Singapore stands out as Southeast Asia’s undisputed economic star, unrivalled in riches and financial clout. A former British colony, Singapore now is the world’s busiest port, and as a crossroad of the region enjoys a large multi-ethnic population of Chinese, Malay, Indian as well as a large contingent of expatriates hailing from around the world. As a centre for banking, Singapore sports gleaming skyscrapers, modern cultural and sports facilities, and an advanced transportation system second to none in the world.An island city-state, Singapore was once part of the infant Malaysian nation that was the result of the British departure from the region. After two years the city was expelled from Malaysia due to its Chinese-majority status, which Malays feared threatened their dominance. After founding its own nation in 1965, Singapore has gone on to become one of Asia’s wealthiest and most developed entities. The country is well-known for its squeaky-cleanliness, businesslike demeanor, and strict societal restrictions. Its reputation for intolerance of individualism and differing philosophies reached a zenith in the 1990’s, though, and the city of has been striving to loosen its image in order to promote more growth and increase its appeal.
Singapore offers visitors many great things to enjoy and experience. Its airport alone is considered the finest in the world, with great shopping, dining and amenities. The city offers wide choice in cultural sites, museums and galleries. Shopping in Singapore has been elevated into a high art, making it one of the premier retailing destination in the world. Among the city’s many popular places to visit are Chinatown, Orchard Road shopping district, and the Raffles business and shopping area. Singapore cuisine benefits greatly from its centre as an immigrant haven. Indian, Malay, Chinese and a Malay-Chinese derivative called Peranakan/Nonya cuisine is available everywhere and most prominently in hawker stalls, which in Singapore are held to high standards.
The world is filled with great cities offering many different types of visiting experiences. Singapore is one of them and no visit to Southeast Asia would be complete without a visit there!
A city as small as Singapore can be toured in just three days, many would say, but to see all the highlights and get beneath the skin of this charming place definitely warrants a longer stay. A tour planned around the major districts allows one to appreciate its history, people and rich cultural diversity in an optimal period of time. Here is the best of Singapore not to be missed.
Singapore’s architectural goldmine. Let yourself be whisked back in time to 1819, when Sir Stamford Raffles first stepped ashore and the Union Jack was raised. Still exuding a strong air of colonialism, are well restored government buildings, cathedrals and churches, notably Singapore Cricket Club , once a sports center for the British colonists. Esplanade Park makes for a pleasant stroll, while learning about the martyrs and heroes, for whom the various memorials in the park have been built. The city’s finest museums also lie nestled in and around the district including the Singapore Art Museum , Asian Civilisations Museum , Singapore Philatelic Museum and Singapore History Museum . Just at the eastern outskirts of the colonial core stands the renowned Raffles Hotel . A modest museum on the third floor retells its legend.
This is the very origin of Singapore’s prosperity, with the Merlion (the city’s tourism icon) steadfastly standing guard at the mouth of the river. Quaint bridges span the river, ranging from the elegant Anderson Bridge to the simple Ord Bridge. Boat Quay , an excellent reincarnation of Peranakan shophouses and godowns, is a pleasant place to dine alfresco, with its long slew of chic cafes, restaurants and pubs. Further upstream is Clarke Quay , yet another series of restored shophouses, where a carnival atmosphere prevails at the fall of dusk. Come Sunday, a flea market thrives here, displaying an appealing range of old treasures, curios and collectibles. Other dining and entertainment attractions along the river include the Riverside Point, Riverside Village and Robertson Quay at the uppermost end.
Home to the towering skyscrapers that lend Singapore its distinctive skyline. Over the years, building after building has battled to be the tallest; today, three have tied for the honors—OUB Building, UOB Building and Republic Plaza, all standing at the maximum permissible height of 280 meters. At one end near the mouth of the Singapore River is The Fullerton Singapore , a hotel built in the classical architecture that once dominated the district. Further south is Clifford Pier , built in 1931 and is today the embarkation point for cruises to neighboring islands. Another piece of old Singapore is the Lau Pa Sat Festival Market , a complete reconstruction of the first municipal market of 1894 that has been transformed into a thriving food center—the perfect venue for relishing Asian cuisines at rock-bottom prices.
Shop till you drop! Join the jostling crowds and do what young and hip Singaporeans do best—shop, catwalk and flaunt their latest buys. Swanky malls and charming boutiques dot Singapore’s prime shopping belt from end to end, while chic alfresco eateries make great spots for watching the fashion parade go by. Top stops include local department stores Robinsons and Tangs (which is a landmark in itself with the distinctive pagoda-roofed tower of the Singapore Marriott just above it), and mammoth shopping arcade Ngee Ann City for its posh boutiques and the anchor tenant, Takashimaya. Christmastime along Orchard Road is always a colorful spectacle of bright lights and exuberant decorations.
