Singapore 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 is a small country on a small island, but with just over five million people it is a fairly crowded city and in fact second only to Monaco as the world's most densely populated country. However, unlike many other densely populated countries, Singapore has over 50% of its area covered by greenery and with over 50 major parks and 4 nature reserves, it is an enchanting garden city. Large self-contained residential towns mushroomed all over the island, around the clean and modern city centre. The centre of the city located in the south — consisting roughly of the Orchard road shopping area, the Riverside, the new Marina Bay area and also the skyscrapers-filled Shenton way financial district known in acronym-loving Singapore as the CBD (Central Business District).
• Riverside (Civic District) — Singapore's colonial core, with museums, statues and theatres, not to mention restaurants, bars and clubs.
• Orchard Road — Miles and miles of shopping malls.
• Marina Bay — The newest feature of Singapore, dominated by the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort (hotel, casino, shopping mall, convention centre and museum) and the Marina Barrage. The newly opened Gardens by the Bay situated next to Marina Bay Sands integrated resort is a large public garden which house two huge cooled conservatories – the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest as well as a cluster of gigantic SuperTrees.
• Bugis and Kampong Glam — Bugis and Kampong Glam are Singapore's old Malay district, now largely taken over by shopping
• Chinatown — The area originally designated for Chinese settlement by Raffles, now a Chinese heritage area popular with tourists.
• Little India — A piece of India to the north of the city core.
• Balestier, Newton, Novena and Toa Payoh — Budget accommodations and Burmese temples within striking distance of the centre.
• North and West — The northern and western parts of the island, also known as Woodlands and Jurong respectively, form Singapore's residential and industrial hinterlands.
• East Coast — The largely residential eastern part of the island contains Changi Airport, miles and miles of beach and many famous eateries. Also covers Geylang Serai, the true home of Singapore's Malays.
• Sentosa — A separate island once a military fort developed into a resort, Sentosa is the closest that Singapore gets to Disneyland, now with a dash of gambling and Universal Studios thrown in.
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.
The 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.
Singapore 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, Teochew and Cantonese speakers are the largest subgroups, with Mandarin acting as the lingua franca of the community. Other notable "dialect" groups among the Chinese include the Hakkas, Hainanese and Foochows. The Malays, who are comprised of descendants 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. Slightly 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.
As 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 neighbouring 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.s, Jews, Baha'is and Jains. Some 17% of Singaporeans profess to have no religious affiliation.
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.
Chinese New Year dates
2012 is the year of the Dragon
2013 Snake - 10 February
2014 Horse - 31 January
2015 Goat - 19 February
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 colourful 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.
Singapore 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.
Getting around Singapore is easy: the public transportation system is extremely easy to use and taxis are reasonably priced when you can get one. Very few visitors rent cars. Gothere.sg  does a pretty good job of figuring out the fastest route by MRT and bus and even estimating taxi fares between any two points.
If you are staying in Singapore for some time or are planning to return to Singapore several times in the future, the EZ-link contactless RFID farecard or a Nets Flash Pay card might be a worthwhile purchase. Those who are familiar with Hong Kong's Octopus card, London Underground's Oyster card, Washington DC's SmarTrip card or Japan Railway's IC cards will quickly understand the concept of the EZ-link and Nets Flash Pay card. You can store value on it and use it on the MRT trains as well as all city buses at a 15% discount. The card costs $12, including $7 stored value, and the card can be "topped up" in increments of at least $10 at the farecard vending machines or 7-Eleven stores (the latter will allow a top-up for a convenience fee). You can use the same card for 5 years. The card technology was changed in 2009, but if you have any old cards lying around, they can be exchanged for free with value intact at TransitLink offices in all MRT stations.
Alternatively, the Singapore Tourist Pass  available at selected major MRT stations (including Changi Airport and Orchard) also includes ez-link card functionality and a variety of discounts for attractions. Prices start at $18 a day for unlimited travel on MRT and buses, but you need to a travel a lot to make this alone pay off.
Single tickets can be purchased for both MRT and buses, but it's a hassle, and in the case of buses it delays everyone else because the driver has to count fare stages to tell you how much you need to pay. In addition, no change is given for the bus and you will need to buy a separate ticket if you intend to transfer to another bus later in your journey.
