If you’re exploring the world solo or an unseasoned traveller and are not sure where to start exploring South East Asia from, this ones for you!

Visiting a new region or continent so far removed from everything you know can be both very exciting and very intimidating, but it shouldn’t stop you from visiting the places you long to go. Travelling through different cultures is such an enriching experience, and for me personally, it helped me understand so much about humanity and myself.

Singapore was one of the first countries I visited when I started travelling. I had always been intimidated by flying somewhere so far and so different, but when one of my siblings relocated to there, I took it as my cue to experience the wonders of South East Asia for the first time!

Growing up, it was always Malaysia and Thailand that made my bucket list – I didn’t know anything about Singapore, but soon after arriving, I realised what an absolute gem it was. I’ve returned two more times since then, and I hope I’ll be able to return many, many more times in the future.

 

Here’s why you should start exploring South East Asia from Singapore :

The official language is English!

Yup, the official language of Singapore is English – meaning it’s pretty difficult to get lost in Singapore. You’ll be able to communicate with people, find your way around easily, and never have to rely on a phrasebook or Google translate! Singaporeans even have their own version of English called “Singlish” – English spoken a way you’ll only hear in Singapore.

Singapore Marina Bay Cloud Forest
Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.

I know for myself, and many of my friends, safety can be a deciding factor in the countries we choose to visit. Singapore has such a low crime rate that newspapers often sensationalise things that are considered “normal” in other cities – i.e graffiti!

I have never felt safer anywhere in the world than I do in Singapore. You’ll be free to roam without fear of someone stealing your precious camera or passport, you’ll never have to look over your shoulder for pickpockets, and you’ll never have a bout of panic when you entrust a random passerby with your camera so they can snap a photo of you.

One of the things that surprised me the most on my first visit to SG was seeing MacBooks and iPhones left unattended on tables in McDonalds as people went to make their orders!

It’s well connected to the rest of South East Asia

Just a 30 minute drive away from Malaysia, Singapore is also a short flight away from a number of interesting countries including Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Budget airlines mean tickets between the countries can be super cheap. If you’re flying from Europe and you’ve already spent 13+ hours getting to Singapore – don’t pass up an opportunity to visit other countries in the region! Flying from Malaysia may work out cheaper than flying from Singapore, so factor that into your searches too.

Oh, and don’t forget to make time to explore Changi airport (voted World’s Best Airport for 5 years running)!

Singapore Supertree Grove Gardens By The Bay
There’s so much to see and do!

I remember researching things to do in Singapore before my first visit, and 90% of the stuff I found online was “Singapore is boring” “Alcohol is so expensive” “chewing gum is illegal” (priorties right 🙄). I embarked on my flight thinking I may have wasted a lot of hard-earned money, but I quickly realised what a valuable investment I had made! Every time I’ve returned to Singapore since then, I’ve marvelled at the latest openings and how quick this incredible country is developing.

There’s so much to see and do in Singapore, from the wonderous Supertree Grove and the incredible surrounding Gardens By The Bay (complete with an indoor Flower Dome and Cloud Forest!), to the botanical gardens, the worlds first Night Safari, Sentosa island resort (home to the super fun Universal Studios) and exploring the ethnic quarters of Little India, China Town and Geylang.

Singapore
It’s really easy (and cheap!) to get around

Singapore’s public transport network is amazing. Not only is it spotless, easy to use and efficient, it’s very, very affordable too. Singapore’s public underground service is called the MRT and it stretches across the country getting you where you need to go without hassle. It’s the best public transport I’ve used in my life – you’ll be wondering why people are so obsessed with the (filthy & temperamental) London Underground!

The bus network in Singapore is reliable and easy to use, public taxies are affordable and reliable. You can also use Uber and South East Asia’s competing app, Grab Car, for inexpensive taxi journeys.

Singapore
It’s a super-modern high-tech city

If you’re seeking a rural retreat in nature, Singapore may not be the place for you, but if technology excites you, or the prospect of having access to technology to help you on your travels motivates you to travel – go to Singapore. You won’t regret it.

Technology and innovation are a big deal in Singapore. The tiny city-state has embraced the world of tech with open arms, and it’s using it to create a forward-thinking, state of the art, efficient country (with amazing architecture may I add!)

Fast internet, access to apps you probably already use if you live in a major European city (Citymapper anyone?) and a whole host of technological advances (such as free mobile phones laden with apps provided with your hotel rooms!) will make your travels easier. You’ll always have signal on your mobile while you’re underground, and when you ask someone to take a photo for you – chances are they’ll be a semi-professional photographer (they take their tech and gadgets very seriously)!

