Singapore: My guide and top 10 tips on things to do
Join me on a visit to the ultra modern city of Singapore.
I really like Singapore, I’ve been lucky enough to visit this city and country rolled into one five or six times over the last ten years. Each time I go I like it more and more. While some travellers I have spoken to describe it as a little sterile this has never been my experience. I find it to be a modern city and incredibly efficiently, smart, tidy and safe.
Many places in Singapore seem to be associated with the name of Raffles. While most people outside Singapore have heard of the world renowned Raffles Hotel, few understand who he was. Sir Thomas Stanford Raffles was a British national arrived in 1819 and signed a treaty for the British East India Company to establish Singapore as a trading port. When he signed the treaty there were few locals living on the islands that made up Singapore, and he soon attracted attracted Chinese, Indians and Malays to come and work here.
Sir Thomas Raffles, in a typical British separatist mindset of the time, decided to keep the cultures and races apart. So, he established separate areas for each. But despite these views which seem more foreign to us today, he is universally admired as the grandfather of Singapore. He is admired for taking an uninspiring group of islands and creating a cohesive, strong state, which eventually became the power that it is.
Singapore was occupied by the Japanese during World War II. It was a traumatic and brutal period in its history. There are tunnels in Fort Canning Park which you can still visit today that formed an underground command centre for the British and where many locals hid.
After the World War, the British ran Singapore until 1959. Then Singapore formed into one state with Malaysia, but it was a not a success, and they separated.
More than one island
A few interesting facts and observations about Singapore include:
- Singapore is made up of 63 islands, with one key main island.
- Singapore has expanded in size and capacity by building upward through skyscrapers and extensive land reclamation. It increased in size by 100 square kilometers in the 1960s, and it plans to add another about another 100 square kilometers by 2030.
- It has four official languages, although everybody speaks English incredibly well. The official languages are: English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese, and Tamil.
- Singapore is very rated as the one of the most business friendly countries in the world. It’s the location of many multinational head offices for the Asia area. It has low tax, and because people speak English, it makes it very easy for ex pats to settle in.
What are my top tips for visiting Singapore?
#1 Best time to visit
Pretty much, any time of the year is fine to visit Singapore, because it doesn’t really have seasons. The temperature is between 24 and 30 degrees Celsius all year round. It has a tropical climate, as it’s close to the equator. There’s little fluctuation in temperature and the length of the day is pretty much the same all across the year.
It can be humid and sticky. June and July are the warmest months of the year. November and December is the monsoon period, so there is a lot of rain. There’s also a strange phenomenon, around August and October, in large parts of Asia, including Singapore, where a seasonal haze caused by bush fires in the region blown across there city.
#2 Getting there and getting around
Getting there is easy because Singapore is a key hub for Asia. It’s also a stopover on the route to and from Australia. Over 80 airlines (and growing) pass through the Changi Airport. It’s about 25 minutes from the center of Singapore.
Once you’re in Singapore, it’s pretty small and easy to commute around. Taxis are cheap. But it can take a while to one especially when it’s raining. The metro system is easy to use. It runs from about 5:30 in the morning until about half past midnight.
#3 Pick up the brochures
This I only discovered on my last trip, and I recommend you collect at the airport on arrival are the free Singapore guide brochures in the baggage hall. They have brochures covering Chinatown and Little India, one on shopping, be one on walks down the river, one on tours and so on. They all give you some of the history, how long tours and walks take, photographs and so on.
You can also get them from most hotels or tourist information centre.
#4 City Bus Tour
My fourth tip is one I almost always have – which is to do a hop-on hop-off city bus tour. The Singapore bus trip options are good and even cheaper if you’ve flown in on Singapore Airlines as they have a distinctive yellow colour called the SIA hop on city service. If you’ve flown on Singapore Airlines and you show your boarding card it only costs about three Singapore dollars a day. It is about a quarter of the usual cost. There is no commentary on this bus, but you get a very good comprehensive map. It tells you what to see at each of the stops and the driver plays a short tape at each stop that tells you the name of the stop and what attractions are there. You can get on and off as much as you can within the 24 hour period. You can also use it to commute around.
