View of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel from inside the Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore. The images shows the hotel framed by plants.

Singapore

More to offer than a quick stopover

Many think of Singapore as a stopover on their way to Australia or South East Asia or a bland financial centre and although it can be all those things, scratching the surface a little you will discover a highly organised city with a mélange of cultures working and living together each with their own diversity, traditions, style and of course cuisines. Singapore deserves more time than a quick one or two day stop, but even if that’s all you can give to this surprisingly calm city state you won’t be disappointed.

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For the gay traveller Singapore is not overtly gay destination, but there are a few gay bars, clubs and saunas. You do see gay people around and it doesn’t seem much of a problem. But just to be on the safe side, I would avoid any openly affectionate touching or kissing in public. In general, Singapore is a very safe city and seems accepting to all cultures, genders and sexualities, and the 4 times I have visited I have never once experienced any discrimination or problems.

The best thing about Singapore for me is the food; and Im confidant to say the wider bear community like their food too. Around every corner there are culinary delights, from high-end eateries to cheap hawker markets and everything in between. I cannot remember how many bowls of Singapore Laksa I have eaten, each one a spicy delight. Needless to say, any review about Singapore, food will feature highly.

a bowl of Singapore Seafood Laksa
Singapore Seafood Laksa

Amazing food everywhere is Singapore

When learning French in the south of Paris back in 2008 I met a Singaporean and we kept in touch via twitter, so when we stopped over, (1 day on our way to Australia), we had the chance for a private guided tour of the city and the opportunity to sample what Singapore is renowned for; it’s wonderful high-quality cuisine.

It really doesn’t matter where you go or what budget you have, you’ll be not only spoiled for choice in some of the finest eateries the world has to offer. There are so many places to eat, if a restaurant wants to survive, it needs to be excellent or it won’t last for long. Singaporeans know their stuff when it comes to eating out and will queue to get into the best places, even when there are 10 other place to choose from next door. In fact, if there is a queue outside a restaurant, get in it, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. Below is a few places we tried this time around.

Putien – Chinese Cuisine

127 Kitchener Rd, Singapore 208514

Michelin One Star

Chinese restaurants are about sharing, you order many dishes and everyone digs in. It’s very different from how or what we expect in Europe and the same goes for the service. When I think of some of the one star Michelin restaurants around where I live in France, the service and presentation is very high. Chinese cuisine is about quality and tradition.

Puiten is noisy and brash with the waiting staff walking around with plastic basins for clearing the tables. Don’t expect a wine list and desserts (although there are a few typical Chinese one to choose from) as this is just not the Chinese way of doing cuisine. But don’t let this put you off. The food is excellent and well worth the Michelin rating. We had a lot of fun and tasted a lot of different things, plus the price was $174 SGD for four people, so excellent value too.

Shisen Hanten by Chen Kentaro – Szechwan / Cantonese

333 Orchard Road, Level 35, Orchard Wing, Mandarin Orchard Singapore
Singapore 238867

Michelin Two Star

Again, a noisy restaurant in a large and bright room, but this is just the Chinese way and most certainly not put you off of experiencing the excellent cuisine on offer. Shisen Hanten was an experience and my first adventure into Chinese haute-cuisine. It did not disappoint, even if we found the service and atmosphere strange at first, and they brought everything at once. But the quality and flavour of the food made us forget our hangups and we soon realised the sharing concept, which turned out to be the best way to try everything which was on offer. We paid around $300 SGD for 2 people only because we choose dishes like the Wagyu Beef and Bird’s Nest desserts plus a few glasses of wine. Again a really reasonable cost at this level of dining.

We did try to find a Michelin three star Chinese restaurant in Singapore, but all were French or Japanese. Having tried three star French in France and Japanese in Japan we wanted to stick to close to Chinese cuisine as possible.

Koh Grill and Sushi Bar

435 Orchard Road, #04-21 Wisma Atria Shopping Centre, Singapore 238877

Don’t be fooled by the location, some of the best places to eat in Singapore are in the numerous shopping centres. Most food courts have excellent local fare at budget friendly prices. Koh Grill and Sushi Bar is one such place. We first tired it on our first visit to Singapore when we had to queue for 1h30 to get a table. Although the queue is smaller, its still there and the place is still very popular. Get in the queue and be prepared to wait; this is not a grill and sushi bar as you might think, it’s flame grilled sushi. The twist on the recipe is really excellent, crispy hot sushi covered in delicious sauces. I really recommend to visit, and try the Shiok Maki dishes, even if you have to wait for tables.

Liao Fan Hawker Chan

78 Smith St, Singapore 058972

Michelin One Star

No trip to Singapore is without a visit to the first street food vendor to obtain a Michelin star. Now in a restaurant on Smith Street and famed for their Soya Sauce Chicken at $3 SGD, its the cheapest Michelin stared meal you can have. There is no need to reserve a table, but expect to queue as many Asian tours stop here from as early as 11:00 in the morning.

