Exploring Singapore’s Ethnic Neighborhoods

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Day 324 – Sunday March 9, 2008
Singapore

It was a refreshing feeling to wake up on a different continent. To be honest, we probably stayed a couple of weeks too long in Australia and desperately needed new scenery to get us back in the spirit of things. Arriving in Singapore last night was like a breath of fresh air. The city looked intriguing under the cover of darkness, but we were anxious to see how it would hold up once the sun came out!

We have three days in Singapore. This is enough time to see most of the major sites in the city, but not enough to go into a lot of depth. Given our brief window to spend in the city, we set out on Sunday to see some of the older cultural centers of downtown Singapore including Chinatown, Little India and Arab Street. We also couldn’t wait to taste some of the food we have been hearing so much about.

Naturally, we woke up very early and found ourselves out of the hotel by 9am. Our first stop of the day was Orchard Road, the main shopping district in Singapore. Immediately as we walked down the street, it was evident that the city just doesn’t get started very early on a Sunday morning. We passed blocks and blocks of closed shops before deciding to go to the MRT (Subway) station to catch a train towards Chinatown.

Luckily for us the train stops right in the heart of Chinatown. After we emerged from the station the vibe certainly felt different than on Orchard Street, but we still didn’t see a lot of people. We quickly consulted our guide and found out where the action is in this part of the city. After a ten minute walk, we once again found most of the shops and food stalls closed, but a few restaurants were open and we managed to enjoy a delicious Chinese lunch.

By this time the heat outside was beginning to feel unbearable. We decided to adopt a strategy of heading into air conditioned buildings whenever it became too much. With this in mind, after walking around for thirty minutes, we left Chinatown to head over to Little India.

Once again, Little India has its own MRT stop which makes getting there very easy. As we walked from the station it was like we had once again been transported into a different world. The sights and smells were different as we walked on the busy cramped sidewalks towards the Sri Veeramakaliamman Hindu Temple. (Now that is a mouthful!)

The Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple is said to be among the finest in all of Singapore. Luckily for us prayer time was from Noon until 12:15pm and we just happened to arrive at two minutes til noon. After taking off our shoes and washing our feet outside, we were allowed inside the building to observe the worshipers as they made offerings to gold statues and sat on the floor praying. It was an enlightening and interesting experience.

One can only watch other people pray for so long before it gets to feeling awkward. After ten minutes inside the temple, we continued walking down the street. After another few minutes we came to a giant building which houses the Mustafa Center. The Mustafa Center is best described as a Walmart on steroids. Spread over four jammed packed stories this store sells everything from clothing to electronics. Once inside, we browsed through some of the electronic aisles before ultimately deciding to go because of the massive amount of people.

From the Mustafa Center we walked for about twenty minutes out of Little India to an area of Singapore known as Arab Street. The highlight of this area is the Sultan Mosque. We arrived at the mosque at 1:20pm and found out that it was closed until 2pm. This gave us some time to explore the area. While killing time, we discovered that Arab Street is chalked full of small restaurants, textile stores and souvenir shops. Ultimately, we ended up sitting on a set of stone stairs waiting for 2 o’clock to come.

When the mosque finally opened, we once again had to take off our shoes to enter. Jasmine’s shoulders were not covered and she was made to wear a robe before being allowed to enter. While we weren’t allowed inside the main prayer chamber, a corridor that surrounds it was open to us and we were able to observe prayer time. The Sultan Mosque is a beautiful building and was worth waiting for.

By this time the heat and humidity were really bothering us and we knew that some rest at the hotel was desperately needed. We decided to cram one last visit in before getting on the train back to our hotel. Five minutes from Arab Street is Bugis Street which is famous for its outdoor market.

It took us a couple of minutes to spot the market and once inside we discovered massive amounts of people. We weren’t really in the mood to shop so we ducked into one of the Hawker Centers (Food Courts) to pick up a snack. Jasmine and Shawn Reece shared some chicken and rice where I just had fried rice. We also splurged and each got smoothies for $S1 each. This was just enough to give us the burst of energy needed to make the trip back to the hotel.

We arrived back at our room around 3pm. For the next four hours we did a combination of sleep, watch television and surf the internet. (Mostly sleep) It is clear that the heat and humidity in Singapore took its toll on us. (Even Shawn Reece took a nap!) By 7pm we were ready to head back outside to get some dinner.

For dinner, we once again headed over to Orchard Street. This time, instead of being void of people it was bustling. We walked around for an hour looking at some of the shops before finding a hawker center selling satay. After dinner we headed back to the room to pack it in for the night.

It turned out to be a long day in Singapore. We really enjoyed the cultural diversity here. Over the next couple of days we are hoping to do a couple of activities, but find it more important to see how the locals live. With English spoken everywhere, Singapore is the perfect introduction to Southeast Asia.

We want to thank everyone for the comments and emails. Your support is truly appreciated and keeps us going.

The Coomer Family


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