What to do with 36 hours in Singapore?
First things first, arrive. Around noon is best. After 2.5 in flight movies, a plate of layover dumplings, and 18+ hours of restless leg syndrome, you will be jetlagged. Push on! Clip that backpack around your waist, exchange your dollars for different dollars, and head to the MRT station. Get yelled at for eating crackers while waiting for the train. It’s a good learning experience. You will never eat crackers while waiting for the train, again.
After checking in at your tidy and charming hostel, snap on that money belt and grab your camera; it’s time to get your bearings! It is only 2pm, after all. The gloriously sunny, humid day is yours. Make your way to the city-state’s famous Chinatown. Along the way, marvel at the green-laden architecture, the wide avenues and the clean sidewalks. Feel like you’re in Beijing and Rio at the same time.
Once you get to Chinatown, realize how starving you are—the last thing you ate was that cracker! Eat your way through the Maxwell Hawker Center, and make sure to stop at various stalls for coconut-pandan donuts, Bourdain approved oyster cakes, and plates of juicy chicken rice. Wash it all down with an icy bubble tea.
As soon as you’re stuffed, get back on the MRT and head to Botanical Gardens on the other side of town. Let yourself get lost amongst the sprawl of grass and scent of flowers. Watch the sun set and pass a sign for the Foliage Garden. Pass it again. And again. Now really get lost. Watch the light fade from the sky and desperately walk around for an hour while looking for a way out. Imagine yourself spending the night on a bench in the Botanical Gardens. Walk a little bit faster.
Once you break free, find a spot to eat dinner on Singapore’s glitzy Orchid Road. Try to stay awake as you push your way through crowds of young Singaporeans hanging out, eating snacks, and snapping photos. Take the MRT home and tuck yourself into your compact hostel bed. Congratulate yourself for making it through your first day without napping, and fall into a deep, sleeping pill-induced, slumber.
On your second day in Singapore, wake up at an unusually early hour. Weren’t you so exhausted just a few hours ago? Why are you awake at 7am? Curse the jetlag Gods.
After tossing and turning and dreaming of street snacks, wake your friends and head to Little India for the foodie-famous Tekka Center. Bounce off the MRT with a grumbling stomach. Try not to cry when you see that the center is deserted and closed for its annual cleaning. You will be ok! Instead, find a restaurant with a line of locals waiting for take-out. Sit down and wait for a menu, only to be presented with a banana leaf and a pile of steaming rice. Eat curried lamb and fried fish with your hands. Sweat away your worries with the heat of the cuisine and the humidity of the day. Wash it all down with an icy mango lassi.
After licking your fingers clean of rice and spices, make your way to Raffles Hotel. Snap some photos of the French colonial-style building, and awkwardly sulk away when you realize you can’t afford a $20 Singapore Sling at the hotel’s famous bar. Walk a few blocks to Haji Lane, Singapore’s slice of hipster heaven. Go to a coffee shop and wait 10 minutes while they print your face into the foam of your latte. Weave in and out of colorful little shops filled with kitschy souvenirs and vintage clothing. Pet some local cats. Fight off the exhaustion with sips of latte from your now mutilated face.
Start your second and final evening in Singapore with a world-famous view. Dress up as much as your backpackers wardrobe will allow, and head to the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel to take in the inky, glittering skyline. Try not to think about how high up you are. Catch your breath as the elevator drops you back down to ground level. 57 floors is a long way.
End your night in the lively Clarke Quay neighborhood, drinking tall cans of Tiger Beer amongst local guitar players and chatty tourists. Toast to the success of your time in Singapore. The 36 hours were a cliché blur of subway stations, spicy foods, glass buildings and breathtaking views, and you will have loved every minute. Even the ones where you were lost and hungry and dripping sweat on to your sensible walking sandals. Tuck yourself back into your hostel bed, buzzed and content, with an alarm set for 7am. For tomorrow morning, it’s back on the MRT, back to the airport, and on to the next destination.