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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrSingapore is the second most densely populated country in the world (after Monaco), although the fact that it’s a city-state lends relativity to that statement. The nation is small, inhabited by merely 5.4 million people and was, for the last few decades, renowned mostly as a bland and rather uninteresting business mecca. For most tourists, Singapore represented a convenient but over-sanitized springboard to far more exciting and enticing destinations in Asia, yet if truth be told, its recently discovered cultural and historical personas have been known to a few discerning foreigners for quite some time.
Rise of the Lion CityHere is a city where futuristic skyscrapers overlook verdant tropical jungles, smoke-filled temples accost billion dollar shopping complexes and where you can savor cheap-as-chips street food outside the gilded doors of one of the world’s top restaurants. The juxtaposition of old and new, and varied mix of cultures, is insanely addictive. If you’ve ever wanted to take a trip around the world, but have only a week to spare, then Singapore is where you need to head to.
The city’s eclectic history has ensured its transition into one of the most multicultural cities in Asia, where you’ll find authentic Chinese, Indian, Western and Thai quarters. Add to that a myriad of enticing landmarks, insane shopping options, stunning natural attractions and historical gems, and what you have is the most comprehensive Asian experience in the entire region. Singapore may well be, along with Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo, one of the most expensive cities in Asia, but if you follow the credo that one gets what one pays for, you may reason the splurge most worthwhile.
If you’re looking for an incredibly pleasant Asian getaway where the best of all things Asian are right at your splendidly kept doorstep, then Singapore is, without a doubt, the place for you.
History in BriefSingapore may nowadays be one of the most affluent countries in the world, home to the busiest port and one of its strongest economies, but as with most modern port-megacities, it started out as a tranquil and remote trading post. Its strategic location, however, ensured its rise to prosperity be marred by a multitude of foreign invasions through the long, arduous centuries.
Singapore’s rise to affluent fame has been one of the hardest fought in the entire Southeast Asian region. At one stage or another, this small, hapless nation has been pillaged and overrun by Indian, Portuguese, Dutch, British, and Japanese colonizers, although the latter only for a brief but brutal stint during World War II. Britain had taken protectorate rule over the city and suffered a cataclysmic loss in its war against Japan. The ensuing bombings of Singapore by the Brits, and horrific massacres of Chinese residents by Japan, resulted in arguably the darkest chapter in Singapore’s history.
The tired and affected city struggled once more against both British and Malaysian rule after the Japanese surrendered and receded, yet perseverance and stubbornness paid off by the mid 1960s, when it managed to secure its city-state status and much needed self-rule.
The Singapore you visit today is a sovereign democratic state, with a system of parliament based on the Great Britain’s Westminster System and a mostly British legal system, however local culture has very much dictated some unique differences. Caning is still allowed for minor crimes and the death penalty, in case of murder, is mandatory. Singapore has one of the world’s toughest laws in existence against drug trafficking and is the reputed world leader in executions per capita.
Keep out of trouble and you can be assured that Singapore is an absolutely fantastic place to visit.
Top AttractionsAll Singapore Landmarks
At first glance Singapore appears as an incredibly modern metropolis, where bright lights and vertiginous skyscrapers define its most inherent characteristic. But if you’re willing to scratch the swanky designer surface you’ll find a city brimming with stunning gardens, wide open spaces, a deep sense of pride, enticing culture, and a classy sense of confidence that spills on every avenue and alleyway.
Here are just some of Singapore’s most revered attractions.
Marina BayMarina Bay is the name of an extensive 3.6 square kilometer area adjoining Singapore’s CBD, named after the stunning bay it rests along. The prime spot of choice for most visitors, the bay is home to the exceptional Marina Bay Sands, one of the most expensive and distinctive buildings in the world. At once a casino, shopping complex, 5-star hotel and stunning observation tower, Marina Bay Sands is the one-stop attraction if you happen to be in Singapore for just a single day.
