Singapore, the Garden City
Combining the skyscrapers and subways of a modern, affluent city with a medley of Chinese, Indian and Malay influences and a lush tropical climate, with tasty food, good shopping and a happening, vibrant nightlife scene, this Garden City makes a great stopover or springboard into the region.
Singapore is a rather small country on a small island, but with over four million people it’s a fairly crowded city.
Located a mere 1.5 degrees north of the Equator, the weather is usually sunny with no distinct seasons. However, most rainfall occurs during the northeast monsoon (November to January).
The temperature averages around:
– 26°C (79°F) daytime, 24°C (76°F) at night in December and January
– 31°C (89°F) daytime, 26°C (80°F) at night for the rest of the year.
The high temperature and humidity, combined with the lack of wind and the fact that temperatures stay high during the night, can take its toll on visitors from colder parts of the world. Bear in mind that spending more than about one hour outdoors can be very exhausting, especially if combined with moderate exercise.
Broadly speaking the main attractions are:
– Beaches and tourist traps: Head to one of the three beaches on Sentosa. Other beaches include the East Coast and the Southern Islands (boat service from World Trade Centre).
– Culture and cuisine: See Chinatown for Chinese treats, Little India for Indian flavors and East Coast for delicious seafood and its famous chilli crabs and black pepper crabs.
– History and museums: The area north of the Singapore River is Singapore’s colonial core, with historical buildings and museums.
– Nature and wildlife: The Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park and Botanic Gardens are all in the North and West section.
– Skyscrapers and shopping: The heaviest shopping mall concentration is in Orchard Road, while skyscrapers are clustered around the Singapore River, but also check out Bugis to see where Singaporeans shop.
While you can find a place to practice nearly any sport in Singapore – golfing, surfing, scuba diving, even ice skating – due to the country’s small size your options are rather limited and prices are relatively high. For watersports in particular, the busy shipping lanes and sheer population pressure mean that the sea around Singapore is murky, and most locals head up to Tioman (Malaysia) or Bintan (Indonesia) instead. See also Habitatnews and WildSingapore for news and updates about free tours and events.
Singapore has recently been experiencing a spa boom, and there is now plenty of choice for everything from holistic Ayurveda to green tea hydrotherapy. However, prices aren’t as rock-bottom as in neighbors Indonesia and Thailand, and you’ll generally be looking at upwards of $70 even for a plain one-hour massage. Good spas can be found in most five-star hotels and on Orchard, and Sentosa’s Spa Botanica also has a good reputation. There are also numerous shops offering traditional Chinese massage, which are mostly legit, and “health centres”, which are mostly not.
On the cultural side of things, Singapore has been trying loosen up and attract more artists and performances. The star in Singapore’s cultural sky is the Esplanade theatre by the Riverside, a world-class facility for performing arts like classical music. Pop culture options are more limited and Singapore’s home-grown arts scene remains rather moribund, but any bands and DJs touring Asia are pretty much guaranteed to perform in Singapore. Advance tickets for almost any cultural event can be purchased from SISTIC, either online or from any of their numerous ticketing outlets, including the Singapore Visitor Centre on Orchard Rd.
The cheapest and most popular places to eat in Singapore are hawker centres, essentially former pushcart vendors directed into giant complexes by government fiat. Prices are low ($2-5 for most dishes), hygiene standards are high (every stall is required to prominently display a health certificate grading it from A to D) and the food can be excellent – if you see a queue, join it! Ambience tends to be a little lacking though and there is no air-conditioning either, but a visit to a hawker centre is a must when in Singapore.
Singapore is expensive by Asian standards but cheap for visitors from most industrialized countries: $50 is a perfectly serviceable daily backpacker budget. Food in particular is a steal, with excellent hawker food available for less than $5 per generous serving. Accommodation is a little pricier, but a bed in a hostel can cost less than $20 and the most luxurious hotels on the island (except maybe the Raffles) can be yours for $200 with the right discounts.
Singapore with its main attractions will be covered in more detail in the following articles.