|Currency||Singapore dollar (SGD)|
|Area||total: 692.7 sq km |
water: 10 sq km
land: 682.7 sq km
|Population||4,425,720 (July 2005 est.)|
|Language||English (official), Chinese (official), Malay (official and national), Tamil (official)|
|Religion||Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Taoist, Confucianist|
|Electricity||230V/50Hz (British plug)|
Singapore is an island-state in Southeast Asia. Founded as a British trading colony in 1819, it joined Malaysia in 1963, but withdrew two years later and became independent. It subsequently became one of the world's most prosperous countries, with strong international trading links (its port is one of the world's busiest) and with per capita GDP equal to that of the leading nations of Western Europe. While it arguably lacks a high-profile, high-impact attraction (think the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Burj al-Arab in Dubai), this is more of a bustling yet relatively relaxing place where you can have it pretty easy for your holiday, and at the same time experience some of the unique Asian flavours that this city-state has to offer.
Singapore is a rather small country on a small island, but with over 4 million people it's a fairly large city.
- Bugis and Kampong Glam — Bugis and Kampong Glam are Singapore's old Malay district, now largely taken over by shopping.
- Central Business District — The CBD is the densely packed heart of the city, containing:
- Chinatown — the area originally designated for Chinese settlement by Stamford Raffles.
- Orchard Road — world-renowned shopping district
- Riverside — museums, statues and theaters, not to mention restaurants, bars and clubs
- East Coast — The largely residential eastern part of the island contains Changi Airport and many famous eateries.
- Little India — A piece of India to the north of the CBD.
- North and West — The northern and western parts of the island, also known as Woodlands and Jurong respectively, form Singapore's residential and industrial hinterlands.
- Sentosa — A separate island developed into a resort, Sentosa is the closest that Singapore gets to Disneyland.
In the center Singapore's addressing system is fairly normal ("17 Orchard Rd" etc), but the new housing developments on the outskirts may appear more intimidating: a typical address might be "Blk 505 Jurong West St 51 #01-186". Here "Blk 505" is the housing block number (always prominently painted on the building), "Jurong West St 51" is the street name (yes, there are at least 50 other numbered Jurong West Streets), and "#01-186" means floor 1, unit, stall or shop 186. Street and block numbers do proceed in numerical order though, so tracking down the exact location after finding the general area isn't too hard usually. There are also 6-digit postal codes, which - considering the small size of the island - generally correspond to exactly one building. For example, "Blk 9 Bedok South Ave 2" is "Singapore 460009".
A very useful tool for hunting down addresses is the free online Singapore Street Directory (http://www.streetdirectory.com.sg). Taxis are obligated by law to carry a complete street directory with them. Searching for postal codes is made easy by Singapore Post (http://www.singpost.com.sg/main/home.asp).
Singapore is a microcosm of Asia, populated by Chinese, Malays, Indians and a large group of workers and expatriates from all across the globe. A famously authoritarian state with fines for unlikely things like not flushing toilets, Singapore has a partly deserved reputation for boredom, but "the Switzerland of Asia" is for many a welcome respite from the poverty, chaos and crime of much of the continent.
On the plus side, Singaporean food is legendary, with bustling hawker centres and 24-hour coffee shops offering cheap food from all parts of Asia, and shoppers can bust their baggage allowances in shopping meccas 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 bartops until 6 AM, although alcohol is very pricey and chewing gum can only be bought from a pharmacy. Casinos will be opening up in about 2009 as part of Singapore's new Fun and Entertainment drive, the aim being to double to number of tourists visiting and increasing the length of time they stay. Watch out for more loosening up in the future.
According to legend, Srivijayan prince Sang Nila Utama landed on the island in the 13th century and, catching sight of a strange creature that he thought was a lion, decided to found a new city he called Singapura, Sanskrit for Lion City. More historical records indicate that the island was settled at least two centuries earlier and was known as Temasek, Javanese for "Sea Town". However, Sumatran Srivijaya fell around 1400 and Temasek, battered by the feuding kingdoms of Siam and the Javanese Majapahit, fell into obscurity.
The story of Singapore as we know it today thus began in 1819, when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles made a deal with a claimant to the throne of the sultan of Johor: the British would support his claim in exchange for the right to set up a trading post on the island. Well-placed at the entrance to the Straits of Malacca, straddling the trade routes between China, India, Europe and Australia, Raffles' masterstroke 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 ports, 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, and its economic fortunes received a further boost when palm oil and rubber from neighboring 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 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 British had not prepared for at all, and on February 15th, 1942, with supplies critically low after less than a week of fighting, Singapore ignominiously surrendered and the colony's erstwhile rulers were packed off to Changi Prison. Tens of thousands perished in the subsequent brutal occupation, and the return of the British in 1945 was less than triumphal — it was clear that their time was up.
Granted self-rule in 1955, Singapore briefly joined Malaysia in 1963 when the British left, but was expelled because the Chinese-majority city was seen as a threat to Malay dominance, and the island became independent on 9 August 1965. The subsequent forty years of iron-fisted 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. Now led by Lee's son Lee Hsien Loong, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) continues to dominate the political scene, with 82 out of 84 seats in Parliament (over half won unopposed) and opposition politicians regularly bankrupted by defamation suits. 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.
