26 July, 09:00-10:00
We woke up rather late for our last full day in the Lion City, tired from our Fort Canning trip the previous day. Our final itineraries included visiting the Singapore Botanic Gardens and shopping for souvenirs at Orchard Road.
After a hearty breakfast of DIY kaya toast and teh tarik, we walked to Little India station (DT12 / NE7). Fortunately, the Botanic Gardens station (DT9 / CC19) on the Downtown Line (blue) had an exit just in front of the gardens’ Cluny Road gate! The gardens open as early as 5:00 in the morning, perfect for sunrise strolls.
26 July, 10:30-13:30
The Singapore Botanic Gardens boasts of a history spanning more than 150 years, remaining in the same spot ever since it was established in the 1800s. Despite Singapore’s small land area, land acquisitions helped expand the garden’s space to its current size.
Its heritage is very well connected to the cash crops that made Singapore rich through trade. Rubber trees planted in the Gardens played a big role in developing the Straits Settlements’ rubber industry. Gutta-percha extracted from trees was a key material in telecommunication as a material for undersea cabling. Gambier was a useful material for cordwainers in the British leather industry as a tanning and dyeing agent. Spices such as nutmeg and pepper were considered high-value products in Europe, providing flavors and tastes the Occidental world has never known before.
Most importantly, the Botanic Gardens serve as Singapore’s green lung – filtering out emissions and impurities in the island nation’s air. (Sadly, green lungs in the Philippines are being destroyed in favor of real estate properties.)
As a part of Singapore’s unique approach to diplomacy, foreign dignitaries visiting the country have orchid cultivars named after them – based on the national flower Vanda “Miss Joaquim”. Erstwhile Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has one such cultivar named after her, which can be found at the National Orchid Garden complex. Unfortunately, there is an entrance fee to enter the complex – so we were unable to see it.
I personally liked this leg of our Singapore visit, mainly because of the walkable expanse of the Botanic Gardens and the giant trees that provided shelter from the midday tropical sun. Artificial lakes made the atmosphere cooler whenever a breeze blows. Nothing beats the feeling of looking up and admiring the expansive trees, wondering what stories they may tell in their more than a century of existence.
We maximized our three hours here by checking out most of the points of interest — such as the Ginger Garden (showing the different cultivars of ginger), the Evolution Garden (detailing the evolution of forests from different time periods), Symphony Lake and the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage (where the Singapore Symphony Orchestra would usually perform), Swan Lake (famous for its swans imported from the Netherlands), and the Bandstand (where orchestras would perform for park visitors).
We exited through the Tanglin Gate at around 1:30 in the afternoon. Sure enough, a park ranger was at the gate – so we asked him what bus passes by Orchard Road. He told us: Bus 7 or 77, those pass by Lucky Plaza. We thanked the park ranger and headed to the bus stop. A bus marked with the number 77 passed by, so we entered it and tapped our tourist passes on the payment terminal.
26 July, 14:00-16:00
Lucky Plaza is the main hub for Filipino workers based in Singapore. It was already 2:00 in the afternoon and we haven’t had lunch yet after walking almost the entirety of the gardens. Fortunately, the bus stopped at the unloading bay right in front of Lucky Plaza. We originally planned to visit Minang House at its upper level for the nasi padang. However, we ended up at the hawker centre at the plaza’s basement. I ordered a vegan platter for lunch while my younger brother ordered a lamb rendang platter.
Here’s a story I’ll share during our hawker centre lunch. My younger brother had no idea where the end of the queue for the rice meal was located, so he was looking at the till. The main amah (auntie) manning the hawker stall told him whilst pointing at a line of people: Boy, you queue there ah!
We ordered drinks to wash down the savory lunch. I ordered an iced kopi, while he ordered iced Horlicks (malted milk.) One final trip to the washroom, then we headed to the main level to buy some souvenirs for the folks back home.
Our Singapore itinerary was already finished at this point and we were ready to call it a day. However, my younger brother was surprised that our day ended rather early. We then decided to head over to the National Museum of Singapore on a whim. It would close at around 6:30, so we still had time to check it out. A lot of it, in fact.
26 July, 16:00-18:40
We walked to Orchard station (NS22) from Lucky Plaza, occasionally stopping by Wisma Atria and ION Orchard to check out the discounted items. It was the Great Singapore Sale promotion, so most stores were putting their stocks on sale. We then rode the North-South Line train (red) towards Dhoby Ghaut (NS24 / NE6 / CC1), transferring to the North East Line (purple) to Chinatown (NE4 / DT19). Finally, we went to the Downtown Line (blue) train concourse and hopped on the train to Bencoolen station (DT21).
Just right outside of the station’s exit at the Singapore Management University‘s campus lies the National Museum of Singapore. It is the oldest one on the island, holding artifacts from Singapore’s different periods of history: from the early days of Temasek and Banzu, under the British, World War II, the union with Malaysia, and the subsequent 1965 independence. Tourists are charged with an entrance fee, which is justifiable given how well-maintained the museum is.
What got my attention, however, were the displays from the colonial period; the everyday clothes and items worn by the colony’s residents during that time. Another noteworthy display would be that of the Japanese occupation. It’s worth noting that just like the Philippines, Singapore underwent a period under Japanese rule. Life was difficult during those times, with skyrocketing inflation. One needed bundles of Japanese paper notes just to buy even the most basic of necessities. Such tender received the moniker “banana leaves” in Singapore and “Mickey Mouse money” in the Philippines, connoting worthlessness.
Another display was about food packaging in Singapore and its history. It showcased different types of food packaging materials throughout the years: bottles, tin cans, plastic tubs, and foil sachets. It also featured environmentally friendly alternatives: banana leaves, coconut leaves, and brown paper bags. The highlight of the display featured up-cycled packaging containers turned into different usable items such as wind chimes and baskets.
Museum staff started to escort patrons to the exits at around 6:40 in the evening. Since it was our last night in Singapore, and my younger brother found out about the Chinatown Food Street, we decided to head over to Chinatown for our dinner. We rode the train back to Chinatown station (DT19 / NE4), excited to close down our visit.
26 July, 18:40-21:00
The sun was still up when we reached Chinatown. I stopped by a few stores, including bakkwa (meat jerky) producer Bee Cheng Hiang, to buy additional souvenirs for my work colleagues. We strolled around the vicinity, even passing by the Sri Mariamman Temple around a corner.
At around 7:30, we decided to have dinner. It was a Friday night and a lot of people were out for their nightly drinks, but we managed to find a good seat. I ordered black chay teow kueh (radish cake), colored by the dark soy sauce used to fry it. My younger brother ordered a sate ayam platter; moments later, I got convinced to order seafood nasi goreng at a nearby stall.
We cleaned up our plates and gave them to the ah kong (uncle) in charge of housekeeping, then continued strolling around to help digest out dinner. Another religious structure, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, was nearby. We planned to visit and pay respects, but it was already closed – so we just took some pictures.
Based on my observation, Singapore’s Chinatown and Binondo have their respective similarities and differences. One such similarity is the synergy of religions in the area. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is but a stone’s throw away from the Hindu Sri Mariamman Temple, just like how the Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz (Binondo Church) has Confucian temples as its next-door neighbors in Manila.
Since we wanted to prepare for our departure, we decided to go back to our hostel at around 9:30. Our tourist pass was set to expire at 12:00 midnight, and this last train ride back to Little India served as the perfect denouement to three days in the Lion City. We freshened up as soon as we arrived at the hostel, started packing our things, and slept soundly.