12 Step Planet: Singapore

Singapore is probably best known for being one of the world’s global centres for trade and finance, but just recently tourists have begun to rediscover the beauty of this unique city.

Where/what is it?

Located almost imperceptibly at the bottom of the Malaysian peninsula, Singapore is the world’s only island city-state. Once a British colony and a commercial hub for the East India Trading Company, Singapore gained its independence in 1965. In the time since, it has reinvented itself again and again to become one of the highest ranking cities in the world in terms of standards of living.

Why should I go there?

When Singapore was faced with the choice between being ecological and efficient, or greedy and environmentally short-sighted, they chose the former. The result was that Singapore became a “garden city” and it now boasts some beautiful, out-of-this-world gardens and parks, including the famous “Garden by the Bay” (pictured above). Architecture and ecology seem married into the framework of Singapore in a way that makes the entire city feel naturalistic, yet futuristic.

How do I get there?

You can fly directly from Heathrow, but it’s a 14 hour flight that feels even longer on the way back (most airlines do compensate for the length with free alcohol though, so it isn’t all bad). Another option, if you have the time, is to put Singapore on a list of destinations around the Indochina peninsula and go exploring. Flights connecting Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh and Jakarta are all very cheap, so you can make it your business to city-hop if you have a few weeks to spare. What language do they speak? The official languages are English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. If you fancy trying your hand at the latter three, you may earn some warm, pitying smiles from the locals, but for those without a Mandarin phrasebook, no worries, everyone you’re likely to meet speaks English (it’s a global city after all).

What’s the currency?

The Singapore Dollar, worth approximately 65 cent.

Is it expensive?

People will try to put you off by talking about how expensive Singapore is. Relative to its surrounding countries, it is. But compared to your average European city, Singapore is about level, sometimes cheaper. And, as with any city in the world, there’s ways to do it on a budget and still get to truly experience Singapore.

Where can I get a drink?

Singapore can be tough to negotiate when it comes to getting a good drink. Most of the bars you’re likely to see in the main shopping districts and tourist areas are knock-off European pubs catering to expats and serving murky imported beers. For an authentic taste of Singapore, try out some of the Japanese style bars found on Club Street like IZY Bar, or some of the local favourites like The Library – a password-protected old-school speakeasy that is genuinely located behind a bookshelf (you can get the password on their Facebook). But for a really authentic taste, book a room at one of the dingy karaoke bars, pay $20-$30 and get served drink all night while you sing your heart out and learn why it’s such a craze in Asia.

How do I get around?

Singapore has one of the most cost-effective transport systems in the world due to a government initiative to ween people off private transport to decrease population (seriously, the Singaporeans have their act together like nobody’s business). You can get where you want to go with any number of public buses or Metro lines which interconnect conveniently throughout the city. Taxis are popular and fares are less expensive than in other cities. There’s also the Singapore Tourist Pass which allows you all-day transport for $8 (approximately €5) per day.

What should I eat?

With food being considered a national pastime and the city being a melting pot for other cultures, there’s no end to the amount of good food available. It’s worth checking out the hawker centres for authentic Singaporean food. These foodcourt-style venues are a mish-mash of street hawkers operating in a hygienic environment. You get can get cheap, tasty noodle or rice dishes from any number of stalls, but chief amongst these is Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle, one of the first street stalls in the world to be awarded a star on the Michelin Guide.

What are the main attractions?

Top of your list should be Sentosa Island, especially if you’re travelling with kids. The island features a dozen hotels, two golf courses, a sheltered beach, and a Universal Studios Theme Park. If you’re looking more for the cultural side, the island also hosts ‘Fort Silico’, a military museum where you can learn about Singapore’s illustrious history as a naval port. It’s a bit of a tourist trap, sure, but it’s still worth spending at least an afternoon there. Get a guide and check out the whole range of activities on offer on the island – there’s a huge variety and you’re likely to find something that will suit your tastes. Another item on the agenda should be going to see Marina Bay Sands (pictured above). This three-pronged futuristic hotel is a hub for conferences and conventions for businesses all over the world. It’s topped by a “SkyPark”, which is available to the public and offers spectacular views of the entire city.

On a budget?

Go to the Garden by the Bay and see the “supertrees” up close. Then take a walk through the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest and experience the wide range of flora hosted in the massive conservatory. Any number of Singapore’s well-trimmed, expansive gardens are good to visit to clear your head the morning after a karaoke-fuelled drinking binge where you’ve haemorrhaged money and need to save your cents.

What’s my challenge?

Don’t get sunburn or heat exhaustion. Seriously, Singapore averages at 31 degrees daily, humidity is high, and the climate rarely changes all year round. Your pale, pasty Irish skin won’t be used to it. Slap on suntan lotion and pray.

What souvenir should I take away?

Get yourself a bottle of Singapore Sling to bring home. The gin-based cocktail drink is made up of cherry brandy, lime, orange and pineapple juice and tastes as sweet as it sounds. The recipe can vary depending on where you buy it and it’s served best at one of the city’s extensive cocktail bars, but you can pick up a bottled version of the drink at any number of souvenir shops around the city.

Any last advice?

Have a look on AirBnB before you book anything and see what’s on offer. From experience, the Singaporeans are lovely, warm people who are always happy to help and point you in the right direction with anything you need, so if you can get a local person to accommodate you, then you’re sure to get the best out of your stay.

 

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