Singapore, Singapore - Stein Travel
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Singapore

Beguiling Singapore is a modern city-state embracing economic progress against the backdrop of age-old tradition. The customs that underpin community life are created out of a cultural mix that includes predominantly Chinese, Indian and Malay ethnic groups.

Singapore is an island off the southern tip of Malaysia, linked to it by a causeway. It evolved from a sleepy fishing village in the early 1900s to become one of Asia's economic tigers. Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles landed on Singapore's northern bank in 1819 and felt that its location made it ideal as a trading station. From here Singapore's landscape was transformed by British colonial rule, Japanese occupation, Communist insurrection and finally, independence. Since becoming a republic in 1965 the island has experienced increased prosperity and exponential economic growth. Shimmering skyscrapers tower above the slick financial districts and elegant colonial buildings preserve a lingering old-world charm.

Singapore's full calendar of events showcases a spectrum of cultural celebrations and shopping activities. The early summer months bustle in anticipation of the Singapore Sale - a time when tourists can cash in on the competitive prices of electronic equipment, jewellery and other merchandise. The business activity thrives amidst the celebration of Chinese, Hindu and Muslim festivals that punctuate the year with their colourful representations. These include the Chinese New Year, Ramadan, Hari Raya Puasa, Vesak Day, the Dragon Boat Festival, Festival of the Hungry Ghosts and Thaipusam.

The core of downtown Singapore is formed by the Colonial District, embellished by cathedrals and cricket lawns. The notable sites of the area include the Empress Place Building and the luxurious Raffles Hotel. Although most of old Singapore has been demolished to make way for the modern city, many major landmarks within the Colonial district have been preserved. The surrounding ethnic enclaves of Little India, Chinatown and the Arab Quarters also provide glimpses into the traditions that have sustained their respective communities through the centuries.

Information & Facts

Climate

Singapore experiences a tropical climate with hot, humid weather all year round. Temperatures remain high with daytime averages of 86°F (30°C). Humidity is usually above 75%. Singapore has two distinct monsoon seasons, the North Eastern season being from December to March and the South Western season from June to September. November to December is the rainy season. June to August is the best time to travel to Singapore, although it is still rainy and humid and travellers should pack accordingly.

Eating Out

With heavy influences of Malay, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian and British, the cuisine in Singapore is far from dull and fusion food is the order of the day. Street vendors are common in this bustling city for a tasty meal on the go, and most specialise in one dish with favourites including fish head curry or Mee Goreng (yellow egg noodles stir fried with ghee, tomato sauce, chilli, egg, vegetables and various meats or seafood). Seafood such as prawns, oysters, crabs and lobsters are also popular dishes on most Singapore menus and traditional dishes such as laksa (soup), popiah (spring rolls), and satay (barbecued meat skewers) are worth trying. Those with a sweet tooth will enjoy the sugary desserts like kuih (steamed cakes), bubur cha-cha (coconut milk soup), and ice kachang (shaved ice with sweet red beans).

Hawker centres are the cheapest places to eat, and come with their own unique atmosphere, which is somewhere between a market and a food court. Prices are low and the food is very good, so it's a great way to try a lot of dishes. Find a table first, and many stalls will deliver your food to you. Popular hawker centres include Newton Circus, Glutton's Bay, and Lau Pa Sat, as well as several options in Chinatown.

Singapore has its share of international fast food chains, but local takeaway options worth trying include Bengawan Solo's Chinese pastries, Old Chang Lee's deep-fried curry puffs, and the traditional Singaporean breakfast at Ya Kun Kaya Toast.

Singapore's more upmarket restaurants have a lot to offer as well, with plenty of variety. A special focus is on Chinese cuisine and seafood, however. Head to the Orchard Road area and the historic district for eateries of every nationality, or for a trendy night out then a trip to Boat Quay or Clarke Quay along the riverfront is a must.

Restaurants will often display the prices with plus signs: $19.99++ indicates that service charges and sales tax are not included and will be added to the bill. Tipping is not practised in Singapore, and is officially discouraged by the government.

Getting Around

Because of government-induced deterrents towards drivers to combat traffic congestion and air pollution, hiring a car is very expensive, but getting around Singapore is easy without one due to efficient, modern and inexpensive public transport. An extensive bus network and the reliable MRT train subway system are both cheap and user-friendly and service all parts of Singapore. Electronic ez-linkpasses cover trains and buses and save carrying loose change for fares as well as giving a slight discount on standard ticket prices. There is also a Tourist Day Ticketthat is valid for 12 rides of any length. The city also has thousands of metered taxis, which are safe, air-conditioned and surprisingly affordable, driven by helpful and honest drivers. The only drawback is the long taxi queues during rush hour. There are services offered to travellers that include the Singapore Explorer shuttles, which stop at most tourist destinations, and the SIA Hop-on bus, which offers passes for unlimited rides for a day and is free for visitors who travelled to Singapore on Singapore Airlines.

