Once you have had your fair share of exploring and eating your way to a happy tummy both in Chinatown and in Little India, it might be time to head out and explore the rest there is to see in this island-nation.
A friend of mine directed me to this article written by The Guardian: Top 10 day trips in Singapore which is worth checking out! ... but for now, let's start at:
Entering the surroundings of these majestic flower domes is free unless you wish to take a tour through the indoor cloud domes or walk through the high rise (skyway) walkway.
While here, you should take the opportunity to enter the tallest SuperTree grove/tower which at 50 m. above ground hosts the famous restaurant IndoChine. To enter, you can either pay SGD $10 which comes with a complimentary non-alcoholic beverage of your choice or SGD $18 for one alcoholic beverage (choose wine). Once in, you can take a breathtaking 360 degree view of the surroundings which include the bay, the Marina Bay Sands, the Singapore Flyer and much more.
The uninterrupted and best vistas come from their rooftop lounge bar!
Once you are done sightseeing and exploring the surroundings, you can cross over back to the:
You can also continue with your shopping (beyond Orchard) at the Shoppes and take a gondola ride while you're at it.
At the Marina Bay Financial Centre - Tower 1, you will find the world's highest urban-craft brewery - LeVel33, and definitely another place to enjoy the vistas of the Singaporean bay.
"It's pretty much my favorite animal. It's like a lion and a tiger mixed ... bred for its skills in magic."
Well, Singapore wasn't that far behind when in 1964 they designed the MerLion. The skills in magic that this half lion, half mermaid sculpture represent dates back from when this island/nation was named the Lion City while the mermaid half (fish tail) makes an allegory to its true humble beginnings being a fishing village.
As of 2002, this iconic sculpture was relocated some 120 m. away from its original location to what is known today as the Merlion Park which oversees the Marina Bay and its surroundings.
If you do have time and are quite adventurous (think GeoCaching), try to find the other 6 approved MerLion sculptures in Singapore, the other six are known as the cubs.
The Maritime Silk Route was not only a thoroughfare for commodities but also a highway for cultural exchanges were art, food, languages and modern technologies were also exchanged. Through this maritime highway, religious traditions were also brought to different places throughout the route and thus Christianity, Islam, Judaism and many more were also extended throughout Africa, China, and South East Asia.
Travelers such Ibn Battuta, Faxian, Admiral Zheng He, and Marco Polo used commercial trade vessels to different ports of call throughout this Maritime Silk Route.
One of these ports of call was Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman. Muscat was an important ancient trading port linking Africa and Europe and as early as the 9th century, there was already an established trade route to ports in the Far East.
In 1490, the well known Omani navigator Ahmad Ibn Majid had described Muscat as a port without equal and so different Omani vessels would depart from Muscat across the Sea of Oman and the Arabian Sea to places such as Calicut, India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) through the Bay of Bengal to the strait of Malacca, to the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra before heading north to Vietnam and Guangdong through the South China Sea.
The above route followed the above-mentioned Maritime Silk Route. It is worth noting that well before the 7th century, Arab seafarers had discovered the secret of the trade winds which contributed to their successes as maritime traders.
On July 2010, the reconstructed 9th century dhow sailed into the harbor of Singapore thus completing a joint project of the governments of Oman and Singapore.
The design of the Jewel of Muscat was based on an archaeological evidence of a shipwreck found off Belitung Island in Indonesia. Its builders used traditional materials and construction techniques such as timber from Ghana to make up the ship's planks. If you look closely, you will notice that it was also built without nails as the planks were sewn together with coconut fiber and sealed with a goat fat mix with lime.
The awesomeness of this navigation between Arabia and the Far East completed on July, 2010 is that its crew experimented with 9th century navigation methods throughout the entire journey.
Making your way to a happy tummy!
In Singapore you can have almost anything you may want to eat, from sushi, french cuisine to top notch pizzas as well as plenty of savory local dishes that would make you feel like in a foodie utopia whether at a hawker center, mom and pop eateries, mod-Sin (modern Singaporean) to hotels restaurants across this island-nation.
I also tried tea leaf eggs and bullfrog in a spicy chili sauce with rice porridge:
Also within reach, we tried the roti prata at a nearby Indian eatery as it is an ethnic Chulia food. It is prepared by repeatedly flipping dough into a large thin layer before folding the outside edges inwards. The dough is cooked on a flat round iron pan measuring about three feet in diameter.
Roti Prata is commonly eaten with a spicy gravy and is sold mostly by Muslim Indians at coffee shops and hawker centers.
On a different locale, on Level B2 of the Takashimaya Department Store, you will find a huge food court called Food Village where you will be invaded by so many smells and flavors ranging from Korean, Indonesian, Vietnamese, chicken rice, Thai, Indian, noodles and desserts.
Here I tried laksa which is a coconut curry-based soup which you have to be careful not to mix the chili they put on it if you happen to be weak like me on the spiciness department.
It so happens that during the month of September, many Singaporean as well as their East-Asian neighbors celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival with mooncakes.
