48 hours in Singapore

09/11/2015

Photo credit: iStockSingapore is now one of the most popular city stop-offs for travellers heading to other parts of Asia. Unfortunately, this means that when many touch down in the 'Little Red Dot' - a nickname affectionately used by the locals - they only have a few days to explore the diamond-shaped island.

If this sounds like you, then you need to know how to get the most out of this city state in just 48 hours. Here are a few things you must do if you want to experience the beautiful contrasts of Singapore with just two days to spare.

Day 1

Chinatown

To get a flavour of old Singapore and introduce yourself to the city, you need to start your trip in Chinatown. While the population of the island is largely Chinese, it is Chinatown - or Niu Che Shui in Chinese (meaning 'bullock cart water' in reference to the carts that used to haul in drinking water) - that retains most of the cultural charm. 

To avoid the tourist centres between Pagoda Street and Smith Street, stick to the south and east of the area. However, you're going to want to see the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple on South Bridge Road. Towering above Chinatown, this temple has six floors and contains religious artefacts, as well as a rooftop garden with the 10,000 Buddhas Pagoda and Tibetan-style prayer wheel. It gets its name from Buddha Shakyamuni's one tooth that can be found on the fourth floor. While touristy, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a must see in Singapore and it's ideally located for wandering down to the Sri Mariamman Temple. 

The Sri Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. It's an active temple so you need to be prepared to take off your shoes as your enter. If you want to take photos you'll have to pay between £1.40 (SGD 3) and £3 (SGD 6) but entry is free. As you walk into the temple, pay special attention to the intricately carved gopuram. These gave the adjacent Pagoda Street its name and the use of colour somehow manages to stimulate all of your senses. You can tell this place is truly sacred and visually it's arguably more impressive than the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.

Once you've had your fill of temples and pagodas, turn left onto Pagoda Street and browse the market stalls. As mentioned, this is the tourist epicentre but it's definitely where you'll pick up your souvenirs.

Photo credit: iStockOrchard Road

This is the best spot if you want something for everyone. In addition to its high street shops, it also has the Botanic Gardens (modelled on Kew Gardens), the National Museum of Singapore and the Singapore Art Museum. When in Orchard Road, you'll start to feel what modern-day Singapore is like, which will come as a stark contrast to Chinatown. Spend some time in the shopping area to truly get the vibe, then stroll down the road to the gardens if the hustle and bustle starts to get too much. 

Marina Bay Sands

As you'll be short on time, you'll probably want to combine eating and sightseeing. At night Marina Bay Sands lights up and gives you beautiful views as you grab a bite to eat at one of its many restaurants. Get there early and walk around Gardens by the Bay to begin your evening. This tropical garden is like no other, consisting of three separate gardens and covering over 101 hectares around the Marina Channel. The large metal tree structures look like something from a science fiction film and dominate the area. It's open between 5am and 2am, so you can take all the time you need to explore. 

Day 2

Kusu Island

If you love temples, history and relaxation, you need to take the time to travel to Kusu Island, which means 'Turtle Island' in Chinese.  It's one of Singapore's southern islands and it will be a nice relief from the hustle and bustle of main Singapore. Sitting atop the hillock are three holy shrines of Malay saints, known as kramats. These were erected to commemorate Syed Abdul Rahman, who was a pious man, and his mother and sister. Rahman was alive in the 19th century and people pray at the kramats (though not to them) for wealth, health, harmony and a good marriage. Those struggling to conceive will also take the trip in the hope if falling pregnant.

It's 152 steps to the kramats so be sure you're physically able before embarking on the journey. However, this isn't all there is to see on Kusu Island: Da Bo Gong is a Chinese temple built in 1923 by a wealthy businessman and is worth a look. There are also lagoons, beaches and a tortoise sanctuary on the island.

To get there you will need to take ferry and be warned that there is no overnight accommodation available. 

Photo credit: iStockKampong Glam

When you return to the mainland or if you're not searching for tranquility, instead of Kusu Island you should spend some time in Kampong Glam. This is a traditional district selling carpets, textiles, hip local clothes and accessories. There are also plenty of eateries in the area, in addition to the Malay Heritage Centre and Masjid Sultan. 

Masjid Sultan is one of the most important mosques in Singapore and is steeped in the history of the area. When Singapore was ceded to the British in 1819, the area around Kampong Glam was allocated for the Malays and other Muslims. Sultan Hussain Shah of Jahore was given jurisdiction over the Little Red Dot, alongside the island's chief Temenggong Abdul Rahman, and built a palace and the mosque befitting his status.

Where does Singapore combine well with? 

Singapore easily combines with most places in the Far East, as well as making a great stop-over on the way to Australia or New Zealand. For some great ideas check out or multi centre holiday pages. 

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