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Singapore (新加坡) is a city-state in Southeast Asia. Founded as a British trading colony in 1819, since independence it has become one of the world's most prosperous countries and boasts the world's busiest port. Combining the skyscrapers and subways of a modern, affluent city with a medley of Chinese, Malay and Indian influences and a tropical climate, with tasty food, good shopping and a vibrant nightlife scene, this Garden City makes a great stopover or springboard into the region.
Singapore Zoo Singapore is a microcosm of Asia, populated by Chinese, Malays, Indians, and a large group of workers and expatriates from all across the globe. Singapore has a partly deserved reputation for sterile predictability that has earned it descriptions like William Gibson's "Disneyland with the death penalty" or the "world's only shopping mall with a seat in the United Nations". Nevertheless, the Switzerland of Asia is for many a welcome respite from the poverty, chaos, and crime of much of the Asian mainland, and if you scratch below the squeaky clean surface and get away from the tourist trail you'll soon find more than meets the eye.
Singaporean food is legendary, with bustling hawker centres and 24-hour coffee shops offering cheap food from all parts of Asia, and shoppers can bust their baggage allowances in shopping meccas like Orchard Road and Suntec City. In recent years some societal restrictions have also loosened up, and now you can bungee jump and dance on bartops all night long, although alcohol is still very pricey and chewing gum can only be bought from a pharmacy. Two casino complexes — or "Integrated Resorts", to use the Singaporean euphemism — opened in 2010 in Sentosa and Marina Bay as part of Singapore's new Fun and Entertainment drive, the aim being to double the number of tourists visiting and increasing the length of time they stay within the country. Watch out for more loosening up in the future.
HistoryThe first records of Singapore date back to the 2nd-3rd centuries where a vague reference to its location was found in Greek and Chinese texts, under the names of Sabana and Pu Luo Chung respectively. According to legend, Srivijayan prince Sang Nila Utama landed on the island in the 13th century and, catching sight of a strange creature that he thought was a lion, decided to found a new city he called Singapura, Sanskrit for Lion City. Alas, there have never been any lions anywhere near Singapore or elsewhere on Malaya, so the mysterious beast was more probably a tiger or wild boar.
More historical records indicate that the island was settled at least two centuries earlier and was known as Temasek, Javanese for "Sea Town", and an important port for the Sumatran Srivijaya kingdom. However, Srivijaya fell around 1400 and Temasek, battered by the feuding kingdoms of Siam and the Javanese Majapahit, fell into obscurity. As Singapura, it then briefly regained importance as a trading centre for the Melaka Sultanate and later, the Johor Sultanate. However, Portuguese raiders then destroyed the settlement and Singapura faded into obscurity once more.
The story of Singapore as we know it today thus began in 1819, when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles made a deal with a claimant to the throne of the Sultanate of Johor: the British would support his claim in exchange for the right to set up a trading post on the island. Though the Dutch initially protested, the signing of the Anglo-Dutch treaty in 1824, which separated the Malay world into British and Dutch spheres of influence (resulting in the current Malaysia-Indonesia and Singapore-Indonesia borders), ended the conflict with the Dutch renouncing their claim to Singapore and ceding their colony in Malacca to the British, in exchange for the British ceding their colonies on Sumatra to the Dutch. Well-placed at the entrance to the Straits of Malacca, straddling the trade routes between China, India, Europe, and Australia, Raffles' masterstroke was to declare Singapore a free port, with no duties charged on trade. As traders flocked to escape onerous Dutch taxes, the trading post soon grew into one of Asia's busiest, drawing people from far and wide. Along with Penang and Malacca, Singapore became one of the Straits Settlements and a jewel in the British colonial crown. Its economic fortunes received a further boost when palm oil and rubber from neighbouring Malaya were processed and shipped out via Singapore. In 1867, Singapore was formally split off from British India and made into a directly ruled Crown Colony.
When World War II broke out, Fortress Singapore was seen as a formidable British base, with massive naval fortifications guarding against assault by sea. However, not only did the fortress lack a fleet as all ships were tied up defending Britain from the Germans, but the Japanese wisely chose to cross Malaya by bicycle instead. Despite hastily turning the guns around, this was something the British had not prepared for at all, and on February 15, 1942, with supplies critically low after less than a week of fighting, Singapore ignominiously surrendered and the colony's erstwhile rulers were packed off to Changi Prison. Tens of thousands perished in the subsequent brutal occupation, and the return of the British in 1945 was triumphal.
Granted self-rule in 1955, Singapore briefly joined Malaysia in 1963 when the British left, but was expelled because the Chinese-majority city was seen as a threat to Malay dominance, and the island became independent on 9 August 1965, thus becoming the only country to gain independence against its own will in the history of the modern world. The subsequent forty years rule by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew saw Singapore's economy boom, with the country rapidly becoming one of the wealthiest and most developed in Asia despite its lack of natural resources, earning it a place as one of the four East Asian Tigers. Now led by Lee's son Lee Hsien Loong, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) continues to dominate the political scene with 81 out of 87 seats in Parliament. Societal restrictions have been loosened up in recent years though, with the government trying to shake off its staid image, and it remains to be seen how the delicate balancing act between political control and social freedom will play out.
PeopleSingapore prides itself on being a multi-racial country, and has a diverse culture despite its small size. The largest group are the Chinese, who form about 75% of the population. Amongst the Chinese, Hokkien speakers form the majority, while Teochew and Cantonese speakers round out the top three. Other notable "dialect" groups among the Chinese include the Hakkas, Hainanese and Foochows. The Malays, who are comprised of Singapore's original inhabitants as well as migrants from present day Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, form about 14% of the population, while Indians form about 9% of the population. Among the Indians, Tamils form the largest group by far, though there are also a significant numbers of speakers of other Indian languages such as Hindi, Malayalam and Punjabi. The remainder are a mix of many other cultures, most notably the Eurasians who are of mixed European and Asian descent, and also a handful of Filipinos, Burmese, Japanese, Thais and many others. Slighty over one-third of Singapore's residents are not citizens.
Singapore is also religiously diverse, with no religious group forming a majority. Religious freedom is guaranteed by the constitution of Singapore. Buddhism is the largest religion with about 33% of the population declaring themselves Buddhist. Other religions which exist in significant numbers include Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Taoism. In addition to the "big five", there are also much smaller numbers of Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Jews, Baha'is and Jains. Some 17% of Singaporeans profess to have no religious affiliation.
ClimateAs Singapore is located a mere 1.5 degrees north of the Equator, its weather is usually sunny with no distinct seasons. Rain falls almost daily throughout the year, usually in sudden, heavy showers that rarely last longer than an hour. However, most rainfall occurs during the northeast monsoon (November to January), occasionally featuring lengthy spells of continuous rain. Spectacular thunderstorms can occur throughout the year, any time during the day, so it's wise to carry an umbrella at all times, both as a shade from the sun or cover from the rain.
Between May and October, forest fires in neighboring Sumatra can also cause dense haze, although this is unpredictable and comes and goes rapidly: check the National Environment Agency's site [☛] for current data.
The temperature averages around:
• 30°C (84°F) daytime, 24°C (76°F) at night in December and January.
• 32°C (90°F) daytime, 26°C (81°F) at night for the rest of the year.
The high temperature and humidity, combined with the lack of wind and the fact that temperatures stay high during the night, can take its toll on visitors from colder parts of the world. Bear in mind that spending more than about one hour outdoors can be very exhausting, especially if combined with moderate exercise. Singaporeans themselves shun the heat, and for a good reason. Many live in air-conditioned flats, work in air-conditioned offices, take the air-conditioned metro to air-conditioned shopping malls connected to each other by underground tunnels where they shop, eat, and exercise in air-conditioned fitness clubs. Follow their example if you want to avoid discomfort in the searing heat and humidity of Singapore.
