Singapore is an island city-state located in the South China Sea between Malaysia and Indonesia . It lies just 137 km from the equator. It was founded as a British trading colony in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles along the River of Singapore. Ever since its beginnings it has been known as ‘the Lion City’.
Singapore has grown from a small trading colony in one of the world’s wealthiest countries. Today its main industries are manufacturing, commerce, transportation and business. It has the highest standard of living in Asia even though it is Southeast Asia’s smallest country. It has a population of 4 million, composed predominantly of Chinese, Indian and Malay ethnic groups.
Most of Singapore’s attractions are found around Orchard Road, Chinatown and Little India. Singapore ’s cultural calendar is filled with events springing from its colorful ethnic background: Chinese, Hindu and Muslim festivals take place all year round.
The cuisine available in Singapore is also breathtaking. Each ethnic group has its own delicacies so you can find many interesting bites in the city. Singapore’s nightlife is vibrant and anyone can find something to suit them. Add superb shopping opportunities and there is no wonder why it is a top tourist destination.
Singapore has a tropical climate, which means it is hot and humid all year round with no distinctive seasons. The only variation is during the northeast monsoon (November to January) when most of the rain falls. During this period the humidity levels can get pretty high and quite uncomfortable. The showers are brief and sudden, but refreshing. However, rainfall can be expected all year round so remember to bring your umbrella. Average temperatures in December and January are around 26°C during the day and 24 °C during the night. During the rest of the year expect around 31°C in the day and 26°C at night.
January average temperature 27 deg Celsius, 198.1 mm rainfall February average temperature 28 deg Celsius, 154.9 mm rainfall March average temperature 28 deg Celsius, 170.2 mm rainfall April average temperature 28 deg Celsius, 142.2 mm rainfall May average temperature 28 deg Celsius, 157.5 mm rainfall June average temperature 29 deg Celsius, 139.7 mm rainfall July average temperature 28 deg Celsius, 144.5 mm rainfall August average temperature 28 deg Celsius, 142.2 mm rainfall September average temperature 28 deg Celsius, 177.8 mm rainfall October average temperature 28 deg Celsius, 167.6 mm rainfall November average temperature 27 deg Celsius, 251.5 mm rainfall December average temperature 27 deg Celsius, 269 rainfall
Singapore is one of the larges aviation hubs in Southeast Asia. The main airport is Changi International Airport, 20 km from the city located on the eastern end of the island. It is often voted one of the best airports in the world. It handles the majority of airlines flying into Singapore.
Transfer Train: The best way of reaching the city. Bus: Bus terminals can be found in Terminal 1 and 2. The services run from 6:00 am – midnight. Cost: around $2 Taxi: This is the easiest way of reaching the city. The prices are reasonable and the meters are always used. In normal traffic conditions a trip to the city takes 20 to 30 minutes. Cost: $20-30 Shuttle: MaxiCab for 6 persons runs from 6:00 am – 2:00 am and leaves every 15 – 30 minutes. They can be booked in advance. Cost: $7 Subway: MRT Trains leave from Terminal 2 and run from 5:31 am – 23:18 pm. Cost: $1.40
THE TRANSIT SYSTEM
The MRT (Mass Rail Transit) and LRT (Light Rail Transit) trains are cheap and very reliable. The services cover the entire city-state. www.smrt.com.sg/
Taxicabs are always metered; they are reliable and reasonably priced.
The bus network is comprehensive; services are frequent and very cheap.
Bumboats can be chartered for cruises and tours on Singapore River.
Renting a car in Singapore is not a popular thing. Car rental is very expensive, gasoline likewise. However, if you decide to do it anyway, be prepared to drive on the left, as in Australia and the UK.
Singapore is a very pedestrian-friendly city. There are many sidewalks and pedestrian crossings. The drivers are generally very careful. The only downside is the tropical humidity and heat. Carry a bottle of water and walk in the morning or in the evening to avoid the worst midday heat.
The three-wheeled bicycle taxis can be found in Chinatown and around Singapore River. Mostly they are intended as a tourist attraction, and not useful for longer travel. Determine the price beforehand.
