Seven years since my last visit, I touched down at Singapore Changi Airport after a smooth journey from London. This was the first stop of my 6 month sabbatical and I was very excited to be back in Asia.
All in all, I had an absolutely awesome stay in Singapore this time round. I was full of enthusiasm and energy thanks to this being my first stop of the trip. Neither jetlag, blazing sunshine or oppressive humidity could keep me from enjoying myself. I was finally travelling again – after years of planning and waiting through the pandemic! In addition to that, I was in the city at the same time as 6 people I know from various parts of my past. I was extremely excited to catch up with them, some of whom I hadn’t seen in more than 7 years.
So as mentioned above this was my second time here. But I was having a bit of trouble recalling what I did last time. I remember the Marina Bay Sands, it being hot and humid beyond belief, and the numerous air-conditioned malls that I frequently sought refuge in. Aside from that I don’t think the city made a huge impression on me.
This time round I saw a different side to Singapore. The city is more than just gleaming skyscrapers and air conditioned malls. In my opinion, the absolute best parts of the country are the parks, gardens and trails that are havens for hiking, cycling and exploring. During the lockdowns in the UK, where I spent 90% of my life in my bedroom in London, I was dreaming of being outdoors, somewhere warm, in nature. This is what I got to do in spades in Singapore.
I often found myself alone in the parks because Singaporeans tend to hide from the sun and stick to the aircon. I embraced the humidity and solitude, grinning from ear to ear as I explored the jungle, the horticultural park and canopy walks. I was joined by friends on several of my explorations as well which was so so lovely. I also did a ton of cycling, and several days I walked more than 20k steps. I was loving it.
The next best thing after all that time outdoors is that you can head home, have a quick shower, then head out to get food from an incredible variety of places. I went to all sorts of venues, from fancy cocktail bars to curbside kitchens with plastic furniture and £2 dishes. I’m not a huge foodie and not the most adventurous – the weirdest thing I ate was prawn porridge which was… fairly unpleasant. You can get cuisine from anywhere in Asia here, and it always made for a memorable experience.
Finally, one thing I was successful in doing was exploring the gay scene in Singapore which was super interesting. Homosexual acts were only decriminalised last year, but I was surprised to learn there has been a thriving bar scene in the city for years despite these laws. I made some new friends and checked out the bars. The drinks were a little pricier than I had expected (high taxes on alcohol) but the other patrons were super friendly. The culture here is for a lot of guys to be quite discreet – Singapore is still a socially conservative place. But once inside the bars, people were very chatty and social. It was a lot of fun!
In my 5 days in Singapore I did so much. I really burnt the candle from both ends – hiking all day and drinking all night. However, there are some big ticket items I didn’t get round to doing. In a way, I think it’s good to leave without ticking everything off, and to leave on a high. I’m extremely keen to return, to see my friends again, and get to know the city better. I definitely didn’t leave with that impression last time; it seems that Singapore has improved in recent years – one theory I heard is that the government is trying to fill the space left by Hong Kong as that city becomes less free and international.
I couldn’t be happier with my stay in Singapore, and I’m thrilled to have had such a strong start to my sabbatical. I’m grateful for the friends I spent time with, old and new, who were so generous and welcoming. Let’s hope the good times keep coming in my next destination!