New Year decorations, Chinatown Singapore is a secular city state but due to its multicultural population, Singapore celebrates Chinese, Muslim, Indian, and Christian holidays.
The year kicks off with a bang on January 1st and New Year, celebrated in Singapore just as in the West with a fireworks show and parties at every nightspot in town. Particularly famous are the wet and wild foam parties on the beaches of resort island Sentosa — at least those years when the authorities deign to permit such relative debauchery.
Due to the influence of the Chinese majority, the largest event by far is Chinese New Year (农历新年) or, more politically correctly, Lunar New Year, usually held in February. While this might seem to be an ideal time to visit, many smaller shops and eateries close for 2-3 days during the period, though supermarkets, department stores and high end restaurants remain open. The whole festival stretches out for no less than 42 days, but the frenzied buildup to the peak occurs just before the night of the new moon, with exhortations of gong xi fa cai (恭喜发财 "congratulations and prosper"), red tinsel, mandarin oranges and the year's zodiac animal emblazoned everywhere and crowds of shoppers queuing in Chinatown, where there are also extensive street decorations to add spice to the festive mood. The two following days are spent with family and most of the island comes to a standstill, and then life returns to normal... except for the final burst of Chingay, a colorful parade down Orchard Road held ten days later.
On the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar, the Dragon Boat Festival (端午节) is celebrated to commemorate a Chinese folk hero. As part of the celebrations, rice dumplings, which in Singapore are sometimes wrapped in pandan leaves instead of the original bamboo leaves, are usually eaten. In addition, dragon boat races are often held at the Singapore River on this day. The seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar — usually August — starts off with a puff of smoke, as "hell money" is burned and food offerings are made to please the spirits of ancestors who are said to return to earth at this time. The climax on the 15th day of the lunar calendar is the Hungry Ghost Festival (中元节), when the living get together to stuff themselves and watch plays and Chinese opera performances. Following soon afterwards, the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节) on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month (Sep/Oct) is also a major event, with elaborate lantern decorations — particularly in Jurong's Chinese Garden — and moon cakes filled with red bean paste, nuts, and more consumed merrily.
The Hindu festival of lights, Diwali, known locally as Deepavali, is celebrated around October or November and Little India is brightly decorated for the occasion. At around January-February, one may witness the celebration of Thaipusam, a Tamil Hindu festival in which male devotees would carry a kavadi, an elaborate structure which pierces through various parts of his body, and join a procession from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Little India to the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple in Tank Road. Female devotees usually join the procession carrying pots of milk instead. About one week before Deepavali is Thimithi, the fire-walking festival where one can see male devotees walking on burning coals at the Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown.
The Islamic month of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr or Hari Raya Puasa as it is called here, is a major occasion in Malay parts of town, particularly Geylang Serai on the East Coast, which is lighted up with extensive decorations during the period. Another festival celebrated by the Malays is Eid-ul-Adha, known locally as Hari Raya Haji, which is the period when Muslims make the trip to Mecca to perform in Hajj. In local mosques, lambs contributed by the faithful are sacrificed and their meat is used to feed the poor.
The Buddhist Vesak Day, celebrating the birthday of the Buddha Sakyamuni, plus the Christian holidays of Christmas Day, for which Orchard road is extensively decorated, and Good Friday round out the list of holidays.
A more secular celebration occurs on August 9th, National Day, when fluttering flags fill Singapore and spectacular National Day parades are held to celebrate independence.
EventsSingapore holds numerous events each year. Some of its famous festivals and events include the Singapore Food Festival, the Singapore Grand Prix, the Singapore Arts Festival, the Chingay Parade, the World Gourmet Summit and ZoukOut.
The Singapore Sun Festival is another popular festival in Singapore, with 2010's line-up featuring renowned stars such as David Foster, Natalie Cole, Jose Carreras and Sharon Stone. Christmas is also widely celebrated in Singapore, a season where the city streets and shopping malls along its famous shopping belt Orchard Road are lit up and decorated in vibrant colours. In addition, the Singapore Jewel Festival attracts numerous tourists every year, and is a display of precious gems, famous jewels and masterpieces from international jewellers and designers.
Most nationalities can enter Singapore without a visa. Refer to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority [☛] for current guidelines, including a list of the 30+ nationalities that are required to obtain a visa in advance. Entry permit duration depends on nationality and entry point: most people get 14 or 30 days, although EU, Norwegian, Swiss and US passport holders get 90 days. Citizens of some CIS countries (Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan) can transit 4 days without visa, if having tickets to a third country.
Singapore has very strict drug laws, and drug trafficking carries a mandatory death penalty — which is also applied to foreigners. Even if you technically haven't entered Singapore and are merely transiting (i.e. changing flights without the need to clear passport control and customs) while in possession of drugs, you would still be subject to capital punishment. The paranoid might also like to note that in Singapore, it is an offence even to have any drug metabolites in your system, even if they were consumed outside Singapore, and Customs occasionally does spot urine tests at the airport! In addition, bringing in explosives or firearms without a permit is also a capital offence in Singapore.
Bring prescriptions for any medicines you may have with you, and obtain prior permission from the Health Sciences Authority [☛] before bringing in any sedatives (eg. Valium/diazepam) or strong painkillers (eg. codeine). Hippie types may expect a little extra attention from Customs, but getting a shave and a haircut is no longer a condition for entry.
Duty free allowances for alcohol are 1 L each of wine, beer and spirits, though the 1 L of spirits may be substituted with 1 L of wine or beer, unless you are entering from Malaysia. Travellers entering from Malaysia are not entitled to any duty free allowance. Alcohol may not be brought in by persons under the age of 18. There is no duty free allowance for cigarettes: all cigarettes legally sold in Singapore are stamped "SDPC", and smokers caught with unmarked cigarettes may be fined $500 per pack. (In practice, though, bringing in one opened pack is usually tolerated.) If you declare your cigarettes or excess booze at customs, you can opt to pay the tax or let the customs officers keep the cigarettes until your departure. The import of chewing gum is technically illegal, but in practice customs officers would usually not bother with a few sticks for personal consumption.
Pornography, pirated goods and publications by the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Unification Church may not be imported to Singapore, and baggage is scanned at land and sea entry points. In theory, all entertainment media including movies and video games must be sent to the Board of Censors for approval before they can be brought into Singapore, but that is rarely if ever enforced for original (non-pirated) goods. Pirated CDs or DVDs, on the other hand, can land you fines of up to $1000 per disc.
By planeSingapore is one of Southeast Asia's largest aviation hubs, so unless you're coming from Peninsular Malaysia or Batam/Bintan in Indonesia, the easiest way to enter Singapore is by air. In addition to flag-carrier Singapore Airlines [☛] and its regional subsidiary SilkAir [☛], Singapore is also home to low-cost carriers Tiger Airways [☛], Jetstar Asia [☛] and Scoot [☛].
In addition to the locals, every carrier of any size in Asia offers flights to Singapore, with pan-Asian discount carrier AirAsia [☛] and Malaysian regional operator Firefly [☛] operating dense networks from Singapore. There are also direct services to Europe, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, North America, and even South Africa. Singapore is particularly popular on the "Kangaroo Route" between Australia and Europe, with airlines like Qantas [☛] and British Airways [☛] using Singapore as the main stopover point.