The breathtaking and all encompassing views gifted from the viewing deck, and myriad of fun things to see and do here, make it an excellent (albeit expensive) half-day activity to Singapore. The adjoining waterfront promenade is a gorgeous place for a stroll, as it’s never overcrowded and always quite relaxing. You can hop on one of the many boats sailing the bay, or head here at sunset to admire in awe as the skyline comes to life with a blanket of colorful lights.
Singapore FlyerUp until 2014, which is when Las Vegas proved it could go one better, the Singapore Flyer was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world. It rises 541 feet and gifts amazing 360-degree views of the city, its striking bay and outstanding skyline. A half-hour ride is a wonderful introduction to the city, one which is best done in the evening. A spectacular ‘Moet flight’ can be booked for 9PM; you’ll get your own private cabin as well as two glasses of the revered French Champagne. The base of the Flyer is set amidst charming gardens and you can also access the Singapore F1 track if interested in a look-see.
Singapore ZooOne of the world’s leading animal sanctuaries, the multi-award winning Singapore Zoo is revered for its natural surroundings and comprehensive array of local and international endangered species. One of the city’s top 3 attractions, it attracts millions of visitors every year and is a place where you can enjoy some personal animal encounters and seamlessly walk through some of the most iconic ecosystems on our planet. Singapore Zoo is the city’s foremost family attraction, one which is enticing enough for young and old alike.
Night SafariSingapore is home to the world’s only wildlife sanctuary solely dedicated to the conservation of nocturnal animals. At Night Safari, Singapore you’ll find over 300 species of animals, almost half of which are critically endangered. Often referred to as ‘Singapore’s best night spot’, this zoo offers the chance to walk or take a tram through seven different eco zones, all set within luscious tropical landscapes, similar to those found at the Singapore Zoo. Night Safari is open between 7.30PM and midnight every day and home to hippos, rhinos; tigers, lions; wolves, and many more creatures.
ChinatownThe district of Chinatown Singapore is recognized as one of the oldest and most authentic in the world and is home to sections which have been heritage listed and protected. As the main ethnic group in the city, the Chinese have created an incredible enclave of architecture, shops and restaurants. But this is still Singapore, so you’re bound to encounter a much more refined, if not commercialized, ‘Chinatown experience’. The atmosphere is still bustling and vibrant and the souvenirs, food and knick-knacks on offer, still very authentic.
Garden HeavenSingapore boasts several incredibly beautiful gardens, most of which are free to visit and offer a very peaceful reprieve from the busy city center. The Singapore Botanic Gardens, tipped to be the city’s first UNESCO listed treasure, is a wonderland for nature lovers and home to several themed gardens, including the Orchard Garden which is the only one requiring an admission fee. The Botanic Gardens are set over 180 acres of perfectly preserved parkland and found about 10kms northwest of Marina Bay. Easy to access via public transport, the extensive gardens are an ideal spot to head to if you want to indulge in a picnic in the very heart of a bustling city.
Gardens by the Bay are a collection of three separate parks found right on the waterfront at Marina Bay. Here, you’ll find an impressive Flower Dome, a perfectly re-enacted Cloud Forest, and a remarkable collection of lakes brimming with aquatic life. The domes are the only section for which you’ll need to pay an entrance fee, yet the pristinely manicured gardens are free to peruse at leisure.
For a less-manicured-but-wilder stroll through nature, head to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve , which is the largest natural forest still left untouched in Singapore. You’ll encounter thousands of different species of plants and flowers, as well as multitude of wildlife including Macaque monkeys. There are many hiking and mountain biking trails to follow, most of which are doable with a reasonable level of fitness. The reserve is home to the highest peak in the city (538 feet) and easy to access by public transport.
East Coast Park is Singapore’s largest man-made park and by far the most popular among locals. Head here on a Sunday and you’ll see it thrive with frenzied family activity as Singaporeans ditch the concrete jungle and head here to BBQ, picnic, cycle, jog and indulge in some Tai Chi. The variety of cheap but excellent food outlets, as well as myriad of sporting activities (waterskiing, mini-golf, fishing and bike rental among many others) makes it an ideal destination for active visitors.
