Almost 5 years since our last visit to Singapore, we found ourselves there again. I first saw Singapore back in 2002, and has been drawn to it almost every half a decade since then. Our latest visit was now my fourth.
Back in 2002, Singapore was famous as that ultra-orderly city where chewing a gum or not flushing a toilet can land you a stiff fine. “Fine City” was the unofficial tourism tag line, and I can sense the moment we landed that the place meant serious business. The very fresh Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay was talk of the town back then. Suntec City was the “it” place with what was back then the largest mall, and frankly there wasn’t much to be done outside of Orchard Road and the Singapore Zoo. Clark Quay, one of the few places alive at night, was still quite dark in the evening (though it was already a good place to chill), and Sentosa was more known for the old monorail and the dolphin shows. Travel back then meant a lot of taxi rides as the the two subway lines still had pretty limited coverage, and no tourist might have deliberately wanted to stay at some place like Singapore’s Chinatown.
Fast forward to 2015, Singapore is still known for strict rules, but the city-state has largely moved on from that disciplinarian, all business image and has embraced a more casual, even playful attitude. The Esplanade is still there, shiny as ever, but the limelight has been stolen by the magnificent Marina Bay Sands and the Gardens by the Bay across it. Visiting kids would think of Universal Studios first, before the zoo. The old Sentosa Monorail was gone, replaced by a futuristic looking one serving Resorts World Sentosa. Clark Quay also gained a roof, a lot more bright lights, and it no longer has a monopoly on nightlife. The expansive subway lines can now take you anywhere in central Singapore and yes, Chinatown is now a pretty good place to stay indeed.
For an infrequent visitor like myself, one of the more noticeable changes in Singapore, apart from the ever evolving skyline, is it’s own version of a renaissance. Places like Chinatown, once an unremarkable spot with a few shady corners, was massively restored as a heritage area. It is now a backpacker haven, night market and foodie paradise with a well maintained food strip along Smith Street. Narrow streets are flanked by colorful and picturesque old shops, and the whole place now has a busy, lively atmosphere.
Keong Saik Road
Our hotel was at Keong Saik Road, at the western edge of Chinatown, close to Outram Park. Until a few years ago, Keong Saik was a shady piece of road known as a haven for brothel operators. It has only recently been totally redeveloped into an upmarket, tourist friendly corner that also attracts the young local elite crowd. The area is now home to a handful of boutique hotels, fine dining restaurants and upscale bars, and the streetsides are parking areas for expensive cars in the evening.
* All photos were taken on October, 2015.