Changi AirportAs befits the country's main airport and major regional hub status, Changi Airport (; ) [☛] is big, pleasant, and well organized, and immigration and baggage distribution is remarkably fast. The airport is split into three main terminals (T1, T2 and T3) plus a dedicated Budget Terminal for low-cost airlines (currently only Tiger Airways, Cebu Pacific, Firefly and Berjaya Air).
Figuring out which terminal your flight arrives in or departs from can be complicated: for example, Singapore Airlines uses both T2 and T3, and only announces the arrival terminal two hours before landing. Fortunately transfers are quite easy, as the three main terminals are connected with the free Skytrain service, which can be used without passing through immigration. Terminal 1 is physically connected to Terminals 2 and 3. By walking that you will not notice you're in a different terminal except by reading the signs. The Budget Terminal, on the other hand, can only be reached by passing through immigration and taking a shuttle bus from the basement of T2. Your departing terminal is more straightforward as Singapore Airlines designates T2 as departures for destinations in South East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and Africa while all other destinations will use T3. When you return to the airport and are leaving Singapore via Singapore Airlines, be sure to at least tell the driver your destination so he knows which terminal to take you to.
Unlike most other airports, there are no separate zones for departing and arriving passengers in the main terminals prior to passport control hence arriving passengers are free to shop and eat at the airside establishments if they are not in a hurry to meet someone or catch prearranged transportation. In addition, if they have no luggage checked-in from their point of origin, they can clear passport control at any other terminal.
If you have over 5 hr to spare there are free city tours six times a day, check in at the Singapore Visitor Centre in any terminal. Even if stuck in the airport, there are plenty of ways to kill time, as each terminal has a unique design and the airside areas of T1, T2, and T3 are attractions in themselves. T2, arguably the most interesting, has an indoor garden, a music listening area with couches and mood lighting, a computer gaming room, a small movie theater, paid massage services, and of course plenty of duty-free shops. T3, the newest, has a butterfly garden and plenty of natural light, but fewer entertainment options. T1 has a swimming pool for $13.91 and jacuzzi, both open until 11PM. You can travel between the main terminals without passing through immigration and, if you have no checked-in luggage to collect, you can clear passport control and customs at any terminal. The Budget Terminal, on the other hand, is strictly functional.
In all terminals, internet access is provided free of charge, both wirelessly and via some 200 terminals and kiosks, there are some Xbox systems set up to keep gamers entertained, and there's live lounge music at times. There are also SingTel and Starhub payphones that offer unlimited free local calls. ATMs abound and money changers offer reasonable rates as well, although you pay a small premium compared to the city. Food options are varied and generally reasonably priced, with some choice picks including the Peranakan-themed Soup Restaurant (T2 landside), which serves much more than just soup, and Sakae Sushi (T2 airside). If you're up for a little adventure, seek out the staff canteen at level 3M of the carpark next to T2, it's open to the public (with discounts for airport staff) and serves local food. It is relatively cheap compared to other food options in the airport but not exactly cheap compared to elsewhere in Singapore. There are also staff canteens in Terminals 1 and 3.
Terminals T1, T2 and T3 all have airside (i.e., accessible without passing through immigration) transit hotels. ☎ +65 65419106 or book online via the Ambassador Transit Hotel [☛] website. A 6 hr "block" for a single/double/triple costs $73.56/82.39/110.35, budget singles (shared bathroom) $51.50, extensions $17.65 per hr. You can rent a shower (without a room) to freshen up for $8.40. The Plaza Premier Lounges [☛] also offer a basic but functional gym with shower for $8.40 with a Singapore Airlines boarding pass.
From the airport there are a number of ways to get into the city:
• Taxi (cab) is easiest - simply follow the signs after clearing customs. Meters are always used in Singapore and prices are reasonable. A trip to the city during the day will be between $20-$30 including $3-5 airport surcharge. An additional 50% surcharge applies between midnight and 6AM.
• Limousines charge a flat $50 to anywhere in the city and are a pretty good deal after midnight, as you can skip the queue and avoid the surcharge. The same pricing applies to chartering van-sized MaxiCabs, which are good for large families or if you have lots of baggage.
• Shuttle - Shared six-seater MaxiCab shuttle service to designated areas/hotels costs $7 and can be booked in advance or in the arrivals hall. 6AM-2AM, every 15-30 min.
• Subway - MRT trains run from a station between T2 and T3, but you'll need to change trains at Tanah Merah to a city-bound train: just exit through the left hand side door and cross the platform. The 30 min ride to City Hall station costs $1.90 plus a refundable $1 deposit, and trains run from 5:31AM-11:18PM.
• Bus - Bus terminals can be found in the basements of T1, T2 and T3. 6 AM to midnight only. Fares are sub-$2.00, exact fare required (no change given) if you pay cash.
Seletar AirportSeletar Airport (; ), completed in 1928 and first used for civil aviation in 1930, is Singapore's first airport. While later airports like Kallang and Paya Lebar have been closed and turned into a military airbase respectively, Seletar is still in use to this day.
Currently, Seletar Airport is only used for general aviation, so if you're flying your own aircraft to Singapore, you'll most probably land here. The only practical means of access to Seletar is taxi, and trips from the airport incur a $3 surcharge.
The Causeway, with Johor Bahru on the other side
Singapore is linked by two land crossings to Peninsular Malaysia:
The Causeway is a very popular and thus terminally congested entry point connecting Woodlands in the north of Singapore directly into the heart of Johor Bahru. While congestion isn't as bad as it once was, the Causeway is still jam-packed on Friday evenings (towards Malaysia) and Sunday evenings (towards Singapore). The Causeway can be crossed by bus, train, taxi or car, but it is no longer feasible to cross on foot after Malaysia shifted their customs and immigration complex 2 km inland.
A second crossing between Malaysia and Singapore, known as the Second Link, has been built between Tuas in western Singapore and Tanjung Kupang in the western part of Johor state. Much faster and less congested than the Causeway, it is used by some of the luxury bus services to Kuala Lumpur and is strongly recommended if you have your own car. There is only one infrequent bus across the Second Link, and only Malaysian "limousine" taxis are allowed to cross it (and charge RM150 and up for the privilege). Walking across is also not allowed, not that there would be any practical means to continue the journey from either end if you did.
Driving into Singapore with a foreign-registered car is rather complicated and expensive; see the Land Transport Authority's Driving Into & Out of Singapore [☛] guide for the administrative details. Peninsular Malaysia-registered cars need to show that they have valid road tax and Malaysian insurance coverage. Other foreign cars need a Vehicle Registration Certificate, Customs Document (Carnet), Vehicle Insurance purchased from a Singapore-based insurance company and an International Circulation Permit. All foreign registered cars and motorcycles can be driven in Singapore for a maximum of 10 days in each calendar year without paying Vehicle Entry Permit (VEP) fees, but after the 10 free days have been utilised, you will need to pay a VEP fee of up to $20/day.
Go through immigration first and get your passport stamped. Then follow the Red Lane to buy the AutoPass ($10) from the LTA office. At the parking area, an LTA officer will verify your car, road tax and insurance cover note and issue you a small chit of paper which you take to the LTA counter to buy your AutoPass and rent an In-vehicle Unit (IU) for road pricing charges (or opt to pay a flat $5/day fee instead). Once that is done, proceed to customs where you will have to open the boot for inspection. After that, you are free to go anywhere in Singapore. Any VEP fees, road pricing charges and tolls will be deducted from your AutoPass when you exit Singapore. This is done by slotting the AutoPass into the reader at the immigration counter while you get your passport stamped.