Jurong Bird Park is yet another fabulous attraction for animal lovers and home to literally thousands of species of endemic birds. The fact that it’s set amidst splendid landscape, however, is what makes it an enticing place to visit for anyone who’s an avid fan of nature.
MuseumsSingapore is home to over three dozen museums and heritage centers yet only a small portion of these will be of interest to tourists. The city’s historic center ,Bras Basah, is where you’ll find the most prominent museums, all renowned for being extremely modern and very well organised.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and MuseumThe Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum is possibly the most visited of the lot, and combines the enticing features of an extravagant Buddhist temple with the educational side of a historic museum and the peacefulness of a glorious flower-filled garden. Home to an insane amount of priceless golden relics and an overly-ornate interior, this temple & museum is a wonderfully peaceful oasis right in the heart of Chinatown Singapore.
Changi Chapel and MuseumFor a more historic feel head to the Changi Chapel and Museum, and enjoy a rather sobering yet excellently displayed insight into the city’s suffering during World War II. We recommend renting an audio-guide at the entrance for a more comprehensive experience. You may also enjoy a visit to the Asian Civilizations Museum, where free English-language tours provide an optimal overview of all the ancient civilizations which make up this most enticing part of the world.
ArtScience MuseumIn the Marina Bay Sands is where you’ll find the ArtScience Museum, an excellent showcase of international exhibits, although this is mostly related to the various temporary exhibitions held throughout the year. The permanent works on display are a little lack-luster and arguably not worth much time, so do check what’s on display during the period you intend to visit.
Singapore Art MuseumArt lovers ought to include a visit to the Singapore Art Museum which houses the largest public collection of Southeast Asian contemporary art in the world. You’ll find the museum near the corner of Orchard and Victoria Streets and housed in a lovely white Victorian-style building in the midst of skyscraper central.
Sentosa IslandSentosa is an island off the southern tip of Singapore and the city’s most popular island getaway. Recently rebranded, Sentosa is an all-encompassing day-trip destination where visitors can enjoy a few hours by the beach, or visit tourist attractions such as the Resorts World Sentosa (home to Universal Studios Singapore, two casinos, an aquarium, and an adventure water park), as well as Madam Tussauds Singapore and a near infinite array of chic restaurants and bars.
For locals, Sentosa is a bit of a hit-and-miss, as most find it ridiculously overpriced and highly touristy, yet a visit here need be neither touristy nor bank-balance-breaking. The beach is highly enjoyable and options for reasonably priced food rather extensive. Moreover, getting here from the main island on the Singapore Cable Car rates as one of the best things to do in the city and grants exceptional enough views over the city to rival both the Singapore Flyer* and Marina Bay Sands observatory.
Guide to ShoppingIn Singapore, shopping rates as a nationally recognized past-time, and it’s in this glitzy city that you’ll 1,001 mega-malls, bazaars, and street stalls selling everything man (or woman) has ever invented.
Although Singapore is no longer the cheap shopping mecca it once was, it is still very competitive when compared to Europe, Australia, and the United States, and offers much better quality goods than anything you’ll find elsewhere in Asia, for only slightly higher prices. Nowadays, Singapore also offers a wide range of shopping experiences, from the glitziest designer fashion, accessories, computers, and electronics, to the coolest hippie garb, ethnic souvenirs and enticing artifacts.
High-end GearOrchard Road is, by far, the most renowned shopping hub in Singapore and a name which can conjure up the most adverse reactions in tourists. While shopaholics will swoon at the mere mention of Orchard Road, shopaphobics will most likely shudder in terror. Orchard Road is a 2km-long designer haven where the kings and queens come to spend and the paupers come to drool. This exhilarating hub is a must-see for anyone visiting the city for the first time, as this is the place which propelled Singapore into the international shopping stage when it was first established. Orchard Road is serviced by no less than 3 Mass Rapid Transit (Singapore) stations.
