You Can Take Your Mom To Singapore But You Can’t Make Her Eat

Filed Under: Travel

While we’d had a nice time in the UAE, I was most excited for our stay in Singapore. While my mom has been all over Europe and North and South America, she’d never been to Asia. Singapore is a very approachable city, has a history and culture that is digestible and pretty accessible, so it seemed like a great place to spend a couple of days.

Our flight to Singapore was seamless, and we arrived at Changi in the early afternoon. We had booked the Westin Singapore, which was an easy Uber ride from the airport (with bonus points from SPG).


And this is where trip started to get more complicated.

Our busy last day in Dubai combined with the horrible WiFi on Emirates meant that I was unbelievably behind on work. I’d been trying not to work as much while traveling with my mom (and I’m a bit of a workaholic, so that’s a challenge on a good day), so by the time we got to Singapore I was really stressed about it.

The other piece that I didn’t put together until we got back has to do with the prescription drug policy in the UAE. My mom was really nervous about this (and only takes a few things), but she diligently carried her medicines in their original bottles and brought a letter from her doctor listing her prescriptions. This is a great practice, but some of these meds are apparently time-sensitive. So the mixture of jet-lag, timezones, and having pills in bottles rather than an organizer resulted in some missed doses, and some double doses, and a generally suboptimal situation.

I realize now that she probably just didn’t feel well, but neither of us recognized that at the time. Add in my stress level, and it was really un-fun couple of days. You’ve all been there, I’m sure.

Separate from either of those factors, and for mind-boggling reasons that I cannot even begin to explain, my mother decided that it wasn’t “safe” to eat anything in Singapore. Literally, for three days in what is arguably one of the best food cities in the world, she wouldn’t eat outside of the club lounge at the Westin.

At all.

So what do you do when you’re traveling with someone who has basically decided they don’t want to be traveling?

You spend a lot of time at the pool. Fortunately the Westin Singapore has a great one:

Westin-Hotel-Singapore-3 Westin-Hotel-Singapore-2  Westin-Hotel-Singapore-4

And you go to gardens. Lots and lots and lots of gardens.

Conveniently, Singapore has quite a few gardens to choose from.

Singapore Botanic Gardens

The Singapore Botanic Gardens are much larger than you’d expect (~183 acres) and are over 150 years old. While some of the exhibits have a small fee, there’s no charge to enter the park. The gardens also offer walking tours every Saturday, on a rotating schedule.

We were there the weekend of the “Heritage Tour,” which was actually pretty interesting. And I say that as someone who has been dragged to endless gardens and nurseries in her life, and really doesn’t enjoy plants at all.


But the tour guide was fantastic, and shared a bunch of interesting information about Singapore, along with the horticultural history. She was honestly engaging enough that I would have listened to her talk about her grocery list, and it was a fun way to spend a few hours.


This really was a lovely park, and it was fun seeing locals running or practicing Tai Chi, families out enjoying the sunshine, and so forth. There were also lots of shaded benches, which is perfect if you want to stop for a bit to munch on the croissant-and-cheese-sandwich you inexplicably made from the lounge breakfast display and stashed in your handbag for later just in case.


Gardens by the Bay

While I’ve seen the Gardens by the Bay from a distance (it’s hard to miss those neon trees), I’ve never been to the conservatories. I was able to convince mom to leave the hotel a second time by bribing her with more orchids, and the promise of air conditioning was enticing as well.


As you’d expect from a place which features a nightly “Garden Rhapsody” of synchronized lights and music on fake trees, Gardens by the Bay is a little…touristy.

Like venus-flytraps-made-out-of-LEGO touristy.


(I’m not judging, this was totally my favorite part)

But the massive greenhouses are air-conditioned, and had a ton of interesting plants. Mom really enjoyed looking at all the varieties of orchids, and the views across the bay were fun as well.


For the price point though, I think the National Orchid Garden (inside the Botanic Garden) is probably the better bet. But if you’re already wandering around Marina Bay it’s worth walking across the bridge and checking out the free exhibits.

Butterfly Garden at Changi Airport

While I’ve been to Singapore a few times, I’ve never actually spent much time at the airport.