A mooncake is a baked round sweet pastry traditionally made with a paste made of lotus seeds or red beans and stuffed with a salty egg yolks which symbolizes the moon. Nonetheless, you can now buy mocha mooncakes as well as mooncakes stuffed with durian or any other ingredients customized for the modern palate. Read and watch this article/video put together by Michelin Guide Singapore: The origins of your mooncake.
As the days lead to the big day which is September 15, the Takashimaya Dept. Store holds a fair where you can purchase and sample the majority of these traditional and modern mooncakes.
A local Singaporean recommended me to try the white lotus, one yolk mooncake ... and I did so! It is said that the Chinese prefer even number; therefore, two yolk mooncakes and/or mooncakes bought/sold in sets of 2, 4, 6 or 8.
These are the folk tales behind the mooncake (Mid-Autumn) festivities:
Although not a folk tale, nowadays you can also find mooncakes made out of pomelos as well. Pomelos, to the Chinese, represent family unity and reunion as well as being considered a symbol of abundance, wealth, prosperity and good fortune. That is why many place pomelos on altars as a prayer offering.
It is also said that for couples wishing to have a child, it is believed that if you place the pomelo rind on one's head after eating it, will lead to blessings from Chang'e, the Moon Goddess.
The chili crab was definitely my favorite especially for its sauce. You can order ManTou which is a deep-fried bun you can use to soak up all that deliciousness.
Our order was as follows (4 pax):
We then made our way back to Chinatown ...
Next stop: Maxwell Food Centre:
I would ultimately agree with Bourdain as the rice can truly be eaten by itself as I was told that the rice is cooked using the same water in which the chicken was cooked. In regards to the chicken itself, it was very bland to me and I could not add their famous chili sauce as it was fiercely spicy, so my friends brought me some of their soy sauce which looked and was as thick as molasses.
In short, I just ate the rice and washed it down with a sugar cane fresh juice (SGD $5) from the juice stall across them.
Our food tour ended at the one and only ... Chinatown Food Complex on Smith St.:
Here on this food complex, many of the hawker stalls offer meals from 10 am until almost 8 pm. I took a plunge and tried some of their fresh fruit juices at Blenz Fruit Juices. Here I bought the special of the day which was Buah Long Long and then moved onto another recommended stall owned and operated by an elder man who makes Ice Kachang which a dessert perfect to cool you down from the humidity of Singapore. This dessert consists of a bowl filled with jellies of several flavors and colors topped with shaved ice and then sprinkled with corn, red beans with a dash of evaporated milk to make it ultimately refreshing.
... but the main reason to coming to this Chinatown Food Complex was that this year in July, a hawker from this complex was awarded a Michelin 1 star for his soya sauce chicken rice and noodle which makes his stall, the cheapest Michelin-starred eatery in the world at only USD $1.50.
I used Airbnb and stayed at Sarah's Lucky Find which is located just across the street from Pagoda Street at the People's Park Complex on the 22nd floor. After visiting the Chinatown Heritage Centre, I can say that her place is like a modern shophouse. Nonetheless, the location is superb and it's located within Chinatown and closer to the Central Business District (CBD) and several nightlife options.
An Uber from T3 from the world's #1 airport - Changi Airport - to Sarah's place came to SGD 14.90 which roughly translated to USD10.92
As per the Day 2 suggested itinerary on Wikitravel, I started at the Bee Cheng Hiang roadside outlet to try some of their famous and succulent BBQ bakkwa freshly grilled that day. I also bought a few pieces to share back home (sealed but not vacuum-sealed) but I was warned that these pieces needed to be eaten within 7 days, and that if I did not want to worry about freshness, I could buy the already pre-packed Mini EZ Chilli and the Mini EZ Pork packages, which I did as they contain mini packages of one unit of pork that would last until the 27th of May, 2017. So I did!
Next stop: The Chinatown Heritage Centre
Length of visit: 2 - 3 hrs.
At the Chinatown Heritage Centre you will find so much cultural information about how Singapore was first settled and how these immigrants from Asia and the Middle East came afar by sea and by land seeking a better life. The vast majority had intentions of returning to their home villages and families once they became rich and/or famous, but the realities and hardships made it quite a struggle to make ends meet, and at the end, they could only remit home the little money they could so painstakingly save.
At this center, I learned that without these unsung heroes, Singapore would not be what it is today. "These pioneers, rich or poor, banded together and built a home away from home. The blood, sweat and tears of these men and women went into the development of Singapore."
As these immigrants started coming in masses, later on under the Jackson Plan, Singapore town was divided into four different ethnic areas:
Coming back to Chinatown and its heritage center, many of these Chinese immigrants, whether they were tailors, hawkers, clog maker or perhaps a doctor who had fallen in economic mishap, would end up living within a shophouse. A shophouse is a 2 to 3-stories high building where on the ground floor you would find a shop, let's say a tailor shop, whose family and apprentices would live behind the shop itself; and on the second and third floors, you would find small shared room that could at the end house up to 30 members who would share one bathroom/kitchen and one common place.
