is singapore sterile and boring?

Today Anja from the Curly Traveller is going to tell us all about Singapore and I’m so excited! I was supposed to have the post up yesterday but my Internet wasn’t working, and then I accidentally dumped a glass of sparkling water all over my MacBook Pro and had to dry it out. My husband nearly had a heart attack — but don’t worry, she still works! You go, laptop; get on with your bad self!

A widespread stereotype about Singapore is that it is sterile and boring, only interested in economic growth. People believe there is nothing authentic left and that Singapore merely consists of skyscrapers and shopping malls.

Marina Bay Singapore skyscrapers
Marina Bay, Singapore’s five-starred area.

And indeed there are many high end neighborhoods and spectacular, modern buildings.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel
Night view of the lights of the CBD. In the front we see Marina Bay Sands; hotel, casino, shops, restaurants, and an infinity pool and viewing deck.

Singapore Marina Bay Sands Hotel
On top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel there is a huge infinity pool with spectacular views. In the background we see the harbor and the sea..

Singapore Marina Bay Sands Hotel Pool
Hotel guests enjoying the MBS pool. You can see the Singapore River, lined by traditional shophouses, nowadays converted into restaurants and bars.

Until recently we lived in one of the most glossy, new skyscrapers around the bay: The Sail. We lived on the 28th floor.

Our building is the tower with the sharp point and curved outline. At least it was ‘our’ building, because we moved out 6 weeks ago

This all seems to confirm the stereotype, doesn’t it? Yeah, it sure does.

Still, I would like to show you another side of Singapore. After living there for more then four years, I have seen a more diverse city.

Singapore Not A Tourist
I am “NOT a TOURIST” and therefore feel that I can show you another side of Singapore. This picture (with me in the right bottom corner) was part of an add campagn of SingTel, one of Singapore’s telecom companies.

Singapore’s three main ethnicities (numbers wise) are: Chinese, Malay and Indian. That diversity is visible in the daily life.

It comes back in the people you see around you, in the range of food choices that are widely available, in the different the places of worship, the rituals and ceremonies. The variety is huge.

Singapore Thaipusam
Pierced flesh, hooks in bodies. That is part of Thaipusam, a yearly Indian festival, that you can witness in Singapore. Very interesting and pretty authentic, as far as I’m concerned.

Singapore Traditional Indian Attire
In two minutes you could pass by people in traditional Indian attire, Chinese aunties in their pajama style suits and high heeled girls in miniskirts. I very much like that mix. It gives a cosmopolitan vibe.

Indian Women at Temple
Indian women at a temple in Singapore, in their beautiful sarees. I love the strong colors in this picture.

Chinese New Year Traditions Mandarin
With Chinese New Year, a lot of rituals are followed. Like bringing two mandarins over to people you visit during those days. And receiving two mandarins back from them.

Chinese New Year Suit
Chinese boy in traditional suit with Chinese New Year.

There are still some old, historical places that you can visit and explore. Like the quirky and abandoned Haw Par Villa aka tiger Balm Gardens, my favorite site in Singapore.

Haw Par Villa Singapore
Tiger Balm Gardens Singapore

And the enormous Chinese cemetery Bukit Brown, situated — neglected and threatened (by development) — in a tropical forest.

Chinese Cemetery Bukit Brown

A forest filled with a rich flora and fauna, like Kingfisher birds and wild monkeys.

Singapore wild monkeys

Singapore is not a beach destination, yet there are some beaches. Ok, they are man-made, and a bit further at sea, freightships will be queueing in front of you. But still, isn’t this sunset pretty?

Singapore Beaches
Sunset at Sentosa Beach, Singapore. Do you see the freight ship in the background? ;) About in the middle, on the right side of the parasol.

Due to the different cultures there are a lot of holidays to be celebrated. Now, for the upcoming Chinese New Year, the streets of Chinatown are already decorated with gorgeous horse lanterns (Year of the Horse). And with Deepavali, festival of Lights, the streets of Little India were very nicely decorated. The whole year round there will be something celebrated somewhere.

Singapore Horse Lanterns

So no, I don’t find Singapore so boring and sterile, and yes, there are still authentic places and rituals.