Shopping is considered a national pastime; here one can buy anything from high end designer clothes to tech wares. The shopping grounds encompass anything from browsing in locally colored markets in the city’s ethnic enclaves, to the flashy Orchard Road, which seems to be on the agenda of every visitor. Shopping hours are from morning to late night, usually 9:00 am to 10:00 pm, and until midnight during the festive season. Also, the mid-year Great Singapore Sale is not to be missed for any serious shoppaholic.
BUKIT TIMAH NATURE RESERVE
Address: 177 Hindhede Drive Web: www.nparks.gov.sg/ Open: daily, 8:30 am – 6:30 pm Access: MRT to Newton Station (NS21), then SMRT Bus 171
There are only two places on earth where you can experience a rain forest within city’s boundaries: Rio de Janeiro and Singapore. The Bukit Timah National Reserve was established in 1883 and covers a 400-acre area where a wide variety of animal species and trees have been preserved. An interesting fact is that the Bukit Timbah reserve contains more species of trees than the entire North American continent. The animal species featured include flying lemurs, long-tailed macaque monkeys, anteaters, pangolins and lesser mouse deer. The highest point of the reserve and (and Singapore) is Bukit Timah Hill, 164 meters high. Visitors can use the walking and cycling routes winding through the tropical forest.
Access: bumboat from Changi Point
Palau Ubin is a small island northeast of Singapore’s coast and offers a peaceful getaway from the city. Boats reach the island at Ubin village where visitors can rent mountain bikes and explore the pristine environment, quiet beaches, delicious restaurants and peaceful Buddhist temples around the island.
SINGAPORE ZOO AND NIGHT SAFARI
Address: 80 Mandai Lake Road Web: www.zoo.com.sg Open: 8:30 am - 6:00 pm Access: Bus 138 to Ang Mo Kio
The zoo is located on a peninsula, it opened in 1973 and features over 2,800 animals. There is also a night safari available and it was here in Singapore’s zoo that the first night safari in the world was conceived. The tram takes you for an atmospheric jungle ride. There is an amazing show ‘Creatures of the Night’ available.
CRUISE ON THE SINGAPORE RIVER
You can take a cruise on one of the tourist-oriented bumboats on the Singapore River. A trip will give you a nice panorama of Singapore’s Business District skyscraper skyline. Another option is to take a ferry to the Southern Islands of Singapore which are largely uninhabited. It is an ideal place for a dip in a lagoon and a picnic.
Address: between Maxwell Road and Singapore River Access: Outram Park / Chinatown (MRT)
Chinatown has been largely redeveloped but the neighborhood still has places where old traditions can be felt. There are temples, old shop houses, terraces and markets. If you like tea you simply must visit one of the teahouses to get a glimpse into the art of traditional tea-brewing. A visit to the Thian Hock Keng Temple will reveal to you some of the secrets and symbols of Chinese worship.
In the area you can find stores offering traditional healing potions, and stalls selling kimonos, jewelry, pottery, t-shirts, umbrellas and more. The modern section of Chinatown offers electronics, textiles and luggage.
Address: Serangoon Road Web: http://www.littleindia.com.sg/ Access: Dhoby Ghaut (MRT) + Bus 65 or 111
Little India provides a much-needed relief from the technological modernity of other parts of the city. Here you will find shops selling everything Indian from saris to spices. There are also three temples not to be missed: the Veerama Kali Ammam, the Sri Srinivasa Perumal and the Temple of 1000 Lights.
The locals visit Little India on Sundays where they eat delicious food, chat and visit temples.
Address: Kampong Glam Access: Bugis (MRT)
Arab Street is the central point of Muslim culture in Singapore. It offers numerous traditional restaurants and shops selling goods from all over Islamic world, from textiles and batiks to jewelry, baskets and antiques.
The focal point of the area is the Sultan Mosque, the biggest and liveliest mosque in Singapore. Near North Bridge Road you can find excellent Muslim Indian food. Check also the food stalls on Bussorah Street.
