Difference between revisions of "Singapore"
Revision as of 15:30, 17 November 2006
Singapore is an island-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, sporting the world's busiest port. Combining the skyscrapers and subways of a modern, affluent city with a medley of Chinese, Indian and Malay influences and a lush tropical climate, with tasty food, good shopping and a happening, vibrant nightlife scene, this Garden City makes a great stopover or springboard into the region.
Singapore is a rather small country on a small island, but with over four million people it's a fairly crowded city. The center of the city — consisting roughly of Orchard, the Riverside and a chunk of Chinatown — is known in acronym-loving Singapore as the CBD (Central Business District).
In the center Singapore's addressing system is fairly normal ("17 Orchard Rd" etc), but the new housing developments on the outskirts may appear more intimidating: a typical address might be "Blk 505 Jurong West St 51 #01-186". Here "Blk 505" is the housing block number, "Jurong West St 51" is the street name, and "#01-186" means floor 1, unit, stall or shop 186. Note that the first digit of both housing block and street number is the neighborhood's number (in this case 5), making it easier to narrow down the right location. There are also 6-digit postal codes, which - considering the small size of the island - generally correspond to exactly one building. For example, "Blk 9 Bedok South Ave 2" is "Singapore 460009".
A very useful tool for hunting down addresses is the free online Singapore Street Directory . Taxis are obligated by law to carry a complete street directory with them.
Singapore is a microcosm of Asia, populated by Chinese, Malays, Indians and a large group of workers and expatriates from all across the globe. A famously authoritarian state with fines for unlikely things like not flushing toilets, Singapore has a partly deserved reputation for sterile predictability that has earned it snickering 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 you'll 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 very pricey and chewing gum can only be bought from a pharmacy. Gambling casinos will be opening up in about 2009 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. Watch out for more loosening up in the future.
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. More historical records indicate that the island was settled at least two centuries earlier and was known as Temasek, Javanese for "Sea Town". However, Sumatran Srivijaya fell around 1400 and Temasek, battered by the feuding kingdoms of Siam and the Javanese Majapahit, fell into obscurity.
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 sultan of Johor: the British would support his claim in exchange for the right to set up a trading post on the island. 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, and its economic fortunes received a further boost when palm oil and rubber from neighboring 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 less than triumphal — it was clear that their time was up.
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. The subsequent forty years of iron-fisted 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. Now led by Lee's son Lee Hsien Loong, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) continues to dominate the political scene, with 82 out of 84 seats in Parliament (over half won unopposed) and opposition politicians regularly bankrupted by defamation suits. 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.
Located a mere 1.5 degrees north of the Equator, the weather is usually sunny with no distinct seasons. However, most rainfall occurs during the northeast monsoon (November to January). Showers are usually sudden and heavy but also brief and refreshing, although humidity is uncomfortably high at this time of year. 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.
Spectacular thunder storms can occur throughout the year, normally in the afternoons, so it's wise to carry a umbrella at all times, both as a shade from the sun or cover from the rain.
The temperature averages around:
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.
Thanks 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.
Still, thanks to the influence of the Chinese majority, the largest event by far is Chinese New Year (or, more politically correctly, Lunar New Year), usually held in February. 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. 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.
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, when the living get together to stuff themselves and watch plays and Chinese opera performances. Following soon afterwards, the Mid-Autumn Festival on the night of the full moon in September 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, Deepavali, is celebrated around October or November and Little India is brightly decorated for the occasion. 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).
The Buddhist Vesak Day, celebrating the birthday of the Buddha Sakyamuni, plus the Christian holidays of Christmas Day and Good Friday round out the list holidays.
A more secular manifestation of community spirit occurs on August 9th, National Day, when fluttering flags fill Singapore and elaborate parades are held.
The Singapore Ministry of Manpower maintains the official list of public holidays. 
Singapore has very strict drug laws, and drug trafficking carries a mandatory death penalty — which is also applied to foreigners. As always, travellers should take care with their baggage and secure it appropriately. The paranoid might also like to note that in Singapore, it is an offense even to have any drug metabolites in your system, even if they were consumed outside Singapore.
Duty free allowances for alcohol are 1L of spirits, 1L of wine and 1L of beer per person. Note that cigarettes cannot be brought in duty free. One opened packet (not carton!) is acceptable, but anything more will be taxed. Foreigners can opt to pay the tax or let the customs officers keep the cigarettes until the next departure; locals get to choose between paying or witnessing the cigarettes being destroyed.
