Singapore Travel Guide

Reviewer: Simsi
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A gleaming portal between east and west, Singapore polarises opinion. Praised as a clean, safe, efficient multi-cultural metropolis or derided as a sterile, paternalistic, monotonous temple to mammon. Well, it’s your choice to see it as one or the other – Singapore doesn’t really mind, as long as you spend up big in the city’s emporiums (and don’t chew gum while you’re at it). The city rose from the ashes of World War II – a corrupt, mosquito-ridden colonial outpost eking a living as a trading centre by virtue of its strategic position at the centre of S-E Asia and its natural port.

Changi International Airport
The city is served by Changi Airport (IATA: SIN) is the major aviation hub in South East Asia. It is located in Changi, approximately 20 km (12 miles) northeast of the centre of Singapore. Operated by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), Changi Airport is the home base of Singapore Airlines and is served by 78 other airlines. The airport hosts roughly four thousand flights per week to 177 cities around the world.

Sightseeing Highlights
Since then it has morphed into a wealthy, modern city-state that takes pride in its achievements and doesn’t care if it doesn’t meet western stereotypes of the inscrutable orient.So why visit it? Well you probably wouldn’t if you’re a twenty-something backpacker with a thirst for adventure and a taste for Asian mystique. But if you want a secure air-lock between back-home familiarity and a gentle oriental breeze then Singapore is a great way to acclimatise yourself to the rest of the region.
So, what to do? Singapore provides you with lots to see and do on an island just 42km wide by 23 km long. It all starts at the modern shopping mall that doubles as Changi Airport. A quick ride into town sees you at Singapore’s nerve-centre, Orchard Rd. The fruit trees have long gone, replaced with a wall-to-wall strip of department stores, malls, food courts, coffee shops, hotels and restaurants. Peak times will see you part of the thick but smoothly flowing stream of Singaporeans – an espresso mix of ethnic Chinese, Malays and Indians with a shot of steamed milk in the form of European expats and tourists. There are enough “highlight” spots to keep you on the go for a few days before you plunge into the exotica of Asia proper or scamper back to the familiarity of the west.

Singapore Zoo – Perhaps the best tropical zoo in the world, Singapore’s is more a taste of Eden where the visitor feels more a natural part of the environment rather than a consumer in an animal shopping mall. Spend an afternoon at the zoo, have some dinner, then at 7:30pm head for the Night Safari – a unique wildlife park given over specifically to nocturnal creatures such as leopards, tigers, bats and hippos.

The city has four or five museums worth a few hours apiece. There are two Asian Civilizations Museums known (efficiently enough) as One and Two. One is in the museum district at the southern end of Orchard Rd. It houses a range of artefacts and relics from the ancestors of Singapore’s ethnic cultures including textiles, lacquerware, jewellery, porcelain and jade. Two is on the Singapore River and has a series of themed galleries showing highlights from the region’s key cultures – Chinese, Islamic, Malay, Indian, Indonesian, Filipino etc. The Art Museum has a collection of paintings, sculpture and installations with a focus on Asian artists supplemented by travelling exhibitions from the US and Europe. The Singapore History Museum has a collection that focuses on the history of the city itself. It includes dioramas of key events in its evolution from Raffles’ landing to parliamentary independence.

Raffles
As London has The Ritz and New York the Waldorf-Astoria, Singapore’s grand, history-infused hotel is Raffles. More a secular cathedral to the faded glories of colonial grandeur, it is much, much more than just a place to stay. Home to fine restaurants, a culinary school, souvenir shops, a deli, cafes, a bakery and even its own museum. The casual visitor can soak up the atmosphere for the price of a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar or take high tea in the Tiffin Room.
ChijmesDiagonally opposite Raffles is a unique city block called Chijmes. Dominated by a glorious needle-spired chapel, once a convent, it is now a collection of hip restaurants, exhibition spaces and art and craft shops. Wander in for a peek during the afternoon and it will entice you to linger through the evening and into the night as the clubs start to fill with energised locals and the music of the region’s ubiquitous Filipino pop bands.

Sentosa
As Singapore is to the Malay Peninsula, so Sentosa is to Singapore: a small island off its southern tip. You can get there by ferry, over a causeway or, best of all, a cable car that affords a breathtaking view of the city and its lifeblood – the wharves and docks that are in perpetual motion. Sentosa has been developed into a daytrippers’ diversion replete with an aquarium, butterfly park, resort hotels, a diorama museum and a volcano show. It also has easily accessible beaches (though the sight of dozens of oil and cargo ships just offshore might make think twice before taking a dip).

“Little” Singapores
In an echo of its ethnically-ghettoed past Singapore has a well-preserved Chinatown, Little India and Old Malaya. The former, with its narrow warrens of streets and shophouses filled with cafes bars, shops and temples, gives you a sense of what life was like for Chinese coolies. But don’t glance up or your reverie will be popped by the skyscrapers of the city’s financial district a stone’s throw away. Highlights of Little India include an arcade of the same name with shops selling saris, Hindu religious paraphernalia, Ayurvedic medicines and Indian sweets and snacks; several Hindu temples; and the Tekka Centre markets with a bewildering array of spices, cooked food and household essentials. Kampong Glam is the centre of Muslim Singapore. Arab Street is full of shops selling cane & rattan goods, leather goods and Islamic religious effects; Istana Kampong Glam is the old sultan’s palace currently being redeveloped but worth a look from outside; and Sultan Mosque is a grand piece of Arabesque architecture.