At only 135km (85 miles) north of the Equator, the weather is usually sunny with no distinct seasons. However, most rainfall occurs during the north-east monsoon (November to January). Showers are usually sudden and heavy but also brief and refreshing, although humidity is uncomfortably high at this time of year. In summer, forest fires in neighbouring Sumatra can also cause heavy haze.
Spectacular thunder storms can occur throughout the year, normally in the afternoons, so it's wise to carry a umbrella at all times, either as a shade from the sun or cover from the rain.
The temperature averages around:
- 26C (79F) daytime, 24C (76F) at night in December and January
- 31C (89F) daytime, 26C (80F) at night for the rest of the year.
Gong xi fa cai Singapore style
There are a few twists to the Singapore way of celebrating Chinese New Year, particularly the food, which bears little resemblance to the steamy hotpots of frigid northern China. The top dish is bak kwa (??), sweet barbecued pork, followed closely by yu sheng (??), a salad of shredded vegetables and raw fish enthusiastically tossed into the air by all present. Favorite desserts are crumbly sweet pineapple tarts and gooey steamed nian gao (??) cakes. Red packets of money (hong bao) are still handed out generously, but in Singapore the unmarried are exempted.
Thanks to its multicultural population, Singapore celebrates Chinese, Muslim, Indian and Christian holidays.
The year kicks off with a bang on January 1st and New Year, celebrated in Singapore just as in the West with a fireworks show and parties at every nightspot in town. Particularly famous are the wet and wild foam parties on the beaches of resort island Sentosa — at least those years when the authorities deign to permit such debauchery.
Still, thanks to the influence of the Chinese majority, the largest event by far is Chinese New Year (or, more politically correctly, Lunar New Year), usually held in February. The whole festival stretches out for no less than 42 days, but the frenzied buildup to the peak occurs just before the night of the new moon, with exhortations of gong xi fa cai (???? "congratulations and prosper"), red tinsel, mandarin oranges and the year's zodiac animal emblazoned everywhere and crowds of shoppers queuing in Chinatown. The two following days are spent with family and most of the island comes to a standstill, and then life returns to normal... except for the final burst of Chingay, a colorful parade down Orchard Road held ten days later.
The seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar — usually August — starts off with a puff of smoke, as "hell money" is burned and food offerings are made to please the spirits of ancestors who are said to return to earth at this time. The climax on the 15th day of the lunar calendar is the Hungry Ghost Festival, when the living get together to stuff themselves and watch plays and Chinese opera performances. Following soon afterwards, the Mid-Autumn Festival on the night of a full moon in September is also a major event, with elaborate lantern decorations — particularly in Jurong's Chinese Garden — and moon cakes filled with red bean paste, nuts and more consumed merrily.
The Hindu festival of lights, Deepavali, is celebrated around October or November and Little India is brightly decorated for the occasion. The Islamic month of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr or Hari Raya Puasa as it is called here, is a major occasion in Malay parts of town (particularly Geylang Serai on the East Coast).
The Buddhist Vesak Day, celebrating the birthday of the Buddha Sakyamuni, plus the Christian holidays of Christmas Day and Good Friday round out the list holidays.
A more secular manifestation of community spirit occurs on August 9th, National Day, when fluttering flags fill Singapore and elaborate parades are held.
See the Singapore Ministry of Manpower - official Holiday Dates listing (http://www.mom.gov.sg/PublicHolidays/) for confirmation of actual dates for Chinese New Year, Deepavali, etc. for the current year and next year.
- Singapore Guide (http://www.visitsingapore.com/) - from the Singapore Tourism Board
- Singapore Infomap (http://www.sg/) - from the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts
Banned in Singapore
There's more to the list than just porn and drugs:
The majority of nationalities can enter Singapore without a visa. Refer to Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (http://app.ica.gov.sg/travellers/entry/visa_requirements.asp) for current guidelines, including a list of the 30+ nationalities that are required to obtain a visa in advance. Entry permit duration (in most cases either 14 or 30 days) depends on nationality and entry point.
Singapore has very strict drug laws, and drug trafficking carries a mandatory death penalty — which is also applied to foreigners. As always, travellers should take care with their baggage and secure it appropriately. The paranoid might also like to note that in Singapore, it is an offense even to have any drug metabolites in your system, even if they were consumed outside Singapore.
Note that cigarettes cannot be brought in duty free. One opened packet is acceptable, but anything more will be taxed. Foreigners can opt to pay the tax or let the customs officers keep the cigarettes until the next departure; locals get to choose between paying or witnessing the cigarettes being destroyed.
Singapore is one of South-East 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. In addition to flagship carrier Singapore Airlines (http://www.singaporeair.com) and its regional subsidiary SilkAir (http://www.silkair.com), Singapore is also home to Tiger Airways (http://www.tigerairways.com), Jetstar Asia (http://www.jetstarasia.com) (a subsidiary of Qantas (http://www.qantas.com.au)), and Valuair (http://www.valuair.com.sg) (taken over by Jetstar Asia in July 2005 but still operating relatively independently).