Publications by the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Unification Church may not be imported to Singapore.
Singapore 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 flagship carrier Singapore Airlines  and its regional subsidiary SilkAir , Singapore is also home to Tiger Airways , and Jetstar Asia , which recently took over Valuair.
As befits the country's main airport and major regional hub status, Changi Airport (SIN)  is big, nice, and well organized, and immigration and baggage distribution is remarkably fast. There are currently three terminals: Singapore Airlines and most Star Alliance partners operate from Terminal 2 (T2), whereas most other airlines use Terminal 1 (T1). The two are connected by a free "Skytrain" shuttle service, or you can just walk directly across. The separate Budget Terminal currently handles only Tiger and Cebu Pacific flights and is connected to T2 by free shuttle bus.
If you have over five hours to spare there are free city tours six times a day. Check in at the Singapore Visitor Centre in either terminal. Even if stuck in the airport there are plenty of ways to kill time, including a movie theater (T2) and a swimming pool and jacuzzi (T1). Internet access is provided free of charge, both wirelessly and via some 200 terminals, there are some X-Boxes set up to keep gamers entertained, and there's live lounge music at times. Food options are varied and generally reasonably priced, with some choice picks including the Peranakan-themed Soup Restaurant (T2 landside) and Sakae Sushi (T2 airside). The free fortnightly Changi Express paper "contains news and information on events and happenings around Asia Pacific, in Singapore, and at Changi Airport".
Both terminals T1 and T2 have airside (i.e., accessible without passing through immigration) transit hotels on their third floors - tel. +65-6541-9106 or book online via the Ambassador Transit Hotel  website. A six-hour "block" for a single/double/triple costs $57.75/64.70/86.65, budget singles (shared bathroom) $40.45, extensions $13.90 per hour. You can rent a shower (without a room) to freshen up for $8.40. The Plaza Premier Lounges  in both terminals 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:
Berjaya Air  flights to the Malaysian islands of Redang and Tioman use Seletar (XSP), not Changi (SIN). The only practical means of access to Seletar is taxi; trips from the airport incur a $3 surcharge.
Direct to/from Malaysian destinations
Another way in is by road from or via Johor Bahru in Malaysia. There are buses 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:
Other operators include:
In general, the more you pay, the faster 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 an "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 getting to Johor Bahru.
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. On the Malaysian side, the bus stop is to your left as you exit the immigration post. Figure on one hour for the whole rigmarole from end to end, more during rush hour.
The Malaysian state rail operator KTMB  runs daily trains, including a sleeper service, from Kuala Lumpur. There is also one sleeper daily along the "Jungle Line" from Kota Bharu in north-eastern Malaysia. The trains are clean and fairly efficient, but slower than buses.
Trains arrive at the railway station in Tanjong Pagar at the southern edge of the CBD, a bit of a hike from Tanjong Pagar MRT station. It's also possible to get off in Woodlands right after immigration.
Note that KTMB tickets in Singapore will be charged in dollars, while those bought in Malaysia will be charged in ringgit at the same rate. A ticket which costs RM10 in Malaysia will thus cost $10 if bought in Singapore! There are three ways to avoid paying double:
Singapore 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 (tel. +65-6296-7054, $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 don't 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$40 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, tel. +60-7599-1622.
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 on the East Coast, Changi Ferry Terminal and Changi Point Ferry Terminal , both at the eastern extremity of the island. Cruise ships use the HarbourFront terminal. HarbourFront and Tanah Merah are managed and operated by the Singapore Cruise Centre .
Getting to/away from the ferry terminals:
At Tanah Merah:
Tanjung Pinang: A total of 6 ferries a day, increasing to 9 during weekends. $25/35 one-way/return before taxes and surcharges. Operators include:
Lobam: Penguin operates one or two ferries daily. No service on Sunday or public holidays. $25/35 one-way/return before taxes and surcharges.
Bintan Resorts: Bintan Resort Ferries, tel. +65-65424369, . Operates five ferries 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 other destinations
Tanjung Balai, Karimun: Penguin, tel. +65-62714866 in Harbourfront; +62-777-324300 in Tanjung Balai,  and Indofalcon, tel. +65-62783167 in Harbourfront, . Both operate from Harbourfront. Four ferries weekdays, increasing to 6 during weekends between them. $24/33 one-way/return including taxes and fuel surcharge.