Botanic Gardens
A verdant oasis that serves as the city’s lungs, the Botanic Gardens providesa respite from the grime and breakneck pace just a few streets away. It’s easy to become entranced by the lakes, waterfalls and landscaped fountains set amongst a mix of manicured lawns, primal jungle and orchid stands. The Gardens are complemented by a restaurant, a concert stage set on an island and a well-equipped visitors’ centre.

The Quays
Singapore makes good use of its river and there are two strips in particular where you can choose from a plethora of bars and restaurants. Boat Quay is closer to the bay and is lined with waterfront eateries of every description. Not sure what you might get? Don’t worry; there are full colour photos of most dishes on the menu and touts eager to extol the virtues of their particular cuisine. For the curious, the famous Harry’s Bar is at one end of the Quay where you can down an ale at the place where Nick Leeson, lived it up before he brought down Barings. Clark Quay is a mile or so upriver and while deserted during the day, comes alive when the sun goes down and the revellers come out. The usual range of drinking outlets is complemented by a micro-brewery and a gaggle of food stalls known collectively as the Satay Club (guess what the speciality is?).

Hawker Markets
Renowned for its range of and passion for food, a trip to Singapore would be missing something if you didn’t plunge into its communal kitchen-cum-dining-rooms – the hawker food markets. Once just places wherever mobile carts congregated, many (but not all) are now permanent fixtures replete with refrigerators, plumbing and regular health inspections. Great just to wander around for their colour, energy and sense of theatre, you can browse the displays of seafood, the satay braziers or the fruit juice stalls before settling on something that takes your fancy. It will invariably be prepared fresh to order, lip-smacking good and inexpensive. In walking distance of (or a short cab trip from) Orchard Rd, try Newton Circus Food Centre but there are lots of others around the city.

The Colonial Core

For those interested in neo-classical, colonial architecture there is a portfolio of historic artefacts that stand as a forlorn echo of England’s stamp of authority on its far-flung possessions. They are all clustered around Raffle’s landing site on a bend in the Singapore River and include the Supreme Court, Old Parliament House, the City Hall and the Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall. It can be vaguely satisfying to stroll around the district, admire the British appropriation of the stylistic ideas of ancient Greece and Rome and reflect on the transience of all once invincible empires.

Daytrips
Daytrips for visitors holidaying in Singapore can be made by hire car to destinations on the island itself or can be made by boat to neighbouring islands. The former option involves some personal planning, while the latter can be left in the hands of tour companies.

Popular excursions by boat include those to the Kusu and St John’s islands, the first reachable in about 20 minutes and the second in around 30 minutes. On Kusu Island, be sure to check out the Chinese temple and the Malay shrine, while on St John’s Island, you’ll find a small urban development with a mosque, bungalows and sporting facilities.

Also well worth a visit is Palau Ubin, an island where life still follows old traditions and visitors can observe authentic kampong villages while exploring the scenic rural landscape. Boats leave throughout the day for the island from the pier at Changi Village.

Must-see attractions
Singapore’s Chinatown is famed as one of its most significant attractions and for being one of the most authentic oriental districts in Asia away from mainland China. Visitors will find a wealth of great Chinese eateries as well as numerous traditional retail outlets selling everything from old-fashioned herbal medicines to Chinese artworks.

The Botanic Gardens are worth a trip if you enjoy viewing interesting tropical flora. This pretty nature centre is home to stunning landscaped areas with lakes and fountains. If you’re keen to see important Singaporean landmarks, then make the Parliament House your next stop. Dating back to 1827, this is the island’s oldest government building.

Next up, head for the Cenotaph, 10-metre high monument located in Esplanade Park. The statue was erected in honour of the 124 Singaporean soldiers who died during WWI. For something a little more light hearted, a trip to the thrill-packed water theme park Fantasy Island is a must. The park has numerous pools, slides and water rides and is the country’s most popular family attraction.

Best time to go
The climate is sub-tropical, bringing Singapore hot and humid weather for the greater part of the year. From a visitor’s perspective, the dry season from February through April or May is the best time to take a holiday in Singapore. Before that (November to January), there’s a high probability of rain and after that (June to August), temperatures can be stiflingly hot and high levels of humidity can make things uncomfortable.

Rainy day suggestions
On rainy days, consider spending your time in Singapore’s fascinating museums, of which there is a good selection covering a variety of themes and subject matter. The Asian Civilisations Museum is a popular choice for anyone interested in the history and heritage of Asian cultures while the Republic of Singapore Navy Museum will appeal to anyone with maritime interests.

If museums are not your thing, then head for any of the island’s 250 shopping malls where you can enjoy hours of air-conditioned retail therapy.

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