Padang is a symbol of British imperialism. The colonial facades and impeccable lawns were once a center of colonial life for sporting events and social gatherings. Today sports like cricket and rugby are still played here.
Singapore is a true melting pot of cultures, and therefore also of cuisines. Its cuisine is a mixture of various eastern cuisines with strong western influences. Here you can find quality Chinese, Malay, Indian, Japanese, Italian, French and other restaurants, as well as fusion food. Street vendors abound and they offer high quality and hygiene standards of food. Seafood such as prawns, oysters, crabs and lobsters is much loved and present on most Singapore menus.
The cheapest places to eat in Singapore are hawker centers. They are giant complexes where all the former push cart vendors are now gathered because of a government decree. Prices for most dishes range from $2 - 5. The hygiene is very good here. Every stall must display a health certificate graded from A to D. You can find some excellent food here. The best rule is, if you see a queue, join it. Every district has its own hawker center but the further out of the center you go the cheaper they get. The ones mostly visited by tourists are located on Newton Circus, Gluttons Bay and Lau Pa Sat. Chinatown also has good hawker centers.
They are miniature hawker centers selling coffee but also other things. Here the locals come for a breakfast or for a few beers and a chat in the evenings.
They can be found in the basements or on the top floors of almost all shopping malls. They are the fancier variant of hawker centers with similar food but slightly higher prices.
There is a wide variety of restaurants, for every taste and budget. Singapore is a maritime city and offers many seafood specialties. The best known is chili crabs. The best seafood restaurants can be found at Boat Quay and Clarke Quay.
This is the most important festival in the Chinese calendar. It lasts for 15 days and each night the streets of Chinatown shine in lanterns and twinkling lights. Elaborate decorations adorn the streets and street stalls sell traditional Chinese goods. Street performers, fire jugglers, lion dancers and musicians entertain the spectators. During the festival a street parade, called Chingay, is held. The opening and closing night are marked by magnificent fireworks.
FESTIVAL OF THE HUNGRY GHOSTS
Date: August to September Location: various locations throughout the island
Taoists believe that the gates of hell open during the seventh lunar month and the hungry ghosts come to earth to feast and have fun. Numerous events are held, from Chinese opera and puppetry to dinners, concerts and shows. This is done in order to satisfy the roaming ghosts and for protection against bad fortune. Joss sticks and candles are lit in front of homes. Furniture-shaped objects are burnt as offerings to spirits to use in the afterlife.
Date: January or February Location: 397 Serangoon Road (Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple) and 15A Tank Road (Sri Thandayuthapani Temple)
Thaipusam is a Hindu festival held in honor of Lord Subramaniam, son of Shiva. It is a religious festival of purification and penance. The procession of devotees carrying shrines and offerings starts from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple and ends at Sri Thandayuthapani Temple. Some devotees carry 'kavadis', large wooden or metal frames laden with offerings such as milk, honey, flowers and peacock feathers. Some devotees pierce their bodies with spikes and their tongues and cheeks with skewers. They begin spiritual preparation well in advance. During the piercing they enter into a trance so they can endure the pains more easily. These days, in India the festival is banned.
MOON CAKE FESTIVAL
Date: usually in September Location: Chinatown and Chinese Garden
The Moon Cake Festival is also known as Mid-Autumn Festival or the Lantern Festival. It is celebrated on the full moon of the eighth lunar month of the Chinese lunar calendar. In ancient China the festival celebrated abundant harvest in mid autumn. The festival is steeped in legends. One of them tells about the revolution from the 14 th century led by Yuan Zhang who smuggled notes concealed in moon cakes.
The festivities today fill Chinatown’s streets with stalls selling countless varieties of moon cakes, paper lanterns, decorations and food. There are numerous events, including a bonsai competition and tea-making demonstrations. A stroll in the Chinese Gardens in Jurong, lit up by countless lanterns, is an experience not to be missed.
Date: October 16 Location: Sri Mariamman Temple
244 South Bridge Road The famous Hindu festival takes place in Sri Mariamman Temple, located in the heart of Chinatown. Devotees gather in honor of the goddess Draupadi. They walk barefoot across a four-meter pit of hot coals demonstrating their courage, faith and endurance. The celebrations begin at 2:00 am and the fire-walking ceremony takes place at 5:00 pm.
