It’s a city, a state, an island, and a country. It’s not part of Malaysia. Neither is it part of China.
Legend has it that a Sumatran Prince spotted a lion, or singa (in Malay), on the island and named it Singapura, which means Lion City in Sanskrit. The name eventually evolved to become Singapore. It’s also known as the Little Red Dot, as depicted on world maps.
It’s 53 years young and transformed from third world to first within 40 years.
It experiences an equatorial climate due to its location 1 degree north of the equator. Its weather is either hot and humid or rainy and humid. It takes you just an hour to drive from the east to the west of the country without traffic and half that time from the north to the south.
Only two-thirds of residents are Singaporean citizens. The rest are foreigners who have mainly migrated from other Asian countries. Its citizens are of four main races—Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Eurasian.
Its citizens are Singaporeans and they do not speak Singaporeanish. Its official national language is Malay; its working language is English; its conversational language is Singlish (English with a Singaporean accent, interspersed with phrases from other languages like Malay or dialects like Cantonese and Hokkien).
Singapore’s strikingly unique geography and history should warrant a pin on your travel map. But if that’s not convincing enough, here are 25 more reasons to pin it down!
You won’t have to worry about losing your way. Considering that most of the younger generation studied in English-medium schools and that English is the unifying language among all races in the country, plus the fact that Singapore is 99% urban, just ask or read the road signs when in doubt. Information kiosks are littered around all major tourist destinations, and many places offer complimentary WiFi that you can tap on. If you still end up in the middle of nowhere, take comfort that the country is small enough for you to hike your way to where you need to be.
A common sight in Asian countries, that’s what's called an overhead bridge, otherwise known as pedestrian bridges. It never hit us that some of our Western friends have never seen an overhead bridge ‘til they were asking about the function of a concrete path hanging above the roads. These bridges pale in comparison to iconic structures like London’s Millennium Bridge or the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but they serve the noble purposes of transporting people across roads safely while reducing road congestion. It’s just that you’ll need a certain level of physical fitness to scale the steps unscathed.
Load on the sunscreen, roam the streets in bermudas and tanks, and be prepared to sweat! Walking around the city could feel like soaking in a sauna, especially if your body is attuned to cool and dry weather. Temperatures during the day can reach up to 35 degrees Celsius! Though the landscaped trees and air-conditioned malls would help, drinking up is the best solution to beat the heat. That’s unless of course you’re the beach bum and prefer to ace that tan line. Rest assured that you won’t even have to head to the beach to turn a shade darker.
Hear the loud roar and see the flash of light before you scurry away...and never seek cover under trees! Thunderstorms are so common that people are trained not to bat an eyelid when they encounter one. The main gripe would probably be the flooded streets and murky splash you get from cars zooming by. Chances are, if you see those thick, dark cumulonimbus clouds looming, you should get your umbrellas ready. The good thing is that most of these thunderstorms start and end quickly, so you will not have to hide that long before being greeted by the sun again.
Given how quickly Singapore gained prosperity, there may be some truth in this superstition. If you scrutinize the old dollar coin that Singapore used to circulate, you’d notice that it’s inscribed with an octagon, which is exactly the shape of the Chinese bagua. Fengshui masters believed that the bagua would help to negate the negativity that would arise as Singapore constructed its train tunnels through its central area. Instead of having every household display the bagua, the shape was neatly infused into coins that everyone would carry around daily. Hang on to these coins well for they are no longer produced!
McDonald’s delivers. It’s just beyond fathom that they don’t deliver in the US or Canada, where food delivery services are already widespread. In Singapore, you have 24-hour McDonald’s outlets, 24-hour McDelivery, 24-hour McDonald’s drive-thrus, 24-hour McDonald’s complimentary WiFi, and 24-hour breakfast food (selected items only). You can order from an app, from the site, or just call. You can even make advanced orders, specifying the exact time you wish to receive your food. Better still, every order is only charged a $3 delivery fee. No wonder everyone’s lovin’ it!
