Often overlooked as a holiday destination in favour of a stop-over Singapore is a world of beauty, offering an immense variety of activities to suit all tastes. Located off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, Singapore is a highly urbanised country. Its skyscrapers and subways reflect modern times, while the Chinese, Malay and Indian influences provide an abundance of cultures. The tropical climate, fantastic food and great shopping make the English-speaking Singapore an ideal choice for a short break.
Founded in the early 1800s as a British trading colony, Singapore is one of the world’s most successful countries and has the world’s busiest port. Just north of the equator, it doesn’t matter what time of year you decide to visit, with weather remains relatively the same year-round. Generally sunny and warm, small showers are experienced at least once almost every day, with the most rainfall during November, December and January. Severe thunderstorms can also happen at any time, so you might want to be prepared just in case.
With just over five million people on the island, Singapore is the second most densely populated country in the world – yet more than 50% of the area is covered by parks and reserves. Being small makes Singapore ideal for a few days break, and despite its size, there are plenty of places to see. The centre of the city includes Orchard Road – which is well known around the world for shopping; Marina Bay, which features the famous boat-shaped ‘SkyPark’, perched atop the three towers that make up the world’s most expensive hotel, and also includes casino, shopping mall, convention centre and museum; Riverside with its museums, theatres, restaurants and clubs; and the financial district Shenton Way, known for its commercial skyscrapers on both sides of the road.
The northern part of the island (Woodlands) is home to Singapore’s residential and industrial neighbourhoods; the north-west is jungle – ideal for the military training that is completed here; and in the west, and along the east coast, you will find predominantly residential precincts as well as many kilometres of beach (on the east coast). If you want to see the “real Singapore” away from the Central Business District (CBD), these are ideal places to visit.
You have probably heard about the “strange laws” in Singapore – the rumours are true. You can receive fines, a caning, hard labour, or even jail time, for things like not flushing the toilet after using it; littering; selling chewing gum; walking around your house naked; “excessive” hugging; and connecting to an unsecured wi-fi network (considered hacking). You also can’t take more than one packet of cigarettes into the country; yet – prostitution is legal (although low profile). Go figure.
Shopping is a great way to spend a day or two, or five, in Singapore. There are malls and markets, not to mention low taxes, and with most shops open from 10am til 10pm, you can’t go wrong. Shops along Orchard Road and Scotts Road form Singapore’s premier shopping district, with several kilometres of shopping malls and variety and quality products to suit all tastes. Mustafa in Little India spans two complexes and is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with everything from jewellery to electronics. Got some last minute shopping or wanting to avoid the day time crowds? Mustafa is the place to go. ION Orchard looks very futuristic and has eight floors of shopping, with more than 300 stores. Meanwhile, if you’re after some great souvenirs, Chinatown is one of the most dynamic in Asia. Looking for a market, the Sungei Road Thieves’ Market is Singapore’s oldest flea market where you can find a range of antiques, arts and crafts, jewellery, used and new clothing, bric a brac, and more.
When it comes to eating, with Malay, Indian and Chinese influences, there is no doubt that food in Singapore is amazing! Often, the best places to eat are found down side streets – small cafes with just a few tables and chairs provide a variety of local, authentic, flavours. Tasting one of the “local” dishes is one of the best experiences you will have in Singapore, from sambal stingray, to clay-pot seafood and beef rendang. You will also find quality restaurants with world-wide cuisine, from American take aways, to Japanese, Thai, Italian and French restaurants. Head to the SkyPark and have a luxury (and expensive) meal or snack with a Singapore Sling; or take yourself down to China Town, sit and relax with a bottle of Tiger beer and enjoy some of the best food the region has to offer.
Whether you only have a few days, or a week, there is plenty to see and do in Singapore to ensure your visit here fully takes advantage of this stunning country. With a range of museums and galleries, colourful nightlife and watersports, rainforests and theme parks, there is something for the entire family. A great way to see all the sights is to do a hop-on, hop-off bus tour around the area – it will take you past all the most popular areas, and give you the chance to explore at your own leisure (all you have to do once you have seen enough of one place, is to get on the next bus). Travelling around this way, you might see more of Singapore in a day than you would otherwise see in a week; and if you’re planning on staying a while – you can also source which places you would like to return to if time runs out in the first day.
If you are a lover of history or art, there are a number of museums and galleries to visit. One of the most notable historical museums is the Changi Chapel and Museum – an important monument in Australian history. The museum is associated with the former Changi Prison, which was built in 1936 by the British, and commemorates the World War Two Allied POWs who suffered horrific treatment at the hands of the invading Japanese. In 1942, 3,500 men, women and children were forced into the prison, where conditions were so bad that many did not survive. Their stories are told through some rather emotional photographs, letters, drawings and murals.
For nature lovers, the Botanic Gardens will have you wandering through the rainforest and taking a walk amongst more than 1,000 orchid species and 2,000 hybrids. Founded in 1859 by a horticultural society as a leisure garden, in 1990 the gardens came under the management of the National Parks Board and saw a comprehensive improvement programme which helped to bring it to the forefront of botanical and horticultural activity. There are also a number of other landscaped gardens and parks on the island. If you want to get up close and personal with the animals, Pulau Ubin is an island off the Changi Village and includes a tortoise and turtle sanctuary; or you might like to visit the island’s infamous zoo, bird park or marine park.
With so much ethnic variety, Singapore is a great way to experience a range of cultures, through a simple tour of the region. Little India, Chinatown, Kampong Glam, Joo Chiat and Katong are just some of the areas where you will experience many forms of Chinese, Malay, Middle-Eastern, Indian and European influences. Singapore is also home to a large variety of temples and mosques, including Thian Hock Keng Temple – a taoist temple dedicated to Mazu, the goddess of the sea, which was built in the 1830′s; Sri Mariammamn Temple – Singapores oldest Hindu temple which dates back to 1827; and Abdul Gaffoor Mosque – a south Indian style mosque which was built between 1891 and 1919.
With so much cultural diversity, there are also a great number of festivals and events held each year, including the Singapore Food Festival in July, the Singapore Grand Prix, Hungry Ghost Festival, Singapore Arts Festival, Chingay Parade, Dragon Boat Festival, Singapore Sun Festival and World Gourmet Summit – to name just a few. No matter what time of year, you are bound to find a festival somewhere on the island, where you can experience an abundance of colours and flavours.
You will have no problems finding fun in Singapore, with one of the most notable attractions – and popular for families – being Sentosa, a separate island that has been transformed from a military fort, into a resort and theme park. Take the skyrail or monorail across from the mainland, and look out in wonder at the country from above. Visited by around five million people each year, Sentosa includes Fort Siloso, a 2 kilometre sheltered beach with restaurants and resorts, and Resorts World Sentosa, which includes Universal Studios theme park, a casino, and the world’s largest oceanarium. And if you’re after adventure, you won’t have any trouble finding activities, with everything from diving with sharks and mountain biking, to water-sports, go-karts and rock climbing.
No matter what your flavour in food, lifestyle and experiences, Singapore is a country that is brimming with beauty, culture and history, with exciting attractions and events all year round.