Leaving at 10:45PM, I lost 3 hours arriving at 6:00AM in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and slept for most of the trip. I have been moving progressively up the socioeconomic ladder – Nepal is very third world, India is a chaotic, corrupt second world mess, and Sri Lanka and Maldives are a significant step up from that. The Kuala Lumpur airport is big and beautiful. Easy to navigate, I had almost 2 hours till my next flight and took the train over to the Satellite Terminal for a venti mocha at Starbucks. It was then a short one hour flight to Singapore, which also has a spectacular new airport. After 5 minutes in the immigration line, I had my free visa in 20 seconds. It took at least an hour to fill out my visa application and get all the documentation for the India Transit Visa and then an hour waiting to hand it in, only to find I needed more documentation. After being initially told it would take five days to process, it grew to seven a few hours later and I had to cancel my entire Bhutan trip – and this was only to sit in 2 airports for about 12 hours on my way to Bhutan. One thing I didn’t do was offer the Indian Consulate baksheesh, maybe that would have helped. When I suggested to the woman at the Indian Consulate that they had the most difficult visa in the world, she got argued that it was easy!
SINGAPORE – FACTS
Singapore is a city-state at the tip of the Malay Peninsula. Founded as a British trading colony in 1819, since independence, it has become one of the world’s most prosperous countries and boasts the world’s busiest port.
Combining the skyscrapers and subways of a modern city, it is an affluent city with a medley of Chinese, Malay and Indian influences, a tropical climate, tasty food, good shopping and a vibrant night-life scene. It makes a great stopover or springboard into the region. Singapore is a small country on a 715 sqare km island and with just over five million people, it is fairly crowded and second only to Monaco as the world’s most densely populated country. However, unlike many other densely populated countries, it has more than 50% of its area covered by greenery with over 50 major parks and 4 nature reserves. Large self-contained residential towns mushroom all over the island, around the clean and modern city centre.
Singapore is a microcosm of Asia, populated with a large group of workers and expatriates from all across the globe.It has partly deserved a reputation for sterile predictability with descriptions like “Disneyland with the death penalty” or the “world’s only shopping mall with a seat in the United Nations”. A welcome respite from the poverty, dirt, chaos, and crime of much of the Asian mainland, below the squeaky clean surface, there is more than meets the eye.
Singaporean food is legendary, with bustling hawker centres, and shoppers can bust their baggage allowances in shopping centres like Orchard Road and Suntec City. In recent years some societal restrictions have also loosened up, and now you can bungee jump and dance on bar tops all night long, although alcohol is still very pricey and chewing gum can only be bought from a pharmacy for medical use.
The first records date back to 1299 when the new city was called Singapura, Sanskrit for Lion City, although there have never been any lions anywhere near Singapore (until the Singapore Zoo opened). It briefly regained importance as a trading centre until Portuguese raiders destroyed the settlement and Singapura faded into obscurity.
In 1819, the British set up a trading post on the island. Though the Dutch initially protested, the signing of the Anglo-Dutch treaty in 1824, which separated the Malay world into British and Dutch spheres of influence (resulting in the current Malaysia-Indonesia and Singapore-Indonesia borders), ended the conflict. The Dutch renounced their claim to Singapore and ceded their colony in Malacca to the British, in exchange for the British ceding their colonies on Sumatra to the Dutch.
Well-placed at the entrance to the Straits of Malacca, straddling the trade routes between China, India, Europe, and Australia, Raffles’ master stroke was to declare Singapore a free port, with no duties charged on trade. As traders flocked to escape onerous Dutch taxes, the trading post soon grew into one of Asia’s busiest, drawing people from far and wide. Along with Penang and Malacca, Singapore became one of the Straits Settlements and a jewel in the British colonial crown. Its economic fortunes received a further boost when palm oil and rubber from neighbouring Malaya were processed and shipped out via Singapore.
In 1867, Singapore was formally split off from British India and made into a directly ruled Crown Colony.