Driving into Malaysia from Singapore is relatively uncomplicated, although small tolls are charged for both crossing and (for the Second Link) the adjoining expressway. In addition, Singapore-registered vehicles are required to have their fuel tanks at least 3/4 full before leaving Singapore. Do be sure to change some ringgit before crossing, as Singapore dollars are accepted only at the unfavorable rate of 1:1. Moreover, be prepared for longer queues as Malaysia introduced a biometric system for foreigners wishing to enter that country (see Malaysia article).
In both directions, note that rental cars will frequently ban or charge extra for crossing the border.
By busDirect to/from Malaysian destinations
There are buses to/from Kuala Lumpur (KL) and many other destinations in Malaysia through the Woodlands Checkpoint and the Second Link at Tuas. Unfortunately, there is no central bus terminal and different companies leave from all over the city. Major operators include:
Aeroline ,☎ +65 62588800 [☛] , price From $47 one-way.Luxury buses with meal on-board, power sockets, lounge area etc, to Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya. Departures from HarbourFront Centre. First Coach ,☎ +65 68222111 [☛] , price $33/55 single/return.No frills, but the buses have good legroom and use the Second Link. Another selling point is convenient public transport: buses depart from Novena Square (Novena MRT) in Singapore and arrive right next to Bangsar LRT in Kuala Lumpur. NiCE ,☎ +65 62565755 [☛] .Over 20 daily departures from Kuala Lumpur's old railway station. Double-decker NiCE 2 buses (27 seats) RM80, luxury NiCE++ buses (18 seats) RM88. Departures from Copthorne Orchid Hotel on Dunearn Rd. Transnasional ,☎ +60 2 62947034 (Malaysia) [☛] , price Executive/economy buses RM80/35.Malaysia's largest bus operator, offers direct buses from Singapore through the peninsula. Departures from Lavender St. Transtar ,☎ +65 62999009 [☛] .Transtar's sleeper-equipped Solitaire ($63) and leather-seated First Class ($49) coaches are currently the best around with frills like massaging chairs, onboard attendants, video on demand and even wifi. More plebeian SuperVIP/Executive buses are $25/39, direct service to Malacca and Genting also available. Departures from Golden Mile Complex, Beach Rd (near Lavender MRT). Most other operators have banded together in two shared booking portals. Many, but by no means all, use the Golden Mile Complex shopping mall near Bugis as their Singapore terminal.
Easibook ,☎ +65 64440745 [☛] .Six bus companies including major budget operator Konsortium. Bus Online Ticket [☛] .Another six companies, including major operator Fivestars Express, Hasry Express and AirAsia-affiliated StarMart. In general, the more you pay, the faster and more comfortable your trip. More expensive buses leave on time, use the Second Link, and don't stop along the way; while the cheapest buses leave late if at all, use the perpetually jammed Causeway and make more stops. Book early for popular departure times like Friday and Sunday evening, Chinese New Year, etc, and factor in some extra time for congestion at the border.
An alternative to taking a direct "international bus" is to make the short hop to Johor Bahru to catch domestic Malaysian long-distance express buses to various Malaysian destinations from the Larkin Bus Terminal. Besides having more options, fares may also be lower because you will be paying in Malaysian ringgit rather than Singaporean dollars. The downside is the time-consuming hassle of first getting to Johor Bahru and then getting to Larkin terminal on the outskirts of town.
To/from Johor Bahru
The most popular options to get to/from Johor Bahru are the buses listed in the table. There's a pattern to the madness: Singaporean-operated buses (SBS, SMRT, SJE) can only stop at one destination in Malaysia, while the Malaysian-operated Causeway Link [☛] buses can only stop at one destination in Singapore. Terminals aside, all buses make two stops at Singapore immigration and at Malaysian immigration. At both immigration points, you must disembark with all your luggage and pass through passport control and customs, then board the next bus by showing your ticket. Figure on one hour for the whole rigmarole from end to end, more during rush hour.
By trainSingapore is the southern terminus of Malaysia's Keretapi Tanah Melayu (Malayan Railway or KTMB) [☛] network. There are two day trains (the Ekspres Sinaran Pagi and Ekspres Rakyat) and a sleeper service (Ekspres Senandung Malam) daily from Kuala Lumpur, and also a day train (the Lambaian Timur departing Singapore at 4:45AM) and sleeper (Ekspres Timuran departing at 6PM) daily along the "Jungle Railway" between Singapore and Gua Musang (Lambian Timur) or Tumpat (Ekspres Timuran), near Kota Bharu in the East Coast of Malaysia. Trains are clean and fairly efficient, but slower than buses.
KTMB tickets in Singapore will be charged in dollars, while those bought in Malaysia will be charged in ringgit at a 1:1 rate. A ticket which costs RM10 (2.32 Euros) in Malaysia will thus cost $10 (5.75 Euros) if bought in Singapore. There are three ways to avoid paying double:
# Book your tickets as return tickets from Malaysia. For example, Kuala Lumpur-Singapore-Kuala Lumpurwill be charged at the ringgit rate.
# Cross the border by road and then board the train at Johor Bahru. Note that making a reservation is highly advisable; the easiest way is to book online.
# Buy the cheapest ticket you can from Singapore to JB, then your 'real' ticket from JB onward. Change to your 'real' seat after crossing the border.
# Book your tickets online at KTMB's web-site, but it has to be done 48 hours in advance.
The small colonial-era railway station in Tanjong Pagar at the southern edge of the CBD has closed down on 30 June 2011, and all KTMB trains now depart from the Woodlands Train Checkpoint near the Malaysian border. This means that immigration formalities go back to normal international practice - Singapore stamps you out, then Malaysia stamps you in at Woodlands. In the reverse direction, Malaysian immigration checks are carried out on board the trains at Johor Bahru, and the train then heads for Woodlands where Singapore stamps you in.
By taxiSingapore is one of the few countries that you can enter or leave by taxi. While normal Singaporean taxis are not allowed to cross into Malaysia and vice versa, specially licensed Singaporean taxis permitted to go to the Kotaraya shopping mall (only) can be booked from Johor Taxi Service ☎ +65 62967054, $45 one way), while Malaysian taxis, which can go anywhere in Malaysia, can be taken from Rochor Rd ($32 to charter, or $8/person if you share with others). In the reverse direction, towards Singapore, you can take taxis from Kotaraya to any point in central Singapore ($30) or Changi Airport ($40). The main advantage here is that you do not need to lug your stuff (or yourself) through Customs at both ends; you can just sit in the car.
A combination ride from anywhere in Singapore to anywhere in Malaysia can also be arranged, but you'll need to swap cabs halfway through: this will cost S$50 and up, paid to the Singaporean driver. The most expensive option is to take a limousine taxi specially licensed to take passengers from any point to any destination, but only a few are available and they charge a steep RM150 per trip. Advance booking is highly recommended, ☎ +60 7 5991622.
By boatFerries link Singapore with neighbouring Indonesian province of Riau Islands, and the Malaysian state of Johor. Singapore has four ferry terminals which handle international ferries: HarbourFront (formerly World Trade Centre) near the southern part of the Central Business District, Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal on the East Coast, as well as Changi Ferry Terminal and Changi Point Ferry Terminal, at the eastern extremity of the island.
Getting to/away from the ferry terminals:
•HarbourFront FT: Located next to HarbourFront MRT station.
•Tanah Merah FT: Get off at Bedok MRT station and catch bus No. 35 to ferry terminal.
•Changi FT: No bus stop nearby, take a taxi from Changi Village or Tanah Merah MRT.
•Changi Point FT: Take bus No. 2, 29 or 59 to Changi Village Bus Terminal and walk to the ferry terminal.
