Singapore has come a long way from just a stopover for long haul flights from Europe and other parts of Asia to the Oceanic region. The small nation has reinvented and repackaged itself from a boring sterile place to one of the world’s hottest destinations. There are a lot of things to do in this tiny city state. There are rainforests teeming with exotic flora and fauna. For most visitors, however, Singapore’s principal attraction is its status as a retail heaven. Its malls are temples for shopaholics, packed with designer clothes, the latest electronics and generic economically priced brands.
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.
The immigrants imported their own language, festivals, customs and culture. The facets were hardwired into Singaporean society by intermarriage and gradual integration-leaving Singapore a multi-faceted society with a diverse and vibrant cultural heritage. The end of 19th century saw Singapore becoming a truly global city, with ethnic groups like Eurasians, Indians, Chinese and Malays living and working together. The Chinese at present form 74.2 percent of the total population, with Malays, the area’s original inhabitants, making up 13.3 percent. Indians make up 9.2 percent and others a composite 3.3 percent. The city state is also home to a number of expatriates from all over the world.
It is natural that Singapore has a plethora of languages in its cultural quiver. There are four official languages representing four major ethnicities: Tamil, Chinese, Malay and English. The national language is Malay, with English the most common language for government and business work.
The soupcon of multiple languages in such a compact environment has given birth to an unique brand of Singaporean laced English: the Singlish dialect. This hybrid endemic language incorporates loan words from Indian, Chinese and Malay languages.
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.
Visitors to Singapore flock to its ethnic enclaves, of which Little India is the most visited. It has photogenic Hindu temples, appetising curry houses and shops retailing spices and exotic produce. The nearby golden domes of Sultan Mosque and Arab Street are also a must visit. Cross the river and you reach Chinatown with its fully restored Chinese mansion and shrines. The characteristic shophouses form an unique Singaporean attraction.
The British have also left their mark. The Colonial District to the north of Singapore river has a number of grand Neoclassical buildings like Parliament House, City Hall and the world famous Raffles Hotel. You can sift through history in the National Museum. The newest slice of the city is Marina Bay, with a namesake casino resort, an arts center Esplanade – Theaters on the Bay and Gardens by the Bay.
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.
Chinese cuisine is the dominant one, with the food representing the Chinese philosophy of perfectly balancing the food’s yin and yang notes. The edibles are symbolic, with oysters served for good fortune, noodles for longevity and fish for prosperity. Do order the dim sum and double boiled soups. The Szechuan spicy dishes and flavorful chicken rice are the highlights of Singaporean Chinese dishes.
If you love Indian food, order Indian Muslim dishes like parathas, nasi biryani and murtabak. Ask the waiter for a cup of the tarik or pulled tea to end the delicious meal. Malay dishes incorporate a bounty of chillies, curry leaves, galangal, lemon grass, shrimp paste or belachan and turmeric. The cuisine is deliciously spicy without being hot.
Singapore’s unique Nonya or Peranakan food provides a mix of Indonesian, Malay and Chinese flavors, mixing spices and aromatic herbs to cook a delectable world of curries, stews and braised dishes. Do try ayam buah keluak, a dish made of chicken, buah keluak nuts and also the laksa, a dish made of rice vemicelli, coconut milk garnished with chicken or seafood.
The public transport system in Singapore is efficient, fast and you will reach your destination quickly sans any fuss.
The MRT ( an acronym for mass rapid transit) is the quickest way to travel around the city. The comprehensive system of railway tracks mean you can visit a majority of the city state’s attractions by train alone. Almost all attractions are either besides or simply a short walk away from a train station. Tickets can be bought for single rides but tourists are advised to buy the Singapore Tourist Pass permitting you to unrestricted travel for a period of one day. Trains and platforms are visually impaired and wheel chair friendly.
Take a taxi if you do not want to board the train or the bus. Taxis go by the meter, but there can be a surcharge based on the destination and amounts set by the taxi company itself. You can hail a taxi all over Singapore and ask for a receipt at the end of your trip. You can also dial the call centers for a taxi to be sent to you.
Bus routes cover every nook and cranny of Singapore and is the cheapest. This mode of public transportation is also very scenic. You can pay the bus fare using the Singapore Tourist Pass or the EZ-Link card.
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.
The climate of Singapore is hot and humid, with minimal variation through the year. Expect median daytime temperatures to be around 31 degrees Centigrade which drops to 24 degrees in the evenings. Monsoon season means torrential downpours and it is recommended that you bring rain protection gear if you visit after November.
British citizens and those of majority of European countries, along with Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, United States and Australia o not require a visa to land on Singaporean soil. You can extend your stay by a maximum of three months.
The international dialing code of Singapore is +(65). If you are visiting Singapore, and is on an international roaming plan, there is no need to put in +(65) as you will be automatically connected to the local numbers. Do remember that smoking is considered a punishable offense in public transportation and in air conditioned places like cinemas, shopping centers, restaurants and entertainment outlets.