Given Singapore’s national sports are eating, drinking and shopping it’s hardly surprising that, as a card-carrying hedonist, Singapore has my name written all over it. But there’s so much more to Singapore than conspicuous consumption and if I put my slightly sozzled epicurean inclinations to one side, I still love it. Because it’s also clean, safe and, as just about everyone speaks English, super easy to navigate, something that pleases my inner mama bear no end.
And I am not the only fan! With epic museums and galleries, great green parks, iconic architecture, state of the art attractions and action packed theme parks, it is fast becoming one of the kids’ favourite places too.
In fact, after five visits in 18 months the kids have started thinking of Singapore as something of a second home. So much so that eight-year old Raffles and five-year old Sugarpuff have once again decided to get their “He-said/She said” on to share the inside story on Singapore by kids.
1. The culture
Singapore may be a thoroughly modern city, but its population is a melting pot of different races, religions and traditions. Here you’ll find Buddhist and Hindu temples, mosques, and churches sitting harmoniously alongside each other, making it a great place to introduce the kids to a variety of different cultural experiences. You can listen to chanting monks at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, watch noisy and colourful processions at Sri Mariamman Temple or visit the stunningly tranquil Masjid Sultan Mosque. Even when they’re just browsing the market filled laneways of Chinatown, knick-knack shops and “magic” carpet stores in Kampong’s Arab Street or delving into stores bursting with colourful trinkets in Little India, Raffles and Sugarpuff can’t get enough of this city’s cultural stuff.
He said: “There are so many different cultures in Singapore and everyone gets along really well. I wish other countries could learn to be more like that. In one day we were welcomed into a Buddhist Temple, a Mosque and a really cool old Hindu temple where a priest put a mark on my forehead and gave me some fruit for luck. And it must have worked because I got lucky and ate food from all those different cultures along the way.”
She said: “ My favourite temple had a giant blue monkey god (Hanuman) outside of it (Sri Krishna Bagawan Temple) and there was a nice man carving statues and painting them. But mostly I loved visiting Little India because Mama let me get a pretty sari from the nice ladies there.”
2. The Art
Singapore is a fantastically arty city, as we’ve written about before . Street art is booming on the walls of Kampong Glam and colourful installations are popping up all over town. And galleries are world class, with the new National Gallery Singapore boasting the world’s largest public display of modern Southeast Asian art while keeping it entertaining for families with a purpose built kids’ gallery. The decidedly clever Future World: Where Art Meets Science at the ARTScience Museum is Singapore’s largest digital art gallery with 16 ever-changing digital art installations. The kids can help to evolve the artworks through their own creative input and it proved a huge hit with both Raffles and Sugarpuff.
He said: “Future World was super exciting because we were able to help create the art that was displayed on the walls, the roof and the floor ourselves. And I loved the giant painting of a tiger at the National Gallery.”
She said: “Future World was really fun because we got to go down a big slide to get in and I loved the colouring and putting my fish and car on the big screen.”
3. The Gardens
The 156-year old Botanic Gardens Singapore showcases the best and most spectacular tropical flora set amongst pretty landscaped gardens filled with joggers and people practising tai-chi, and surrounded by swathes of virgin rainforest. Then there is the mesmerising Gardens By The Bay, an incredible urban oasis of vertical gardens, children’s playgrounds and phenomenal steel SuperTrees that light up the night in a futuristic display.
He said: “Gardens by the Bay is epic, it’s like a freaky metal space garden and it lights up at night like it’s a party”.
She said: “I like laying down in the dark with mummy to listen to the Disney songs and watch the big trees change colours”.
4. The Islands
Sentosa Island is something of a Singaporean kids central and home to some of its best beaches, a stack of kid-friendly resorts and too many incredible kid-friendly attractions to mention. You can hit up Universal Studios for seven zones of cutting-edge thrills or take it back a notch at the Butterfly Park or S.E.A Aquarium. Race down the Skyline Luge in a purpose built cart, cool off at one of the water parks or hang ten on Wave House’s Flowrider. Or if you liker bigger thrills, like dare devil Raffles, you can brave the 75-metre high, 450-metre long, 60kph zipline at the utterly awesome Megazip Adventure Park.