The third wave of coffee has hit the scene—specialty, fairtrade, and single-origin coffee is now in! Despite the steep price of a cuppa compared to what you’d get off a shop along the sidewalk, younger generations are ever-willing to spend on well-brewed coffee. The first wave had gone with the mass-produced Arabica coffee, and the second wave is barely left with coffee as a social lifestyle tool. Consumers are now looking for taste, class, and ambiance altogether. Brewing and latte art lessons have crept into the market, and snagging a job as a barista is now seen as cool!
It’s a mermaid! No, it’s a fish! No, it’s a lion! Undecided? That’s a natural response to the hybrid creature called the merlion, a mix between a mermaid and a lion. Featuring the mascot of Singapore, a mythical creature with a lion’s head and the body of a fish. The lion head references Singapore’s name as the Lion City, while the body of a fish references Singapore’s origin as a fishing village. As water is associated with prosperity in fengshui, water that spouts from the merlion’s mouth is said to provide luck to the country.
Welcome to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, the country’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site! Located near the bustling streets at Orchard Road, the gardens is a haunt for tai-chi in the morning and runs in the evening. The site was created back in 1859 by Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore. Since then, it has evolved to become a space for research, conservation, education, and even a photo-taking spot for the newlyweds! Activities are frequently held around its Symphony Lake, so check out details online before you head down for a picnic!
This must be the Louis Vuitton outlet that receives the most visitors throughout the year. To the dismay of the staff, many of these visitors walk in for the view and to access the secret entrance to the neighboring Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. Walk up to the sheltered porch on the second level for a sunset view of the Central Business District. When dusk settles, idle along the travelator in the basement as it takes you underwater to the Shoppes. LV is clearly not thinking of selling products here, but the experience, innovation, and prestige that it can afford.
Singapore and New York are simply 19 hours or 9,500 miles away. While passengers previously had to transit in Europe on the 23-hour journey to the Big Apple or the Little Red Dot starting October 18, they may now enjoy a direct flight to Newark in premium economy, business, or first class. Speed and service are keys to the Singapore Airlines brand, and so we’re sold. Even the lowest class on the flight promises more legroom and a better recline than the typical economy seat, so that you can hit the ground running once you’ve arrived.
It’s $300 if you drop a cigarette butt or a candy wrapper and leave it on the streets. Dumping bigger items like used cans and bottles may just get you a free trip to the court. Don’t even get near spitting in public. What kind of crude behavior is that? Singapore prides itself on street cleanliness. No leaves, no litter; every sidewalk needs to be scrubbed clean. You won’t even have to worry about sticky black goo on the streets because the sale of gum is forbidden in the country.
We’re not talking water fountains by the streets. We’re talking actual running water from taps, including the one in your hotel bathroom. Used water is treated before being piped into reservoirs, which then feeds into taps. This recycled water is termed NEWater, an innovation that emerged from the need to be self-sufficient in water resources. You won’t even have to boil the water because it is pure enough to be drunk directly from the tap. Though more upscale hotels still provide complimentary bottles of mineral water, that’s more for you to quench your thirst on the go.
How could you not visit an airport that has been rated the world’s best for the sixth consecutive year since 2013? The airport now features four terminals, with a shopping mall and a fifth terminal in the making. Catch a movie, grab a meal, visit the clinic, take a walk through the Butterfly Garden, shop duty-free, hop on a complimentary tour around the city, or admire the installations and greenery that permeates the terminal. Whether you’re an adult or a child, feeling hungry or sick, you can always find something to fulfill your needs.
From the moment you step out of the airport until you depart from it again, you’d be surrounded by greenery. Trees line the streets, eco-gardens are placed on roofs, and floral decor are found in buildings. There is even a rule which states that every development that removes greenery will need to return it within the building in the form of vertical or rooftop gardens. Too much greenery is never an issue; too little is. Given the heat all year round, trees provide welcomed shade for passersby. It also adds aesthetic value to the streets!
Sentosa, the offshore island that is well-connected to the main island of Singapore and marketed as a tourist destination, has deep historical roots. The idea of fun wouldn’t sit well in the past during World War II, when the island was used for massacres and to house prisoners of war. Now, it features two casinos, theater productions and concerts throughout the year, a theme park, a zip-line to the southernmost part of the country, a myriad of Michelin-starred restaurants, as well as beaches and resorts that line the coast.
You’d be surprised that a country with four different races can achieve such harmony. Every block of public housing, every school, and almost every office has people of different races living or working together. Racial Harmony Day, which falls on July 21, is even designated to celebrate the acceptance of various cultures and races within the country. In fact, if you roam the streets of Chinatown, you’d find a mosque, a temple, and a church within the vicinity, which is telling of how gelled a society the country has become.
“Doors closing. Please mind the platform gap. Please do not eat or drink in stations or on board trains. Thank you.” The same announcements are repeated on loop in English, Mandarin, Tamil, and Malay, so there’s no excuse for a local to misinterpret messages. These classic lines have flooded the comedy scene, and you’d often find youth showcasing their multilingual talent by reciting these statements. Give it a shot as well, and prove to others that you have four languages under your belt!
While roaming dark alleys at 3 AM in the US seems insane, the late-night safety that Singapore offers has almost been taken for granted by locals. The city’s crime rates are low, and it’s not that uncommon to find women returning home by themselves at that time. Selected public buses run throughout the night, and private hires are typically far from shady. The clubbing scene is tame, although there are still some red light districts that you might want to avoid.
Public housing tends to conjure images of poorly-maintained facilities, dim corridors, and low-income households. But public housing takes on a whole new meaning for 90% of Singapore residents who stay in it. Flats within a neighborhood are painted in coordinated colors, and each neighborhood surrounds common facilities like playgrounds, exercise corners, recreational areas, and community gardens. Resident committees work to strengthen welfare and interaction among neighbors, while members of parliament who govern the area make occasional house visits to ensure that residents’ lives are moving along smoothly.
With a variety of ethnic cuisines, there’s always more than enough food to go around. For Chinese, dig into the Hainanese Chicken Rice, Bak Kut Teh (Pork Ribs Soup), and Chili Crab. For Indians, get your fingers dirty with Roti Prata, Chicken Masala, and Nasi Briyani. For Malays, why not try Nasi Lemak (Coconut Rice Served With Sides), Chicken Rendang, and Satay (Grilled Meat). For Eurasians, savor the Semur (Indonesian Stew), Devil’s Curry, and Kueh Kochi Pulot Hitam (Sweet Red Bean or Coconut Cake). If you’re feeling peckish for international cuisine, malls are your best bet!
Singapore’s local range of coffee and tea is most efficiently ordered in code. Coffee is known as kopi, and you have a choice of sugar level—whether you’d like evaporated, condensed, or no milk; the strength of your coffee; and if you’d like it hot or iced. The same goes for tea, which is better known as teh. Milo, the chocolate malt drink that originated from Australia, is known as tak-kiu (kicking a ball) to represent the image shown on Milo tins. Plain Chinese tea is known as diao-yu (fishing) to represent the action of dipping your teabag.
Kiasu refers to the fear of losing out, which largely represents the Asian mindset in probably everything that they do—from education, to jobs, and to raising families. This could mean standing in line the night before just to secure the newest handphone model or parents sending kids for enrichment lessons even before they hit elementary school. So the next time you see a line forming anywhere, join the queue first, then figure out what people are waiting for. Who knows? You might snag something awesome!
Behold the world’s largest infinity pool seated on top the 57-story Marina Bay Sands Resort that looks over the bay and the Central Business District. Taking a swim had never been more exhilarating, as though you were on the edge of a cliff. Only hotel guests are allowed a dip. Otherwise, you’d have to pay a small fee to get up to the Skypark and view the pool from afar. It’s still not a bad deal if you’re Instagram-crazy, for a hotel room can easily set you back by US$400.
Singlish is English with a bit of every other language and dialect, plus a Singaporean accent. It’s an extremely efficient mode of communication and is the easiest way of identifying a Singaporean abroad. “I don’t think I can do this” in perfect English translates to simply “Cannot lah” in Singlish. Adding lor, leh, lah, hor and a long list of other fillers turns the language into what seems like a song. Not to worry, though, as many locals are educated in British English and are hooked on American sitcoms, so they’re excellent at code-switching between Singlish and English!