Singapore Rituals
Walk around in whatever neighborhood and you will come across offerings, small improvised altars, incense burning and so on.

Singapore Temple
Festivities at one of the many Indian temples in Singapore.

There is not a lot of graffiti or street art in Singapore, but there IS some. You just have to know where to find it.

Singapore Graffiti
Graffitti at one of the skate parks near where we live now.

It is often thought that Singaporeans are workaholics without a sense of humor. I don’t experience it that way; I met many nice, interesting locals. During the last week several of the taxi drivers I had were talkative and funny, like the one who sang me Elvis songs. How fun is that?!

And sometimes you have an unexpected street encounter with a local with a weird and quirky sense of humor, like this guy and his two dogs. How cool are they, in the home-made hero-outfits that they are wearing?! Hilarious, don’t you think?

Singapore Dogs

There are trees everywhere, and parks. There are park connectors, paths that lead from one green space to another, for bikers and hikers.

Of course, if you compare Singapore to Vietnam, Thailand or India, then there is a big difference. Yes, Singapore is way more clean and developed, and yes, those other countries are way more ‘authentic’, wild and rustic.

Does that degrade Singapore to nothing more then a sterile, characterless consumer trap? No, not to me at least.

As so often, it is all in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it?! You may have to dig a little deeper and look behind the obvious. And then you will be rewarded by lots of interesting discoveries.

So give this city the benefit of the doubt, dear travelers, and check it out for yourself. And don’t hesitate to drop me an email, if you are planning your trip and would like some advice on what to see and where to eat!

You can contact me via my website:

Disclaimer: No, this is not a sponsored post. I just genuinely like Singapore.


Filed Under: Guest Post, Travel22 Comments
  • Tara Illy

    Looks beautiful, definitely on my list to visit someday.

    • Anja Van Der Vorst

      Good plan, Tara!

  • gabrielle

    wow, these photos are breathtaking! i don’t know much about singapore, but i’m curious to learn more now.


    • Anja Van Der Vorst

      Well, Gabrielle, my blog is full with pictures and information on Singapore, so you can eat your heart out there. Or, even better, visit this city and discover it yourself;-)

  • Anna

    This is really cool. I love debugging myths about a city and I have to say I’ve been told by many that Singapore is sterile but this looks fantastic with the mix of modern and traditional and the different ethnicities. Will keep in mind if (when!) I get to visit Singapore.

    • Anja Van Der Vorst

      Always happy to debug a myth when a city deserves it, Anna;-)

  • Kayli Schattner

    Wow- Singapore looks like such an incredible place. I would love to visit! The architecture is amazing.

    • Anja Van Der Vorst

      Yes, there are many different styles in architecture in Singapore. Both contemporary, colonial and heritage. If you like architecture, then you will love this city!

  • Megan Thudium

    I think Singapore is fascinating! Just the fact that that one city is one country is crazy! Plus, they pretty much build that city on top of the ocean.

    • Anja Van Der Vorst

      Being Dutch that makes me feel right at home in Singapore, with all the reclaimed land and water in both countries;-)

  • Claire (@Kurea_San)

    Nice post. I’ve visited Singapore twice – once alone, and the second time to stay with a friend who lives there. I do think Singapore is a city you need to spend some time in to see the charm. It’s not instantly stimulating like other big cities in Asia – and knowing a ‘local’ really helps.
    Claire xx
    somewhere… beyond the sea

    • Anja Van Der Vorst

      You are totally right, Claire! There are cities that do not charm or ‘grab’ you right away. Exploring with a local really helps then. E.g. Montreal does not appeal in a way that e.g. Paris does, but boy, what a fantastic city it is, once you get to know it. Same goes for Singapore, I think.

  • Anja Van Der Vorst

    Thanks, Rachel, for giving me this opportunity to show more people another Singapore. And what a disaster day in terms of internet and computers it was for you. Glad the Mac recovered!

  • Audrey |

    I used to live in Singapore. I stayed for more than a year working for a bank.

    During my stay, I kept searching for the authentic Singapore experience, more than the shopping and man-made parks. All the events mentioned in this article are also celebrated elsewhere especially from the country of origin, India, HK/Taiwan/China and Malaysia.