When World War II broke out, Fortress Singapore was seen as a formidable British base, with massive naval fortifications guarding against assault by sea. However, not only did the fortress lack a fleet, as all ships were tied up defending Britain from the Germans, but the Japanese wisely chose to cross Malaya by bicycle instead! Despite hastily turning the guns around, this was something the unimaginative British ruling class had not prepared for at all, and on 15 Feb 1942, with supplies critically low after less than a week of fighting, Singapore’s colonial masters ignominiously surrendered. The colony’s erstwhile rulers were packed off to Changi Prison. Tens of thousands perished in the subsequent brutal Japanese occupation. The return of the British in 1945 was triumphalist.
Granted self-rule in 1955, Singapore briefly joined the Malaysian Federation in 1963 when the British left, but was expelled because the Chinese-majority city was seen as a threat to Malay dominance. The island became independent on 9 August 1965, thus becoming the only country to gain independence against its own will in the history of the modern world!
The subsequent forty years rule by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew saw Singapore’s economy boom, with the country rapidly becoming one of the wealthiest and most developed in Asia despite its lack of natural resources, earning it a place as one of the four East Asian Tigers. Now led by Lee’s son Lee Hsien Loong, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) continues to dominate the political scene with 81 out of 87 seats in Parliament. Societal restrictions have been loosened up in recent years though, with the government trying to shake off its staid image, and it remains to be seen how the delicate balancing act between political control and social freedom will play out.
Singapore prides itself on being a multi-racial country, and has a diverse culture despite its small size. The largest group are the Chinese, who form about 75% of the population. One quarter of Singapore residents are foreigners. Malays, who are comprised of descendants of Singapore’s original inhabitants as well as migrants from present day Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, form about 14%, and Indians about 9%.
The remainder are a mix of many other cultures, most notably the Eurasians who are of mixed European and Asian descent, and also a handful of Burmese, Japanese, Thais and many others. There are a large number of Filipinos, many of them working as domestic helpers.
Singapore is also religiously diverse, with no religious group forming a majority. Religious freedom is guaranteed by the constitution of Singapore. Buddhism is the largest religion with about 33% and significant numbers include Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Taoism.
As Singapore is located a mere 1.5 degrees north of the Equator, its weather is usually sunny with no distinct seasons. Rain falls almost daily throughout the year, usually in sudden, heavy showers that rarely last longer than an hour. However, most rainfall occurs during the north east monsoon (November to January), occasionally featuring lengthy spells of continuous rain. Spectacular thunderstorms can occur throughout the year, any time during the day, so it’s wise to carry an umbrella at all times, both as a shade from the sun or cover from the rain.
The temperature averages around 32°C daytime, and 25 C at night. The high temperature and humidity, combined with the lack of wind and the fact that temperatures stay high during the night, can take its toll on visitors from colder parts of the world. Bear in mind that spending more than about one hour outdoors can be very exhausting, especially if combined with moderate exercise. Singaporeans themselves shun the heat, and for a good reason. Many live a totally air-conditioned life.
Singapore is a secular city state but due to its multicultural population, It celebrates Chinese, Muslim, Indian, and Christian holidays. Due to the influence of the Chinese majority, the largest event by far is Chinese New Year or, more politically correctly, Lunar New Year. Chinese New Year dates 2014 Horse – 31 January 2015 Goat – 19 February. Usually held in February.The whole festival stretches out for no less than 42 days..
Banned in Singapore: There’s more to the list than just porn and drugs: handcuffs, even if pink and fuzzy, feeding pigeons or monkeys, chewing gum, male homosexual activity
Most nationalities can enter Singapore without a visa, most people get 14 or 30 days. Singapore has very strict drug laws, and drug trafficking carries a mandatory death penalty — which is applied to everyone, including foreigners. Even if merely transiting (eg. changing flights without the need to clear passport control and customs) while in possession of drugs, you would still be hanged by the neck until dead on the next Friday after your sentencing. The paranoid might also like to note that it is an offence even to have any drug metabolites in your system, and Customs occasionally does spot urine tests at the airport. Hippie types may expect a little extra attention from Customs, but getting a shave and a haircut is no longer a condition for entry.
