Our South East Asian Adventure: 3 days in Singapore with kids
Another summer holiday provided the opportunity for another family adventure for our Tribe, with one very special new addition, making this our first trip as a family of five! After some deliberation we opted for a Singapore and Thailand combo which felt like the perfect balance to keep all parties, now inclusive of a 2-month-old baby, happy. This entry is all about our action-packed 3 day stopover in the ground-breaking 'green' city-state of Singapore, so read on to find out about our highlights in Singapore with kids.
After a bit of a nightmare journey involving a 12 hour delay in Doha, we eventually arrived in Singapore at around 10am the following morning and headed to our base for the next few days - a 2-bedroom apartment hotel located off the north-western end of Orchard Road, close to the Botanical Gardens. The apartment was spacious and modern with good self-catering facilities in the room and a second bathroom (always useful when travelling as a family). There was plenty of space for the kids to run around, play hide and seek and dump their numerous toys and games, while the living space easily swallowed our buggy without any fuss. Views from our 7th floor windows showed the beautifully kept balconies of numerous surrounding apartment buildings as well as our swimming pool and tennis court below - perfect for checking on lounger availability.
The pool was fantastic and actually very rarely busy. Despite being located on the ground floor, it was bathed in sunshine throughout the day, and an attached shallower kids pool (which also doubled up as a jacuzzi) meant that adults could have a proper swim or relax while the kids played. The tennis court, a real plus for older kids, was generally available, and operated on a first come first serve request system, with a sign up sheet at the reception desk.
To get the aforementioned space and pool, we did compromise slightly on location as the apartment is not in downtown Singapore. However, Stevens MRT (underground) station is a 15-minute walk away with easy access from here to Marina Bay, Little India, China Town etc. and taxis, particularly using Grab (South East Asia's version of Uber), are very reasonable. A Grab taxi from our apartment to Marina Bay (location of Gardens by the Bay and the Marina Bay Sands complex) took around 15 minutes and cost just £7.
All-in-all it was a fantastic base for a family in Singapore, with a modern spacious apartment, brilliant pool, and easy access to the city. We took full advantage of this over the next few days and visited a selection of Singapore’s extensive sights and activities. Our highlights with kids are detailed below:
Gardens By the Bay
Our top pick for Singapore with kids has to be the award winning Gardens by the Bay. A day spent here, is a day well spent! Guided by its vision to be a world of gardens for all, it is a spectacular family-friendly showpiece of horticulture and garden artistry.
First up for us was the Cloud Forest dome where you are invited to explore a mountain set up, veiled in mist. After admiring the impressive 30-metre high waterfall that greets you, dodge the spray and take a walk around the dome via the elevated 'tree top walk' and 'cloud walk', both of which are buggy friendly and provide views of the splash park. Since we were so close, we gave into the children’s pleas and headed over to the Far East Organization Children's Garden. This flower-inspired splash park features an array of water jets and sprinklers for kids 6 to 12-years old, as well as an area for little ones under 5-years old. It is the perfect place to cool down, so don't forget your swimsuits! An amphitheatre with seating is situated opposite the play area, providing shade for parents to sit and/or kids to get changed. A cafe is also on site, to purchase the obligatory ice creams. (The splash park is closed on Mondays, but opens public holidays).
There are also two adventure playgrounds next to the splash park. The smaller of the two is for under 5's and includes a nice selection of puzzles and climbing-frames. The larger is a series of obstacles for kids to climb over, under, through and around culminating in a tree house of nets and slides. The whole thing was a complete hit with our kids and we found it a bit of a challenge to move them on!
However, the flower dome was calling, so with snack-based bribery we made it back to the second of the two giant domes. The flower dome boasts a stunning array of plants and flowers from all over the globe, interspersed with striking wooden sculptures and beautiful works of art. The meandering pathways lead you effortlessly past huge skulking dragons, spiky cactus trees that tower above your head, galloping horses and floating families. Our highlight was the spectacular Orchid Extravaganza, where 15,000 orchids have been used to celebrate Singapore’s pop culture. The kids stared agog at a giant peacock whose tailed stretched some three metres and was striped in multi-coloured orchids. Despite the impending on-set of tiredness, our kids absolutely loved the displays and, camera in hand, were sprinting from spot to spot to capture the next multi-coloured vista.
Our final stop at Gardens by the Bay, was at the futuristic Supertree Grove, for a picnic tea. Of the 18 Supertrees in Gardens by the Bay, 12 of them can be found here - the tallest of which is 50m (16 storeys high!) The impressive metal structures are entwined with climbing plants and flowers creating a vertical canopy reaching up to the sky. They provide much needed shade in the day and come alive at night, with an exhilarating 15-minute light and sound display (19:45 and 20:45 daily). We somehow kept our little adventurers awake (well two out of three at least) and they loved bobbing along to the 'Disney-esque' music, watching the giant space-like trees come alive under various colours of the rainbow. You can also access the 128m long aerial walkway here (OCBC Skyway), where at a height of 22 metres, you can enjoy panoramic views of the Gardens and Marina Bay skyline. You must remember to book a time slot for this at the ticket counter (we didn't and missed out on our planned evening stroll!)
At 8pm, we made our way out towards the MRT to catch the metro back, but the sheer hoards of people was too intimidating for our Tribe of little legs. We bailed and opted for a taxi home, but be warned, post light show, the queues for taxis are also huge! Like most things in Singapore however, there is a method to the madness and we were soon on our way home for some much needed and well-earned sleep.
