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"The only country in the world where everybody is happy doesn't exist - because everybody is dead in that country."
- Singaporean official governing "Speaker's Corner" in Singapore (BBC World, "Simpson's World", Feb.2.2001)
As some of you may have read my other review 'Beyond My Control - The tale of losing a father', you will know that my dad doesn't live with me. Instead, he chose to live on the beautiful island of Singapore which means that I get to visit almost every summer- not bad eh? So anyway, having been there twice already, this year I thought I'd pop over again and see my dad, taking along my sister (15) and my cousin (12) - wish me luck, I leave on Friday.
*Where is it?*
Singapore can be found situated in south - Eastern Asia, in-between the likes of Malaysia and Indonesia. It is the name given to a few small islands, rather than just one single place, and is beautifully warm all year round, showing no variance in seasons! This year, I'm choosing to start my journey from Heathrow, terminal 2, with a £680 return ticket with Qantas to Changi Airport - this is a pretty good price as last year I paid over a grand for the same distance flight with Singapore Airlines! The flight is around 13 hours (and believe me, every single minute is felt… In fact, it hurts just to type it), and then it's only a short distance to my dad's house. Everything in the main island is easily reachable, as it only takes about an hour and a half to drive from one side of the island to the other (it's approximately slightly more than 3.5 times the size of Washington, DC)!
Singapore also consists of 63 smaller islands- with particular reference to Sentosa Island which is of a main attraction. The population reaches around 4.9 million people permanently with nearly 80% of the population being of Chinese descent; other prominent backgrounds are from India and Malay. This however does not mean that English isn't uncommon here, as many of you probably know, England resisded over them for at least 150 years - the main architect being Charles Raffles and you'll notice that everything is called Raffles (Raffles City, Raffles Hotel, Raffels Class in Singapore Airlines!).
*Was the journey bearable?*
Being miles away from the UK, if you travel on one day - chances are you won't arrive there till the next! This can mean that you can suffer from jet lag so I recommend taking a day flight so as soon as you get there you can have a good full night sleep! Last time, I landed lateish afternoon and the warm weather instantaneously wraps itself around you which is so nice! The airport itself is world renowned - boasting excellent organisation, so everything is carried out very quickly as well as whole host of shops, restaurants, trees and even a gym!
Signs are clearly labelled in English as well as Singaporean, so there is little room for getting lost, or stuck and they give you many options to travel to your final destination; such as taxi, minibus or the MRT system (like a tube). As I was with my dad, we drove, but the public transport is of a fine quality and is relatively inexpensive - the minibus reception is clearly labelled (only £2 ish to get to any hotel on the island) and the taxi's can be found lined up in the ranks. The airport also gives you the opportunity of exchanging money and making free local calls on their many public telephones!
I love the island so this is a very biased question! The first time I saw it though, I was a little overwhelmed after such a long flight and didn't really have a chance to take it all in. I did however notice how clean the place is (you can't have chewing gum), how regulated it is (they still can cut off hands for stealing) and how very cosmopolitan it looked. To me, it strikes the perfect balance between work and play - for example, imagine Canary Wharf on a slightly larger scale! The skyscrapers are all so fantastic with the golden rays glinting off them, the water is clear and refreshing and the people are professional yet friendly.
The rest of the island too is lovely - the roads are wide, with traffic jams less frequent than over here as they are able to maintain one of the most impressive public transport systems. However, it is important to note that each taxi/car/bus is fitted with a card that automatically deducts money from it, when passing through a selected zone. Often these are highlighted and can be indicated by a large sort of archway over the road, but it is easy to forget to replace the card or to miscalculate the cash left on it. If either of the latter happen, it will cost you a hefty fine and so it is advised to take care of this before you embark on your journey! These sorts of smartcards are also accepted in some shops and pretty much work like a debit
Pictures of General: Singapore
Map of Singapore
card - the money can be put on at most local shops.The weather itself is pure magic; it normally hovers around the 30 degree mark but can be known to feel hotter due to some intense humidity - or cooler when it rains! The advice there is to stay out of the sun between 10-4 and that is for good reason. My first time of visiting there, I received some very nasty sunburn - and I don't normally ever burn due to my very lucky genetic make up! So please do take this is a warning - on the brighter side though, all places are air conditioned tastefully so if you're in want of a place to cool down, that's not normally very far away!
