I arrived in Singapore on a Wednesday afternoon, a bit disheveled from a late night in Bangkok. I had stayed up until after 2am, chatting with the crew at the Oasis Hostel in Chinatown, not ready to say goodbye.
My friend and her husband, who were there on business, had already been in Singapore for a few days. They were staying at the five star resort on Sentosa Island where the business retreat was being held. She instructed me to take a Grab (ride share service) to the cafe across the street from their hotel. There, we would discuss the best way to discretely get me, and my backpack, into their room.
Up until that day she told me it’d be no problem for me to crash in their hotel room- and when all was said and done, it was no problem. But, you see, my friend’s got somewhat of a nervous disposition. Her anxiety took over and she feared the hotel, or her husband’s company, would find out I was staying in their room and we’d be in some sort of trouble. (Her husband had already gotten the okay from his boss, but she still felt like we were breaking the rules.)
She was waiting for me when my Grab pulled up. I’m sure seeing my freshly dyed hot pink hair, that was anything but discrete, didn’t ease her nerves any.
At the cafe we made a plan while I stuffed my face with a sandwich that cost more than what I’d spent on several days worth of food in Bangkok. (It was friggin delicious though.)
I wasn’t at all worried about the accommodation situation but wanted to make sure she was comfortable with it. In all the years I’ve been traveling, and stay-cationing in Las Vegas, I have never admitted to having more that two guests in a room. Never. And no one has ever said anything, let alone kicked me out or charged me extra. To ease her mind I reminded her that, worst case scenario, I could go stay at a hostel downtown (I of course wouldn’t be able to afford to stay area on Sentosa Island). No big deal!
We decided she’d carry in my bags, since she was a registered guest, and I’d walk in beside her, my hair wrapped in my gray scarf to tone down my brightness. As I suspected, no one paid us any attention let alone tried to bust us. I was in!
From Chinatown to Sentosa Island
Getting to Singapore from Bangkok was a blur. Transportation to and from the airport, as well as my flight, were quick and smooth. That, mixed with being deliriously tired from staying up late and waking up early, made me feel like I’d been teleported into an alternate universe.
I went from sharing a dorm room with 5 others, and doing laundry in a back alley washing machine in Chinatown, to staying at a 5 star resort on an island that could have easily been a Hollywood movie set.
Sentosa Island was so perfectly constructed, clean and full of money, it did not seem real. It appeared man made, and had I not googled it (and discovered it was in fact a real island), I would have believed it was constructed purely for tourism. It has a Universal Studios and a water park on it for crying out loud!
My friend’s husband had the perfect word to describe life on Sentosa, “curated.” It’s as if someone hand selected every physical characteristic, every person and every event, to facilitate Instagram worthy scenes at every turn. This theory rings true for much of Singapore, with its bright lights and clean streets, but it’s especially true on Sentosa Island.
There are a ton of things to do on Sentosa, from zip lining and kayaking to fine dining and shopping. I’m sure it’s a great place for people looking for an adrenaline rush or designer handbag, but it wasn’t my ish.
Even sharing a bed (a king size bed that is) with my friends, it was a luxurious stay- which I did appreciate. We had long talks and a lot of laughs, as I’m sure you’d imagine we would with that set up!
Marina Bay Sands
The city skyline, the lights, the crisp clear night, I was in heaven on the rooftop bar at Marina Bay Sands.
My first night in town my friends and I accompanied several other people from the business retreat to Lavo, the lounge at the top of Marina Bay Sands. (If any of you Las Vegans are wondering- yes, it’s the same Sands company and the same Lavo from Vegas!)
Prior to booking this trip I knew nothing about Marina Bay Sands. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you where it was or the name of this landmark hotel had you shown me a picture of it. Now, I get butterflies whenever I see a photo of it on Instagram or scroll through the photos I took on my phone. My obsession with such a bougie place makes zero sense. I basically just ripped into Sentosa for being full of money, curated and touristy but can’t speak highly enough of Marina Bay Sands.
At face value, Marina Bay Sands doesn’t seem like it’d be my thing. Sure, I was up for seeing it but thought I’d simply have a peek and move on. I’m a minimalist backpacking nomad. The price of a hotel room for one night would cover a month’s rent back home! Marina Bay is home to some of the most exclusive (and expensive) brands in the world and I don’t own a designer …. anything. Why would I like such a place?
Honestly, I have no clue why but I did! It was just a feeling I got when I was there. For whatever reason, I vibed with the place.