There is no duty free allowance for cigarettes: all cigarettes legally sold in Singapore are stamped “SDPC”, and smokers caught with unmarked cigarettes may be fined $500 per pack. (In practice, though, bringing in one opened pack is usually tolerated.) Pornography, pirated goods and publications by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Unification Church may not be imported to Singapore.
By plane Singapore is one of Southeast Asia’s largest aviation hubs, so unless you’re coming from Peninsular Malaysia or Batam/Bintan in Indonesia, the easiest way to enter Singapore is by air.
Changi Airport: As befits the country’s main airport, Changi Airport and officially the ‘best airport in the world’ is big, pleasant, and well organized, and immigration and baggage distribution is remarkably fast. Even if stuck in the airport, there are plenty of ways to kill time, as each terminal has a unique design and the airside areas of T1, T2, and T3 are attractions in themselves. T2, arguably the most interesting, has an indoor garden, a music listening area with couches and mood lighting, a computer gaming room, a small movie theatre, paid massage services, and of course plenty of duty-free shops. T3, the newest, has a butterfly garden and plenty of natural light, but fewer entertainment options. T1 has a swimming pool for $13.91 and jacuzzi, both open until 23:00. You can travel between the main terminals without passing through immigration. In all terminals, internet access is provided free of charge, both wirelessly.
From the airport there are a number of ways to get into the city:
Taxi is easiest – simply follow the signs after clearing customs. Meters are always used in Singapore and prices are reasonable. Subway – MRT trains run from a station between T2 and T3, but you’ll need to change trains at Tanah Merah to a city-bound train: the 30 min ride to City Hall station costs $1.90 plus a refundable $1 deposit, and trains run 05:31-23:18.
Singapore is linked by two land crossings to Peninsular Malaysia: The Causeway is a very popular and thus terminally congested entry point connecting Woodlands in the north of Singapore directly into the heart of Johor Bahru. A second crossing between Malaysia and Singapore, known as the Second Link, has been built between Tuas in western Singapore and Tanjung Kupang in the western part of Johor state. Much faster and less congested than the Causeway, it is used by some of the luxury bus services to Kuala Lumpur.
Buses: Direct to/from Malaysian destinations There are buses to/from Kuala Lumpur (KL) and many other destinatiBns in Malaysia through the Woodlands Checkpoint and the Second Link at Tuas. Unfortunately, there is no central bus terminal and different companies leave from all over the city. Major operators include: Aeroline, Luxury buses with meal on-board, power sockets, lounge area etc, to Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya. Departures from HarbourFront Centre. From $47 one-way.
First Coach, No frills, but the buses have good legroom and use the Second Link. Another selling point is convenient public transport: buses depart from Novena Square (Novena MRT) in Singapore and arrive right next to Bangsar LRT in Kuala Lumpur.
Most other operators have banded together in two shared booking portals. Many, but by no means all, use the Golden Mile Complex shopping mall near Bugis as their Singapore terminal.
Train: Singapore is the southern terminus of Malaysia’s Keretapi Tanah Melayu (Malayan Railway or KTMB) network. Trains are clean and fairly efficient, but slower than buses.
By boat Ferries link Singapore with the neighbouring Indonesian province of Riau Islands and the Malaysian state of Johor.
Getting around Singapore is easy: the public transportation system is extremely easy to use and taxis are reasonably priced when you can get one.
By rail: The MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) and LRT (Light Rail Transit) are trains that are the main trunk of Singapore’s transit system. They are a cheap and very reliable mode of transportation, and the network covers most points of interest for the visitor.
By bus: Buses connect various corners of Singapore, but are slower and harder to use than the MRT. The advantage though of this is you get to see the sights rather than a dark underground tunnel at a low price.
By taxi: Taxis use meters and are reasonably priced and honest, however, a shortage of taxis in Singapore means that they are often unavailable for hours at a time.