Tanjung Batu, Kundur: Indofalcon operate from Harbourfront. One ferry daily during weekdays, two during weekends. $33/40 one-way/return including taxes and fuel surcharge.
Note that Tanjung Batu is not listed as a visa-free or visa-on-arrival point of entry for Indonesia. However, visa-free nationals do not seem to face difficulties entering Indonesia via this port.
Sebana Cove Resort: Ferries to/from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal operated by Indo Falcon, tel. +65-65426786 in Tanah Merah, . Three ferries daily. $17/24 including taxes and fuel surcharge.
Tanjung Belungkor: Four ferries daily depart/arrive from the Changi Ferry Terminal, 30 Changi Ferry Road, tel.65-62148031/8032. From Tanjung Belungkor: RM32/60 one-way/return. From Changi: $18/28 one-way/return excluding taxes and surcharges. Tanjung Belungkor has transportation connections to the Desaru resort area in Johor.
Pengerang: Motor or bum boats shuttle between Changi Point Ferry Terminal at Changi Village, 51 Lorong Bekukong, tel: 65-65452305/1616, and Pengerang, a village in the southeastern tip of Johor. Boats leave when the reach the 12-passenger quota.
Star 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, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Malacca 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 ten-night long hauls to Hong Kong. An all-inclusive two-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.
Getting around Singapore is effortless: the public transportation system is among the best in the world and taxis are cheap. Very few visitors rent cars.
If you are staying in Singapore for some time, a farecard called ez-link  might be a worthwhile purchase. You can store value on it and use it to enter and exit the MRT and buses at a 15% discount, and you get a 25c discount on transfers too. The card costs $15, including $7 of stored value and a $3 refundable deposit, and the card can be "topped up" in increments of at least $10 at the farecard vending machines). Alternatively, the Visitors Card  also includes ez-link card functionality and a variety of discounts for attractions; prices start at $45 for 3 days.
By mass transit
The MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) and LRT (Light Rail Transit) form 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. Buy single trip tickets at the station either at user-friendly automatic machines or from the cashier; single trip tickets cost from $0.80 to $2.00, plus a $1.00 refundable deposit (just insert your used ticket into machine to get your dollar back). All lines are integrated, so you do not need to buy a new ticket to transfer.
Note that, in Singapore, a "subway" is an pedestrian underpass under a road.
Buses connect various corners of Singapore. SBS Transit , Singapore's largest bus company, has a useful bus route finder on their home page, but it does not show services run by competitor SMRT , which has its own search system.
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 is thus the easiest method. The system works like this: 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. Inspectors occasionally prowl buses to check that everybody has paid.
After midnight on weekends only, the NightRider  services are a fairly convenient way of getting around, with seven lines running every 15 minutes. All services drive past the major nightlife districts of Boat Quay, Clarke Quay, Mohamed Sultan and Orchard before splintering off. Flat fare $3, EZ-link accepted.
Taxicabs use meters and are reasonably priced and honest. You will not spend more than $5-10 for a trip within the city center, and even a trip right across the island from Changi to Jurong will not break the $30 mark.
Taxis charge $2.50 flagfall, and this lasts you 1 km before increments of 10 cents per 200 m. Watch out for surprises though: there are a myriad of peak hour, city center, phone booking, holiday and road pricing surcharges, although most add only a dollar or two to your fare, and these are all clearly shown on the meter. After midnight a 50% surcharge applies. Credit cards are accepted by most but not all cabs, so ask when getting in, and a 15% surcharge applies for this too. During rush hour in the city center, or late at night on the weekends, it's wise to call for a taxi. Telephone numbers for the largest taxi companies are Comfort at 6552-1111, SBS Transit at 6555-8888, City Cab at 6552-2222, Smart at 6485-7700 and Transcab at 6553-3333.
Trishaws, three-wheeled bicycle taxis, haunt the area around the Singapore River and Chinatown. Geared purely for tourists, they aren't really recommended for serious travel and 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 nice views of the CBD skyscraper skyline. You can also take a ferry to Singapore's largely uninhabited Southern Islands for a picnic and lagoon swimming.
There is also a boat shuttle passengers from Changi Village to Pulau Ubin, a small island off Singapore's northeast coast which is about as close as Singapore gets to unhurried rural living. One can rent bikes to cycle around the island which has a number of disused granite quarries.
