Singapore (新加坡) is a city-state in Southeast Asia. Founded as a British trading colony in 1819, since independence it has become one of the world's most prosperous countries and sports the world's busiest port. Combining the skyscrapers and subways of a modern, affluent city with a medley of Chinese, Malay and Indian influences and a tropical climate, with tasty food, good shopping and a vibrant nightlife scene, this Garden City makes a great stopover or springboard into the region.
Singapore is a microcosm of Asia, populated by Chinese, Malays, Indians, and a large group of workers and expatriates from all across the globe. Singapore has a partly deserved reputation for sterile predictability that has earned it descriptions like William Gibson's "Disneyland with the death penalty" or the "world's only shopping mall with a seat in the United Nations". Nevertheless, the Switzerland of Asia is for many a welcome respite from the poverty, chaos, and crime of much of the Asian mainland, and if you scratch below the squeaky clean surface and get away from the tourist trail you'll soon find more than meets the eye.
Singaporean food is legendary, with bustling hawker centres and 24-hour coffee shops offering cheap food from all parts of Asia, and shoppers can bust their baggage allowances in shopping meccas like Orchard Road and Suntec City. In recent years some societal restrictions have also loosened up, and now you can bungee jump and dance on bartops all night long, although alcohol is still very pricey and chewing gum can only be bought from a pharmacy. Two enormous casino complexes — or "Integrated Resorts", to use the Singaporean euphemism — opened in 2010 in Sentosa and Marina Bay as part of Singapore's new Fun and Entertainment drive, the aim being to double the number of tourists visiting and increasing the length of time they stay within the country. Watch out for more loosening up in the future.
The first records of Singapore date back to the 2nd-3rd centuries where a vague reference to its location was found in Greek and Chinese texts, under the names of Sabana and Pu Luo Chung respectively. According to legend, Srivijayan prince Sang Nila Utama landed on the island in the 13th century and, catching sight of a strange creature that he thought was a lion, decided to found a new city he called Singapura, Sanskrit for Lion City. Alas, there have never been any lions anywhere near Singapore or elsewhere on Malaya, so the mysterious beast was more probably a tiger.
More historical records indicate that the island was settled at least two centuries earlier and was known as Temasek, Javanese for "Sea Town", and an important port for the Sumatran Srivijaya kingdom. However, Srivijaya fell around 1400 and Temasek, battered by the feuding kingdoms of Siam and the Javanese Majapahit, fell into obscurity. As Singapura, it then briefly regained importance as a trading centre for the Melaka Sultanate and later, the Johor Sultanate. However, Portuguese raiders then destroyed the settlement and Singapura faded into obscurity once more.
The story of Singapore as we know it today thus began in 1819, when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles made a deal with a claimant to the throne of the Sultanate of Johor: the British would support his claim in exchange for the right to set up a trading post on the island. Though the Dutch initially protested, the signing of the Anglo-Dutch treaty in 1824, which separated the Malay world into British and Dutch spheres of influence, ended the conflict with the Dutch renouncing their claim to Singapore. Well-placed at the entrance to the Straits of Malacca, straddling the trade routes between China, India, Europe, and Australia, Raffles' masterstroke was to declare Singapore a free port, with no duties charged on trade. As traders flocked to escape onerous Dutch taxes, the trading post soon grew into one of Asia's busiest, drawing people from far and wide. Along with Penang and Malacca, Singapore became one of the Straits Settlements and a jewel in the British colonial crown. Its economic fortunes received a further boost when palm oil and rubber from neighbouring Malaya were processed and shipped out via Singapore. In 1867, Singapore was formally split off from British India and made into a directly ruled Crown Colony.
When World War II broke out, Fortress Singapore was seen as a formidable British base, with massive naval fortifications guarding against assault by sea. However, not only did the fortress lack a fleet as all ships were tied up defending Britain from the Germans, but the Japanese wisely chose to cross Malaya by bicycle instead. Despite hastily turning the guns around, this was something the British had not prepared for at all, and on February 15, 1942, with supplies critically low after less than a week of fighting, Singapore ignominiously surrendered and the colony's erstwhile rulers were packed off to Changi Prison. Tens of thousands perished in the subsequent brutal occupation, and the return of the British in 1945 was less than triumphal — it was clear that their time was up.
Granted self-rule in 1955, Singapore briefly joined Malaysia in 1963 when the British left, but was expelled because the Chinese-majority city was seen as a threat to Malay dominance, and the island became independent on 9 August 1965, thus becoming the only country to gain independence against its own will in the history of the modern world. The subsequent forty years of iron-fisted rule by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew saw Singapore's economy boom, with the country rapidly becoming one of the wealthiest and most developed in Asia despite its lack of natural resources, earning it a place as one of the four East Asian Tigers. Now led by Lee's son Lee Hsien Loong, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) continues to dominate the political scene, with 82 out of 84 seats in Parliament (over half won unopposed) and opposition politicians regularly bankrupted by defamation suits. Societal restrictions have been loosened up in recent years though, with the government trying to shake off its staid image, and it remains to be seen how the delicate balancing act between political control and social freedom will play out.
Singapore prides itself on being a multi-racial country, and has a diverse culture despite its small size. The largest group are the Chinese, who form about 75% of the population. Amongst the Chinese, Hokkien speakers form the majority, while Teochew and Cantonese speakers round out the top three. Other notable "dialect" groups among the Chinese include the Hakkas, Hainanese and Foochows. The Malays, who are comprised of Singapore's original inhabitants as well as migrants from present day Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, form about 14% of the population, while Indians form about 9% of the population. Among the Indians, Tamils form the largest group by far, though there are also a significant numbers of speakers of other Indian languages such as Hindi, Malayalam and Punjabi. The remainder are a mix of many other cultures, most notably the Eurasians who are of mixed European and Asian descent, and also a handful of Filipinos, Burmese, Japanese, Thais and many others. Slighty over one-third of Singapore's residents are not citizens.
Located a mere 1.5 degrees north of the Equator, the weather is usually sunny with no distinct seasons. Rain falls almost daily throughout the year, usually in sudden, heavy showers that rarely last longer than an hour. However, most rainfall occurs during the northeast monsoon (November to January), occasionally featuring lengthy spells of continuous rain. Spectacular thunderstorms can occur throughout the year, normally in the afternoons, so it's wise to carry an umbrella at all times, both as a shade from the sun or cover from the rain.
Between May and October, forest fires in neighboring Sumatra can also cause dense haze, although this is unpredictable and comes and goes rapidly: check the National Environment Agency's site for current data.
The temperature averages around:
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. Singaporeans themselves shun the heat, and for a good reason. Many live in air-conditioned flats, work in air-conditioned offices, take the air-conditioned metro to air-conditioned shopping malls connected to each other by underground tunnels where they shop, eat, and exercise in air-conditioned fitness clubs. Follow their example if you want to avoid discomfort in the searing heat and humidity of Singapore.
Gong xi fa cai Singapore style
There are a few twists to the Singapore way of celebrating Chinese New Year, particularly the food, which bears little resemblance to the steamy hotpots of frigid northern China. The top dish is bak kwa (肉干), sweet barbecued pork, followed closely by yu sheng (魚生), a salad of shredded vegetables and raw fish enthusiastically tossed into the air by all present. Favorite desserts are crumbly sweet pineapple tarts and gooey steamed nian gao (年糕) cakes. Red packets of money (红包 ang pow) are still handed out generously, but unlike in China, in Singapore you only need to start paying up once married.
Singapore is a secular city state but thanks to its multicultural population, Singapore celebrates Chinese, Muslim, Indian, and Christian holidays.
The year kicks off with a bang on January 1st and New Year, celebrated in Singapore just as in the West with a fireworks show and parties at every nightspot in town. Particularly famous are the wet and wild foam parties on the beaches of resort island Sentosa — at least those years when the authorities deign to permit such relative debauchery.
Due to the influence of the Chinese majority, the largest event by far is Chinese New Year (农历新年) or, more politically correctly, Lunar New Year, usually held in February. The whole festival stretches out for no less than 42 days, but the frenzied buildup to the peak occurs just before the night of the new moon, with exhortations of gong xi fa cai (恭喜发财 "congratulations and prosper"), red tinsel, mandarin oranges and the year's zodiac animal emblazoned everywhere and crowds of shoppers queuing in Chinatown, where there are also extensive street decorations to add spice to the festive mood. The two following days are spent with family and most of the island comes to a standstill, and then life returns to normal... except for the final burst of Chingay, a colorful parade down Orchard Road held ten days later.
On the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar, the Dragon Boat Festival (端午节) is celebrated to commemorate a Chinese folk hero. As part of the celebrations, rice dumplings, which in Singapore are sometimes wrapped in pandan leaves instead of the original bamboo leaves, are usually eaten. In addition, dragon boat races are often held at the Singapore River on this day. The seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar — usually August — starts off with a puff of smoke, as "hell money" is burned and food offerings are made to please the spirits of ancestors who are said to return to earth at this time. The climax on the 15th day of the lunar calendar is the Hungry Ghost Festival (中元节), when the living get together to stuff themselves and watch plays and Chinese opera performances. Following soon afterwards, the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节) on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month (Sep/Oct) is also a major event, with elaborate lantern decorations — particularly in Jurong's Chinese Garden — and moon cakes filled with red bean paste, nuts, and more consumed merrily.
The Hindu festival of lights, Diwali, known locally as Deepavali, is celebrated around October or November and Little India is brightly decorated for the occasion. At around January-February, one may witness the celebration of Thaipusam, a Tamil Hindu festival in which male devotees would carry a kavadi, an elaborate structure which pierces through various parts of his body, and join a procession from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Little India to the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple in Tank Road. Female devotees usually join the procession carrying pots of milk instead. About one week before Deepavali is Thimithi, the fire-walking festival where one can see male devotees walking on burning coals at the Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown.
The Islamic month of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr or Hari Raya Puasa as it is called here, is a major occasion in Malay parts of town, particularly Geylang Serai on the East Coast, which is lighted up with extensive decorations during the period. Another festival celebrated by the Malays is Eid-ul-Adha, known locally as Hari Raya Haji, which is the period when Muslims make the trip to Mecca to perform in Hajj. In local mosques, lambs contributed by the faithful are sacrificed and their meat is used to feed the poor.
The Buddhist Vesak Day, celebrating the birthday of the Buddha Sakyamuni, plus the Christian holidays of Christmas Day, for which Orchard road is extensively decorated, and Good Friday round out the list of holidays.
A more secular manifestation of government power occurs on August 9th, National Day, when fluttering flags fill Singapore and elaborate parades are held.
The Singapore Ministry of Manpower maintains the official list of public holidays.
Singapore holds numerous events each year. Some of its famous festivals and events include the Singapore Food Festival, the Singapore Grand Prix, the Singapore Arts Festival, the Chingay Parade, the World Gourmet Summit and ZoukOut.
The Singapore Sun Festival is another popular festival in Singapore, with 2010's line-up featuring renowned stars such as David Foster, Natalie Cole, Jose Carreras and Sharon Stone. Christmas is also widely celebrated in Singapore, a season where the city streets and shopping malls along its famous shopping belt Orchard Road are lit up and decorated in vibrant colours. In addition, the Singapore Jewel Festival attracts numerous tourists every year, and is a display of precious gems, famous jewels and masterpieces from international jewellers and designers.
Banned in Singapore
There's more to the list than just porn and drugs:
- Overhead wires
- Satellite dishes
- Freestanding billboards
- Handcuffs, even if pink and fuzzy
- Feeding pigeons or monkeys
- Malaysian newspapers
- Homosexual activity
Most nationalities can enter Singapore without a visa. Refer to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority for current guidelines, including a list of the 30+ nationalities that are required to obtain a visa in advance. Entry permit duration depends on nationality and entry point: most people get 14 or 30 days, although Irish, British and American passport holders usually get 90. Belgian and Dutch passport holders get 3 months.
Singapore has very strict drug laws, and drug trafficking carries a mandatory death penalty — which is also applied to foreigners. Even if you technically haven't entered Singapore and are merely transiting (i.e. changing flights without the need to clear passport control and customs) while in possession of drugs, you would still be subject to capital punishment. The paranoid might also like to note that in Singapore, it is an offence even to have any drug metabolites in your system, even if they were consumed outside Singapore, and Customs occasionally does spot urine tests at the airport! In addition, bringing in explosives or firearms without a permit is also a capital offence in Singapore.
Bring prescriptions for any medicines you may have with you, and obtain prior permission from the Health Sciences Authority before bringing in any sedatives (eg. Valium/diazepam) or strong painkillers (eg. codeine). Hippie types may expect a little extra attention from Customs, but getting a shave and a haircut is no longer a condition for entry.
Duty free allowances for alcohol are 1 L of spirits and up to 2 L of wine or beer per person unless you are entering from Malaysia, from which there is no duty free allowance. Alcohol may not be brought in by persons under the age of 18. There is no duty free allowance for cigarettes: all cigarettes legally sold in Singapore are stamped "SDPC", and smokers caught with unmarked cigarettes may be fined $500 per pack. (In practice, though, bringing in one opened pack is usually tolerated.) If you declare your cigarettes or excess booze at Customs, you can opt to pay the tax or let the customs officers keep the cigarettes until your departure. Bringing in chewing gum is also technically illegal, though customs officers would usually not bother with a few sticks for personal consumption as long as you are discreet about it.
Pornography, pirated goods and publications by the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Unification Church may not be imported to Singapore, and baggage is scanned at land and sea entry points. In theory, all entertainment media including movies and video games must be sent to the Board of Censors for approval before they can be brought into Singapore, but in practice this is rarely if ever enforced for original (non-pirated) goods. Pirated CDs or DVDs, on the other hand, can land you fines of up to $1000 per disc.
Singapore is one of Southeast Asia's largest aviation hubs, so unless you're coming from Peninsular Malaysia or Batam/Bintan in Indonesia, the easiest way to enter Singapore is by air. In addition to flag-carrier Singapore Airlines and its regional subsidiary SilkAir , Singapore is also home to low-cost carriers Tiger Airways and Jetstar Asia .
In addition to the locals, every carrier of any size in Asia offers flights to Singapore, with pan-Asian discount carrier AirAsia and Malaysian regional operator Firefly operating dense networks from Singapore. There are also direct services to Europe, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, North America, and even South Africa. Singapore is particularly popular on the "Kangaroo Route" between Australia and Europe, with airlines like Qantas and British Airways using Singapore as the main stopover point.
The price of cheap flights
No transfer facilities are available at the Budget Terminal, so if one or more of your connecting flights arrives or departs here, you have to go through arrival immigration and customs, check in your luggage again and go through departure immigration. If required for your nationality, you will need a valid Singapore visa for this, and it's best to allow at least 2-3 hours to complete the process. Transfers between the main terminals do not require this rigmarole.
As befits the country's main airport and major regional hub status, Changi Airport (IATA: SIN; ICAO: WSSS) is big, pleasant, and well organized, and immigration and baggage distribution is remarkably fast. The airport is split into three main terminals (T1, T2 and T3) plus a dedicated Budget Terminal for low-cost airlines (currently only Tiger Airways, Cebu Pacific, Firefly and Berjaya Air).
Figuring out which terminal your flight arrives in or departs from can be complicated: for example, Singapore Airlines uses both T2 and T3, and only announces the arrival terminal two hours before landing. Fortunately transfers are quite easy, as the three main terminals are connected with the free Skytrain service, which can be used without passing through immigration. (The Budget Terminal, on the other hand, can only be reached by passing through immigration and taking a shuttle bus from the basement of T2.) In addition, if you have no checked-in luggage, you can clear passport control at any terminal. Your departing terminal is more straightforward as Singapore Airlines designates T2 as departures for destinations in South East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East (including Turkey) and Africa while all other destinations will use T3.
If you have over five hours to spare there are free city tours six times a day, check in at the Singapore Visitor Centre in any terminal. Even if stuck in the airport, there are plenty of ways to kill time, as each terminal has a unique design and the airside areas of T1, T2, and T3 are attractions in themselves. T2, arguably the most interesting, has an indoor garden, a music listening area with couches and mood lighting, a computer gaming room, a small movie theater, paid massage services, and of course plenty of duty-free shops. T3, the newest, has a butterfly garden and plenty of natural light, but fewer entertainment options. T1 has a swimming pool and jacuzzi. You can travel between the main terminals without passing through immigration and, if you have no checked-in luggage to collect, you can clear passport control and customs at any terminal. The Budget Terminal, on the other hand, is strictly functional.
In all terminals, internet access is provided free of charge, both wirelessly and via some 200 terminals and kiosks, there are some Xbox systems set up to keep gamers entertained, and there's live lounge music at times. There are also SingTel and Starhub payphones that offer unlimited free local calls. ATMs abound and money changers offer reasonable rates as well, although you pay a small premium compared to the city. Food options are varied and generally reasonably priced, with some choice picks including the Peranakan-themed Soup Restaurant (T2 landside), which serves much more than just soup, and Sakae Sushi (T2 airside). If you're up for a little adventure, seek out the staff canteen at level 3M of the carpark next to T2, it's open to the public and serves cheap local food.
Terminals T1, T2 and T3 all have airside (i.e., accessible without passing through immigration) transit hotels - tel. +65-65419106 or book online via the Ambassador Transit Hotel website. A six-hour "block" for a single/double/triple costs $73.56/82.39/110.35, budget singles (shared bathroom) $51.50, extensions $17.65 per hour. You can rent a shower (without a room) to freshen up for $8.40. The Plaza Premier Lounges also offer a basic but functional gym with shower for $8.40 with a Singapore Airlines boarding pass.
From the airport there are a number of ways to get into the city:
Seletar Airport (IATA: XSP; ICAO: WSSL), completed in 1928 and first used for civil aviation in 1930, is Singapore's first airport. While later airports like Kallang and Paya Lebar have been closed and turned into a military airbase respectively, Seletar is still in use to this day.
Currently, Seletar Airport is only used for general aviation, so if you're flying your own aircraft to Singapore, you'll most probably land here. The only practical means of access to Seletar is taxi, and trips from the airport incur a $3 surcharge.
Singapore is linked by two land crossings to Peninsular Malaysia:
The Causeway is a very popular and thus terminally congested entry point connecting Woodlands in the north of Singapore directly into the heart of Johor Bahru. While congestion isn't as bad as it once was, the Causeway is still jam-packed on Friday evenings (towards Malaysia) and Sunday evenings (towards Singapore). The Causeway can be crossed by bus, train, taxi or car, but it is no longer feasible to cross on foot after Malaysia shifted their customs and immigration complex 2 km inland.
A second crossing between Malaysia and Singapore, known as the Second Link, has been built between Tuas in western Singapore and Tanjung Kupang in the western part of Johor state. Much faster and less congested than the Causeway, it is used by some of the luxury bus services to Kuala Lumpur and is strongly recommended if you have your own car. There is only one infrequent bus across the Second Link, and only Malaysian "limousine" taxis are allowed to cross it (and charge RM150 and up for the privilege). Walking across is also not allowed, not that there would be any practical means to continue the journey from either end if you did.
Driving into Singapore with a foreign-registered car is rather complicated and expensive; see the Land Transport Authority's Driving Into & Out of Singapore guide for the administrative details. Peninsular Malaysia-registered cars need to show that they have valid road tax and Malaysian insurance coverage. Other foreign cars need a Vehicle Registration Certificate, Customs Document (Carnet), Vehicle Insurance purchased from a Singapore-based insurance company and an International Circulation Permit. All foreign registered cars and motorcycles can be driven in Singapore for a maximum of 10 days in each calendar year without paying Vehicle Entry Permit (VEP) fees, but after the 10 free days have been utilised, you will need to pay a VEP fee of up to $20/day.
Go through immigration first and get your passport stamped. Then follow the Red Lane to buy the AutoPass ($10) from the LTA office. At the parking area, an LTA officer will verify your car, road tax and insurance cover note and issue you a small chit of paper which you take to the LTA counter to buy your AutoPass and rent an In-vehicle Unit (IU) for road pricing charges (or opt to pay a flat $5/day fee instead). Once that is done, proceed to customs where you will have to open the boot for inspection. After that, you are free to go anywhere in Singapore. Any VEP fees, road pricing charges and tolls will be deducted from your AutoPass when you exit Singapore. This is done by slotting the AutoPass into the reader at the immigration counter while you get your passport stamped.
Driving into Malaysia from Singapore is relatively uncomplicated, although small tolls are charged for both crossing and (for the Second Link) the adjoining expressway. In addition, Singapore-registered vehicles are required to have their fuel tanks at least 3/4 full before leaving Singapore. Do be sure to change some ringgit before crossing, as Singapore dollars are accepted only at the unfavorable rate of 1:1.
In both directions, note that rental cars will frequently ban or charge extra for crossing the border.
Direct to/from Malaysian destinations There are buses to/from Kuala Lumpur (KL) and many other destinations in Malaysia through the Woodlands Checkpoint and the Second Link at Tuas. Unfortunately, there is no central bus terminal and different companies leave from all over the city. Major operators include:
Most other operators have banded together in two shared booking portals. Many, but by no means all, use the Golden Mile Complex shopping mall near Bugis as their Singapore terminal.
In general, the more you pay, the faster and more comfortable your trip. More expensive buses leave on time, use the Second Link, and don't stop along the way; while the cheapest buses leave late if at all, use the perpetually jammed Causeway and make more stops. Book early for popular departure times like Friday and Sunday evening, Chinese New Year, etc, and factor in some extra time for congestion at the border.
An alternative to taking a direct "international bus" is to make the short hop to Johor Bahru to catch domestic Malaysian long-distance express buses to various Malaysian destinations from the Larkin Bus Terminal. Besides having more options, fares may also be lower because you will be paying in Malaysian ringgit rather than Singaporean dollars. The downside is the time-consuming hassle of first getting to Johor Bahru and then getting to Larkin terminal on the outskirts of town.
To/from Johor Bahru
|Line||Stops in Singapore||Stops in JB||Price|
|Causeway Link CW-1||Kranji MRT only||Larkin via Kotaraya||$1.30, RM1.30|
|Causeway Link CW-2||Queen St only||Larkin only||$3.20|
|Causeway Link CW-3||Jurong East MRT||Bukit Indah via 2nd Link||$4.00|
|SBS 170 (red plate)||Queen St via Kranji||Larkin only||$1.70|
|SBS 170 (blue plate)||Kranji MRT||Kotaraya only||$1.10|
|SBS 160||Jurong East MRT via Kranji||Kotaraya only||$1.60|
|SMRT 950||Woodlands MRT via Marsiling||Kotaraya only||$1.30|
|Singapore-Johor Express||Queen St only||Larkin only||$2.40|
The most popular options to get to/from Johor Bahru are the buses listed in the table. There's a pattern to the madness: Singaporean-operated buses (SBS, SMRT, SJE) can only stop at one destination in Malaysia, while the Malaysian-operated Causeway Link buses can only stop at one destination in Singapore. Terminals aside, all buses make two stops at Singapore immigration and at Malaysian immigration. At both immigration points, you must disembark with all your luggage and pass through passport control and customs, then board the next bus by showing your ticket. Figure on one hour for the whole rigmarole from end to end, more during rush hour.
Singapore is the southern terminus of Malaysia's Keretapi Tanah Melayu (Malayan Railway or KTMB) network. There are two day trains (the Ekspres Sinaran Pagi and Ekspres Rakyat) and a sleeper service (Ekspres Senandung Malam) daily from Kuala Lumpur, and also a day train (the Lambaian Timur departing Singapore at 4:45AM) and sleeper (Ekspres Timuran departing at 6:00PM) daily along the "Jungle Railway" between Singapore and Gua Musang (Lambian Timur) or Tumpat (Ekspres Timuran), near Kota Bharu in the East Coast of Malaysia. Trains are clean and fairly efficient, but slower than buses. See Malaysia#By train for details about fares and travel classes.
For time being, trains arrive at the small colonial-era railway station in Tanjong Pagar at the southern edge of the CBD, a bit of a hike from Tanjong Pagar MRT station. There's no ATM in the immediate vicinity, but there is a money changer, a simple restaurant and a taxi stand just outside to the right. Alternatively, you can also get off in Woodlands right after immigration and continue into Singapore by bus or taxi — from July 2011, this will become the only option after the Tanjong Pagar station ceases to function as the KTMB Singapore terminal.
KTMB tickets in Singapore will be charged in dollars, while those bought in Malaysia will be charged in ringgit at a 1:1 rate. A ticket which costs RM10 in Malaysia will thus cost $10 if bought in Singapore! There are three ways to avoid paying double:
You will not get a Malaysian entry stamp in your passport if you enter the country by train, so don't panic. Passports are checked (but not stamped) by Malaysian immigration before you enter the platform to board the train in Tanjong Pagar but you will only get a Singapore exit stamp at Woodlands station, about half-an-hour's journey away. Coming in from Malaysia, the situation is much more conventional - Malaysia stamps you out in Johor Bahru (you don't even need to get out of the train) and Singapore stamps you in at Woodlands (you will have to disembark and walk through immigration, though).
Singapore is one of the few countries that you can enter or leave by taxi. While normal Singaporean taxis are not allowed to cross into Malaysia and vice versa, specially licensed Singaporean taxis permitted to go to the Kotaraya shopping mall (only) can be booked from Johor Taxi Service (tel. +65-62967054, $45 one way), while Malaysian taxis, which can go anywhere in Malaysia, can be taken from Rochor Rd ($32 to charter, or $8/person if you share with others). In the reverse direction towards Singapore, you can take taxis from Kotaraya to any point in central Singapore ($30) or Changi Airport ($40). The main advantage here is that you don't need to lug your stuff (or yourself) through Customs at both ends; you can just sit in the car.
A combination ride from anywhere in Singapore to anywhere in Malaysia can also be arranged, but you'll need to swap cabs halfway through: this will cost S$50 and up, paid to the Singaporean driver. The most expensive option is to take a limousine taxi specially licensed to take passengers from any point to any destination, but only a few are available and they charge a steep RM150 per trip. Advance booking is highly recommended, tel. +60-7599-1622.
Ferries link Singapore with neighbouring Indonesian province of Riau Islands, and the Malaysian state of Johor. Singapore has four ferry terminals which handle international ferries: HarbourFront (formerly World Trade Centre) near the southern part of the Central Business District, Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal on the East Coast, as well as Changi Ferry Terminal and Changi Point Ferry Terminal, at the eastern extremity of the island.
Getting to/away from the ferry terminals:
To/from Batam: Ferries to/from Batam Centre, Batu Ampar (Harbour Bay), Sekupang and Waterfront City (Teluk Senimba) use HarbourFront FT, while ferries to/from Nongsapura use Tanah Merah FT. Operators at Harbourfront include:
At Tanah Merah:
To/from Bintan: All ferries for Bintan use Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. For Tanjung Pinang, there are total of 6 ferries a day, increasing to 9 during weekends. $25/35 one-way/return before taxes and surcharges. Operators include:
For Bintan Resorts (Bandar Bentan Telani), Bintan Resort Ferries, tel. +65-65424369, operates five ferries from Tanah Merah FT on weekdays, increasing to 7 during weekends. $34.60/50.20 one-way/return peak period, $26.60/39.20 one-way/return off-peak including taxes and fuel surcharge.
To/from Karimun: Tanjung Balai is served by Penguin and IndoFalcon from Harbourfront, with six ferries total on weekdays, increasing to 8 during weekends. $24/33 one-way/return including taxes and fuel surcharge.
Ferries shuttle from Singapore to southeastern Johor and are handy for access to the beach resort of Desaru. Scheduled ferry service to Tioman was discontinued in 2003.
Star Cruises offers multi-day cruises from Singapore to points throughout Southeast Asia, departing from HarbourFront FT. Itineraries vary widely and change from year to year, but common destinations include Malacca, Klang (Kuala Lumpur), Penang, Langkawi, Redang and Tioman in Malaysia, as well as Phuket, Krabi, Ko Samui and Bangkok in Thailand. There are also several cruises every year to Borneo (Malaysia), Sihanoukville (Cambodia), Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) and even some ten-night long hauls to Hong Kong. An all-inclusive two-night cruise may cost as little as $400 per person in the cheapest cabin class if you book early, but beware the numerous surcharges and note that non-residents may be charged significantly higher rates.
Singapore is also a popular stop for round-the-world cruises, including those originating from as far as Europe or North America. Check with your respective cruise companies for details.
Getting around Singapore is effortless: the public transportation system is among the best in the world and taxis are reasonably priced. Very few visitors rent cars. Gothere.sg does a pretty good job of figuring out the fastest route by MRT and bus and even estimating taxi fares between any two points.
If you are staying in Singapore for some time, the ez-link farecard might be a worthwhile purchase. You can store value on it and use it on the MRT trains as well as all city buses at a 15% discount. The card costs $12, including $7 stored value, and the card can be "topped up" in increments of at least $10 at the farecard vending machines or 7-Eleven stores. You can use the same card for 5 years. The card technology was changed in 2009, but if you have any old cards lying around, they can be exchanged for free with value intact at TransitLink offices in all MRT stations.
Alternatively, the Singapore Tourist Pass available at selected major MRT stations (including Changi Airport and Orchard) also includes ez-link card functionality and a variety of discounts for attractions. Prices start at $8 a day for unlimited travel on MRT and buses, but you need to a travel a lot to make this alone pay off.
Single tickets can be purchased for both MRT and buses, but it's a hassle, and in the case of buses it delays everyone else because the driver has to count fare stages to tell you how much you need to pay.
The MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) and LRT (Light Rail Transit) are trains that are the main trunk of Singapore's transit system. They are a cheap and very reliable mode of transportation, and the network covers most points of interest for the visitor. Single-trip tickets cost from $0.80 to $2.00 plus a $1.00 refundable deposit, just insert your used ticket into machine to get your dollar back. EZ-link cards (described above) are the easiest and most popular way to use the MRT. All lines are integrated, so you do not need to buy a new ticket to transfer.
The MRT stations are clean and usually equipped with free toilets. Underground stations have platform doors between the train and the platform so there is no risk of falling onto the tracks. The North-East line is fully automated, as is the new Circle Line and all upcoming lines, so it's worth walking up to the front of the train to look out a tiny window and realize that there is no driver!