Distance based fares have been introduced since July 2010 to further integrate Singapore's public transport fare structure. All commuters will be charged a fare according to the total distance travelled, on the bus, LRT and MRT, and make transfers without incurring additional cost. Fares are now computed on a journey basis, without a boarding charge being imposed for every transfer trip that makes up the journey.
The MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) and LRT (Light Rail Transit) are trains that are the main trunk of Singapore's transit system. They are a cheap and very reliable mode of transportation, and the network covers most points of interest for the visitor. All train lines use contactless RFID tickets. Just tap to scan your train ticket at the gantry when entering and exiting the train service area. Single-trip tickets cost from $0.80 to $2 plus a $1 refundable deposit, just insert your used ticket into the ticketing machine to get your dollar back. EZ-link or Nets FlashPay farecards (described above) are the easiest and most popular ways to use the MRT. All lines are seamlessly integrated, even if the lines are operated by different transport companies, so you do not need to buy a new ticket to transfer.
The MRT stations are clean and usually equipped with free toilets. Underground stations have platform screen doors between the train and the platform while most above-ground stations have Half-height Platform Screen Doors (HHPSDs) so there is no risk of falling onto the tracks. The North-East line is fully automated, as is the new Circle Line, the LRT and all upcoming lines, so it's worth walking up to the front of the train to look out a tiny window and realize that there is no driver! There are exceptions though, when a staff member comes in to drive the train. This is common when a train's automatic driving system fails. In this case, a tape will be put up behind the driving area to prevent passengers from interfering with the driver.
Buses connect various corners of Singapore, but are slower and harder to use than the MRT. The advantage though of this is you get to see the sights rather than a dark underground tunnel at a low price. You can pay cash (coins) in buses, but the fare stage system is quite complex (it's easiest to ask the driver for the price to your destination), you are charged marginally more and there is no provision for getting change. Payment with ez-link or Nets Flashpay card is thus the easiest method: tap your card against the reader at the front entrance of the bus when boarding, and a maximum fare is deducted from the card.
When you alight, tap your card again at the exit, and the difference is refunded. Make sure you tap out, or you'll end up paying the maximum fare! Inspectors occasionally prowl buses to check that everybody has paid or tapped, so those who are on tourist day passes should tap before sitting down. Dishonest bus commuters risk getting fine $20 for not paying or underpaying fares (by premature tapping-out) and $50 for improper use of concession cards. Another advantage of ez-link or Nets Flashpay cards is that you will be able to enjoy distance-based fares and avoid the boarding fee.
After midnight on Fri, Sat and before public holidays only, the NightRider  services are a fairly convenient way of getting around, with seven lines running every 20 min. All services drive past the major nightlife districts of Boat Quay, Clarke Quay, Mohamed Sultan and Orchard before splintering off. There is a flat fare of $4.00, the EZ-link card is accepted but the Singapore Tourist Pass is not valid on this line.
As mentioned earlier, Gothere.sg will give you options as to which busses will take you from your origin or destination.
Taxi use meters and are reasonably priced and honest, however, a shortage of taxis in Singapore means that they are often unavailable for hours at a time. Outside weekday peak hours, trips within the city centre should not cost you more than $10 and even a trip right across the island from Changi to Jurong will not break the $35 mark. If you are in a group of 3 or 4, it's sometimes cheaper and faster to take a taxi than the MRT. Be aware, however, that taxis are often remarkably difficult to secure, especially during peak commute or shopping hours, or when there is inclement weather. During these times it can be impossible to get through to a booking agent via telephone, and you can expect extended waits in taxi queues. There is a puzzling lack of action to address this persistent and frustrating taxi shortage.
Taxi pricing is largely identical across all companies at $3.00-$3.20 as a flag down rate (depending on the type of vehicle used), which lasts you 1 km before increments of $0.22 per 400 m (for the first 10 km) or $0.22 per 350 m (after the first 10 km). (The sole exception is SMRT's giant black Chryslers, which charge $5 and then $0.30 per 385 m.) Watch out for surprises though: there are a myriad of peak hour (25%), late night (50%), central business district ($3), trips from airport or the IRs ($3-$5 during peak hours), phone booking ($3.00 and up) and Electronic Road Pricing surcharges, which may add a substantial amount to your taxi fare. All such charges are shown on the bottom right-hard corner of the meter, recorded in the printed receipt and explained in tedious detail in a sticker on the window; if you suspect the cabbie is trying to pull a fast one, call the company and ask for an explanation. Note that there is no surcharge for trips to the airport. While all taxis are equipped to handle (and are required to accept) credit cards, in practice many cabbies do not accept electronic payment. Always ask before getting in. Paying by credit card will incur an additional surcharge of 17%. During rush hour in the city centre, or late at night on the weekends, it's wise to call for a taxi from the unified booking system at ☎ +65 6342 5222 (6-DIAL-CAB). Some taxi companies offer booking via SMS, online and mobile app.
