View of the lotus building in front of the Singapore skyline

My Secret City: Singapore

Singapore dazzles with its unique blend of cultures and offers visitors a culinary adventure, stunning architecture and exciting attractions. Experience the city and island through the eyes of former UofG exchange student, Melissa Wong.

Gardens by the Bay is how I imagine a utopian future. Located downtown, it is Singapore’s experiment of combining urban life and nature. The ‘Cloud Dome’ within the Gardens is the greenhouse of the future. The temperature within is controlled so that different plant species from around the world can thrive and I’m incredibly impressed by the variety of flora and fauna. There is also a massive indoor waterfall that makes for a great photo spot! At night, the Gardens transform with impressive light shows from the Super Trees, man-made tree-like structures covered with creepers and different types of plants.  

"Singapore is a melting pot of different cultures from the region, reflecting the very best elements of the migrants who have settled here over the decades."

The shophouses in Singapore reflect our rich heritage and have some of the most architecturally unique designs around. My favourite is the row of colourful Peranakan Houses along Joo Chiat. These shophouses date back to the 1920s and are definitely “Instagrammable”. Located around the vicinity are lovely cafes and shops, it’s a great place for an afternoon outing. One of my favourite shops in the area is Birds of Paradise which sells botanical-flavoured gelato. They specialise in unique floral flavour combinations, with my favourite being strawberry basil and hojicha sea salt. 

Timbre is an integral part of Singapore's live music scene and has been my favourite go-to bar for good food, drinks and music. You can even request your favourite songs via WhatsApp! My favourite Timbre outlet is the one by Singapore River, where I can enjoy the lovely night breeze as I vibe to my favourite tunes and feast on their scrumptious duck pizza. In recent years, Timbre has expanded into the heartlands, where they offer the same fantastic live music, but paired with Singapore's iconic hawker stalls. What sets them apart is the combination of good quality craft beers and wines, together with your usual local hawker fanfares. It gets really packed on the weeknights when there are live performances, so go early to get a good seat.

"Singapore is so small you can drive from one end of the island to the other in 45 minutes."

My favourite place to spend a Sunday afternoon is at Jewel Changi, inside Singapore Airport. Spending a day at the airport is not something one would think of as an ideal Sunday activity, but with Singapore being so geographically small, travelling to the airport is not such a crazy idea. Located in the middle of the mall is a garden that’s home to one of the world’s largest indoor waterfalls. Filled with indoor trees and plants, the garden looks like a scene out of a sci-fi movie. My favourite thing to do is to head to the basement, where there are many food stalls, to buy takeaway snacks to enjoy in the indoor garden. There are light shows throughout the day at the waterfall and it is truly a sight to behold. 

When I need respite from the city, I head to Sentosa. This little island off the south of Singapore is easily accessible by public transport. Choose between fancy beach clubs (my favourites are Rumours Beach Club and Tanjong Beach Club) or, if you’re on a budget, stock up on food and drinks from the nearby VivoCity, the biggest shopping mall in Singapore, and chill on one of the many beaches on the island. 

If you’re lucky to be in Singapore during the Formula 1 racing season in September, our night race is one that you should not miss! The streets of our Central Business District are transformed into a professional Formula 1 circuit and the race is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful night races ever. If you’re lucky enough to snag some tickets for this event, be sure to head to the Padang Stage, where world class acts perform all through the three-day event. My best memories are dancing along to Rihanna, Shakira and Maroon Five with my friends. 

My food & drink hit list

A Singaporean classic
Ya Kun Kaya Toast, which has multiple branches throughout Singapore, serves classic kaya (a sweet spread made from the pandan plant), the perfect soft-boiled eggs and warm milk tea. My daily choice of breakfast, Ya Kun arguably serves the best and most perfect version of this Singaporean classic! Sandwiched between two toasted and extremely thin and crisp slices of brown bread, Ya Kun’s kaya is not too sweet, and includes a generous knob of butter to create creamy and indulgent toast. This is perfect to dip in the eggs, which are best eaten with a teaspoon of soy sauce and a dash of pepper. Don’t let the description scare you, everyone who has tried it has fallen in love with this combination!

"Other notable mentions for street food include Newton Food Centre (as featured in the movie ‘Crazy Rich Asians’) and ABC Brickworks, which offers homey vibes and many of my favourite food stalls."

