At a Glance
Singapore has traded in its rough-and-ready opium dens and pearl luggers for towers of concrete and glass, and its steamy rickshaw image for hi-tech wizardry, but you can still recapture the colonial era with a Singapore Sling under the languorous ceiling fans at Raffles Hotel.
At first glance, Singapore appears shockingly modern and anonymous, but this is an undeniably Asian city with Chinese, Malay and Indian traditions from feng shui to ancestor worship creating part of the everyday landscape. It's these contrasts that bring the city to life.
When To Go
Go anytime. Climate is not a major consideration, as Singapore gets fairly steady annual rainfall. Co-ordinate your visit with one of the various festivals and events: Thaipusam is a spectacular festival, occurring around February. If shopping and eating are major concerns, April brings the Singapore Food Festival and the Great Singapore Sale is held in June.
Republic of Singapore
683 sq km
264 sq miles
+8 (Standard Time)
Daylight Saving Start
not in use
Daylight Saving End
not in use
English is widespread. Children are taught English at school but also learn their mother tongue to make sure they don't lose contact with their traditions. The only communication problem English-speakers are likely to have in Singapore is with older Singaporeans who did not learn English at school, though trying to understand the unique patois called Singlish – which uses a clipped form of English mixed with Malay and Hokkien words – can be taxing.
Mostly restricted to the Malay community.
Chinese dialects, such as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hainanese and Hakka, are still widely spoken. The government's long-standing campaign to promote Mandarin has been very successful and increasing numbers of Chinese now speak Mandarin at home.
Tamil is the main Indian language, though Malayalam and Hindi are also spoken.
42% Buddhist, 15% Muslim, 14% Christian, 9% Taoist, 4% Hindu
Singapore Dollar (S$)
Electric Plug Details
British-style plug with two flat blades and one flat grounding blade
Country Dialing Code
All around Singapore you will see the country's fantastical mascot, the Merlion: a half lion, half fish. He's often placed in fountains, which the lower half of him would obviously enjoy.
Singapore is a city, an island and a country. Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore on the Singapore River, which is still the heart of the city, encompassing the central business district and the popular entertainment and dining precinct along the quays. Most of Singapore's tourist action is centred around Orchard Rd, Chinatown and Little India.
GMT/UTC +8 (Standard Time)
Start: not in use
End: not in use
Weights Measures System
The island, always spotless and well organised, is becoming even cleaner and greener. Though little is left of Singapore's wilderness, growing interest in the ecology has seen new bird sanctuaries and parkland areas gazetted by the government.
Most Western nationals either do not require a visa at all or do not require a visa for a social stay of up to 90 days. A 30-day permit is issued on arrival, and extensions are difficult to obtain.
Visitors to Singapore are allowed to bring in 1L of wine, beer or spirits duty-free. Electronic goods, cosmetics, watches, cameras, jewellery (but not imitation jewellery), footwear, toys, arts and crafts are not dutiable; the usual duty-free concession for personal effects, such as clothes, applies. Singapore does not allow duty-free concessions for cigarettes and tobacco. Importing large amounts of chewing gum is banned.
Fire crackers, toy currency and coins, obscene or seditious material, gun-shaped cigarette lighters, endangered species or their by-products, and pirated recordings and publications are prohibited.
The importation or exportation of significant quantities of illegal drugs carries the death penalty while lesser amounts range from a minimum of two years in jail and two strokes of the rotan (a type of cane) to 30 years and 15 strokes of the rotan. If you bring in prescription drugs, you should have a doctor's letter or a prescription confirming that they are necessary.
There is no restriction on the importation of currency.
Lee Hsien Loong – Prime Minister (head of government)
Sellapan Rama Nathan – President (head of state)
Doing Business Overview
Should you be looking to do business in Singapore, your initial point of contact should be with the Singapore Trade Development Board. Their overseas offices are located at the Singaporean embassies throughout the world.
A number of business support services exist in Singapore to help you rent offices and organise other business needs. They are regularly advertised in the Straits Times. The Business Times is also a useful resource.
It is important you establish a personal rapport with your business associates in Singapore. Business meetings begin with the exchange of business cards, which are offered with two hands in a humble gesture, to show that you are presenting yourself to your contact.
The central business district is just south of the river mouth, and is centred on Raffles Place.