I immediately made a connection to Las Vegas. (Which wasn’t difficult to do considering the hotel and rooftop bar are both Las Vegas companies.) I realize, for the first time, how fundamentally non-Vegasy I am. Yet there isn’t a city in the world I feel more at home in. I guess, there are some cities, like people, that you bond with in spite of logic.
The Business Retreaters
All the people from my friend’s business retreat were chill and laid back. That’s probably because the company itself is chill and laid back. It’s a tech company, social media management to be more specific. Basically they schedule social media posts for individuals and businesses. From Canada to Singapore 100% of the employees work 100% remotely. A few are even categorized as digital nomads, with no fixed home address. These business retreats are the only time that the whole company is together in the same place!
Socializing with a group of people who have found yet another route to location independence, among a Marina Bay backdrop, felt scripted!
After spending the first few days on Sentosa and visiting rooftop bars around Marina Bay, I wanted to check out another side of Singapore (and save some money on food!) One night I ventured off the island by public transit (my favorite) in search of a Hawker Centre.
I had read about Hawker Centres, local inexpensive food courts, in a blog. I took the Sentosa Express, the above ground train that goes between Sentosa and mainland Singapore. It usually costs $4 SG ($3 USD) but thanks to my friends and the fancy hotel, I was able to get a pass to ride it for free! The Hawker Centre wasn’t far from VivoCity mall, where I got off the train.
Walking up it reminded me of a food court in an American mall, but with different food. Food stalls with Thai, Chinese, Indian and Arabian cuisine were lined up in the center, surrounded by tables and chairs. I probably wasn’t the only tourist there but there definitely weren’t many if I wasn’t. With it’s close proximity to the mall, a lot of employees from VivoCity were there eating dinner. Me and my bright pink hair definitely got some looks, but I acted like I belonged.
After walking by every stall, twice, I decided on a place selling “Islamic Food.” The dish I ordered was chicken and rice topped with pieces of some kind of fried bread crumbs, lemon and herbs. Simple and delicious. The local vibe and inexpensive food was something I’d been craving!
Chinatown Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
I love Chinatowns! It’s seriously becoming the must see place in every city I visit… Maybe this is a sign I should go to actual China? We shall see! …
Anyway, my friends and another couple from the business retreat joined me for an afternoon in Chinatown! I was planning to go solo while they went kayaking on Sentosa, but when the rain set in, they decided to join me! I’m so glad they did because they recommended the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.. and I probably wouldn’t have gone otherwise!
Sleeveless, my friends and I were required to put on a shall before we entered. Monks dressed in orange, practitioners and the sound of chanting filled the ornate Buddhist temple. A service was being conducted. All of us were drawn to the beauty and authenticity of the experience.
After awhile we made our way to Smith Street where we sampled Singapore’s Chinatown street food!
On my last day in town, I decided to explore yet another side of Singapore. I chose Little India, randomly, when I saw the train station name on a map.
My first stop was the Indian Heritage Centre. I spent several minutes perusing the free literature. Deep into reading about the religious buildings in the area, an employee came up to me and said “you can take this with you.” Flipping the pamphlet over he revealed a map on the back. Pointing out the window he said, “go sit down with a nice cup of Indian tea and decide what path you want to take.” I looked out the window. He was pointing to a humble cafe. “Perfect. That is exactly what I’ll do. Thanks so much!” I took the pamphlet and headed across the street.
Intimidated by the lack of a posted menu or pictures, I walked up to the cafe slowly. An Indian woman approached me, smiling brightly “would you like to see a menu?” She asked.
I scanned the walls one more time… “I was told to order Indian tea, do you have that?”
She smiled again, with even more warmth than the first time, “yes, we do.” She walked into the kitchen while a man ushered me to a street side table.
“Regular or Masala?” He asked.
Unsure I asked back, “which do you prefer?”
He contemplated for a moment, rolling his eyes into his head, really weighing his choices. With a smile he said, “Regular. Regular is better.”
“Ok then, regular it is.” I said as I took a seat.
I sat there for awhile, with a cup of tea and a map, plotting a route to see the area’s varied churches, mosques and temples.
Two little Indian girls and their mother walked by me in the cafe. As soon as the youngest one saw me, her eyes popped out of her head, her jaw dropped, and her entire face smiled. Without taking her eyes off me she used one hand to yank her sister’s arm and with the other, she pointed at me. “That girl has pink hair!” she screeched, with excitement in her voice. Their mom smiled at me.