Date: May Location: various Buddhist temples
Vesak Day celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Lord Gautama Buddha. Buddha’s followers visit Buddhist temples in Singapore. This is a day of worship and prayer. In many temples the priests release caged doves to symbolize the liberation of humanity from earthly bondages.
This popular month-long festival offers a great opportunity to celebrate food in the country where eating is a national passion. You will get a chance to enjoy unique Singaporean cuisine and local food delights for which Singapore is famous. You can participate in culinary workshops, heritage food trails and colorful food events.
Singapore ’s nightlife cannot exactly compare with Bangkok’s but it is nevertheless happening.
There are only a few clubs closing before 4:00 am, many clubs have 24-hour licenses. The can be found in Boat Quay, Clarke Quay, Robertson Quay and the nearby Mohammed Sultan Road. They are open every day except Monday and Tuesday. The biggest party day is Friday, Saturday is the second. Sundays are usually reserved for gays, and Wednesdays and Thursdays for women – with free entry and sometimes even free drinks for the ladies.
Bars usually stay open throughout the week.
Alcohol is widely available but expensive. Tobacco is heavily taxed and you are only allowed to bring one open pack (not carton) of cigarettes into the country.
Entertainment in Singapore does not mean only clubs and bars. This multi-cultural city has a calendar full of festivals and events all year round. For details check the ‘Events’ section.
Singaporeans love films and over 50 cinemas can be found throughout the island and some multiplexes, which can show up to ten movies at a time. Hollywood blockbusters are shown here immediately after the US release.
The name Singapore comes from Malay words ‘singa’ and ‘pura’ meaning lion and city. This is why Singapore is also known as the ‘Lion City’. The legend has it that a prince was caught in a terrible storm which did not stop until he threw his crown in the sea. The storm immediately calmed and he sailed to the nearest island. When he went ashore the first thing he saw was a lion and thus he decided to name the island Singapore.
Singapore is first mentioned in Chinese texts from the 3 rd century AD. The island was an outpost for the Sumatran Empire and was named Temasek. It soon became a thriving trading city; however it later fell into decline. Between the 16 th and 19 th centuries it was a part of the Sultanate of Johore.
In 1819 Sir Ruffles came to the island with the British East India Company and signed a treaty with the Sultan of Johore. He established a free trading post and a settlement attracting Chinese, Malays, Indians, Arabs and Europeans. These beginnings are still reflected today with Singapore’s Chinatown, Arab Street, and Little India. In 1823 the Sultanate sold Singapore to the British for 60,000 Spanish dollars. In 1867 Singapore was made a British crown colony. It soon became an important commercial center due to its strategic position along busy shipping routes between Europe and China.
Singapore was booming. In 1850 the Singapore Cricket Club, a white-only recreational center, opened. In 1862 the Singapore Town Hall became the administrative building and in 1887 the Raffles Hotel was open.
MODERN (20 TH CENTURY)
During WW II, Singapore fell under Japanese rule. The period, lasting 3 and a half years, was marked by massacres and shootings. The British repossessed the island a month after the Japanese surrender in September 1945. By then the locals wanted their own rule and a fight for independence begun. Singapore became a self-governing state with Lee Kuan Yew as its first elected Prime Minister. Under his rule Singapore rose from a trading port to a highly developed nation in a mere 35 years.
In 1963 Singapore formed a union with Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak but this was over in 1965, due to heated ideological conflict with Kuala Lumpur.
Singapore became officially independent on August 9, 1965, now celebrated as Singapore’s National Day. During Lee Kuan Yew’s term as Prime Minister, Singapore curbed unemployment, standard of living was raised and a large housing program commenced. Economic infrastructure was developed, the threat of racial tension was eliminated and a defense system was created. Towards the end of 20 th century Singapore developed into a global city with first-world status. However, after years of persistent urban development little was left of Singapore’s past. Shopping malls and skyscrapers took over. In 1980s, restoration plans began to conserve the typical architecture in areas such as Peranakan, the Emerald Hill houses, the Boat Quay godowns and Tanjong Pagar shop houses.
However the economical bubble-burst of the late 1990s has had severe effects on the city state’s economy. In 1998, for example, the unemployment doubled in a mere three months. Now Singapore is regaining its status. With the world’s best airport (Changi), world’s largest port and world’s third largest petroleum refinery it has once again become an economic miracle of Southeast Asia.
Singapore is very much an urban city but it nevertheless hides many historical houses and charming shops in its streets. In addition it has numerous parks and nature reserves with greenery all year round - making Singapore a true Garden City of Asia.
Kissing, hugging and other displays of affection are not condoned in public. It is wise not to start a conversation about religion or politics.
The Singaporeans believe the head is sacred so it should not be touched, neither child’s nor adult’s.
If you want to attract attention simply lift your head. Nudging people with arms is impolite as is pointing with fingers. Do not bang with a fist into your other open hand as this is seen as an obscene gesture.
It is not customary to leave tips.
When you are giving a gift it is thought respectful that the recipient refuses the gift several times to show they are not greedy . After the gift is accepted you should thank them for accepting it. When receiving gifts you should wait until the person giving you the present has left before you unwrap or open it so as to show you are not impatient or rude. Gifts should not be too pricey: appropriate gifts are chocolate, a souvenir from your country or a gift with your company logo.
You should be aware of some taboos concerning gifts: food products containing animals may cause offense and white flowers should also be avoided as they are usually reserved for funerals. Some Chinese are superstitious about the number four so avoid giving anything in groups of four. Knives and clocks are symbols of cutting ties and death, respectively.
Feet are seen as dirty, so you should not point with your foot or show the bottom of your foot to anyone. Standing with your hands on your hips is understood as a gesture of anger so it should be avoided. It is rude to blow your nose, clear your throat or yawn in public. When eating, it is polite to leave some food on the plate as a gesture of gratitude.
Singapore is a very safe country. Crime is limited to odd petty crime such as theft. The citizens are very law-abiding and that is no surprise as there are hefty fines awaiting those who are not.
Smoking is prohibited in all public places and the fine is $500. Chewing gum, as well as eating and drinking on the MRT is also prohibited. The fine is also $500. Jaywalking is fined with 50$ and littering with $1,000. There is even a fine for not flushing public toilets and for spitting.
Singapore has very strict drug rules. Smuggling large amounts of drugs in and out of the country carries the death penalty which is regularly carried out and is also applied to foreigners. Small amounts of drugs carry a penalty of 2 to 30 years in prison. It is also an offense to have illegal drugs in your system – no matter where the drugs were consumed. Visitors should be careful with their luggage and secure it properly. If you bring in prescription drugs make sure you have a doctor’s letter or a prescription to prove you really need them.
It is allowed to bring in 1l of spirits, 1l of wine and 1l of beer duty free, per person. You can bring in 1 opened packet of cigarettes; anything more than that is liable to taxation or can be destroyed. It is illegal to import large amounts of chewing gum.
Singapore is one of the safest countries in Asia for women travelers. Sexual harassment is rare. Women in Singaporean society enjoy much more equality than women in the rest of Asia.
Homosexual contact is illegal with possible punishment of 10 years to life in prison. Laws against gay sex are rarely enforced but are nevertheless still part of Singapore law. Discrimination and negative attitude of locals and government officials can be expected.
When planning a visit to Singapore the climate does not play a major role – it hardly changes at all. It is located only 129 km north of equator so it is always hot. The only difference is that between November and January it is a little bit cooler but more wet and humid. The sunniest month is February and the coolest is December.
Avoid midday heat. The locals live in air-conditioned flats, ride in the air-conditioned metro and work in air-conditioned offices. Follow their example to avoid discomfort.
The best time to visit depends on what you want to do. May to early June is the season for the Great Singapore Sale. In June and August the cultural scene is in full bloom with numerous art festivals. July is the time for The Singapore Food Festival and February boasts the spectacular Thaipusam festival.