    When I arrived in Singapore, few days later, my housemate said something like I’ll love Singapore because it’s all so new but then it gets boring after time. I felt it. Everything feels like concrete, steel and lonely (despite MRT rush hour, Clarke Quay and Universal Studios).

    After my contract expired, I wasn’t really excited and planning to stay any longer. I think the best that came out of my experience living in Singapore is realizing how everything is well-planned, VERY efficient and clean. I wish all other countries are like it in that way.

    • Anja Van Der Vorst

      Aw, too bad that you experienced it this way, Audrey. But I totally understand where you are coming from and I know that you are not alone in this. Many Singaporeans even tell me that they find life here convenient, clean and safe, but very boring.

      And yes, it is true that these celebrations are not unique for Singapore. But what IS unique , is that they are all celebrated in one and the same city, making it possible for me to experience all those events ‘near’ my home without having to take a plane for it;-).

      But hey, as I said in my post: it’s all in the eye of the beholder and we are all looking for different things in a city;-).

  • MyTravelingTroop

    I live in Singapore and, just like you, find that it’s the diversity of the city-state’s people, food, religions, and holidays that make it interesting. I love learning about the holidays and festivals. My favorite so far are Chinese New Year, the Mooncake Festival, and Deepavali. I bet I’ll grow to appreciate even more this year!

    • Anja Van Der Vorst

      i bet you will appreciate it even more in 2014!

  • jefftrent

    Singapore – lived there for two painful years. It’s the most boring place in the world. It’s a place of broken opportunities, a place that pretends to be authentic, a place that struggles to be something. It has no natural attributes to speak of. The weather is horrible…It’s hardly diverse (a vast majority are chinese), and there is a distinct dislike of foreigners. If shopping and poor quality food are your thing, singapore is the place for you.

    • John Chan

      Perhaps Singapore is a place of broken opportunities for you, but most certainly not for many who continue to come to these parts. I am also very curious by your sweeping statement that the place struggles to be something. It is one of the busiest, if not the busiest maritime hubs in the world. It’s airport is second to none according to many. It’s got a great airline. Excellent food options from street to fine dining. As for there being a distinct dislike for foreigners, I suspect it’s more like foreigners such as you who live in your own bubble and expect every city or country to resemble your small little town. Singapore does not pretend to be authentic. It is what it is. What is “authentic” by the way? Times Square in New York City? The London Eye or the Shard? Unfortunately for hicks like you, Singapore is a place where foreign simpletons struggle to validate the stereotype about the “exotic” and “underdeveloped” East.

  • globalcitizen2222

    Looks like such a ghastly, boring, ugly, awful place to visit…the indian women in colourful saris are all looking poor as hell….singapore pretends to be a rich city but its rich for only a few….the rest are all rotting in poverty and dealing with extreme racism, lack of opportunities and growing insecurity. The city is so expensive that even middle class can barely afford it…and all the immigrant areas are poor. I would never want to visit such an ugly plastic boring city again…it costs more than visiting Paris and its totally unjustified. Even a small town in europe has more culture and beauty than Singapore..and architecture in singapore is disgusting nothing charming about it at all.

    • disqus_7SOh19uVSv

      I think it is you who are the ghastly, boring, ugly and awful person. What an appalling thing to say about the Indian women. You sound like someone who has no appreciation of the places you vist. Poor is bad, poverty is bad, everyone has to be rich. Well, go to Europe then and leave the REAL global citizens to enjoy Singapore. Praise to Anja for giving such an interesting, impartial, balanced view of Singapore.

  • Bakarrik Azeri

    This has to be ironic. The sense of desperation in this is embarrassing. Singapore is authoritarian, boring as sin (no matter how many HILARIOUS?!?!?! Elvis songs are sung to you or random people with dogs dressed like superheros, I mean really, this is meta-level irony at work here) and exists purely to look clean. Any country that arrests and beats a teenager for expressing his opinion on the internet doesn’t sound like a particularly “fun” place to be. Bukit Timah rain forest and the Gardens By The Bay were nice though.