Buses connect various corners of Singapore, but are slower and harder to use than the MRT, and not too many visitors venture aboard. You can pay cash (coins) in buses, but the fare stage system is quite complex (it's easiest to ask the driver for the price to your destination), you are charged marginally more and there is no provision for getting change. Payment with ez-link card is thus the easiest method: tap your card against the reader at the front entrance of the bus when boarding, and a maximum fare is deducted from the card. When you alight, tap your card again at the exit, and the difference is refunded. Make sure you tap out, or you'll be charged the maximum fare! Inspectors occasionally prowl buses to check that everybody has paid or tapped, so those who are on tourist day passes should tap before sitting down.
After midnight on Fri, Sat and before public holidays only, the NightRider services are a fairly convenient way of getting around, with seven lines running every 20 minutes. All services drive past the major nightlife districts of Boat Quay, Clarke Quay, Mohamed Sultan and Orchard before splintering off. Flat fare $3.50, EZ-link accepted.
Taxicabs use meters and are reasonably priced and honest, although the fare structure is remarkably convoluted. Outside weekday peak hours, trips within the city center should not cost you more than $10 and even a trip right across the island from Changi to Jurong will not break the $35 mark. If you are in a group of 3 or 4, it's sometimes cheaper and faster to take a taxi than the MRT.
Taxi pricing is largely identical across all companies at $2.80 flagfall, which lasts you 1 km before increments of 20 cents per 385 m. (The sole exception is SMRT's giant black Chryslers, which charge $5.00 and $0.30/385m.) Watch out for surprises though: there are a myriad of peak hour (35%), late night (50%), central business district ($3), phone booking ($2.50 and up), public holiday ($1) and Electronic Road Pricing surcharges, which may add a substantial amount to your taxi fare. All such charges are shown on the bottom right-hard corner of the meter, recorded in the printed receipt and explained in tedious detail in a sticker on the window; if you suspect the cabbie is trying to pull a fast one, call the company and ask for an explanation. Note that there is no surcharge for trips to the airport. Credit cards are accepted by most but not all cabs, so ask when getting in, and a 17% surcharge applies for this too. During rush hour in the city center, or late at night on the weekends, it's wise to call for a taxi from the unified booking system at 6342 5222 (6-DIAL-CAB).
In the Central Business District, taxis may only pick up passengers at taxi stands (found outside any shopping mall) or buildings with their own driveways (including virtually all hotels). Outside the city center, you're free to hail taxis on the street or call one to your doorstep. At touristy nightspots featuring long queues, such as Clarke Quay, you may on occasion be approached by touts offering a quick flat fare to your destination. This is illegal and expensive, but reasonably safe for you. (The driver, on the other hand, will probably lose his job if caught.)
Some Singapore taxi drivers have very poor geographical knowledge and may expect you to know where they should go, so it may be helpful to bring a map of your destination area or directions on finding where you wish to go.
Trishaws, three-wheeled bicycle taxis, haunt the area around the Singapore River and Chinatown. Geared purely for tourists, they aren't really recommended for serious travel and locals do not use them. There is little room for bargaining: short rides will cost $10-20 and an hour's sightseeing charter about $50 per person.
Tourist-oriented bumboats cruise the Singapore River, offering point-to-point rides starting from $3 and cruises with nice views of the CBD skyscraper skyline starting from $13. You can also take a ferry ($15 round-trip) to Singapore's largely uninhabited Southern Islands for a picnic and lagoon swimming, but do remember to bring along food and drinks as there are no shops on the islands.
Bumboats also shuttle passengers from Changi Village to Pulau Ubin ($2.50 one-way), a small island off Singapore's northeast coast which is about as close as Singapore gets to unhurried rural living.
Car rental is not a popular option in Singapore. You will usually be looking at upwards for $100 per day for the smallest vehicle from the major rental companies, although local ones can be cheaper and there are sometimes good weekend prices available. This does not include gas at around $1.80/litre or electronic road pricing (ERP) fees, and you'll usually need to pay extra to drive to Malaysia. If planning on touring Malaysia by car, it makes much more sense to head across the border to Johor Bahru, where both rentals and petrol are half price, and you have the option of dropping your car off elsewhere in the country. This also avoids the unwelcome extra attention that Singapore plates tend to get from thieves and greedy cops.
Roads in Singapore are in excellent condition and driving habits are generally good with most people following the traffic rules due to stringent enforcement, though road courtesy tends to be a little lacking. Compared to other major cities around the world like Sydney, Tokyo or Hong Kong, parking spaces are comparatively easier to find in the city centre of Singapore, and peak hour congestion is relatively mild. Foreign licenses in English are valid in Singapore for up to a year from your date of entry, after which you will have to convert your foreign license to a Singapore one. Foreign licenses not in English must be accompanied by an International Driving Permit (IDP) or an official English translation (usually available from your embassy) for them to be valid.
Singaporeans drive on the left (UK style) and the driving age is 18. The speed limit is only 90 km/h on expressways and 60 km/h on other roads. ERP payments require a stored-value CashCard, which is usually arranged by the rental agency, but it's your responsibility to ensure it has enough value. All passengers must wear seatbelts and using a phone while driving is banned. Drink-driving is not tolerated: the maximum blood alcohol content is 0.08%, with roadblocks set up at night to catch offenders, who are heavily fined and possibly jailed. Even if your blood alcohol level does not exceed the legal limit, you can still be charged with drink driving if the police are convinced that your ability to control the vehicle has been compromised by the presence of alcohol. The police do conduct periodic roadblocks and speed cameras are omnipresent. Fines will be sent by mail to you or your rental agency, who will then pass on the cost with a surcharge. If stopped for a traffic offense, don't even think about trying to bribe your way out.
Hitchhiking is virtually unheard of in Singapore, and given the size of the country and its cheap, ubiquitous public transport, it's hardly necessary.
Singapore is fairly an easy place to use bikes as a substitute for public transportation, although there's little bicycling culture and amenities like bike lanes or bike racks are a rarity. The city is small, its landscape is flat, the roads are well connected, and the air is pretty clean — if hot and humid. Well disciplined drivers in Singapore mean that traffic is reasonably safe, although there are no bike lanes and cars can come uncomfortably close.
Small folding bicycles may be taken on the MRT, but large bicycles are a no-no. Bicycles may cross the Causeway to Malaysia (on motorbike lanes), but are not allowed on expressways.
Singapore is almost certainly the most pedestrian-friendly city in southeast Asia. Sidewalks and pedestrian crossings are in good shape and plentiful, roads are well signposted and, by Asian standards, drivers are usually very careful — by law, any accident between a pedestrian and a vehicle is presumed to be the driver's fault. Jaywalking, however, is illegal and punished quite harshly with fines of $25. Classic walks in Singapore include walking down the river from the Merlion through the Quays, trekking along the Southern Ridges Walk or just strolling around Chinatown, Little India or Bugis.
An unavoidable downside, though, is the tropical heat and humidity, which leaves many visitors sweaty and exhausted, so bring along a handkerchief and a bottle of water. It's best to get an early start, pop into air-conditioned shops, cafes, and museums to cool off, and plan on heading back to the shopping mall or hotel pool before noon. Alternatively, after sundown, evenings can also be comparatively cool.
Sights in Singapore are covered in more detail under the various districts. Broadly speaking:
If you are traveling to Singapore, be sure to carry the following:
Who are the people in your neighborhood?
The Big 3 — Chinese, Malays and Indians — get all the press, but there are plenty of other communities with their own little neighborhoods (or shopping malls) in Singapore:
Arabs: Arab Street, of course
Burmese: Peninsula Plaza, on North Bridge Rd
Filipinos: Lucky Plaza, on Orchard Rd
Indonesians: City Plaza, near Paya Lebar MRT
Japanese: Robertson Quay and Clarke Quay, especially the Liang Court shopping mall, plus Cuppage Plaza, opposite the Somerset MRT and Takashimaya along Orchard Road
Koreans: Tanjong Pagar Rd
Thais: Golden Mile Complex, on Beach Rd
Malay may be enshrined in the Constitution as the 'national' language, but in practice the most common language is English, spoken by almost every Singaporean under the age of 50 with varying degrees of fluency. In addition, all official signs and documents are written in English, usually using British spelling. However, the distinctive local patois Singlish may be hard to understand at times, as it incorporates slang words and phrases from other languages, including various Chinese dialects, Malay and Tamil as well as English words whose pronunciation or meaning have been corrupted, and has an odd way of structuring sentences, due to the original speakers being mostly Chinese. Complex consonant clusters are simplified, articles and plurals disappear, verb tenses are replaced by adverbs, questions are altered to fit the Chinese syntax and semirandom particles (especially the infamous "lah") appear:
Singlish: You wan beer or not? -- Dunwan lah, dring five botol oreddi.
English: Do you want a beer? -- No, thanks; I've already had five bottles.
Thanks to nationwide language education campaigns, most younger Singaporeans are, however, capable of speaking what the government calls "good English" when necessary. To avoid unintentional offense, it's best to start off with standard English and shift to simplified pidgin only if it becomes evident that the other person cannot follow you. Try to resist the temptation to sprinkle your speech with unnecessary Singlishisms: you'll get a laugh if you do it right, but it sounds patronizing if you do it wrong. The Coxford Singlish Dictionary (ISBN 9813056509), also available online, is a great resource for decoding Singlish. Wikipedia's Singlish  article goes into obsessive and occasionally impenetrable grammatical detail, but the sections on vocabulary  and abbreviations  are handy.
Singapore's other official languages are Mandarin Chinese and Tamil. Mandarin is spoken by most younger Singaporean Chinese while Tamil is spoken by most Indians. Like English, the Mandarin spoken in Singapore has also evolved into a distinctive creole and often incorporates words from other Chinese dialects, Malay and English, though all Singaporean Chinese are taught standard Mandarin in school. Various Chinese dialects (mostly Hokkien, though significant numbers also speak Teochew and Cantonese) are also spoken between ethnic Chinese of the same dialect group, though their use has been declining in the younger generation since the 1980s due to government policies discouraging the use of dialects in favour of Mandarin. Other Indian languages, such as Punjabi among the Sikhs, are also spoken.
The official Chinese script used in Singapore is the simplified script used in mainland China. As such, all official publications (including local newspapers) and signs are in simplified Chinese and all ethnic Chinese are taught to write the simplified script in school. However, the older generations still prefer the traditional style, and the popularity of Hong Kong and Taiwanese pop culture means that even the youth can usually read traditional Chinese.
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.