As befits the country's main airport and major regional hub status, Changi Airport (SIN) (http://www.changi.airport.com.sg) is big, nice and well organised, and immigration and baggage distribution is remarkably fast. There are currently two terminals, connected by a free "Skytrain" shuttle service. Singapore Airlines operates from Terminal 2 (T2) and most other airlines use Terminal 1 (T1).
While in transit there are plenty of ways to kill time, including a movie theater (T2) and a swimming pool and gym (T1). Internet access is provided free of charge, both wirelessly and via some 200 terminals, and there's live lounge music at times. The free (in print and online) fortnightlyChangi Express (http://webadmin.caas.gov.sg/Changi/ChangiExpress/ChangiExpress.htm) "contains news and information on events and happenings around Asia Pacific, in Singapore and at Changi Airport".
Both T1 and T2 have airside (ie accessible without passing through immigration) transit hotels on their 3rd floors - tel. +65-6541-9106 or book online via the Ambassador Transit Hotel (http://www.airport-hotel.com.sg) website. A 6-hour "block" for a single/double/triple costs S$57.75/64.70/86.65, budget singles (shared bathroom) S$40.45, extensions S$13.90 per hour. You can rent a shower (without a room) to freshen up for S$8.40.
From the airport there are a number of ways to get into the city:
- Taxi (cab) is easiest - simply follow the signs after clearing customs. Meters are always used in Singapore and prices are reasonable. A trip to the city will be between S$20.00 and S$30.00 (including S$3-5 airport surcharge, but excluding the midnight to 06:00 +50% surcharge if applicable).
- Shuttle - 6-seater MaxiCab shuttle service to designated areas/hotels costs S$7.00 and can be booked in advance or in the arrivals hall. 06:00 to 02:00, every 15 to 30 minutes.
- Subway - MRT trains run from T2, although you must cross the platform to a city-bound train at Tanah Merah. The 30 minute ride to City Hall station costs S$1.40 (plus a refundable $1 deposit for a single-trip ticket). 05:31-23:18 (except Sundays & public holidays - 05:59-23.18) only. Unfortunately for the picky traveller, the stations downtown (e.g., Orchard, City Hall) that are nearest to the more popular and upscale hotels are the last to be upgraded for internal lifts, but if you're travelling by MRT the escalators really oughtn't be a problem.
- Bus - bus terminals can be found in the basements of both T1 and T2. 06:00 to midnight only. Fares are sub-S$2.00, exact fare required (ie no change given).
Berjaya Air (http://www.berjaya-air.com/flightschedule.htm) flights to the Malaysian islands of Redang and Tioman use Seletar (XSP), not Changi (SIN). The only practical means of access to Seletar is taxi; trips from the airport incur a S$3 surcharge.
Another way in is by road from or via Johor Bahru in Malaysia. There are buses from Kuala Lumpur (KL) and many other destinations in Malaysia through the Woodlands Checkpoint and the Second Link at Tuas. Major operators include:
- Petaling Jaya from S$47 one-way. Departures from Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel, Havelock Rd.
- NiCE (http://www.plusliner.com/) (tel. +65-62565755). Executive express buses to KL. Normal NiCE buses RM60, extra-roomy double-decker NiCE 2 buses S$47. Departures from Copthorne Orchid Hotel, Havelock Rd.
- Transnasional (http://www.transnasional.com.my/transportation_home.asp) (tel. +602-62947034 - Malaysia). Malaysia's largest bus operator, offers direct buses from Singapore through the peninsula. Executive/economy buses RM60/26 to KL. Departures from Lavender St.
- Transtar (http://www.transtar.com.sg/index.php) (tel. +65-62999009). Transtar's 16-seater First Class coaches are currently the best around with frills like massaging chairs, onboard attendants and video on demand, but they also cost the most at S$60 one-way to KL. More plebeian SuperVIP/Executive buses are S$25/39, direct service to Malacca and Genting also available. Departures from Golden Mile Complex, Beach Rd (near Bugis MRT).
- see also:
- Johor Bahru's Larkin terminal.
In general, the more you pay, the faster your trip. More expensive buses leave on time, use the Second Link, and don't stop along the way; while the cheapest buses leave late if at all, use the perpetually jammed Causeway and make more stops. Book early for popular departure times like Friday and Sunday evening, Chinese New Year, etc, and factor in some extra time for congestion at the border.
The Malaysian state rail operator Kuala Lumpur; also one sleeper daily along the "Jungle Line" from Kota Bharu in north-eastern Malaysia. The trains are clean and efficient, but slower than buses.
Trains arrive at the railway station in Tanjong Pagar at the southern edge of the CBD, a bit of a hike from Tanjong Pagar MRT station. It's also possible to get off in Woodlands right after immigration.
Note that KTMB tickets in Singapore will be charged in dollars, while those bought in Malaysia will be charged in ringgit at the same rate. A ticket which costs RM10 in Malaysia will thus cost S$10 (RM20!) if bought in Singapore! There are three ways to avoid paying double:
- Book your tickets as return tickets from Malaysia. For example, KL-Singapore-KL will be charged at the ringgit rate.
- Cross the border by road and then board the train at Johor Bahru. Note that making a reservation is highly advisable; the easiest way is to book online.
- Buy the cheapest ticket you can from Singapore to JB, then your 'real' ticket from JB onward. Change to your 'real' seat after crossing the border.
