Singapore Island is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. It is also one of the wealthiest South East Asia countries. The city is extremely clean and well manicured and is in fact one of the cleanest large cities we have ever visited. The neighboring country Malaysia has had one of the best economy records in Asia. The economy has typically run on its natural resources and tourism. Hefty fines for littering help ensure this. During our recent stay it was not uncommon to find signs indicating $500 to $1000 Singapore dollars for various offenses ($330 to $660 US dollars). For instance it is against the law to jaywalk or eat or drink in the metro, laws which yours truly tempted fate on several occasions.
The main airport serving Singapore is Changi Airport and depending on traffic is located about 40-60 minutes from Chinatown or Little India and the major parts of Singapore downtown. The airport is also served by the Metro (Green Line, change green line trains and then continue on the Red Line). There are always taxis you can take from the airport, all use the meters – expect to pay an additional surcharge if you use a taxi after midnight. As of press time, it is around 17-20 Singapore dollars for a ride from the airport to the main part of the city with an additional 10 Singapore dollars added on for an after midnight wee hours trip.
The Changi Singapore Airport is one of the world’s nicest airports for travels. Free is a big word here! How many airports can you find free wireless access? Not many, but Changi Airport delivers high speed access. They also have labtop docking stations with a variety of electrical outlets to service the International visitor. In addition there are over 500 Internet terminals that you can use free of charge. A movie lounge, gaming area, “resting rooms”, special foot massage chairs and if you have more than 5 hours between flights, city tours are offered – again all of these services are provided at no charge! The airport also offers other paying services including the use of a rooftop pool, a transit lounge offering showers and sleeping accommodations, as well as massage, fine dining and hotel options.
We visited the following attractions during our latest trip to Singapore.
Chinatown is well worth visiting. Pick up a Chinatown Walking brochure from any of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce offices (this brochure is often found in most area hotels). There are lots of interesting shops, restaurant hawkers and attractions. Chinatown is located within walking distance of the two Quays mentioned above and includes a variety of shops, hawkers and restaurants. What is probably the best and most ornate example of a Chinese Temple in South East Asia is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum located at 288 South Bridge Road. This is a must visit free attraction located in the heart of Chinatown. Incredible artwork, huge statutes and a dazzling display of gold and red will greet you once you enter the building. Knee length shorts are at minimum required to enter but several sarongs are available for use if you need to cover up. Asia’s largest stupa is located inside made from a whopping 420 kg of solid gold! It is surrounded by over 200 rubies which makes for a very dazzling display.
Merlion was built by Singapore in the 1960’s to help with tourism. It is located along the harbor front on the other side of the water from the main part of Singapore. It is a statue that resembles a Lion. This is a very popular spot at night especially for romantic couples. There are great views of the city lights and the Singapore Flyer Ferris Wheel.
Quays – Clarke Quay and Boat Quay (pronounced “key”) are located within about 10 minutes walking distance from each other. These are essentially touristy type restaurants and bars located along the brown river way. Clarke Quay is definitely much more touristy than Boat Quay and the prices are a bit more as well. For budget travelers alcohol is generally not cheap in Singapore and its no different along these two Quays. These Quays tend to be fairly empty during the daylight hours, but once darkness fall it is a different story. A variety of overpriced SE Asia touristy food is served with free or cheap drinks for women used as a hook to get women or travelers with women to sit down in the restaurants. Also of note is the huge “reverse” bungy seat that flings people high in the air at speeds up to 60mph. Scream as you fly into the air and all your shouting is recorded by microphone through speakers for those watching far below! Visit: www.clarkequay.com.sg
Sentosa Island is both a major tourist and local destination. Lookout, on holiday weekends as when we were here, it can be extremely crowded! It is fairly cheap to get here serviced by the main metro which ends at the NE1 Harbor Front stop on the purple line. From there you walk through part of the major VivoCity shopping mall to catch either a more expensive Tram Car to the island or the very reasonably priced 4 stop short metro called the Sentosa Express. There is a bridge to the island so you can drive – a small entry fee is charged. At the mall where the metro leaves for the island, you can buy a variety of bundled tickets to the island attractions, however if there are long lines here, we do not recommend buying your tickets here. Rather wait until you get on the island. As you exit any of the metro stops you can purchase your tickets here and the lines usually tend to be much shorter than at the actual mall. Also note that you can buy individual tickets on site of any paid attraction on the island.
As of press time, Universal Studios has built out a massive entertainment complex on Sentosa Island that is expected to completed in early 2011. This is South East Asia’s first project for Universal Studios. This is the first metro stop on the island (there are currently 2 others (Imbiah Lookout and the Beach stop). Imbiah lookout contains a great view looking back at Singapore framed by all the cranes and other industrial machinery. There is a movable viewing platform (called the Carlsberg Sky Tower) here which rises into the air about 50 stories in height. A huge Merlion statue is located near the metro stop and you can walk up inside for additional views overlooking the island and Singapore on the mainland. Multiple escalators help whisk you to the top of Imbiah hill.
