Regardless of how you’ve ended up in Singapore (touring, living, or just passing through) The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a must visit. Located in the heart of Chinatown, this gem of a place will transport you to another time – or at the very least – another state of mind.
The temple itself is fairly new, opening to the public only a few years ago (2007), it was built to honor and house the sacred tooth relic of Buddha (the history of which can be read here).
While the temple is said to consist of 4 stories, it is really more like 7. With a museum, a rooftop garden, and a whole floor dedicated to the relic in which the temple is named for, it is a place you will want to have time to explore.
*This a sacred and holy place to many. Regardless of your own personal beliefs, be respectful when visiting: No shorts, tanks, bare shoulders or backs (for both men and women) – if you forget – which is likely, given that Singapore is ridiculously hot – there are shawls and sarongs located to the right of the courtyard for visitors to borrow.
*When walking through the temple refrain from talking, or if you must – do so quietly. There are often people praying and/or services taking place.
*No pictures are allowed on the 4th floor, where The Buddha Tooth Relic is housed (or where any relics are for that matter). Do, however, take advantage of the meditation area while you are here. It’s a very calm and peaceful place. – Just remember to leave your shoes at the entrance 😉
*Lastly, and I would hope this goes without saying to anyone reading this but I’ll say it anyway – just in case… Don’t touch the relics! Or the Buddhas, or the offerings (unless of course they are your offerings). I know, I know, duh! Right!?! But trust me, you’d be surprised…
The Sri Mariamman Temple, just down the main MRT exit to Chinatown, happens to be the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. This place of worship tends to be very crowded, but for some reason the day my sister and I visited there was hardly anyone around. . .
* You can visit for free, but if you plan on taking photos this is a small donation (fee) required.
* Be sure to take off your shoes before entering! They were not picky with attire, but you must take off your shoes. – be warned the ground gets very hot, so maybe bring some socks. 😉
Except, perhaps, in Singapore.
I don’t know about you, but in my experience, “Chinatown” districts and neighborhoods tend to be very similar, regardless of their actual geographical locations. And I have never much cared for them. I have always found them over crowded and pushy; either pushing their wares at you or pushing you out of the way, unless your a local – and sometimes even then.
Chinatown Singapore however, has a different vibe. Behind all the kitschy tourist crap, are real stores carrying actual goods worth taking a look at; and more often than not, the shop owners are super nice and rarely pushy. They will even engaged in a conversation with you or teach you about the art/medicine/tea/tonics/etc in their stores. Additionally, there are numerous places to grab a bite, with a whole street dedicated to outdoor eating and snacking. There is even a temple or two – but more on those later…
Maybe its the cool architecture, or that I find the people here super friendly. Or maybe its the good food, or the fact that its a great place to people watch while drinking a beer – or tea. Or maybe its a combination of all of the above. Regardless of the reason, its a place I come to often because, well, I just plain like it here.
Are you a zoo person?
I am. . . sometimes. . . okay, not really.
I am when the animals are being treated humanly. I am when they are given the most amount of space possible and not locked up in tiny cages. When conservation efforts are being made, and the goal is to protect the animals; not put them on display solely for human entertainment.
So I guess I am not really a zoo person, except in very specific circumstances. . .
The Singapore Zoo, lays claim to being “the world’s best rainforest zoo. . . where animals roam freely in open and natural habitats.” Ask anyone whose been, and most people would say it’s a definite must see. Heck, its rated number five on TripAdvisor. I, however, was left wanting.
The zoo seems to do well with its conservation efforts and education programs. It is very well maintained, and it’s easy to see that they take good care of the animals in their charge. However, the only animals I witnessed to be “in open and natural habitats, where they could roam freely” were their primates.
The primate populations here have the largest enclosures, or no enclosures at all, and roam around the park at will. There were some other “open concept” areas where guests enter a large enclosure and the animals within wander around “freely” (as is the case with the lemurs, bats, and wallabies). What I found disappointing, and upsetting, were the disproportionately smaller enclosures given to the larger animals such as the elephants, rhinoceroses, and especially the large cats.
When I think of an “open concept zoo where animals roam around in as natural an environment as possible” I think of the San Diego Wild Animal Park (now known as the “Safari Park”). Here, the animals are given a very large portion of land to wander around in, and are grouped with other animals they would naturally encounter in their environment out in the wild. Or, the San Diego Zoo, with it’s massive enclosures. Or, better yet, Apenheul a truly “open concept” primate zoo. What makes these zoos better, in my mind, is the effort given to each species to provide them with as much space as possible, given the circumstances.