On foot: Singapore is generally fairly ‘pedestrian-friendly’. In the main business district and on main roadways, pavements and pedestrian crossings are in good shape and plentiful. Drivers are mindful of marked crossing zones. Jaywalking is illegal and punished with fines of $25 and up to three months in jail.
Classic walks in Singapore include walking down the river from the Merlion through the Quays, trekking along the Southern Ridges Walk or just strolling around Chinatown, Little India or Bugis. An unavoidable downside, though, is the tropical heat and humidity, which leaves many visitors sweaty and exhausted, so bring along a handkerchief and a bottle of water. It’s best to get an early start, pop into air-conditioned shops, cafes, and museums to cool off, and plan on heading back to the shopping mall or hotel pool.
Beaches and tourist resorts: Head to one of the three beaches on Sentosa or its southern islands. Other beaches can be found on the East Coast.
Culture and cuisine: See Chinatown for Chinese treats, Little India for Indian flavours, Kampong Glam (Arab St) for a Malay/Arab experience or the East Coast for delicious seafood, including the famous chilli and black pepper crab.
History and museums: The Bras Basah area east of Orchard and north of the Singapore River is Singapore’s colonial core, with historical buildings and museums.
Nature and wildlife: Popular tourist attractions Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park and the Botanical Gardens are all in the North and West. Finding “real” nature is a little harder, but the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (located in the same district as the zoo) has more plant species than that in the whole of North America. Pulau Ubin, an island off the Changi Village in the east, is a flashback to the rural Singapore of yesteryear. City parks full of locals jogging or doing tai chi can be found everywhere. Also check out the tortoise and turtle sanctuary in the Chinese Gardens on the west side of town for a great afternoon with these wonderful creatures.
Parks and gardens: The Garden City and City in a Garden are new concepts being promoted by the Singaporean government and Singaporeans take great pride in their parks and gardens.
Skyscrapers and shopping: The heaviest shopping mall concentration is in Orchard Road, while skyscrapers are clustered around the Singapore River, but also check out Bugis and Marina Bay to see where Singaporeans shop.
Travel Tips: Useful to carry: Sun Glasses – Singapore is usually bright and sunny. Umbrella – there is some precipitation throughout the year. However, the rain does not last long (usually).
Money: Tipping is generally not practised in Singapore, and is officially frowned upon by the government.
Costs. Singapore is expensive by Asian standards but affordable compared with some industrialized countries: $50 is a perfectly serviceable daily backpacker budget if you are willing to cut some corners, though you would probably wish to double that for comfort. Food in particular is a steal, with excellent hawker food available for under $5 for a generous serving. Accommodation is a little pricier, but a bed in a hostel can cost less than $20, an average 3-4 star hotel in the city centre would typically cost anywhere from $100-$300 per night for a basic room. In general, prices in Singapore are about twice as high as in Malaysia and Thailand and 3-5 times as high as in Indonesia and the Philippines.
Singapore is one of the safest major cities in the world by virtually any measure. Most people, including single female travelers, will not face any problems walking along the streets alone at night. Singapore’s squeaky cleanliness is achieved in part by strict rules against activities that are tolerated in other countries. For example, jay-walking, spitting, littering, and drinking and eating on public transport are prohibited. Locals joke about Singapore being a fine city because heavy fines are levied if one is caught committing an offense.
Begging is illegal in Singapore, but you’ll occasionally see beggars on the streets.
Tap water is safe for drinking, and sanitation standards are very high. As a tropical country, Singapore is hot and humid so drink a lot of water. The lowest temperature ever recorded in Singapore was way back in 1934, when it hit a low of 19.4°C (66.9°F).
Malaria is not an issue, but dengue fever is endemic to the region. Singapore maintains strict mosquito control (leaving standing water around will get you fined), but the government’s reach does not extend into the island’s nature reserves, so if you’re planning on hiking bring along mosquito repellent.
