Singapore Chinatown

“I hated it. Absolutely cultureless.”

“There’s nothing to it but rich businessmen.”

“What is there to do in the most expensive country in the world?”

These are some of the things Josh and I heard about Singapore as we prepared to make our quick visa run to the nearby city-state. Our other co-workers have all made the same trip and were less than dazzled by their day in Singapore. And much like our trip into Jakarta, we were determined to find something (within our spending allowance) to love about Singapore. As it turns out, that wasn’t very difficult to do.

From the moment we hopped on the train from the airport, Singapore felt familiar and yet wonderfully different all at the same time. The ride into the city reminded me so much of a ride on London’s Underground, with the well-designed map, the cool English voice making announcements over the speakers, and all of the passengers avidly avoiding the gaze of strangers. On the other hand, the view out the window didn’t come close to resembling London. We passed by pastel-colored buildings, houses with red-tile roofs, and shiny skyscrapers in the distance. It was a unique combination of sights, and I couldn’t wait to get into the city and see it all up close.

MRTAfter finding the office to drop off our passports and visa paperwork, we had several hours to spend around the city. Our first order of business was breakfast; having heard about the Singaporean tradition of coffee and kaya toast, I insisted we check it out at a local cafe. Ordering a coffee in Singapore will get you a very sweet drink, as they automatically add sweetened condensed milk. Kaya toast is also a sweet snack, kaya being a kind of coconut jam. Josh was immediately in love with our breakfast, and he hasn’t stopped talking about that coffee and kaya toast since.

Singapore CoffeeSince Chinatown was close, we decided to head there as our first stop. After a short walk, we knew we had arrived when we saw strings upon strings of lanterns.

Singapore ChinatownThere was plenty to walk around and see: interesting storefronts, Chinese medicine shops, quirky restaurants, and a seemingly endless market stretching through a network of alleyways. There was so much that we probably could have spent our day walking around the neighborhood and taking photos of the many colors. However, it was hot, and when we found a chance to escape the sun for a while, we took it.

An impressive Buddhist temple/museum complex captured our fancy, and we spent some time exploring it, learning interesting new facts and viewing some beautifully spiritual exhibits.

Buddhist Temple

Buddhist Temple

BuddhaThe overall experience was beautiful and moving, but my favorite part was the roof, complete with exotic flowers, a giant prayer wheel, and ten thousand Buddhas.

Buddhist Prayer Garden

Ten Thousand Buddhas

Buddhist Prayer WheelAs we finished checking out the temple, we started to feel hungry, and hopped on the train to Little India, where we knew we could find something delicious to eat.

Little IndiaIt was hard not to stop at the first vegetarian restaurant we saw, or the second, or the seventeenth, but one vegetarian Indian place came highly recommended, so we wove through the streets, air heavy with the aroma of coriander and curry sauce, until we came to the restaurant that ended up being well worth the extra walk.

Gokul Vegetarian Indian Restaurant

We had a hard time finding something to eat, not because nothing looked good, but because there was simply too much to choose from. After flipping through almost a dozen pages full of delicious dishes, I finally settled on my favorite dish, a vegetarian chicken kofta.

Vegetarian Chicken Kofta

For dessert, we headed to a drink stall and split a mug of pure sugarcane juice, something that I had never heard of but that sounded interesting. I was surprised to see the vendor take an actual stick of sugarcane and send it through a juicer, leaving us with a deliciously sweet concoction.

Sugarcane JuiceWe still had a little time before picking up our visas, so we headed back to Chinatown, where we spent more time admiring the lantern-filled streets.

Singapore Chinatown


Finally, we decided to escape the afternoon heat by spending some time in a mall. I was drawn to a stationery stand, where I was entertained at the “English” phrases printed onto a lot of the journals and notebooks. Though English is an official language of Singapore, something seems to have been lost in translation, since nonsensical phrases were paired with seemingly unrelated images, such as the journal with French cakes on the cover along with the words: “Good mood is given good mood is own creation, have a good mood, will live out natural and unrestrained life.” I loved it, and I left that place with several new notebooks.

After the mall, it was time to pick up our passports, which now have shiny new Indonesian visas in them. We flew back to Jakarta as official residents of Indonesia, and as Singapore’s biggest fans. We loved our day there, but we hardly scratched the surface of what Singapore has to offer. Josh and I are definitely hoping to spend more time there in the future, but for now, we’re content to travel within our own country of residence!

Love, Elizabeth

E + J

*All photos were taken by Josh, and you can read his take on Singapore here.