Dangers & Annoyances
Singapore is a very safe country with low crime rates. Pickpockets are not unknown but in general crime is not a problem. This is not surprising given the harsh penalties meted out to offenders and the fact that hundreds of suspected criminals are held in jail without trial simply because the government does not have enough evidence to convict them. The importation of drugs carries the death penalty, which is regularly carried out. Simply, drugs in Singapore should be avoided at all costs.
The nanny state of Singapore takes a tough line on antisocial issues – the most famous being its ban on chewing gum (well, it does mess up the pavement and could stop the MRT from working). While having gum for your own consumption is no big deal, bringing it in bulk into Singapore will attract a heavy fine – the standard way of stamping out un-Singaporean activities.
Smoking in all public places, littering, jay walking and eating or drinking on the MRT are all punishable with hefty fines.
Singapore is one giant sauna anytime of the year. November to January are the wettest months but the other months are not exactly dry. The only real deterrent is the lack of refreshing winds during March and September. Generally expect average temperatures to reach around 31°C (88°F) during the day and linger around 24°C (75°F) at night.
The country code for Singapore is 65. Singaporean telephone numbers have eight digits. You can make local and international calls from public phones. International calls can be made from booths at the Comcentre 24 hours a day and at selected post offices. Most telephone booths will take phone cards, and some take credit cards, though there are still some coin booths around. For inquiries and information see www.singtel.com. Local phonecards are widely available and offer the cheapest rates.
Mobile Phone Overview
Mobile phone numbers in Singapore are generally prefixed 011 or 010. If you have 'global roaming' facilities with your home provider, your GSM digital phone will automatically tune into one of Singapore's two digital networks (MI-GSM or ST-GSM). There is complete coverage over the whole island, and phones will also work in the underground sections of the MRT rail network.
The press is theoretically free to assert any opinions, but government crackdowns are possible and self-censorship is the norm. International English-language publications, such as Time and Newsweek are readily available.
The TV and radio scenes are dominated by the Media Corporation of Singapore (Media-Corp), which is the country's largest terrestrial broadcaster; it operates five free-to-air TV channels as well as 12 local and four international radio stations, so it's hard to get an independent voice.
Straits Times (newspaper)
Your best bet for local news.
New Paper (newspaper)
This paper has more of a tabloid feel.
Big O (magazine)
All you need to know about the live music scene.
Men's Folio (magazine)
A stylish lifestyle magazine for sophisticated gents.
A magazine geared toward the interests of the foreign community.
Passion – 99.5FM
A private arts and world music station.
Power – 98FM
Safra Radio's English language channel, a 24-hour station aimed at the 18- to 35-year-old market.
BBC World Service – 88.9FM
The Beeb does its customary fine job of rounding up world affairs in eerily civilised tones.
News Radio – 93.8FM
Media-Corp's news channel will keep you abreast of local events.
Television and DVD
DVD zoneZone 3: Korea, southeast Asia
77% Chinese, 14% Malay, 8% Indian
42% Buddhist, 15% Muslim, 14% Christian, 9% Taoist, 4% Hindu
Older Singaporeans are keen on Chinese opera, which is a colourful mix of dialogue, music, song and dance. It is an ancient form of theatre which reached the peak of its popularity during the Ming Dynasty from the 14th to the 17th century. The acting is heavy and stylised, and the music is cacophonous to most Western ears.
Singapore is the food capital of Asia. Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian and Western foods are all on offer, and some of the most tasty creations are those sold from the atmospheric street stalls. Nonya cooking is a local variation on Chinese and Malay food, mixing Chinese ingredients with local spices such as lemongrass and coconut cream. Singapore is also a great place to discover unusual tropical fruits.
Street performances are held during important festivals such as Chinese New Year. The Lion Dance is a spectacular, acrobatic dance usually performed during Chinese festivals. Other performing arts include Malay and Indian dances.
Places to See
Singapore is a surprising and eye-catching melange of cultures, eras and environments. A centre filled with one-time colonial hot-spots like the Padang, Fort Canning and Raffles Hotel separates the spicy Little India enclave and aromatic Arab St from the commerce-frenzied atmosphere of Chinatown.
The Muslim centre of Singapore is a traditional textile district, full of batiks from Indonesia, silks, sarongs and shirts. Add to this mix rosaries, flower essences, hajj caps, songkok hats, basketware and rattan goods, and you have a fair idea of the products haggled over in this part of the city.