Car rental is not a popular option in Singapore. You will usually be looking at upwards for $100 per day for the smallest vehicle, not including gas at around $1.50/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 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. Take note that if you do intend to rent a car, be sure to drive on the left side of the road (Singapore follows the UK road system), and reading up a bit on road regulations helps too.
Singapore is almost certainly the most pedestrian-friendly city in southeast Asia. Sidewalks and pedestrian crossings are in good shape and plentiful, roads are well signposted and drivers are usually very careful — by law, any accident between a pedestrian and a vehicle is presumed to be the driver's fault. Classic walks in Singapore include walking down the river from the Merlion through the Quays, or just strolling around Chinatown, Little India or Bugis.
The one unavoidable downside, though, is the tropical heat and humidity, which leaves many visitors sweaty and exhausted. Therefore, bringing along a packet of tissue or a hankerchief is recommended. Having a bottle of water with you also helps. 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 and breezy, especially by the river.
Singlish: You wan beer or not? -- No lah, drink five botol oreddi.
English: Do you want a beer? -- No, thanks; I've already had five bottles.
Thanks to nationwide language education campaigns, most younger Singaporeans are, however, capable of speaking so-called "Good English" when necessary. To avoid unintentional offense, it's best to start off with standard English and only shift to simplified pidgin 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 grating and patronizing if you do it wrong.
Sights in Singapore are covered in more detail under the various districts. Broadly speaking:
While you can find a place to practice nearly any sport in Singapore — golfing, surfing, scuba diving, even ice skating — 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. See also Habitatnews  and WildSingapore  for news and updates about free tours and events.
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 neighbors Indonesia and Thailand, and you'll generally be looking at upwards of $70 even for a plain one-hour massage. Good spas can be found in most five-star hotels and on Orchard, and Sentosa's Spa Botanica also has a good reputation. There are also numerous shops offering traditional Chinese massage, which are mostly legit, and "health centres", which are mostly not.
On the cultural side of things, Singapore has been trying loosen up and attract more artists and performances. The star in Singapore's cultural sky is the Esplanade theatre by the Riverside, a world-class facility for performing arts like classical music. Pop culture options are more limited and Singapore's home-grown arts scene remains rather moribund, but any bands and DJs touring Asia are pretty much guaranteed to perform in Singapore. Advance tickets for almost any cultural event can be purchased from SISTIC , either online or from any of their numerous ticketing outlets, including the Singapore Visitor Centre on Orchard Rd.
The Singaporean currency is the Singapore dollar, abbreviated SGD, S$ or just $ (as used throughout this guide). One dollar is divided into 100 cents. There are coins of $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 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. As of June 2006, one Euro is worth about $2.00 and one US dollar is worth about $1.60.
Restaurants often display prices like $19.99++, which means that service (10%) and sales tax (5%) are not included and will be added to your bill. Hotels and fancy restaurants may note rates as +++, where the third plus denotes 1% CESS (essentially a tourism tax), for a total surcharge of 16.55%.
Tipping is generally uncommon in Singapore, 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 shops often levy a 3% surcharge, and taxis a whopping 15%). Currency exchange booths can be found in at the airport as well as in every shopping mall and usually offer better rates, better opening hours and much faster service than banks. The huge 24-hour operation at Mustafa in Little India accepts almost any currency at what are probably the best rates in town. Travelers checks are generally not accepted by retailers, but can be cashed at most exchange booths.
Singapore is expensive by Asian standards but cheap for visitors from most industrialized countries: $50 is a perfectly serviceable daily backpacker budget. Food in particular is a steal, with excellent hawker food available for less than $5 per generous serving. Accommodation is a little pricier, but a bed in a hostel can cost less than $20 and the most luxurious hotels on the island (except maybe the Raffles) can be yours for $200 with the right discounts.
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. Most stores are open 7 days a week from 10 AM until 9 PM, although smaller operations (particularly those outside shopping malls) close earlier — 7 PM is common — and perhaps on Sundays as well. Keep an eye out for the Great Singapore Sale , usually held in June-July, when shopping centres pull out all stops to attract punters.
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, Italian, French, American and other food in this city-state. See Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine for an overview and menu reader.
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. Noodle dishes usually come with chopsticks, 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 in a group, serving dishes are always shared, but you'll get your own bowl of rice and soup.