With poaching ever on the rise and the rapid rate in which many species are dwindling from the earth I understand, and at times, can appreciate the need for quality zoos and what they have to offer: awareness, conservation, breeding programs, sanctuary, etc. The Singapore Zoo is, in all fairness, one such zoo. And is undoubtedly one of the best zoos in Asia. It’s just not one that I care for, due to the small enclosures of the other animals.
Yeah, yeah I know. Gardens. But really, I was surprised too!
One of Singapore’s star attractions is in fact their Botanic Garden. Not really knowing what to expect, and only working from my own frame of reference – that reference being ridiculously manicured and artificial looking “botanic gardens” that I have previously visited. I less than enthusiastically ventured into what I was sure would be another “artists vision” of what nature should look like when forced to grow in climates and plots created and dictated by man.
I couldn’t have been more surprised, and in the best way possible. Yes, it is a garden. And yes, obviously it is maintained and manicured, has pathways and restrooms, and even a restaurant or three. But it really is amazing. It’s like a tropical Central Park, but better. It’s like walking through your own tiny jungle -not that this place is tiny, it’s actually fairly huge and really is quite amazing.
* When visiting the garden, I would recommend entering from the corner of Holland Rd. and Cluny Rd. You can reach the gardens from the MRT station via the Circle Line, but personally, I find this side to be the best.
There is an odd phenomenon that occurs almost daily in and around Singapore. It doesn’t seem to matter your location, gender, age, or ethnicity.
Around town (read country) the sidewalks are often fairly narrow. Sometimes barely allowing enough space for two people to walk side-by-side without angling their bodies. Another feature these sidewalks seem to share is that they tend to border the street or shrubbery leaving little to no room if you happen to run out of space on said sidewalk; like, for instance, when you encounter “The Singapore Showdown.”
“What is ‘The Singapore Showdown’?” you might ask, we’ll it’s quite simple really… Think of it as a game of chicken. You know in the movies when two cars face-off in a race towards each other and the first one to swerve (obviously to avoid the impending head-on collision) looses. Well, it’s kind of like that, except the cars are people and the street is the sidewalk.
“The Singapore Showdown” occurs pretty much daily. I suppose when faced with a sidewalk barely big enough for one person this game of chicken is somewhat understandable, maybe even acceptable, since there really isn’t anywhere else to go. But this phenomenon occurs in the roomier places as well. People (locals and expats alike) walking two, three, and sometimes even four across, will come to a head with an approaching pedestrian trying to get by and NO ONE in the bigger group MOVES! It doesn’t matter if you have a stroller, a kid, if you’re pregnant, or an elderly adult. It’s crazy! Especially when there is literally nowhere else for this person/people to go (unless you count oncoming traffic or the ditch next to you). So you are left with a choice. Do you risk delving into the shrubbery, ditch, or street? Or, do you stand your ground and see who flinches first?
Let the Showdown begin!
Oh the cabs. . .
Cabbie: “Where we going?”
Me: “(gives address)”
Cabbie: blank face, then “Where is that?”
Me: “I don’t know.”
Cabbie: “How we get there?”
Me: “I don’t know. That’s why I hired you.”
~ Silence ~
Me: … “Hold on, let me look it up on my phone…”
Coming from New York, I guess I was a little spoiled with the proficiency at which the cab drivers knew their way around the city and outer boroughs. Call me crazy, but if your job is to drive people around to various locations then doesn’t it stand to reason that it is also your job to know how to get to said locations?
Maybe I sound a little too harsh, and you’re reading this thinking: “Hey, Singapore is a big place to cover with lots of smaller streets, give the cabbies a break.” And you would be right, except:
The taxi service my friends and I use has an app that lets you book directly on your phone. Cool right! Now, here’s the kicker: When your cab is confirmed you get a message with a feature that allows you to track your cab. The “locate” feature pulls up a map using your phones GPS and the GPS of your cab to show you on a map where exactly your cab is in relation to you.
So. . . my cabs are equipped with GPS . . . . . . 😕
In any case, always know where you are going and how to get there because your cabbies may not 😉
On a side note, I would encourage you to strike up a conversation with your driver! Most cabbies are really nice and enjoy talking to their passengers (unlike New York cabbies that wouldn’t know if you died in the back of their cars). You can learn a lot about the city and culture not to mention get great recommendations on just about anything in Singapore.