Merge & Al's Excellent Adventures

7 min read

I can never get enough Singapore!

Singapore is a cosmopolitan city-state that stands out as a global financial center and a bustling multicultural hub.  Most people know it for its strict regulations and impeccable cleanliness.  But it is also famous for its lush green spaces, efficient public transport system and cutting-edge architecture. Its skyline, dominated by modern skyscrapers, is peppered with diverse cultural enclaves such as Chinatown, Little India, and Arab Street, each offering a unique glimpse into the traditions that make up this diverse society.  Singapore has always been one of my favourite cities to visit.  As a teenager, I lived here for seven years, so when the MS Westerdam made a couple of stops during my cruise adventures in November and December 2023, I was thrilled.  My goals for both my visits were not ambitious since I have been to most of the tourist haunts several times over the years.  All I really wanted to do was eat my favourite foods!   In case you don’t know, Singapore also boasts a vibrant dining scene and the street food served up at hawker centers is to die for!  But I made some new friends on board the MS Westerdam, and I promised them that I would accompany them to a couple of tourist sights that they were keen to visit. 

The Singapore skyline from the top deck of the MS Westerdam. That’s the Marina Bay Sands hotel and the Singapore Flyer
Little India’s streets decorated for Diwali
Some of the dancers from the festival
Their costumes were stunning!

First on their list was Little India, a vibrant, culturally rich neighborhood that captures the essence of India’s vast heritage within the modern cityscape of Singapore. Located just east of the Singapore River, it’s one of the city’s most colorful and exciting areas, buzzing with life and activity.  The streets are lined with traditional spice stores, bustling markets, and jewelry shops that offer a glimpse into Indian culture and commerce.  Landmarks like the ornate Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple and the 24-hour shopping mall, Mustafa Centre, draw just as many tourists as locals. When I got there in November, the annual Diwali festival had just concluded so the streets still had their decorations up.  There was also a local community dance festival just ending and I managed to get some photos of the dancers in their stunning costumes.

Colourful cows everywhere in Little India

The Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, located in the heart of the Little India neighbourhood, is one of the city’s oldest and most respected Hindu temples.  Dedicated to the fierce goddess Kali, it was established by Indian pioneers in 1881, serving as a spiritual solace and cultural gathering place for the Tamil community in colonial Singapore.  It is architecturally stunning, adorned with a vibrant array of statues and intricate motifs that depict various Hindu deities and illustrate scenes from Hindu mythology.  It is a peaceful and spiritual retreat in the middle of urban chaos, where worshippers and visitors alike rub shoulders every day. 

The front entrance to the temple
Inside there were worshippers
Some of the interior artwork

Going to Little India made me very happy, because it also gave me a chance to stop at Komala Vilas restaurant, which has been serving authentic South Indian vegetarian cuisine since 1947.  Originally founded by Mr. Murugiah Rajoo, it began as a humble establishment but quickly grew into a popular dining spot, known for its traditional ambiance and consistently excellent food.  It offers a variety of dishes, including fluffy idlis, crispy dosas, and spicy curries.  I have very fond memories of dining here with my dad in the 1970s whenever he made the trip to this neighbourhood every few weeks to stock up on Indian groceries.  My brother and mother would often come as well, but this really was a father-daughter event – we both adore South Indian food!  As usual, there was a line to get in, but it was moving fast, and we were seated within 15 minutes.  I didn’t even have to look at the menu, I knew what I was going to have – paper masala dosa – one of their most requested menu items (for good reason!).  If you’re wondering, it is a large, thin, and crispy textured savory pancake.  Essentially a thinner and more crinkly version of the traditional dosa, it is made from a fermented batter of rice and urad dal. It is called “paper” because of its delicate, paper-like appearance, and it is typically rolled into a large cylindrical shape that can be almost two feet long. The “masala” refers to a spiced mixture of mashed potatoes cooked with onions, mustard seeds, turmeric, and green chilies, which is placed inside the dosa before it is served.  It is accompanied with a variety of chutneys and sambar.  Yum!!  I forgot to take a photo until I’d already eaten most of it!

Paper masala dosa — it was twice the length of the plate

Full and happy, we wandered through the streets to get to our next stop, the iconic Gardens by the Bay.  This is a stunning, futuristic botanical park that has become synonymous with the city’s commitment to combining urban life with lush greenery.  Spanning 101 hectares in central Singapore, near the Marina Reservoir, its main feature, seen from afar, is the Supertree Grove.  There are also two massive, climate-controlled conservatories, the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest, that showcase exotic plants from around the world, but we didn’t go in.   The Supertree Grove contains towering Supertrees, ranging from 25 to 50 meters in height, which are not only visually striking but also environmentally functional, since they act as vertical gardens that collect rainwater, generate solar power, and are venting ducts for the conservatories.  

The iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel
Street art in the Central Biz District
Cool architecture everywhere
Gardens on the Bay during the day
A supertree at night
15 seconds of the Supertree light show, every night

Given my fondness for Singapore street food, it is no surprise to anyone who knows me that I ended up at the Lau Pa Sat Hawker centre.  Hawker centers are a quintessential part of Singapore’s culinary landscape, offering a diverse array of affordable food from various ethnic backgrounds in an open-air complex.  Lau Pa Sat Hawker Centre is a historic gem located in the heart of Singapore’s Central Business District, and conveniently very close to the ship using the MRT system.  This Victorian structure, originally built in the 19th century, is famous for its satay street, where skewers are grilled in open-air stalls each evening.  But it wasn’t just the satay I was after, my new friends wanted to try a variety of Singapore street foods, and I was happy to oblige! 

Char siu bao – Steamed BBQ pork buns
Curry puff on the left; char kway teow on the right
Char siu (bbq) pork with rice
Sugarcane juice with lime over ice
Lau Pa Sat is a Victorian heritage building
One small section of Lau Pa Sat

Can you believe that I took photographs of everything we ate, but I completely forgot to take photos of the satay!  Oh well, yet another reason to come back to Singapore.  Good thing I have plans to return again in March 2024.  Note to self: don’t forget to take photos!

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