Keep an eye out for the Singapore Food Festival , held every year in July. During the festival in both 2005 and 2006, all visitors to Singapore smart enough to ask for them at any tourist information desk received coupons for free chilli crab, no strings attached!
The following dishes have become national icons and should be on every traveller's agenda:
The cheapest and most popular places to eat in Singapore are hawker centres, essentially former pushcart vendors directed into giant complexes by government fiat. Prices are low ($2-5 for most dishes), hygiene standards are high (every stall is required to prominently display a health certificate grading it from A to D) and the food can be excellent — if you see a queue, join it! Ambience tends to be a little lacking though and there is no air-conditioning either, but a visit to a hawker centre is a must when in Singapore.
To order, first chope (reserve) a table by parking a friend or just a packet of tissues on it, note the table's number, then place your order at your stall of choice. They'll deliver to your table, and you pay when you get the food. Note that some stalls (particularly very popular ones) have signs stating "self-service", meaning that you're expected to get your food yourself — but if it's quiet or you're sitting nearby they'll usually deliver anyway. At almost every stall you can also opt to take away (called "packet" or ta pao), in which case they'll pack up your order in a plastic box/bag and even throw in disposable utensils. Upon finishing your meal, you are not required to assist in clearing your utensils, even in crowded centres with other patrons waiting for your table, since the tables are usually cleared by hired cleaners.
Every district in Singapore has its own hawker centres and prices decrease as you move out into the boonies. For tourists, centrally located Newton Circus (Newton MRT), Gluttons Bay and Lau Pa Sat (near the River), are the most popular options — but this does not make them the cheapest or the tastiest, and the demanding gourmand would do well to head to Chinatown instead.
The usual Starbucks and other local cafe chains such as Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf can be found in any shopping mall but an iced coffee or tea can put you back $5, whereas a teh tarik ("pulled" milky tea) or kopi coffee (try it flavored with ginger) runs closer to $1 at any hawker centre.
Found in the basement or top floor of nearly every shopping mall, food courts are the gentrified, air-conditioned version of hawker centres. The food is much the same but prices are on average $1-2 higher.
International fast food chains like McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, Dairy Queen, Orange Julius etc are commonly found in various shopping malls. Prices range from $2 for a basic burger and $5 upwards for a set meal. All restaurants are self-service and clearing your table after your meal is optional.
In addition to the usual suspects, look out for these uniquely Singaporean brands:
Singapore offers a wide variety of full-service restaurants as well, catering to every taste and budget. Being a maritime city one common specialty is seafood restaurants, offering Chinese-influenced Singaporean classics like chilli crabs. These are much more fun to go to in a group, but be careful what you order: gourmet items like Sri Lankan giant crab or shark's fin can easily push your bill up to hundreds of dollars. Menus typically say "Market price", and if you ask they'll quote you the price per 100g, but a big crab can easily top 2 kilos. The best-known seafood spots are clustered on the East Coast, but for ambience the riverside restaurants at Boat Quay and Clarke Quay can't be beat.
One British import much beloved by Singaporeans is high tea. In the classical form, as served up by finer hotels across the island, this is a light afternoon meal consisting of tea and a wide array of British-style savoury snacks and sweet pastries like finger sandwiches and scones. However, the term is increasingly used for afternoon buffets of any kind, and Chinese dim sum and various Singaporean dishes are common additions. Prices vary, but you'll usually be looking at $20-30 per head. Note that many restaurants only serve high tea on weekends, and hours may be very limited: the famous spread at the Raffles Hotel's Tiffin Room, for example, is only available between 3:30 PM and 5 PM.
Singapore is an easy place to eat for almost everybody. Many Indians and not a few Chinese Buddhists are strictly vegetarian, so every Indian stall will have a number of veggie options and most hawker centres will have a Chinese vegetarian stall or two, often serving up amazing meat imitations made from gluten. Be on your guard in ordinary Chinese restaurants though, as even dishes that appear vegetarian on the menu may contain seafood products like oyster sauce or salted fish — check with the waiter if in doubt.
Muslims should look out halal certificates issued by MUIS, (the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore). This is found at practically every Malay stall and many Indian Muslim operations too, but more rarely on outlets run by the Chinese, few of whom are Muslims. That said, there are several halal restaurants serving Chinese-style food in the vicinity of Eunos MRT station.
