Many folk turn their noses up at a mention of Singapore as an 'interesting and fun' tourist destination. However, no less than 9.7 million tourists visited Singapore in 2006 so the city state must be doing something right for it to be on the radar of so many visitors.
Located in South East Asia this lush and vibrant island is one of the most affluent countries in the world and is a unique blend of modern technology and eastern customs and traditions. Many foreigners who are posted to Singapore, the location of many a company’s Asian Headquarters don’t usually want to go home as they get accustomed to the excellent standard of living Singapore has to offer. It is world famous for its ‘cleanliness’ and the strict imposition of fines if the rules of cleanliness are not observed.
For this Singapore is often termed ‘the fine city’. One can purchase t-shirts from the souvenir stores which poke fun at the various fines which are imposed on the general public. Singapore today however is trying hard to shake off this stodgy image.
The credit of bringing Singapore into prominence is given to Sir Stamford Raffles a British civil servant who acquired Singapore from the Sultan of Johor. It continued to remain an important British naval base until the Second World War when it fell to the Japanese who imposed a crushing defeat on the British forces stationed in Singapore. After the war it retained its earlier status in the colonial empire until the colonial rule ended in 1959. In 1963 it joined the federation of Malaysia but it seceded from the federation in 1965. It continues to share a love hate relationship with Malaysia as there exists a rivalry between the island city and its bigger neighbor periodic disputes over water and air space are common occurrences. However this rivalry has also acted as an impetus for the Malaysians to improve their cities a la mode Singapore say most proud Singaporeans. Most Singaporeans are fiercely nationalistic and proud of their ‘Lion City’
called so because of an ancient legend which says that an early explorer who landed here discovered a strange beast inhabited the island called the Mer Lion and he called the island Singapura which in Sanskrit means lion. This creature with a lions head and a fish’s tale is immortalized in a statue of Singapore’s Harbor and is often the symbol of Singapore.
Much of Singapore’s modern day affluence and prominence in the world economy can be attributed to its Premier Lee Kuan Yew. Lee Kuan Yew was first elected prime minister in 1959 and reelected many times after, he was instrumental in shaping the economy of the city state which had only a good harbor and not many natural resources. Through an incentive based system he motivated the people of Singapore to build an export driven and service based economy. This continues till today as Lee Kuan Yews son continues the vision of his father Lee Hsien Loong is the head of the Peoples Action Party and the Prime Minister of Singapore. Singapore is a multi cultural society though the majority of the population is Chinese; Malays and Indians also make up a significant part of the ethnic fabric of this nation.
English is one of the official languages along with Mandarin, Tamil and Malay.
Located in the tropics Singapore enjoys warm and sultry weather all year round with copious amounts of rainfall. This year the rainfall has been unusually heavy may it is a fall out of the global warming. Due to this rainfall, Singapore is verdant all year round with lush tropical vegetation and magnificent Bougainvillea and Orchid blooms flowering all year round. The Orchid is the national flower of this Lion City.
Temperatures hover around 31 C(88F) during the day and around 24C(75F). The best
time to visit Singapore is from November to February when the temperatures are slightly milder and the heat is not oppressive. Moreover in the month of December the main shopping drag that is Orchard Road is dressed for Christmas and just as Oxford Street in London it is a spectacle worth seeing.
Travelers year after year vote Singapore’s ultra modern huge airport the “Best in the world”. Similarly Singapore’s national carrier Singapore Airlines represented by its Singapore Girl and its slogan “what a great way to fly” continue to win accolades yearly for its outstanding levels of service. Changi Airport pays host to a number of airlines apart from the home grown carrier and it is composed of three Terminals one for the many international carries that call at the airport and the other for Singapore Airlines and its Star Alliance partner airlines and the regional subsidiary of Singapore Airlines- Silk Air .A third Budget terminal handles Tiger and Cebu Pacific airlines. Changi airport has numerous amenities such as reasonable transit hotels, restaurants and stores teeming with duty free goods as well as a movie theater and a swimming pool. Killing time at Changi during a lay over is never a problem.
Getting into the City from the Airport
Hailing a Taxi cab at the airport is very easy and most rides into the city cost between S$20-S$30 with a surcharge for the airport trip. Limousines are also available for a higher price of S$35. There are also Maxi Cabs which can take one into the city and are better for larger families. The Singapore Subway called the MRT comes into Terminal 2 and is another option if one doesn’t have much luggage. Buses also run regularly from the Airport to the City Center.
Singapore is connected by two expressways to Malaysia. Causeway is the older one in the northern part of Singapore. It is busy and congested and used by private as well as public transport . The second Expressway is at Tuas in western Singapore it is less busy as it is used by private transport and many of the luxury Bus services that exist between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. These Bus services have their pick up points all over the Island at various hotels and at an area called Lavender.