The grand Sultan Mosque is the biggest and liveliest mosque in Singapore, but the tiny Malabar Muslim Jama-ath Mosque is the most beautiful. There's fine Indian Muslim food along nearby North Bridge Rd and the foodstalls on Bussorah St are especially atmospheric at dusk during Ramadan.
beach ; forest
There aren't too many places in Singapore that could be considered virgin wilderness but there are some that offer an escape from the hubbub of the central district. Changi Village, on the east coast, no longer has traditional kampong houses but it does have a village atmosphere.
Though the beach may not exactly be a tropical paradise it does have the advantage of being almost deserted during the weekdays.
On the way to Changi Village it is worth visiting the infamous Changi Prison. The complex is still used as a prison but next to the main gate is the Changi Chapel and Museum, which holds a replica of the chapel used by interned Allied prisoners during WWII. Memorabilia and notes pinned to the walls of the chapel are a poignant reminder of that particular part of Asian history.
bounded by the Singapore River to the north, New Bridge Rd to the west, Maxwell Rd to the south, and Cecil St to the east
Chinatown is Singapore's cultural heart and still provides glimpses of the old ways with its numerous temples and decorated terraces and its frantic conglomeration of merchants, shops and activity. Unfortunately much of Chinatown has been torn down and redeveloped over the past 30 years. However, it's still a fascinating place to explore.
Faithful restoration by the Urban Redevelopment Authority has saved some parts, but it has also posed a new threat, since the restored buildings are now desirable properties commanding high rents, and traditional businesses – such as shops selling incense to temple worshippers, letter writers and chop (stamp) makers – are moving out and a new gentrified Chinatown of fashionable restaurants and expensive shops is taking its place. It's best to visit in the early-morning hours when activity is more pronounced
theme park/funfair ; garden
Jurong Town, west of the city centre, is a huge industrial and housing area that is the powerhouse of Singapore's economy. This might seem an unlikely spot for a number of Singapore's tourist attractions, but it is home to the Haw Par Villa (a tacky Chinese mythological theme park), the beautiful Jurong Bird Park, Chinese & Japanese Gardens and the hands-on Singapore Science Centre
bounded by Serangoon Rd, Jalan Besar and Racecourse Rd
This modest but colourful area of wall-to-wall shops, pungent aromas and Hindi film music is a relief from the prim modernity of many parts of the city. Centred around the southern end of Serangoon Rd, this is the place to come to pick up that framed print of a Hindu god you've always wanted, eat great food and watch streetside cooks fry chapatis.
The Zhujiao Centre is the main market, but there are also interesting spice shops nearby. The best temples are Veerama Kali Ammam, Sri Srinivasa Perumal and the glitzy Temple of 1000 Lights.
This is the area where the high-class hotels predominate. It is also the domain of Singapore's elite, who are lured by the shopping centres, nightspots, restaurants, bars and lounges. A showcase for the material delights of capitalism, Orchard Rd also possesses some sights of cultural interest where a credit card is not required.
architectural feature ; sports
Ringed by imposing colonial façades, there are few more obvious symbols of British imperialism than the Padang's manicured lawns. Defying the tropical heat, the Singapore Cricket Club (est. 1852) struts its stuff to choruses of 'Huzzah!' and 'Cracking shot old bean!' from the members' pavilion. Rugby, bowls and football get an airing during the off-season.
Singapore Zoo & Night Safari
kids ; zoo
80 Mandai Lake Rd
The Singapore Zoo is world class. Set on a peninsula jutting into the Upper Seletar Reservoir, the zoo's 28 lush, landscaped hectares are home to more than 4000 residents. Newer attractions like the 'Australian Outback' exhibit and the 'Hamadryas Baboons – The Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia' convey entire ecosystems: animal, mineral, vegetable and human.
Endangered species include Komodo dragons, malodorous white rhinos, a charismatic orang-utan colony, and blue-eyed white tigers with paws as big as your face. The zoo claims to have the world's largest primate collection – if you visit on a weekend, the sweaty human hordes doing the rounds blur the distinctions between man and ape.
Visitors can stand behind a window in 'Ethiopia' and watch 50 shameless red-bummed baboons doing things that Singaporeans still get arrested for.
Want more beast for your buck? Visit the zoo in the late afternoon then hit the Night Safari next door. Clamber aboard the tram for an atmospheric jungle ride past a parade of spotlit nocturnal species. Things can be a bit hit-and-miss here – a lot depends on your tram conductor's sense of humour and whether or not the animals come out to play. The impressive 'Creatures of the Night' show will make you wonder why we ever bothered to evolve.
