Singapore—how can something so small be packed with so much to offer? This tiny island city-state may not cover much territory, but it sure packs a punch in the global business world. With something to offer just about everyone, from nature to shopping to entertainment, it is a must for travellers!
The name Singapore comes from Singa Pura, or “the Lion City.” When the island was first settled, the prince spotted a lion as he first arrived. There may not be any lions roaming the streets these days, but there is still plenty of excitement.
Despite Singapore’s tiny size, this is a country of incredible diversity. Roughly three quarters of Singaporeans are ethnically Chinese, while thirteen percent have Malay heritage. However, as one of the world’s leading financial centres, Singapore is also home to many foreigners. In fact, some estimates say that as much as 40% of the population living in Singapore is made up of expats.
However, despite the diversity, some things are consistent across Singaporean culture. Singaporeans place heavy emphasis on values such as respect for family and for the rule of law. For example, elders should be treated with extreme respect. Even if they are strangers, you should treat them as if they were your own family. Singaporean tradition holds that elders have earned a special place in society.
Other aspects of Singaporean values may be more surprising to visitors. The legal system in Singapore is known to be among the strictest in the world. Laws are carefully enforced and foreigners should not expect special consideration. Visitors may be surprised to know that, while chewing gum is fine, selling it is illegal. And don’t even think about disposing of that gum anywhere other than the rubbish bin! Also, kissing and public displays of affection are illegal and should be avoided. Even forgetting to flush the loo is a punishable offense!
As an island nation, Singapore does not share any land borders with neighbouring countries. However, it is very near to Malaysia and Indonesia, each of which is separated by a strait. Interestingly, Singapore belongs to the “wrong” time zone, 8 hours ahead of UTC. This is because when neighbour Malaysia decided to unify the entire country into one zone, little Singapore decided to join in.
For Australian visitors, traveling to Singapore is relatively uncomplicated. Visitors staying for 89 or fewer days need a passport valid for at least six more months, but do not need a visa. Travellers must show evidence of an onward or return ticket and must be able to demonstrate sufficient funds for their stay.
Financial matters are similarly simple for travellers. Singapore uses the Singapore Dollar. On average, one Australian dollar buys 1.19 Singapore dollars. As a leading business centre, the country is well equipped to deal with financial transactions. Credit cards are readily accepted in most places and ATMs are widely available.
Tipping is not traditionally a part of Singaporean culture and is not expected. In fact, many places, including the airport, forbid tipping. Some restaurants will add a 10% service fee to the bill. Occasionally tipping is allowed, but travellers should understand that this money is likely going to the establishment and not the staff.
Another reason Australian travellers find Singapore so inviting is the lack of language barrier. The country has two official languages: Mandarin Chinese and English. Most Singaporeans are bilingual. Some may speak Malay or dialectal forms of Chinese. But for the most part, English speakers will feel right at home.
Being so close to the equator, Singapore enjoys a fairly consistent, warm climate. Temperatures will generally remain in the 20s or low 30s year round. There are, however, seasons in Singapore related to precipitation. There are two monsoon seasons, running from December through March and then again from June until September. The months in between, called the Inter-Monsoon seasons, may also be wet, but less so. Due to the general consistency in weather, Singapore can be enjoyed at any time of year.
Getting to Singapore will be a breeze, as the city-state is an international air transit hub and boasts one of the best airports in the world, Changi International Airport. Travellers may also enter Singapore using rail systems linking to Malaysia and Thailand. These current systems, however, are generally considered outdated. Plans are underway for a new high speed rail system which will shorten the connection between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur from seven hours to ninety minutes.
Top Experiences When Visiting Singapore
Singapore may be tiny, but don’t let that fool you into thinking there won’t be much to do. In fact, travellers may leave wishing they had more time to do it all! There is something for just about everyone, but there are a few highlights everyone should catch.
Adventure seekers should head straight to Sentosa Island. Tourists will find no shortage of entertainment here. The island hosts parks such as Universal Studios and the Adventure Cove Waterpark, as well as the SEA Aquarium and a dozen other entertainment venues. This resort island is connected to the Singapore mainland by a bridge and is a favourite among tourists. The word “sentosa” means tranquil, but many adventure seeking tourists may find it just the opposite!
Another area were tourists can enjoy neon lights, lively performances, and superb shopping is Marina Bay Sands. This luxurious development was a multi-billion dollar project and features a dazzling array of casinos and entertainment. Many people visit just to swim in the SkyPark, which is the world’s longest elevated swimming pool and features stunning views of the city below.
If relaxing is more your speed than adventure, stop by Clarke Quay. This historical riverside area features five blocks of restored warehouses where you will find a variety of restaurants, pubs and clubs. This is the ideal place to wind down and enjoy Singapore’s superb cuisine or a nice cocktail with friends.
Speaking of cocktails, don’t forget to sample Singapore’s signature drink, the Singapore Sling. For a truly authentic experience, head over to Raffles Hotel where the drink was first created. An icon of colonial era style, Raffles Hotel is home to the Long Bar, where this famous drink was created in 1915.
