Singapore has long been a cultural and economic crossroads of Southeast Asia, controlling as it does a critical port along the Strait of Malacca linking the South China Sea with the Indian Ocean. You’ll marvel at the ethnic and cultural diversity its unique geography and history have promoted, on display throughout the city-state. There’s no more fulfilling way to experience Singaporean culture than through its wide-ranging cookery, where South Asian, East Asian, and European tangs wonderfully intermix in dishes such as Hainan chicken. When you’re not eating your way through Singapore’s bustling thoroughfares, journey to nearby Indonesia to explore equally engrossing destinations such as the island of Bali.
Singapore has four official languages: English, Mandarin, Tamil and Malay. Singaporeans all speak English to a high standard which makes getting around the country easy for first-time visitors.
Colorful year round festivals celebrate the many cultures and religions within the country. The multicultural aspects of the country can also be seen in its various churches, mosques and temples.
Music lovers will find plenty to enjoy at the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Singapore Lyrica Opera and various other music venues found throughout the island. Singapore also hosts an annual international film festival and there are a number of dance companies which perform either contemporary or classical dance.
Avid golfers will be pleased by the high quality golf courses on the island, some of which are even open at night! Golfers should be aware however, that Singaporean courses do follow specific dress codes.
Due to its geography as an island, sailing is naturally another well-loved sport, as are snorkeling and diving. Travelers, who have not gone diving before, can choose to take courses here from skilled professionals. Anyone who prefers indoor pursuits would have fun knocking down pins at one of Singapore’s many bowling alleys, the sport has become extremely popular since first being introduced about 40 years ago.
Some say the number one reason to visit Singapore is the food. Some Singaporean dishes which have practically reached cult status include satay, nasi lemak, lasksa, chicken rice and hokkien mee noodles.
Locals treat eating as a national pastime; there is even a Singapore Food Festival in July to celebrate all that the country has to offer as a food paradise. Food courts and hawker centers are another way to try many different dishes inexpensively.
The delectable blending of various cultures results in many tasty dishes. Nonya food, a type of Singaporean cuisine, is a fusion of Chinese and Malay influences which is all about the combination of pungent spices combined with a certain tangy quality. Ingredients such as turmeric, ginger, lime leaf, chilies and tamarind are universal to this type of food.
Singaporean cooks take advantage of their proximity to the sea to create popular seafood dishes using shrimp, crab and lobsters among others. Adventurous restaurant goers might wish to try more unique seafood options such as barbecued stingray. Vegetarians will have an easy time finding interesting options as both the Indian and Chinese cultures have given rise to delicious vegetable based dishes.
The country has several unique beverages to try which even the most sophisticated traveler may not have experienced before. These include bandung, a rose syrup with evaporated milk, and chin chow, a sweet drink containing grass jelly, as well as pulled tea, which gets its name from the entertaining way it is prepared.
Singapore is an island nation that lies just north of the equator in Southeast Asia. Consisting of over 60 islands, the country is located between the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. It is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor. Singapore is one of the busiest ports in the world. Malaysia and Indonesia are the country’s northern and southern neighbors.
The island’s topography is mainly flat with a few low hills. The country was once covered with mangrove swamps and tropical rain forests until the country’s push to rapidly modernize. Extensive land reclamation efforts in recent decades have actually increased the size of the country.
The main city and capital of the country is aptly named Singapore. Densely inhabited, a seaport, commercial center, parks, shopping areas and high-rises are all confined to a small space that makes it easy to explore on foot. The Singapore River winds through the city with the downtown area located near its mouth marked by the Merlion statue. Many of the main sights are located in the Colonial District.
The Changi Prison Chapel and Museum has exhibits related to the infamous Burma railroad and the Singapore Art Museum is dedicated to the preservation of Southeast Asian contemporary art. The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is just outside the city and hikers enjoy the many species of plants and animals in this primary rainforest.
Most visited cities: Singapore, Sentosa, Changi
Singapore’s location means it has long been on the map of traveling traders, particularly the Chinese and Thai people. In the 13th century, Singapore came under the influence of the Muslim Malaccan Empire. The Malaccan Empire itself subsequently came under Portuguese and then later Dutch control, which affected Singapore.
By the 19th century, due to its importance as a port, and wanting to beat the Dutch to the punch, the British moved to establish a trading post in Singapore. Stamford Raffles, whose name is linked to the famous Singaporean hotel, often receives credit for the founding of modern Singapore. He negotiated a deal under which Singapore came under the ownership of the British East India Company. Raffles introduced a town plan for central Singapore which added modern infrastructure to the country such as a water supply system and hospitals, which rapidly changed the country from a somewhat primitive backwater to a much more advanced place. These upgrades also attracted many immigrants to the area, and Singapore remains a multicultural nation even today.
During WWII, the Japanese invaded Singapore, and the British quickly surrendered. Hard times followed until 1945 when Japan surrendered Singapore. The British returned to the island, but their right to control the country was now in doubt. In the late 1940’s the Communists launched a power play; the British promptly outlawed the party, but the Communists waged guerilla warfare for the next twelve years. In 1963, Singapore was declared to be part of the new independent nation of Malaysia, but this alliance lasted only two years before the country opted to become an independent republic in 1965. The country then proceeded with an ambitious plan to modernize its port, roads and telecommunications. English became the official language in order to make the country a leader in commerce.
Singapore enjoys one of the highest standards of living in Asia; in fact it is one of the world’s wealthiest countries. It has one of the highest literacy rates in Asia and is one of the safest and cleanest countries in the world. All these factors are some of the many reasons Singapore has become such a popular tourist destination.