Singapore is the epitome of east meets west. This island country lies off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, but is a high-tech, flashy world away from the rest of Southeast Asia. Once a colonial port for the Brits in 1867, Singapore has remained a thriving financial centre that attracts travellers and international business to frolic amongst the skyscrapers and neon lights.
This little crowded island is known as the Garden City, as half of the country is made up of green parks and nature reserves. You wouldn’t believe that somehow it also holds a population of over five million, and half of the population is made up of foreign workers and expats! It’s a melting pot of Singaporeans, Chinese, Indians and Malays. You get to experience all these different cultures and most importantly, their food.
First thing you’ll notice is how crazily clean everything is. Then you’ll be culture shocked by the sheer amounts of flashy skyscrapers and shiny shopping malls that surround the streets. However, the list of things to do and see is endless!
A great way to view Singapore is by taking a river cruise on a Bum Boat, which is a traditional old fishing boat. It’ll take you along the waters that surround the business district and you can jump off at certain points. Dock at Marina Bay, the newest addition to Singapore. You’ll be able to see the country’s emblem, the Merlion, a striking half-lion half-fish creature. The Merlion is situated near the incredible Marina Bay Sands, which is a crowning glory of a casino hotel, topped with a huge infinity pool.
The Singapore Flyer is the Asian version of London Eye. On this huge slow Ferris Wheel, you’ll be able to see all of the city and out to sea to the far off Indonesian islands on the horizon. You’ll also get a birds-eye-view of Sentosa, which is an old island military fort that has been transformed into “Asia’s Favourite Playground”. There are a few beaches, an adventure park, insect kingdom & 4D cinema (to name a few features).
Back in the city centre, jaunt down Arab Street where traders used to sell their worldly wares and the stalls are still full of spices and trinkets. Check out the incredible Sri Mariamman Temple which is Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple and is ridiculously colourful and ornate. The entrance gate is an awesome plethora of gods that towers majestically above your head, and it starkly contrasts to the high-tech aspects of the country.
Another feature still left from Singapore’s colonial heyday is the majestic Raffles Hotel. This hotel is named after the founder of ‘modern Singapore’, Stamford Raffles, and is famous for being the location where the Singapore Sling cocktail was created! Jazz bands play whilst old colonial wooden ceiling fans cool you. Feel free to traditionally smash your peanut shells on the floor to help polish the wooden floorboards.
Between May and July, Singapore’s shopping district holds enormous sales to boost tourism that’ll leave you struggling to repack your backpack from all your new purchases. Orchard Road is a never-ending stretch of shopping malls that buzz with life, but expect the majority of the shopping to be Western brands. To find unique things, head over to the old Malay district, Bugis Street, to do some serious shopping in the three-tier market and feast on fresh fruit on the ground level. Perhaps try some stinky durian fruit, if you dare? If not, eat some Asian delights in Bugis Village’s food courts.
Oh, there are so many strange but delicious Asian foods you can sink your teeth into! Maxwell Road is an iconic street in Chinatown that is crammed with hawker stalls and will leave you bewildered, but full. Get some traditional ginger chicken wrapped in lettuce leaves or zingy authentic satay, and if you get a chance, try Steamboat. A variety of fresh ingredients are laid out in a buffet style; pick what you want and it’ll get whipped up into a health broth giving you a much needed injection of clean eating!
Singaporeans love their outlandish Asian beverages as well. If you like milky sugar-boosts, you’ll love the Bubble & Milk Tea cafes that litter the streets. Bali Lane’s cool Blu Jaz Café serves fresh Mango Lassis or refreshing frozen margaritas that are a welcome treat from the extreme heat of Singapore.
Alcohol costs a pretty penny in Singapore, which is a shame as there is an abundance of bars around Clarke Quay. This area is stuffed full of pumping restaurants and bars that locals, tourists and expats revel in every eve. Neon lights will dazzle you and live music will fill your ears at every turn! Have a cocktail in an IV bag at the hospital themed ‘Clinic’ bar. Whilst seated in wheelchairs, you’ll be served shots in hypodermic needles and test tubes, but prepare to weep a bit at the bill.
So yes, Singapore is pricey and this also applies to accommodation. The plus side is that you’ll be guaranteed to have WIFI, free breakfasts and a whole lot of other cool amenities to make the price worth it. Green Kiwi Backpacker Hostel has an awesome rooftop garden terrace for travellers to chill in! Matchbox: The Concept Hostel is quite whacky with designer touches all around the abode. The pod-style bed cabins are reminiscent of Japanese Capsule Hotels, just not as coffin-like. At a higher price, Hotel 81 Rochor near Little India has teeny private rooms that are perfectly kitted out with good-sized beds, TVs, many mirrors and comfortable bathrooms.
The government of Singapore are really keen on shaking off any dull and straight-laced image they have been known to have had in the past, and are pushing tourism to the max. Rock up with some money to burn and you’re guaranteed to have a great time!
By Sophie Saint
Images courtesy of William Cho, Bjorn Christian Torrissen, MCaviglia and Blu Jaz Cafe