Singapore is located at the southernmost point of the Thai-Malay Peninsula in Southeast Asia. The Republic of Singapore is an island country composed of sixty three individual islands of which mainland Singapore is the largest.
The country of Singapore is a leading financial centre and has a population of Chinese, Indians, Malays, Asians and expatriates. The country is very densely populated, something which is reflected in the high rise architecture, viaduct railway systems and efficient infrastructure. The island’s proximity to the equator also results in a diverse range of animals, birds and sea life in the region.
The natural, ethnic and religious diversity makes Singapore a very unique place to visit.
International cruise ships dock at the Singapore Cruise Centre in HarbourFront. Passengers are processed through the IPT or International Passenger Terminal.
HarbourFront has an MRT Station (metro), Bus Interchange and cable car links to Sentosa Island and Mount Faber. All these connections are in easy walking distance of the Cruise Centre.
Due to land constraints within Singapore the government aims to provide a transport system that gets people away from using cars on the congested roads. Consequently the public transport here is one of the most technologically advanced, clean and safe systems in the world.
The Mass Rapid Transit or MRT is a railway network which spans the city-state of Singapore. It is sometimes referred to as the metro or subway. You can access the MRT via the well signposted stations and purchase tickets from self service GTMs (General Ticketing Machines) or go to the Passenger Service Centre for assistance. Locals will be using EZ-Link cards but these are not the best option for tourists.
On the MRT you can buy a single ticket for a trip but you must pay a deposit added on to your fare. When you put the card into a machine at your destination station you will get your deposit back. You can also get a Singapore Tourist Pass from Changai Airport for S$8 which will give you unlimited train and bus journeys for the day.
Light Rail Transit or LRT (sometimes called the Light Rapid Transit) is a network of rail that connects MRT stations with residential areas.
Service runs from 5.30am to just after midnight. Announcements are made in both Chinese and English and the system is very easy to navigate.
Licensed drivers in Singapore must hold a Taxi Operator Licence or TOL. As of 2010 the seven companies holding this licence in Singapore are as follows: Comfort Taxi, CityCab, SMRT Taxis, TransCab, Premier Taxis, SMART Cabs and Prime Taxi.
The Central Area or Central Business District of Singapore is often referred to as the CBD. It is not possible to hail Taxis in the CBD and stands have been set up to allow people to wait for cabs.
Taxis may also be booked via telephone or the internet. Call booking utilises GPS or voice dispatch and may involve an additional charge. For rush hour, holidays, late night rides and payment by credit card extra fees are added. Amounts vary depending upon which firm you use.
Buses in Singapore run frequently but the timetables and routes can be difficult to understand. The iris journey planner is a useful tool but be aware that this is just for SBS transit lines.
The cable car service in Singapore currently has three stations; The Jewel Box at Mount Faber, HarbourFront Station at HarbourFront and Sentosa Station at Sentosa Island.
The currency of Singapore is the Singapore Dollar (SGD). This is represented by the dollar sign $ and often with an S before the sign to distinguish it from other currencies, S$. The dollar is broken down into one hundred cents.
1 Euro = 1.78 SGD
1 USD = 1.35 SGD
1 GBP = 2.14 SGD
Rates fluctuate so check them before you visit and work out an approximate way to round values up or down to give an easy reckoning system.
There are four official languages in Singapore: English, Mandarin Chinese, Malay and Tamil. English is the dominant language in Singapore. Most people speak English and one other language. You will find that the majority of signs are in English or have English translations. Below are some useful phrases, bear in mind that these are written out for speaking. If written in the actual languages the phrases would be in Chinese characters, Arabic script and Tamil script respectively.
|Hello||Ni hao||Hello / hai||Vanakkam / Hi|
|Goodbye||Zai Jian||Bai||Poytu varen|
|Yes||Shi / dui||Yah||Amaam|
|Thank You||Xie Xie (Shay shay)||Terima kasih||Nandri|
|Do you speak English?||Ni Jiang Ying Yu Ma?||Bolehkah anda cakap bahasa inggeris?||English pesuviengala?|
|Sorry||Dui bu qi||Maafkan saya||Mannikkanum|
Police – 999
Fire and emergency ambulance- 995
Non emergency ambulance – 1777
GMT + 8
When visiting temples remember to be quiet and respectful. Some places of worship require that visitors remove their shoes. At Hindu temples you may be required to symbolically wash your hands and feet before entering by sprinkling them with water.
As a general guide if you want to visit places of worship you should have your arms and legs covered. Some temples provide cover up robes for guests. Usually you are not permitted to eat and drink within a place of worship. When visiting a Mosque do not allow your feet to point at the Qibla. The Qibla is a niche in the wall used to show Muslims which direction they should face when praying.
Homosexuality is illegal in Singapore. Section 377A of the Penal Code of Singapore lists the terms of this ruling. It is not illegal to be gay and prosecution is rare but public displays of affection are best avoided.
Singapore has many rules designed to maintain public order and cleanliness. You should be very careful not to infringe these rules as fines are steep. There are fines for chewing gum on the MRT, spitting gum out or leaving it stuck to seats and tables. Spitting and littering are illegal.
Smoking is only permitted in specifically marked out areas. Unlike in other countries, just because you can’t see a “no smoking” sign doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.
Singapore started out as a small fishing village called Temasek. According to legend a prince called Sang Nila Utama visited the island in the 14th Century and glimpsed what he thought was a lion. Believing the sighting to be a good omen he built a city in Temasek and called it Singapura, Sanskrit for Lion City. It is unlikely that lions ever inhabited Singapore and the animal in the story must have been a tiger. Singapore is the English rendering of the name.
A famous symbol of Singapore is its mascot, the Merlion, a creature with the body of a fish and the head of a lion. Various Merlion statues can be seen around Singapore with the most famous being the water fountain in Merlion Park, Marina Bay.
In 1819 the British colonial official Thomas Stamford Raffles arrived in Singapore and established the island as a British trading post and settlement. Raffles is known as the founder of Singapore. He was involved in many organisational decisions in the country and was devoted to preserving the culture he found in Singapore. Raffles abolished slavery and did not move to colonise the language or religion in the region. Museums, hospitals, hotels and many other buildings are named after him. At Singapore’s Boat Quay you can see a plaque which shows the planning decisions made by Raffles in 1822.
During World War II Singapore was a British military stronghold. It fell to the Japanese in 1941 after the Battle of Singapore. This incurred the largest surrender of British-led military personnel in history. The Japanese occupation of Singapore lasted from 1942-1945, the island was repossessed by the British in September 1945.
Singapore became a self-governing state within the commonwealth on 3rd June 1959 and sovereignty followed in 1965.
Something which is exceptional about Singapore is that it is multi ethnic and multi religious. The main religions are Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism, Islam and Christianity. Other religions practiced include Sikhism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Baha’l and Jainism.
It is a very uplifting and distinct experience to see so many different places of worship all coexisting in one small country. The diversity of Singapore is really epitomised in this aspect. In fact in the Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple Taoism, Hinduism and Islam are all catered for under one roof.
Buddhism is the most prominent religion in Singapore with Chinese Mahayana Buddhism being the most common. The largest Buddhist temple is the Kong Meng San Phor Kar See Monastery.
The Hindu temple of Sri Mariamman on South Bridge Road in China Town is a National Monument and popular tourist attraction. It is a very beautiful building and can be instantly recognised by its six tier tower of sculpted figures. Rituals and chants are performed here on a daily basis.
There are numerous other religious temples and buildings to visit including the Masjid Sultan (Sultan Mosque), the Taoist/Buddhist Thian Hock Keng (Temple of Heavenly Happiness, the Armenian Church (Singapore’s oldest Christian church) and the Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple (Temple of a Thousand Lights) located in Little India.
In the Chinese Seventh Lunar Month is the Hungry Ghost Festival, one of the most important festivals in Singapore. It is a traditional Chinese belief that lonely spirits walk the earth at this time. Offerings are made to spirits in temples around Singapore. In the centre of Ubin Town on Pulau Ubin performances are held on the Wayang Stage with empty seats left at the front for the spirits to occupy.
On the 16th day of the 8th Lunar Month several Chinese temples in Singapore observe a ceremony to channel the spirit of the Monkey God. This is referred to as the Birthday of the Monkey God. During the ceremony religious devotees skewer themselves in the tongue, cheek, arms or legs. The Qu Tian Da Sheng Temple is the focus of these proceedings.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is the Chinese version of a harvest festival. It is also sometimes called the Lantern or Mooncake Festival and is held in late September or early October. Food, traditional dances and opera performances abound.
Deepavali (Diwali, Divali) or the Festival of Lights occurs between mid October and mid November and Little India is spectacularly decorated with lights at this time.
It is said that shopping is the favourite pastime of the Singaporeans and there is a wide range of choice available for those wanting to join in.
Arab Street is reached by taking the MRT to Bugis Station. Go here for fabric, silk, gifts and souvenirs. There are many cafes where you can have a snack and perhaps indulge in some sheesha.
Head to Little India for clothes, saris, carpets, Swarovski crystals and jewellery. Little India MRT station is reached via the North East Line.
Chinatown is ripe with souvenirs and if your feet are sore from all that pavement pounding you can even get an authentic Chinese foot massage. Get the MRT to Outram Park Station.
For stores and malls head to Orchard Road where you can go to Ngee Ann City shopping centre (commonly called “Taka” in Singapore), TANGS and Plaza Singapura. In HarbourFront you can visit ultra modern VivoCity and Singapore in general is packed with shops and malls. Shops tend to open between 9am and 11am and remain open until around 10pm.
Take a break from shopping in the equatorial heat by visiting No.5 Emerald Hill Cocktail Bar. Known as simply No.5 to its regular visitors this bar is often mentioned by Singapore enthusiasts and expats. It has a back room where guests can sit on Persian carpets and recline on cushions as they have their drinks.
During the annual festivals of Huayi and the Singapore Sun Festival there are many cultural performances at locations such as the Arts House at The Old Parliament. Occasionally there are free weekend concerts performed in the Botanic gardens. Classical music fans may want to see the statue of Frederic Chopin near Symphony Lake in the gardens.
Food and drink.
There is a huge range of choice when eating and drinking in Singapore and a range of cost levels. From fine dining in Boat Quay’s Pierside Kitchen and Bar to the famous Lau Pa Sat Hawker centre in CBD. You will see a lot of Hawker layouts in Singapore. Diners buy food from any one of a selection of stalls and then sit together on large, shared tables.
There are many street vendors, especially in Chinatown, and this is a cheap way to eat. Visit the Golden Mile Complex in Bugis for authentic Thai food. The customary service charge is 10%. This and a charge of 7% in tax will be added to your bill.
Head to Bukit Timah for hiking or to the Dairy Farm Adventure Centre for rock climbing and abseiling. There are numerous routes for cycle tours or mountain biking. There are many golf courses; two scenic choices on Sentosa Island and a famous course near Changai Airport. For hydro sports such as banana boats, fly fishing and kayaking head to the Azzura Beach Club on Sentosa Island.
With so much on offer in Singapore it’s important to narrow the focus on what you really want to see and do. If you are unsure where to start there are sight seeing bus tours which will take you around and give you a good overview of Singapore.
Trishaws are small passenger cabs pulled by a cyclist. These were developed from rickshaws which were pulled by a person running. Trishaws are a symbol of heritage for Singapore and were common in the early 19th century through to the post WW2 era. They are no longer a method of transportation but a touristic experience and a fun way to experience Singapore.
Licensed Trishaw operators include Pedicab Tours Pte located at Bylands Building on Beach Road, Hock Trishaw Trading located in Geylang or Singapore Explorer Pte located in the Labrador Nature Reserve.
Sentosa means “peace and tranquillity” in Malay and this island a short distance from mainland Singapore connected by a causeway. You can get to Sentosa by taking the Sentosa Express from VivoCity mall (3rd level) in HarbourFront on mainland Singapore. Orange buses bound for Sentosa run from the HarbourFront Bus Interchange or you can take the cable car system for a more adventurous journey. Once in Sentosa you can get around by the Sentosa Express monorail.
There are many attractions on the island of Sentosa. The Tiger Tower offers panoramic views of Singapore as a cabin revolves around and up the 131 meters above sea level tower. To the west of Sentosa is the Underwater World oceanarium which has a Dolphin Lagoon where visitors can interact with the well loved creatures. Fort Siloso provides a glimpse into Singapore’s military history and there is also a 4D cinema, an Adventure Park and sheltered beaches.
A visit to Pulau Ubin is essential for nature enthusiasts and those wishing to see a less developed Singapore. Pulau Ubin is an island to the north east of mainland Singapore. It is the last relatively undeveloped area in the country and a lovely place to go for a meal in a relaxed, scenic environment.
To get there take a bumboat from Changai Point Ferry Terminal. Bumboats run from sunrise to sunset and a ride is only a couple of dollars. Boats do not sail until they fill up so you may experience a wait before setting off on the ten minute journey. If you are in a hurry you can hire a boat to take you there immediately, this will cost around S$30.
Once on the island you can choose to walk, hire a bicycle or engage a van. Van drivers will drop you off close to Chek Jawa or offer to show you around points of interest. Make sure you ask for a bike lock if you rent a cycle as you will be expected to leave it in the designated bike park near Punai Hut if you visit Chek Jawa.
Chek Jawa is a wetland area where several ecosystems of rare plants and animals can be seen. The seven storey Jejawi Tower will allow you to see the area from elevation and get up close to exotic birdlife. The area is open from 8.30am to 6pm.
The summit of Bukit Timah is the highest point in Singapore. The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is on the slopes of the hill, this is the last area of primary rainforest in Singapore.
Mount Faber is a popular spot to visit and is accessible via cable car from HarbourFront and Sentosa or MRT from HarbourFront. Here you can have your picture taken against the backdrop of the CBD and Telok Blangah. There is also a Merlion statue at this location.
Singapore is a biodiversity hotspot and there are many nature activities to choose from. Enthusiasts should consider visiting Singapore Zoo, Central Catchment Nature Reserve, Labrador Nature Reserve, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, the Butterfly Park and the interactive animal and bird centre the Palawan Amphitheatre.
Don’t feed animals unless given permission by an official guide. There are large fines in Singapore for feeding animals, particularly monkeys. As much as they are cute and will come closer to receive food this impacts the natural balance of the forest and will ultimately hurt the animals. Avoid carrying plastic bags inside nature reserves as monkeys have come to associate these with food handouts. Children should not carry food in their hands when in the nature reserves.
In 1915 the famous Singapore Sling cocktail was invented in the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon.
The National Museum of Singapore is the oldest museum in the country and yet it utilises innovative techniques and modern technology to present exhibits in unusual and interesting ways. An example is the events path layout of the History Gallery. Visitors use audio-visual multimedia equipment to experience the tour from the point of view of a person on the street and they can choose which sections they wish to be guided around.