Singapore is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. So it may surprise visitors that, despite the urban development, Singapore is also known as “The Garden City.” Tourists can experience technology meeting nature at the Gardens by the Bay. This unusual botanical garden also features unique manmade trees, called “supertrees,” as well as a cloud forest and engaging children’s garden.
Another place in Singapore where guests can meet with the wild is the Singapore Zoo. The zoo features more than 90 different species of animals in well designed environmental enclosures. Not content to simply look at the animals? The Singapore Zoo has features such as the unique “Breakfast with an Orang-utan” program, in which visitors meet and interact with the zoo’s star animals. The zoo also advertises a variety of shows and experiences, such as a night safari and a working elephant exhibit.
For a taste of typical Singapore, head over for some shopping on Orchard Road. Formerly a plantation district, Orchard Road still maintains a decidedly colonial feel. These days, however, it is a centre for luxury shopping and hotels.
However, if you would like to get a taste of the other cultural influences in Singapore, the city has much to offer. Start by wandering deep into the heart of China Town. Chinese presence in Singapore and the Malay Peninsula spans more than seven centuries. It is now the largest ethnic population in Singapore. The most famous attraction is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, but visitors may also enjoy getting lost in the vibrant markets.
Next, head over to the Arab Quarter to experience a little taste of old Arabia. Kampong Gam historically served as the home of the various Arab traders who did business in Singapore when colonialism was at its height. Enjoy the savoury flavours and traditional fabric souqs. Don’t forget to get a view of the massive Sultan Mosque while in the area.
For more culture, spend some time exploring Singapore’s Little India. Tourists visiting during one of the culture’s holidays, such as Deepavali, will be treated to vibrant displays and tasty treats. During the time of British colonialism, many British brought Indian servants and slaves when they settled in Singapore. Later, many Indians remained and settled in Singapore. For the most authentic taste of Little India, visit Serangood Road.
While Singapore is an incredibly modern and well planned city-state, there are still several safety factors a smart traveller should consider. Non-locals may struggle with a couple of health concerns.
In a city as densely packed as Singapore, it should come as no surprise that pollution poses a problem. Visitors may struggle with the effects of smog and should plan accordingly. Always check government indexes on airborne pollutants and follow any guidelines given. Similarly, some tourists complain about the excessive “ambient noise” of the crowded city. Expect the typical noises of a very crowded city and bring earplugs if sleep is an issue for you.
Singapore’s tropical climate is another health risk factor for tourists. When temperatures climb into the 30s and combine with the humidity of a tropical climate, heatstroke is a risk. Take appropriate precautions! Make sure to stay hydrated and wear sunscreen. Dress appropriately with light fabrics that cover your skin.
In regards to crime, Singapore is one of the safest countries in the world. However, petty theft and pickpocketing are not uncommon. As always when traveling, leave irreplaceable valuables at home. If you must bring them, make sure to keep them close to you and be alert when in crowds.
While most tourists won’t be at risk as victims of crime, Singapore’s extremely strict legal code might mean you may be at risk of trouble with the law. Always be sure to review local laws before visiting a new place! Many things which may be legal at home would warrant surprising punishments in Singapore. Take note that Singapore has rarely been more lenient with foreigners than locals.
Many laws aim to enhance the harmony of the densely and diversely populated country. For example, spitting, chewing gum and smoking in public are all illegal. Littering of any kind is similarly against the law. Do not even consider defacing anything that isn’t yours.
For all its modernity, Singapore remains a conservative society. Public displays of affection, including kissing, are forbidden. Holding hands, however, is alright. But homosexual visitors should take note: homosexuality is still illegal in Singapore. Be mindful and avoid public displays.
Eating or drinking on public trains is forbidden. This includes plain water! And speaking of drinking, there are plenty of rules surrounding the consumption of alcohol. Alcohol may not be publicly consumed between 10pm and 7am. Licensed bars and restaurants may continue to serve, however. Public drunkenness is illegal at any hour.
While alcohol consumption may be tolerated in the appropriate places, drug use is absolutely not. The government has the right to mandate a drug test at anytime, regardless of whether you are a local or a visitor. Drug possession of any kind is a crime and this includes drugs already in your system! Those testing positive for drugs will face jail time or corporal punishment. Trafficking of any kind will incur the death penalty. Bottom line: it just isn’t worth it.
Don’t like the rules? Well don’t speak up! Government censorship is another law. Remember that you are a guest in their country and always be respectful. And unlike other parts of Southeast Asia, do not attempt to bribe an official. Bribery attempts will only increase your charges.
What happens if you break these laws? While many offences will be punished with fines, many more will merit jail time or corporal punishment. In Singapore, corporal punishment involves caning. A water soaked cane is used to strike the offender’s bare back. The process is incredibly painful and offenders will end with permanent scarring.