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photo: travel pages: singapore

Singapore: The Virtual Tourist

vir·tu·al: adjective, being such in essence or effect though not formally recognized or admitted.

By viewing this page you are conspiring to virtual tourism, both because you're not really touring, and because I was there on a business trip with only spare time efforts made toward sightseeing. That said, I enjoyed my stay and hope you will too.

The Virtual Tourist above the Chinese and Japanese Gardens.

btw - the thumbnails on this page link to pages containing full size versions at 40-60k (approx. 500x350 pixels) which in turn link to hi-res versions at 100-250k (approx. 1000x650 pixels). If you have a big screen, fast modem, hi-res settings, or a critical eye (or any combination of these) you might enjoy the version of this page which links directly to the hi-res versions. You can find it here.


I had a coworker from our Singapore office respond to my queries about weekend activity possibilities with a deadpan one-liner: "...but you do realize that the national pastime is window shopping". Between that kind of comment and my starting point as a business traveler staying in a posh hotel in the center of Orchard Road 's shopping haven, I was often plagued with fears that I would be unable to fully appreciate this marvelous island city. The short guides and web pages I'd been able to find were feeling drastically over-hyped, and my free time seemed to be being gobbled up by the gods of jet-lag (perfectly 12 hours out of step with me).

under the bridge

After doing some requisite shopping in Orchard Road I had the image of the Merlion, Singapore's mascot, burned into my retinas. I couldn't afford to do any real shopping at Gucci, Vuitton, or Rolex, so I grabbed a Starbuck's, donned my Tilley hat, shouldered my tripod, and went to Merlion Park. Having seen enough of the financial district from a cab arriving at a meeting earlier that day I didn't venture in again, but the park made for a relaxing stroll, and as I circled past the Merlion I took this photo under the bridge off the Merlion's right jowl. I heard a rumour that the Merlion was due to be moved to a less congested location, and if the amount of renovation work happening in this area was any indication I believe the rumour

half fish, half lion - merlion!
Peeking over a wall up Victoria Street

Later in the week (at my next opportunity) tourist guide book in hand I made my way to Little India up Serangoon Road.
It was dinner hour and the streets were packed. The lowering sun in a threatening sky lifted me out of the present day, and dodging cars and motorcycles to peer down side alleys where tarps were spread to sell used goods was almost surreal. I waited out a downpour in a nearby apartment courtyard and watched lightning track the storm's progress, and then made my way up Arab Street. Had I been prepared to buy a few bolts of silk and Batik to send back to my wife's dressmaker I would have been in heaven. Arab Street is (and I can believe has long been) textile central.

Spikes at Sultan MosqueBehind Arab Street at the end of Bussorah Street lies the gold domed and lapis walled Sultan Mosque. It's worth a walk around (and into) if you're in the area, and if you work up an appetite taking photos there's a café right there on Bussorah that served me a killer hot curry, a cool salad and jasmine rice with tandoori chicken. The lime juice was good too.

Sultan Mosque

Another solid destination is Chinatown, with the major draws being more shopping and eating. Antique shops abound, specializing in everything from large furniture and decorative pieces to small jewelry, porcelain and jade. Haggling, bargaining, whatever you call it, it is the rule of the day with shopkeepers. Even if English communications break down, you can trust commerce to prevail. I bought a souvenir from a man with whom communication for me consisted of typing on his calculator and smiling for a refill of green tea.

Looking into the entrance of the Sri Mariamman Temple

On the topic of communication, English is generally the lingua franca, but an interesting time can be had coming to an agreement on what to have for lunch when your party has the preferred languages Cantonese, Malay and English and you're ordering Pernakan food from an Indian waiter. The exchange will be quite functional, but quite fun to listen to as well.

If you do wind up in Chinatown you should visit the Sri Mariamman Temple. Contemplating the striking figures of this Hindu Temple will put you a world away from the city pace outside.

In one of the courtyards of the Sri Mariamman Temple

When you're ready to find out what British tourists preferred some hundred years ago, then it's time to head to the Raffles Hotel. Named for Singapore's founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, the hotel that came up with the Singapore Sling remains an opulent setting. The word raffles could practically be used adjectivally to describe decadence, and you could imagine hearing the recommendation: "Oh yes, go, it's very raffles". The lazily turning fans in the Bar & Billiard room were for show, as it's air-conditioned, but they helped complete a perfect show. This kind of thing comes at a price though, and an hour of billiards and a couple of beers cost some sing 70 dollars. The statue of Sir Stamford dates to 1887 and stands outside the Victoria Theater near the river.

If you're ready for dinner and a drink, I have a couple of recommendations. If you'll have only one night out in your visit, go to Clarke Quay. The pedestrian streets wind back and forth to the river, combining restaurants and terraces based in conserved waterfront buildings with food stalls and salespeople with merchandise on carts. (By the way, conserved refers to refurbished or maintained buildings or heritage sites, the number of which has been seriously threatened by rapid development.) You can find something to suit your palette and your wallet, in whatever combination and from whatever ethnic origin you desire.

Very Raffles lah.
The Merlion at dusk - looking back across to the Victoria Theater clock tower.

After dinner stroll to the Boat Quay and either have a coffee or beer on the river front or go into one of the multitudinous bars and discos.

If Boat Quay is feeling to rambunctious, stroll along the water out of the boat quay back to the Merlion and look at the city's skyline.

Looking back on Boat Quay.

If you have a second evening out, and are feeling a bit romantic, try Chjimes. This converted girls' school houses lots of restaurants and a few bars, accessed from the central courtyard. At "'Shrooms" we sat glimpsing 19th century peaks out of windows cut into thick walls while we had some of the best cuisine available. As business dinners go it was a little over the top, and it is not cheap, but this food and ambiance are worth it. You're right across the street from the Raffles Hotel if the urge for a Sling takes you.


This ends the virtual tour; any comments are appropriately appreciated.

Graham Braun, April 2000.


All text and images unless otherwise indicated are Copyright © 1999 - 2000 by Graham Braun. Canadian Web Hosting by Studio Braun - www.studiobraun.ca.

Some additional images

The climb I made for the picture of the virtual tourist at the top of this pageA doorway somewhere near Arab StreetA drummer in Sri Mariamman Temple.The singapore river just after sunset - a taxi boat blur and a dreamlike steeple.

A green man (men?) in a hidden corner of Sentosa Park.

Sentosa is a national park island just off the South of Singapore.

One way of reaching the island, the cable car has a stunning view of the city and the docks that saw Singapore become the busiest port in the world.

Rumour has it that the government plans to lower access fees to the various attractions for 2001, and the level of renovation work and dearth of visitors suggest people are willing to wait till then. Perhaps I should have given it a miss, and if I had the time back I would probably opt for an excursion off island elsewhere.


Related Links:

Unorthodox Singapore - Robin uses her years in Singapore to help you read between the lines and fill in the hard to find missing details from the typical tourist literature. A great site!

Rec.Travel Library - Personal travelogues, trip reports, and worldwide tourist information. A deep resource.

Postcards from Singapore - Wee Keng Hor has taken some truly beautiful photographs of Singapore (among many destinations offered up on his homepage) and is worth a visit.

How to do Singapore in 5 days - Greg Cruey, your About.com guide for SE Asia for Visitors provides an overview of spots to hit if your stay will be short.

PhotoMann in Singapore - Douglas Mann also has some great photos at his PhotoMann Travel Photography site. Check it out.