Despite the costs involved, taxis may sometimes take you to distant locations outside the CBD faster than mass transport. An airport trip from the city centre may take less than 20 mins on a taxi but more than 30 mins on an MRT.
In the Central Business District, taxis may pick up passengers only at taxi stands (found outside any shopping mall) or buildings with their own driveways (including virtually all hotels). Outside the centre, you're free to hail taxis on the street or call one to your doorstep. At night spots featuring long queues, such as Clarke Quay, you may on occasion be approached by touts offering a quick flat fare to your destination. This is illegal and very expensive but reasonably safe for you. (Drivers, on the other hand, will probably lose their job if caught.)
Some Singapore taxi drivers have very poor geographical knowledge and may expect you to know where they should go, so it may be helpful to bring a map of your destination area or directions on finding where you wish to go. Some cabbies may also ask you which route you want to take; most are satisfied with "whichever way is faster".
Trishaws, three-wheeled bicycle taxis, haunt the area around the Singapore River and Chinatown. Geared purely for tourists, they should be avoided for serious travel as locals do not use them. There is little room for bargaining: short rides will cost $10-20 and an hour's sightseeing charter about $50 per person.
Tourist-oriented bumboats cruise the Singapore River, offering point-to-point rides starting from $3 and cruises with nice views of the CBD skyscraper skyline starting from $13.
Bumboats also shuttle passengers from Changi Village to Pulau Ubin ($2.50 one-way), a small island off Singapore's northeast coast which is about as close as Singapore gets to unhurried rural living.
Car rental is not a popular option in Singapore. It is also hardly necessary for tourists since public transport sufficiently covers all areas of the island with a significant population base. You will usually be looking at upwards for $100 per day for the smallest vehicle from the major rental companies, although local ones can be cheaper and there are sometimes good weekend prices available. This does not include gas at around $1.80/litre or electronic road pricing (ERP) fees, and you'll usually need to pay extra to drive to Malaysia. If planning on touring Malaysia by car, it makes much more sense to head across the border to Johor Bahru, where both rentals and petrol are half price, and you have the option of dropping your car off elsewhere in the country. This also avoids the unwelcome extra attention that Singapore plates tend to get from thieves and greedy cops.
Roads in Singapore are in excellent condition and driving habits are generally good with most people following the traffic rules due to stringent enforcement, though road courtesy tends to be sorely lacking. Compared to other major cities around the world like Sydney, Tokyo or Hong Kong, parking spaces are comparatively easier to find in the city centre of Singapore, although peak hour congestion can be quite severe. Foreign licences in English are valid in Singapore for up to a year from your date of entry, after which you will have to convert your foreign license to a Singapore one. Foreign licences not in English must be accompanied by an International Driving Permit (IDP) or an official English translation (usually available from your embassy) for them to be valid.
Singaporeans drive on the left (UK style) and the driving age is 18. The speed limit is only 90 km/h on expressways and 60 km/h on other roads.
ERP payments require a stored-value CashCard, which is usually arranged by the rental agency, but it's your responsibility to ensure it has enough value. ERP gantries are activated at different times, usually in the expected direction of most cars. As a rule of thumb, gantries found in roads leading to the CBD are activated during the morning rush hour while gantries found in roads exiting the CBD are activated during the evening rush hour. Passing through an active ERP gantry with insufficient value will mean that an alert is sent to your registered address. You will need to pay an administrative fee in addition to the difference between the remaining amount and the actual charge. You have a limited time to settle this otherwise your penalty becomes heavier.
All passengers must wear seatbelts and using a phone while driving is banned. Drink-driving is not tolerated: the maximum blood alcohol content is 0.08%, with roadblocks set up at night to catch offenders, who are heavily fined and possibly jailed. Even if your blood alcohol level does not exceed the legal limit, you can still be charged with drink driving if the police are convinced that your ability to control the vehicle has been compromised by the presence of alcohol (i.e. if you get involved in an accident). The police do conduct periodic roadblocks and speed cameras are omnipresent. Fines will be sent by mail to you or your rental agency, who will then pass on the cost with a surcharge. If stopped for a traffic offense, don't even think about trying to bribe your way out.