But there is more than just one island off Singapore. A short ferry ride away is colourful Kusu Island and pretty St. John’s Island, both perfect spots for swimming, picnicking or trekking along jungle tracks. And just a short bumboat ferry ride from Changi Point Ferry Terminal is gorgeous Pulau Ubin, a rustic little island dotted with ramshackle kampong houses and timber boats, and a great spot for mountain biking.
He said: “Pulau Ubin was so much fun. It was such a surprise after the big modern city. It’s really natural and you can rent a mountain bike to speed up and down and all around the island. Totally cool”.
She said: “I love Sentosa because there is so much to do. I really like the place we went for dinner (Tanjong Beach Club) because it was on a beach and we had holiday drinks (mocktails) and even when it got dark we could play in the sand and in the pool when the grown ups were boring and talked too much”.
5. The Outdoor Action
Despite its reputation for being “safe”, there are plenty of action-packed thrills and adventures to be found in Singapore for those children harbouring a latent desire to induce terror in their anxiety-prone mothers. Mine have taken years off my life speeding down mountains on bikes at Palau Ubin and flying along the water at Singapore Wake Park, ending up arse-over-tit on the Flowrider at Sentosa Island’s Wave House, racing at break neck speeds down the high-speed Skyline Sentosa Luge and leaping off a 450-metre long, 75 metre high zip line and simulated 15-metre parachute jump at MegaZip Adventure Park.
He said: “I loved the Megazip park and Surfing but my top three action activities in Singapore are Wake boarding, wake boarding and wake boarding. I love it so much I‘ve been back to the wake park a few times now and can’t wait to go again. It’s so cool zooming across the water on a board and the feeling when I finally nailed standing up was the best”.
She said: “I really, really love the luge go-kart things on Sentosa because mummy and I went together and I was steering and we went super fast down the hill and I wanted to do it again and again. I liked the cable car too becasue it was really high.”
6. The Theme Parks
While it’s not the only theme park, Southeast Asia’s first Hollywood-style theme park, Universal Studios Singapore, is undoubtedly its best. The ultra modern park, located on Sentosa Island, boasts seven themed worlds packed with an array of cutting-edge rides. There’s everything from pants-wettingly terrifying, eleventy-billion kilometre-an-hour rollercoasters to more gentle rides suited to tots and the perpetually petrified (yes, me). The attractions are all based on children’s films and television favourites, and as many of the rides are unique to Singapore it a rather special spot for theme park fans.
He said: “Universal Studios on Sentosa Island was so, so good. We spent a whole day there and went on heaps of rides. I especially loved Ancient Egypt because I’m reading books about Ancient Egypt at the moment and there were enormous Egyptian Statues everywhere. But my favourite ride was Transformers: The Ride. Mum chickened out but dad and I got to fight the forces of evil in 3D with Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, who saved us from falling to our imaginary deaths.”
She said: “I loved the Puss In Boots’ ride because it was a fun scary rollercoaster and I like Dino-Soarin’ too because I got to fly in a pterodactyl with my daddy. But the best thing was having cuddles with Cookie Monster because he was so blue and fluffy. I think he must have loved me”.
7. The animals
Now I’m not a big fan of zoos as I’ve never really enjoyed the sight of wild animals in cages or trapped behind glass panels. But Singapore Zoo is an exception. One of the best open-concept zoos in the world, the animals are kept in spacious, meticulously recreated animal habitats including our favourite, the Fragile Forest, a lovely space that’s home to free-range lemurs and a spectacularly apathetic sloth. The zoo’s wildlife rescue and conservation efforts are legendary, and particularly appreciated in Asia where ethical animal attractions are in short supply. If the zoo’s 350 odd species aren’t enough to keep you happy, then there’s also the neighbouring Night Safari and River Safaris, Jurong Bird Park and Sentosa’s S.E.A. Aquarium, home to more than 100000 marine animals of over 800 species.
He said: “I don’t usually like zoos very much because I think the animals seem sad but I liked these. Especially The River Safari because of Kai Kai and Jia Jia, two black and white pandas who live there in a Giant Panda Forest. Mum said she thinks pandas are my spirit animal because they spend most of their time laying about stuffing food in their faces. But even though I loved them, she’s wrong because everyone knows I don’t do bamboo. I also loved the river ride, which was super fun and took us past loads of exotic animals. My favourite was a jaguar who was just a few metres away from us as we floated by. He was so awesome; I think maybe he’s my spirit animal. ”
She said: “I loved having breakfast with the orang-utans at the zoo, because they really, really look like my mum and there was a little baby one that was so cute.”
