Lying virtually on the equator, Singapore is a gateway for the millions of tourists who visit South East Asia each year and an exciting destination in its own right, its colonial past not lost to modern development.
Chinese make up the majority of the population and the remainder is a blend of Malay, Indian and ethnic groups including Eurasians. There are also small Arab, Armenian and Jewish communities.
The Merlion, a water-spouting statue, has become the symbol of the nation and now stands at its new location at the head of the Singapore River. For a great view of Singapore, head to Fort Canning Hill. Worth visiting is the Asian Civilisations Museum at Empress Place, the Singapore Art and the Singapore National. Minutes from Orchard Road, Singapore’s Botanic Gardens sprawl over 54 hectares. Cultivating orchids is big business in Singapore, and National Orchid Garden at Botanic Gardens provides a year-round colourful collection. Chinatown is a busy place full of restaurants, shops, temples and herbalists. Little India is also a hive of activity. Less known by visitors is Singapore’s Peranakan culture, a mixture of Malay and Chinese traditions. Visit Katong and view the beautifully restored shophouses, traditional ornate jewellery and clothing before dining on traditional dumplings.
The beautifully landscaped open-concept Singapore Zoo is a highlight of any trip to Singapore. The nearby Night Safari is the world’s first safari park for nocturnal animals. Sentosa Island has beaches, walking trails, golf courses, restaurants, hotels and fun family attractions including Universal Studios Singapore and Marine Life Park, the largest oceanarium in the world.
Singapore is so close to Malaysia and Indonesia, it is possible to do day tours to places like Johor Bahru, and Malacca. The Indonesian islands of Bintan and Batam are just a short boat ride across the Singapore Strait.
Where to stay
From the luxurious to backpacker hostels, there is a range of accommodation readily available in Singapore mostly found around the CBD, Orchard Road and marina areas.
Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) is the most convenient way to travel, with trains running every three to eight minutes from 6am to midnight. Singapore has a good bus network with frequent services and a ready supply of taxis. Hiring cars or bumboats (motorised boats that ply the Singapore River) is easy, and there are regular ferry services and luxurious junk tours. Tri-shaws have disappeared from Singapore’s main streets, but can still be found operating in Chinatown, Little India and back streets. Agree on a fare beforehand.
Food and entertainment
Singapore is the food capital of Asia. Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian and Western foods are all on offer, and some of the tastiest creations are those from the colourful hawker (street) stalls. Peranakan or Nonya cooking is a local variation on Chinese and Malay food, mixing Chinese ingredients with local spices such as lemongrass and coconut cream. The spicy, coconut-based soup laksa is a popular Nonya dish. Singapore is also a great place to discover exotic tropical fruits.
Walking is one of the best ways to see all that the compact city district offers, while sporty types will enjoy golf, computerised bowling alleys, archery, canoeing along the East Coast and the lagoon at Sentosa Island. Nature-lovers can visit parks and trek through reserves, and aquatic sport enthusiasts can waterski, windsurf, jet-ski, and wakeboard.
In Singapore, shopping is not just a casual activity to fill in time; it is the mainstay of the culture. Orchard Road offers a dazzling array of stores, and then there’s Chinatown, Arab Street and Little India is home to the Mustafa Centre, Singapore’s first 24-hour department store. The east coast suburb of Katong is 15 minutes from town, and the yuppie haunt, Holland Village, 10 minutes away.
The climate is hot and tropical year round. Cool, loose fitting summer clothes are recommended.
Singapore dollars and cents. Tipping is not generally expected at hotels or restaurants as they have a 10 percent service charge.
Singapore is expensive compared to other Asian destinations and comparable to Western cities. However, cheap accommodation is available and you can confidently survive on US$32 per day, with a small amount kept aside for sight-seeing. It is recommended you budget a minimum of $95 per day.
Singapore’s rich multicultural heritage shows up in its plate, mirroring the place’s cultural diversity with generous portions of Peranakan, Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisines. Taking a stroll around the city means sniffing in delicious smells of South Indian thalis, Malay food, biryani, Peking duck, Cantonese dim sum, popiah or spring rolls and Hokien mee – a kind of fried noodles from Fujian Province in China.
The geography of Singapore is shaped like a diamond and adequately compact to explore in a couple of days. The southern part of the city state is its older part and called downtown by its residents. Its epicenter is arguably the creek of the Singapore River, the place where Raffles landed from his ship to shore in 1819. At present, it is a place to relax with its buzzing bars and restaurants converted from warehouses.
Singapore has a truly cosmopolitan population, a direct result of this nation’s geographical location and commercial success. The city state came into being on January 29, 1819, and its first avatar was that of a trading post. The fledgling town attracted merchants and migrants from the Malay Peninsula, China, Indonesia, the Indian sub-continent and even from Middle East.