Hitchhiking is virtually unheard of in Singapore, and given the size of the country and its cheap, ubiquitous public transport, it's hardly necessary.
Using bicycles as a substitute for public transportation is possible, although there's little bicycling culture and amenities like bike lanes or bike racks are a rarity. While the city is small and its landscape is flat, it can be difficult to predict how rideable a route will be without scoping it out first. Buses, taxis, and motorists stopping to drop off or pick up passengers rarely check for cyclists before merging back onto the roadway, which makes certain routes especially treacherous. The ubiquitous road works around Singapore can also make cycling more hazardous when temporary road surfaces are not kept safe for biking, portable traffic barriers make it hard for vehicles to see cyclists, and construction crews directing traffic are unsure of how to deal with cyclists on the roadway.
Air quality can also be a problem. According to Singapore's LTA, Singapore has more than 178,000 diesel powered cars, taxis, buses, and trucks, which can make biking on Singapore's crowded roads very unpleasant. When the thick smoke from Indonesian fires descends on Singapore, air quality plummets even further.
There are few bike lanes in Singapore, and none in the city centre. The 2010 campaign, "1.5M Matters" seems to have little effect on the driving habits of Singaporeans, who often pass uncomfortably close to cyclists. But that may be because of the lack of a bicycle lane on the roads and motorists are very often forced to swerve into the adjacent lane in order to avoid hitting a cyclist. In 2008 22 cyclists were killed on Singapore roadways, and in 2009, 19. According to the Singapore "Ride of Silence" two cyclists are hit by motor vehicles every day in Singapore. Cycling on the pavements would be a better idea, but watch out for pedestrians!
Small folding bicycles may be taken on the MRT during certain times of the day, but large bicycles are a no-no. Bicycles may cross the Causeway to Malaysia (on motorbike lanes), but are not allowed on expressways.
Singapore is generally fairly 'pedestrian-friendly'. In the main business district and on main roadways, pavements and pedestrian crossings are in good shape and plentiful. Drivers are mindful of marked crossing zones, but are less likely be aware or respectful of pedestrians crossing at streetcorners on less busy streets where crosswalks are not marked, even though by law any accident between a pedestrian and a vehicle is presumed to be the driver's fault. In residential areas of Singapore, pedestrians can be frustrated by narrow and poorly-maintained pavements that often jump from one side of the street to the other or just disappear, and frequently are obstructed by trash cans and plantings. Jaywalking is illegal and punished with fines of $25 and up to three months in jail.
Classic walks in Singapore include walking down the river from the Merlion through the Quays, trekking along the Southern Ridges Walk or just strolling around Chinatown, Little India or Bugis.
An unavoidable downside, though, is the tropical heat and humidity, which leaves many visitors sweaty and exhausted, so bring along a handkerchief and a bottle of water. It's best to get an early start, pop into air-conditioned shops, cafes, and museums to cool off, and plan on heading back to the shopping mall or hotel pool before noon. Alternatively, after sundown, evenings can also be comparatively cool.
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.
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 flavours, 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 colourful Sri Mariamman Hindu temple in Chinatown, the psychedelic Burmese Buddhist Temple in Balestier and the stately Masjid Sultan in Arab Street.
• 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.
if 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 Trousers - 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.
• Mosquito repellent - day or night, they're lurking. Dengue fever is a particular problem in this part of the world, so stay protected.
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.
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.
Singapore 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 (but offers No Limit Holdem from $5/$10). 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.
Despite 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.
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 centres.
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.
Singapore 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 neighbours 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.
Forget 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.
Besides 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.
While 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
Singapore is a melting pot of cuisines from around the world, and many Singaporeans are obsessive gourmands who love to makan ("eat" in Malay). You will find quality Chinese, Malay, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Italian, French, American and other food in this city-state. One of the best kept secrets is that tourists can get a great bargain (up to 50% discount) at many of Singapore's best restaurants by registering at the foodie website MakanDeals  for free and downloading its dining vouchers.