Filled to the brim with endless glistening mega-malls and boutiques, Orchard Road has undergone a subtle change in recent years, possibly due to the global economic crisis. Although haute-couture and high-end gear was all one could ever hope to find here merely a decade ago, the road now also boast shops and stalls selling all sorts of stuff to suit all kinds of budgets. Alongside the likes of Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Dior, you’ll also find a few Asian-branded stores, which sell great fashion and accessories at only a fraction of the prices of competitive international brands.
For more haute-shopping, visit VivoCity, the largest and most eye-opening and avant-garde mall in Singapore. This is a particularly pleasant mall to visit, as its waterfront location grants many chances to sit, chill and enjoy fantastic views to Sentosa Island in between shopping marathons. You’ll also find two massive supermarkets and a cinema complex.
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands are likewise revered for their very deluxe setting and impressive display of internationally renowned products, There are also plenty of relaxing waterfront spots where excellent dining and drinking complements the great shopping.
Hip and Happening Fashion at Lower PricesYounger visitors, who love to snag some cool stuff but are a little short on the serious cash, ought to head to the suburbs of Bugis and Kampong Glam the reputed headquarters of all the best up-and-coming designers who may, one day, dream of opening a store on Orchard Road. Sure, you may never have heard of half the brands on sale here, but the goods are of great quality and prices drastically lower than anywhere else in Singapore. Support local independent designers and come see just how talented they really are.
Ethnic Souvenirs & ClothingHead to Chinatown and Little India if you’ve spent a few days in Singapore and are suffering Bangkok or Hong Kong withdrawal symptoms. Both areas come complete with blaring horns, crazy traffic, smelly alleyways, and fantastic (and cheap) shopping. Kampong Glam is known as ‘Arab Quarter’ and here you’ll also find a fantastic array of exotic spices and wares, as well as wonderful silks and batiks. Chinatown’s Pagoda Street is the reputed king of souvenir stalls in Singapore.
Geek CentralFor all your electronics needs and desires, we recommend you save precious time and simply head to the Funan DigitalLifeMall, where you’ll find seven floors filled to the brim with the latest gadgets. If it can be plugged into a power or USB outlet, you’ll definitely find it here.
Eating out in SingaporeThere are many countries the world over which claim to be a melting pot of international tastes, yet very few can compete with this gastronomically diverse city-state. Since time immemorial, a plethora of inhabitants from all over the globe have been diverging to Singapore to trade and in doing so, have left their mark behind in every aspect of local culture, including the cuisine. Due to this enormous influx, modern Singaporean cooking is an intoxicating mix of Thai, Malay, Chinese, Western, and Indian foods, offered in every type of eatery from lively street markets to sumptuous 5-star restaurants and all that lies deliciously in between. Singapore is a foodie destination bar none.
There are quite a few local specialties that are found nowhere else in Asia; the following are just of the most popular.
Chili or Pepper CrabThere are plenty of frequent flyers who make a beeline for Singapore a few times a year just so they can feast on what is possibly the most famous Singaporean dish of all. No one would dare blame them. Chili crab, a twice cooked concoction of crab pieces and noodles bathing in an irresistible sweet and chili sauce is both the messiest, and yummiest, dish you could ever hope to savor. The peppered version is a little less messy but most will agree, a little less delicious as well.
Singapore Curry LaksaLaksa is one of the many local hybrid dishes which have both Chinese and Malay origins. In Singapore, the most popular type is katong laksa, where vermicelli noodles are shredded and served with fish, bean curd and shrimp, cooked in a very spicy and thick curry-coconut sauce.
Fried Carrot CakeOne of the most widely served snacks in Singapore, fried carrot cake is neither cake nor made with carrots, but rather an omelette cooked with rice, white radish and spring onion, roughly chopped and served piping hot. Not the most complex tastes on the planet, but it’s cheap, filling and delicious enough.
