For the average traveller, it is easy to pass over Singapore when looking for the next destination in Asia. The island is, after all, just a tiny red dot in the middle of fascinating Southeast Asia. Singaporeans often find themselves explaining to confused foreigners that we are an island, a state, a country and a city all in one. Yet, if Singapore is a tiny red dot, it certainly is sparkling bright, with so much to offer to those who will look a little closer. And no, despite what Hollywood tells you, the island is not only for Crazy Rich Asians.
Located right above the equator, and nestled between Malaysia and Indonesia, Singapore is an island blessed with immunity against natural disasters. We also enjoy balmy weather and a tropical climate. It is summer all year round here! It’s easy to get around Singapore as English is an official language of the country, alongside Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. All Singaporeans also speak colloquial ‘Singlish’, a mishmash of all 4 languages sprinkled with a smattering of Chinese dialects and reworked into a unique sentence structure. Fun to speak, difficult to perfect, but locals will love it if you try. Just do it lah!
The diversity of cultures extends to our food scene. It is incredible, and we have just been voted as having the best street food in the world, much to the eternal chagrin of our larger neighbours. To try local dishes like chicken rice, laksa (spicy noodle soup), Hokkien prawn noodles, Char Kway Teow (stir-fried noodles), chilli crab or Bak Kut Teh (Pork Rib Soup), you really need to visit some of our hawker centres. There are hawker centres in every neighbourhood of Singapore, but diehard foodies swear by some of the most popular ones including Maxwell Food Centre, Old Airport Road Food Centre, Tiong Bahru Market, Chinatown Complex Food Centre and Chomp Chomp.
Legend tells us that Sang Nila Utama, a Srivijayan prince from Palembang, sailed to the island and spotted a large cat. Believing it to be a lion, he named the island Singapura, which means "the lion city”. Well, lions are not endemic to Southeast Asia, but the name stuck anyway. It even gave rise to the iconic Merlion, a legendary creature which is half-fish half-lion. You can still see the Merlion at Merlion Park as it overlooks Marina Bay. It is not a big statue, but it makes for a uniquely Singaporean photo-op. The beautiful waterfront makes it worth the trip.
Singapore’s meteoric ascendance from a sleepy fishing village to a bustling global metropolis has completely transformed the landscape of the city. The island has developed multiple futuristic attractions to dazzle its international audience. Catch cultural performances at the Esplanade, our state-of-the-art performing arts theatre shaped like the thorny durian fruit. The Art Science Museum, shaped like a graceful lotus, plays host to splendid local and international exhibitions such as the TeamLab Future World immersive digital installations. We also have the famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel, which was the most Instagrammed hotel in 2017. It boasts a stunning infinity pool on the 57th floor, with an unmatchable view of the city skyline. Marina Bay Sands also puts on Spectra, a free outdoor light and water show every evening, and it is an incredible way to enjoy the waterfront at night. Also, Singapore’s award-winning Changi Airport has just unveiled Jewel, a new rainforest-themed entertainment and retail complex with Rain Vortex - the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. The list would not be complete without mentioning our electric Supertree Grove set within the Gardens by the Bay.
Besides our dizzying array of high tech attractions, the Singaporean heartlands also have much to offer. You can have a taste of culture in the ethnic enclaves of Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam. Traditional shophouses and businesses have been preserved, and it is common for Singaporeans to flock to these places to purchase traditional goods during festive occasions. Tiong Bahru is another great cultural gem. The neighbourhood has undergone gentrification in recent years, but much of it is under heritage preservation. What you get is an eclectic mix of quirky hipster cafes and yoga studios in old shophouses, a distinctive architectural style in ‘horseshoe’ housing estates, and famous traditional eateries like Loo’s Hainanese curry rice stall, which has been there since 1946. You can also go treasure hunting around Tiong Bahru for the beautiful heritage murals done by a local artist - Yip Yew Chong.
There is so much to discover about this sparkling red dot and its people that it can be said that the Singapore experience is what you want it to be. You can, of course, take pleasure in living out the glamourous Crazy Rich Asian dream, the island doles out luxury in excess. But Singapore is not only that, and this island is for everyone. You can very well enjoy your Singapore experience with delicious and affordable hawker food, and a stroll through the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Singapore Botanic Gardens. Whatever you choose, Singapore offers its own special brand of Southeast Asian charm.
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