To/from IndonesiaTo/from Batam: Ferries to/from Batam Centre, Batu Ampar (Harbour Bay), Sekupang and Waterfront City (Teluk Senimba) use HarbourFront FT, while ferries to/from Nongsapura use Tanah Merah FT. Operators at Harbourfront include:
•Penguin, ☎ +65 62714866 in HarbourFront ☎+62 778 467574 in Batam Centre ☎+62 778 321636 in Sekupang ☎+62 778 381280 in Waterfront City [☛]. Virtually hourly ferries to/from Batam Centre and Sekupang, fewer ferries to/from Waterfront City. $16/20 one-way/return before taxes and fuel surcharge.
•Indo Falcon, ☎ +65 62783167, [☛]. Hourly ferries to Batam Centre, fewer to Waterfront City. This company does not operate to/from Sekupang. Similar fares.
•Berlian/Wave Master, ☎ +65 65468830. Operates 16 trips to/from Batu Ampar. Fares are similar to the other companies.
•Dino/Batam Fast, ☎+65 62700311 in Harbourfront ☎ +62 778 467793, +62 778 470344 in Batam Centre ☎ +62 778 325085, +62 778 3250856 in Sekupang ☎ +62 778 381150 in Waterfront City, [☛]. Also hourly ferries to/from Batam Centre, fewer ferries to/from Sekupang and Waterfront City. $14/20 one-way/return before taxes and surcharges.
At Tanah Merah:
•Dino/Batam Fast, ☎ +65 62700311 in Singapore ☎ +62 778 761071 in Nongsa, [☛]. Around 8 ferries daily to/from Nongsa, the resort area on the northeastern tip of Batam. $16/22 one-way/return before taxes and surcharges.
To/from Bintan: All ferries for Bintan use Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. For Tanjung Pinang, there are total of 6 ferries a day, increasing to 9 during weekends. $25/35 one-way/return before taxes and surcharges. Operators include:
•Dino/Batam Fast, ☎ +65 65426310 in Tanah Merah, [☛].
•Penguin, ☎ +65 65427105 in Tanah Merah ☎+62 771 315143 in Tanjung Pinang ☎ +62 770 696120 in Lobam, [☛].
•Indo Falcon, ☎ +65 65426786 in Tanah Merah, [☛]
•Berlian/Wave Master, ☎ +65 65468830 in Tanah Merah.
For Bintan Resorts (Bandar Bentan Telani), Bintan Resort Ferries, ☎ +65 65424369, [☛] operates five ferries from Tanah Merah FT on weekdays, increasing to 7 during weekends. $34.60/50.20 one-way/return peak period, $26.60/39.20 one-way/return off-peak including taxes and fuel surcharge.
To/from Karimun: Tanjung Balai is served by Penguin and IndoFalcon from Harbourfront, with six ferries total on weekdays, increasing to 8 during weekends. $24/33 one-way/return including taxes and fuel surcharge.
To/From MalaysiaFerries shuttle from Singapore to southeastern Johor and are handy for access to the beach resort of Desaru. Scheduled ferry service to Tioman was discontinued in 2003.
• Pengerang : Bumboats shuttle between Changi Point Ferry Terminal at Changi Village, 51 Lorong Bekukong, ☎ +65 65452305, +65 65451616, and Pengerang, a village at the southeastern tip of Johor. Boats ($10 per person, $2 per bicycle one-way) operate between 7 AM and 7 PM and leave when they reach the 12-passenger quota.
•Sebana Cove Resort, Desaru: Ferries to/from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal operated by Indo Falcon, ☎ +65 65426786 in Tanah Merah, [☛]. Three ferries daily except Tue. $48(A)/38(C) return including taxes and fuel surcharge.
•Tanjung Belungkor, Desaru: Cruise Ferries ☎ +65 65468518, +65 65468675, Operates passenger ferries from Changi Ferry Terminal three times daily, departures at 10AM, 5PM and 8PM, $22 return. The previous car ferry service has been suspended.
CruisesStar Cruises [☛] offers multi-day cruises from Singapore to points throughout Southeast Asia, departing from HarbourFront FT. Itineraries vary widely and change from year to year, but common destinations include Malacca, Klang (Kuala Lumpur), Penang, Langkawi, Redang and Tioman in Malaysia, as well as Phuket, Krabi, Ko Samui and Bangkok in Thailand. There are also several cruises every year to Borneo (Malaysia), Sihanoukville (Cambodia), Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) and even some 10 night long hauls to Hong Kong. An all-inclusive 2 night cruise may cost as little as $400 per person in the cheapest cabin class if you book early, but beware the numerous surcharges and note that non-residents may be charged significantly higher rates.
Singapore is also a popular stop for round-the-world and major regional cruises including those originating from as far as Japan, China, Australia, Europe and North America. Many of those cruises embark/disembark passengers here, while others pay port visits. Check with cruise companies and sellers for details.
Malay may be enshrined in the Constitution as the 'national' language, but in practice the most common language is English, spoken by almost every Singaporean under the age of 50 with varying degrees of fluency. English is spoken much better here than in most Asian neighbours. English is also the medium of instruction in schools, except for mother tongue subjects (e.g. Malay, Mandarin and Tamil), which are also required to be learned in school by Singaporeans. In addition, all official signs and documents are written in English, usually using British spelling.
However, the distinctive local patois Singlish may be hard to understand at times, as it incorporates slang words and phrases from other languages, including various Chinese dialects, Malay and Tamil as well as English words whose pronunciation or meaning have been corrupted. Additionally ,it has an odd way of structuring sentences, due to the original speakers being mostly Chinese. Complex consonant clusters are simplified, articles and plurals disappear, verb tenses are replaced by adverbs, questions are altered to fit the Chinese syntax and semirandom particles (especially the infamous "lah") appear:
Singlish: You wan beer or not? -- Dunwan lah, dring five bottle oreddi.
English: Do you want a beer? -- No, thanks; I've already had five bottles.
It is also inclusive of multilingual references, to events past or current. These can be of the innocuous variety, or they can be satirical or political in nature. An example of the former would be 'mee siam mai hum" (Vermicelli in Spicy Gravy without cockles) - ostensibly the name of a hawker dish, but given another layer of subtext by popular local blogger mrbrown. Practise caution when ordering this particular dish - it will be sure to draw sniggers from the younger crowd (It's a tautology. The dish never contains cockles, and is a malapropism from the current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong)
Thanks to nationwide language education campaigns, most younger Singaporeans are, however, capable of speaking what the government calls "good English" when necessary. To avoid unintentional offense, it's best to start off with standard English and shift to simplified pidgin only if it becomes evident that the other person cannot follow you. Try to resist the temptation to sprinkle your speech with unnecessary Singlishisms: you'll get a laugh if you do it right, but it sounds patronizing if you do it wrong. Wikipedia's Singlish [☛] article goes into obsessive and occasionally impenetrable grammatical detail, but the sections on vocabulary [☛] and abbreviations [☛] are handy.
Singapore's other official languages are Mandarin Chinese and Tamil. Mandarin is spoken by most younger Singaporean Chinese while Tamil is spoken by most Indians. Like English, the Mandarin spoken in Singapore has also evolved into a distinctive creole and often incorporates words from other Chinese dialects, Malay and English, though all Singaporean Chinese are taught standard Mandarin in school. Various Chinese dialects (mostly Hokkien, though significant numbers also speak Teochew and Cantonese) are also spoken between ethnic Chinese of the same dialect group, though their use has been declining in the younger generation since the 1980s due to government policies discouraging the use of dialects in favour of Mandarin. Other Indian languages, such as Punjabi among the Sikhs, are also spoken.