The other option is by sea, from Bintan or Batam in Indonesia (regular ferry services to Tioman were discontinued late in 2003). Most ferries use Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, connected to Bedok MRT station by bus #35; some boats to Batam, and long-distance cruise ships, use Singapore Cruise Centre (http://www.singaporecruise.com), next to HarbourFront MRT.
Getting around Singapore is effortless: the public transportation system is among the best in the world and taxis are cheap. Very few visitors rent cars.
If you are staying in Singapore for some time, a farecard called EZ-Link (http://www.ezlink.com.sg) might be a worthwhile purchase. You can store value on it and use it to enter and exit the MRT and buses at a 15% discount. As of December 2004, the card costs S$15, including S$7 of stored value and a S$3 refundable deposit, and the card can be "topped up" in increments of at least S$10 (at the farecard vending machines). Alternatively, the Visitors Card (http://www.thevisitorscard.com/main.htm) also includes EZ-Link functionality and a variety of discounts for attractions; prices start at S$40 for 3 days.
By mass transit
The MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) and LRT (Light Rail Transit) form Singapore's transit system. They are a cheap and very reliable mode of transportation. Buy single trip tickets at the station either at quite user-friendly automatic machines or from the cashier; single trip tickets cost from S$0.80 to S$2.00, plus a S$1.00 refundable deposit. All lines are integrated, so you do not need to buy a new ticket to transfer.
Buses connect various corners of Singapore. You can use your train card for payment on all buses. You can pay cash (coins) in buses, but the fare stage system is quite complex (it's easiest to ask the driver for the price to your destination), you are charged marginally more and there is no provision for getting change.
Payment with the EZLink card is the easiest method. But users should be aware of not getting overcharged. The systems works like this : the user taps his card against the reader at the entrance, and a maximum fare is deducted from the card; when the user alights, he should tap his card again at the exit, and the difference would be refunded.
There is practically no way to cheat as the driver make sures everyone taps on the reader upon entry.
Taxicabs here use meters and are reasonably priced and honest. You will not spend more than $5.00 to $8.00 Singapore dollars for a trip within the Central Business District.
Taxis charge S$2.40 flagfall, and this lasts you 1 km before increments of 10 cents per 200 m. Watch out for surprises though: there is a bewildering array of peak hour, holiday, road pricing, etc., surcharges, although most add only a dollar or two to your fare, and these are all clearly shown on the meter. After midnight a 50% surcharge applies. During rush hour in the CBD, or late at night on the weekends, it's wise to call for a taxi. Telephone numbers for the largest taxi companies are Comfort at 6552-1111, SBS Transit at 6555-8888, City Cab at 6552-2222, Smart at 6485-7700 and Trans cab at 6553-3333.
Trishaws, three-wheeled bicycle taxis, haunt the area around the Singapore River and Chinatown. Geared purely for tourists, they aren't really recommended for serious travel and locals do not use them. There is little room for bargaining: short rides will cost S$10-20 and an hour's sightseeing charter about S$50 per person.
Tourist-oriented bumboats cruise the Singapore River, offering nice views of the CBD skyscraper skyline. You can also take a ferry to Singapore's largely uninhabited Southern Islands for a picnic and lagoon swimming.
There is also a boat shuttle passengers from Changi Village to Pulau Ubin, a small island off Singapore's northeast coast which is about as close as Singapore gets to unhurried rural living. One can rent bikes to cycle around the island which has a number of disused granite quarries.
Car rental is not a popular option in Singapore. You will usually be looking at upwards for S$100 per day for the smallest vehicle, not including gas at around S$1.50/litre or electronic road pricing (ERP) fees, and you'll usually need to pay extra to drive to Malaysia. If planning on touring Malaysia by car, it makes more sense to head across the border to Johor Bahru, where both rentals and petrol are half price, and you have the option of dropping your car off elsewhere in the country. Take note that if you do intend to rent a car, be sure to drive on the left side of the road (Singapore follows the UK road system), and reading up a bit on road regulations helps too.
Singapore is almost certainly the most pedestrian-friendly city in South-East Asia. Sidewalks and pedestrian crossings are in good shape and plentiful, roads are well signposted and drivers are usually very careful — by law, any accident between a pedestrian and a vehicle is presumed to be the driver's fault! Classic walks in Singapore include walking down the river from the Merlion through the Quays, or just pottering around Chinatown, Little India or Bugis.
The one unavoidable downside, though, is the tropical heat and humidity, which leaves many visitors sweaty and exhausted, bringing along a packet of tissue or a hankerchief is recommended. It's best to get a 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 before noon. Alternatively, after sundown evenings can also be comparatively cool and breezy, especially down by the river.
Who are the people in your neighborhood?
