Travel Blogger Vinh Gau

Join travel blogger Vinh Gau as he revisits a favorite destination

I vividly recall feeling depressed as country after country went into lockdown because of the Covid-19 outbreak. I was on the final leg of a trip through America and made it back to Vietnam just days before the borders officially closed. A whopping two years passed before I got another entry visa stamp in my passport.

Keong Saik Street in Chinatown

I chose Singapore as my first destination after that long hiatus. Coincidentally, this was also my first destination when I started traveling abroad 12 years ago. Navigating through Changi Airport, I couldn’t help but chuckle at my poor sense of direction. I used to be able to find Immigration with my eyes closed, but it seemed I was less familiar with this place than before. Still, Changi Airport was as I remembered – comfortably air-conditioned and pleasant-smelling, with shiny floors and friendly staff. The only difference was the low volume of passengers in the terminal. The immigration queue was short, and my paperwork was approved in no time.

Pulling my suitcase out of the airport, I hurried to an MRT station to travel downtown. It had been a while since I last looked up a metro line. I suddenly became nervous about boarding the wrong train and had to read the guide map multiple times. As the train approached, I calmly made my way over, watching people scurry inside to find a seat lest they get left behind. The door closed after a series of beeps, and with that, the train picked up speed and headed toward the city center. Most passengers were fixated on their phones, either texting, watching movies, or listening to music. I chose to observe the seated passengers as well as those entering and leaving the train at each stop.

The writer beside the Jewel Waterfall in Changi Airport

“This is indeed Singapore,” I thought to myself. “Oh, I missed this feeling so much over the past two years!”

Chinatown welcomed me with a light drizzle. This kind of weather actually made the place more beautiful and romantic, accentuating the old buildings and murals depicting the traditional culture of ethnic Chinese Singaporeans. The Chinatown of my memory was busier and more restless. The section that housed many food stalls on Smith Street was closed, maybe for renovations. There weren’t many souvenir shops in the night market either. What used to be a lively place was now gloomy. Nevertheless, a decent number of diners were still queuing in front of long-standing and prominent food shops, like Tiong Bahru Hainanese Chicken Rice, Mei Heong Yuen Dessert, and Ya Kun Kaya Toast, which serves typical Singaporean breakfasts.

Orchard Street was the exact opposite of Chinatown. The lights in the shopping malls remained bright to welcome shoppers. While I’m not a big fan of shopping, I enjoyed the street’s bustling vibe, which signals the recovery of tourism.

Kaya toast - a famous Singaporean breakfast

Still unsatisfied, I got a ticket for the top deck of a Hop-on Hop-off bus, which took me around the center of the island country. The bus crossed the Central Business District and the stunning Marina Bay Sand complex, providing great views of high-rise buildings that display Singapore’s grandeur and modernity.

On the contrary, the adjacent neighborhood of ‘Little India’ is home to rows of small houses. This area is vibrant thanks to the brightly painted facades of local stores and the floral garlands that many ethnic Indian people wear around their necks. Famous Indian songs were blaring from both sides of the street as we passed, mixing with resonant chanting, and the sounds of merchants loudly advertising their wares. Singapore remains a colorful and multifaceted mosaic of various cultures.

The Merlion statue is the symbol of Singapore

Returning to Singapore, I spent more time enjoying the experience, probably because I was a bit more mature and had grown to appreciate the freedom of being able to travel abroad. Once again, Singapore impressed me with its vibrant atmosphere and interesting cultural diversity.