and enjoyed the hundreds of colorful figures perched on the roof. It was extremely cool to experience that and I highly recommend stopping in for a few minutes if you're in Chinatown.
After Samuel left to do some work, I spent the next few hours walking up and down and all around Chinatown. Most of the vendors either sold souvenirs and food, both of which I'm constantly on the hunt for. This was easily the nicest Chinatown I've ever seen. The setting was lovely -- I enjoyed looking up to see old pastel buildings against the modern street level. Nothing was dirty or smelly. There was even a long food alley that served everything from dim sum to vegetarian food to stingray.
On the other side of Chinatown stands the beautiful Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Interesting name though, huh? There was a service going on during my visit, which I always secretly love. The interior walls were lined with hundreds of smaller golden buddhas, eventually leading to the massive one in the front. There was a doorway that the back room with a collection of zodiac buddhas, and the gist of it was that each zodiac had a special buddha that looked over it. Pretty cool! As I exited, I lit an incense and made a wish.
Unsure of what to do next, I pulled up a list of bakeries that Samuel found for me (!) and strolled over to Cake Spade. You're not wrong if you think I chose this place because of its stinkin' cute name! Unfortunately, their lychee rose cake didn't live up to the store's perfectly pink storefront and Kate Spade-inspired interior.
Next up, I hopped in a taxi to go see the famous Merlion by the water. But with my luck, you'll never guess what happened. The taxi driver took me to the fake Merlion, the one over in Sentosa. I didn't even realize there were two Merlions (why?!), but as we drove into Sentosa, I knew she'd taken me someplace else. Whether it was a genuine misunderstanding or if she was just ripping off a tourist, I was not pleased. As much as I wanted to hop into another taxi upon arrival, I forced myself to walk around and see if there was anything to do.
Sentosa is a resort area, where Universal Studios is located. It's actually very peaceful and beautiful -- just not where I wanted to go. I walked all the way up to see the imposter Merlion, and along the way, came across this rainbow mosaic fountain and spanned the entire walkway. Had I been in a better mood (and not struggling so much with the heat), I probably wouldn't taken advantage of the other attractions there. Unsure of how to get to Merlion Park and unable to get any help, I begrudgingly made my way down to the taxi stand. I pulled up the address and photos of the waterside attraction to show the driver, in the event that there was yet another Merlion in Singapore.
After a short AC-fueled ride, I was dropped by the waterfront overlooking Marina Bay Sands and I knew I was in the right place. I followed the crowds to the left and to my surprise, saw scaffolding around the Merlion fountain. Seriously, as luck would have it, the most famous attraction in Singapore was under renovation on the day I visited. What were the odds?
Basically defeated at this point, I sat in the shade for a solid 45 minutes, taking in the bare but still beautiful skyline. I was debating ending my day at a shopping mall and spoiling myself or continuing on to see more of Singapore. I settled on the latter. My next stop was Gardens by the Bay. I had seen so many photos of the futuristic Supertree Grove and I wanted to see it with my own two eyes.
I only walked around for a short bit before I felt a wave of dizziness and nausea. As someone who regularly suffers from migraines and nausea, I thought it would pass after popping a dose of ibuprofen. I laid under a supertree for shade and after some time, when my discomfort only worsened, I started to get concerned. I had already been there for 2.5 hours and I wasn't sure if I was in proper condition to wait it out so I could watch the light show. There was still so much that I hadn't done: the bridge, the waterfall, the gardens...
That's the thing about traveling: you want to do it all in the short amount of time that you have. Sometime you can, but often times, you can't. It's better to take it slow, live in the moment, and enjoy each place. Whatever it is, do what's right for you and don't overdo it. Pay attention to how you are feeling and take care of yourself. I don't think I was necessarily doing too much, but the heat certainly didn't do me any favors. I decided to listen to my body and retreat. Sure, I was bummed that I made it all the way out only to miss so much, but I'm sure I would've regretted it more if I hadn't gone back to the hotel.
I rested for a few hours with the AC blasting and chugged water like nobody's business. Then, I realized that other than a piece of cake, I hadn't eaten anything since brunch. Usually, I would've been starving by then, but because the heat did a number on me, my body was in shock. After making sure that I was, in fact, feeling more stable, I went back to Little India to eat at another popular spot, Komala Vilas. My verdict remains the same: average food, but there's something about it that didn't satisfy my craving for Indian food.
I wasn't quite ready to call it a day and made a final stop at Bugis Street to search for some souvenirs. Honestly, I wish I hadn't gone because I overestimated my state of health that night and ended up feeling nauseous halfway through. There was nothing there that piqued my interested -- most things were mass-produced, cheap, and plastic. All I wanted after that was a steamy shower and to jump into bed. I felt like a totally new person the next day and made sure to be extra cautious about my sun exposure.
Up bright and early once again, Samuel and I went back into Chinatown so I could show him around for a bit before heading to the airport. He didn't have a chance to see the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, so I took him back. He, too, found the zodiac buddhas fascinating and he loved the walls of gold buddhas.
We toured the streets of Chinatown, sampled little snacks here and there (including durian ice cream, for which I'll forever hold a grudge), and came across a local Singapore snack store. I was hoping I would be able to purchase some goodies for my friends and family, but was unable to find any yesterday. I bought a little bit of everything and left grinning with my haul. I can't wait to share some pandan sponge cake, kaya butter, and satay cashews with my family when we go back!
Our final stop was an old-fashioned Singapore café, Nanyang Old Coffee, at the end of the food alley in Chinatown. We went in for some breakfast. I'm not sure how I missed it when I explored the area myself, but I'll leave you with a snapshot of our spread: Singapore coffee, kaya butter toast, and poached eggs. It doesn't sound like much, but it tasted like heaven. For those of you who have never had kaya toast, it's the yummiest coconutty and buttery medley you'll ever have -- crunchy on the outside, pillowy soft on the inside. You douse each bite in egg and magic happens. We wanted to keep the toasts coming, but time was running out and we had to run.
Singapore was such a vibrant city! We had such a blast exploring. I love cities that boast a mix of old and new, culture and innovation, and Singapore was just that. I know Samuel is itching to see and eat more (as am I), so I'm sure another trip there is in the works!