Eating habits run the gamut, but most foods are eaten by fork and spoon: push and cut with the fork in the left hand, and eat with the spoon in the right. Noodles and Chinese dishes typically come with chopsticks, while Malay and Indian food can be eaten by hand, but nobody will blink an eye if you ask for a fork and spoon instead. If eating by hand, always use your right hand to pick your food, as Malays and Indians traditionally use their left hand to handle dirty things. Take note of the usual traditional Chinese etiquette when using chopsticks, and most importantly, do not stick your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice. If eating in a group, serving dishes are always shared, but you'll get your own bowl of rice and soup. It's common to use your own chopsticks to pick up food from communal plates, but serving spoons can be provided on request.
Keep an eye out for the Singapore Food Festival , held every year in July. During the last three festivals, all visitors to Singapore smart enough to ask for them at any tourist information desk received coupons for free chilli crab, no strings attached!
Singapore is justly famous for its food, a unique mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Western elements. The following is only a brief sampler of the most popular dishes.
The most identifiable cuisine in the region is Peranakan or Nonya cuisine, born from the mixed Malay and Chinese communities of what were once the British colonies of the Straits Settlements (modern-day Singapore, Penang and Malacca).
Chilli crab is a whole crab ladled with oodles of sticky, tangy chilli sauce. It's spicy at first, but the more you eat, the better it gets. Notoriously difficult to eat, so don't wear a white shirt: just dig in with your hands and ignore the mess. The seafood restaurants of the East Coast are famous for this. For a less messy but equally tasty alternative, ask for black pepper crab.
Kaya is a jam-like spread made from egg and coconut, an odd-sounding but tasty combination. Served on toast for breakfast, canonically accompanied by runny eggs and strong, sweet coffee (kopi). Exists in two distinctive styles; the greenish Nonya version, coloured with pandan leaf, and the brownish Hainanese version.
Laksa, in particular the Katong laksa or laksa lemak style, is probably the best-known Singaporean dish: white noodles in a creamy, immensely rich coconut-based curry broth, topped with cockles or shrimp. Be warned that the common style found in hawker centres is very spicy, although you can ask for less/no chilli to dial down the heat. The Katong style is much less spicy and is generally found only in Katong itself (see the East Coast page). Singapore laksa is very different from Penang laksa, which is a spicy, sourish, clear soup made with a tamarind-infused broth.
Mee siam is rice flour noodles served in a sweet-sour soup (made from tamarind, dried shrimp and fermented beans), bean curd cubes, and hard boiled eggs. Though the Chinese, Malays and Indians all have their own versions, it is the Peranakan version that is most popular with Singaporeans. You will largely find this at Malay stalls.
Popiah, or spring rolls, come fresh or fried. They consist of a filling of boiled turnip, fried tofu, pork, shrimp with a slew of condiments, wrapped in a thin crepe smeared with sweet dark soy sauce and eaten like a fajita. They are related to the lumpia and runbing of other Chinese communities in Asia.
Rojak means a mixture of everything in Malay, and there are two very different types. Chinese rojak is a salad of pineapple, white turnip, cucumber, tau pok (fried bean curd) with thin tiny slices of bunga kantan (torch ginger flower buds), tossed in shrimp paste sauce and sugar, then sprinkled with crushed peanuts. Indian rojak consists of mainly fried fritters made from flour and various pulses with cucumber and tofu, with sweet & spicy sauces.
Satay bee hoon is rice vermicelli (bee hoon) served with the same peanut and chilli sauce used for satay, hence the name. Usually see hum (cockles), dried squid and pork slices are added.
Ice cream is just as it is in Western countries. However, in Singapore, there are various local flavours such as durian and red bean which are not available outside the region and are certainly worth a try. To impress the locals, try asking for ice cream in roti (bread).
Besides these dishes, the Peranakans are also known for their kueh or snacks, which are somewhat different from the Malay versions due to stronger Chinese influences.
The Malays were Singapore's original inhabitants and despite now being outnumbered by the Chinese, their distinctive cuisine is popular to this day. Characterized by heavy use of spices, most Malay dishes are curries, stews or dips of one kind or another and nasi padang restaurants, offering a wide variety of these to ladle onto your rice, are very popular.
Mee rebus is a dish of egg noodles with spicy, slightly sweet gravy, a slice of hard boiled egg and lime.
Mee soto is Malay-style chicken soup, with a clear broth, shredded chicken breast and egg noodles.
Nasi lemak is the definitive Malay breakfast, consisting at its simplest of rice cooked in light coconut milk, some ikan bilis (anchovies), peanuts, a slice of cucumber and a dab of chilli on the side. A larger ikan kuning (fried fish) or chicken wing are common accompaniments. More often than not, also combined with a variety of curries and/or sambal (see below).