Unlike most other places, Singapore can fit all sorts of requirements for a trip - it is very sporty and has many sports centres and water sports places; as well as many beautiful beaches for those of us seeking relaxation; the city centre is covered with shops, cinemas, casinos, bars, clubs and restaurants for a more city style holiday; and there is also the chance to do the historical holiday at the museums or the boat trips at Clarke quay. All in all, a very well rounded place to be!
*What is there to do?*
For this bit, I really am going to have to divide it into sections as there is just so much!
Shopping on the island is a little slice of heaven really as there is just so much to choose from! For me, the ultimate place to start is 'Orchard Road' which is just brimming with designer shops (many the same as over here!) such as MNG or Benetton! My sister last year found herself in paradise with other makes like Miss Sixty, Diesel, Jane Norman and Boss whilst I found my calling in the many jewellery shops to be found!
For a cheaper alternative though, there are many other places such as Little India or Little China. One store of particular mention is the Mustafa shop which is open 24 hours, 365 days a year and for some reason, is always busy! This has many cheaply priced, good quality electronics as well as clothes, make up, a whole floor of jewellery, suitcases and anything else you can imagine! I was absolutely shocked at the sheer size and content but was happy to spend a few hours trawling my way through the various stuffs! Haggling is possible with the electronics but I've never tried it myself - to me, it's still a quarter of the price to the UK. Aren't the faint warning bells of Rip-off Britain shining through now? Sim Lim Square is also worth a visit for electronics and the great thing is that they are compatible with UK plugs. I bought my mp3 player out there last year and have had absolutely no trouble with it.
Music wise, Singapore is also a haven as it has many of the well known names such as HMV as well as the other smaller record shops. The main HMV there is definitely worth a look around, although personally I prefer the Tower Records, as the staff seemed friendlier and the products ever so slightly cheaper than HMV. A word of warning on the DVD's though - they are region 3 so make sure your playing device is compatible before buying otherwise it will be a great big let down. Copies and fakes though are not available due to the strict nature of the island, but they are available from Malaysia. Do not bring them back into Singapore though as you can be easily prosecuted for such behaviour.
The Hotels are also somewhere to consider doing your shopping as all of them are either built on top of shopping malls, or have various shops within them. One of particular notation is Raffles City - also ideal for the well known cocktail 'Singapore Sling' as they were the ones who invented it! A Singapore Sling is made of gin, cherry herring, cointreau, benedictine, pineapple, lime juice, and angostura bitters. - Such a perfect way to relax and unwind yourself after a busy day from hitting the stores!
If however your passion lies not with the shops, but the land that it's built on, then Singapore also has something to offer you. For those interested in the religious make up of the Island - the temples and holy buildings in Singapore should be your first port of call. Here are buildings erected for the Chinese, Hindu, Muslim and Christian faith. Of particular notation are the Sri Veermakaliamman Temple in Little India and the Thian Hock Keng Temple in Chinatown. Visits are free, although I understand some may charge you for photography but all the same, it is inexpensive and worth taking a camera!
For those that love museums, the Chinatown heritage Museum is an incredible visit and is relatively inexpensive. It reveals not only the history of the place but how and why the geographical change has come about. Tied in with this is the The Asian Civilisations museums which are equally as fascinating - definitely a must see.
To continue with the historical feel, guided tours are also available all over the island. For example, they have tours of Chinatown and Little India as well as boat tours (which I did) that left from Clarke Quay. Here, we were given a full run down of each building and their prominence in society. As it was an evening tour, the city looked stunning decorated in a large array of lights and we were also able to view the infamous lion of Singapore that you should see on the entrance to the island. This tour lasted around an hour and cost about £5 a head.