On the cultural side of things, Singapore has been trying to shake off its boring, buttoned-down reputation and attract more artists and performances, with mixed success. The star in Singapore's cultural sky is the Esplanade theatre in Marina Bay, a world-class facility for performing arts and a frequent stage for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra . Pop culture options are more limited and Singapore's home-grown arts scene remains rather moribund, although local starlets Stefanie Sun and JJ Lin have had some success in the Chinese pop scene. On the upside, any bands and DJs touring Asia are pretty much guaranteed to perform in Singapore.
Going to the movies is a popular Singaporean pastime, but look for "R21" ratings (21 and up only) if you like your movies with fewer cuts. The big three theatre chains are Cathay , Golden Village and Shaw Brothers . Censorship continues to throttle the local film scene, but Jack Neo's popular comedies showcase the foibles of Singaporean life.
In summer, don't miss the yearly Singapore Arts Festival . 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.
Singapore is no Las Vegas or even Macau, but nearly 10 billion dollars were poured into its two sparkling-new casinos and it shows. Marina Bay Sands at Marina Bay is the larger and swankier of the two, while Resorts World Sentosa at Sentosa aims for a more family-friendly experience. While locals have to pay a steep S$100/day to get in, visitors can enter for free.
However, a more local form of gambling can be seen at the Singapore Turf Club, where locals go to hedge their bets on the horses on weekends. Betting on football (soccer) matches is also available at the Singapore Pools outlets.
Mahjong is also a popular pastime in Singapore. The version played in Singapore is similar to the Cantonese version, but it also has extra "animal tiles" not present in the original Cantonese version. However, this remains pretty much a family and friends affair, and there are no mahjong parlours.
Despite its small size, Singapore has a surprisingly large number of golf courses, but most of the best ones are run by private clubs and open to members and their guests only. The main exceptions are the Sentosa Golf Club , the famously challenging home of the Barclays Singapore Open, and the Marina Bay Golf Course , the only 18-hole public course. See the Singapore Golf Association for the full list; alternatively, head to the nearby Indonesian islands of Batam or Bintan or up north to the Malaysian town of Malacca for cheaper rounds.
The inaugural F1 Singapore Grand Prix was held in September 2008, and will be a fixture on the local calendar until at least 2012. Held on a street circuit in the heart of Singapore and raced at night, all but race fans will probably wish to avoid this time, as hotel prices are through the roof. Tickets start from $150.
The Singapore Turf Club in Kranji hosts horse races most Fridays, including a number of international cups, and is popular with local gamblers. The Singapore Polo Club near Balestier is also open to the public on competition days.
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 legitimate, and "health centres", which are mostly not.
When looking for beauty salons on Orchard Road, try out the ones on the fourth floor of Lucky Plaza. They offer most salon services like manicures, pedicures, facials, waxing and hair services. A favorite of flight crew and repeat tourists due to the lower costs as compared to the sky high prices of other salons along the shopping belt. Shop around for prices, some of the better looking ones actually charge less.
Forget your tiny hotel pool if you are into competitional or recreational swimming: Singapore is paradise for swimmers with arguably the highest density of public pools in the world. They are all open-air 50 meter-pools (some facilities even feature up to three 50 meter pools), accessible for an almost ridiculous entrance fee of $1.00-1.50. Actually, this is so cheap that half of the visitors don't swim at all. They just come from nearby housing complexes for a few hours to chill out, read and relax in the sun. Most are open daily from 8 AM to 9 PM, and all feature a small cafe. Just imagine swimming your lanes in the tropical night with lit up palm trees surrounding the pool.
The Singapore Sports Council maintains a list of pools, most of which are part of a larger sports complex with gym, tennis courts etc, and are located near the MRT station they're named after. Perhaps the best is in Katong (111 Wilkinson Road, on the East Coast): after the swim, stroll through the villa neighbourhood directly in front of the pool entrance and have at look at the luxurious, original architecture of the houses that really rich Singaporeans live in.
The Singaporean currency is the Singapore dollar, abbreviated SGD, S$ or just $ (as used throughout this guide), divided into 100 cents. There are coins of $0.05 (gold), $0.10 (silver), $0.20 (silver), $0.50 (silver) and $1 (gold), plus bills of $2 (purple), $5 (green), $10 (red), $50 (blue), $100 (orange), $1000 (purple) and $10000 (gold). The Brunei dollar is pegged at par with the Singapore dollar and the two currencies can be used interchangeably in both countries, so don't be too surprised if you get a Brunei note as change. As of September 2010, one US dollar is worth about $1.33 and one euro is worth about $1.74.
Restaurants often display prices like $19.99++, which means that service charge (10%) and sales tax (7%) are not included and will be added to your bill. Tipping is generally not practised in Singapore, and is officially frowned upon by the government, although bellhops still expect $2 or so per bag. Taxis will usually return your change to the last cent, or round in your favor if they can't be bothered to dig for change.
ATMs are ubiquitous in Singapore and credit cards are widely accepted (although shops often levy a 3% surcharge, and taxis a whopping 15%). Travelers checks are generally not accepted by retailers, but can be cashed at most exchange booths.
Currency exchange booths can be found in every shopping mall and usually offer better rates, better opening hours and much faster service than banks. The huge 24-hour operation at Mustafa in Little India accepts almost any currency at very good rates, as do the fiercely competitive small shops at the aptly named Change Alley next to Raffles Place MRT. For large amounts, ask for a quote, as it will often get you a better rate than displayed on the board. Rates at the airport are not as good as in the city, and while many department stores accept major foreign currencies, their rates are often terrible.
Singapore is expensive by Asian standards but cheap for visitors from most industrialized countries: $50 is a perfectly serviceable daily backpacker budget if you are willing to cut some corners, though you would probably wish to double that for comfort. Food in particular is a steal, with excellent hawker food available for under $5 for a generous serving. Accommodation is a little pricier, but a bed in a hostel can cost less than $20, an average 3-4 star hotel in the city centre would typically cost anywhere from $100-$300 per night for a basic room, and the most luxurious hotels on the island (except maybe the Raffles) can be yours for $300 with the right discounts during the off-peak season.
Budget travellers should note that Singapore is much more expensive than the rest of Southeast Asia and should budget accordingly if planning to spend time in Singapore. In general, prices in Singapore are about twice as high as in Malaysia and Thailand and 3-5 times as high as in Indonesia and the Philippines.
Ripped off by a shop? Give the Singapore Tourism Board's free hotline at 1800 736-2000. The Small Claims Tribunal at 1 Havelock Sq also has a special expedited process for tourists that can solve simple cases within 24 hours.
Shopping is second only to eating as a national pastime, which means that Singapore has an abundance of shopping malls, and low taxes and tariffs on imports coupled with huge volume mean that prices are usually very competitive. While you won't find any bazaars with dirt-cheap local handicrafts (in fact, virtually everything sold in Singapore is made elsewhere), goods are generally of reasonably good quality and shopkeepers are generally quite honest due to strong consumer protection laws. Most stores are open 7 days a week from 10AM until 10PM, although smaller operations (particularly those outside shopping malls) close earlier — 7PM is common — and perhaps on Sundays as well. Mustafa in Little India is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Keep an eye out for the Great Singapore Sale , usually held in June-July, when shopping centres pull out all stops to attract punters. Many stores along the shopping belt of Orchard Road and Scotts Road now offer late night shopping on the last Friday of every month with over 250 retailers staying open till midnight.
For purchases of over $100 per day per participating shop, you may be able to get a refund of your 7% GST at Changi Airport or Seletar Airport, but the process is a bit of a bureaucratic hassle. See Singapore Customs for the full scoop.
|This guide uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:|
Singapore is a melting pot of cuisines from around the world, and many Singaporeans are obsessive gourmands who love to makan ("eat" in Malay). You will find quality Chinese, Malay, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Italian, French, American and other food in this city-state.
Eating habits run the gamut, but most foods are eaten by fork and spoon: push and cut with the fork in the left hand, and eat with the spoon in the right. Noodles and Chinese dishes typically come with chopsticks, while Malay and Indian food can be eaten by hand, but nobody will blink an eye if you ask for a fork and spoon instead. If eating by hand, always use your right hand to pick your food, as Malays and Indians traditionally use their left hand to handle dirty things. Take note of the usual traditional Chinese etiquette when using chopsticks, and most importantly, do not stick your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice. If eating in a group, serving dishes are always shared, but you'll get your own bowl of rice and soup. It's common to use your own chopsticks to pick up food from communal plates, but serving spoons can be provided on request.
Keep an eye out for the Singapore Food Festival , held every year in July. During the last three festivals, all visitors to Singapore smart enough to ask for them at any tourist information desk received coupons for free chilli crab, no strings attached!
Singapore is justly famous for its food, a unique mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Western elements. The following is only a brief sampler of the most popular dishes.
Many regional terms and the odd euphemism tend to crop up in notionally English menus. A few of the more common ones:
The most identifiable cuisine in the region is Peranakan or Nonya cuisine, born from the mixed Malay and Chinese communities of what were once the British colonies of the Straits Settlements (modern-day Singapore, Penang and Malacca).
Besides these dishes, the Peranakans are also known or their kueh or snacks which are somewhat different from the Malay versions due to stronger Chinese influences.
The Malays were Singapore's original inhabitants and despite now being outnumbered by the Chinese, their distinctive cuisine is popular to this day. Characterized by heavy use of spices, most Malay dishes are curries, stews or dips of one kind or another and nasi padang restaurants, offering a wide variety of these to ladle onto your rice, are very popular.
Malay desserts, especially the sweet pastries and jellies (kuih or kueh) made largely from coconut and palm sugar (gula melaka), bear a distinct resemblance to those of Thailand. But in the sweltering tropical heat, try one of many concoctions made with ice instead:
Chinese food as eaten in Singapore commonly originates from southern China, particularly Fujian and Guangdong. While "authentic" fare is certainly available, especially in fancier restaurants, the daily fare served in hawker centres has absorbed a number of tropical touches, most notably the fairly heavy use of chilli and the Malay fermented shrimp paste belacan as condiments. Noodles can also be served not just in soup (湯 tang), but also "dry" (干 kan), meaning that your noodles will be served tossed with chilli and spices in one bowl, and the soup will come in a separate bowl.