There are also green buses which are called SIA hop on Sentosa shuttle service. This visits a little bit of the city then goes to the tourist island of Sentosa which has a golf course, underwater world, beaches, and other kinds of attractions.
There’s another option, a more commercial option, called the “Topless Hippo”. This is a double decker bus where the top part is open and has commentary. The stops for the Topless Hippo seem to be near most of the SIA hop on.
There are also a lot of sightseeing tours and tour companies, which seem quite reasonably priced. The leaflets that you pick up at the airport, I thought gave the best options. Obviously concierges will have them, but the one at the airport are produced by a government agency, and seems to provide the best options.
#5 Night Safari
The one thing that pretty much everybody I met in Singapore asked me was if I had done the Night Safari.
Basically it is a night visit to the zoo, which can also include a dinner and a show option. The zoo is large at over 40 hectares. It has many nocturnal animals, which is why they had the idea of a night safari.
You tour the zoo in tram cars, and it’s great fun. It’s open from 6:00pm to midnight, with tram rides run from about 7:30 pm. You can find more at www.nightsafari.com.sg. It’s something you have to do, as it’s become a Singapore institution, a bit like going to Raffles and having a Singapore Sling.
#6 Chinatown Walk at Night
My sixth tip is to do the Chinatown walk at night. If you follow one of the earlier tips, you’ll have picked up your Uniquely Singapore booklet about walking through Chinatown.
Although it’s called Chinatown, a lot of it isn’t Chinese. You’ll see Hindu and Islamic mosques too.
Chinatown covers a large area, and the walking tour is designed to get a feeling for the heart of it. Remember that the temples require you to be modestly dressed (e.g.women have to wear long skirts or trousers).
The great thing about Singapore is they call a spade a spade, so if you want to go to Chinatown all you do is go to the Chinatown MRT station!
One highlight for me was a place called the Majestic. It was built by a rich Chinese tycoon in the early 1900s because another opera house had refused to allow his wife in and so he built his own.
Pagoda Street is where the heart of Chinatown was, and it used to be the centre of the opium and slave trade. People would hang out spending money gambling, smoking and taking drugs.
At the end of the street is an amazing temple, called the Srimariammam Temple. It has this amazing sculptured tower which is quite remarkable..
#7 Little India
My seventh tip is to do the Little India walking guide and again the booklet is very detailed and helpful. The two must-see sights are the Leong San Buddhist temple and the Abdul Gafoor Mosque.
To find, it you go to Little India MRT. It’s on the Bukit Timah Road, and there’s a market close by on Buffalo Road. The reason it’s called Buffalo Road is because it used to be full of buffalo pens.
A lot of people buy the flower garlands of jasmines, marigolds and roses. These are then placed on the statues of gods as prayer offerings .
Shopping is a big thing in Singapore. One of the biggest free guide books you can pick up is the Singapore Shopping Guide! Singapore is known for duty free goods with technology and fashion being too of most popular categories travellers focus on.
There’s a couple of key areas to explore. Orchard Road is the main road with many impressive shops and another popular destination is Marina Bay, which is a recently new development.
Most months of the year there is some kind of big shopping event. InMarch and April is the Fashion Festival. May to July has the Great Singapore Sale”. There is a “Jewel Fest” in October, and a Christmas event that runs from November to January.
Shops open from about 10 or 11 in the morning until late at night.
#9 River Walk and Boat trip
There are a many river walks and trips. To find them head to Clark Quay, Boat Quay, and Robinson Quay.
#10 Raffles Hotel
My last and final tip is Raffles. As I mentioned before it is named after Sir Thomas Raffles. It is a beautiful old colonial hotel. They have the amazing shops selling Singapore and Raffles branded souvenirs.
You must visit the Raffles Bar and have a “Singapore Sling” which was invented by one of the barmen at Raffles. You are given peanuts which drinks, which you pod and throw the husks on the floor. It has a great buzz.
To see all my Photos of Singapore on Flickr: click here