Singapore's nightlife isn't quite a match for Patpong, but it's no slouch either! Some clubs have 24-hour licenses and few places close before 3 AM. Any artists touring Asia are pretty much guaranteed to stop in Singapore, with superclub Zouk in particular regularly clocking high on lists of the world's best nightclubs. Singapore's nightlife is largely concentrated along the three Quays — Boat, Clarke and Robertson — of the Riverside, plus nearby Mohammed Sultan Road. Drinking age is 18, and while this is surprisingly loosely enforced, some clubs have higher age limits.
Friday is generally the biggest night of the week for going out, with Saturday a close second. Sunday is gay night in many bars and clubs, while Wednesday or Thursday is ladies' night, often meaning not just free entrance but free drinks for women. Most clubs are closed on Monday and Tuesday, while bars generally stay open but tend to be very quiet.
For a night out Singapore style, gather a group of friends and head for the nearest karaoke box — major chains include K-Box  and Party World. Room rental ranges from $30/hour and up. Note that the non-chain, glitzy-looking, neon-covered KTV lounges may charge much higher rates and the short-skirted hostesses may offer more services than just pouring your drinks.
A number of free magazines purporting to cover what's happening in Singapore compete for your attention, but the weekly I-S  is probably the best of the bunch.
Alcohol is widely available but quite expensive due to Singapore's heavy sin taxes, although prices have come down slightly recently. Tax-free at Changi Airport, on the other hand, has some of the best prices in the world; you can bring in up to one liter each of liquor, wine and beer. Careful shopping at major supermarkets will also throw up common basic New World (read: Oz) wine labels on special prices in the mid to late teens. Beer is also inexpensive here - a typical 330 mL can costs about $3.
Prices when eating out vary. You can enjoy a large bottle of beer of your choice at a coffee shop or hawker center for less than $6 (and the local colour comes thrown in for free). On the other hand, drinks in any bar, club or fancy restaurant remain extortionate, with a basic drink clocking in at $10-15. On the upside, happy hours and one-for-one promotions are common, and the entry price for clubs usually includes several drink tickets. Almost all restaurants in Singapore allow bringing your own (BYO) wine and cheaper restaurants without a wine menu usually don't even charge corkage, although in these places you'll need to bring your own bottle opener and glasses. Fancier places charge $20-50, although many offer free corkage days on Monday or Tuesday.
The tipple of choice in Singapore is the local beer, Tiger. Some may find it a rather bland lager, though. Tourists flock to the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel to sample the original Singapore Sling, a sickly sweet pink mix of pineapple juice, gin and more, but locals (almost) never touch the stuff.
Tobacco is heavily taxed, and you are not allowed to bring more than one opened pack (not carton, but single pack!) of cigarettes into the country. This is particularly strictly enforced on the land borders with Malaysia. Many public places have restrictions on smoking, and it is prohibited in public transport as well.
Prostitution is tolerated in six designated districts, including Geylang, which — not coincidentally — also offers some of the cheapest lodging in the city. The industry maintains a low profile (no go-go bars here) and is not a tourist attraction by any stretch of the word. Legally practising commercial sex workers are required to register with the authorities and attend special clinics for regular sexually transmitted disease screening. However, please be prudent and practice safe sex.
Orchard Towers, on Orchard Road, has been famously summarized as "four floors of whores" and, despite occasional crackdowns by the authorities, continues to live up to its name. Beware that the prostitutes working here are usually not registered (and many of the women are transsexuals, check/feel for the crotchbulge and/or the adamsapple), so the risk of theft and STDs is significantly higher. But there's a high possibility of getting free hookers if you're decently attractive and joke around a bit with them (a certain individual even got them to pay for drinks and the cab fare home!)
Accommodation in Singapore is expensive by South-East Asian standards, although a recent government push for more hostels and low-priced hotels may alleviate the situation a little.
Cheap hotels are clustered in the Geylang and Balestier districts, where they service mostly the type of customer who rents rooms by the hour. Prices start as low as $15 for a "transit" of a few hours and $40 for a full night's stay.
Much of Singapore's mid-range accommodation is in rather featureless but functional older hotels, with a notable cluster near the western end of the Singapore River. There has, however, been a recent surge of "boutique" hotels in renovated shophouses here and in Chinatown and these can be pretty good value, with rates starting from $100/night.
Singapore has a wide selection of luxury accommodation, including the famed Raffles Hotel. You will generally be looking at upwards of $200 for a room in a five-star hotel, which is still a pretty good deal by most standards. The largest hotel clusters can be found by the riverside (good for sightseeing) and around Orchard Road (good for shopping).