The Big 3 — Chinese, Malays and Indians — get all the press, but there are plenty of other communities with their own little neighborhoods (or shopping malls) in Singapore:
- Arabs: Arab Street, of course
- Burmese: Peninsula Plaza, on North Bridge Rd
- Filipinos: Lucky Plaza, on Orchard Rd
- Japanese: Robertson Quay, especially the Liang Court shopping mall
- Koreans: Tanjong Pagar Rd
- Thais: Golden Mile Complex, on Beach Rd
Malay may be enshrined in the Constitution as the 'national' language, but in practice the most common language is English, spoken by almost every Singaporean under the age of 40. However, the distinctive local patois Singlish may be hard to understand at times, as it incorporates slang words and phrases from other languages, including various Chinese dialects, Malay and Tamil. It also incorporates slang from British and American English, and has a queer way of structuring sentences, due to the original speakers being mostly Chinese. Complex consonant clusters are simplified, plurals disappear, verb tenses are replaced by adverbs, questions are altered to fit the Chinese syntax and semirandom particles (especially the infamous "lah") appear:
Singlish: You wan' beer or not? --No lah, drink five botol oreddi. English: Do you want a beer? -- No, thanks; I've already drunk five bottles.
Thanks to nationwide indoctrination campaigns most younger Singaporeans are, however, capable of speaking so-called "Good English" when necessary. The other official languages are Mandarin Chinese and Tamil. Various Chinese dialects (especially Hokkien) and other Indian languages are also spoken.
Generally, it is fairly easy to decipher what people are saying when Singlish is used, though the using of local dialects (e.g. Hokkien) and languages (e.g. Malay) may make it harder for comprehension. In fact, when in Singapore, learning to speak in Singlish is rather useful as it provides a bridge between you and the locals who are not very fluent in English. Speaking in Singlish also eases the tensions in some of the more conservative Singaporeans who are intimidated when a foreigner approaches them for help.
Sights in Singapore are covered in more detail under the various districts.
- 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 to see where Singaporeans shop.
- Culture and cuisine: See Chinatown for Chinese treats, Little India for Indian flavors and East Coast for delicious seafood and its famous chilli crabs and black pepper crabs.
- Nature and wildlife: The Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park and Botanic Gardens are all in the North and West section.
- Beaches and tourist traps: Head to one of the three beaches on Sentosa. Other beaches include the East Coast and the Southern Islands (boat service from World Trade Centre).
- Three days in Singapore — a three-day sampler set of food, culture and shopping in Singapore, easily divisible into bite-size chunks
While you can find a place to practice nearly any sport in Singapore — golfing, surfing, scuba diving, even ice skating — due to the country's small size your options are rather limited and prices are relatively high. For watersports in particular, the busy shipping lanes and sheer population pressure mean that the sea around Singapore is murky, and most locals head up to Tioman (Malaysia) or Bintan (Indonesia) instead. See also Habitatnews (http://habitatnews.nus.edu.sg/index.php) and WildSingapore (http://www.wildsingapore.com/index.html) for news and updates about free tours and events.
On the cultural side of things, Singapore has been trying loosen up and attract more artists and performances. The star in Singapore's cultural sky is the Esplanade theatre by the Riverside, a world-class facility for performing arts like classical music. Pop culture options are more limited and Singapore's home-grown arts scene remains rather moribund, but any bands and DJs touring Asia are pretty much guaranteed to perform in Singapore. Advance tickets for almost any cultural event can be purchased from Orchard Rd.
The Singaporean currency is the Singapore dollar, abbreviated SGD, S$ or just $. One dollar is divided into 100 cents. There are coins of $0.05 (gold), $0.10 (silver), $0.20 (silver), $0.50 (silver) and $1 (gold), plus bills of $2 (purple), $5 (green), $10 (red), $50 (blue), $100 (orange), $1000 (purple) and $10000 (gold). The Brunei dollar is at par with the Singapore dollar and the two currencies can be used interchangeably in both countries, so don't be too surprised if you get a Brunei note as change. As of August 2005 one Euro is worth about 2.03 SGD.
Restaurants often display prices like $19.99++, which means that sales tax (5%) and service (10%) are not included and will be added to your bill. Hotels and fancy restaurants may note net rates as +++, where the third plus denotes 1% CESS (essentially a tourism tax), for a total surcharge of 16.55%.
Tipping is generally uncommon in Singapore and even taxis will usually return your change to the last cent, or even round in your favor if they can't be bothered to dig for change.
Singapore is expensive by Asian standards but cheap for visitors from most industrialized countries: S$50 is a perfectly serviceable daily backpacker budget. Food in particular is a steal, with excellent hawker food available for less than S$5 per generous serving. Accommodation is a little pricier, but a bed in a hostel can cost less than S$20 and the most luxurious hotels on the island (except maybe the Raffles) can be yours for S$200 with the right discounts.
Even Singaporeans admit that there are only two things to do in Singapore: eat and shop. Go to Orchard Road, the biggest shopping street, and enjoy lots of shopping centers with brand names and high prices; alternatively, head down to Bugis to find out where Singapore's teens spend their money. For a better deal and a different experience try to go to Little India or Chinatown where you can find more local materials and better prices. Or, sometimes, more foreign materials with worse prices. Tourist areas typically have shops that are prepared for tourists.
Thanks to low taxes and tariffs, electronics are very competitively priced in Singapore. It is generally wise to avoid the tourist-oriented shops on Orchard Road (particularly the notorious Lucky Plaza) and head instead to Funan or Mustafa, where you can get competitive prices with little hassle or chance of getting ripped off. Computing fans will also want to check out Sim Lim Square. For any purchases, remember that Singapore uses 220V voltage with a British-style three-pin plug.
Unlike most South-East Asian countries, pirated goods are not openly on sale and importing them to the city-state carries heavy fines. Fake goods are nevertheless not difficult to find in Little India or even in the underpasses of Orchard Road.
Singapore is a melting pot of cuisines from around the world, and many Singaporeans are obsessive gourmands who love to makan (eat in Malay). You will find quality Chinese, Malay, Indian, Japanese, Italian, French, American and other food in this city-state. See Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine for an overview and menu reader.
The following dishes have become national icons and should be on every traveller's agenda:
- Roti Prata is a local favourite fit for almost any time of the day and for almost any event. It can be considered to be Singapore's version of the pancake. It is usually served plain, with egg and/or with onion fillings along with a side of curry and/or sugar to improve flavour. Roti prata chain restaurants have a wider range of toppings, such as ice-cream, cheese and durian.
- Laksa, in particular the Katong or lemak style, is probably the best known Singaporean dish: a fragrant soup of noodles in a coconut-based curry broth, topped with cockles or shrimp.
- Chilli crab is a whole crab ladled with oodles of sticky, tangy chilli sauce. Notoriously difficult to eat... but irresistibly delicious! Don't wear a white shirt! The seafood restaurants of the East Coast are famous for this. For a less messy but equally tasty alternative, ask for Black Pepper crab.
- Char kway teow (???) is the quintessential Singapore-style fried noodle dish, consisting of several types of noodles in thick brown sauce with strips of fishcake, Chinese sausage, a token veggie or two and either cockles and shrimp — cheap ($2-3/serve), filling and has nothing to do with the dish known as "Singaporean fried noodles" elsewhere!
- Hainanese chicken rice is steamed chicken served with ginger-flavored rice and a hot chilli dip. For the record, you can't find this in Hainan Island.
- Fish head curry is just what's you'd think (but tastes much better!). Little India is the place to sample this.
- Durian is not exactly a dish but a local fruit with distinctive odor and a sharp thorny husk. Most foreigners cannot tolerate the smell or taste of the fruit, but to the majority of locals this is a delicacy. The rich creamy flesh is often sold cheap in places like Geylang and Bugis and elsewhere conveniently in pre-packaged packs. If you are game enough you should try it, but be warned beforehand - you will either love it or hate it.
- Ice kachang literally means "ice bean" in Malay, a good clue to the two major ingredients: shaved ice and sweet red beans. However, more often than not you'll also get gula melaka (palm sugar), grass jelly, sweet corn, attap palm seeds and anything else on hand thrown in, and the whole thing is then drizzled with canned condensed milk or coconut cream and colored syrups. The end result tastes very interesting — and refreshing.
The cheapest and most popular places to eat in Singapore are hawker centres, essentially former pushcart vendors directed into giant complexes by government fiat. Prices are low (S$2-5 for most dishes), hygiene standards are high (every stall is required to prominently display a health certificate grading it from A to D) and the food can be excellent — if you see a queue, join it! Ambience tends to be a little lacking though and there is no air-conditioning either, but a visit to a hawker centre is a must when in Singapore.
To order, first chope (reserve) a table by parking a friend, your bag or just a packet of tissues on it, note the table's number, then place your order at your stall of choice. They'll deliver to your table, and you pay when you get the food. Note that some stalls (particularly very popular ones) have signs stating "self-service", meaning that you're expected to get your food yourself — but if it's quiet or you're sitting nearby they'll usually deliver anyway. At almost every stall you can also opt to take away (ta pao), in which case they'll pack up your order in a plastic box and even throw in disposable utensils.
Every district in Singapore has its own hawker centres and prices decrease as you move out into the boonies. For tourists, centrally located Newton Circus (near Orchard) and Lau Pa Sat (near the River), both in the CBD, are the most popular options — but this does not make them the cheapest or the tastiest, and the demanding gourmand would do well to head to Chinatown instead. For up-to-the-minute information on the best hawker food in town, check out the CBD but an iced coffee or tea can put you back S$5, whereas a teh tarik or kopi coffee (try it flavored with ginger) runs closer to $1 at any hawker center.
Found in the basement or top floor of nearly every shopping mall, food courts are the gentrified, air-conditioned version of hawker centres. The food is much the same but prices are on average S$1-2 higher.
Singapore offers a wide variety of full-service restaurants as well, catering to every taste and budget. Being a maritime city one common specialty is seafood restaurants, offering Chinese-influenced Singaporean classics like chilli crabs. These are much more fun to go to in a group, but be careful what you order: gourmet items like Sri Lankan giant crab or shark's fin can easily push your bill up to hundreds of dollars. The best-known seafood spots are clustered on the East Coast.
Singapore is an easy place to eat for almost everybody. Many Indians and not a few Chinese Buddhists are strictly vegetarian, so every Indian stall will have a number of veggie options and most hawker centres will have a Chinese vegetarian stall or two, often serving up amazing meat imitations made from gluten. Muslims should look out for the crescent-and-star logo ? that certifies the food as halal; this is found on practically every Malay stall and many Indian Muslim operations too, but more rarely on outlets run by the pork-loving Chinese.
Singapore's nightlife isn't quite a match for Patpong, but it's no slouch either! Some clubs have 24-hour licenses and few places close before 4 AM. Any artists touring Asia are pretty much guaranteed to stop in Singapore. Singapore's nightlife is largely concentrated along the Riverside, plus its offshoot Mohammed Sultan Road.
Alcohol is widely available but quite expensive due to Singapore's heavy sin taxes, although prices have come down slightly recently and you can now sit in a hawker centre and enjoy a large bottle of beer of your choice for less than $6 (and the local colour comes thrown in for free). Tax-free at Changi Airport, on the other hand, has some of the best prices in the world; you can bring in up to one liter each of liquor, wine and beer. Meanwhile, careful shopping at major supermarkets will throw up common basic New World (read: Oz) wine labels on special prices in the mid to late teens. Drinks in any hotel bar or restaurant however remain extortionate, starting at $10 a pop. One tip, most Chinese restaurants outside of hotels charge either no or nominal corkage, same for hawker centres, so feel free to BYO though you will need to bring your own Pocket Screwpull and glass or plasticware.
As in Malaysia, the tipple of choice in Singapore is Tiger Beer, a rather bland lager. Tourists flock to the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel to sample the original Singapore Sling, a sickly sweet pink mix of pineapple juice, gin and more, but locals (almost) never touch the stuff.
Tobacco is heavily taxed, and you are not allowed to bring more than 2 packs (not cartons, single packs!) of cigarettes into the country. This is particularly strictly enforced on the land borders with Malaysia. A lot of public places have restrictions on smoking, and it is prohibited in public transport as well.
Prostitution is tolerated in 6 designated districts, including Geylang, which — not coincidentally — also offers some of the cheapest lodging in the city. The industry maintains a low profile (no go-go bars here) and is not a tourist attraction by any stretch of the word. Legally practising commercial sex workers are required to register with the authorities and attend special clinics for regular sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) screening. However, please be prudent and practice safe sex.
Accommodation in Singapore is expensive by South-East Asian standards, although a recent government push for more hostels and low-priced hotels may alleviate the situation a little.
Backpackers' hostels can be found primarily in Little India, Bugis and East Coast. Around S$20 for a dorm bed.
Mid-range hotels are clustered in the Geylang district, where they service mostly the type of customer who rents rooms by the hour. Prices start from as low as S$15 for a "transit" of a few hours and S$40 for a full night's stay. Hotels under S$100 are rarely more than functional, but some hotels in the S$100-$150 range can be pretty good value.
- Dragon Group, CBD article.
- The National University of Singapore (http://www.nus.edu.sg/) is one of the premier universities in South-East Asia and a popular choice for exchange students.
- Nanyang Technological University (http://www.ntu.edu.sg/) is the second university in this island state. It is more geared towards technical studies and is also one of the premier universities in South-East Asia.
- Singapore Management University (http://www.smu.edu.sg/) is the third, newest and the only publicly-funded private university in Singapore. Founded in collaboration with the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, it is geared towards business and economics.
- Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) University (http://www.unisim.edu.sg/) is the fourth 'second-chance, but not second-rate' private university. Its original accredition was from the Open University UK, as the Open University Center but it was recently renamed as UniSIM to more accurately reflect its new, government-supported status as a full-fledged institute of higher learning. The school offers a wide range of first degrees, from the arts to business to technology studies.
Casual work is nearly impossible to come by, as you must have a work permit (WP) or employment pass (EP) to work in Singapore. In practice, receiving one requires that you have a firm job offer and the sponsoring company applies on your behalf. If you have the right skills then getting a job in Singapore is straightforward enough. However, when the employment is terminated, you will get a visitors visa (employment rights are revoked) which allows you to stay for no longer than 14 days. You can look for another job during this time, but don't overstay your visa, and do not think about working without the right papers, this will result in a short stay in the local prison with added fines and eventual deportation. For more information, contact the Ministry of Manpower (http://www.mom.gov.sg/).
Once you have been working in Singapore for a year or so, applying for permanent residence (PR) is fairly straightforward. If granted — and the rule of thumb is, the higher your salary, the more likely you are to get it — you can stay in Singapore indefinitely and can change jobs freely, although every five to ten years you will need to reapply for a re-entry permit (and prove that you have been gainfully employed), which allows you to travel out of Singapore and return as a PR.
As major international cities go, Singapore is one of the safest in terms of crime and personal safety, through swift dispense of heavy penalties for all sort of offences.
Note that there is strict enforcement of rules against activities that are tolerated in other countries. For example, jay-walking, spitting, littering and drinking and eating in public transport are prohibited, and locals joke about Singapore being a fine city since heavy fines are levied if caught. Look around for sign boards detailing the Don'ts, Dos and the fine associated with these offences, and heed them. Chewing gum, famously long banned, is now available at pharmacies if you ask for it directly, show your ID and sign the register, and you can also bring "personal use" quantities into the country.
Whilst the T-shirts sport the slogan Singapore is a Fine City, police are not hiding around every corner ready to jump out and plaster you with tickets. Fines are there as a preventive measure and for the most part they work and mean that Singapore is a very safe and clean place to be.
- Ambulance: 995
- Fire: 995
- Police: 999
- Singapore General Hospital: 6222 3322
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 degree Centigrade.
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 some mosquito repellent.
