Singapore has long suffered from a less than glowing reputation, namely that it’s a boring, uninteresting and overly structured holiday destination. Ask anyone who’s been, however, and you’ll likely get a whole different perspective. This compact city state is one of the most multi-cultural hubs in Asia, boasting an amazing mix of Malay, Indian, Chinese and Western cultures; only here, they all display certain unique Singaporean attributes. If you want to visit a clean and orderly Chinatown, for example, now’s your chance! It’s this delicious concoction which makes Singapore a stimulating cultural hotpot which captivates visitors, and offers so many different experiences that a single visit is never enough. That’s the real Singaporean secret actually: you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who has visited only once.
Fast rising in the ranks as a culinary powerhouse, Singapore can be considered a gastronomic holiday destination in its own right. Indeed, many would buy a return ticket just to spend one afternoon gorging at the world famous chocolate buffet at the Fullerton Hotel. It’s the incessant availability of superlative international food at really good prices that attracts the crowds here in droves. From mouth-watering sushi, to excellent tapas, home-made pasta, yum cha, and (lest we forget) chilli mud-crab, Indian curries and Arabic mezes, there isn’t a foodie treat on earth that you won’t find here. To be honest, it seems that the food in Singapore attracts visitors almost more than the shopping does! Speaking of which…
Let us leave you in no doubt about one thing: Singapore’s just nuts about shopping. Orchard St alone, one of the most famous retail strips in the world, runs for over two kilometres, and is home to 22 shopping malls and four department stores. That’s just one street! Whether it’s the latest electronic gizmos you’re after, or you prefer updating your entire wardrobe at a fraction of the European price-tag, then it’s safe to say that you’ll find everything you need and want in Singapore.
Singapore Guide – Natural Singapore
The most underrated side of Singapore, in our opinion, is its incredibly beautiful natural side. Standing in sharp contrast to the high-rise, ultra-modern city centre complete with futuristic-looking hotels, and an epileptic fit-inducing neon-sign obsession, Singapore’s more organic personality completes its almost-perfect picture. If your vision of heaven is luscious green parks full of happy squirrels, dancing butterflies, romantic lakes and orchid gardens, then chances are someone has been feeding you subliminal pictures of the Singapore Botanical Gardens.
Combined with the numerous chances to hike, cycle and walk through the island’s over 50 parks and several natural reserves (complete with howling monkeys) the Garden City of Singapore adds yet another dimension to an already fab holiday destination. Singapore Zoo is also world-class and home to orang-utans and the world’s first-ever night-time safari.
Apparently, Singapore is supposed to be a secular state, yet good luck telling that to the mishmash of nationalities living here! Everything is celebrated in grand style, from Christmas to Easter and NYE(s); Hindu festivals and Buddhist celebrations are all national holidays here and, due to the sheer number of cultures here, it means that you’re bound to coincide your trip with one festival or another. Alongside fantastic museums, interesting temples and a diverging array of attractions including war memorials, heritage centres and entire hoods dedicated to diversity (think Arab Street and Little India) Singapore’s cultural side is not even something you need to specifically look for. It finds you.
The weird side of Singapore is what most people love to talk about. In this painstakingly regimented state it is illegal buy chewing gum (too many found stuck under school desks perhaps?) and spitting on the ground may get you arrested, as it really should. Well, you know the laws of a place are going to be rather eccentric when nudity is banned even in your own home! It’s illegal to import, buy and sell pirated DVDs and pornographic material and, in an absurd legal twist, homosexuality is not illegal in Singapore, but ‘sexual acts between men is’. We say play it safe and keep PDAs to the bedroom.
Keeping it real:
While it may seem that Singapore is like a Utopia of sterile perfection, let us assure you this is purely aesthetic; that kind of country has yet to be made on earth. Singapore suffers from the same kind of political and social discords that most others do, only the governments’ reign on its people is severe enough for it not to be plainly obvious. The poorer residents are confined to certain areas we guarantee you will not discover, and the country relies on the influx of less-fortunate immigrants to keep its streets squeaky clean and its image intact. It seems Singaporeans don’t like to get their hands dirty.
The censorship in Singapore is beyond strict and allows for very little personal freedoms, and if that’s not enough, the country is so geared towards making visitors happy that it sometimes fails to service its very own inhabitants. Yet make one wrong move here, which threatens public order and ‘purity’ and you won’t be shown any special courtesy.
Singapore gained independence from Great Britain before capital punishment was abolished, and has happily maintained the abhorrent practice. Its jails are said to be horrendous, and are mostly inhabited by foreign nationals involved in the drug trade. Having said this, Singapore also boasts one of the lowest crime rates in the world so perhaps they’re doing something right.
When to go:
Hot and sticky best describes the climate in Singapore and, while this might do wonders for your complexion, it can be hard work for the uninitiated. Short yet frequent bursts of torrential rain makes even the shopping-haters glad the city’s littered with so many humongous malls; they certainly provide plenty of distractions between during downpours. The wettest month are between November and January.
Changi International Airport has been voted the ‘best in the world’ for almost two decades, and indeed it would have to be the easiest to navigate and most interesting by far. Between the music lounges, movie theatres, restaurants, swimming pools, gaming rooms, health spas and a plethora of shopping venues, we dare say Singapore’s airport could easily rate as one of the city’s premier attractions.
The main International carrier is, of course, Singapore Airlines, with low cost carriers like Jetstar and Tiger Airways sharing a big chunk of the people-moving pie. Singapore is also the main stop-over hub between Australia and Europe, so it’s not only serviced by every major carrier this side of the Pacific, but it’s quite possible to add a 2-3 day layover here before continuing on your long-haul flight without any extra charge. If you’re planning to come this far, it’s definitely worth checking out.
It’s near impossible to know which terminal you’ll be arriving in, no matter what your travel agent says. On the up-side, all three of the airport’s terminals are connected via a swift Skytrain, and the airport is almost obsessively signposted so getting lost here is near impossible.
Here’s how to get into town:
1) The Airport Shuttle Bus is the best transport mode to use, costs just $9pp and does not need to be booked in advance. You’ll find the ticket counter at the arrivals hall, and it’s worth noting that this is the only public transport which operates 24hrs/day.
2) Taxis are easy, convenient and reasonably priced all things considered, yet after midnight a ride costs the same as in a limousine, so opt for those (at the exit gates) for the ultimate grand hotel entrance.
3) The city’s Metro (MRT trains) is faultless, and cheap, use this online map to help you navigate from Changi to your hotel. Keep in mind that trains stop at midnight, if arriving on an red-eye best you refer to number 1 or 2.
4) Public buses start running from Changi into town at 6am, stop right in front of the airport and rides costs just $2.
Getting out and about:
As you’d expect, getting around Singapore could not be simpler, considering the top-notch public transport system.
This user-friendly online travel planner will tell you all the different ways to get from A to B; just type in your intended route (eg. changi airport to downtown east) and it will calculate everything including travel time and cost of ALL of the available transport modes. Priceless.
Much like London and Hong Kong, Singapore also has a swipe-card system, called the Ez-card which is really only convenient for stays of over a week; for stays of under a week we find the Singapore Tourist Card to be much more convenient. Both are sold at MRT stations (including the one at Changi Airport) so do some research beforehand to work out which one is best for you. Unfortunately deciding to ‘stuff it’ for a few days, and not bother buying either cards can be disastrous. Singapore has just introduced a new faring system which bus drivers seem to get confused over, so buying individual tickets may see you waste a lot of precious time.
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