PLAN YOUR SINGAPORE VACATION
The main island of Singapore is shaped like a flattened diamond, 42 km (26 miles) east to west and 23 km (14 miles) north to south. Near the northern peak is the causeway leading to West Malaysia—Kuala Lumpur is less than four hours away by car. It is at the southern foot where you will find most of the city-state’s action, with its gleaming office towers, working docks, and futuristic “supertrees,” which are solar-powered and serve as vertical gardens. Offshore are Sentosa and over 60 smaller islands, most uninhabited, that serve as bases for oil refining or as playgrounds and beach escapes from the city. To the east is Changi International Airport, connected to the city by metro, bus, and a tree-lined parkway. Of the island’s total land area, more than half is built up, with the balance made up of parkland, farmland, plantations, swamp areas, and rain forest. Well-paved roads connect all parts of the island, and Singapore city has an excellent, and constantly expanding, public transportation system.
The heart of Singapore’s history and its modern wealth are in and around the Central Business District. The area includes the skyscrapers in the Central Business District, the 19th-century Raffles Hotel, the convention centers of Marina Square, on up to the top of Ft. Canning. Although most of old Singapore has been knocked down to make way for the modern city, most colonial landmarks have been preserved in the CBD, including early-19th-century buildings designed by the Irish architect George Coleman.
Once routinely criticised for being dull, Singapore has reinvented itself as one of Southeast Asia’s most modern and dynamic cities. Melding together a mass of different cultures, cuisines and architectural styles, the city-state is now studded with vast new showpiece constructions to complement its colonial-era hotels and civic buildings. Cutting-edge tourist developments continue to spring up. Shopping avenues and underground malls throb with life, as do the food courts, the riverside bars and the temple-dotted outlying neighbourhoods. It’s never going to be Bangkok, but it’s doing a fantastic job of being Singapore.
Chinese, Indian, Malay and European influences all flow through daily life here. Boring? Hardly. It’s true to say, however, that the former British trading post and colony still has a reputation for its cleanliness (it’s still panned for its seemingly petty regulations, such as the banning of chewing gum). Likewise, levels of serious crime are very low. It’s worth pointing out, too, that Singapore’s cultural mix has left it with a genuinely world-class food scene – and you won’t need to spend big to eat well.
Recent years have seen the city really pushing for recognition as an international tourist destination in its own right, rather than as a convenient stopover. Significant investment has resulted in developments such as Marina Bay Sands, the three-towered skyscraper that now stands as Singapore’s centrepiece; Resorts World Sentosa, which is home to a Universal Studios theme park; and Gardens by the Bay, a remarkable project complete with “supertrees” and two colossal plant domes.
More traditional attractions include the designer malls of Orchard Road, the exotic clatter of Chinatown and Little India and the elegance of Raffles Hotel, still standing proud more than 125 years after being built. On the subject of hotels, Singapore now offers one of the best spreads of high-end accommodation in the region: a sign, amongst other things, of its ambition to keep visitors flooding in. It’s likely to succeed.
Singapore is a cosmopolitan city-state that became independent from the British in 1965 and is now one of the world’s leading economic centers in shipping and banking – Singapore is expensive by Southeast-Asian standards, with everything costing about double what it does elsewhere in the region. While most people come here for a couple of days just “to do” Singapore, I love this city and think it deserves longer than that. There’s a lot to do here, some great parks by the Malaysian border, and incredible (and cheap) Chinese and Indian food. Singapore is also moving beyond it’s sterile image and fast becoming a city with world-class nightlife.