The standard of medical care in Singapore is uniformly excellent and Singapore is a popular destination for medical tourism (and medical evacuations) in the region. Prices are generally lower than in the West at both public and private clinics, making this a good place to get your jabs and tabs if heading off into the jungle elsewhere. You'll still want to make sure your insurance is in order before a prolonged hospitalization and/or major surgery.
- Mount Elizabeth Hospital, 6A Napier Road (off Orchard Rd), tel. +65-6737-2666,  (http://www.mountelizabeth.com.sg). Singapore's largest private hospital and a popular destination for medical tourists.
- Tan Tock Seng Hospital, 11 Jalan Tan Tock Seng (MRT Novena), tel. +65-62656011,  (http://www.ttsh.com.sg). One of Singapore's largest public hospitals, fully equipped to handle pretty much anything. Specialist departments here include a one-stop Travellers' Health & Vaccination Centre for immunisations, malaria prophylaxis, pre-trip and post-trip evaluations and general advice. Flat S$10 fee for consultation and nurse attendance (read: jabs) - tel. +65-63572222, open 08:00-13:00 & 14:00-17:00 weekdays, 08:00-12:00 Saturdays, no appointment needed.
Nearly all shopping centres, hotels, bus interchanges and hawker centres are likely to have public restrooms/toilet facilities available. Public facilities may charge 10 to 20 cents per entry, and a packet of tissue may come in handy if the toilet paper has run out. Most toilets are Western-style but you may run into the occasional squat toilet.
Singaporeans don't go much for formal politesse and what would be decent behavior at home (wherever home might be) is unlikely to offend anyone in Singapore either. In Singapore, unlike much of South-East Asia, women wearing revealing clothing or men wearing shorts is perfectly acceptable, although both are naturally frowned upon in more formal settings (including bars or restaurants with dress codes).
When it comes to getting on/off the MRT be prepared for a lot of pushing (even just to get off), and everyone racing for the empty seat. This is normal, despite the signs asking people to be a little more courteous. Just go with the flow.
The local dialect with its heavy Chinese influences may appear brusque or even rude to the native English speaker, but "You want beer or not?" is in fact more polite in Chinese -- after all, the person asking you the question is offering you a choice, not making a demand!
The international country code for Singapore is 65. There are three main telecommunication providers in Singapore - Singapore Telecom (Singtel) (http://www.singtel.com/), Starhub (http://www.starhub.com/) and MobileOne (M1) (http://www.m1.com.sg/).
Public phones can be found all across the island. They are either coin-operated pay phones (10 cents for a 3-minute call), card phones operated by phone cards in denominations of $3, $5, $10, $20 and $50, or credit card phones. Phone cards are available at all post offices and from phonecard agents. Most coin-operated pay phones are for local calls only, there are some which accept coins of larger denominations and can be used for overseas calls. Credit card phones are usually found at the airport or in some major hotels.
International dialing To make an IDD call from Singapore, dial the access code 001 (for SingTel), 002 (for M1), and 008 (for StarHub), followed by the country code, area code and party's number. Recently the providers have started offering cheaper rates for calls using Internet telephony routes. The access codes for this cheaper service are 019 and 013 (budget calls) for Singtel and 018 for Starhub.
Calling cards are also available for specific international destinations and are usually cheaper. Hello Card from Singtel offers a very cheap rate to 8 countries (Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand).
Mobile phones are carried by almost everyone in Singapore (including some young children!). Prepaid SIM cards are available from the three main telecommunication providers, just bring your own GSM 900 or GSM 1800 phone (or buy a cheap used phone in Singapore). The pre-paid SIM card costs around $10-20 and can be purchased at convenience stores such as 7-Eleven or at cell phone shops, which are not difficult to find in Bugis or Little India. As a result of a law recently passed in Singapore, all purchases of pre-paid SIM cards must be registered with the government, so have your passport on hand. A local phone call costs between 5-25 cents per minute, while each local text message (SMS) costs about 5 cents (international SMS cost about 15-25 cents). Details can be found at the three telecommunications providers' website listed above.
Embassies, high commissions and consulates
- Australia: High Commission, 25 Napier Road; tel. 737 9311.
- Canada: High Commission, 80 Anson Rad, 14-00, IBM Towers; tel. 225 6363.
- Denmark: Embassy, 101 Thomson Road, 13-01, United Square; tel. 250 3383.
- Finland: Embassy, 101 Thomson Road, 21-03, United Square; tel. 254 4042.
- India: High Commission, 31 Grange Road; tel. 737 6777.
- Indonesia: Embassy, 7 Chatsworth Road; tel. 737 7422
- Ireland: Consulate, 541 Orchard Road, 08-02, Liat Towers; tel. 732 3430.
- New Zealand: High Commission, 13 Nassim Road; tel 235 9966.
- Norway: Embassy, 16 Raffles Quay, 44-01, Hong Leong Building: tel. 220 7122.
- Philippines: Embassy, 20 Nassim Road; tel. 737 3977.
- Sweden: Embassy, 111 Somerset Road, 05-08, PUB Building, Devonshire Wing; tel. 734 2771.
- United Kingdom, High Commission, Tanglin Road; tel. 473 9333.
- United States of America, Embassy, 30 Hill Street; tel. 338 0251.
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