Sri Mariamman Temple
religious/spiritual ; religious/spiritual
244 South Bridge Rd
Paradoxically cast in the middle of Chinatown, the Sri Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. It is dedicated to the healing goddess Sri Mariamman, a favourite among Tamils for her rain-bringing inclinations and knack for curing what ails you. Each October the temple hosts the Thimithi Festival when devotees hot-foot it over burning coals.
Naraina Pillai, a trader who arrived in Singapore with Sir Stamford Raffles himself, first built a wooden temple here in 1827. The present stone building dates from 1862, though it's undergone countless renovations since then, usually in preparation for consecration ceremonies which happen every 12 years.
Far from the madding Pagoda and Smith St crowds, worshipers offer initial prayers at the Shrine of Sri Vinayagar – lord of beginnings and remover of obstacles – before presenting offerings (anything from fruit and incense to mouthwash mints) to other deities, or retreating to pray quietly in shadowy alcoves. Only the loincloth-clad priests are allowed to enter the temple's inner sanctum, where they bathe statues in coloured waters.
Sans Kevin Costner
kids ; zoo
80 Siloso Road
Sentosa's saving grace, Gracie the dugong, is Underwater World's star performer. Leafy sea-dragons and wobbling Medusa jellyfish are mesmeric; stingrays and ten-foot sharks cruise above Ocean Colony's submerged glass tubes.
The multicultural people of Singapore celebrate with the roar of a Chinese dragon at New Year, feasting for the living and the dead and dancing with the fervour of religious passion. Every phase of the lunar cycle brings a new opportunity for colour and festivity.
Because they follow the lunar calendar, the dates of Chinese, Hindu and Muslim festivals vary from year to year. Chinese New Year, in January or February, is welcomed in with dragon dances, parades and much good cheer. Chinatown is lit up with fireworks and night markets. Vesak Day in May celebrates Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death. It is marked by various events, including the release of caged birds to symbolise the liberation of captive souls. The Dragon Boat Festival, held in May or June, commemorates the death of a Chinese patriot who drowned himself as a protest against government corruption. It is celebrated with boat races across Marina Bay, accompanied by much eating of rice dumplings.
The Chinese Festival of the Hungry Ghosts is usually celebrated in September. This is when the souls of the dead are released for feasting and entertainment on earth. Chinese operas are performed for them and food is offered; the ghosts eat the spirit of the food but thoughtfully leave the substance for the mortal celebrants. During Ramadan, food stalls are set up in the evening in the Arab St district, near the Sultan Mosque. Hari Raya Puasa, the end of Ramadan in November, is marked by three days of joyful celebrations and often coincides with the Hindu Deepavali (or Diwali) festival, when Little India is festooned with lights. The festival of Thaipusam is one of the most dramatic Hindu festivals and is now banned in India. Devotees honour Lord Subramaniam with acts of amazing body-piercing – definitely not for the squeamish. In Singapore, devotees march in procession from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Serangoon Rd to the Chettiar Hindu Temple on Tank Rd. Dates for the festival vary according to the lunar calendar.
Most airlines fly into Singapore's heavily trafficked Changi International Airport. The best way to get from the airport to the city (20km/12mi away) is by train, but there is also a wide choice of bus and taxi services.
Singapore is the southern terminus of Malaysia's rail system, and three trains go to Kuala Lumpur each day. If you're going to or coming from Malaysia, your options are myriad, ranging from comfy buses to ferries and even taxis.
A swag of airlines fly into Singapore's ultramodern Changi International Airport – often voted one of the best airports in the world. It's certainly one of the most heavily trafficked, with a glut of facilities ranging from 24-hour meditation centres to boutique shopping – and even a little-known rooftop swimming pool. The best way to get from Changi Airport to the city (20km/12mi away) is by train. There is also a wide choice of bus and taxi services.
A passenger ferry operates between north Changi and Tanjung Belungkor, east of Johor Bahru. There are no direct passenger ferries between Singapore and the main ports of Indonesia, but it is possible to travel between the two countries via the Indonesian islands of the Riau Archipelago, immediately south of Singapore. Modern ferries link Singapore with the islands of Batam and Bintan in the archipelago. Speedboats link Batam with Pekanbaru in Sumatra, and several ships a week link Bintan with Jakarta.