Singapore Light Show
Creature comforts and logical everything!

I’m not going to lie, I do love my creature comforts when I travel. I love when people queue, when they wait their turn, I love quiet places, I love clean cities, I love things being organised and straightforward, I love clear signposting and things working on the first try – and Singapore is all of those things. It’s like Apple – things just make sense. People are aware of other people, being rowdy in public is frowned upon, theres a system for queining for taxis and busses, things are so organised it’s virtually impossible to get lost! Taxi drivers won’t try to cheat you and people won’t try to overcharge you because you’re a tourist.

Singapore has a unique story

I love Singapore, and one of the things I love most about it is its story. Just 52 years ago, this tiny little island was ejected from Malaysia and forced to declare itself an independent state, Lee Kwan Yew, the PM at the time declared it “a moment of anguish” as he cried on a televised broadcast announcing the separation. Singapore was steeped in poverty, with no natural resources of its own and a tiny population. The ejection from Malaysia forced it to fight for survival, and that’s exactly what it did.

Today, Singapore is the 4th richest country in the world, the number one maritime capital in the world, it has the highest rate of home-ownership in the world (with 90% of its residents owning their own homes), the Singaporean passport is ranked the first (most powerful) passport alongside the German passport in the Global passport index. I could go on and on about Singapore’s incredible achievements. But above them all, is the sense of unity this country has created between nationalities and religions.

Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures make up Singapore’s unique culture. The three ethnicities, with their numerous religions, have joined forces almost seamlessly to create a country based on mutual respect, unity and a love for Singapore. It’s such an incredibly humbling experience to witness this, particularly in this era of division and hate we are currently living through.


So, what are you waiting for? South East Asia awaits!

P.S: Muslim traveller? Singapore is super-Muslim friendly – the President even wears hijab! There are plenty of amazing mosques and halal eateries to keep you entertained, and no funny looks at hijabis here!

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Sarajevo has so much to offer, particularly if you’re interested in history and culture. We spent three days exploring the city during our Bosnia-Croatia trip in May, but we’re already making plans to return to see more of this incredible city.

If you’re visiting and not quite sure where to start; here’s a list of 10 things to do in Sarajevo!

Step back in time and walk the length of the main road connecting the airport to the old city

One of the best ways to understand the city of Sarajevo, and it’s history, is to walk it. Through a single road you can relive the various eras that has made this city into the melting pot it is.

From the traditional Ottoman architecture adorning the streets, to the grand Austro-Hungarian inspired buildings, and the very spot where Franz Ferdinand was assisinated; an act that led to the start of World War 1. Sarajevo’s history as part of Yugoslavia is perhaps the most visible, followed by an era of hope and rebuilding ; modern day Sarajevo.

sarajevo library
miljacka river sarajevo

 Explore the cobbled streets of the old town Baščaršija

The old town of Baščaršija possesses an air of magic. Despite it being a tourist spot, it feels much more authentic than ones you would find in Istanbul or even Mostar. The old town in Sarajevo is simple and still very much populated by locals. The Ottoman influence in Sarajevo is most evident here, through the mosques and little coffee shops dotted about, and it’s the place to go for souvenirs, trinkets and traditional Bosnian copper goods.

Visit the 16th Century Gazi Husarev Mosque

Located in the old town, the Gazi Husarev mosque is one of the most important Ottoman structures in the Balkans, and the most important Ottoman monument in Sarajevo. Built in the 16th century, the mosque has served as a place of worship and community hub for centuries. It was the first mosque in the world to get electricity – how cool is that?

Gazi Husarev Mosque Sarajevo

Learn about the Screbenica genocide at Galerija 11/07/95 

You cannot visit Sarajevo without noticing the very visible scars left behind by the Bosnian war of the early 90’s. Whilst Sarajevo was famous for it’s siege, the city of Srebenica was the scene of the worst genocide in Europe since WW2. Over 8000+ Muslim men and women were massacred and buried in mass graves. With thousands of people still missing and bodies yet to be found, recovery efforts are ongoing until today, 22 years later.

Galerija 11/07/95 documents the genocide and the efforts of families to find their loved ones two decades on through photos and short films. I highly recommend getting the audio tour ( I think it was something silly like 3 marks only!) to gain a better understanding. If you don’t manage to finish the Gallery in a single day, you can reuse your ticket for entry the next day – just hold on to it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visit the “tunnel of hope” that kept the city alive during the siege

Built during the siege on Sarajevo, the Tunel spasa, also known as “The Tunnel of Hope” is an underground tunnel connecting Sarajevo with the neighbouring towns of Butmir and Dobrinja. The tunnel was built under a civilian home by the Bosnian army and runs under the runway of Sarajevo airport!