The smallest of the area's minorities, the Indians have had proportionally the smallest impact on the local culinary scene, but there is no shortage of Indian food even at many hawker centres. Delicious and authentic Indian food can be had at Little India, including south Indian typical meals such as dosa (thosai) crepes, idli lentil-rice cakes and sambar soup, as well as north Indian meals including various curries, naan bread, tandoori chicken and more. In addition, however, a number of Indian dishes have been "Singaporeanized" and adopted by the entire population, including:
Social welfare Singapore style
One thing notably absent from Singaporean cheap eateries is any form of napkins or tissues. The solution to the mystery is in Singapore's lack of government welfare: instead, every hawker centre has a resident invalid or two, who make a living by selling tissues ($1 for a few packets).
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. However, be leery of overzealous pushers-cum-salesmen, especially at the Satay Club in Lau Pa Sat and Newton Food Centre at Newton Circus: the tastiest stalls don't need high-pressure tactics to find customers. Touting for business is illegal, and occasionally a reminder of this can result in people backing off a bit.
To order, first chope (reserve) a table by parking a friend by the table, note the table's number, then place your order at your stall of choice. They'll deliver to your table, and you pay when you get the food. Note that some stalls (particularly very popular ones) have signs stating "self-service", meaning that you're expected to get your food yourself — but if it's quiet or you're sitting nearby they'll usually deliver anyway. At almost every stall you can also opt to take away (called "packet" or ta pao (打包) in Cantonese), in which case they'll pack up your order in a plastic box/bag and even throw in disposable utensils. Once finished, just get up and go, as tables are cleared by hired cleaners.
Every district in Singapore has its own hawker centres and prices decrease as you move out into the boonies. For tourists, centrally located Newton Circus (Newton MRT), Gluttons Bay and Lau Pa Sat (near the River), are the most popular options — but this does not make them the cheapest or the tastiest, and the demanding gourmand would do well to head to Chinatown or the heartlands instead. Many of the best food stalls are located in residential districts away from the tourist trail and do not advertise in the media, so the best way to find them is to ask locals for their recommendations. And if you miss western food, Botak Jones in several hawker centers offer reasonably authentic and generously sized American-restaurant style meals at hawker prices.
Coffee, see, and tea, oh!
Coffee and tea in hawker centres and kopitiam goes for under a dollar a cup, a steep discount on Starbucks prices, but you'll need to learn the lingo to get what you want. If you order just kopi (the Malay word for "coffee") or teh (Hokkien for "tea") in Singapore, it will definitely be served with a heaped spoonful of sugar, and more often than not with a squirt of sweet condensed milk. Kopi-C or teh-C substitutes unsweetened evaporated milk, while kopi-O or teh-O makes sure it's served with no milk. To get rid of the sugar, you need to ask for it kosong ("plain"), but if you want a plain black cup of joe, you need to ask for kopi-O kosong! If you want your drink cold, just add a peng to the end of the drink name, eg. kopi-O-peng, teh-peng, teh-C-peng, Milo-peng etc. and it will be served with ice.
Despite the name, coffee shops or kopitiam sell much more than coffee — they are effectively mini-hawker centres with perhaps only half a dozen stalls (one of which will, however, sell coffee and other drinks). The Singaporean equivalent of pubs, this is where folks come for the canonical Singaporean breakfast of kopi (strong, sugary coffee), some kaya (egg-coconut jam) toast and runny eggs, and this is also where they come to down a beer or two and chat away in the evenings. English proficiency can somtimes be limited, but most stall owners know enough to communicate the basics, and even if they don't, nearby locals will usually help you out if you ask. Many coffee shops offer zi char/cze cha (煮炒) for dinner, meaning a menu of local dishes, mostly Chinese-style seafood, served at your table at mid-range prices.
The usual Starbucks and other local cafe chains such as Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf can be found in any shopping mall but an iced coffee or tea can put you back $5 and up, whereas a teh tarik ("pulled" milky tea) or kopi coffee runs closer to $1 at any hawker centre.
Found in the basement or top floor of nearly every shopping mall, food courts are the gentrified, air-conditioned version of hawker centres. The variety of food on offer is almost identical, but prices are on average $2-3 higher and the quality is usually lower.
International fast food chains like McDonald's, Carl's Jr., Burger King, KFC, MOS Burger, Dairy Queen, Orange Julius, Subway etc are commonly found in various shopping malls. Prices range from $2 for a basic burger and $5 upwards for a set meal. All restaurants are self-service and clearing your table after your meal is optional. In addition to the usual suspects, look out for these uniquely Singaporean brands:
Kee-ping up with the Lims
Ever wonder why every other Chinese hawker stall and restaurant in Singapore has a name that ends in Kee? The answer is simple: the character kee (记) is Chinese for "brand" or "mark", and is used much like the trademark symbol in the West. A name like Yan Kee thus means "run by the Yan family", and should not be taken as a political statement!
Singapore offers a wide variety of full-service restaurants as well, catering to every taste and budget.
As the majority of Singapore's population is ethnic Chinese, there is an abundance of Chinese restaurants in Singapore, mainly serving southern Chinese (mostly Hokkien, Teochew or Cantonese) cuisines, though with the large number of expatriates and foreign workers from China these days, cuisine originating from Shanghai and further north is also not hard to find. As with Chinese restaurants anywhere, food is eaten with chopsticks and served with Chinese tea. While Chinese restaurant food is certainly closer to authentic Chinese fare than hawker food is, it too has not managed to escape local influences and you can find many dishes little seen in China. Depending on where you go and what you order, prices can vary greatly. In ordinary restaurants, prices usually start from $20-30 per person, while in top end restaurants in five-star hotels, prices can go as high as more than $300 per person if you order delicacies such as abalone, suckling pig and lobster.
Being a maritime city, one common specialty is seafood restaurants, offering Chinese-influenced Singaporean classics like chilli crabs. These are much more fun to go to in a group, but be careful what you order: gourmet items like Sri Lankan giant crab or shark's fin can easily push your bill up to hundreds of dollars. Menus typically say "Market price", and if you ask they'll quote you the price per 100g, but a big crab can easily top 2 kilos. The best-known seafood spots are clustered on the East Coast, but for ambience the riverside restaurants at Boat Quay and Clarke Quay can't be beat.
Singapore also has its share of good Western restaurants, with British and American influenced food being a clear favourite among locals. Most of the more affordable chains are concentrated around Orchard Road and prices start from around $10-20 per person for the main course. French, Italian, Japanese and Korean food is also readily available, though prices tend to be on the expensive side, while Thai and Indonesian restaurants tend to be more affordable.
One British import much beloved by Singaporeans is high tea. In the classical form, as served up by finer hotels across the island, this is a light afternoon meal consisting of tea and a wide array of British-style savoury snacks and sweet pastries like finger sandwiches and scones. However, the term is increasingly used for afternoon buffets of any kind, and Chinese dim sum and various Singaporean dishes are common additions. Prices vary, but you'll usually be looking at $20-30 per head. Note that many restaurants only serve high tea on weekends, and hours may be very limited: the famous spread at the Raffles Hotel's Tiffin Room, for example, is only available between 3:30PM and 5PM.
Singaporeans are big on buffets, especially international buffets offering a wide variety of dishes including Western, Chinese and Japanese as well as some local dishes at a fixed price. Popular chains include Sakura , Pariss and Vienna .
Most hotels also offer lunch and dinner buffets. Champagne brunches on Sundays are particularly popular, but you can expect to pay over $100 per head and popular spots, like Mezza9 at the Hyatt on Orchard, will require reservations.
Singapore is an easy place to eat for almost everybody. Many Indians and not a few Chinese Buddhists are strictly vegetarian, so every Indian stall will have a number of veggie options and most hawker centres will have a Chinese vegetarian stall or two, often serving up amazing meat imitations made from gluten. Chinese vegetarian food traditionally does not use eggs or dairy products and is thus almost always vegan; Indian vegetarian food, however, often employs cheese and other milk products. Be on your guard in ordinary Chinese restaurants though, as even dishes that appear vegetarian on the menu may contain seafood products like oyster sauce or salted fish — check with the waiter if in doubt.
Muslims should look out for halal certificates issued by MUIS, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore. This is found at practically every Malay stall and many Indian Muslim operations too, but more rarely on outlets run by the Chinese, few of whom are Muslims. That said, the popular Banquet chain of food courts is entirely halal and an excellent choice for safely sampling halal Chinese food. Many, if not all, of the Western fast-food chains in Singapore use halal meat: look for a certificate around the ordering area, or ask a manager if in doubt. A few restaurants skimp on the formal certification and simply put up "no pork, no lard" signs; it's your call if this is good enough for you.
Jews, on the other hand, will have a harder time as kosher food is nearly unknown in Singapore. Nevertheless, kosher food is still available near Singapore's two synagogues at Oxley Rise and Waterloo Street in the Central Business District; check with the Jewish Welfare Board for details.
Singapore's nightlife isn't quite a match for Patpong, but it's no slouch either! Some clubs have 24-hour licenses and few places close before 3 AM. Any artist touring Asia are pretty much guaranteed to stop in Singapore, with superclub Zouk in particular regularly clocking high on lists of the world's best nightclubs. Singapore's nightlife is largely concentrated along the three Quays — Boat, Clarke and Robertson — of the Riverside, with the clubs of Sentosa and nearby St James Power Station giving party animals even more reason to dance the night away. Gay bars are mostly found around Chinatown. Drinking age is 18, and while this is surprisingly loosely enforced, some clubs have higher age limits.
Friday is generally the biggest night of the week for going out, with Saturday a close second. Sunday is gay night in many bars and clubs, while Wednesday or Thursday is ladies' night, often meaning not just free entrance but free drinks for women. Most clubs are closed on Monday and Tuesday, while bars generally stay open but tend to be very quiet.
For a night out Singapore style, gather a group of friends and head for the nearest karaoke box — major chains include K-Box and Party World. Room rental ranges from $30/hour and up. Beware that the non-chain, glitzy (or dodgy) looking, neon-covered KTV lounges may charge much higher rates and the short-skirted hostesses may offer more services than just pouring your drinks. In Singapore, the pronunciation of karaoke follows the Japanese "karah-oh-kay" instead of the Western "carry-oh-key".
Alcohol is widely available but very expensive due to Singapore's heavy sin taxes. Even though alcohol can be bought tax-free at Changi Airport, it is rather expensive there too. Tax-free does not mean profit-free. You can bring in up to one litre each of liquor, wine and beer if you arrive from countries other than Malaysia. Careful shopping at major supermarkets will also throw up common basic Australian wine labels for under $20.
While most Singaporeans are not puritan and enjoy a drink every now and then, do not expect to find the binge-drinking culture that you will find in most Western countries. Unlike in most Western countries, public drunkedness in socially frowned upon in Singapore, and misbehaving yourself under the influence of alcohol will not gain you any respect from Singaporean friends. Do not allow any confrontations to escalate into fights, as the police will be called in, and you will face jailtime and possibly caning.
Prices when eating out vary. You can enjoy a large bottle of beer of your choice at a coffee shop or hawker center for less than $6 (and the local colour comes thrown in for free). On the other hand, drinks in any bar, club or fancy restaurant remain extortionate, with a basic drink clocking in at $10-15 while fancy cocktails would usually be in the $15-25 range. On the upside, happy hours and two-for-one promotions are common, and the entry price for clubs usually includes several drink tickets. Almost all restaurants in Singapore allow bringing your own (BYO) wine and cheaper restaurants without a wine menu usually don't even charge corkage, although in these places you'll need to bring your own bottle opener and glasses. Fancier places charge $20-50, although many offer free corkage days on Monday or Tuesday.
Tourists flock to the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel to sample the original Singapore Sling, a sickly sweet pink mix of pineapple juice, gin and more, but locals (almost) never touch the stuff. The tipple of choice in Singapore is the local beer, Tiger, a rather ordinary lager, but there's been a recent microbrewery boom with Archipelago (Boat Quay), Brewerkz (Riverside Point), Paulaner Brauhaus (Millenia Walk) and Pump Room (Clarke Quay) all offering interesting alternatives.
Tobacco is heavily taxed, and you are not allowed to bring more than one opened pack (not carton, but a single pack!) of cigarettes into the country. This is particularly strictly enforced on the land borders with Malaysia. Many public places including hawker centres have restrictions on smoking, and it is prohibited in public transport as well. There is a total ban on smoking in all air-conditioned places (including pubs and discos), and strict limitations on where you can smoke outside as well (eg. bus stops and all except the designated sections of hawker centres are off limits). The designated zone should be marked with a yellow outline, and may have a sign reading "smoking zone".
Prostitution is tolerated in six designated districts, most notably Geylang, which — not coincidentally — also offers some of the cheapest lodging and best food in the city. The industry maintains a low profile (no go-go bars here) and is not a tourist attraction by any stretch of the word. Legally practising commercial sex workers are required to register with the authorities and attend special clinics for regular sexually transmitted disease screening. However, please be prudent and practice safe sex--although most sex workers will insist on it anyway.
Orchard Towers, on Orchard Road, has been famously summarized as "four floors of whores" and, despite occasional crackdowns by the authorities, continues to live up to its name. Beware that the prostitutes working here are usually not registered, so the risk of theft and STDs is significantly higher, and not a few of the "women" are actually transsexuals.
|This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:|
Accommodation in Singapore is expensive by South-East Asian standards. Particularly in the higher price brackets, demand has been outstripping supply recently and during big events like the F1 race or some of the larger conventions it's not uncommon for pretty much everything to sell out. Lower-end hotels and hostels, though, remain affordable and available throughout the year.
Do note that Singapore's laws that ban late night/early morning construction only apply to residential areas and not the city centre. You can expect to hear loud piling from sites such as the new Shanghai tunnel late into the night or early morning. Keep this in mind and check for any construction work near any hotel you choose as the work will be unlikely to stop when you want to sleep!!
Backpackers' hostels can be found primarily in Little India, Bugis and the East Coast. Around $20-30 for a dorm bed.
Cheap hotels are clustered in the Geylang, Balestier and Little India districts, where they service mostly the type of customer who rents rooms by the hour. Rooms are generally small and not fancy, but are still clean and provide basic facilities like a bathroom and television. Prices start as low as $15 for a "transit" of a few hours and $40 for a full night's stay. The two major local chains, with hotels throughout the island, are:
Much of Singapore's mid-range accommodation is in rather featureless but functional older hotels, with a notable cluster near the western end of the Singapore River. There has, however, been a recent surge of "boutique" hotels in renovated shophouses here and in Chinatown and these can be pretty good value, with rates starting from $100/night.
Singapore has a wide selection of luxury accommodation, including the famed Raffles Hotel. You will generally be looking at upwards of $300 per night for a room in a five-star hotel, which is still a pretty good deal by most standards. Hotel rates fluctuate quite a bit: a large conference can double prices, while on weekends in the off-peak season heavy discounts are often available. The largest hotel clusters can be found at Marina Bay (good for sightseeing) and around Orchard Road (good for shopping).
Housing in Singapore is expensive, as the sheer scarcity of land drives real estate prices through the roof. As a result, you would generally be looking at rentals on par with the likes of New York and London.
Apartment hotels in Singapore include Ascott , which also operates under the Somerset and Citadines brands. Prices are competitive with hotels but quite expensive compared to apartments.
Renting an apartment in Singapore will generally require a working visa. While over 80% of Singaporeans live in government-subsidized Housing Development Board (HDB) flats, their availability to visitors is limited, although JTC's SHiFT scheme makes some available with monthly rents in the $700-1000 range.
Most expats, however, turn to private housing blocks known as condos, where an average three-bedroom apartment will cost you anything from $2,000 per month for an older apartment in the suburbs to $20,000 for a top-of-the-line deluxe one on Orchard Road. Most condos have facilities like pools, gyms, tennis court, carpark and 24-hour security. As the supply of studio and one-bedroom apartments is very limited, most people on a budget share an apartment with friends or colleagues, or just sublet a single room. Landed houses, known as bungalows, are incredibly expensive in the centre (rents are regularly measured in tens of thousands) but can drop if you're willing to head out into the woods — and remember that you can drive across the country in 30 minutes.
One or two-month security deposits are standard practice and for monthly rents of under $3000 you need to pay the agent a commission of 2 weeks per year of lease. Leases are usually for two years, with a "diplomatic clause" that allows you to terminate after one year. Singapore Expats is the largest real estate agency geared for expats and their free classifieds are a popular choice for hunting for rooms or apartment-mates. You might also want to check the classified ads in the local newspapers.
Singapore's universities are generally well-regarded and draw exchange students from near and far.
A number of foreign universities, business schools and specialized institutes have also setup their Asian campuses in Singapore.
Casual work is nearly impossible to come by, as you must have a work permit (WP) or employment pass (EP) to work in Singapore. In practice, receiving either requires that you have a firm job offer and the sponsoring company applies on your behalf; however, highly skilled people can apply for an Employment Pass Eligibility Certificate (EPEC), which allows you to stay in Singapore for a maximum of one year while you look for a job. There is also a Working Holiday Programme for recent university grads who want to live in Singapore for up to 6 months.
Work permits are mostly intended for menial, low-skilled laborers. To be eligible for an employment pass, you would generally need to have a minimum salary of more than $2500 per month and hold at least a bachelor degree from a reasonably reputable university. There is also an intermediate known as the S pass, which is usually granted to mid-skilled workers who have been promoted to positions of junior leadership such as worksite supervisor, and would require you to have a minimum salary of more than $1800 per month as well as your employer's recommendation. Employment pass holders as well as S pass holders with a monthly salary of more than $2500 are allowed to bring in their family members on a dependent pass.
If your employment is terminated, you will get a social visit pass (a visitors visa with no employment rights) which allows you to stay for no longer than 14 days. You can look for another job during this time, but don't overstay your visa, and do not think about working without the right papers, this will result in a short stay in the local prison, with added fines, possibly caning and certain deportation. For more information, contact the Ministry of Manpower .
Once you have been working in Singapore for a year or so with an employment pass or S pass, applying for permanent residence (PR) is fairly straightforward. If granted — and the rule of thumb is, the higher your salary, the more likely you are to get it — you can stay in Singapore indefinitely (as long as you can show some income every 5 years) and can change jobs freely.
Singapore is one of the safest major cities in the world by virtually any measure. Most people, including single female travellers, will not face any problems walking along the streets alone at night. But as the local police say, "low crime does not mean no crime" — beware of pickpockets in crowded areas and don't forget your common sense entirely.
Singapore's squeaky cleanliness is achieved in part by strict rules against activities that are tolerated in other countries. For example, jay-walking, spitting, littering, and drinking and eating on public transport are prohibited (even forgetting to flush the toilet will subject you to a great fine). Locals joke about Singapore being a fine city because heavy fines are levied if one is caught committing an offence. Look around for sign boards detailing the Don'ts and the fines associated with these offenses, and heed them. Avoid littering, as offenders are not only subject to fines, but also to a "Corrective Work Order", in which offenders are made to wear a bright yellow jacket and pick up rubbish in public places. Enforcement is however sporadic at best, and it is not uncommon to see people openly litter, spit, smoke in non-smoking zones, etc. Chewing gum, famously long banned, is now available at pharmacies for medical purposes (e.g. nicotine gum) if you ask for it directly, show your ID and sign the register. (Importing it is, theoretically, still an offense though.)
WARNING: Singapore treats drug offences extremely severely. The death penalty is mandatory for those convicted of trafficking, manufacturing, importing or exporting more than 15 g of heroin, 30 g of morphine, 30 g of cocaine, 500 g of cannabis, 200 g of cannabis resin and 1.2 kg of opium, and possession of these quantities is all that is needed for you to be convicted. For unauthorised consumption, there is a maximum of 10 years' jail or fine of $20,000, or both. You can be charged for unauthorised consumption as long as traces of illicit drugs are found in your system, even if you can prove that they were consumed outside the country, and you can be charged for trafficking as long as drugs are found in bags that are in your possession or in your room, even if they aren't yours and regardless of whether you're aware of them.
For some crimes, most notably illegal entry and overstaying your visa for over 90 days, Singapore imposes caning as a punishment. Other offenses which have caning as a punishment include vandalism (just ask Michael P. Fay), robbery, molestation and rape. Do note that having sex with a girl under the age of 16 is considered to be rape under Singapore law, regardless of whether the girl consents to it and would land you a few strokes of the cane. This is no slap on the wrist: strokes from the thick rattan cane are excruciatingly painful, take weeks to heal and scar for life. Corruption is also punishable by caning so under no circumstances should you try to offer a bribe or gratuity to a police officer. Crimes such as murder, kidnapping, unauthorised possession of firearms and drug trafficking are punished with death.