My stepsister happened to be flying in from Burma the same day we were flying out, so we made a point of getting to the airport earlier than necessary. I believe we could have guested her into The Private Room (or at least the first class lounge), but as my mom was still adamantly not eating we opted to meet at the butterfly garden in Terminal 3 instead.

Which was actually pretty cool!

Singapore-Changi-airport-butterfly-2 Singapore-Changi-airport-butterfly-1

We spent a bit of time laughing and playing with the butterflies, then headed over to board our flight. I think it’s pretty awesome that Changi Airport has so much to do to begin with, and a butterfly garden is actually a pretty fun distraction.


So that’s what we did in Singapore. No hawker centers. No museums. No Little India or Chinatown. None of the things that make Singapore uniquely interesting.

But man did we ever see a lot of gardens.

And really, I’m okay with that. Would I have preferred to have an amazing couple of days showing my mom around a city I love? Absolutely. But she wasn’t up for it, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.

Beyond that, I think this is a great example of why I am so evangelical about miles and points. If I’d been saving up actual cash to take my mom to Asia, I would probably have been more emotionally committed to the trip, and likely devastated by how everything turned out. As it was, for the Singapore portion of the trip I only spent a couple hundred thousand miles and a handful of dollars, and we would have had to get back from the Middle East anyway, so even that is really a wash.

At the end of the day I’m grateful to even be able to travel with my mom, much less to multiple destinations in first class. So even though the trip wasn’t perfect, I’m still glad we went.

Has anyone else ever had a trip that didn’t turn out quite the way you’d imagined? How did you recover?

  1. Tiffany – it was lovely to read your post. I actually encountered the same problem with my mom refusing to eat local cuisine for most of my trip. Your post definitely gave me a different perspective and that it can still be very much enjoyable even if you don’t get to do the “must-dos” in a city.

  2. @lucky for people being weird about eating in probably the safest place in asia to eat.. take them to Chatterbox at Mandarin Orchard… you get to taste most of the Singaporean delicacies in the air conditioned comfort of a restaurant that has been around since the late 70s.

  3. I literally LOLed at that headline. Singapore is one of my favorite cities. I just love it. Thanks for your post.

  4. does she know that Singapore is the CLEANEST country in the world and most hygenic? They rinse cups, utensils in hot boiling water prior to serving us at some hawker stall. She missed out! Singapore is cleaner than North America.

  5. I don’t get the appeal of Singapore. I love Asia – Tokyo, Beijing and Shanghai. Even places slightly more rural, like Chiang Rai. And the craziness of BKK. Singapore is clean and quiet and boring. It doesn’t feel like Asia to me at all. It feels like NY, but cleaner and with air that’s easier to drink than breathe. Yes, there’s great food – if you’re not afraid of it – but man what a yawner.

    I know Ben has reviewed them already, but the Westin and the St. Regis there, while shiny, both had major service lapses while I was there.

    Am glad I’ve been. Never going back.

  6. @anita as Tiffany mentioned her mother probably want feeling well. Sometimes all of us make decisions based on emotional factors :).

    @Tiffany my wife and I just experienced the same situation on a trip to New Orleans. She had some medical stuff flare up right before we left so we just did what we felt comfortable doing and didn’t try to maximize things like we might have tried to do on a paid trip. Miles usually make things a lot easier psychologically.

  7. This is great to know! I’m finally heading to Singapore for a couple days. I’ll pretty much be there for 3 dinners and 2 lunches. What top 5 places must I eat there?

  8. Firstly “only spent a couple hundred thousand miles” that’s a heck of a lot of miles – about 4-5 cards worth.

    Secondly, you Americans are so funny with your health – the tiniest thing and you need to be back in America with your doctor. It’s so easy fleecing you guys with unnecessary investigations

  9. Travelling is awesome, but sometimes things don’t go as planned. When you don’t feel well, you change plans and you look at the positives.

    Singapore is an awesome city with so much to do, but the gardens are a big part of Singapore, so it’s at least that!

    On a side note, as someone who has to deal with canadian credit cards, I wish I could say “It only cost me a couple hundred of miles, so it’s not that bad”.

  10. @Ben, thanks for you insights on all Americans. It was so spot on! I travel with a personl doctor wherever I go, being that I am an easily fleeced American.


