Singapore: A Different Concrete Jungle

In photo: Eva’s brother, Jack, playing with a dolphin.

With too many shops to count, Eva Griffin tries to steer potential Singapore visitors onto the more cultural route.


The cosmopolitan city-state of Singapore can often feel like a commercial bubble, with long stretches of high-end stores making an expansive boulevard like Orchard Road an impressive yet intimidating venture. Indeed, it can be difficult to pull yourself away from the imposing skylines of big brand names and department stores calling out for a therapeutic splash of money. Boasting an unimaginable amount of shopping centres by Irish standards, Orchard’s central hub can take up an inordinate amount of time if you don’t plan accordingly. Try to resist the allure of the long-standing Tangs – a home-grown department store with a labyrinthine likeness to powerhouses such as New York’s Bloomingdales. While Singapore can be viewed as a shopping destination first and foremost, there are many cultural activities that you can lose your funds to instead.

The tourist hub of Sentosa is a likely contender for your wallet. The island resort entices flocks of tourists and locals alike with a spectacular view to behold from the Tiger Sky Tower, Asia’s tallest observation tower. With a peak of 450 feet, the heart-stopping cable car ride is an adventure in itself, and the view that awaits is a worthwhile treasure. For further thrills, indulge your inner child with a trip to Universal Studios where you can fight alongside Optimus Prime and his Autobot pals, or if that’s too much to handle, there’s a spot on the Sesame Street crew too.

If, by some chance, you’re actually a big boy who doesn’t play with toys anymore, then get your kicks by checking out some badass sharks in the Underwater World Aquarium. Those lucky enough to substitute dollar bills for toilet paper can throw it all away on a once in a lifetime opportunity to spend the day with dolphin trainers. Why dolphins require training we’re not sure, but getting up close and personal with the extraordinary mammals is quite the perk.

Cementing Singapore’s status as an icon of modernity is its fantastical botanic garden. Covering 101 hectares with tropical plants, gushing waterfalls and surprisingly whimsical sculptures, the Gardens by the Bay demand a few hours of attention. From the Flower Dome to the Cloud Forest, the gardens boast more than 500,000 species of plants. Most impressive are the spacey, high-tech Supertrees shadowing the expanse. Connected by the OCBC Skyway, an elevator ride up through the wired roots of the structures brings you to another gorgeous view. If heights aren’t too tantilising, then stick to the ground level and enjoy the rhapsodic light show that bursts onto the trees at night.

“Why dolphins require training we’re not sure, but getting up close and personal with the extraordinary mammals is quite the perk.”

The Singapore Repertory Theatre is one of the leading English-language theatres in Asia, often staging classic western productions but showcasing the best of Asia’s acting talent. Their annual Shakespeare in the Park event in Fort Canning Park is one of the most popular arts events in the city, boasting a nightly audience of 1,500 over the past seven years. Last year saw the team construct a 14m high book as the set for The Tempest, and this year they’ll take on the challenge of Romeo & Juliet. The outdoor venue is perfect for a picnic and a spot of culture.

Venturing outside can be a struggle in a city that seems to never cool down. A stroll to the bus stop is a sweaty affair and then there’s the whole ordeal of actually sitting on the bus while your legs stick to the seat and your hair is deliciously matted to your forehead. You may feel like an old biddy, but please, buy yourself some kind of ridiculous fan contraption or those overpriced bottles of mist – yes, you’ll still be wet after one spray, but at least you’ll be a refreshing kind of wet. Thankfully, most indoor areas are blasted with high-powered air conditioning, but do manage your time so that you don’t have to endure a 10 minute wait for a bus or taxi. If you do, once inside your transport of choice you’ll direct them to the nearest shower and bed.

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To hit the required quota of cultural activities, one interesting museum deserving of a look is the Peranakan Museum on Armenian Street. In two hours you can explore the rich history of the descendants of Chinese immigrants who came to Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, also known as Straits Chinese. The museum is divided into thematic galleries providing information on the various aspects of Peranakan culture, from wedding ceremonies to funeral traditions and the ins-and-outs of spirituality and feasting, there’s a wealth of knowledge to obtain. Thankfully, a wander through the museum doesn’t feel like work, and if your stamina for reading is a bit low, there’s an array of intricately detailed costumes on display alongside some impeccable beadwork. Further facts can be found sifting through the books available in the museum shop where replica embroidery can also be bought.

If the tourist predilection to shop still takes hold after one too many cultural affairs, a place deserving of your last few dollars is Kinokuniya, the mega-bookstore at Ngee Ann City. It’s hard to imagine a wider selection of books – you can find practically any title there and discover books you’ve never heard of available in almost every language. It truly is a bookworm’s paradise, and even those not so enamoured by the written word will find the sheer range of novels, comics and magazines impressive.

Yes, Singapore can seem like a millionaire’s paradise given the intimidating amount of shops, restaurants and bars filling the streets. However, with one destination, you can easily travel the world within Singapore’s borders by darting between the districts of Chinatown and Little India to truly immerse yourself in the many cultural zones dotted around the city. If none of these suggestions peak your interest then there’s one last treat to dangle before your eyes – a sleepy cat café on Boat Quay with fine hot chocolates and even finer feline friends.

All photos by Eva Griffin.