Apartment hotels in Singapore include Ascott , which also operates under the Somerset brand. Prices are competitive with hotels but quite expensive compared to apartments.
Renting an apartment in Singapore will generally require a working visa. Well over 80% of Singaporeans live in government-subsidized Housing Development Board (HDB) flats, but their availability to visitors is limited, although JTC's SHiFT  scheme makes some available with monthly rents in the $700-1000 range. Most expats, however, turn to private housing blocks known as condos, where an average three-bedroom apartment will cost you anything from $1000 for an older apartment in the suburbs to well north of $5000 for a top-of-the-line deluxe penthouse on Orchard Road. Most condos have facilities like pools, gyms and 24-hour security. As the supply of studio and one-bedroom apartments is very limited, most people on a budget make do by sharing an apartment with friends or just renting a single room. Landed houses, known as bungalows, are incredibly expensive in the centre (rents are regularly measured in tens of thousands) but can drop if you're willing to head out into the woods — and remember that you can drive across the country in 30 minutes.
One or two-month security deposits are standard practice and, for monthly rents of under $2500, you must pay the agent a commission of two weeks' rent. (For more expensive apartments, the landlord pays the commission.) Leases are usually for two years, with a "diplomatic clause" that allows you to terminate after one year. Singapore Expats  is the largest real estate agency geared for expats and their free classifieds are a popular choice for hunting for rooms or apartmentmates.
Singapore's universities are generally well-regarded and draw exchange students from near and far.
Casual work is nearly impossible to come by, as you must have a work permit (WP) or employment pass (EP) to work in Singapore. In practice, receiving one requires that you have a firm job offer and the sponsoring company applies on your behalf. If you have the right skills then getting a job in Singapore is straightforward enough. However, when the employment is terminated, you will get a social visit pass (a visitors visa with no employment rights) which allows you to stay for no longer than 14 days. You can look for another job during this time, but don't overstay your visa, and do not think about working without the right papers, this will result in a short stay in the local prison, with added fines, possibly caning and certain deportation. For more information, contact the Ministry of Manpower .
Once you have been working in Singapore for a year or so, applying for permanent residence (PR) is fairly straightforward. If granted — and the rule of thumb is, the higher your salary, the more likely you are to get it — you can stay in Singapore indefinitely and can change jobs freely, although every five to ten years you will need to reapply for a re-entry permit (and prove that you have been gainfully employed), which allows you to travel out of Singapore and return as a PR.
As major international cities go, Singapore is one of the safest in terms of crime and personal safety, through swift dispensation of heavy penalties for all sort of offenses.
Note that there is strict enforcement of rules against activities that are tolerated in other countries. For example, jay-walking, spitting, littering, and drinking and eating on public transport are prohibited. Locals joke about Singapore being a fine city because heavy fines are levied if caught committing an offense. Look around for sign boards detailing the Don'ts and the fines associated with these offenses and heed them. Chewing gum, famously long banned, is now available at pharmacies if you ask for it directly, show your ID and sign the register, and you may also bring "personal use" quantities into the country.
While T-shirts sport the slogan Singapore is a Fine City, police are not hiding around every corner ready to jump out and plaster you with tickets. Fines are there as a preventive measure and for the most part they work and mean that Singapore is a very safe and clean place.
For some crimes, most notably illegal entry and overstaying your visa for over 90 days, Singapore imposes caning as a punishment. This is no slap on the wrist: strokes from the thick rattan cane are excruciatingly painful, take weeks to heal and scar for life.
Homosexual contact is illegal with possible punishment of life in prison and/or caning. Although laws against gay sex (and oral sex, if not followed by traditional sex) are rarely enforced, they remain enshrined in Singapore laws, and gays should expect legalized discrimination and unaccepting attitudes from locals and government officials.
Tap water is safe for drinking and sanitation standards are very high. As a tropical country, Singapore is hot and humid so drink a lot of water. The lowest temperature ever recorded in Singapore was way back in 1934, when it hit a low of 19.4 degrees Celsius.
Malaria is not an issue, but dengue fever is endemic to the region. Singapore maintains strict mosquito control (leaving standing water around will get you fined), but the government's reach does not extend into the island's nature reserves, so if you're planning on hiking bring along mosquito repellent.