    Do you have a local SIM card to access Uber, or were you on an international plan?

  11. You’re on vacation. Will things really fall apart if you’re not on top of your work? Learn to relax – all you’re going to think about when you get back is unnecessary stress. Work will always be there. Quality time with your loved ones will not.

  12. @ Jason — I like just going to the hawker centers and following my nose. But maybe someone else can chime in with details on some sit-down places?

  13. @ Ben — Well, the flights back from Singapore were ~180k KrisFlyer miles for both of us, plus two nights at the Westin for a total of 24k SPG points. That’s just really not that many in the grand scheme of things, honestly. I don’t get the doctor comment, but maybe I’m missing something.

  14. @ SKF — Hah! I have a Malaysian SIM card, which is what I was using. However, the airport has WiFi — you just need to pick up an access code from the info kiosk.

  15. Your mother made the right choice!
    Singapore might be in Asia, but it’s such an artificial construct – soulless, most boring destination anywhere in Asia. There’s nothing uniquely interesting about it except Suites Class in SIA, so I guess we have to up sell it a bit. I’d rather go to Vegas 🙂

  16. Singapore is the only city/country in S.E. Asia where the public water supply is potable. Well, you can’t reason with the irrational…

  17. “Approachable” equals boring. I’ll take Jakarta over Singapore anytime!

    However, I am now in Tiffany’s debt. I have been frantically trying to figure out what to get my husband for his birthday. He LOVES gardens and would really enjoy seeing Singapore’s awesome collection of flora. So a long weekend in Singapore. I never would have thought of that if it hadn’t been for Tiffany.

  18. My brother had a similar situation with his wife. They both ended up getting terrible food poisoning (like needed IV hydration level of bad) from their fancy western hotel buffet in Bangkok, which was basically the only place his wife was willing to eat. There’s little guarantee that your hotel is following better standards than a street vendor with high turnover.

  19. I can relate to things not going as planned. I was with my wife on a trip from LA to Buenos Aires with a day stop in YYZ. With all the traveling we did, my wife didn’t drink enough and got dehydrated. It only put a damper on the first half of the first day, which she spent in bed drinking and sleeping. With nothing better to do I went ahead with out scheduled bike tour and met her back at the hotel after. Was I a bad husband for not sitting around the room while she slept? I don’t think so, but by the time I got back she was refreshed and ready to go.

  20. Hey Tiffany ! So wonderful to hear that you had a great time in my country ! But you have to try the food next time , it would be such a waste not to do so !

  21. 2 members of our trip have gotten food poisoning at the Ritz Carlton Reserve Phulay Bay, so there is never a guarantee that food being served anywhere is safe. Hopefully your mom doesn’t think Singapore is just 5 star hotels and gardens after this trip. It’s one thing to want to stay within a comfort zone, and another to assume that an entire country is “barbaric”, “gross,” or “weird” because you weren’t willing to give something a try!

  22. I’m beyond appalled at some of the comments on here.

    ‘Artificial construct’? ‘Soulless’? Talking about Singapore’s cleanliness in a disparaging way like cleanliness is a bad thing that should be discouraged – like we Asians don’t deserve a clean society and deserve squalor?

    You ought to be ashamed of yourselves for harshly criticising an innocent, harmless place that millions of people call home. I as a Singaporean apologise if my city-state isn’t dirty, polluted and filthy enough to be considered a part of ‘real Asia’ by some of you. It makes me wonder what you guys truly associate with Asian societies. Poverty? Sleaze? Crime? It’s alright if you don’t want to return, it’s not like we invited you anyway. You can stay away and criticise us and we’ll enjoy living in a safe and orderly society that often gets misjudged by westerners who can’t be bothered to look beyond marina bay sands, the city and orchard road. Hell, stay out of Asia altogether because your favourite poverty-ridden charming places might be lost to the development you hate so much.
    Have you ever visited a buddhist or a hindu temple in singapore? Seen stray monkeys squabble over food in the nature reserves? Seen fat crocodiles laze about in the mangrove wetlands? taken a day trip by bumboat to some of the rural outlying islands? eaten some local fare at an open-air hawker centre? hiked through the thick of the forest in bukit timah? You probably haven’t since you’re clearly only interested in denouncing a ‘soulless’ country without even stepping out of its city centre. And please, don’t even put Singapore in the same category as Las Vegas because Singapore is still in Southeast Asia and has more genuine culture in its pinky finger than most of the U.S. combined.