8. The food
One of the best food cities on earth, Singapore is the kind of place you are pretty much guaranteed a good meal, whether you spend $2 or $200. Its multi-ethnic culture means a choice of colourful and flavoursome cuisines and the city’s Hawker Markets are the best place for families to try them all. Not only are the city’s many Hawker Markets a bargain, but they offer so much variety of food you can find something for everyone, even the fussiest eater. You’ll find incredible Chinese offerings in Chinatown, delicious curries in Little India and Halal favourites in Arab Street. Just make sure you pack your loosest clothes because you’re going to eat, a lot!
He said: “There is so much awesome food in Singapore, I could eat from breakfast to dinner without taking a break and then still want more. I could go on and on about all the amazing stuff we’ve eaten but the hawker stalls are the best. My favourites were Lau Pa Sat where they have this cool smoky street full of satay vendors at night and East Coast Lagoon Food Village where we had the most enormous feast of spicy and fresh seafood laksa, chilli crab, stingray and fish head curry. I also liked Little India because the curry there was probably the best I have ever had.”
She said: “My favourite was the Candylicous store because it is the biggest lolly shop I’ve ever seen and mummy let me but a bag a bag of yummy sour lollies to eat”.
9. The Hotels
Having chalked up seven visits to Singapore as a family, five in the last 18-months alone, we’ve tried and tested plenty of hotels. We’ve stayed in functional offerings like the brilliantly located Ibis Singapore on Bencoolen and sky scraping five-star city hotels with a view like Swissotel The Stamford, and its impossibly luxurious neighbour, the Fairmont Singapore. We’ve also lapped up the luxury in iconic and utterly irresistible lodgings like the Raffles Singapore and the outstanding Sofitel Singapore Sentosa Resort & Spa, with its many bells and whistles. But the common denominator with each and every one of them has been exceptional service and staff who treat children like VIPs.
He said: “Every hotel we’ve stayed in Singapore has been amazing. The Raffles Singapore is super cool because they obviously named it after me, Swissotel really looked after us and had amazing views and Sofitel Sentosa has an awesome curry breakfast, the best swimming pool ever and treats us like family. I made friends with the door man at the Fairmont Singapore but Shukar, the doorman at Sofitel, is still my absolute BFF”.
She said: “The Raffles is the prettiest hotel in the whole world because it looks like a wedding cake. I liked at the Swissotel gave us fun Wii games to play in our room and I like the Sofitel too because they have tickly fish spas and because my friend Sheva works there”.
10. The Airport
Yes, the airport. I know there’s nothing worse than killing time in an airport with easily bored kids… unless that airport is Changi! The massive airport has plenty to keep them entertained while you wait for your flight. There are air-conditioned playgrounds in every terminal as well as interactive displays and creative activities for littlies like the Wood Block Rubbing Stations (in Terminal 1 and 3). Or perhaps your kids would prefer the free 24-hour family-friendly movie theatres (in Terminal 2 and 3) or the entertainment deck at Terminal 2, where they can play their favourite console games free of charge.
In The Enchanted Garden (Terminal 2) motion sensors make the plants come to sparkling life and in The Butterfly Garden (Terminal 3) kids can get up close and personal with more than 1,000 tropical butterflies. If you feel like a bit of air, there is even a rooftop Sunflower Garden above the transit area where hundreds of beautiful yellow blooms wait cheerily to greet you while you watch the airplanes taking off and landing on the runway.
And lets not forget all the shops, bookstores, toy shops and a colossal choice of dining options including local dishes, western treats and the Hello Kitty Orchid Garden Café (Level 3) where little lovers of the plush puss can dine on delectable desserts served with a pretty Hello Kitty twist.
He said: “You couldn’t get bored in Changi Airport even if you tried. I reckon I could kill a day just eating. But when mum makes me stop stuffing my face, the games room and free movies are a pretty good option.”
She said: “I like the butterflies because the land on my head and tickle me. And the Hello Kitty Café is really pretty and daddy got me a Hello Kitty Waffle.”
(Bracketed comments by their Orangutang lookalike Mama)