Street food to savour
Singapore is lined with hawker centres, which are essentially street food stalls selling a variety of uniquely Singaporean dishes. Centrally-located Tiong Bahru Market sells the best Hokkien noodles (wok-fried prawn noodles topped with sinful pork lard) as well as a family favourite, Hainanese Curry Rice. With over 50 stalls to choose from, you’ll rarely get a bad hawker meal, and all dishes are under £5. The buildings surrounding the market have brilliant art deco architecture, and my favourite post-meal workout involves a night stroll of the area while eating a scoop of decadent ice-cream from Creamier, a local ice-cream cafe.

A meal with a view
For great views of the bay and delicious craft beers, Picotin Waterboat House, located at the entrance to Singapore River, is a stunning restaurant to visit in the evenings. Housed in an old heritage building, the restaurant has some of the best views of the Marina Bay Sands hotel. For the full experience, request to sit on the open-air roof – you can even catch the lightshows from Marina Bay Sands every night!

"You can find the best Chinese, Malay, Indian and even European dishes here in Singapore. Our different cultures are best illustrated by the evolution of our local cuisine."

A must-try dish
Arguably the national dish of Singapore, Chilli Crab is the must-try for everyone visiting our sunny shores. Juicy crab meat lathered with a rich, spicy and egg-y chilli sauce; this decadent dish is another favourite of mine. During special occasions, my family head to Long Beach or Jumbo, both extremely popular seafood restaurants with their own cult following, for our Chilli Crab fix. My choice of carbs with this dish are mantou (fried buns) which serve as the best vehicle to scoop up the addictive chilli sauce!

Waterside drinks
We Singaporeans do enjoy a drink or two, and you can find the best nightlife and drinking spots scattered around our three iconic quays, namely Clarke Quay, Boat Quay and Robertson Quay. You’ll be able to find anything from mainstream bars to quiet speakeasies and nightclubs in this area. I personally enjoy chilling at some of the rooftop bars along the Singapore River.

This article was first published September 2022. All opinions expressed are the views of the author and are not endorsed by the University of Glasgow.

Evening view of three Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay, with Flower Dome and Cloud Forest in the background, and reflections in the water [Photo: Shutterstock]

Located in the heart of Singapore, Gardens in the Bay comprises three waterfront gardens over 1,010 hectares. With temperature controlled areas, the gardens are able to showcase plants from all around the world.

A traditional Singaporean boat sailing in the waters of Boat Quay [Photo: Shutterstock]

The historical Boat Quay is overlooked by the skyscrapers of Singapore's financial distract, creating a striking juxtaposition of old and new. The shophouses of Boat Quay now serve as bars and restaurants.

Glass roof and indoor water feature of Jewel Changi lit up at night [Photo: Shutterstock]

Located at Singapore Airport, Jewel Changi is home to the world's largest indoor waterfall, a garden in a mall and food outlets for all tastes - making it one of Melissa's favourite places for a day out.

The buildings along Clarke Quay lit up at night [Photo: Shutterstock]

Clarke Quay is a historical riverside quay, located upstream from Boat Quay and the mouth of the Singapore River. Today, the Quay is home to restaurants and nightclubs. 

Aerial view Singapore City financial district and business building [Photo: Shutterstock]

Singapore's Financial District, also known as the Central Business District or CBD, centres around Raffles Place square and is home to major banks and financial institutions. 

Marina Bay Sands hotel light show at night [Photo: Shutterstock]

Marina Bay Sands is home to the world's largest rooftop infinity pool. For an amazing view of the hotel's daily lightshow, Melissa recommends dinner at the Picotin Waterboat House.

Sandy beach and palm trees on Sentosa island [Photo: Shutterstock]

Sentosa Island is home to a beaches, golf courses, hotels and tourist attractions. Easy to reach on public transport, Sentosa is Melissa's favourite day trip when she wants to escape the city.

Chilli mud crab cooked in a red chilli sauce with fried mantou buns in the background [Photo: Shutterstock]

Stir-fried crab in a sweet and savoury tomato and chilli sauce, served with fried mantou (buns), is one of Melissa's favourite dishes.

Inside Newton Food Centre showing the rows of hawker stalls and people eating[Photo: Shutterstock]

Newton Food Centre is a major hawker centre offering the chance to sample many different types of food. Featured in the movie Crazy Rich Asians, the Centre is popular with tourists.