Parent Escape: Singapore

Parent Escape




THE OCCASION : Girls’ Getaway

THE TIME : November 2018

THE STORY: For nearly five days, my best friend and I explored neighborhoods, hawkers (food courts, some featuring Michelin star-rated eats), public parks, and bookstores (of which there are many for any bookworms like me). At each stop, we encountered friendly locals and a spectrum of experiences ranging from the unusual to the majestic to the serene.


Haw Par Villa. Our taxi driver gave us a strange look when we asked him to take us to Haw Par Villa. Not a typical tourist attraction, apparently. Imagine a type of Disneyland built by two wealthy businessmen, channeling Tim Burton and then abandoned 50 years ago.

At the park, we encountered dozens of life-sized, paint-chipped dioramas depicting Chinese folklore and history in their original, oftentimes violent, glory. It was a place of moral lessons locked inside mythical creatures and unflinching ceramic and clay gore. Most striking was the attention paid to the smallest details, such as the bunching of the fabric as a boy clutched his mother’s skirt or the gruesome lines of blood dripping from a neck. Despite the sticky heat and glaring sun, I didn’t want to leave. I could have wandered around Haw Par Villa all day.

Gardens by the Bay. The Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay were featured in the movie Crazy Rich Asians—say no more. As depicted in the film, the musical light show of towering metal trees made me feel as if I were at a dance club on a technologically advanced alien planet.

Two city-block-sized glass biodomes, the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest continued the otherworldly sensation as we explored the 270-acre urban nature park attractions. At the Flower Dome, statues of animals and mythical creatures mixed with fields of fresh blossoms. The Cloud Forest dome housed a verdant mountain of tropical plants encased in mist. A sign near the elevator aptly read, “Lift to the Lost World,” which took us to the summit. As the sun set, glowing fog and crystal structures shimmered like fairies. It was the closest I felt I might ever get to stepping into a mystical wonderland.

Pulau Ubin. I spent my last day in Singapore by myself. It was the first time I’d ever been truly alone in another country, which was thrilling and terrifying. Starting early, I exited the mainland on a “bumboat,” the floating equivalent of an old, reliable truck.

There are many islands to explore in Singapore. The most popular includes St. John’s Island, Lazarus Island and Sentosa Island, known for their beautiful beaches. I chose a different sort of island, Pulau Ubin, which means “Granite Island” in Malay, at the suggestion of the very friendly taxi driver who took us to Haw Par Villa. He thought it was a better fit for my off-the-beaten-path travel style.

Singapore’s mainland was a tribute to modernity and architectural beauty, a place of orderly bustle. Pulau Ubin was the opposite. With only a few narrow roads and a smattering of one-level houses, this outpost promised a time-bending experience. The town consisted of upwards of 10 different bike shops, a map, a café and a visitors building. Bikes far outnumber cars on the island’s streets. As for vehicles, I only spotted a handful of ancient vans near the dock.

My island travels took me to a butterfly sanctuary, a temple and a Chinese kampong house frozen in the amber of the 1970s. As I ventured farther away from the dock, waxy leaves crowded closer and the pavement turned to mud and sand. I passed a wetland filled with pond fronds the size of small cars. The air smelled like nothing except chlorophyll. I spotted the occasional sun-dappled house, with flat roofs and clothes hanging from the eaves. Very little on the island spoke of the modern world. It was peaceful and beautiful. The perfect end to the trip.

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