Bonsai and Gangnam Style

Have you ever been on a long-haul flight home from somewhere across the world, when all of a sudden the plane lands and the pilot says, “Yeah, we’re in Singapore, you have to get off for a bit,” and you say, “Crap! I wish I hadn’t spent all my money on illegal money changers, alcohol, and rip-off taxi drivers…”? Ok, well, luckily you don’t need to have had that exact experience to relate to what I’m about to tell you.

As people like Free But Fun know, a diverse and significant subsection of the population loves having fun without spending too much money. This post is for the subsection of that subsection who may one day find themselves stopping over in Singapore, possibly with young kids or, failing that, an interest in history, archeology and bonsai gardening. And alcohol.

Who Went? One 5yo, one 2yo, Mum and “Uncle” B.

Review: A tight little itinerary with something for everyone, by which I mean “everyone we went with”. The copious amounts of walking freely around outside pleased the kids, although they were less taken with activities such as falling into the duck pond (not as deep as it looks, by the way). Local food was procured for all palates, and time was made to enjoy child-free activities centred around history, archeology, and drinking – although substitutions are detailed below for the child-full.

Highlights: Curry chicken, Singapore Botanic Gardens (including the Bonsai Garden and Orchid Garden), Haw Par Villa, crazy student Gangnam-style antics (link provided for the benefit of my parents, potentially the last people in the digital world to hear about Gangnam Style), Jo Jo’s Restaurant, salted egg crab and Tigers at the hawker centre, Singapore Slings at the Raffles Hotel, the Asian Civilisation Museum, Fort Canning Park and the Singapore National Museum.

Challenges: Fitting it all in. Uncle B didn’t really get to see Fort Canning Park or the Singapore National Museum, although he got a decent look at everything else. He also whinged a couple of times about the heat but we didn’t take much notice.

Price Bracket: Low budget, with a lot of free or low-cost attractions, and all readily accessible by public transport. (More info on pricing below.)

Three (Or More) Photos:

The Orchid Gardens at Singapore Botanic Gardens.

The Orchid Gardens at Singapore Botanic Gardens.

 Inexplicably, B is surrounded by banner-waving university students pressing him to dance Gangnam Style. He looks surprised and confused until I explain to him that this sort of thing happens roughly every second week.

Suddenly and inexplicably, Uncle B is surrounded by banner-waving students pressing him to dance Gangnam Style. He looks surprised until I explain to him that this sort of thing happens roughly every second week, whereupon he looks puzzled.

The Sally Gate at Fort Canning Park is not usually this reminiscent of Picnic At Hanging Rock.

The Sally Gate at Fort Canning Park isn’t usually this reminiscent of Picnic At Hanging Rock.

Not necessarily how you're supposed to eat salted egg crab.

Not necessarily how you’re supposed to eat salted egg crab.

Depending on who you ask, Haw Par Villa is either the best attraction in Singapore, or the worst, or possibly the trippiest or the most disturbing. We like it because we don’t know what could be more fun than a 1930’s-era, Gaudiesque reinterpretation of Chinese mythology…

They actually redeveloped on the site of  the sister-park in Hong Kong. Philistines!

They actually redeveloped on the site of the sister-park in Hong Kong. Philistines!

…and because we like to remind our kids of what will happen to them in the afterlife if they lack filial piety:

They usually exit the Ten Courts of Hell too lost in thoughts of being tied to a stake to have their hearts cut out by a demon to ask any questions about the woman breastfeeding her father in law on the other side.

They usually exit the Ten Courts of Hell too lost in thoughts of being tied to a stake and having their hearts cut out by a demon to ask any questions about the woman breastfeeding her father-in-law on the other side.

Itinerary: Day One

  • Pick up at airport, evening arrival
  • Sightseeing around airport (no, really)
  • Curry chicken rice for dinner
  • Taxi home (30 mins, $25 – MRT also available for about $2.50)
  • Overnight in Singapore

Day Two

  • School drop-off for mum and P, sleep in for Uncle B.
  • Meet at Botanical Gardens, Tanglin Gate end (accessible by bus – not the MRT end)
  • T demolished her picnic morning tea and lunch and was still begging for more, so she also enjoyed an all-day breakfast and play in the little kids’ playground at Food For Thought Cafe, whilst I had my morning coffee. A pizza at Casa Verde, with its nearby fountains and bike-riding area, is a better choice for older kids. Or just pack twice the picnic and some coffee.
  • Fish feeding at the gardens ($1 fish food from dispensing machines near information desks located around the gardens; don’t lean too close to the pond unless you have a change of clothes)
  • Visit to the botanical gardens’ Bonsai Garden (free) and Orchid Garden ($5 entry, including the air-conditioned cool house)
  • School pick up. If the kids are off school, try the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden before you hop on the MRT.
  • Late lunch/afternoon tea at Jo Jo’s (99 South Buona Vista Rd) – fruit ice jelly for the kids, local tea, coffee, lime juice, fresh coconuts, Chinese-Singaporean style dishes. (Jo Jo’s and the next-door Food Joy supermarket is three stops away on the number 200 bus (just around the first corner) from Haw Par Villa MRT, if you catch the bus from the same side of the road as the MRT station. There are also places to eat directly across the West Coast Highway from Haw Par Villa.)
  • Caught up in NUS-student shenanigans involving Gangnam Style, for some reason.
  • Haw Par Villa (Free entry, Haw Par Villa MRT)
  • Bus home, dinner, bath and bed for the kids.
  • Late night dinner (adults only) at local hawker centre – I recommended the chilli crab, but B (the other B) said he was all chillied out for the day, so we had salted egg yolk crab (with beer and side dishes) instead. Hawker centres are very family-friendly, but we wanted to finish a few sentences over dinner, not to mention a couple of beers.
  • Overnight in Singapore

Day Three

  • Swimming lessons and school drop off for mum and kids.  If no school or swimming lessons, I would have subbed in a trip to the Chinatown Heritage Centre on Pagoda St, Chinatown (China Town MRT, admission under $10, not for strollers).
  • Meanwhile, Uncle B – a worldwide connoisseur of historical and archeological museums – went to the Asian Civilisations Museum, which he rated as impressive in terms of its artifacts, if a little cluttered (Raffles Place MRT – also walkable to/from Clarke Quay if you have the time – admission under $10). Then he went to the bar at Raffles for some Singapore Slings (free admission, but they’ll get you on the ‘Slings).
  • School pick up for mum and kids, meet at Fort Canning Park/National Museum of Singapore (free entry with some paid special events and exhibits, Clarke Quay or Dhoby Ghaut MRT)
  • We should have packed a proper picnic or stocked up at the supermarkets (level one, Plaza Singapura if coming via Dhoby Ghaut MRT, or the basement of the Funan IT Mall if coming from Clarke Quay MRT/Chinatown), but we didn’t, because we are silly. Alternatively, we could have ordered take-away from a food court and eaten it up on Fort Canning Park’s wonderful Picnic Terrace, which even has garden swings – but we didn’t, because we are silly. We ended up eating at Food For Thought Cafe again (Museum branch this time), which would be a nicer place to eat with kids if it wasn’t also the loudest echo chamber with table service I’ve ever come across.
  • Uncle B departs for an overnight flight
  • Mum and kids ramble around museum and Fort Canning Park (including the small archeological dig site) before catching the bus back home

Note: I’ve also updated A’s itinerary to New York and Boston with some extra actual details, including explanations for the photos (all at the bottom). Who’d have guessed Strandbeest? Edit: this post was submitted to Canadian Travel Bugs’ Tourist in Your Own Town series in October 2013. Go on over for highlights of Shanghai and others.

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