Singapore Botanic Gardens and Jacob Ballas Children's Garden
In-keeping with the 'green' theme, Singapore Botanic Gardens are another great option with kids. This impressive 52 acre UNESCO world heritage site offers wide open lawns to let off steam, cool forest paths, wildlife spotting opportunities, beautiful sculptures and a fantastic children's play-area. It's such an extensive park, you could spend several days exploring it all. Unfortunately our outbound flight delays meant that we only had an afternoon, but we tried to make the most of it.
After a delicious lunch at the Open Farm Community restaurant, we entered the gardens via the impressive Tanglin Gate at the southern end. Admission to the gardens is free and they're open everyday, 5am until midnight. We wandered up to swan lake, spotting sun-bathing lizards and squirrels rummaging at the foot of stocky frangipani trees. Groups of children were learning how to fly kites on one of the nearby lawns and intriguing sculptures were semi-hidden in the surrounding foliage along the route up towards the Orchid Gardens. The kids loved seeking out the life-like statues and were particularly keen on a girl seemingly flying a bicycle over a billowing shrub. We were heading for the Jacob Ballas children's garden located on the north-eastern tip of the sprawling gardens and so, with time and tiredness against us, we ploughed on through Palm Valley, past Symphony Lake and the mini 6-acre rainforest to reach our destination.
The Jacob Ballas Children's Garden is a fantastic space, with plenty of opportunities for adventure, exploring and learning. Kids choose to be an adventurer, naturalist or gardener and follow along carefully curated trails. From a suspension bridge, cave, tree-house and flying fox zip-line to a stream, pond, potting garden and fruit orchard there is an array of activities and areas for children to enjoy. The water play area was closed for renovation during our visit, but is due to reopen this month (Oct 2019), so pack your swimming bits as this will undoubtedly provide the perfect opportunity to cool off from the heat and humidity.
The near 3km walk had exhausted our Tribe, who were doing so well with little rest following our 2 day journey! We made the best of our final hours in the play area before meltdowns began to strike and the lure of a comfortable apartment and a relaxing evening led us home!
Little India and China Town
With a host of great restaurants as well as colourful buildings and market stalls laden with fresh fruits, spices and flower garlands, Little India is perfect for a lunch or dinner stop and explore, with the mini adventurers in tow. We opted for lunch, given our children's inability to stay up much beyond 7pm, and were rewarded with a delicious fish curry at the well established Banana Leaf Apolo on Racecourse Road. Food of choice here is of course curry, but there was a good selection of Indian breads and non-spicy starters to keep the kids happy too. After lunch we wandered into the Tekka Centre, an indoor labyrnth of fresh food from giant durians to crawling lobsters, and the kids enjoyed hunting through the fruit stalls in search of the 'magic' pink dragon fruit (which was eventually found, and is delicious if not entirely magical). There's a huge selection of hawkers and vendors all lined up along the final aisle offering potato stuffed dosas, sweet pancakes and various different currys. Many of the locals eat here and the food was exceptionally cheap, but it's not for the faint of heart (or stomach)! The upper level is a sea of purples, pinks, greens and golds as sari fabrics spill out from miniature shop fronts. After posing in front of rainbow coloured buildings and a quick play at a tiny but conveniently located play area, we ducked out of the midday sun, and took the MRT back to base camp, ready to jump straight into the swimming pool!
China Town is also well worth a visit with young adventurers and, in a similar vein to it’s Indian near neighbour, offers an array of excellent restaurants and cafes. Unfortunately we didn’t squeeze in a visit here on this trip and so missed out on wandering through the narrow, colourful streets adorned with bobbing paper lanterns, but we always like a reason to come back.
The Jewel, Changi Airport
The Jewel Changi is perhaps an odd highlight, since its located adjacent to Terminal 1 of Singapore's Changi Airport. However, the showstopping indoor waterfall that greets you upon arrival is just the beginning of an extensive in-door meets outdoor activity area that spans the upper tier of the giant dome structure. There is absolutely loads for children to explore and the newly opened Canopy Park is well worth the $5 entry fee. We wandered the whimsical wonderland of Topiary Walk, where various animals are carefully crafted from flowers and hedging. The children then played in the clouds at Foggy Bowls (their highlight), before admiring the sculpture Discovery Slides and meandering around the trail through the colourful Petal Garden. For older children, if you're willing to part with more cash, you can challenge yourselves to complete the Mazes, bounce around in the Manulife Sky Nets and walk 23m in the air on the glass-bottomed Canopy Bridge.
All of these activities are located on level 5 of the Jewel, in Terminal 1. If you're flying from a different terminal, its very easy to reach. Allow at least an extra 1.5 to 2 hours at the airport and check in your luggage before heading over to T1. You can use the magnetic Skytrain, if travelling from T2 or T3 or a bus will connect you from T4. It takes no more than twenty minutes to reach from T4.
Aside from the Jewel, Singapore airport is fabulous with a pool, various gardens - including a butterfly garden with over one thousand butterflies (T3) - a movie centre, huge slides and various play-areas. In true Singapore-style, convention is completely ignored and they've turned what for most is a fairly sole-destroying and miserable experience into one of the cities major attractions.
Singapore is an amazing city to explore with kids and we can not wait to return!