The ‘little red dot’ that makes a huge impression.
Some cities have unofficial and often poetic nicknames: The Windy City (Chicago), The City of Lights (Paris), and The Big Apple (New York). Anecdotally, Singapore has three unofficial nicknames: The Little Red Dot (referring to its size on the world map), The City in the Garden (referring to the Singaporean Government’s initiative to make the island as green as possible), and its most famous, The Lion City. According to eighth century legend the appearance of a sea monster, half fish and half lion, made such an impression on the indigenous Malay people that they renamed the city “Singapore” meaning Lion City. Today the Merlion (the lion with the amphibious tail) can be seen in prominent locations throughout Singapore and even on postage stamps.
Personally, I think all three names are relevant. While Singapore may be a little red dot on the world map, its size belays its global impact. This is one of the most dynamic cities in the world, a place that seamlessly combines the technology of the twenty first century with a rich colonial heritage. Officially the Republic of Singapore, Singapore is a small island country in Southeast Asia that today is a global powerhouse of education, finance, healthcare, innovation, logistics, manufacturing, technology, trade, transport and of course, tourism. Initially a member of the Malaysian confederation established in the 1960’s, today Singapore stands alone as a sovereign state and is recognised as one of the world’s ‘smartest’ cities. It is also one of the world’s most visited cities, with millions of tourists arriving each year to enjoy Singapore’s amazing sites, unique culture and world class shopping.
Singapore. No chewing gum allowed!
I am a Virgo. My wife maintains that this is why I love Singapore. Virgos are traditionally meticulous and tidy. Singapore is certainly this and it is evident everywhere you look; from the city’s on-time every-time public transport system, to the immaculate streetscapes and the city’s famous ‘no chewing gum’ laws. In Singapore, there is a time and place for everything and everything is on time and in its place. I have however, heard comments made that Singapore is too sterile. Personally, I like the order of this island city and with it, the safety, surety and security it provides for its visitors.
Singapore is a major international airline hub and is the home of Singapore Airlines, one of the world’s great airlines. Flying from Australia to Southeast Asia, I prefer to fly Singapore Airlines. The aircraft are modern and immaculate and both the ground and inflight service is impeccable. Singapore’s Changi Airport is one of the busiest and most connected in the world. Handling over 100 airlines, Changi Airport is regularly voted the world’s best airport. Visiting Changi, either entering or transiting Singapore is a pleasurable experience. The airport is jam-packed with activities and amenities and is more like a huge shopping mall, with all the world’s leading brands under on show. Plus, restaurants, bars and coffee shops. The airport even offers short-stay hotel accommodation in Terminal 3, catering for travellers who want to break their journey in Singapore without having to leave the airport. Best of all, Changi is just a short 30-minute taxi ride to the city centre, even faster by train.
There is no shortage of hotel accommodation in Singapore. You can choose to stay 5 Star at hotels such as the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, made famous by the ship on the roof of its triple towers. The hotel offers luxury accommodation, upmarket shopping and a roof-top infinity pool with unbelievable views of the city. If you really want to pamper yourself, take a look: www.marinabaysands.com/
Or, if you are looking for a 5-Star experience of a totally different kind, there is the famous Raffles Hotel. This luxurious colonial-style hotel dates back to the late 1880’s and is one of Singapore’s most iconic landmarks. The who’s who of the rich and famous have stayed here, luxuriating in the comfortable wicker chairs on one of the many shady verandas enjoying a Singapore Sling. This iconic gin-based drink was actually invented here, supposedly to combat the heat. You be the judge.
I have visited Singapore on many occasions, primarily on business, so I prefer to stay centrally. My choice is the Carlton Hotel on Bras Basah Road, just up from Raffles Hotel. In fact, many of the rooms look out over Raffles. The Carlton is an excellent 4.5-Star hotel and is located adjacent to Raffles City Shopping Centre and MRT and is within walking distance of central Singapore and Orchard Road. Check it out at: www.carltonhotel.sg
However, if you’d like to be a little more adventurous, consider staying in Little India. Little India is exotically different, celebrating the rich Indian culture and heritage of Singapore and Malaya. Still within walking distance of the city centre, though more conveniently reached by MRT, Little India is alive with the aura and the aroma of the sub-continent. Great food and great shopping. The Mustafa Centre on Syed Alwi Road is a cult favourite in the Singaporean shopping scene and is legendary in Asia. Absolutely crammed to the ceilings with almost every conceivable product, including pure gold jewellery, Mustafa’s is a must-visit even if you are not staying in Little India. Its open 24/7 but is best visited in the evening when Little India really comes alive. If you really want to avoid the crowds, then shopping midnight to dawn is the way to go! The Parkroyal at 181 Kitchener Road is an excellent choice if you want accommodation in this area. A 4-Star hotel, the Parkroyal is in the very heart of Little India offering excellent accommodation and amenities, including a swimming pool. The hotel also offers an airport pick-up and drop-off service. Check it out at: www.panpacific.com.pr-kitchener
Wherever you choose to stay, ensure that it is close to public transport, in particular the MRT, as this is the best way to get around Singapore.