... and as you leave the heritage center and Pagoda street ...
Next stop: Sri Mariamman Temple
The oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. It was constructed in 1827 and it has played a major role in the lives of Hindus here in Singapore. In the early years of its inception, this temple provided shelter for Indian immigrants and was the only Hindu temple whose priests were vested with the authority to solemnize Hindu marriages.
Sri Mariamman is dedicated to the Mother Goddess whose devotees have turned to her for her healing powers. This temple was established by Narayan Pillai who came here as part of Raffles' party in 1819. On 1823, he requested a land for the construction of this temple, but it was not until 1827 when the first temple building was erected.
Nowadays, this temple is most known for the fire-walking ceremony or Theemithi where devotees walk on hot charcoal as a test of their faith and devotion. This ceremony is held every October or November.
Next stop: The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum
On the ground floor:
On both sides of the Main Hall you will find the statues of One Hundred Buddhas which represent the "Sutra of the Names of the One Hundred Buddhas".
In this sutra, Buddha told Sariputra:
"If a devout person hears the name of the present Buddha with reverence, he will be protected from all evils, accumulate immense merit, accomplish the Way of the Bodhisattva and gain knowledge of the past, present and future. Moreover, he will possess complete sense faculties and be in the presence of all Buddhas, thereby swiftly attaining peerless Enlightenment."
The same sutra states that the "One Hundred Buddhas have the ability to help the world and whoever recites, copies, makes offerings and expounds the hundred holy names with reverence, will have his greed, hatred, ignorance and fear purified".
... and behind the Main Hall, you will find out (in case you did not already know) that there are Guardian Deities for each of the Zodiac sign animal.
Like the Buddha, our personal Guardian Deity serves as a source of solace, spiritual support and inspiration. However, even if we have a personal Guardian Deity, we have to actively work on purifying our negative tendencies and increase our store of merit and wisdom. This strengthens our connection to our Guardian Deity and speeds our progress on the spiritual path.
I do have to write that I only concentrated on the Bodhisattva linked to those born in the years of the dragon or as me, born in the year of the snake.
Our Guardian Deity's esoteric aspect is Vajrasattva, an important deity in the Vajrayana tradition associated with purification practices.
I also learned that those born in the years of the Dragon or the Snake can choose Samantabhadra Bodhisattva as our personal Guardian Deity. Through practicing the method of Samantabhadra, we shall be able to attain a long and healthy life free from sickness and misfortunes. We shall also be able to quickly purify our negative karma and achieve perfect and ultimate Enlightenment.
On the fourth floor:
This temple is named after the relic that resides on the 4th floor. A golden tooth from Buddha which is located in a hall where photos and recordings are not allowed. So be prepared to take off your shoes, start walking from the left side and make your way to the end of hall where you will see it housed within a golden stupa made up of 320 kg. of gold. You will have to settle at contemplating the relic from the outside of the public viewing are as only monks are allowed within that chamber.
This is also a great place to meditate as they provide space on both sides of the hall to do so.
On the top floor - the Roof Garden:
If you are still searching for another place to further your meditation, then head to the rooftop orchid garden which houses a pagoda with the largest cloisonné Buddha Prayer Wheel in the world.
This Vairocana Buddha Prayer Wheel consist of the "revolving scriptures" originating from "turning the pitaka". "Turning" a Sutra is different from "reading pitaka" which virtually meant reading the Sutras everyday without missing a single word. "Turning pitaka" is just reading a few lines at the start, middle and end portions of the Sutras.
Cylindrical in shape, it is a religious artifact commonly used by Chinese Buddhists. The rim is embossed with esoteric Vairocana Mantra. A piece of scripture is placed inside and every turn of the wheel represents a single recital of the scripture and mantra. Thus being a convenient way to recite the sutra.
Final stop: Tea Chapter - Tea drinking a la Chinese!
As you leave the Relic Temple and Museum, you will find that there is currently a lot of construction going on in the nearby area. So don't despair, you can still reach Tea Chapter just behind the huge wall that protects the shops behind it. Therefore, head to 9 Neil Rd. just behind the construction site and be part of a ceremonial tea experience.
Do note that the 3rd floor hosts free seating, but on the 2nd floor you will find partitioned rooms (normal seating or seating on the floor) that:
I chose the partitioned room with a view (currently of a tall protective wall due to the construction) where Queen Elizabeth sat with her husband 27 years ago and ordered the same tea they had - the Imperial Golden Cassia - which is a light Oolong tea, accompanied with 2 Tea eggs, an order of caramelized nuts and an order of the Mini Bao Platter.
The Tea Ceremony - Making tea with skills:
As I had never been part of a tea ceremony and just for the heck of it decided to follow through, I told one of the waiters to explain to me the process ... and so he started:
Although my visit to Singapore will somewhat strictly follow days 1 and 2 from the sidebar link titled 3 days in Singapore, I am also looking forward to the following experiences: