Singapore may be small in size but it has everything a traveller could wish for. You can experience this unique microstate including its transport systems, business districts and massive shopping centres on our Singapore adventure tours. During your visit you could spend time at the many historical and cultural sights such as Little India, Chinatown or visit the famous Singapore Zoo or Bird Park.
The food available in Singapore is amazing in its variety due to the influence and variety of population which includes Indian, Chinese and Malays among many others. By night a Singapore adventure tour isn’t complete without getting dressed up and enjoying a Singapore sling in the famous Raffles Hotel. Depending if you’re into bargain souvenirs from the local markets, or the best designer gear a Singapore adventure tour has all the options for an excellent trip.
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Singapore: A great starting place for the novice traveller
Travel is an exciting experience for most but for some, the uncertainty and fear that accompanies travel to a foreign destination can be enough to stop them from ever leaving their own backyard! The idea of arriving into a country that looks different and smells different, where people eat different food, and especially countries where they speak another language, can be very intimidating.. Read more
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Singapore Travel Guide
Singapore Travel Guide
Glitzy, glam and squeaky clean, modern and efficient Singapore is not some people’s idea of a typical Southeast Asia city. Scratch beneath the surface though and you will find an intriguing historic port and cultural melting pot. Originally zoned by ethnicity by its founder Sir Stamford Raffles, parts of the city still show the distinct culture, flavour and personality of its residents which include Chinese, Malay, Indian and European. Unabashedly seeking to attract global tourists, Singapore has enthusiastically built theme parks, luxury resorts and architectural wonders which are impressive sights to behold. It is also, of course, a world-class shopping destination. Whatever your interests, Singapore is a fast-paced, entertaining city-state with a little something for everyone.
The currency is the Singapore dollar (symbol: $) which is broken down into 100 cents. Notes come in 2, 5, 10, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 dollar denominations and coins come in one dollar and 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent denominations.
While Singapore can suit a range of budgets, it is still probably the most expensive country in Southeast Asia for travellers. A budget dinner will usually fall between US$8-15 and a bottle of beer between US$4-7 depending on where you are buying it at a hawker centre or in a pub. You can get cheap eats and single dishes at hawker centres for US$2-4. Many sites are free including markets, parks as well as some galleries and museums. Entrance fees for museums usually fall in the vicinity of US$5 and other attractions cost considerably more.
Tipping is not expected in Singapore. A 10% service charge is sometimes added to restaurant bills which you may be able to opt off of if you wish to leave your own tip.
Power in Singapore runs on 220-240 volts and plugs are of the three square-pronged type as used in the United Kingdom. Electricity supply is reliable and power outages uncommon.
Etiquette and Culture
Its history as a trading port makes Singapore extremely diverse considering its size, with communities of Chinese, Indian, European, Malay and Tamil people existing within the city (around three quarters of the population is Chinese). One complication of such diversity is what language people speak to each other. Singaporeans in school are taught English as the national lingua franca, along with a native language such as Malay, Tamil or Mandarin. What has emerged is an English-based patois called Singlish which combines English with a mixture of Mandarin, Tamil, Malay, and other local dialects like Hokkien, Cantonese or Teochew. Singlish dialect is almost universally used, although many Singaporeans can switch to Standard English when speaking with foreigners.
Singapore encompasses many different cultures and it is important to be respectful of each, such as ensuring shoes are removed before entering places of worship and arms and legs are covered. Singapore is well-known for having what, to an outsider, seem to be harsh penalties for relatively minor infractions. These include up to S$1000 fine for littering, S$1000 for smoking in a prohibited area or up to S$2000 fine for vandalism. The sale of chewing gum was also banned in Singapore after it shut down the subway system when it was stuck on train doors.
Singapore is an island located at the end of the Malay Peninsula, separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor and from neighbouring Indonesia by the Singapore Strait. It has one main island which is 50 kms across (east to west) and 26 kms long and a total land area of just over 700 square kms. There 63 smaller outlying islands, some of which have resorts or military bases, others are unoccupied. Singapore is very flat, and its position just above the Equator makes it hot and often wet. Around half of the area is built up, the rest is dedicated to reserves, farmland, parks, reservoirs, military bases and small pockets of jungle.
Not much is known of pre-colonial Singapore. Malay legend tells of a Sumatran prince who arrived on the island and, upon sighting an animal he believed to be a lion, founded a city on the spot calling it Singapura (lion city). Chinese traders from the 3rd century refer to an island called Pu Luo Chung which may have been Singapore and it is possible that Marco Polo visited the city in 1292. Despite this, in its early history Singapore was likely no more than a trading outpost, rather than the important city it was to become.
After Portuguese and then Dutch established themselves in the Strait of Malacca, the British saw the need to establish a strategic port in the area to secure trade lines between China, Southeast Asia and India. Stamford Raffles, the then lieutenant-governor of Java, was charged with negotiating with Malay sultanate for land for a British station. The old sultan just having passed, the Johor Sultanate was in disarray as the younger of the two sons had claimed power and secured a treaty with the Dutch. Through diplomatic manoeuvring, Raffles installed the elder son as a sultan on the tiny island where he would wield no power but receive an annual allowance, legitimising Britain's claim on the region. He also signed a treaty with temenggong (senior judge) of the island who enjoyed a similar arrangement until both were bought out and the island became the outright property of the British East India Company in 1824.
Singapore became part of the Straits Settlements along with Penang and Melaka, three powerful trading stations controlled by the East India Company and administered from Singapore. Raffles left the operational responsibility of the island to Colonel William Farquhar and the colony grew large although chaotic. On his return years later Raffles took control of town planning, setting the city out into zones, planning government buildings and a new commercial district. His influence on Singapore is still apparent with the Raffles city shopping mall, Raffles Institute and Raffles Place in the CBD just some of his namesakes. The thriving port attracted merchants and entrepreneurs from all corners and the city was zoned into areas based on ethnic groups which included Chinese, Indian, Gujarati, European, Malay and Muslim.
The Japanese pushed down the Malay Peninsula during World War II, arriving into Singapore on 15 February 1942. The fall of Singapore was a humiliating blow for the British Empire and some believe it marked the beginning of its final decline. The Japanese rule was a dark period when many prisoners were either shipped north to work on the infamous Death Railway in Thailand, interned in the notorious Changi Prison or executed. After the war, Singapore returned into British control and it started the slow move towards independence until it became fully independent in 1965.
Lee Kuan Yew was the Prime Minister at the time of Singapore's independence and remained in power for 31 years, retiring in 1990. He and his People's Action Party enforced strict social controls on the island, removing political competition and building a society on Confucian ideals. His social regulations extended to include everything from spitting to jaywalking and curbed the previous chaos and violence building Singapore into a functional, disciplined city. Rapid industrialisation created government wealth which was poured into education, defence, health and housing schemes, meaning Singaporeans enjoy a high standard of living.
This heavy-handed approach has been criticised, saying such tight restrictions should not be needed in a harmonious society. Singapore's current challenges includes manufacturing leaving its shores for cheaper competing countries and it has sought to reinvent itself as a creative, cosmopolitan destination for travellers and professionals. It hosts sporting events including Formula One and has built casinos, leisure parks and lifestyle areas as part of this reinvention.
Best time to travel in Singapore
Practically sitting on the equator, Singapore has very little seasonal variation and is hot and humid year round. It received regular rainfall throughout the year, usually in the form of tropical afternoon showers lasting an hour or two. While there is little distinction to be made, May-September is usually the hottest part of the year, and November-January has slightly higher rainfall and lower temperatures.
When to travel
Weather-wise Singapore is most definitely a year-round destination with little distinction between seasons making any time a good time to visit. Its cultural diversity give it a varied and jam packed calendar from religious holidays to music festivals and sporting events.
Thaipusam in January or February is a Hindu festival honouring Lord Subramaniam in the most unlikely fashion by hanging kavadis (decorated metal frames) from worshippers bodies by metal spikes and hooks pierced into their flesh. Devotees may also pierce their cheeks and tongues with metal spikes. Also around this time is the Chinese New Year marked with dragon dances, parades and lanterns.
The Formula One Singapore Grand Prix is held in September and depending on your preferences you may like to either coincide your arrival with the motor sport event, or seek to avoid Singapore at this time as costs may be pushed up over this time.
Guide to food in Singapore
As a port and colonial outpost, Singapore has had many influences on its cuisine and the locals are crazy about food with thousands of restaurants to choose from. The most popular cuisines are Chinese, Indian, Malay and Peranakan (Chinese ingredients with Malay-style sauces).
Hawker Centres are open-air complexes with various food stalls selling inexpensive meals and snacks. These are some of the best places to experience cheap and tasty Singaporean eats. You can either get a full meal or make a meal out of visiting various stalls and buying smaller snacks.
Hokkein Mee is a popular dish of Singapore and Malaysia with its roots in China's Fujian Hokkein province. There are several varieties, but essentially the dish is made of egg and rice noodles, stir-fried with egg, sliced pork, prawn and squid with vegetables, sambal and lime.
Many of the popular dishes in Singapore have arrived from a variation of a Chinese speciality. Hainanese chicken rice is one of the most popular dishes at Hawker Centres. Char kway teow is another dish that has variations right around Southeast Asia of flat rice noodle stir-fried with soy sauce, with prawns, eggs, beansprouts, fish cake, cockles and vegetables.
There is an astounding range of Asian flavours on offer, from Laksa to satay, as well as international foods including Italian, French and Japanese. Singapore is a culinary adventure all its own. The Singapore Food Festival occurs in July to celebrate the diversity of the country's cuisine.