It was a lifeline for the besieged city, and was used to transport soldiers, civilians, UN staff, weapons, supplies and food in and out of the city. In the museum you can even enter and walk part of the original tunnel.

tunel spasa tunnel of hope

Have coffee in a tree house!

The hills surrounding Sarajevo lend themselves to excellent vantage points over the city, you just need to be ready for the hike!

If you’re looking for somewhere to give you a great vantage point of the Miljacka river and some of the tourist spots, be sure to visit the Viewpoint cafe. Located close to the old town, this basic cafe allows you to sit in a glass-fronted room between trees overlooking the city.



Walk the Olympic Bobsleigh/Luge tracks

In 1984, Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics for the first time, and Mount Trebević was home to the new Bobsleigh/luge tracks. It was a period of hope for Sarajevo, nothing could ever prepare Sarajevans for what would happen less than 10 years later. During the siege on Sarajevo, the abandoned Olympic tracks became an artillery position for the Serbian army because of their vantage point overlooking the city.

Today, the bobsleigh tracks are a canvas for the local art scene, covered in bright graffiti. We walked part of the length of the tracks in awe, this was definitely one the highlights of our visit to Sarajevo!


Sarajevo olympics luge bobsleigh tracks

Sample some Cevapi

Arguably Bosnia’s most famous dish; Cevapi consists of small kofta fingers served alongside bread and finely chopped onion. You’ll find this dish everywhere in Sarajevo – in fact you may struggle to find restaurants that don’t serve it! Averaging at around 7 marks a generous portion, this dish is both filling and cheap to fuel you for long days of exploring. There’s a lot of talk about the best Cevapi place (plenty of online debates about this) but the best of the three places we tried was Cevabdzinica Zeljo located in the old town.

See the best views of the city from atop Mount Trebević

If you’re after good aerial views, Mount Trebević is the place to go. We stopped by an abandoned military hotel that had the most incredible views of the city, enabling us to get our bearings and see all the sights from above.

Sarajevo Mont Tribevic

Relax with some Bosnian Coffee!

When you’re obsessed with coffee, trying it in all the countries you visit is obligatory right?

Well, you’re in luck in Sarajevo, because they’re obsessed with their coffee and super proud of it! Traditional Bosnian coffee is quite similar to Turkish coffee, served in tiny brass cased cups with Turkish delight and sugar cubes. If you like sugar in your coffee in Bosnia you dip the sugar cube directly into your coffee, and suck on the cube rather than stirring it into your coffee!

Some info on Tours…

I highly recommend booking a tour to visit some of the places listed above to save yourself the hassle of figuring out routes, and to gain a better understanding of the city of Sarajevo and the historical context of some of the places listed.

We booked the “Sarajevo Total Siege tour” with with Sarajevo Funky Tours, that enabled us to see the Olympic bobsleigh/luge tracks, Mount Trebević and Tunel Spasa in half a day.

The tour included a pick up from our hotel, transport and two excellent local guides who painted a very personal image of life under siege in Sarajevo. Our main tour guide was in her early 20’s when the siege broke out and she recounted vivid stories of the struggles through starvation and war. Our driver was just a teenager at the time, and was shot by a sniper in “sniper alley”, it was surreal watching him point out the exact location of the shooting as he drove through it some twenty years later. This is a tour not to be missed.

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Sarajevo, the city that drifted in and out of the headlines on our TV screens for years on end during the early 90’s, always reminding us that somewhere, not so far away, something terrible was happening. Reminding us that children just like us (at the time), were suffering immeasurable pain and growing up amidst devastation. The images of empty streets with makeshift barricades, families desperately scurrying across the main street in Sarajevo under sniper fire, and the burning remains of the Council building remain imprinted on my mind so vividly, even now, some twenty something years later.

We landed on the tarmac at Sarajevo airport early in the morning and were instantly struck by an air of calm. The stunning backdrop of mountains in the distance, coupled with a lucky bright blue cloudless-sky greeted us. As we journeyed our way towards the hotel in the old city, we were struck by the many contrasts of this city.

Small traditional houses with terracotta rooftops nestled amidst lush green mountains in the distance, modern sky scrapers standing next to abandoned buildings bearing the scars of sniper fire, grand Hungarian-inspired buildings, set against a backdrop of traditional Ottoman architecture, with minarets towering in the sky . Through a single road, Sarajevo will tell you it’s history, all you need to do, is to look out for it.

