Hajar Ali (on Instagram @hajarali) is the founder of Urbane Nomads, a company specializing in luxury travel to off-the-beaten-path places. Though she’s based in Singapore, the entrepreneur spends much of her time roaming the globe in search of adventure.
More often than not she finds it. Case in point: In 2012, Hajar became the first woman to cross the Rub’ al Khali (Empty Quarter), the largest contiguous sand desert on Earth.
But no matter how far she wanders, Hajar’s always happy to be back in her hometown. “Singapore is one of those miraculous transformation stories,” she says. “[It’s gone from] a carefully scripted ‘sleepy fishing village’ to a bustling cosmopolitan city in a short period of time.” Here are a few of her favorite things about the place she’s proud to call home.
Singapore Is My City
When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them to is to the Singapore Zoo, set in the lush rain forests of the central catchment area, the largest nature reserve in the city.
Any time is the best time to visit my city because the weather is fairly consistent all year.
You can see my city best from the 57th floor of the Marina Bay Sands Resort. The views are spectacular.
If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that public transportation here is usually very efficient.
The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage site founded in 1859.
My city really knows how to celebrate its success as a forward-looking city. The SG50 time capsule—which will contain 50 items crowd-sourced by the public and will be opened in 2065, the year of Singapore’s centenary—is a great example of this.
You can tell if someone is from my city if they break into Singlish, an English-based Creole with its own grammatical structure and regional slang.
For a fancy night out, I head to FOC, a restaurant specializing in Catalan cuisine, on Hong Kong Street. If you’re looking for good food options and theater performances, head to the Marina Bay Sands resort.
Just outside my city, you can visit Bintan Island, an Indonesian island accessible from Singapore by ferry. The Sanchaya, a luxury resort that opened there in 2014, provides the perfect setting for very plush weekend getaways.
My city is known for being strict with a lot of rules, but it’s really starting to relax.
The best outdoor market in my city is the recently launched Common Man Green Project, a farmers market and hipster magnet that aims to be a monthly affair. For something more accessible, there’s the open-air Sungei Road Thieve’s Market, named thus because rumor has it that many individuals have found items they’ve lost being sold there.
To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, check out the Honeycombers website.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I head to Warung Nasi Pariaman, an old-school nasi padang stall just off Kandahar Street. It’s open in the morning, but I usually show up around 11, when they start serving opor ayam (chicken in heavy coconut gravy).
To escape the crowds, I head to the Singapore Polo Club, the site of a surprising amount of greenery right in the center of town. Tip: Try to time your visit when there’s a game of polo to watch.
The Formula 1 Night Race could only happen in my city.
In the winter you should time your visit to coincide with the Hindu Thaipusam festival because it’s very interesting to watch. Participants carry heavy metal structures on their body whilst having metal pieces pierced through their bodies. All of this happens while participants are walking over burning charcoal.
If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the Singapore Zoo. Tip: Go for the night safari.