Singapore, officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, 137 kilometres (85 mi) north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia’s Riau Islands by the Singapore Strait to its south. Singapore is highly urbanised but almost half of the country is covered by greenery. More land is being created for development through land reclamation.
Singapore had been a part of various local empires since it was first inhabited in the second century AD. Modern Singapore was founded as a trading post of the East India Company by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819 with permission from the Sultanate of Johor. The British obtained full sovereignty over the island in 1824 and Singapore became one of the British Straits Settlements in 1826. Singapore was occupied by the Japanese in World War II and reverted to British rule after the war. It became internally self-governing in 1959. Singapore united with other former British territories to form Malaysia in 1963 and became a fully independent state two years later after separation from Malaysia. Since then it has had a massive increase in wealth, and is one of the Four Asian Tigers. The economy depends heavily on the industry and service sectors. Singapore is a world leader in several areas: It is the world’s fourth-leading financial centre, the world’s second-biggest casino gambling market, and the world’s third-largest oil refining centre. The port of Singapore is one of the five busiest ports in the world, most notable for being the busiest transshipment port in the world. The country is home to more US dollar millionaire households per capita than any other country. The World Bank notes Singapore as the easiest place in the world to do business. The country has the world’s third highest GDP PPP per capita of US$59,936, making Singapore one of the world’s wealthiest countries. (The above is taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singapore)
Beaches and tourist resorts: Head to one of the three beaches on Sentosa or its southern islands. Other beaches can be found on the East Coast.
Culture and cuisine: See Chinatown for Chinese treats, Little India for Indian flavors, Kampong Glam (Arab St) for a Malay/Arab experience or the East Coast for delicious seafood, including the famous chilli and black pepper crab.
History and museums: The Bras Basah area east of Orchard and north of the Singapore River is Singapore’s colonial core, with historical buildings and museums.
Nature and wildlife: Popular tourist attractions Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park and the Botanical Gardens are all in the North and West. Finding “real” nature is a little harder, but the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (located in the same district as the zoo) has more plant species than that in the whole of North America. Pulau Ubin, an island off the Changi Village in the east, is a flashback to the rural Singapore of yesteryear. City parks full of locals jogging or doing tai chi can be found everywhere. Also check out the tortoise and turtle sanctuary in the Chinese Gardens on the west side of town for a great afternoon with these wonderful creatures. $5 for adult admission and $2 for leafy vegetables and food pellets.
Skyscrapers and shopping: The heaviest shopping mall concentration is in Orchard Road, while skyscrapers are clustered around the Singapore River, but also check out Bugis and Marina Bay to see where Singaporeans shop.
Places of worship: Don’t miss this aspect of Singapore, where Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Baha’i faith, Christianity, Islam and even Judaism all exist in sizeable numbers. Religious sites can be easily visited and welcome non-followers outside of service times. Particularly worth visiting include: the vast Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery near Ang Mo Kio, the colorful Sri Mariamman Hindu temple in Chinatown, the psychedelic Burmese Buddhist Temple in Balestier and the stately Masjid Sultan in Arab Street.
Three days in Singapore — A three-day sampler set of food, culture and shopping in Singapore, easily divisible into bite-size chunks.
Southern Ridges Walk — An easy scenic 9 km stroll through the hills and jungles of southern Singapore. Highlights of the trail includes a 36 m high Henderson Waves pedestrian bridge providing a stunning view of the sea beyond the jungle.
While you can find a place to practice nearly any sport in Singapore — golfing, surfing, scuba diving, even ice skating and snow skiing — 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. On the upside, there is an abundance of dive shops in Singapore, and they often arrange weekend trips to good dive sites off the East Coast of Malaysia, so they are a good option for accessing some of Malaysia’s not-so touristy dive sites.
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 has two integrated resorts with casinos. 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 (citizens and permanent residents) have to pay $100/day to get in, foreign visitors can enter for free after presenting their passport.
Besides the casino, there are other forms of legalised betting which are more accessible to the locals. This includes horse racing, which is run by the Singapore Turf Club on weekends, as well as football (soccer) betting and several lotteries run by the Singapore Pools.
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 at night 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 especially room with view of the F1 tracks are through the roof. Tickets start from $150 but the thrilling experience of night race is definitely unforgettable for all F1 fans and photo buffs. Besides being a uniquely night race, the carnival atmosphere and pop concert held around the race ground as well as the convenience of hotels and restaurants round the corner, distinguish the race from other F1 races held remotely away from urban centers.
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 $50 even for a plain one-hour massage. Premium spas can be found in most 5 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. The less legitimate “health centres” have been shut down. Traditional asian-style public baths are non-existent.
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.
Besides the more regular water sports such as waterskiing, wakeboarding, windsurfing, canoeing and etc., Singapore also offers water sports fans trendy activities such as cable-Skiing and wave surfing in specially created environments.
While obviously not the best place on Earth for skiing, sunny Singapore still has a permanent indoor snow centre — Snow City offers visitors to the region a chance to experience winter. Visitors can escape from the hot and humid tropical weather to play with snow or even learn to ski and snowboard with internationally certified professional instructors.
The gay scene in Singapore is alive and vibrant. Men to men sex is still illegal in Singapore (lesbian sex is ok). There are many gay owned and managed guesthouses, bars, pubs, spas, saunas and tour companies. Same sex marriages are not permitted. Overseas same sex marriages are not recognized. In practice gay people are not prosecuted and gay venues are permitted to operate freely without too much interference. Coming out to one’s own family or work colleagues as being gay is still a difficult thing for many Asian gay men.
Singapore holds an annual Pride Season rather than a march. You can read all about it here – http://indignationsg.wordpress.com