Lots of visitors to Singapore combine their stay with a visit to Malaysia, which is just a kilometre away across the causeway over the Straits of Johor. You can travel between Malaysia and Singapore very easily by bus. Immaculate air-conditioned buses link Singapore to almost all large Malaysian cities; fares are generally inexpensive.
You can travel between Malaysia (just a kilometre away) and Singapore very easily by taxi.
A second road link has opened between Singapore and Malaysia to ease congestion – a bridge between Tuas in Western Singapore and Geylang Patah. It's known pragmatically enough as the Second Link. It can only be used if you have your own transport.
Singapore is the southern terminus of Malaysia's rail system and there are three trains a day to Kuala Lumpur (four on weekends).
Singapore's public transport is plentiful and varied. You have the option of using metered taxis (although rickshaws are really only in Chinatown and the back streets), the MRT subway system or the convenient bus services. You can get around on the water by ferry or bumboat.
Singapore has a comprehensive bus network with frequent services; it's cheap and simple to use.
Singapore has a convenient Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) subway system that won't cost you a fortune or tax your brain too much.
There is a good supply of taxis and all are metered. Taxis can be flagged down on the street or found at taxi stands near major hotels and shopping centres. During heavy rain, peak hours or late at night, taxis can however be almost impossible to get in many parts of the city centre.
You can charter bumboats (motorised sampans) to take various tours on the Singapore River, while luxurious junk tours can be taken around the harbour.
There are branches of all major rent-a-car companies. Daily rates can be prohibitively high, but weekly rates are reasonable.
Regular ferry services operate from the World Trade Centre to Sentosa and other islands, including Batam in Indonesia.
Rickshaws have all but disappeared from Singapore's main streets but can still be found operating for tourists in Chinatown and some central city streets; agree on a fare beforehand.
Cash is usually necessary for the payment of small items such as meals in hawker centres, food courts and bars, and for buying items from street vendors. Travellers cheques are popular and are a fail-safe fall-back; it is a good idea to always have some travellers cheques, otherwise plastic is still a viable option for most travellers. All major credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are common place in the city, with most accepting Visa, MasterCard and cards with Plus or Cirrus.
Changing Your Money
Banks can be found all over Singapore. Exchange rates tend to vary from bank to bank and some even have a service charge on each exchange transaction – this is usually a few dollars, but can be more, so ask first. You'll also find moneychangers in shopping centres all over Singapore that do not charge fees, so you will often get a better overall exchange rate for cash and travellers cheques with them than at the banks. Most shops accept foreign cash and travellers cheques with rates only a bit lower than at moneychangers.
Tipping is not expected but is growing as a practice in Singapore: Most expensive hotels and restaurants impose a 10% service charge, and a gratuity is not expected in excess of this. Don't tip at hawker stalls, though the more expensive coffee shops and restaurants that do not add a service charge may expect a tip. Taxi drivers don't expect a tip and may actually round a fare down if it is a little bit above an even dollar – similarly, they may expect you to round it up. Staff in the international hotels, such as room staff or the doorman who hails your taxi, may expect a tip if they have provided good service.
Singapore is much more expensive than other Southeast Asian countries, which may come as a shock if you are travelling on a shoestring budget. You can still stay here without spending too much money, as long as you can forego the temptation to run amok in the shops or indulge in luxuries you may have craved while travelling in less-developed Asian countries. It's possible to stay in Singapore for SGD50.00 a day, if you stay in hostels and eat cheaply. If you're staying in mid-range hotels and eating at good restaurants, SGD150.00 is a more realistic daily minimum.
All major credit cards are widely accepted, although you're not going to make yourself too popular after a hard bargaining session for a new camera if you then try to pay for it with your Visa card. It's probably still a good idea to take cash and travellers cheques for emergencies.
WorldGuide Index Prices
|small bottle of beer||S$4.50|
|museum entrance fee||S$3.00|
|simple hawker meal||S$4.00|
|process 36 roll color film||S$13.00|
|Singapore Sling at Raffles||S$16.00|
|basic hostel bed||S$35.00|
|trishaw transport per half hour||S$40.00|
|two-day cookery course||S$75.00|
Average Room Prices
Average Meal Prices
Manufacturing, electronics, chemicals, trade, business and financial services, shipping, tourism, construction
US, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea