The second day in Singapore, I decided there were two things I wanted to do: the Asian Civilizations Museum and the Singapore Botanic Gardens (and it goes without mention, eat more food). One of the downfalls of staying in a dorm room in a hostel is that someone will inevitably be awake (usually after setting a loud alarm) making noise at an early hour, so I didn’t have to worry about sleeping in. I set out to walk down to the museum, walking along the esplanade and checking things out. There were some dragon boat races taking place, which was interesting to watch. I was impressed with how fast these boats raced along, and how well everyone rowed together.
Near the Asian Civilizations Museum (ACM) is the original statue of Sir Stamford Raffles. I was interested in seeing this statue but was disappointed when I saw he was under wraps to protect him from the ongoing construction. And there was construction everywhere. I finally figured out how to maneuver around the construction and get to the other side of the street and to the museum. There are several great museums in Singapore, including this one. Admission is free (I love a free museum), and the museum includes displays with artifacts and information from various Asian civilizations. It was very interesting to see the information, especially as I will be traveling to many of the places featured later in this trip, including China and Vietnam.
After the museum, I walked along the quay for a bit. I wanted to find the second statue of Raffles, but was disappointed to see that this one was also under wraps due to construction. This is a beautiful area of Singapore, with restaurants and shops lining the banks of the Singapore River. Behind these two or three-storey buildings, huge skyscrapers reach towards the sky. Even though it was early, I decided it was time for lunch. I knew I wanted to try chili crab, so I sat at a restaurant that offered this dish. Chili crab is what it sounds like: a full crab, boiled and then smothered in chili sauce. I ordered the smallest one, at one kilogram. When it came I was surprised at how large it was and how much sauce there was. I was outfitted with a bib and provided with a finger bowl of water, as well as the tools of the trade (turns out chopsticks are incredibly helpful for removing crab meat from the crab). The sauce was pleasantly spicy; but incredibly messy. Imagine trying to extricate the crab meat from a crab but with the added challenge of it being coated in a slippery, spicy sauce. However, I powered through and very much enjoyed this dish (until I got the check anyway).
I then decided to head out to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. I took the bus since it was about six kilometers away. The bus system in Singapore was great, and everyone was very friendly. I arrived at the gardens and was immediately impressed. This garden was started in its current location in 1859 and covers 74 hectares in the middle of the city. This garden has played a huge role in the history of Singapore, including distributing plants, including the para rubber, which contributed greatly to the economy of Singapore. The garden also focuses on orchids, and has one of the best collections of orchids in the world. To me, this is a perfect example of what a public garden should be: open to the public (and free!), providing opportunities for both education and entertainment, and a place for people to connect with nature, even in the middle of a huge city.
Also at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, I decided to participate in one of my favorite colonial traditions: afternoon tea. The SBG has several restaurants in the gardens, including one in the ginger garden. This tea came with a tray of five savory snacks and five desserts, all of which were amazing. It was great to sit in the gardens and have some tea and take a break. After tea, I headed back to Chinatown, had dinner (hot and sour soup from a hawker) and called it an early night.
There was one more place I wanted to go during my time in Singapore: Fort Canning Park. I decided to be extra ambitious and go for a run since I knew I would be sitting around for the rest of day in airports and on planes. This park has a ton of history since it is the highest point in the main city area. This hill was where Sir Stamford Raffles built his home and where he established the first botanic garden in 1822. It served as the base for the British government and it was where they surrendered control of the island to the Japanese during WWII. The park is loaded with historical information and sites. Despite the heat, it was a pleasant place for a run. The weather in Singapore was hot and humid, although I got lucky and avoided the rain the whole time I was there. While the temperature was only in the low nineties, the humidity added about ten degrees.
In my short time in the city, it struck me that Singapore is similar to Cape Town in a number of ways: the incredible mixing of cultures (especially the Malay, Indian, Arab, and British influences), the port location, and the long history of trade. Though similar in many ways to other cities, Singapore has a vibe and a culture all its own. I’m glad I made Singapore a stop in my journey through Southeast Asia, but two days and change was enough for me in this urban jungle. Next stop: Phuket, Thailand.