Accommodation

Its been the forth time I have visited Singapore over the last eight years. Like many others, it was an extended stopover on the way to Australia. After watching Mega Structures on the TV and seeing the construction of the impressive Marina Bay Sands Hotel we decided to stay with a short one day stopover and try their amazing infinity pool.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel

It was so amazing, I have only ever stayed at the Marina Bay Sands since; although Im sure there are many excellent accommodation possibilities in Singapore, I only know the Marina Bay Sands and can’t offer any other advice.

Taking my last visit into account the Marina Bay Sands was a huge disappointment. The hotel is getting tired with the amount of visitors. The wear and tear on the elevators and lobbies is unfortunately showing. The room was in disrepair and the cleaners missed many points. It was quite dirty and really not what I have come to expect at this hotel or any other in this price bracket (its not cheap). They have also made modifications to the roof area; the once chilled pool area with its relaxing cocktail bar and relaxed atmosphere with stunning views over the city and harbour have been replaced by loud music bars where you can hardly speak to one another and a restaurant blocking all views. The noise especially is destroying the rooftop with unbearable cheesy music (it would not be so bad if the music was good, but think bad k-pop). I understand that it brings in more revenue for the hotel, but it has undermined everything that made the hotel a wonderful experience and must place to stay in my opinion. Next time sadly I will look elsewhere.

If you do decide to stay, (maybe just for one night to see the view from the roof and swim in the pool), then try their breakfast. Its expensive, but amazing choice from the world over, just make sure you don’t get placed under one of the powerful A/C units as apart from being cold, all your food and drinks get chilled incredibly quickly.

Shopping

Singapore is awash with shops, shopping mall after shopping mall, street after street, everywhere there are places to spend money. Unfortunately for western bears clothes shopping is nearly out of the question. Even western brands don’t stock western sizes; which there are many. But tailoring is big and you can get some great custom made clothing everywhere. So if you’re in the market for custom made shirts or suits then Singapore is the place. Expect to pay in the region of about $500 SGD for a suit and $100 for a shirt. One of the best thing about all the shopping malls is the chance to escape the heat and humidity of the day time, which can be quite extreme at times. If there is one place you should visit, even just to look, is the 24 hour Mustafa shopping centre. It’s packed full of everything you can imagine and more. It’s a crazy experience which can be quite overwhelming due to the cramped layout and the amount of people. We visited on a Sunday morning quite early, but it was still full of people shopping. Be assured, any trip to Singapore you won’t find a lack of opportunity to shop. Most places are open very late in the evening (around 23:00) and due to the heat and humidity shopping in the evening is much more comfortable.

Things to Check Out

Singapore is a city for walking, but during the day this can be difficult with the heat and humidity so visiting things like the Botanical Gardens during the day is a bit of hit or miss. Wonderful gardens that are a must visit, but the weather can be too much for some. You often see weary tourists wandering around looking exhausted. Be sure to take a rain coat, water and sun protection everywhere you go, the sun is very close over your head and can be intense. Add this to very high humidity levels and you will be running for the nearest shopping mall or metro station and their A/C units.

Walking in the city at night is truly special and all the bars, restaurant and shops are open. Life starts to happen when the sun goes down. You can spend hours just walking around in the evening like the beautiful river walk from Clarke Quay to Marina Bay ending at the famous Merlion. During the day its better to have a few indoor activities planned to escape the weather.

Botanical Gardens

Fortunately the Botanical Gardens are open from 05:00 – 00:00 in the evening, and can be a wonderful early morning or evening walk if you don’t mind seeing the gardens under artificial lighting. It has it own charm which personally I like a lot, but you do miss a lot of the wonderful plants and animals wandering around. Check out their web site to see what is open during your visit.

Urban Redevelopment Authority

This was a surprise, we popped in while walking by to find an interesting permanent exhibition of a scaled down model of the city. What was most interesting was the future developments which were already under construction in the Marina Bay area. While visiting Gardens by the Bay, you can see a large piece of land with nothing, but has a metro station in the middle. Here you can see the future development on the area and what it will become. The thinking is at some point these gardens will be deep in the city and not on the city edge as they are at the moment. Unfortunately all the other exhibits were closed during our visit.

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay need to be visited both in the daytime for the Cloud Forest, Flower Dome and Skyway which are truly impressive structures which Im sure will get better over time as the plants mature, but also in the evening for the twice nightly light show to music. This is also a good time to walk in the open well lit gardens.

National Gallery Singapore

Architecturally the National Gallery in Singapore is stunning, the old supreme court and town hall buildings joined together tastefully with modern architecture. Even if you don’t have time to visit the galleries and the ever changing exhibitions, its worth popping in for a coffee and enjoying the building its self. Even if you are just escaping the heat.

Universal Studios

Universal Studios on Sentosa Island is smaller and much cheaper than its Los Angeles counterpart. One thing to note is that all the rides close each time it rains (and it rains a lot in Singapore), but don’t let that put you off. As soon as the rain stops, everything is open again. As the park is not as busy as LA, you don’t have to queue very long for each of the rides and you don’t need a fast pass. This makes a visit to Universal Studios Singapore quite a fun day.