Gone are the days when Singapore was only a stop-off point for travelers heading Down Under – the city now has tons to offer the curious tourist
Singapore was once a famous trading post for the East India Company. Today it is a cosmopolitan multi-cultural city state with one of the busiest shipping ports in the world. A popular stop-off for travelers to Australia, the 710 km2 island’s rapid land reclamation and a new international cruise terminal are making it a fast-growing and attractive tourist destination in its own right.
Russian high-rollers are unofficially reported to be flocking to Singapore – lured no doubt by year-round hot weather and the launch of two swanky casinos with on-site celebrity chef restaurants including those of Joël Robuchon, Daniel Boulud and Guy Savoy.
The city’s new urban eco project ‘Gardens by the Bay’ behind the luxury Marina Bay Sands (MBS) complex to Singapore’s south-east is Singapore’s answer to New York’s Central Park.
Located south of the Malay Peninsula and north of Indonesia, Singapore is home to a multicultural melting pot of Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian and European ex-pat communities, and this is reflected in the sheer breadth of cuisines available on the street.
Its outdoor ‘hawker centres’ and higher-standard indoor food courts (some with air-conditioning) are world-famous. Thanks to stringent government hygiene ratings, Singaporean street food is the cleanest and safest in Southeast Asia too. At the top-end of the scale, five-star hotels offer swanky food courts with various authentic live cooking stations manned by international chefs.
When to go
Weather-wise, Singapore enjoys the same hot and humid climate year-round,. Daytime temperatures average 31C (88F), dropping to around 24C (75F) at night. November to January are more prone to rainfall.
However, peak periods tend to occur around key events, including Christmas and the Chinese New Year for example, when Singapore’s waterfront fireworks come in to their own.
Changi International Airport is 16kms to the island’s east (about 30-40 minutes by car). This connects around 80 airlines to up to 70 countries worldwide. Taxis are good value, but charge premium rates during peak hours, with black taxis being the most expensive to reflect a higher standard of décor and service. Roads can grind to a standstill during peak hours. So buses and taxis are best avoided except during off-peak times. A new International Cruise Terminal has launched at Marina Bay South, so expect the city to be flooded with visitors when vast international cruise liners dock in the city. Singapore’s MRT rail system is regular and efficient.
Entertainment on Sentosa Isle
Sentosa is a tiny, surreal man-made entertainment isle with tropical-look white sand beaches and family-focused attractions including the luxury integrated complex Resorts World Sentosa (RWS). This features one of Singapore’s two new casinos, themed family hotels, designer shops, restaurants and Universal Studios famed for its white knuckle rides and family entertainment.
Sentosa isle is accessible by car (a ten-minute drive south from downtown Singapore along a toll-boothed Sentosa Bridge. Show hotel reservation for free entry); pedestrian ‘Sentosa Boardwalk’; by overhead cable car, and Sentosa Express train from‘Harbour Front’ (Vivo City mall). Free trams and buses run the length of Sentosa. Your hotel reception should give you a free Sentosa travel pass upon checking in. Prepare to pay a modest entry free per car if you turn up without a reservations letter at the Sentosa gate’s manned tollbooth.
Shopping is a national pastime in this city, and mega shopping malls normally stay open from around 10am to 10pm. Banks are usually open from 9.30am to 3pm Monday to Friday and until mid-morning on Saturdays.
Tipping is not customary and in most restaurants and bars, a service charge is included. However a small tip is always appreciated in the case of exceptional hotel service e.g. for bellboys and spa therapists.
Singapore prides itself on being clean and green and frankly mean when it comes to keeping their city that way. Littering, smoking on public transport and many public places, and even the possession of chewing gum (yes really) can land you a fine to make your eyes water, not to mention have you thrown in jail. Possession of drugs is a serious no-no, unless you want to dice with the Death Penalty.
Staying Safe in Singapore
This is one of the safest cities in Asia, which cannot be said for neighbouring countries. Singapore feels safe for lone female travelers. Locals are friendly; many of them speak good English, but not all.
Those useful little things to know and contacts
Time: GMT +8hrs. Cashflow: £1 = SD$1.9 (Singapore Dollars). International dial code: 00 65 (NB many Singapore hotels now offer free local calls).
Singapore Tourism Board, 1 Orchard Spring Lane, Singapore 247729. Tel: +65 6736 6622. Free tourist line, Tel: 1 800 736 2000. In the UK: Singapore Tourism Board c/o Singapore Centre, Grand Buildings, 1-3 The Strand WC2N 5HR. Tel. 020 7484 2710. www.yoursingapore.com
Annabelle Hood is a Freelance Travel Journalist based in London
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