So, what to do in Singapore?
Where to start? Being an education hub, many of my trips to Singapore have been education/business related. However, I have always sought to find time to enjoy the sights and the cultural activities Singapore has to offer, particularly in the evenings. I recall taking a group of students to Singapore some years ago. We arrived in Singapore late on a Saturday evening, so Sunday morning at their request, we headed for Orchard Road. They couldn’t believe the number of people milling around on the footpaths outside the closed doors of the numerous shops and department stores. “Why so many people? Are the sales on?”, they asked. “No.” I said. “They are just waiting for the doors to open at 11.00 so they can start shopping!” The truth is, there are two great passions in Asia…food and shopping and for the latter, it doesn’t get any better than Orchard Road, universally regarded as one of the best shopping precincts in the world. People come from all over the world to shop here and during the annual sales in November, shopping is elevated to a whole new level! Standing at the doors at store opening time on day-one of the sales…well just be sure your travel and health insurance is up to date! And food, well there are literally thousands of restaurants and street food outlets to choose from. The traditional Hawkers Centres are a great place to sample traditional Singaporean food and, in line with the strict food laws enforced by the Singaporean Government, the food is good quality and is safe to eat.
Where passion and possibilities meet.
While the shopping is legendary, there are lots of other reasons to visit and explore this city. One of the best ways to see exactly what there is to do in Singapore is to check out www.visitsingapore.com As the website suggests “Singapore is where foodies, explorers, collectors, action seekers, culture shapers, and socialisers meet – and new experiences are created every day.”
Just walking around Singapore is an adventure in itself – amazing 21st century architecture blends seamlessly with magnificent examples of the country’s colonial past. Fort Canning is a classic example of colonial architecture and 19th century city fortifications. Buried deep in the hill beneath Fort Canning is one of Singapore’s best kept secrets, the Battle Box. The Battle Box is a series of tunnels forming an underground bunker that was built during World War 2 as a command post for the British defence of Singapore. After decades closed, it has been reopened and today the Battle Box is a living memorial to the defence by British and Australian troops of Singapore against the Japanese invasion. It is also where the British surrender of Singapore to the Imperial Japanese Forces was signed. Very historic. Very moving. And very definitely worth a visit.
There are so many things to see and do in the Lion City that it’s impossible to list them all here. And the truth is, everyone’s preferences are different. So, I have compiled my 10 favourite things to do in Singapore and have posted them here. After you have visited Singapore, I’d love to hear about your favourites.
Tips for the Trip
As with everything in Singapore, their airport arrival procedures are extremely efficient. From most countries, you will not need a visa for tourist or business visits up to 90 days but will need to hold a passport that is valid for a least 6 months beyond the date you plan to enter the country. As always, check your country’s visa status before travelling.
For the first-time visitor, one of the best ways to get a ‘feel’ for a city is to take a “Hop-on, Hop-off” bus tour. This will give you an idea of the geographical layout of the city, it’s history and major places of interest and is a great way to help you to plan where to go and what to see.
Apart from walking, the fastest and best way to get around Singapore is by using the MRT, Singapore Mass Rapid Transit system. The extensive rail network means that most of Singapore’s key attractions are within easy walking distance of an MRT station. You can use cash on the MRT, but the most expedient way to travel is with a Singapore Tourist pass (STP), a special EZ-Link stored-value card which allows you unlimited travel for one day at S$10, 2 days for S$16, or 3 days for S$20. The cards can be bought at the Translink Ticket Office at major MRT stations. See Travellers Essentials at: www.visitsingapore.com
Taxis are plentiful in Singapore and relatively inexpensive, depending on the distance you wish to travel. They are metered and you can hail a taxi on the street or you can book a taxi on 6-DIAL CAB (6342-5222).
Main picture: The iconic and spectacular Marina Bay Sands Hotel at Sunrise
- The Marina Bays Sands Hotel is a landmark in Singapore
- Our hotel on Bras Basah Road is well located between the Marina and Orchid Road
- Step out of the Carlton, turn left and walk along the portico of Raffles Hotel
- Its not often you get to look down on Raffles
- And the so-named Raffles City
- Directly across from the hotel, Raffles City Shopping Centre and MRT station
- The Rink – ice skating at The Shoppes at the Marina Bay Sands
- Shopping in Little India
- The colourful streetscape of Little India
- The MRT – the best way to travel in to Singapore from Changi Airport
- At the end of a hot and busy day in Singapore…