Marina Bay waterfront February 2011 and the largest light and water spectacular in Southeast Asia, Wonder Full.
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Singapore is a tiny city state, just 20x30 kms (13x19 miles) in size but wielding huge ambition and a dynamic, mixed population composed mainly of Chinese, Malays and Indians, numbering about 5 million.
Singapore and its 60 or so islands is located at the far south end of the Malay peninsula, connected to its large northern neighbour Malaysia by two causeways, so entry is possible by bus, train, car or bicycle (the Japanese army introduced that last idea quite dramatically in 1942). To the south is Indonesia.
In Malay language this is called Singapura, Lion City, even though
lions never lived here. Tigers did and still do, albeit in the fantastic city zoo.
Love it or hate it, if you're travelling in Southeast Asia you'll almost certainly pass through Singapore at some point. A few years ago government surveys showed that most visitors were only staying a couple of days on layovers, so a policy was established to attract visitors for longer.
Travellers taking a Singapore holiday should be ready for an immaculate, organised but sterile metropolis that is keen to part you from your cash. It's Asia without the poor: no beggars, stray dogs, aggressive touts, dirty streets, stinky buzzy motorcycles or biting insects, but with drinkable tap water, delicious food that doesn't give you the runs, air-conditioning, wide roads, manicured green spaces and clear, logical road signs.
This city state has many attractive features for travellers not least of which are that it's a great hub for flights, its sheer efficiency and reliability, spectacular buildings, beautiful landscaping, handful of appealing tourist attractions and the ease of communication for both English and Chinese speakers.
The Singapore Financial District and the Singapore River.
Hot and humid year-round; average temperatures range from about 30C (86F) during the day down to 23C (74F) at night, with highs up around 34C (93F). The slightly hotter months are May and June, while August-October months often get hazy from bush fires in Indonesia to the south. Very best season? We'd say February - May but there's not a lot in it.
The wet season is from November to January, though the rain tends to fall torrentially for a short time. Humidity on most mornings is an energy-sapping 90%, with afternoons falling to around 60% unless it rains.
Mosquitoes are still whining and dining in spite of eradication procedures and Dengue Fever is a risk, so consider using a high-DEET repellant during evening strolls.
The Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the city's $6.3 billion icon.
Americans, Canadians, British, Australians and citizens of the EU will receive a Social Visit Pass on arrival, providing their passport has more than 6 months validity and they hold sufficient funds for their holiday, a confirmed return air ticket (or bus ticket if coming by land from Malaysia!) and entry permit for their next destination.
The length of the Pass depends on nationality. British and Irish get 30 days, others get 7 or 14 days
but all can request an extension to 90 days on arrival.
And in case you were wondering this is the view from the Marina Bay Sands Hotel's swimming pool, which is not open to non-guests, though the Sky Park is, at a price, a sky high price as it happens.
The Sands Sky Park is a space on top of the magnificent Marina Bay Sands Hotel, view as above. Non guests can enter for $20 ($14 for little kids!!), see the view, admire the architecture, the landscaped garden, the infinity pool (but no swimming!) and spend a fortune on a drink - with nowhere to sit. At night they say the view is dark and worthless. Reviews are very mixed. If in doubt, don't do it!
A few facts
Language: 50% of the population speak Mandarin Chinese, others Malay and Tamil but most Singaporeans are well educated and use English as a common language between each other so communication should be no problem.
Religion: 33% Buddhist, 18% Christian, 15% Moslem, and the rest Taoist, Hindu or
Local tap water is safe to drink.
Electricity is 220 - 240AC and sockets usually take UK style 3 pin plugs but adapters are cheap and widely available.
Smoking is banned in air conditioned areas and public transport as well as in taxis and lifts.
Tipping is not common even in taxis, though residents may round up the fare to the nearest coin.
There are strict laws against littering of any kind (chewing gum was banned in 1992 but the rules were relaxed in 2004 under the United States/Singapore Free Trade Agreement to allow the sale of chewing gum considered to have health benefits).
A view across Marina Bay, including the big wheel, the 'Singapore Flyer'. Photo by D.Nash II.
Things to Do
Singapore city is fundamentally a huge, modern metropolis that has had its exotic Asian growths surgically removed and replaced by new-millennium transplants so it's not a place for activity freaks or lovers of exotica - apart from the Thaipusam Festival early in the year. Nor is it a place for those who like to live on the edge, get wasted, smoke or chew gum. There is zero tolerance for non-prescription drugs. Hanging is one way of keeping the streets clean and Singapur does like a pristine path.
It is however, safe, spectacular,
warm and home to excellent food thanks to its mixed-race background.
Main tourist activities
• visiting Sentosa Island's beaches, theme park, oceanarium and more.
ambling the massive, world-beating, open-plan, superb zoo.
• wandering the Botanic Garden and especially the Orchid Garden.
• taking a walk, individual or guided, around Singapore's few earthy and interesting bits.
losing money at casinos.
strolling Chinatown and Little India.
• riding the Singapore Flyer, the world's largest observation wheel even if the Marina Bay Sands Sky Park is now higher (distant photo above).
taking a harbour cruise in a motorised junk (traditional Chinese ship) or a River Boat Tour.
Outside the glass and concrete downtown core of the city - which is in the central-south of the main island where the river meets the sea - there are a few exotic remnants, such as Chinatown and Little India, where some ethnic culture and great food survive, the 'bohemian enclave' of Holland Village and even beaches around tranquil Changi fishing village or on Sentosa Island.
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Singapore Map. Zoom for more detail. North of the island (the grey line) is Malaysia. Asia Map.
Singapore tourism's principal downsides are the oppressive humidity, the high cost of living compared to Asian neighbours and the lack of soul, with only rare glimpses of its exotic, trading-post past. Somewhere along the line cleanliness has overtaken culture - censorship still demands that women's breasts in major art works be covered on television, there is not a leaf out of place in the Botanic Gardens and forward planning is of Brave New World proportions.
Singapore Airlines illustrates the pluses and minuses overall – a spick and span operation delivering a flawless, on time experience that lacks human warmth and comes at an inhuman price.
Singapore's Downtown core and the famous Merlion Statue. Photo by D.Nash II.
The UFO parked downtown is the Unidentified Flying Office of Singapore's Supreme Court. In front of the disc is the dome of the old Supreme Court building, and in front of that is Merlion Park and Marina Bay.
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