Otah/Otak is a type of fish cake made of minced fish (usually mackerel), coconut milk, chilli and various other spices, and grilled in a banana or coconut leaf, usually served to accompany other dishes like nasi lemak.
Rendang, occasionally dubbed "dry curry", is meat stewed for hours on end in a spicy (but rarely fiery) coconut-based curry paste until almost all water is absorbed. Beef rendang is the most common, although chicken and mutton are spotted sometimes.
Sambal is the generic term for chilli sauces of many kinds. Sambal belacan is a common condiment made by mixing chilli with the shrimp paste belacan, while the popular dish sambal sotong consists of squid (sotong) cooked in red chilli sauce.
Satay are barbecued skewers of meat, typically chicken, mutton or beef. What separates satay from your ordinary kebab is the spices used to season the meat and the slightly spicy peanut-based dipping sauce. The Satay Club at Lau Pa Sat near Raffles Place is one popular location for this delicacy.
Malay desserts, especially the sweet pastries and jellies (kuih or kueh) made largely from coconut and palm sugar (gula melaka), bear a distinct resemblance to those of Thailand. But in the sweltering tropical heat, try one of many concoctions made with ice instead:
Bubur cha-cha consists of cubed yam, sweet potato and sago added into coconut milk soup. This can be served warm or cold.
Chendol is made with green pea noodles, kidney beans, palm sugar and coconut milk.
Durian is not exactly a dish, but a local fruit with distinctive odor you can smell a mile away and a sharp thorny husk. Both smell and taste defy description, but eating garlic ice cream next to an open sewer comes to mind. If you are game enough you should try it, but be warned beforehand — you will either love it or hate it. The rich creamy yellow flesh is often sold in places like Geylang and Bugis and elsewhere conveniently in pre-packaged packs, for anywhere from $1 for a small fruit all the way up to $24/kg depending on the season and type of durian. This 'king of fruits' is also made into ice cream, cakes, sweets, puddings and other decadent desserts. Note: You're not allowed to carry durians on the MRT and buses and they're banned from many hotels.
Ice kachang literally means "ice bean" in Malay, a good clue to the two major ingredients: shaved ice and sweet red beans. However, more often than not you'll also get gula melaka (palm sugar), grass jelly, sweet corn, attap palm seeds and anything else on hand thrown in, and the whole thing is then drizzled with canned evaporated milk or coconut cream and coloured syrups. The end result tastes very interesting — and refreshing.
Kuih (or kueh) refer to a plethora of steamed or baked "cakes", mostly made with coconut milk, grated coconut flesh, glutinous rice or tapioca. They are often very colourful and cut into fanciful shapes, but despite their wildly varying appearance tend to taste rather similar.
Pisang goreng is a batter-dipped and deep-fried banana.
Indian cuisine The smallest of the area's big three ethnic groups, the Indians have had proportionally the smallest impact on the local culinary scene, but there is no shortage of Indian food even at many hawker centres. Delicious and authentic Indian food can be had at Little India, including south Indian typical meals such as dosa (thosai) crepes, idli lentil-rice cakes and sambar soup, as well as north Indian meals including various curries, naan bread, tandoori chicken and more. In addition, however, a number of Indian dishes have been "Singaporeanized" and adopted by the entire population, including:
Fish head curry is, true to the name, a gigantic curried fish head cooked whole until it's ready to fall apart. Singapore's Little India is the place to sample this. Note that there are two distinct styles, the fiery Indian and the milder Chinese kind.
Nasi briyani is rice cooked in turmeric, giving it an orange colour. Unlike the Hyderabadi original, it's usually rather bland, although specialist shops do turn out more flavorful versions. It is usually served with curry chicken and some Indian crackers.
Roti prata is the local version of paratha, flat bread tossed in the air like pizza, rapidly cooked in oil, and eaten dipped in curry. Modern-day variations can incorporate unorthodox ingredients like cheese, chocolate and even ice cream, but some canonical versions include roti kosong (plain), roti telur (with egg) and murtabak (layered with chicken, mutton or fish). Strict vegetarians beware: unlike Indian roti, roti prata batter is usually made with eggs.
Putu mayam is a sweet dessert composed of vermicelli-like noodles topped with shredded coconut and orange sugar.