The official Chinese script used in Singapore is the simplified script used in mainland China. As such, all official publications (including local newspapers) and signs are in simplified Chinese and all ethnic Chinese are taught to write the simplified script in school. However, the older generations still prefer the traditional style, and the popularity of Hong Kong and Taiwanese pop culture means that even the youth can usually read traditional Chinese.
Map of central Singapore, with outlines of detailed region maps Sights in Singapore are covered in more detail under the various districts. Broadly speaking:
• Beaches and tourist resorts: Head to one of the three beaches on Sentosa or its southern islands. Other beaches can be found on the East Coast.
• Culture and cuisine: See Chinatown for Chinese treats, Little India for Indian flavors, Kampong Glam (Arab St) for a Malay/Arab experience or the East Coast for delicious seafood, including the famous chilli and black pepper crab.
• History and museums: The Bras Basah area east of Orchard and north of the Singapore River is Singapore's colonial core, with historical buildings and museums.
• Nature and wildlife: Popular tourist attractions Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park and the Botanical Gardens are all in the North and West. Finding "real" nature is a little harder, but the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (located in the same district as the zoo) has more plant species than that in the whole of North America. Pulau Ubin, an island off the Changi Village in the east, is a flashback to the rural Singapore of yesteryear. City parks full of locals jogging or doing tai chi can be found everywhere. Also check out the tortoise and turtle sanctuary in the Chinese Gardens on the west side of town for a great afternoon with these wonderful creatures. $5 for adult admission and $2 for leafy vegetables and food pellets.
• Skyscrapers and shopping: The heaviest shopping mall concentration is in Orchard Road, while skyscrapers are clustered around the Singapore River, but also check out Bugis and Marina Bay to see where Singaporeans shop.
• Places of worship: Don't miss this aspect of Singapore, where Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Baha'i faith, Christianity, Islam and even Judaism all exist in sizeable numbers. Religious sites can be easily visited and welcome non-followers outside of service times. Particularly worth visiting include: the vast Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery near Ang Mo Kio, the colorful Sri Mariamman Hindu temple in Chinatown, the psychedelic Burmese Buddhist Temple in Balestier and the stately Masjid Sultan in Arab Street.
Itineraries• Three days in Singapore — A three-day sampler set of food, culture and shopping in Singapore, easily divisible into bite-size chunks.
• Southern Ridges Walk — An easy scenic 9 km stroll through the hills and jungles of southern Singapore. Highlights of the trail includes a 36 m high Henderson Waves pedestrian bridge providing a stunning view of the sea beyond the jungle.
Travel TipsIf you are traveling to Singapore, be sure to carry the following:
• Sun Glasses - Singapore is usually bright and sunny.
• Umbrella - Be sure to carry an umbrella in your luggage,as there is some precipitation throughout the year. However, the rain does not last long (usually).
• Sun block - If you plan to go out during the day time, it is advisable to apply sun block as it is mostly sunny throughout the year.
• Shorts/Half Pants - Singapore can get real warm. Although air-conditioning is available in all public transports (except a few public buses) and almost all internal areas, it is advisable to carry some light clothing. Do note that some places of worship may require visitors to dress conservatively.
• Flip-flops - Singaporeans love to wear flip-flops. Be sure to carry a pair, just to blend in. Try sandals if you're not used to flip flops, but beware - in some formal establishments (e.g. catching a show at Esplanade) no flip flops, sandals, or shorts are allowed.
•Sweater - the malls and museums' air conditioning can get cold, though usually this is a welcome relief from the heat.
While you can find a place to practice nearly any sport in Singapore — golfing, surfing, scuba diving, even ice skating and snow skiing — due to the country's small size your options are rather limited and prices are relatively high. For watersports in particular, the busy shipping lanes and sheer population pressure mean that the sea around Singapore is murky, and most locals head up to Tioman (Malaysia) or Bintan (Indonesia) instead. On the upside, there is an abundance of dive shops in Singapore, and they often arrange weekend trips to good dive sites off the East Coast of Malaysia, so they are a good option for accessing some of Malaysia's not-so touristy dive sites.
Esplanade Theatres by the Bay On the cultural side of things, Singapore has been trying to shake off its boring, buttoned-down reputation and attract more artists and performances, with mixed success. The star in Singapore's cultural sky is the Esplanade theatre in Marina Bay, a world-class facility for performing arts and a frequent stage for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Pop culture options are more limited and Singapore's home-grown arts scene remains rather moribund, although local starlets Stefanie Sun and JJ Lin have had some success in the Chinese pop scene. On the upside, any bands and DJs touring Asia are pretty much guaranteed to perform in Singapore.
Going to the movies is a popular Singaporean pastime, but look for "R21" ratings (21 and up only) if you like your movies with fewer cuts. The big three theatre chains are Cathay [☛], Golden Village [☛] and Shaw Brothers [☛]. Censorship continues to throttle the local film scene, but Jack Neo's popular comedies showcase the foibles of Singaporean life.
In summer, don't miss the yearly Singapore Arts Festival [☛]. Advance tickets for almost any cultural event can be purchased from SISTIC [☛], either online or from any of their numerous ticketing outlets, including the Singapore Visitor Centre on Orchard Rd.
GamblingSingapore has two integrated resorts with casinos. Marina Bay Sands at Marina Bay is the larger and swankier of the two, while Resorts World Sentosa at Sentosa aims for a more family-friendly experience. While locals (citizens and permanent residents) have to pay $100/day to get in, foreign visitors can enter for free after presenting their passport.
Besides the casino, there are other forms of legalised betting which are more accessible to the locals. This includes horse racing, which is run by the Singapore Turf Club [☛] on weekends, as well as football (soccer) betting and several lotteries run by the Singapore Pools [☛].
Mahjong is also a popular pastime in Singapore. The version played in Singapore is similar to the Cantonese version, but it also has extra "animal tiles" not present in the original Cantonese version. However, this remains pretty much a family and friends affair, and there are no mahjong parlours.
GolfDespite its small size, Singapore has a surprisingly large number of golf courses, but most of the best ones are run by private clubs and open to members and their guests only. The main exceptions are the Sentosa Golf Club [☛], the famously challenging home of the Barclays Singapore Open, and the Marina Bay Golf Course [☛], the only 18-hole public course. See the Singapore Golf Association [☛] for the full list; alternatively, head to the nearby Indonesian islands of Batam or Bintan or up north to the Malaysian town of Malacca for cheaper rounds.
F1 Singapore Grand Prix The inaugural F1 Singapore Grand Prix [☛] was held at night in September 2008, and will be a fixture on the local calendar until at least 2012. Held on a street circuit in the heart of Singapore and raced at night, all but race fans will probably wish to avoid this time, as hotel prices especially room with view of the F1 tracks are through the roof. Tickets start from $150 but the thrilling experience of night race is definitely unforgettable for all F1 fans and photo buffs. Besides being a uniquely night race, the carnival atmosphere and pop concert held around the race ground as well as the convenience of hotels and restaurants round the corner, distinguish the race from other F1 races held remotely away from urban centers.
The Singapore Turf Club [☛] in Kranji hosts horse races most Fridays, including a number of international cups, and is popular with local gamblers. The Singapore Polo Club [☛] near Balestier is also open to the public on competition days.
SpasSingapore has recently been experiencing a 'spa boom', and there is now plenty of choice for everything from holistic Ayurveda to green tea hydrotherapy. However, prices aren't as rock-bottom as in neighbors Indonesia and Thailand, and you'll generally be looking at upwards of $50 even for a plain one-hour massage. Premium spas can be found in most 5 star hotels and on Orchard, and Sentosa's Spa Botanica also has a good reputation. There are also numerous shops offering traditional Chinese massage, which are mostly legitimate. The less legitimate "health centres" have been shut down. Traditional asian-style public baths are non-existent.
