Imagine the finest Vegas hotels mixed with New York City’s financial district, throw in Boston Harbor, and sprinkle in a generous helping of Asian culture, and you’ve got Singapore. The city is one of the cleanest, modern and well-functioning places I’ve ever been. The city’s sleek, glass skyscrapers and unique architecture are balanced with beautiful botanical gardens, and a mix of Indian, Malay, and Chinese culture. The downtown’s majestic harbor, lined with 5-star - and even two 7-star - hotels is one of many indications of the city’s global economic prowess. Singapore’s status as both a tourist destination, business hub, and cultural melting pot create an exciting urban culture I really enjoyed.
Prior to my visit, I had only spent one night in Singapore during an overnight layover to Bali, and during that layover I had the best Asian food I ever tried, so I was pretty sure I’d like Singapore. However, most budget travelers I spoke to do not include Singapore in their travels because the city gets a reputation of being expensive and “western”. Elements of this are true. Singapore’s museums and tourist attractions will cost anywhere from $10 to $30 USD. However, I stayed at a fun hostel that cost about $11 USD per night, and found meals that cost around $4 USD, which made my overall cost affordable (more about this in my “So What’s the Damage” section). It’s also a destination where people speak English well, and so depending on where you are coming from, it could be a welcome break from pantomiming, as I had been doing in Indonesia for a month.
If you are an exotic car fan, you'll love Singapore. Everywhere I looked I saw Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and more. (click on the images below)
I also couldn't get enough of the architecture. The city is filled with fascinating modern buildings that provoke your imagination and fill you with amazement. (click on the images below)
Singapore is also an important historical city, being the southern-most city of the Straights of Melacca, which the British colonized. The city’s fantastic museums and art galleries provide a great way to learn about SE Asia’s history and culture. To sum it up, if you are travelling through the area and are ambivalent about Singapore, GO!
Surprising Discoveries and Other Interesting Facts
- Singapore is the world’s second largest port and fourth largest banking center
- Singapore is the world’s only island city-state
- There's a height restriction for buildings - 280 meters - which is put in place for Changi Airport
- A ship arrives at or departs from the Singapore port every 2-3 minutes
- Singapore is connected by 200 shipping lines to 600 ports in 123 countries
- Singapore’s airport, Changi Airport, was voted the world’s best airport for the fourth straight year; in 2013, the airport handled over 50 million passengers
- There are 1,000 vessels in the Port of Singapore at any one time
- The fruit called durian are so smelly that they are banned from the subways and many hotels
- In most Singaporean bathrooms (as well as other Asian countries), there is a small hose next to the toilet, because many Asian cultures, such as Malay and Indian, wash, and don’t wipe. As a result, bathroom floors are always wet and there’s often no toilet paper
For centuries, Singapore was a trading post ruled by various sultanates. Modern Singapore doesn’t begin until the early 19th century. If you’ve been following my other posts, you may remember Thomas Stamford Raffles, the British statesman who, for a short period, ruled over the Indonesian island of Java, and is given credit for the discovery of the Borobudar and Prambanan temples. He’s also a huge deal in Singapore, which he is recognized as founding. Raffles’ name is on everything around the city, from hospitals, to skyscrapers. He’s a celebrated guy in Singaporean history.
In 1819, Thomas Raffles arrived to Singapore and signed a treaty with Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor, on behalf of the British East India Company, to develop the southern part of Singapore as a British trading post. Further negotiation enabled Britain to obtain possession status over the city in 1824, and in 1826, Singapore became part of the British Straights Settlements, which includes Melacca and Penang in the north. The colonization by the British fueled economic development and attracted Chinese immigrants, whose population swelled.
In 1942, Japanese invaded British Malaya (Malaya refers to the peninsula part of Malaysia, of which Singapore is the bottom), and forced the 60,000 British troops in Singapore to surrender. Churchill called the battle “the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history”. When Japan surrendered in 1945, the British repossessed Singapore.
Following the war, the country yearned for independence, and there were riots and protests against the British government. This led to Singapore merging with three other regions in the area to form Malaysia in 1963. However, shortly after the merger, the governments had heated ideological disagreements. This drove Malaysia to unanimously vote to expel Singapore from Malaysia in August 1965 - and there were not even any Singaporean delegates present for the vote. This day is now known as Singaporean independence, even though it is technically a result of the city-state getting expelled!
Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the bay is an enchanting park created in 2012 that celebrates Earth's plant life. It is a beautiful park to walk through that arouses a sense of discovery and wonder. Around every corner there are fascinating displays, such as an aquarium with rare exotic fish and animals (including my favorite - the pig-nosed turtle), and the Garden's famous man-made massive trees in the Supertree Grove.
The flower dome is a giant greenhouse in the Gardens by the Bay that showcases plants from four regions of the Earth - the Mediterranean, Australia, South America, and South Africa.
A Cloud Forest is a specific type of tropical or subtropical forest that is between 500 and 4,000 meters above sea-level. Due to its altitude, temperature, and proximity to the ocean, there is a persistent cloud cover, which gives life to a unique ecosystem of plants and animals. Cloud forests account for approximately 4% of the world's forests. In the Gardens by the Bay, there is a recreation of a cloud forest, which features a 42 meter cloud mountain with 6 levels. This was a really fun exhibit to explore and it has some great interactive multimedia on the environment.
Marina Bay Sands Skypark
The Marina Bay Sands is a spectacular 5-star casino and hotel that overlooks downtown Singapore. The hotel looks like a massive alien spacecraft supported by three massive supports. It is one of those buildings that instantly draws curiosity and awe. I couldn't stop snapping shots of this structure from all different angles, it is just so neat. Inside is a beautiful high-end mall, with designer stores, steakhouses, and even a water gondola, which reminded me of the Venetian in Vegas.
At the top of the hotel, there is an observation deck that costs $20 Singaporean dollars. I decided to check it out around sunset. It was worth it! The views over the city are spectacular.
Harbor Water Show
On weekend nights, outside the Marina Bay Sands there's a small amphitheater that overlooks the harbor. At about 8pm, there's a water show, which is one of the most unique shows I've seen. Water is sprayed from the harbor to create a screen, on which images are projected, and there is music and sound effects. The show was about the story of life. I highly recommend checking this out!
Singapore Art Museum
This museum has a variety of contemporary Asian art. Housed in a 19th century mission school, it's relatively small and intimate, and many of the pieces are large installations that are multimedia, interactive, and made out of weird things, and thus the art is quite entertaining. A lot of the art is commentary on SE Asia's history, which provides a unique way to learn history through the eyes of Asians living today. This is not your parents' art museum!
If the Gardens by the Bay did not quench your thirst for beautiful gardens, then you'll want to check out Singapore's Botanical Gardens. These impressive gardens are the only botanical gardens to be honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Trip Advisor also ranked the gardens Asia's top park attraction since 2013. A highlight of the gardens is the National Orchid Garden, which is the largest collection of orchids in the world, with 1,200 species and 2,000 hybrid orchids. There's one garden called the Celebrity Orchid Garden, which features hybrid orchids designed to celebrate celebrities such Princess Diana, Jacki Chan, and Andrea Bocelli.
The Merlion is a mythical creature that has the head of a lion and the body of a fish. It is the official symbol of Singapore. One fun place to check out is Merlion Park, which is right by the harbor and overlooks the Marina Bay Sands. The park features the famous Merlion fountain.
Asian Civilization Museum
For a mix of history, artifacts, textiles, and culture, check out this well done museum. In it, you can see the remnants of a large ship wreck, which contains pottery used for international trade; view fine ceramics from China; and learn about traditional Asian clothing.
What's the Damage
While Singapore is more expensive than most other SE Asian countries, it is still affordable for the budget traveler. If you are willing to eat at the right places and stay at a hostel, you can enjoy Singapore for much less than countries like Australia and New Zealand - for me, my daily spending average was about 50% of what it was in both these countries.
My daily spending average was $55.71. My flight from Jakarta to Singapore cost me $7.51, when the total cost is divided by the number of days I was in Singapore. When excluding this cost ("Transportation to Dest."), my daily spending average was $48.19. This includes going to several museums with $10 to $20 Singaporean dollar entrance fees, as well as using the subway system (which is clean and fast!). I didn't drink much, which kept the overall costs down. Additionally, my hostel included breakfast, so I typically paid for only two meals a day. I also bought ice cream a few times, which cost about $10 Singaporean dollars, pushing up my daily food average.