There are a variety of brought in sand beaches within walking distance of the final stop on the Sentosa Express metro. You can also take a trolley which makes several stops along the beach path. On crowded weekends, there may not be any seats available on the trolley stops. Besides the beach and swimming, highlights include Underwater World, a glass covered see through tunnel that is surrounded by underwater life, a Dolphin Lagoon and a nearby Fort. Note the huge giant sea turtles that swim outside the entrance to Underwater World. Visit: www.sentosa.com.sg
Singapore Flyer is a huge Ferris Wheel synonymous with Singapore. You will pass this one your way from the airport to the city center and you will definitely see it from the Merlion across the water. It is 165 meters (more than 500 feet tall)!
Singapore Zoo can be accessed from Orchard Street (big shopping area in the heart of Singapore) via the red line to stop NS4 where you take bus number 927 for about 10 minutes to the actual Zoo. It will take about an hour to get to the zoo from the main Orchard Street shopping district. Once you arrive you can purchase a standard Zoo pass, or for a few extra Singapore dollars, a Tram pass which includes a drive through of the zoo along with guided interpretations.
This is a huge zoo and to see most of the exhibits at a healthy pace you will need at least 3-4 hours. Some of the highlights are the world’s largest free range Orangutan Exhibit, the reptiles and the huge endangered White Tigers (no longer found in the wild). Feeding times for a number of the animals usually occur between 12pm and 3pm. Regions of the world are separated by exhibit (Africa, Australia etc). Vendors sell snacks and drinks near some of the exhibits. However as expected these are more expensive than outside vendors. The best place to pick up some cheap eats are at the hawkers located at metro stop NS4 where get off to take the bus to the zoo. This zoo also contains a neat tropical fruit, plants and vegetable garden overlooking the water way that surrounds part of the zoo. Visit: www.zoo.com.sg
Singapore is an exciting shopping destination. Huge malls, the latest fashions and name brand merchandise are readily available. We met several tourists from neighboring countries who came specifically to Singapore for shopping. While Singapore is definitely not as cheap as other South East Asian countries, the selection of items are very good. Highlights include parts of Orchard Street that surround the Paragon Shopping Center which contain name brand luxury items as well as a number of malls and VivoCity which is located at Harbor Front (NE1 stop on the Purple Line). Billed as the “largest lifestyle destination in Singapore” it delivers small and large retail outlets, dining, and name brand shopping. Did you think airlines are the only service industry that offers business class? Think again, the huge multiplex at the mall boasts 15 screens including a Business Class Cinema! More info – visit: www.vivocity.com.sg
Looking for budget travel to nearby countries either via bus/ferry or airplane. Try Pen Travel & Tours located at 304 Orchard Street, #03-75 Lucky Plaza. Phone: (65) 6737-9231
Banks – ATM’s and banks are readily available all over Singapore.
Budget Accommodation is at a premium in Singapore as it is a fairly expensive city for backpackers (at least compared to most of South East Asia). Some hostels close their reservation desk after 11pm or midnight so if you are arriving late night or in the wee hours of the morning be sure to confirm with the hostel their check in policy and hours. We stayed at Fernloft Hostel (there are three located throughout Singapore). We stayed at the 301 River Valley location which is about a 20-25 minute walk to Chinatown and about 15 minutes walk to the big shopping areas along nearby Orchard Street. The bus stop is located right across the street and its merely minutes to the main part of town. Their reservation desk is open 24/7, very friendly and helpful staff, 1 or 2 working Internet consoles and a variety of rooms ranging from private, to 4 beds (bunk style) to larger rooms.
Food – budget food is usually found in covered roof centers contain what are called “hawkers” or movable stalls. As of press time you can find meals for 4 to 8 Singaporean dollars. Want to really splurge on seafood? Try one of the several Jumbo Seafood locations for extremely tasty and fresh seafood. Lobster Sashimi is a local delicacy in which the lobster is still moving as you it it raw. Hong Kong style. A couple of other favorite dishes we tried were the Black Pepper Crab and the delicious scallop s. Visit: www.jumboseafood.com.sg
Metro / Bus – serves greater Singapore, is affordable, efficient and easy to get around. You can easily spend an hour on the metro as it is extensive and runs for a long distance. Ticket machines are located next to the metro gates at each stop. Touch screens make this a fairly easy purchasing experience. Touch the metro stop on the screen that you want to go to and the price will pop up on the screen. Coins or paper money are accepted. Green cards are given to each passenger once a ticket is purchased. When you leave the metro for good, be sure to return the green card to the machine for a dollar refund. The metro operates from 6am to 11:45pm daily. You can also purchase a stored money card called Ez-link which is also good on the buses.
The weather is somewhat humid and fairly mild year round with the rainy months coming in November through January. Even in the rainy months it does not rain all days; the skies can be grey all day but showers are more the norm especially in the afternoon/evening hours.
Tipping is already included at most hotels and restaurants as a “service charge” and is not expected. In fact, tipping is illegal at the airport. Tipping is also not necessary at the Hawker food stalls.