For something different, take a trip to Suntec City Mall, which holds home to the tallest fountain in the world. It is truly fantastic, being primarily a big globe with water gushing up, down, out, sideways and any other ways you can think of! Run your hands through the water for that something extra as it's meant to be very lucky.
Finally, Singapore is also host to a variety of theatres - last time I was there, the woman in black was showing! I didn't however visit it as they were quite expensive but do show a very good variety of shows such as musicals and dramas so you should be able to find something for everyone.
This section applies to those of all ages and includes a lovely selection of some of the best attractions around! Firstly, I can tell you about the zoo's on the island where Singapore zoo is highly regarded even if it is slightly out of town. It is much nicer than a lot of British zoo's due to the exotic animals and will only cost you around $12sing. A pointer here is to visit all the shows on offer - they can be pretty good sometimes!
Jurong Bird Park is another animal attraction of worthy notation as it has a lot of colourful birds - the parrots even sit on your arms and you can take many pictures. It can however get a little boring as to me; a bird is nearly very often, just another bird - although there are flamingos which I absolutely love!
My favourite here though has to be the 'Night Safari' which, as the name implies, is a night attraction! Here, one gets the chance to sit in a sort of train and go around the zoo on designated rails in the dark - it is an experience like you've never had before and is relatively cheap - $20sing. There were lots of animals to see and the guides on the trams give a lot of information as well as there being trails to walk around - All that was separating me from a tiger was a piece of glass! I do however advise you eat somewhere else as the food here isn't the best and can't be more expensive than outside the park.
Sentosa Island perhaps should have been the first thing to mention as this is the main theme park within Singapore. As it is located just south of the main island, it is easily reached by either cable car from Mount Faber, bus or boat and is an island purely devoted to a water park, as well as other land rides. It basically consists of a lot of trees and big, sandy beaches, that hide the ever cleverly created fun land - there's a truly amazing aquarium where you can stroke stingray whilst having sharks swim over your head; Fantasy Land with crazy rides; restaurants - a lot of them!; and a few golf circuits. The most special thing here to me though, is the free fantastic laser water show (I used up at least 40 minutes of film on it last time!) and the sighting of the gigantic merlion - a massive figure that cross a lion with a mermaid to enhance the Lion City name!
Other places to note (though I won't explain them as this review is already getting very long!) are the many cinemas, science museums and snow city which should be of interest to both children and adult alike!
At night Singapore city bursts into a new kind of life - with notation being in Boat Quay and Clarke Quay, which are popular night spots with the locals and tourist's alike. As the names indicate, they are situated at either side of the river and contain many restaurants, bars and clubs that often have live entertainment! Clarke Quay is the livelier of the two, holding the majority of shops (excellent night shopping) which are definitely worth a look. Even if you don't manage to stop in any of the places along the river, the walk in itself is beautiful, thanks to the dazzling array of lights! Boat Quay can be described as something similar only with fewer shops - here one can find many of the famous buildings and historical monuments. For full information, I suggest you take a boat tour!
There are certain clubs to take note of - although some are strictly members only such as 'Amoeba', well known for its star infested audience! For example, Zouk and Velvet are the two major places to be - but be warned, the queues can get ridiculous! Prices are pretty expensive here so don't go expecting a cheap night out - drinks start at $8sing alone and that's after you've paid a hefty entry fee! Personally, I'd prefer to stay out of the neon lights, and absorb the coast which can be much friendlier!
*Lot's of places to see then - how do I get there?*
Transport in Singapore is so great - anyone who's been there can tell you! The first particular thing to take note of is the MRT - a sort of underground train system that links up the entire city in a cool, conditioned manner. It is very efficient, safe, nearly always runs on time and is very clean - not like the UK eh? To use this (which I advise you do!) then buy an EZ-link card which holds money on it for you to use - you can easily top it up at the various named points and each time you scan your card, it should tell you the balance so you always know when you're running low! The cost of using the MRT is really very low for the standard and using the stations and trains are pretty simple - if not, there should normally be someone to help.
