Focused on its economic reforms since its separation from Malaysia in 1965, Singapore has since developed into an oasis of First World wealth, governance and cleanliness in the middle of Southeast Asia, most of which is still is the process of modernizing. It can be surreal, yet familiar when one steps out of the Changi Airport and onto the MRT train. The efficiency, the lack of dirt and grime, the gleaming skyscrapers.
Yet, you also know that this place is still very different from the West. The fines, which start at a couple hundred dollars … for the simple crime of crossing the street outside of a crosswalk (jaywalking). Other variant fines emerge the more you look around: No smoking ($1000). No durian fruit on the subway ($500). No littering ($1,000, community service, and you get to wear a cool “I am a litter lout” sign).
Despite these strict edicts, there are many other great things about this city-state that overpower the negative. A Hawker food court culture that honours not only the cuisine of the native Chinese/Malay/Indian population, but also the many expat workers that have immigrated to Singapore from many nations around the world to work in its booming tech/financial industries. A series of entertainment complexes that will keep you occupied for days on end. And despite being a city state on a small island with approximately 6 million people, there is plenty of green space to relax from the hectic concrete jungle that consumes most of the island, which can get overbearing in a city one degree north of the equator.
Singapore, despite its small physical size, has plenty to offer for the seasoned traveller over a period of 4-7 days. Let’s begin exploring below!
Currency: Singapore Dollar
Languages: English, Mandarin Chinese, Bahasa Malaysia, Tamil
What To Do
Start your day off early (7 am-ish) in Singapore … being located on the Equator means that it is hot, humid, and rainy all year round, so leaving the bulk of your outdoor sightseeing for the early and later hours of the day will hopefully spare you from having to endure a sweated-thru shirt all day long! Chances are you are staying in the Little India / Arab Street area, where many of the budget accommodations in Singapore are located. Close by Arab Street is the majestic Masjid Sultan. When touring this Islamic place of worship, be sure to wear long pants and cover your shoulders (no Chang tank tops, guys) out of respect.
Next, head over to Waterloo Street, where a Chinese Buddhist temple, Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho, sits next to an equally famous Hindu temple known as Sri Krishnan. The Chinese temple is known for a luck ritual where ones prays to gods with burning joss sticks, then potentially receives advice from a goddess if shaken up cham si (bamboo sticks) fall the right way after being emptied from their container. Sri Krishnan, with its many gods to pray to as well, are also visited by many Chinese wishing to hedge their spiritual bets!
After viewing some cultural icons of Singapore and immersing yourself in the religious life of their citizens, the time has crept close to midday, meaning the heat is starting to rise and get unbearable. At this time, head inside to the air-conditioned comforts of Singapore’s many shopping and entertainment districts.
Orchard Road is a nearly continuous series of malls, offerings just about any good you could ever need or want. In the Marina Bay district just off downtown, check out Singapore’s mascot Merlion, then if you have some gamble in you, proceed to Marina Bay Sands Resort and Casino, which offers many table games and machines that you can use to run it up – or lose your seed money while having a great time! They also offer the best view of Singapore in the city; $20 is what it costs for an unforgettable view of the entire city-state! If you seek excitement on a theme park scale, check out Universal Studios on Sentosa Island, or if you would like to get wet in the tropical heat, Wild Wild Wet in East Singapore offers many slides and rides that provide a cool off along with your fix of adrenaline.
Near the end of the day, spend some time at many of the beaches on the East Coast, or stroll through the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, where you can take in more species of plants/animals than exist in all of North America! The Night Safari also is conducted in this area, so tag along with their experienced guides for an evening of education and entertainment!
What To Eat
As mentioned earlier, Singapore has a wealth of excellent food options when the time to dine arrives. The first dish you should try is a national institution – Chilli and Black Pepper Crab. This dish is usually found all over Singapore, but the best ones are found in the hawker courts of the East Coast. Hit them up after an afternoon lazing on the beach. Next, sample some Kaya Laksa, notably different from Penang Laksa, as it is sweet and coconut milk flavoured, rather than having the sour notes of its counterpart. As far as everything else goes, from Hainanese chicken rice, to Nasi Lemak, to Rojak, there is a bevy of foods from the constituent cultures that make up Singapore, so graze your way through them all until your body gives out. After all, you only live once!