When looking for beauty salons on Orchard Road, try out the ones on the fourth floor of Lucky Plaza. They offer most salon services like manicures, pedicures, facials, waxing and hair services. A favorite of flight crew and repeat tourists due to the lower costs as compared to the sky high prices of other salons along the shopping belt. Shop around for prices, some of the better looking ones actually charge less.
SwimmingForget your tiny hotel pool if you are into competitive or recreational swimming: Singapore is paradise for swimmers with arguably the highest density of public pools in the world. They are all open-air 50 m pools (some facilities even feature up to three 50 m pools), accessible for an entrance fee of $1-1.50. Some of the visitors don't swim at all. They just come from nearby housing complexes for a few hours to chill out, read and relax in the sun. Most are open daily from 8AM-9PM, and all feature a small cafe. Just imagine swimming your lanes in the tropical night with lit up palm trees surrounding the pool.
The Singapore Sports Council maintains a list of pools [☛], most of which are part of a larger sports complex with gym, tennis courts etc, and are located near the MRT station they're named after. Perhaps the best is in Katong (111 Wilkinson Road, on the East Coast): after the swim, stroll through the villa neighbourhood directly in front of the pool entrance and have at look at the luxurious, original architecture of the houses that really rich Singaporeans live in. If you get bored with regular swimming pools, head to the Jurong East Swimming Complex where you get the wave pool, water slides and Jacuzzi at an insanely affordable entrance fee of $1.50 on weekdays and $2 on weekends. For those who feel richer, visit the Wild Wild Wet [☛] water theme park with $16 and get yourself wet with various exciting water slides and a powerful tidal wave pool.
For those who don't like pools, head out to the beaches. The East Coast Park has a scenic coastline that stretches over 15 km. It's a popular getaway spot for Singaporeans to swim, cycle, barbeque and engage in various other sports and activities. Sentosa island also has three white, sandy beaches - Siloso Beach, Palawan Beach and Tanjong Beach - each with its own distinct characteristics, and also very popular with locals.
Water SportsBesides the more regular water sports such as waterskiing, wakeboarding, windsurfing, canoeing and etc., Singapore also offers water sports fans trendy activities such as cable-Skiing and wave surfing in specially created environments.
Snow SportsWhile obviously not the best place on Earth for skiing, sunny Singapore still has a permanent indoor snow centre — Snow City offers visitors to the region a chance to experience winter. Visitors can escape from the hot and humid tropical weather to play with snow or even learn to ski and snowboard with internationally certified professional instructors.
All coins and a $2 note. The Singaporean currency is the Singapore dollar, abbreviated SGD, S$ or just $ (as used throughout this guide), divided into 100 cents. There are coins of $0.01 (bronze), $0.05 (gold), $0.10 (silver), $0.20 (silver), $0.50 (silver) and $1 (gold), plus bills of $2 (purple), $5 (green), $10 (red), $50 (blue), $100 (orange), $1000 (purple) and $10000 (gold). The Brunei dollar is pegged at par with the Singapore dollar and the two currencies can be used interchangeably in both countries, so don't be too surprised if you get a Brunei note as change. You can safely assume that the '$' sign used in the island-nation refers to SGD unless it includes other initials (e.g. US$ to stand for US Dollar).
Restaurants often display prices like $19.99++, which means that service charge (10%) and sales tax (7%) are not included and will be added to your bill. When you see NETT, it means it includes all taxes and service charges. Tipping is generally not practised in Singapore, and is officially frowned upon by the government, although bellhops still expect $2 or so per bag. Taxis will usually return your change to the last cent, or round in your favor if they can't be bothered to dig for change.
ATMs are ubiquitous in Singapore and credit cards are widely accepted (although some shops may levy a 3% surcharge, and taxis a whopping 15%). Travelers checks are generally not accepted by retailers, but can be cashed at most exchange booths. eZ-Link and Nets Flash Pay cards are accepted in some convenience stores and fast food chains.
Currency exchange booths can be found in every shopping mall and usually offer better rates, better opening hours and much faster service than banks. The huge 24 hr operation at Mustafa in Little India accepts almost any currency at very good rates, as do the fiercely competitive small shops at the aptly named Change Alley next to Raffles Place MRT. For large amounts, ask for a quote, as it will often get you a better rate than displayed on the board. Rates at the airport are not as good as in the city, and while many department stores accept major foreign currencies, their rates are often terrible.
CostsSingapore is expensive by Asian standards but affordable compared with some industrialised countries: $50 is a perfectly serviceable daily backpacker budget if you are willing to cut some corners, though you would probably wish to double that for comfort. Food in particular is a steal, with excellent hawker food available for under $5 for a generous serving. Accommodation is a little pricier, but a bed in a hostel can cost less than $20, an average 3-4 star hotel in the city centre would typically cost anywhere from $100-$300 per night for a basic room, and the most luxurious hotels on the island (except maybe the Raffles) can be yours for $300 with the right discounts during the off-peak season.
Budget travellers should note that Singapore is much more expensive than the rest of Southeast Asia and should budget accordingly if planning to spend time in Singapore. In general, prices in Singapore are about twice as high as in Malaysia and Thailand and 3-5 times as high as in Indonesia and the Philippines.
Sim Lim Square, Singapore's computing and electronics mecca Shopping is second only to eating as a national pastime, which means that Singapore has an abundance of shopping malls, and low taxes and tariffs on imports coupled with huge volume mean that prices are usually very competitive. While you won't find any bazaars with dirt-cheap local handicrafts (in fact, virtually everything sold in Singapore is made elsewhere), goods are generally of reasonably good quality and shopkeepers are generally quite honest due to strong consumer protection laws. Most stores are open 7 days a week from 10AM-10PM, although smaller operations (particularly those outside shopping malls) close earlier — 7PM is common — and perhaps on Sundays as well. Mustafa in Little India is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Keep an eye out for the Great Singapore Sale [☛], usually held in June-July, when shopping centres pull out all stops to attract punters. Many stores along the shopping belt of Orchard Road and Scotts Road now offer late night shopping on the last Friday of every month with over 250 retailers staying open till midnight.
• Antiques: The second floor of the Tanglin Shopping Centre on Orchard and the shops on South Bridge Rd in Chinatown are good options if looking for the real thing (or high-quality reproductions).
• Books: Borders at Wheelock Place has since closed down. However, Kinokuniya is at Ngee Ann City, on Orchard, and Page One at Vivocity are amongst the largest bookstores in Singapore. Many second-hand bookstores are located in Far East Plaza and Bras Basah Complex, where you may attempt to bargain if you are buying a lot. For university textbooks, the bookshops at the National University of Singapore has the best prices on the island, up to 80% off compared to prices in the West.
• Cameras: Peninsula Plaza near City Hall has Singapore's best selection of camera shops. However, there are no great bargains to be had, and many camera stores in Singapore (particularly those in Lucky Plaza and Sim Lim Square) have a reputation for fleecing unwary tourists. The best way is to know what you are looking for and then when you arrive, drop by the shops at the airport's transit area and take a look at the price and check with them whether they have any promotions. Then go to the downtown shops and compare prices/packages to see which shop will give you value for money. To be safe, always check prices and packages for everything you're interested in at large retailers like Courts, Harvey Norman and Best Denki first. Be very careful when shop staff attempt to promote brands or models other than the one you have in mind; a few stores at Sim Lim Square and elsewhere are known to use this tactic and sell products at 2-4x their actual list prices.