Kids Attractions

Singapore is a great city for kids on holiday, compact and brimming with varied and excited attractions, some uniquely Asian. For a great day with the family head to the Singapore Zoological Gardens where the kids can bond with animals such as Komodo dragons, polar bears and orangutans, or head to the Jurong Bird Park to marvel at the hundreds of pink flamingoes. For a more relaxed day, pack a picnic and visit the Singapore Botanical Gardens where kids will have plenty of room to stretch their legs and let off a bit of steam. The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is a wonderful place to spend the day and children will be guaranteed to be amazed by this verdant wonderland. On rainy or cold days when outdoor activities with kids are not an option, head to an indoor playground like eXplorerkid in downtown east, the Fun Maze at Tampines Mall, or Fidgets, Singapore's largest indoor playground which also includes baby and toddler play areas. With all these options and more, kids will have a great time exploring the city of Singapore.

Language

Singapores official languages are English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. A patois called Singlish, or Singaporean English is widely spoken. It is the by-product of mixing English, Chinese and Malay syntax and idiom.

Money

Singapore's currency is the Singapore Dollar (SGD), which is divided into 100 cents. The US and Australian Dollars, Yen and British Pound are also accepted in the larger shopping centres. Major credit cards are accepted in hotels, shops and restaurants. ATMs are widely distributed and banks advance cash against the major credit cards. Travellers cheques can be cashed at banks or licensed moneychangers and at selected hotels. Banks are open daily, but some do not do foreign exchange on Saturdays.

Night Life

With so many choices on offer, it's a difficult task deciding what to do for an evening out in Singapore and to experience its nightlife best. From cultural performances and traditional dancing and music to nightclubs, bars and partying it up amongst hardcore revellers, Singapore is a city that never sleeps.

Start an evening out at one of the many international touring Broadway shows or head to the nightlife hub of the city such as Boat Quay where a variety of bars, karaoke bars, clubs, discos and lounges can be found, as well as some of the city's glitterati, who can be seen hanging out and mingling with the who's who. Muhammad Sultan Road is another key area where clubs and bars are scattered as well as the Zouk complex, where many gay and lesbian clubs and bars can be found.

A night out in Singapore isn't complete without a visit to the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel, where the infamous cocktail the Singapore Sling was invented sometime between 1910 and 1915. Drinking in Singapore is an expensive pastime however, as the country's heavy sin taxes push the price of drinks up to $15-25 in most clubs.

Clarke Quay is the place for hardcore clubbers, where the Ministry of Sound is based as well as a handful of hip new dance clubs. There are other areas of the city that have become eclectic in their entertainment choices and live jazz, acid jazz, international guest DJs and live music is easy to come by. Sentosa has a number of cocktail bars on the beach, and the Central Business District has plenty of chic nightclubs. One of the largest and longest-running clubs is the sprawling Zouk in Jiak Kim Street, which hosts visiting international artists and has a variety of floors ranging from house to hip hop, pop and even a dinner-dance area.

Singapore is a relatively safe place at night, even for women alone. Many clubs stay open until very late, closing 1 or 2am on weekdays and 3 or 4am on weekends. Taxis can be found fairly easily, but be prepared for a rush of people, and an increase of fares, after midnight when the clubs start to close.

Shopping

In Singapore, shopping is said to be the national sport, strongly supported by numerous shopping areas, malls and markets; at the mid-year Great Singapore Sale, the whole island offers fantastic shopping discounts. Despite its reputation as an international shopping destination however, everything sold in Singapore is made somewhere else, so don't expect to find local goods or handmade treasures.

If ethnic goods are what you're after, however, Chinatown sells Chinese items like seals and painted fans, and Geylang Serai and Little India offer a range of Malay and Indian goods. Colourful Peranakan clothing and artwork is available in Katong.

Low import taxes mean there are bargains to be had, but if you've come to Singapore in search of bargain electronics or computers, it pays to do some research ahead of time so you don't end up paying more than you could have. Singapore's consumer protection laws are good though, so most shops are honest and fakes are not openly sold.

Orchard Road is the main shopping area and features mall after mall of fashion, furniture and cosmetic shops. There are countless stores offering every imaginable form of electronic device shoppers might require, and the street markets and smaller shops sell Chinese seals and painted fans - good souvenirs. There is also late night shopping on Orchard Road every Saturday till 11pm.

Exhibitions, fairs and garage sales take place often and offer many discounted goods. Wet Markets smell bad but sell well-priced fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, spices and flowers. The general opening hours for shops are from about 9am to 10pm, but many shops (especially those in Suntec City and Funan IT Mall) do not open before 11am. A 7% GST is charged in Singapore, refundable to international visitors.

Sightseeing

Teeming with sightseeing opportunities, Singapore is a great city for any traveller to explore. With historical sites such as Kampong Gelam and Arab Street and the Jurong Birdpark, the largest of its kind in Southeast Asia, Singapore has a wide range of attractions on offer. Take a stroll around Little India where the smells of spices and incense fill the air, have a picnic in the Singapore Botanical Gardens and enjoy the peace and quiet, or take the kids to the Singapore Zoological Gardens where animals from all over the world can be viewed. Those with an eye for art and design will love the red dot design museum, which showcases some of the most innovative and exciting designs, and art lovers should visit the Singapore Art Museum. Visitors wanting to see the sights should buy a Singapore Tourist Pass, which is an all-day travel pass that allows unlimited travel of Singapore's public buses and MRT trains and can be bought for 1, 2 or 3-days. The starting cost of the pass is S$8 and it can be bought from and SMRT office around the city.

Time

Local time is GMT +8.

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