Singapore is connected by rail to Kuala Lumpur. It has day services as well as overnight services popular with people who reside in Kuala Lumpur but work in Singapore. The railway station is in the Tanjong Pagar area of Singapore. An important tip for a traveler to remember is that if you buy a train ticket in Singapore you are charged in Singapore Dollars however if book a ticket online as a return ticket from Kuala Lumpur one is charged in Malaysian ringgit which is an exchange rate benefit for the traveler. This is also true for a Bus journey to KL. If you buy a one way ticket to KL in Singapore you are charged in Singapore dollars while the return journey bought in KL is charged in ringgit.
Singapore has three ferry terminals at the Harbor front, Tanah Merah on the East Coast and the Changi Ferry Terminal. The Habor Front terminal handles the popular Star cruise liners which cruise to Thailand and other neighboring countries. Ferries also go to the nearby Kusu Island famous for its turtles and an important locale for the Taoist religion.
Getting Around Singapore
EZ Link Pass for Bus and MRT travel
Singapore boasts of a highly efficient and organized public transport system which makes getting around the Island extremely easy. Moreover the buses and subway are all air-conditioned so the sultry weather is also kept at bay as one travels in comfort. An EZ link fare card is available for use on both the buses as well as the Singapore subway system called MRT. These fare cards are available for an initial charge of S$15 which includes the S$5 non refundable amount of the card itself so an initial outlay of S$15 gives one a travel credit of $10. When using the card in the Bus one must remember to tap the reader at the entrance as well as one gets off to avoid paying the maximum amount of fare on that route which is charged if one does not do so. The MRT is an efficient way to travel around the island, eating and drinking are not allowed in its clean environs nor also carrying the Durian fruit which is widely eaten on the island but which emits an awful stench.
Taxis are plentiful and easily available in front of the gargantuan Shopping centers of Orchard Road. Taxis can also be booked for an additional fee. There are three taxi companies in Singapore Citycab, Comfort and SMRT. However after midnight until 6 am taxis have a 50% surcharge. They also have peak hour surcharges from 7.30am to 9.30am on week days and 4.30 pm to 7pm from Monday to Saturdays.
A sightseeing trolley gaily painted called the Singapore Explorer rumbles down Orchard Road towards Marina Square and along the Singapore River. Daily tickets can be bought for unlimited rides through out the day. Singapore Airlines also operates a hop on bus whose tickets are available at a discount for the travelers of SIA. The tickets to both the trolley and the hop on SIA bus can be bought from most front desks of hotels as well as the Singapore Airlines office at the Paragon Shopping Center on Orchard Road.
To Do and See
A Shoppers Delight
Singapore's Fifth Avenue –Orchard Road. Orchard Road is a 2.5 km strip of gleaming multi storey shopping malls and hotels. It starts at Tanglin Road and it concludes near the Dhobby Ghaut MRT (Subway) station Orchard Road has in its environs the flagship store Tangs belonging to the C.K.Tang group. It is a must stop destination for tourists as it caters to every need of every age group. Tangs also has a department to handle the G.S.T refunds for tourists. Tourists are entitled to a refund of Singapore's sales tax levy of 5% Opposite Tang's is Wisma Atria yet another mall with a gigantic food court where one can sample local hawker stall delights like 'Rojak' and 'Poh piah' in air conditioned comfort. The sea of malls continues towards the end of the road and includes Paragon, a mall with designer retail outlets and Ngee Ann City which houses the multilevel Japanese department store Takashimaya. In the midst of all this modernity near the Center Point Mall are the quaint Peranakan shop houses of Emerald hill. Many of these shop houses reminiscent of old Singapore are pubs today, but they represent what Singapore must have looked like in centuries past. At Singapore’s malls one can get every conceivable good from clothing, cell phones, house wares, designer goods and accessories. All the major retail brands of the world have a presence at Orchard Road. Orchard Road becomes a veritable shoppers delight in the month of July when the great Singapore Sale is held and many bargains are on offer to tempt the shopper.
Near the Central Business district is Arab Street an older part of town where the first traders from Arabia landed. This is yet another shopping area as are Baghdad and Bussorah Street.
Located at the Outram Park MRT station Sinagpore’s Chinatown has been spruced up. The traditional shop houses typical of old world Singapore have been restored and wear a fresh coat of paint. Souvenir stalls stand cheek by jowl with stores selling beautiful antiques such as old Chinese furniture, stone carvings and other lifestyle products. Located in Chinatown is also the oldest store in Singapore selling Chinese porcelain as well as the Hindu Sri Mariaamma temple with its colorful tower of dieities. The Thien Hock Keng Chinese Temple as well as the Fuk Tak Chi Chinese temple are also located here in Chinatown.