Once a victim of redevelopment, this ethnic enclave still holds pockets of old, dilapidated buildings where Singaporeans continue to practice age-old trades. Others have been restored to their former state, like the series of shophouses at the Tanjong Pagar Conservation Area . For an authentic taste of Chinese culture, try visiting a teahouse, then take a peek into a typical middle-class Chinese home in the 1920s at the Chinaman Scholar’s Gallery . Crowded streets throb with people, especially just before Chinese New Year, when Chinese opera and lion dances add to the festivity. Do not forget to visit the eclectic mix of mosques and temples while you are here—the serene Nagore Durgha Shrine , the elaborate Sri Mariamman Temple and the grand Thian Hock Keng Temple are just a few.
With its top draw being the Sultan Mosque , this is the repository of culture for Singapore’s Muslim community. Halal restaurants and coffee shops line the streets serving up traditional Indian and Malay fare. During the holy month of Ramadan , even more food stalls are set up in preparation for breaking the fast at dusk. Shopping here is a refreshing change from the glitzy malls of Orchard Road , with stores selling Malay, Indonesian and Middle Eastern merchandise—lots of textiles, carpets, antiques, jewelry, artifacts, basket wares and alcohol-free perfumes. Do not forget to drop by Istana Kampung Glam and take a stroll around Singapore’s oldest Malay cemetery.
A riot of color, particularly on Sundays and during major Hindu festivals, like Thaipusam and Deepavali . Awash with scents and sights of the Indian subcontinent, this is where everything needed by an Indian household is found. Traces of Hinduism are seen everywhere, from the embellished Veeramukaliamman Temple to pictures of Hindu deities. Mustafa Centre sells just about anything you need under one roof and is a haven for bargain hunters.
Singapore Travel Dos
- Do address someone using the title of Mr., Mrs. or Miss with the surname. Do not use first names unless you are invited to.
- Do shake hands for a warm greeting, but be aware that Malays will not always shake hands. Muslims will not shake hands with the opposite sex. Do give a slight bow for older Chinese people.
- Do remove your shoes while entering a private home, a temple or a mosque.
- Do leave a little on the plate when you have finished eating.
- Do be conservative in your behavior. Dress conservatively for business functions and dress casual in other situations.
- Do have coins with you when you need to use the public toilet.
- Do stay on the left side of the escalator. The right lane is for all those people in a rush. Do drive on the left hand side too.
- Do have some handy cash ready to use. Do not rely on your credit cards.
Singapore Travel Donts
- Do not chew gums, which are banned in Singapore and may get you arrested. Leave it home before you travel.
- Do not litter while in Singapore. Laws are strictly enforced relating to littering.
- Do not smoke in public. Smoking is illegal in enclosed public places (including restaurants). Dropping a cigarette end in the street or smoking illegally can lead to an immediate fine.
- Do not get involved in any drugs. Singapore carries a mandatory death penalty for drug-trafficking and harsh penalties for possession and use within the country.
- Do not discuss religion or politics. Do not make jokes either.
- Do not touch someone’s head. The head is considered sacred.
- Do not show the bottoms of your feet or use your feet to point. Feet are considered dirty.
- Do not bring in food into MRT (Mass Rapid Transport). Offenders will be fined up to S$200.
- Do not point at someone with your index finger, which is considered very rude.
- Do not take cabs which are very expensive in Singapore. The Singapore transportation system is exceptionally well planned.
- Do not eat or offer anything with your left hand when with Muslims and do not use your left hand when shaking hands with a Muslim.
- Do not tip. Tipping is not customary in Singapore and it’s even frowned down upon by the government.
- Do not open a gift immediately in front of the giver. Do not wrap gifts in white, which is a mourning color.
- Do not, for a Chinese descent, give clocks, handkerchiefs or flowers to as they are associated with death and funerals. Do not accept a gift immediately; refuse a gift two to three times before accepting to show that you’re not greedy.
- Do not, for a Malay descent, give alcohol, or anything made of pigskin, as Malays are Muslim. Give the gift upon departing, not arriving, and use your right hand or both hands to give or receive presents. Never use only left hand.
- Do not, for an Indian descent, give alcohol or something made of leather. Use your right hand to give or receive presents and not your left. If it’s large, you may use both hands.