Oral and anal sex, long banned under colonial-era sodomy statutes, was legalized for heterosexuals in October 2007. Homosexual contact, however, remains illegal, with a theoretical punishment two years in prison and/or caning. Though this law is rarely enforced and there is a fairly vibrant gay community, gays should still expect legalized discrimination and unaccepting attitudes from locals and government officials.
Begging is illegal in Singapore, but you'll occasionally see beggars on the streets. Most are not Singaporean — even the "monks" dressed in robes, who occasionally pester tourists for donations, are usually bogus.
Singapore is virtually immune to natural disasters: there are no fault lines nearby, although Indonesia's earthquakes can sometimes be barely felt, and other landmasses shield it from typhoons, tornados and tsunamis. Flooding in the Nov-Jan monsoon season is an occasional hazard, especially in low-lying parts of the East Coast, but any water usually drains off within a day and life continues as normal.
Tap water is safe for drinking and sanitation standards are very high. As a tropical country, Singapore is hot and humid so drink a lot of water. The lowest temperature ever recorded in Singapore was way back in 1934, when it hit a low of 19.4 degrees Celsius (66.9 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Malaria is not an issue, but dengue fever is endemic to the region. Singapore maintains strict mosquito control (leaving standing water around will get you fined), but the government's reach does not extend into the island's nature reserves, so if you're planning on hiking bring along mosquito repellent.
The standard of medical care in Singapore is uniformly excellent and Singapore is a popular destination for medical tourism (and medical evacuations) in the region. Despite the lower prices, standards are often as good as those in the West at both public and private clinics, making this a good place to get your jabs and tabs if heading off into the jungle elsewhere. You'll still want to make sure your insurance is in order before a prolonged hospitalization and/or major surgery.
For minor ailments, head down to the nearest suburban shopping mall or HDB shopping district and look for a general practitioner (GP). They usually receive patients without appointment and can prescribe drugs on the spot, and the total cost of a consultation, medicine included, rarely exceeds $30. For larger problems, head to a hospital:
Alternatively, practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) are widespread in Singapore. Eu Yan Sang runs a chain of over 20 clinics, while the Singapore Chinese Physicians' Association offers a directory of TCM physicians.
Nearly all shopping centers, hotels, MRT stations, bus interchanges, and hawker centers are likely to have public restrooms/toilet facilities available. Being clean, McDonald's restrooms are popular too, and the staff do not make a fuss. Public facilities may charge 10 to 20 cents per entry, and a packet of tissue may come in handy if the toilet paper has run out. Most toilets have bowls, but there is usually one squatting cubicle in every public toilet.
What's in a name?
- Chinese place their family name first, so Phua Chu Kang is Mr. Phua for business and Chu Kang (or just CK) to his friends. Many have Western names, so he may also be known as Terry Phua.
- Malay names are given name + bin or binti (son/daughter) + father's name. Mohammed bin Abdullah would usually be called Mr. Mohammed. Sometimes, the person's given name appears after the Mohammed eg. Mohammed Faizal bin Mohammed Nasser so in such a case, he would usually be addressed as Mr Faizal.
- Indian names are complex, but the south Indian (Tamil) names usually found in Singapore have two patterns: either given name + s/o or d/o (son of/daughter of) + father's name, or father's initial + given name. Given names are often long and may be abbreviated, so Ramanathan s/o Sellapan uses the name S.R. Nathan and would addressed as Mr. Nathan. The foolproof method is to ask the person how they'd like to be addressed.
Singaporeans don't go much for formal politeness and what would be decent behavior at home, wherever home might be, is unlikely to offend anyone in Singapore either. In Singapore, unlike much of southeast Asia, women wearing revealing clothing or men wearing shorts and slippers are perfectly acceptable. That said, upmarket bars and restaurants may enforce dress codes and toplessness for women is not acceptable anywhere, even on the beach.
Casual conversation — for example, chatting with a shopkeeper — isn't really done in Singapore, and you may get strange looks if you try. No offense is intended, Singaporeans are just protective of their personal space and showing courtesy by trying not to impose on others. Furthermore, the local dialect with its heavy Chinese influences may appear brusque or even rude, but "You want beer or not?" is in fact more polite in Chinese -- after all, the person asking you the question is offering you a choice, not making a demand!
If invited to somebody's house, always remove your shoes before you enter as most Singaporeans do not wear their shoes at home. Socks are perfectly acceptable though, as long as they are not excessively soiled. Many places of worship also require you to remove your shoes before you enter.
At rush hour, be prepared for a lot of pushing on the MRT (even just to get off) and everyone racing for the empty seat, though in a somewhat orderly manner. This is normal, despite signs asking people to be a little more courteous. Just go with the flow.
Beware of taboos if bringing gifts. Any products (food or otherwise) involving animals may cause offence and are best avoided, as are white flowers (usually reserved for funerals). Knives and clocks are also symbols of cutting ties and death, respectively, and some Chinese are superstitious about the number four. Many Singaporean Muslims and some Hindus abstain from alcohol.
Swastikas are commonly seen in Buddhist and Hindu temples, as well as among the possessions of Buddhists and Hindus. It is regarded as a religious symbol, and does not represent Nazism or anti-Semitism. As such, Western visitors should not feel offended on seeing a Swastika in the homes of their hosts, or many locals will wonder what the fuss is all about.
Take dietary restrictions into account when inviting Singaporean friends for a meal. Many Indians (and a few Chinese) are vegetarian. Most Malays eat only halal food, while most Indians, being Hindu, abstain from beef.
Singaporeans are punctual, so show up on time. The standard greeting is a firm handshake. However, conservative Muslims avoid touching the opposite sex, so a man meeting a Malay woman should let her offer her hand first and a woman meeting a Malay man should wait for him to offer his hand. If they opt to place their hand on the heart and bow slightly instead, just follow suit. Singaporeans generally do not hug, especially if it is someone they have just met, and doing so would probably make your host feel awkward, though it is unlikely to cause any offence.
For men, standard business attire is a long-sleeved shirt and a tie, although it's common to skip the tie and open the shirt's collar button instead. Jackets are rarely worn, because it's simply too hot most of the time. Women usually wear Western business attire, although a few prefer Malay-style kebaya and sarong.
Business cards are always exchanged when meeting for the first time: hold yours with both hands by the top corners, so the text faces the recipient, while simultaneously receiving theirs. (This sounds more complicated than it is!) Study the cards you receive and feel free to ask questions; when finished, place them on the table in front of you, not in a shirt pocket or wallet, and do not write on them or otherwise show disrespect.
Business gifts are generally frowned on as they whiff of bribery. Smalltalk and beating around the bush is neither necessary nor expected, and most meetings get straight down to business.
The international telephone country code for Singapore is 65. There are three main telecommunication providers in Singapore: SingTel , StarHub and MobileOne (M1) .
Mobile phones are carried by almost everyone in Singapore, including many young children, and coverage is generally excellent throughout the country. All 3 service providers have both GSM 900/1800 and 3G (W-CDMA) networks, and international roaming onto them may be possible; check with your operator before you leave to be sure. Prepaid SIM cards are sold in 7-Eleven convenience stores, phone shops and currency exchange counters, just bring your own GSM/3G phone or buy a cheap used handset in Singapore. You will need to show an international passport or Singapore ID to sign up.
A local phone call costs between 5-25 cents per minute, whereas each local text message (SMS) costs about 5 cents, with international SMS about 15-25 cents. You may also be charged for incoming calls. Most prepaid cards expire within 6 months unless you top-up (which can also be done outside Singapore).
Public phones are an increasingly endangered species, but you can find them in most MRT stations. They are either coin-operated pay phones (10 cents for a three-minute local call), card phones operated by phone cards in denominations of $3, $5, $10, $20 and $50, or credit card phones. Phone cards are available at all post offices and from phonecard agents. Most coin-operated pay phones are for local calls only, there are some which accept coins of larger denominations and can be used for overseas calls. Credit card phones are usually found at the airport or in some major hotels.
To make an international call from Singapore, dial the access code 001 (for SingTel), 002 (for M1), and 008 (for StarHub), followed by the country code, area code and party's number. Recently the providers have started offering cheaper rates for calls using Internet telephony routes. The access codes for this cheaper service are 019 and 013 for SingTel and 018 for StarHub, make sure you input these codes instead of the "+" sign at the beginning of the number.
Calling cards are also available for specific international destinations and are usually cheaper. Hello Card from Singtel offers a very cheap rate to 8 countries (Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand).
Internet cafes charging around $2/hour are scattered about the island, but are not particularly common since almost all locals have Internet access at home, work, and/or school. Head to Chinatown or Little India if you need get online, or check out the top floors of many suburban malls, which feature Internet cafes doubling as online gaming parlors. Alternatively, all public libraries offer cheap Internet access ($0.03/min or $1.80/hr), but you need to jump through registration hoops to get access.
The first phase of the nationwide free Wireless@SG system is now operating and visitors are free to use the system, although you must register and receive a password via e-mail or a mobile phone first. See the Infocomm Development Authority website for a current list of hotspots. Commercial alternatives include McDonalds, which offers free wifi at most outlets; StarHub, a member of the Wireless Broadband Alliance with hotspots at Coffee Bean cafes; and SingTel, which has hotspots at most Starbucks cafes. Roaming or prepaid rates are on the order of $0.10/minute.
There are several options for prepaid 3G/HSPA internet. Starhub MaxMobile has different plans from S$2/hour to S$25 for 5 days unlimited 7.2mbps internet. SIM costs S$12. M1 Prepaid Broadband offers unlimited Internet access for three days/five days at S$18/S$30 .
SingPost has offices throughout the island, generally open 8:30AM-5PM weekdays, 8:30AM-1PM Saturdays, closed Sundays. The Changi Airport T2 (transit side) office is open 6 AM-midnight daily, while the 1 Killeney Rd branch is open until 9 PM weekdays and 10AM-4PM Sundays. Service is fast and reliable. A postcard to anywhere in the world costs 50 cents, and postage labels can also be purchased from the self-service SAM machines found in many MRT stations.
Small packets up to 2 kg cost $3.50/100g for airmail, or $1/100g for surface mail. For larger packages, DHL may offer competitive rates.