Serangoon Road “Little India”
More of old Singapore can be seen in Singapore's own vibrant 'Little India' which is located on Serangoon Road and is accessible by the North East line on the MRT system. Here we have the 'Little India' center with its numerous stores selling colorful saris, spices, Indian sweetmeats and artifacts from the subcontinent. Outside the center Bollywood music blares out of many a small store selling DVDs and CDs of the latest Bollywood blockbusters. Bollywood movies are a favorite with Singapore's multicultural society with even the Chinese and Malay populations enjoying them. There are also rows of goldsmith shops and shops selling incense and flower garlands to the people going the many Hindu temples of the area. The most famous temple here is the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple with its tower composed of many small multicolored idols.
Serangoon Road also has Tekka market a 'wet market' where stalls sell fresh produce of the region along with fish and other meats as well as a big hawker center with stalls selling local gastronomic delights. A number of good Indian restaurants are located here the most famous amongst these are Komala Vilas and Annapurnas. The latter is located opposite the gargantuan Mohammed Mustaffa shopping center a shopping center which carries almost every product under the sun and is popular with both tourists and locals alike. A mention must also be made of the excellent Buddhist vegetarian restaurant called Fut Sai Kai located on Kitchner Road adjacent to the Mohammed Mustaffa Center but make sure to go before 7.30 pm as the delicious vegetarian food which is prepared by Buddhist monks usually runs out by then
An expat enclave on Holland Road, the Holland Road Shopping Center has a store called Lims which is famous for its lifestyle products and house wares sourced from all over South East Asia.
Sentosa is a man made resort island accessible by cable car, bus and foot. It has three beaches which were made with imported sand and have many recreational water sport activities. It also has a Underwater world, Dolphin Lagoon, Wax museum showing the images of Singapore’s History, the Carlsberg Sky Tower, the Butterfly and insect museum and a Golf course. Now Sentosa also is the locale of new luxury apartments and a rapidlydeveloping residential area.
This beautiful historic hotel named after Sir Stamford Raffle is an exponent of colonial architecture and provided much inspiration to many writers who lived and wrote here such as Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham and Joseph Conrad. One must have the famed drink the Singapore Sling invented at the peanut shell covered Long Bar. Also savor local eats at the restaurants of this hotel Doc Chengs and Ah Tengs Bakery famous for its high tea.
Jurong Bird Park
Set on Jurong Hill with a walk in aviary the Park is home to numerous species of birds. The Bird show at the Park is popular with children and adults alike.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
Situated on Napier road spread over 128 acres are the magnificent Botanic gardens. Lush landscaped gardens are popular with morning walkers and joggers and tourists who come to marvel at the many species of flora and Fauna. It has the National Orchid Garden in its environs
Boat Quay, Clarke Quay The Singapore River
These two Quays along the Singapore River are the centers of entertainment as there are several restaurants and clubs to be found here. The Satay Club is an up market hawker center on Clarke Quay. Boat cruises are also available to meander down the Singapore River. Dance Clubs such as Attica, the Ministry of Sound and Forbidden City are popular night spots on Clarke Quay. On Sundays a flea market is held at Clark Quay
The Night Safari
Held at The Singapore Zoo during nocturnal hours gives one a different experience as the shyest animals come out at night.
Singapore’s Gastronomic Delights
A travel guide cannot be complete without a mention of Singapore’s culinary delights. All kinds of cuisines are available in Singapore but for a tourist must sample the local food at the many hawker centers located all over the Island. These are stalls serving all the local foods such as Char Kway teow( flat noodles with chili paste and meat ),Haiwanese Chicken rice( Chicken with rice and fragrant broth),poh piah( steamed spring rolls) Rojak ( tamarind based salad) and Ice kachang( a local ice based desert). These are just some of the vast varieties of local dishes. Hawker centers and food courts abound all over the island. The most popular with tourists is the Newton food court but there exist equally good food courts on Maxwell Road and the Lau Pa Sat Festival Market on Raffles Quay. To experience Singapore is to eat at the Hawker Centers.
However excellent dining options are to be found at various restaurants such as the restaurants at Rochester Park which are housed in old Colonial homes and have an old world ambience. Min Jiang, De Paulo are some of the restaurants located here. Sentosa also has an excellent Italian restaurant called Il Lido as does Holland Village with Michelangelo’s. Club Street is yet another dining option which has excellent restaurants such as Indo Chine.
The worlds leading hotel chains have a presence in Singapore. The Hilton, The Mandarin Oriental with its famous restaurant serving local delights ‘ The Chatterbox’, The Good wood Park with its old world feel, The Shangri La with its opulent gardens and the Ritz Carlton are just some of the many hotels that dot Singapore’s landscape. Along with these Luxury hotels budget hotels such as Hotel Asia, Sha Villa are also an option for the more price conscious traveler. In addition The Singapore YMCA at Dhoby Ghaut has a provision for lodging at reasonable prices.