There is also a fantastic bus system that you can use during your stay on the island. The same card that you used for the MRT can also be applied here, so travelling really is pretty simple. I didn't take a bus whilst I was there but they are very efficient and are clean - more than I can say for us over here eh?
If that doesn't quite take your fancy, then there are the various taxi cabs dotted around the place. These are slightly more expensive than other forms of transport yet that is to be expected. The drivers are normally pretty friendly and won't cheat you, as a break down of how the costs work is stuck on every window!
*What about the food?*
The food is probably THE thing to look forward to during your stay in Singapore. As it has a heavy influence from a number of different cultures, cuisine out there is a real experience and my advice would be to eat the cuisine of that area. For example, for Indian, visit Little India (for the bread and sauce!) and so on - trust me, you will not be disappointed.
Singapore is especially renowned for its local dish 'Chicken Rice' (one boiled chicken, served cold, with rice that has been boiled in the same water as the chicken) which is very cheap and very tasty - actually like you wouldn't believe! It also is known for it's seafood as it's right on the coast - in particular try the 'Raffles Marina' to eat at the restaurant there. Great seafood there includes Barbecued stingray, Black Pepper crab, Deep-Fried squid and Garlic prawns. These are all delicious in their own right and are very reasonable/available! However if seafood doesn't whet your appetite, I've listed a few good places to keep in mind!
First place to note is the Igor Restaurant - which is themed based and is more of an experience than anything else as it grants you a walk in maze upon entry. It then leads you through to a massive dining area where a show is put on called 'The search of the fountain of youth' - it is highly entertaining and they serve you a set menu all the way through at perfectly timed intervals! Particularly what took my interest was the fact that the staff dressed in costume the whole night and with full make up! Careful though - this can be scary for very small children and it is only open on Friday and Saturday night so do book if you want a reservation!
Second place to note is the hawker store which is made up for a lot of small food stalls - each boasting their own specialty. You can order food from all the different stores and you sit in the middle of the stalls - it's not that expensive and it does grant great choice. The desserts however were not to my liking - the traditional dish being crushed ice, red beans, syrup, coloured dressings all in one glass. Not lovely but definitely worth a try!
Finally, Newton Circus is the last special place on the list as it is the same idea as the Hawker Store, but done outside at nigh! This is more expensive, but does fantastic food and is slightly more commercial. The place is open till late so do go and take a good look round - my advice here is to try a little bit of everything… Obviously not from one stall as you can't eat that much! The Satay food here is very good - as are the crabs so please do try it, if you get the chance!
*How are the hotels?*
As I did not stay in a Hotel, I cannot comment on the intrinsic details - however, visiting most of them to do some shopping provided me with a bit of an insight! Hotels are plentiful on the island, and normally stud the coastline as well as being prominent in the city. Prices of different abodes do vary though - it is believed to be less than £15 a night for a dorm bed in a hostel; to a basic hotel room of £30; to the more luxurious setting, found in Raffles which can easily set you back around £250 a night. My advice here would be to look around before you settle on something as you can normally expect good quality wherever you go.
"Singapore... could only be taken after a siege by an army of at least 50,000 men... its not considered possible that the Japanese...would embark on such a mad enterprise." Winston Churchill - 1940
This was an intense review - so congratulations if you managed to get to the end of it in one piece!
I do like Singapore, although the last time I went I was still a child. I'd like to go back and do more cultural things, as the museums and temples sound lovely.
snowbunni 09.04.2006 10:46
Fabulous review... I've never spent more than a day or two in Singapore, always on layovers en route back to Aus, but always wish I were staying longer. You've conjured up the place beautifully! Another fab, highly readable review.x
ps2gamer890 02.01.2006 21:56
Lovely review, lovely place. It can be quaint in one bit, futuristic in another.
Spent 3 1/2 weeks of my life here-favourite place on earth!