Top Attractions and Highlights in Singapore
1. Singapore Botanical Gardens & National Orchid Garden
These gardens sit close to the city and cover 130 acres, with waterfalls, lakes, colonial buildings, sculptures and rainforests making it an idyllic escape. Nestled within the park is the National Orchard Garden, housing 60,000 plants and over 1,000 species it is the garden’s star attraction.
2. Sentosa Island
Located 500 metres off the south coast of Singapore, this island has been transformed from a British military fortress into a recreational playground. It has museums, historical sites, theme parks and nature trails. From the Universal Studios theme park to the Underwater World aquarium, there is plenty to keep one entertained.
3. Sri Srinvasa Perumal Temple & Little India
Packed with ornate temples, colourful shops and fragrant restaurants, Little India is a little slice of the Indian subcontinent, where temporary contract workers from India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh flock and the weekends see produce, spices and trinkets line the streets. One of Singapore’s most important temples, Sri Srinvasa Perumal Temple honours Lord Vishnu and is one of the city’s oldest temples, built in 1854.
Located at Singapore’s heart, Chinatown has grown to become the hub of Chinese life and culture, with its craft stores, shop fronts and restaurants. The area has many religious points of interest including the staggering five-storey Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and ironically the Sri Mariamman Temple devoted to the Hindu goddess of the same name. The Chinatown Heritage Centre houses three restored shophouses and provides accounts of Chinese life in the city over the centuries.
5. Marina Bay Sands
Marina Bay Sands is an integrated resort built on Marina Bay and is a luxury destination for shopping, dining, spa treatments and more. Atop the three hotel towers sits the Sands Skypark, with a one-hectare sky oasis including an infinity pool with views across the city. Within the resort you even have theatres showing Broadway shows, and ArtScience Museum.
6. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
One of only two rainforests in the world located within city limits, this nature reserve surrounds Singapore’s highest peak Burkit Timah. It also shelters some of Singapore’s native wildlife including long-tailed macaques and pythons as well as many species of bird. There are various short walking trails in the reserve, the most popular taking you to the summit. There is also 6km of biking trail.
7. Singapore Zoo & the Night Safari
Modern and refreshing, Singapore’s zoo has been praised for its large open-air enclosures where animals wander freely in their landscaped habitats. The zoo has around 3000 inhabitants, representing 290 species including rare and endangered animals like the Bengal white tiger and the Komodo dragon. The Night Safari is 100 acres found next to the zoo and is a dedicated night zoo allowing you to view the nocturnal activities of over 1,200 animals. The Night Safari can be explored by foot, or conveniently by tram.
8. Gardens by the Bay
Just like a scene from Avatar, the iconic ‘supertrees’ look like something from another world, especially when they are lit up at night. They are part of the 101-hectare Gardens by the Bay, built on reclaimed land. The gardens include a collection of exquisite gardens and structures, including the flower dome, cloud forest and children’s garden.
9. The Raffles Hotel
This famed architectural landmark and national monument has be immortalised by many famous writers including Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, Ernest Hemingway and Alfred Hitchcock. It houses some of Singapore’s most famous and prestigious bars and restaurants, including the home of the famed cocktail, the Singapore Sling. The grounds also contain elegant gardens, courtyards and fountains.
10. Southern Ridges
A 10 kilometre walkway that connects the green spaces in the city, it is surreal to think about taking a hike in the middle of a city. One of the most famous sections of the walk is Henderson Waves, a pedestrian bridge high above the road below with an elegant architectural curves and waves. Other highlights include the forest walk and canopy walk.
10 Interesting Facts about Singapore
1. As of June 2014, Singapore has a population of 5.47 million.
2. Singapore's social engineering and industrialisation during its post-colonial era, has been studied by foreign governments, some seeking to emulate its success with what is referred to as 'the Singapore model'. Its small size and population made it easier to implement experimental social reforms, moulding the nation into what it is today.
3. As of 2010, Singapore's Prime Minister was the highest paid head of government in the world taking home, according to the Economist magazine, just under US$2.2 million a year.
4. Singapore was the world's largest port, now second only to Rotterdam.
5. Singapore has one of the highest home ownership rates in the world.
6. Singapore has four official languages: English, Mandarin, Tamil and Malay.
7. Singapore is the second most densely populated nation on earth after Monaco.
8. As a very flat nation, Singapore does not have much in the way of hills or even mountains. The highest point in the country is called Bukit Timah with an altitude of 164 metres.
9. Land reclamation has meant the country is actually growing having expanded from 581 square kms in 1965 when it declared its independence to over 700 square kms, with intentions to add an additional 100 square kms by 2030.
10. There are 17 reservoirs and four nature reserves in Singapore. The Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is considered a bird watchers paradise and also shelters otters, monitor lizards and saltwater crocodiles.