Introduction to Singapore

This City-State in South East Asia is located very close to the Equator so the climate is hot and humid.  Fortunately, Singapore is an ultra modern metropolis, so hotels, shops, public transport etc are all air conditioned, so unless you are running a marathon the heat and humidity is not too much of a problem.

If you’ve not been to Asia then Singapore gives you a great introduction to this varied continent simply because it is modern, compact, clean and efficient, but also because Singapore is a multicultural country, and you can get a feel for other parts of Asia simply by wandering around Singapore.

Within Singapore’s confines are culturally-specific communities like Chinatown, Little India, Arab Street, and predominantly Malay districts, which do give you a taste for other Asian destinations.

English is one of Singapore’s official languages, so communication for English-speakers is no problem at all.  The currency is the Singapore dollar, but money changers are plentiful and converting your currency to Singapore dollars, or any other currency, is rarely a problem.  Singapore is a highly-regulated country, which means that tourists are pretty much protected from being ripped off by unscrupulous traders.  In fact, because tourist shopping is an important facet of the Singapore economy, you are encouraged to report merchants that you suspect may be ripping you off.

Talking of shopping, Singapore has several countrywide sales each year that are targeted towards tourists.  Singapore used to have a reputation for its cheap shopping, but these days it is not as competitive as other Asian destination, and even Singaporeans head to Johor Bahru and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, and even Perth, Western Australia for better bargains.  However, there is certainly a huge range of goods available in Singapore’s many shopping malls and precincts, and window shopping here is a delight.

One great reason for visiting Singapore is for the food.  Just about every type of Asian cuisine is available here, plus many high quality restaurants that specialize in European and other cuisines.  The food here is safe as there is very stringent food preparation and hygiene laws in place, but it can also be extraordinarily cheap, particular if you eat in the many food halls and hawker markets that are dotted around Singapore.  For the uninitiated, hawker markets are eating areas where many individual stall holders set up a kitchen, and there is an open eating area.  All you do is wander around the stalls to choice your dishes and drinks, pay on the spot, indicate where you are sitting, and the meals will be delivered to you.  These hawkers markets are cheap, colourful and entertaining, but best of all, the food is superb.  Seafood, in particular, is a specialty in Singapore, with one of the most popular dishes being Chilli Crab, and Fish Head Curry is one of the staples in Little India, and although it may sound slightly off putting, it’s actually a lovely dish.  There are restaurants, food halls and hawker stalls everywhere, but for a good introduction try the hawkers market at Newton Circus for a great dining experience.

Getting to Singapore from just about anywhere is easy as Changi International Airport is one of the world’s most modern, and certainly one of the most efficient airports in the world.  Singapore is an aviation hub, which means that many airlines use it as a transfer point to ferry passengers between various destinations. Likewise, getting from the airport to the city is both easy and relatively inexpensive, even when using taxis.  Buses, trains and taxis regularly depart the main terminal.  There is also a Budget Terminal at Changi, which is a no frills terminal for the budget airlines which service Singapore, that is separate from the main terminals, and doesn’t have the same transfer facilities, but taxis and buses are available.

Interestingly, because Singapore is a highly-regulated society, there are some strange laws which ban the import into Singapore of chewing gum, satellite dishes and publications by Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Unification Church.  There is heavy censorship in Singapore, and a very low tolerance for crime, which results in heavy penalties.  So, while Singaporeans do not enjoy the same freedoms that people in other countries enjoy, it is a particularly safe place, and you never feel in any danger no matter what time of the day or night you happen to be wandering around.

Many people commute to Singapore overland from Malaysia.  There are regular trains between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, but the most efficient way to commute is by coach.  There are coaches from many Malaysian cities, but the most common are between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Malacca and Johor Bahru.  These coaches are cheap, comfortable and plentiful, and terminate near the city centre.

Accommodation in Singapore is both plentiful and varied; it has everything from backpackers to luxury hotels, and at a reasonable cost considering Singapore’s popularity as a commercial and tourist destination.  Actually, the main consideration about where to stay is to decide the area that would most suit your planned activities. There are several distinct areas which attract people.  Perhaps the best known tourist area is Orchard Road, which is popular for the quality and variety of the shops there. Personally, I think Orchard Road is a little over rated, but then I am not much of a shopper, and I do tend to avoid popular tourist areas if I can.  Having said that, I’m delighted that others love Orchard Road, as I believe that anyone should enjoy the type of holiday they like to have.  If shopping is your main focus, have a hell of a good time doing it.

There are also many hotels in the Riverside district, which is also one of the main commercial areas in Singapore.  The Marina, Suntec and Raffles City are all major interconnected shopping malls that have plenty of hotels within their precinct.  Opposite Raffles City is where you will find Singapore’s most famous hotel Raffles.  It’s expensive to stay at the Raffles, but it is worthwhile having a drink in one of the many bars there, although it is pricey.  A group of eight of us had two rounds of drinks and the bill exceeded $300.  Fortunately we got free peanuts.

For something a little different, some of the shophouses in Chinatown have been converted into small hotels, and they are ideal if you want to experience how Singapore must have felt before the whole place was sanitized.

Getting around Singapore is dead easy.  Public transport is clean and cheap, they have a very efficient bus and train system, and taxis are also very cheap.  There is no need to tip in Singapore; in fact, tipping is officially frowned upon by the Government. Obviously, if you get extra special service you may feel the need to reward a porter or housemaid, but this is not the USA, and taxi drivers expect to be paid only what is on their meters, they do not expect you to tip them for doing their job.

There are many attractions in Singapore, and I would recommend the Zoo and/or the Night Safari.  There’s also the Singapore Flyer, which is a Ferris wheel about 40-storeys in height.  Sentosa Island is certainly worth a visit, as is the new Marina Bay development.  A Bum Boat ride on the Singapore River is interesting, as are the Botanic Gardens, and the many museums.  Changi Chapel and Memorial is a very good dedication to those who suffered after the Fall of Singapore in World War II, and provides one with a somber understanding of the dreadful treatment of local people and allied soldiers by the Japanese forces.

Singapore is really quite a small place, so you probably don’t require an extended stay to see much of the place.  It is probably better as a stopover than as a final destination, and I reckon about three days is all you need to get a good fee for Singapore.

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