Our first proper day in Singapore started with noodles for breakfast and my camera literally steaming up from the outdoor humidity.
We decided to spend the day at Gardens by the Bay and, after checking Google Maps, concluded that it wasn’t too far and we could definitely walk it.
It’ll only take us 20 minutes! – we said. Why pay for the metro when we’ve got legs! – we said.
Reader: we were wrong. So wrong. Should-have-just-got-the-metro-hate-all-my-life-choices-SUCH-REGRET levels of wrong.
It took us two hours, one juice, one iced coffee, three wrong turns, two “but you SAID it was THIS way” arguments, and a couple of bucketloads of sweat (sorry, but it’s true) for us to reach the Gardens.
So the moral of this story is: pay the 50p for the metro. Just do it.
The best part about Gardens by the Bay is that, for the most part, they’re completely free.
You have to pay to access the Flower Dome, the Cloud Forest and the Supertree walkway (£25-ish each), but we just skipped those bits and spent the time wandering through the gardens on our own instead.
It’s not like there isn’t enough to see and do! (And that way we could save our cash for a ridiculously expensive cocktail instead.)
On our wanders, we found several big family groups dotted around, just sat in the middle of a pathway here, or a courtyard there. Like they’d suddenly realised they were hungry and just had to sit down and EAT RIGHT NOW or else.
I’m not sure if it’s a religious thing (and if it is, please someone enlighten me, because I’m really curious to know!), but for some reason this really tickled me.
It also made us realise how late it had gotten (two hours and three wrong turns will do that to you), and how hungry we were. So we asked for directions from this friendly dude, and headed off in search of lunch…
Satay by the Bay is one of the hawker centres I had written on my list. (Yes, I had a list. Several, in fact. One for dishes to try, one for hawker centres to visit, one for restaurants, one for things to do… I’m not as unorganised as I might look!)
With a name like that, it would be silly not to order the satay, right?
There are several satay sellers dotted around so we just picked the one closest to us: City Satay. We ordered two of each of the grilled skewers, which cost us SD$7 (about £5), and came served with a dipping bowl of sticky, spicy and absolutely stunning peanut sauce.
Beef, mutton, pork, and chicken are all pretty standard. But my favourite was actually this: otah.
It tasted fishy, and when we asked the lady, she told us it was “spicy fish”. I’d never heard of it before, so I did some googling when I got home, and apparently it’s usually known as otak-otak or just otak, and it’s an Indionesian fish cake made from ground fish meat mixed with tapioca starch and spices. (Cheers Wikipedia!)
They grill it inside a folded banana leaf, so it keeps its shape and the end result is a firm but soft sort of paste, which melts in your mouth and is utterly delicious.
Hurrah for being brave and trying new things!
We quickly realised that the satay skewers alone were not going to fill up our hungry bellies, so I took SD$20 and went for a wander…
I think Gary was hoping for noodles, but instead, I came back with a plate of shrimp fried rice, and the best thing we ate on the whole trip: BBQ sambal stingray.
I’d never considered eating stingray before (I mean, have you?), but actually it’s deeeelicious. There are no little bones to worry about, as the bit they sell is the wing (which has just one clavicle-shaped bone to pull out, and they’ll do that in the kitchen for you!)
The meat is tender and fleshy, and it’s all smothered in a spicy sambal sauce made from a holy mix of chilli peppers, shrimp paste, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, lime juice, and other glorious items.
In Singapore they grill it inside a banana leaf (the best way to cook fish apparently!), and then serve it with some raw onion slices and a mini-lime.
Squeeeeze that lime all over, pick up your fork, and get stuck in. This stuff is GOLD.
Hawker centres in Singapore are the centre of life in Singapore. No matter where we were in the city, come lunchtime, the locals would descend in search of cheap, delicious food. (Who needs a Pret sandwich when you can have award-winning curries, noodles or rice for the same price!)
However, Satay by the Bay is definitely the the quietest centre we visited. It’s not as easily accessible as some of the more central locations, so it’s easy enough to find a table, and you won’t find yourself queuing for ages either. Which was fine by us!
We had our lunch, got rid of our rubbish, picked up a couple of iced juices (lime with sour plum), and headed back out into the heat…
(One more thing to note: you’ll very rarely find air conditioning at a Hawker centre! Satay by the Bay had a roof, but no walls, and was cooled only by shade and ceiling fans. If you really need somewhere with proper air conditioning, you’ll be better off heading for a proper restaurant.)
One of my favourite things about the Gardens were the hidden pockets we stumbled into. Everyone seemed to be hanging out by the Domes and the Supertrees, so we headed off in the opposite direction and discovered a whole LOAD of secret spaces.
Things we found include tucked away art sculptures, a palm garden, animals cut out of hedges (the orangutan was a fave!), and even a shaded area where old people were napping away the afternoon!
Honestly, I think this is always worth doing anyway, but it’s especially true at Gardens by the Bay: turn away from everyone else and explore on your own.
By 5 o’clock, the sun had got his hat on.
I, unfortunately, hadn’t remembered my hat, sunglasses, or parasol. I also hadn’t topped up my sunscreen since leaving the hotel at 9am. (Yes, I’m an idiot, and yes I got sunburnt.)
We stopped off to buy aftersun (the shopkeepers didn’t quite understand me, but I waved my red arm at them and they immediately handed me a bottle of aloe vera…), and headed back to the hotel for showers and a change of clothes before dinner.
Day one: complete.
PS. If you want to see more of Gardens by the Bay, check out Angela’s post. She did the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome earlier this year, and her photos are b-e-a-youuuuutiful!)
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*Just as an FYI:
This was NOT a press trip or sponsored in anyway.
We paid for everything ourselves. Thanks!