• Clothes, high-street: Ion, Ngee Ann City (Takashimaya) and Paragon on Orchard have the heaviest concentration of branded boutiques. There are another malls such as Raffles City located at City Hall MRT that also hosts a variety of brands for instance, Kate Spade, Timberland.
• Clothes, tailored: Virtually all hotels have a tailor shop attached, and touting tailors are a bit of a nuisance in Chinatown. As elsewhere, you'll get what you pay for and will get poor quality if you don't have the time for multiple fittings or the skill to check what you're getting. Prices vary widely: a local shop using cheap fabrics can do a shirt for $40, while Singapore's best-known tailor, CYC the Custom Shop [☛] at the Raffles Hotel, will charge at least $120.
• Clothes, youth: Most of Bugis is dedicated to the young, hip and cost-conscious. Currently Bugis street(Opposite Bugis MRT) is the most popular in the Bugis area, consisting of 3 levels of shops. Some spots of Orchard, notably Far East Plaza not to be confused with Far East Shopping Centre and the top floor of the Heeren, also target the same market but prices are generally higher.
• Computers: Sim Lim Square (near Little India) is great for the hardcore geek who really knows what he's after - parts pricelists are available on HardwareZone.com and are given out in Sim Lim itself, making price comparison easy. Lesser mortals (namely, who have failed to do their price-checking homework) stand a risk of getting ripped off when purchasing, but this is generally not a problem with the price lists offered by most shops. Some Singaporeans purchase their electronic gadgets during the quarterly "IT shows" usually held at Suntec City Convention Centre or at the Expo, at which prices on gadgets are sometimes slashed (but often only to Sim Lim levels). Another possibility is to shop at Funan IT Mall, the stores of which may be more honest on average (according to some). Do not be attracted by side gifts/sweeteners of thumbdrives, mice and so on; these only tend to hide inflated prices.
• Consumer electronics: Quite competitively priced in Singapore. Funan IT Mall (Riverside), Sim Lim Square and Mustafa (Little India) are good choices. Avoid the tourist-oriented shops on Orchard Road, particularly the notorious Lucky Plaza, or risk getting ripped off. Also be wary of shops on the 1st and 2nd levels of Sim Lim Square, some of which tend to rip off tourists, so please do your research before heading down; multi-shop price comparisons and bargaining are absolutely essential. Mustafa has fixed, low prices and is a good option. For any purchases, remember that Singapore uses 230V voltage with a British-style three-pin plug.
• Electronic components: For do-it-yourself people and engineers, a wide variety of electronic components and associated tools can be found at Sim Lim Tower (opposite Sim Lim Square), near Little India. You can find most common electronic components (such as breadboards, transistors, various IC's, etc.) and bargain for larger quantities as well.
• Ethnic knick-knacks: Chinatown has Singapore's heaviest concentration of glow-in-the-dark Merlion soap dispensers and ethnic gewgaws, mostly but not entirely Chinese and nearly all imported from somewhere else. For Malay and Indian stuff, the best places to shop are Geylang Serai and Little India respectively.
• Fabrics: Arab Street and Little India have a good selection of imported and local fabrics like batik. Chinatown does sell rather reasonable and cheap fabrics, bargaining is allowed so do know your stuff on what fabric to buy. Do note that fabrics in Singapore may not be as cheap as overseas for most fabrics are imported to Singapore, due to the freight charges and many middlemen, the fabric cost may be more costly than overseas.
• Fakes: Unlike most South-East Asian countries, pirated goods are not openly on sale and importing them to the city-state carries heavy fines. Fake goods are nevertheless not difficult to find in Little India, Bugis, or even in the underpasses of Orchard Road.
• Food: Local supermarkets Cold Storage, Prime Mart, Shop 'n' Save and NTUC Fairprice are ubiquitous, but for specialties, Jason's Marketplace in the basement of Raffles City and Tanglin Market Place at Tanglin Mall (both on Orchard) are some of Singapore's best-stocked gourmet supermarkets, with a vast array of imported products. Takashimaya's basement (Orchard) has lots of small quirky shops and makes for a more interesting browse. For a more Singaporean (and much cheaper) shopping experience, seek out any neighborhood wet market, like Little India's Tekka Market. For eating out, most shopping centres offer a range of small snack stands and eateries in their basements, as well as a food court or two.
• Games: Video and PC games are widely available in Singapore, and prices are usually cheaper than in the West. Games sold for the local market are generally in English, and though some games imported from Hong Kong or Taiwan would be in Chinese. Do note, however, that Singapore's official region code is NTSC-J (together with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong etc.), which means that games sold may not be compatible with consoles in mainland China, North America, Europe or Australia. During the four times in a year IT Shows, PC, XBox, Wii, Playstation games prices may drop at such IT shows, if not the games will be bundled with others (Example: Buy 2 at $49.90)
• Hi-fi stereos: The Adelphi (Riverside) has Singapore's best selection of audiophile shops.
• Marine sports: Many of the shophouses opposite The Concourse on Beach Rd in Bugis sell fishing and scuba diving gear.
• Mobile phones: Very competitively priced in Singapore due to high consumer volume, available throughout the country both used and new. Phones are never SIM locked, so they can be used anywhere, and many shops will allow you to "trade in" an older phone to offset the cost of a new one.
• Music: The HMV at Somerset 313 (Orchard) is Singapore's largest music store, with a second, smaller outlet in the CityLink mall linking Raffles City and Suntec City Mall. Gramophone, however, provides much better prices on CDs and has an interesting selection. Numerous branches are scattered across the CBD and Orchard Road. One of the better Gramophone locations is at Ngee Ann City in B2.
Pretty in pink: Peranakan tea set with dragon-phoenix motif • Peranakan goods: The Peranakan, or Malay-Chinese, may be fading but their colorful clothing and artwork, especially the distinctive pastel-colored ceramics, are still widely available. Antiques are expensive, but modern replicas are quite affordable. The largest selection and best prices can be found in Katong on the East Coast.
• Sports goods: Queensway Shopping Centre, off Alexandra Rd and rather off the beaten track (take a cab), seems to consist of nothing but sports goods shops. You can also find foreigner-sized sporty clothing and shoes here. Do bargain! Expect to get 40-50% off the price from the shops in Orchard for the same items. Velocity in Novena is also devoted to sports goods, but is rather more upmarket. Martial arts equipment is surprisingly hard to find, although most of the clothing shops around Pagoda Street in Chinatown sell basic silk taiji/wushu uniforms. Note that if you plan to buy weapons such as swords, you have to apply for a permit from the local police (around $10) to get your weaponry out of the country.
• Tea: Chinatown's Yue Hwa (2nd floor) is unbeatable for both price and variety, but Time for Tea in Lucky Plaza (Orchard) is also a good option. English tea is also widely available around Orchard Road, most notably at Marks and Spencer in Centrepoint.
• Watches: High-end watches are very competitively priced. Ngee Ann City (Orchard) has dedicated stores from the likes of Piaget and Cartier, while Millenia Walk (Marina Bay) features the Cortina Watch Espace retailing 30 brands from Audemars Piguet to Patek Philippe, as well as several other standalone shops.
For purchases of over $100 per day per participating shop, you may be able to get a 6% refund of your 7% GST at Changi Airport or Seletar Airport, but the process is a bit of a bureaucratic hassle. At the shop you need to ask for a tax refund cheque. Before checking in at the airport, present this cheque together with the items purchased and your passport at the GST customs counter. Get the receipt stamped there. Then proceed with check-in and go through security. On the air side, bring the stamped cheque to the refund counter to cash it in or get the GST back on your credit card. See Singapore Customs [☛] for the full scoop.
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