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Travel Planner: Singapore, the Lion City

By: Ben Hall
 
 
Photography by Ben Hall
 
 

Need to Know

 

Location: South East Asia

 

Language: English, Mandarin, Tamil and Malay

 

Money: Singapore dollar. There are plenty of ATM’s as you arrive at Changi Airport and throughout the city. If you need to change money, banks tend to offer better exchange rates than currency exchange bureaus, but you may need to have your passport on hand. Credit cards are widely accepted but check for any surcharges especially on Amex. 

 

Time Difference: GMT +8 hours.

 

Getting around: The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stations are cheap and efficient and should get you to within walking distance of most major attractions, and taxis are plentiful and fairly inexpensive. 

 

When To Go: It’s hot and humid in Singapore year round and temperatures rarely drop below 31C (88F) during the day. December and January tend to be a little cooler with the hottest months in April and May.

 

Tipping: You’re not obliged to tip in Singapore and usually only upmarket restaurants leave an option to add a gratuity. If you feel the need because of outstanding service, 10% is plenty.

 

 

Overview

 

It has an international reputation as a shoppers’ paradise, and when Singaporeans tell you shopping is a national sport in their country, they’re not joking. Modern air-conditioned shopping malls and traditional markets are literally everywhere, and the Singapore experience is very much a “soft landing” into Asia.

 

From the efficient underground train system and regulated and inexpensive taxis, to its tree-lined streets and overall cleanliness for a busy city (there really is no litter anywhere), it is the model of efficiency which has earned it the nickname “the Switzerland of Asia”. But that’s not to say it lacks charm and diversity. 

 

Where To Stay

 

Hotels can be quite pricey in Singapore and if you’re looking for a bargain, you’ll have to really search around. If you want the quintessential Singapore experience, the iconic Raffles Hotel is hard to beat. The newly opened Marina Bay Sands will hit you with the ultimate ‘wow’ factor while a slew of good five star hotels like the Marina Mandarin are worth a try and it has views back towards the Marina Bay Sands. For a four star, the M Hotel Singapore is a good option in the business and financial district on Anson Rd.

 

Sightseeing Essentials

 

* Tuck into noodles in Chinatown

 

Although European, Malay and Indian culture remain an integral part of Singapore, its heart and soul is undoubtedly Chinese, and a visit to Chinatown is the best way to get acquainted with the dominant culture of Singapore. Street vendors hawk everything from fruit and vegetables to slabs of meat, fast food, Bhuddist symbols, lucky charms, shoe repairs, hair cuts, massages, and fortune telling. It’s also where the locals meet and eat, which is an essential part of Singaporean life, and a meal at one of Chinatown’s busy food halls is an experience which is uplifting for the soul, and very easy on the wallet. In the chaos, clattering and confusion ordering the food may seem a little tricky but a simple point-at-the-food-you-want strategy works perfectly well.

 

* Wander through Little India

 

Little India

 

A great escape from the rampant consumerism is the tiny enclave known as Little India. As you emerge from the train station, it’s like arriving in the centre of Mumbai and it’s a vibrant and intoxicating slice of a culture that has not just survived, but thrived, in the heart of modern Asia. Little India has become one of Singapore’s major attractions thanks to the fact that it’s not only an authentic snapshot of the sub-Continent, but it’s also the island nation’s finest example of a preserved historical district. From the main drag of Serangoon Road, which stretches for almost a kilometre, there is a complex network of smaller streets and alleyways. Here, the sari and gold shops provide an explosion of colour, the aromas of the spice shops and perfume shops compete, the smell of vat-cooked curries hang in the air, and the sounds of shrill Indian pop music blaring from shop fronts becomes a soundtrack.

 

  • The Raffles Experience

 

Whatever you do during the day, this is the quintessential Singapore experience and the Raffles sums up the city’s vibrant colonial history. Named after Singapore’s founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, the hotel opened in 1887 with 10 rooms spread across two wings. With its garden setting and classical architecture, the hotel has since morphed into an icon where famous names in literature such as Somerset Maugham, Herman Hesse and Rudyard Kipling have stayed in one of its many rooms that come complete with public verandas for inspiration – one of the first in Singapore back then. Raffles Hotel’s The Long Bar is also home to the legendary Singapore Sling, originally concocted by Ngiam Tong Boon, one of its bartenders. 

 

Tours

 

For first timers, a City Sightseeing Hop-on-Hop-off Tour is a great way to get to know Singapore. It costs around A$37 and features two routes with 37 stops which take in most of the city’s major attractions.

 

Best Happy Snap

 

From the top of Marina Bay Sands you’ll get a stunning panorama of Singapore at the Sands SkyPark Observation Deck and the best time is just before sunset when the landscape transforms into a glittering sea of lights. It costs around A$23 for an adult. 

 

Eating And Drinking

 

It’s a city renowned as a shoppers’ paradise but the Lion City is also gaining a reputation as one of the world’s great food destinations. Eating out seems like a full time occupation for the locals in Singapore and for good reason. It doesn’t take much to sniff out an inexpensive gem, be it on a main street, a back street or in the middle of a shopping mall. For an authentic hawker centre try the Lau Pau Sat Festival Market (18 Raffles Quay) which is Singapore’s first food centre situated right in the centre of the CBD and is open 24 hours. If your cruise ship is at the Marina complex then Gluttons Bay Food Centre (8 Raffles Avenue, Esplanade) is a good spot and it’s popular with both locals and tourists and has stunning views of the Singapore skyline.  

 

Shopping And Souvenirs

 

The undisputed epicentre of Singapore’s shopping world is Orchard Road. Named after the many nutmeg and pepper plantations which lined the streets in the 1840’s, it’s a leafy boulevard which stretches from Plaza Singapura in the east to Tanglin Mall in the west. Singaporeans will tell you that everyone shops on Orchard Road, especially if they’re in the market for clothes or shoes, but here you can just as easily find Chinese calligraphy and Thai silk, along with a Prada handbag or an iPod. Orchard Road can be a daunting prospect to an untrained shopper. It stretches for more than a kilometre-and-a-half and has three train (MRT) stations covering two-thirds of it; if you have the energy - not to mention deep pockets - you could easily spend a couple of days here exploring. Air-conditioned, underground walkways run almost the entire length of Orchard Road, providing respite from the tropical heat and humidity. 

 

Hot Tip

 

Sentosa

 

Singapore also offers a slice of beach life to escape the city on Sentosa, just off the southern tip of Singapore. It’s a tropical island with rainforests, white sand beaches and wildlife and after a sightseeing/shopping frenzy on the mainland, it’s a welcome relief to be overlooking the South China Sea with tropical birds cartwheeling above. Rainforest covers 70% of the 500-hectare island and is home to monkeys, peacocks, monitor lizards, parrots and other native flora and fauna. But it’s actually part-wildnerness/part-theme park and set in amongst the natural beauty are more than 30 man-made tourist attractions such as the revolving cabin of the Sky Tower which offers a 360 degree view of Singapore and the southern islands. And there’s Asia’s first Universal Studios, the Wave House which has wave pools for learners and experienced surfers, Dolphin Lagoon, Underwater World, Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom, and a range of top hotels and restaurants.

 

 

 
 

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Article by: Ben Hall
 
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