We ventured into the old town of Baščaršija as coffee shops and stalls opened their doors for their first customers. For the next hour, we sipped on Bosnian coffee and watched the old town go about it’s day. There was an Istanbul-esque vibe about it, the Ottoman mosques dotted about, always reminding you of the city’s Ottoman ancestors. But Baščaršija was far calmer, even by mid-day, when tour groups arrived, walking tours commenced, and locals went about their day picking up bread from local bakeries and catching sips of coffee on their way; there was a calmness. A calmness we loved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s hard to forget what this city has endured, not so long ago. After the fall of Yugoslavia and a Bosnian independence referendum, Sarajevo was besieged by the Yugoslavian People’s Army. The siege lasted a total of 1425 days, up until February 1996. The city was encircled, snipers nestled themselves on vantage points on the outskirts of the city, shelling and fighting bought chaos to the city. Streets became war zones. Starvation was rife, with no proper way in or out of the city, the population were trapped with no supplies. Many who attempted to cross the makeshift borders into neighbouring towns were killed instantly.

The not-so-distant bloody history of Sarajevo is still very visible today, from burnt-out buildings to bullet-ridden walls. I could not help but wonder how the siege had affected all those we conversed with. Those my age were just growing children at the time, today, many are heads of households.


[The Kovaci cemetery is home to some of the victims of the war, alongside the grave of Bosnia’s first president Alija Izetbegovic, who died in 2003]

There are so many signs of recovery here. The modern part of the city connects itself so seamlessly with the old town. As the cobblestones give way to pavements, you’ll find streets lined with shops, glossy malls, and young Sarajevans hanging out in hip cafes – a sight almost unimaginable some 20 years ago. The Olympic bob-sleigh/luge tracks built for the ’84 Olympics are finding new life and becoming a canvas for the local art scene. International brands have set up shop and international investors have set sights on the city, the tourism industry is steadily growing, mainly through support of investors from Gulf countries. Outside the national Library sits a replica of a Cable Car compartment – part of a new cable car service due to arrive in Sarajevo in the near future. It will bring the cable car back to Sarajevo (another piece of history destroyed by the war), transporting passengers to the top of Mount Trebvić.

There is no rush to forget what happened here, Sarajevans are preserving their history, still determined for the world to know their story. The “Tunnel Of Hope” – the only lifeline for this city under siege still stands today, you can walk through part of the original underground tunnel to understand it’s role in the cities survival. Through an assortment of Museums and Galleries, Sarajevo’s recent war history is being told.

There’s something so special about Sarajevo, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I know so many other people feel the same way. Perhaps it’s an air of simplicity? The kindness of it’s people? The untouched natural beauty spanning miles and miles in the distance? Or perhaps it the knowledge of what this city has been through in it’s lifetime? Power struggles, a mixed identity, independence, war and ultimately recovery? An endless journey to pick up the pieces.

We fell in love with the city, so much more than we thought we would. I was so much more excited about Mostar when we set out for our trip, but after just a few hours in Sarajevo, I never wanted to leave. We said goodbye with a heavy heart and a vow to return to the beautiful city once again. Hopefully soon.

Here’s our traditional travelling chalkboard shot:

Some tips if you’re visiting Sarajevo :

  •  Bring comfortable shoes! I can’t stress this enough. There are plenty of hills/steep climbs/cobbled streets that make for a challenging walk. We lived in trainers and our feet thanked us for it!
  • If you are travelling with someone with mobility issues/children, stay in a hotel that is not on a hill (check on TripAdvisor). We stayed in the wonderful Hotel Aziza but it was set on a steep hill.
  • Sarajevo is safe! There’s a strange misconception that the city is still at war – it’s not. The city is safe, just exercise the usual caution you would anywhere in the world and you’ll be fine!
  • There is no Uber in Sarajevo but there is a number you can call for a taxi. Red taxis (with font on the bonnet) have meters. You can also get around by tram.
  • We found it very difficult to find a Sim card in Sarajevo – we found one shop near the Gazi Husarev Mosque in the old town that sold them.
  • Halal food : Bosnia is a majority Muslim country and Halal food is easy to find. You can confirm Halal status with restaurant owners.
  • If like us you make a pilgrimage to the land of Golden Arches every time you step foot in a Muslim country, rejoice, McDees is Halal in Bosnia (according to staff at our hotel)

    Don’t forget to check out my post on 10 things to do in Sarajevo!

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