Singaporeans care little about formal politeness. At rush hour, be prepared for a lot of pushing on the MRT. Singaporeans are punctual, so show up on time. The standard greeting is a firm handshake. However, conservative Muslims avoid touching the opposite sex..
Electricity. Singapore uses the British BS1363 three-pin rectangular socket (230V/50Hz).
Laundry: Laundromats are few and far between.
Singapore makes a good base for exploring South-East Asia, with nearly all of the region’s countries and their main tourist destinations — Bangkok, Phuket, Angkor Wat, Ho Chi Minh City and Bali, just to name a few — under 2 hr away by plane.
SINGAPORE – THE TRIP April 13 – 15, 2013.
In Singapore, I got some money exchanged, bought a Lonely Planet SE Asia on a Shoestring, got a rail pass, and hopped on the train to go to my hostel in Chinatown. With two fast changes of metro, I got to within about 200m of the Beary Good Hostel, and found it easily about 1 1/2 hours after landing. Wow, a country that really works. Except for the temperature difference, you could be transplanted into Vancouver Chinatown and hardly know the difference. With two big sightseeing days planned, I masochistically set out in the midday heat, but was acclimatized from the Maldives. Some of the streets in Chinatown are pedestrian only but are impinged on both sides by shops spilling out from the sidewalks. Clothes, souvenirs, traditional Chinese medicine, and jewelry are big. The Chinatown Heritage Center focuses on the squalid living conditions the early Chinese immigrants once endured. Chinatown’s most photographed and recognizable icon is the Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore’s oldest Hindu house of worship – adorned with wildly colorful statues of gods and cattle. Thian Hock Keng Temple is the city’s oldest Hokkien building with elaborately carved and painted beams, panels, and dragons adorning the roofs. There was a detailed description of devination lots used to predict your future luck. The religions all are mixtures of Hinduism, Buddhism and Chinese influences.
Chinatown is bordered on the north by a commercial area filled with huge, modern skyscrapers housing all the big North American, European and Asian banks. When built in 1928, the Fullerton Building was Singapore’s biggest building. The magnificent collumnaded structure served as the city’s post office until converted into a very posh 5-star hotel in 2000. I ducked in to get some respite from the heat, and see how the rich travel – it was afternoon tea and the tables were full of young oriental women eating elaborate canapes. Across Marina Bay is Singapore’s most iconic skyscraper, the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort; three large towers are joined on the top by a shallow boat shaped structure covered with palm trees. Large catamarans were racing in the small bay. The Merlion statue, a bizzare hybrid lion/fish spewing a torrent of water from its mouth, sits at the mouth of the Singapore River. Crossing the river, one enters the Colonial District with imposing relics of British rule fighting for space with all the wonderful new architecture. A cricket pitch, the Padang, is surrounded by the Victoria Concert Hall & Theater, Old Parliament House, St Andrews Cathedral, City Hall and Old Supreme Court, many shrouded in scaffold with major renovations going on. The Asian Civilization Museum has 10 galleries of different aspects of Asian culture. Well done, it was a lot to see on three hours of sleep. There are many Westerners walking around and many Caucasian men with Asian women. My hostel mates are almost all Asian with people from Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and the Philippines. They never go to bed before midnight, leave the lights on and seem to be constantly repacking their bags.
Despite good intentions, and because it was drizzling, I hardly left the hostel but napped, read my Lonely Planet, and worked on this all day. I really did not want to see the zoo, botanical gardens, bird park or go shopping. Let’s face it, shopping is what most people come to Singapore for. In fact, all I really want to do is go home. After 6 1/2 months on the road, the traveling is getting tiring. I need a vacation. The next morning, I rode the fantastic metro to the Golden Miles Complex and caught the bus to Kuala Lumpur. What a radical difference between the buses here and in India and Sri Lanka – air conditioned, luxurious, wide reclining seats, spotless luggage storage under the bus. After a quick visit to the Singapore exit checkpoint, we crossed the long 2nd link bridge into Malaysia.