Chicken RiceAlong with fried carrot cake, this is arguably the most widely served dish in Singapore and found everywhere, from hawker stalls to 5-star restaurant. As the name suggest, this dish consists of several pieces of steamed chicken atop a mound of boiled rice, drenched with a near endless variety of sauces. In this instance, the delectable sauce is indeed the most significant ingredient.
Char Kway TeowIf you thought all Asian dishes are ideal for the health-conscious connoisseur then you obviously have never come across a steaming pot of char kway teow. Flat rice noodles are cooked in an abundance of pork lard and topped with Chinese sausages, chives, prawns, eggs, and bean sprouts. Although this meal is rather yummy, it does leave a most distinctive after taste on the palate, perhaps unsurprisingly. Follow local custom and suck on a wedge of lime at the end of your meal, it will help cleanse your palate of the pork fat residue.
Hokkien MeeOrder hokkien mee anywhere else in Asia and you’ll likely be left savoring a bubbling pot of noodle soup. Order it in Singapore, however, and what you’ll get is a mouthwatering dry noodles dish served with pork-filled wontons and slices of pickled ham. Much like the above-mentioned dish, hokkien mee is also cooked in a thick, pork-lard based sauce, making it a rather heavy tasting main course.
AccommodationsWhen it comes to accommodation choices, your preferred daily budget will determine in which area of Singapore you’ll be most likely to stay. The biggest choice of budget hostels and hotels are found in the Chinatown, Little India, and Bugis areas, while the city center, and especially the waterfront promenade, is where most of the deluxe hotels are situated. Do note that prices in Singapore tend to fluctuate more than in most other cities, so don’t discount the fact that if travelling during low season you may be able to score some rather remarkable deals.
Best Time to VisitDue to Singapore’s multiculturalism, the city enjoys a very subtle switch between low and high seasons, due t it boasting a very comprehensive list of cultural festivals which are held all year long. Being close to the equator also means that its hot, humid temps are pretty much the norm year round. Nevertheless, the busiest months in Singapore are June and July, as well as November and December, as these periods coincide with school holidays in Asia, Europe, and North America. If you’re looking for considerable savings, then book your visit during August, September and October, which is when crowds are at their lowest and hotels at their most desperate.
Get InSingapore Changi Airport is one of the world’s busiest and reachable from just about every corner of the globe. Over 100 airlines connect this city to more than 300 worldwide hubs. The airport is located about a half-hour drive out of the city center.
At the arrivals lounge you’ll find a Ground Transport Desk, from where you can buy tickets for shuttles buses which ply the route from the airport to every corner of the city. The buses stop at all the main hotels in the CBD (over 200 in fact), so check online to see if your chosen hotel is on the list of serviced partners or, alternatively, find the closest stop.
Get AroundThe main island of Singapore is extensively serviced by public transport, with the Mass Rapid Transit (Singapore), comprehensive bus service and relatively cheap taxis being the most popular options for tourists. Much like Hong Kong and London, Singapore also has a contactless EZ link card system, yet this is not nearly as useful here as in other cities due to its initial high cost and the fact it only grants a 15% discount on fares. Instead opt to purchase a Singapore Tourist Pass which includes unlimited rides on all major forms of public transport, as well as considerable discounts on various attractions. Moreover, unlike other cards, any unused credit can be refunded upon return of the card. You’ll find the tourist pass on sale at all MRT stations with 1, 2 and 3 day options available.
Dangers & AnnoyancesUp until a few moons ago, hippy-go-lucky visitors were required to get a clean shave and short haircut before being allowed to even enter Singapore. While this requirement has not been mandatory for years, do note that you’re likely to receive a little extra attention if you are anything less than clean shaven and conservatively dressed.
Singapore is actually one of the world’s safest cities, although much of this has to do with the fact it also has one of its harshest penal systems. Many of the problems affecting tourists have to do with drugs and it is in this league that Singapore excels above all others. Not only is trafficking punishable by death, but the personal use of drugs is also harshly dealt with. Occasional urine spot tests are done at the airport, so it's always wise to keep this in mind.
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Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: Apr 29, 2015