Capitalising on its melting pot of cultures, Singapore is finally getting some spark, and is fast becoming one of Asia’s hit-list destinations.
Culture & History
Even though Singapore is a small country, it is one of the world’s most multicultural destinations. At the time of independence from the British, most of the population was Chinese, Malay and Indian laborers. From this balance, modern Singapore has struck a social landscape of acceptance and tolerance among religions and cultural traditions. Language, holidays and cuisine are all part of Singapore's melting pot.
This beautiful and clean city-state comes at a price. Singapore is renowned by locals as the "Fine City" because ticketsare often dished out for minor offenses. Luckily, the new government that was introduced in 1990 has undertaken many social reforms, one being the liberalization of some of the stricter, more obsolete laws.
Handshaking is the usual form of greeting, regardless of race; Muslims, and some Hindus, would not however normally shake hands with someone of the opposite sex. Social courtesies are often fairly formal. When invited to a private home or entering a temple or mosque, remove your shoes. For private visits, a gift is appreciated and, if on business, a company souvenir is appropriate.
Dress is informal. Most rst-class restaurants and some hotel dining rooms expect men to wear a jacket and tie in the evenings; a smart appearance is expected for business meetings. Laws relating to jaywalking, littering and chewing gum are strictly enforced in urban areas. Smoking is widely discouraged and illegal in enclosed public places (including restaurants). Dropping a cigarette end in the street or smoking illegally can lead to an immediate fine.
Food in Singapore is taken very seriously. From cheap hawker fare to Michelin-starred fine dining, food-enamored Singaporeans will line up for it, Instagram the hell out of it and passionately debate whether it is ‘die, die, must try’ – Singlish slang for ‘to die for’. Don’t fret about finding a place to chow down, as each neighborhood is home to local hawker centers and coffeeshops dishing up some of the island’s best meals for just a couple of bucks. Simply follow your nose or join the longest queue – whatever morsels lie at the end, they are almost guaranteed to be scrumptious.
Singaporeans are obsessed with food. We can expound ceaselessly on where to find the best bak chor mee (minced meat noodles) and will queue for hours for a good yong tau foo (surimi-stuffed tofu and vegetables). Perhaps because most of us are descendants of immigrants thrust into an artificial construct of a nation, or maybe because we live in a country that is constantly renewing and rebuilding, one of the few tangible things that connects us to the past and our cultural identity is food.
There are many facets of Singaporean cuisine: Malay, Chinese, Indian, Eurasian (a fusion of European and Asian dishes and ingredients) Peranakan (combining Chinese and Malay food traditions), and catch-all Western, which usually means old-school Hainanese-style British food—a local version of Western food adapted by chefs from the southern Chinese province of Hainan, who worked in British restaurants or households.
Whizzing around Singapore can take a matter of minutes, thanks to one of the world’s most efficient and widespread public transport systems. Hankering for breakfast in Little India, but want to visit the temples in Chinatown before lunch? No problem, you’ll be there in a jiffy using the sparkling MRT system – and why not stop at Marina Bay for a spot of shopping on your way? Plus, with new metro lines opening practically every two years, this tiny island just keeps on becoming easier to explore.
The concrete jungles that once dominated Singapore’s skyline are slowly giving way to green skyscrapers, which look more like living ecosystems than business hubs. Fervently working towards its ‘City in a Garden’ dream, the nation is plowing money into becoming more sustainable and, well, green. Head out of town a little and you’ll find plenty of walking trails, treetop jungle bridges, wildlife galore and the city's green jewel, the Unesco World Heritage-listed Singapore Botanic Gardens: these are the lungs of Singapore.
When the sweltering outdoor heat gets too much, Singaporeans love ducking inside for a spot of retail therapy and a good dose of air-conditioning. Orchard Rd is the queen of shopping malls: with all the high-street brands, plenty of high-fashion houses, and a few discount outlets thrown into the mix, everyone’s needs (and more often wants) are catered for here. If you prefer your shopping a little less mass-market, head out to local neighborhoods for independent designers, quirky art galleries, bustling markets, Chinese medicines, Persian carpets, and a sari or two.
Outdoors & Adventure
Singapore is primarily known as an urban getaway, with its architecture, shopping and dining options. Singapore, however, and primarily the National Parks Board, has made great progress and conserving green spaces and other outdoor spaces for everyone to enjoy. Beyond the beaches and adventure parks on Sentosa Island (some manmade), there are many under-appreciated ways to explore Singapore’s natural diversity.
At just over 200 acres, Chestnut Nature Park is Singapore’s largest nature park. The park is planted with native tree species as part of the National Parks Board’s biodiversity conservation efforts. The park offers separate trails for hikers and mountain bikers to enjoy. There are two hiking trails: the one on the north side of the park is 3.5 kilometers (just over 2 miles) long while the south side has a shorter trail at 2.1 kilometers (1.3 miles). The mountain biking trails in Chestnut Nature Park totals 8.2 kilometers (5 miles) of trails.
The MacRitchie Reservoir Park offers a nice balance of ground and water activities between the nature trails and canoeing in the reservoir, but one of the major highlights is the treetop walk. The treetop walk is a suspension bridge that connects Bukit Peirce and Bukit Kalang, the two highest points in MacRitchie Park, and offers a bird’s eye view from above the forest canopy. Standing 82 feet above the forest floor at its highest point, the treetop walk starts from Peirce Track and ends at Petaling Trail (traffic on the bridge is one-directional). While the treetop walk is a short walk, the entrance is about a mile from the park entrance, so combine it with other trails for a nice day hike.
Palawan Beach on Sentosa Island is one of the best free beaches to go to for families with its white sandy beach and facilities including lockers, free showers, and restaurants around the beach. Palawan Beach offers additional kid-friendly activities with its aviary and an animal show at the Palawan Amphitheatre. For a mini-adventure, there’s also a suspension bridge connecting it to an island off the coast which is Singapore’s closest point to the equator (there are signs indicating it is continental Asia’s southernmost point, which is true when considering the island is connected to continental Asia by a bridge).
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