    Hope this comment will be approved because the comments up there are just rude and borderline racist and arrogant.

  23. Tiffany your story brought a big smile to my face as I just took my mom to Singapore in June. We did everything 5 star, staring with the Raffles for a bit of history, then the Fullerton Bay for the modern and view. Of course, we had to try out the SQ Suites and Private Room as well, so all in all we did it up right! I have traveled to SG for over 20 years, and it’s one of my favorite places – will probably visit 3-4 times this year! My mom is also on the conservative side (i mean WAY conservative – like hamburgers every day is just fine with her) when it comes to food, so it’s hard to get her to try new things. Once she does (as long as I’m tempering the selection to something I know she’ll like), she usually comes back with a “that’s not so bad”. Except fish head curry soup – it doesn’t matter how it tastes, she doesn’t eat anything where she can see heads or eyes, or generally anything which looks like something that moves. Surprisingly I got her to nibble on a bit of chill and pepper crab at East Coast. Wish I had been there with you, we could have done it up right and let the moms enjoy their own comfort zones together 🙂

  24. Calm down, you’ll give yourself an ulcer. It’s an incredibly boring, sterile place. I would hate to live here if it didn’t have such a fantastic airport and wasn’t as strategically placed for travel as it is.

  25. Tiffany, I enjoyed your post. Singapore – that brought back memories. I used to work in Indonesia on an island just off shore from Singapore called Batam. I spent almost every single Saturday in Singapore, since Batam is designed to catch all industrial overflow (read: manufacturing) from Singapore, but I digress.

    Me and my wife just traveled to Paris and we stayed at Park Hyatt Vendome. We had a plan to catch TGV from Montparnasse to Tours, then join a half day tour at Loire Valley visiting a pair of chateaus. Since we were at Park Hyatt Vendome, we wanted to try the breakfast. In a hindsight, it was probably not a good idea to eat breakfast at 830am when you had to catch the train at 10am, considering that the breakfast felt like an event in itself. We also underestimated the time needed to get to the station. We got a cab but Paris traffic decided not to cooperate, and we had several street closures as well, due to the Mexican president delegation (which by the way staying at the Vendome like us!).

    Long story short, we missed the train. The Loire valley excursion that was planned 6 months ahead went down the drain with it. We decided then to visit some historical churches. It seemed like every cathedrals, or large churches in Europe that we went to, always have incredible interior. So we took the metro from Montparnasse, got off at Opera and started our impromptu church tour at La Madeleine. This church looks like a Greek temple and the interior did not disappoint. We then took metro and visited St Augustin, same result. Maybe Parisienne have a law prohibiting building churches that look rather ordinary … ? We capped the day by visiting Sainte Chapele and were treated with the most elaborate stained glass window collection that we’ve ever seen. Even the windows at Notre Dame look rather ordinary compared to what we saw in the upper chapel!

    That’s our story regarding a trip that did not go according to plan.

  26. Incredibly ‘sterile’ and ‘boring’ for you because you’re a white westerner and you’re unable to participate in local culture or speak any of the local languages, so you’re restricted to the showy/flashy/superficial aspects of the country. I don’t blame you for being unable to experience anything other than the tip of the iceberg, but going out of your way to ridicule someone else’s home in order to cover up your inability to experience any form of culture other than McDonalds and Gossip Girl is completely unnecessary. Westerners are free to live in Bangkok or Phnom Penh if they want to experience madness and see the ‘real Asia’, but for some reason they still insist on coming here and criticising us. Oh I’m sorry if I’m too clean and sterile for you, here let me spit on the streets and make it better. At least no-one gets shot here on a daily basis.

    I know I sound defensive, but my grandparents grew up in the slum that was post-war Singapore and we are taught how to appreciate what we have. Today’s Singapore has given us the dignity that most Southeast Asians are deprived of and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Try seeing things from another perspective for once – y’all already have an image problem in SEA as it is, don’t contribute to it by being bloody obnoxious.

  27. Interesting how this article evokes attacks on Singapore on two opposite sides: sterile, or GI illness-inducing…
    To those who call it sterile and boring: define sterile and boring. Over many years I’ve had the pleasure of visiting it many times, as I was drawn by old and new sights and experiences.
    To Tiffany: I would be very interested in knowing the reasons why your mom refused to eat outside of the hotel. The way you wrote the article makes folks think that she assumed hat she’d get sick easily in Singapore. If the latter, then why bother going there? You say that she’s been all over South America: did she eat outside of the hotel? I’ve been all over South America, and seen places where sanitary conditions left a lot to be desired. The way you wrote it makes folks think Singapore’s an unsanitary place.
    To Loz: it’s totally uncalled for to bash Bangkok, Phnom Penh, “most Southeast Asians” or any other innocent third party to make your point.

  28. Sure, if you like danger and playing Russian Roulette, Singapore won’t stroke your stupidity. That’s fine with me, means I don’t have to encounter you there.

    For me, Singapore is a beautiful blend of British, American, Australian and South East Asian culture. That makes it incredibly accessible and tourist friendly, not to mention Singapore has infrastructure that puts many other nations to shame. Singapore is also quite varied, if you bother stepping beyond the main drag (you can even find untidy, slightly dirty, and somewhat risqué parts of Singapore easily enough, that nonetheless are generally safe and tacitly controlled, if that’s what you are looking for).

    Singapore is far from soulless, although I imagine encounters with stupid and vile visitors does lead to the locals giving you short shrift.

    The only valid criticism I believe exists from a visitor perspective is that Changi airport could do away with security screening at individual gates (annoying, just screen me as I enter or leave the airport – once is enough), and that Singaporean hotels aren’t as wow as others in the region. Otherwise, Singapore is a great place to visit.

  29. @Kieran They don’t just screen at gates, sometimes they screen you upon arrival too, even if you’re not actually going anywhere else. And if you are going anywhere else, then you’re going to go through two security screenings. Experienced this on arrival on AF yesterday.

  30. Jeffrey: I don’t know what gave you the impression that I’m bashing them. As a Southeast Asian citizen I appreciate my neighbourhood and know more about my region than most visitors will ever know. I’m merely saying that if the commentors want to experience the Asia that fits within their preconceived notions of what Asia should be – reckless and underdeveloped, with poor people they can shamelessly take advantage of – they are free to do so by going there. But criticising us for being anything other than that will provoke a strong reaction, and rightfully so.

    Kieran – Thanks, but I think you meant *Chinese, *Indian, *Malay and Southeast Asian. I don’t know where American and Australian came from. British I can understand because it’s an ex-colony with a lot of Victorian-era buildings and the vast majority of the locals speak English, but that’s about it. Thanks for having a sense of appreciation anyway, unlike most people over here.

  31. whoever calls Singapore sterile and boring has never experienced Singapore. Heck, I travel several times to Asia and consider myself a Japan addict, but I always put weekend stopovers in SIN just for the partying!

  32. @ Jeffrey — I would be very interested in knowing as well! And it’s not only that she wouldn’t eat outside of the hotel, she wouldn’t eat outside of the club lounge which makes even less sense. So I have no idea, and questioning her after the fact hasn’t gotten me anywhere.

  33. @ Loz — I agree. It’s unfortunate that people seem to give Singapore short shrift because it’s not what they’re expecting. I’ve enjoyed all of my visits there, partly because of the contrast.

  34. I don’t think any of this had to do with whether Singapore is hygienic or safe, it had to do with being at the tail end of a long trip and one of the people in the party having had enough of travelling. We ended up with the same thing, to a lesser degree, on our trip this summer. We (6 of us) had been to Montreal, Athens, Meteora, Aegina, Rhodes, Bodrum, Luxor, Cairo, Amman (Petra), Istanbul and London over 17 days (10 flights, 4 ferry trips and 2 train trips) and had scheduled dinner and a Broadway play for New York (one of our favorite cities) on our 20 hour connection there. We were going to see Wicked in London and New York on consecutive nights! Didn’t turn out that way. Despite my wife and daughter’s love of Broadway, by time we got to New York, the overwhelming majority opinion was to just stay in the hotel and wait for our flight so we could go home. Some had pretty much petered out by time we got to Istanbul. It was an epic trip, but I have been asked to make our trip a little less epic next year! Sometimes it is best not to maximize your points/miles!

  35. @ Loz, chill. Tokyo is a clean, efficient city too, but much more interesting and exciting than Singapore is. If anything, Singapore is like the Zurich of Europe. Interpret that as you wish to.

    Tiffany, while I enjoy your writing style, ease off a bit on the unnecessary italics. I almost felt like I was reading a Gary Leff article 😉

  36. @Loz, yes I probably should have just said Asian rather than South East Asian to not accidentally give the impression that China and India weren’t included in the cultural mix (the others were already covered).

    Australian and American cultural merge come from the multiple business footprints and ex-pat communities. Don’t forget that Singapore’s British outpost days was heavily made up of Aussies as well as Brits (us being the local representatives of the British Empire then).

    My first visit to Singpore (a few decades ago) blew me away in that I could stand on any main drag street corner and find the footprints of Australian, American, British and Asian cultures. It was the first place I ever encountered that, back in the day when such overlap was not as common as it is today.

    Singapore, just like pretty much anyplace, has multiple layers and I feel that some criticism here is from people that are just reading but one layer (and sound like they’ve never really spent any time in the place). Singapore isn’t without some faults, but being shallow and without depth is not one of them.

  37. @W Luckily I’ve yet to encounter that – given the airport is supposed to be a sterile area I see as unnecessary security theatre to be required to screen again once you have entered the sterile zone (should just be on entry, and selective on exit).

    Out of interest, was that the AF flight from CGK? Seems more likely than targeting the CDG service. [CGK security seemed ok to me, so this might be some some peering down the nose]

    Personally I find most airport security to be more about marketing than ensuring there’s zero risk (given the people doing the screening are generally low paid and work long hours and are not our best and brightest – not exactly a recipe for success).

  38. “… I only spent a couple hundred thousand miles …”

    Or, a few times more miles than I’ve ever collected in my history of collecting miles. =P

  39. Hahaha! I love this post, Tiff… however, I must add my own bit to the conversation. I spent 4 of the happiest hours EVER wandering around the National Orchid Garden while you were at the hotel catching up on work. While we swam for only an hour or so, it was fun pretending to fall over the edge of the horizon pool and into the Harbour below. I don’t remember having an issue with the couple meds I take, but that’s no big deal. I wish I’d not read about how unsafe the street food was there… and that article was in a book on the coffee table in our Westin suite (it was probably propaganda put there by competing restaurants, lol!) So my biggest regret is in not going to the food court, and my husband will never let me live that down (but he’s from Hawaii, so he’d have been in food heaven.) And I loved how you pre-ordered our Lobster Thermidor for the Singapore Airlines flight to Hong Kong… it was fantastic! All in all, I had a wonderful time spending time with my daughter, even if just quietly reading while she caught up with her work. Readers: Take your moms on a trip! They’ll love it as much as I did…. Tiff’s Mom.

  40. @Loz: I enjoyed every bit of Singapore that I was able to see on such a short trip and thought it was a beautiful city. I’d made a list of things to see/do before we left, but time was tight. We did eat out a couple of times, but again, I’m sorry I missed the “food court” building. I hope to return for a longer visit to enjoy more of what your culture has to offer….Tiff’s Mom.

  41. I think it’s hilarious whenever someone comments that Singapore is ‘soulless’, boring, too clean etc in spite of being in Asia, and therefore isn’t ‘Asian’ enough. If you want to travel and go somewhere and slum it out for a week, and then go home and brag that you’ve been to ‘Asia’ and roughed it out, then by all means go ahead (though I think that’s incredibly hypocritical, patronising and Orientalist)

    I’d rather live in a soulless place that’s boring, clean and safe rather than worry all the time about crime, cleanliness and everything else that comes from living in a 3rd world country.

    And if that also means you’d rather not come, but by all means. By the comments, you jokers seem to be a minority and I’m thankful that others can appreciate the culture, beauty, history and food that makes us proud to be Singaporeans.

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