The standard of medical care in Singapore is uniformly excellent and Singapore is a popular destination for medical tourism (and medical evacuations) in the region. Prices are generally lower than in the West at both public and private clinics, making this a good place to get your jabs and tabs if heading off into the jungle elsewhere. You'll still want to make sure your insurance is in order before a prolonged hospitalization and/or major surgery.
Nearly all shopping centers, hotels, bus interchanges, and hawker centers are likely to have public restrooms/toilet facilities available. Being clean, McDonald's restrooms are popular too, and the staff do not make a fuss. Public facilities may charge 10 to 20 cents per entry, and a packet of tissue may come in handy if the toilet paper has run out. Most toilets use bowls, but there is usually one squatting cubicle in every public toilet.
When it comes to getting on/off the MRT be prepared for a lot of pushing (even just to get off), and everyone racing for the empty seat. This is normal, despite the signs asking people to be a little more courteous. Just go with the flow.
The local dialect with its heavy Chinese influences may appear brusque or even rude to the native English speaker, but "You want beer or not?" is in fact more polite in Chinese -- after all, the person asking you the question is offering you a choice, not making a demand!
Beware of taboos if bringing gifts. Any food products involving animals may cause offense and are best avoided, as are white flowers (usually reserved for funerals). Knives and clocks are also symbols of cutting ties and death, respectively, and some Chinese are superstitious about the number four.
Singaporeans are punctual, so show up on time. The standard greeting is a firm handshake. However, conservative Muslims avoid touching the opposite sex, so a man meeting a Malay woman should let her offer her hand first and a woman meeting a Malay man should wait for him to offer his hand. If they opt to place their hand on the heart and bow slightly instead, just follow suit.
For men, standard business attire is a long-sleeved shirt and a tie, although it's common to skip the tie and open the shirt's collar button instead. Jackets are rarely worn, because it's simply too hot most of the time. Women usually wear Western business attire, although a few prefer Malay-style kebaya and sarong.
Business cards are always exchanged when meeting for the first time: hold yours by the top corners, so the text faces the recipient, while simultaneously receiving theirs. (This sounds more complicated than it is!) Study the cards you receive and feel free to ask questions; when finished, place them on the table in front of you, not in a shirt pocket or wallet, and do not write on them or otherwise show disrespect.
Business gifts are generally frowned on as they whiff of bribery. Smalltalk and beating around the bush is neither necessary nor expected, and most meetings get straight down to business.
Public phones can be found all across the island. They are either coin-operated pay phones (10 cents for a three-minute local call), card phones operated by phone cards in denominations of $3, $5, $10, $20 and $50, or credit card phones. Phone cards are available at all post offices and from phonecard agents. Most coin-operated pay phones are for local calls only, there are some which accept coins of larger denominations and can be used for overseas calls. Credit card phones are usually found at the airport or in some major hotels.
International dialing To make an IDD call from Singapore, dial the access code 001 (for SingTel), 002 (for M1), and 008 (for StarHub), followed by the country code, area code and party's number. Recently the providers have started offering cheaper rates for calls using Internet telephony routes. The access codes for this cheaper service are 019 and 013 (budget calls) for Singtel and 018 for Starhub.
Calling cards are also available for specific international destinations and are usually cheaper. Hello Card from Singtel offers a very cheap rate to 8 countries (Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand).
Mobile phones are carried by almost everyone in Singapore (including some young children!). Prepaid SIM cards are available from the three main telecommunication providers and are sold in 7-Eleven convenience stores and phone shops, just bring your own GSM 900 or GSM 1800 phone (or buy a cheap used phone in Singapore). You will need to show ID. A local phone call costs between 5-25 cents per minute, whereas each local text message (SMS) costs about 5 cents (international SMS cost about 15-25 cents). You may also be charged for incoming calls. Details can be found at the three telecommunications providers' website listed above.
Internet cafes are scattered about the island, but not particularly common since almost all locals have at least dial-up access, and most have high-speed access at home, work, and/or school. However, public libraries offer cheap Internet access. If you have your own laptop or PDA, free e.g. at McDonald's  (with registration) or comparatively inexpensive WLAN (WiFi) is increasingly common at many cafes. Commercial WLAN providers include Starhub, a member of the Wireless Broadband Alliance with hotspots at Coffee Bean cafes, and Singtel, which has hotspots at most Starbucks cafes. Roaming or prepaid rates are on the order of $0.10/minute.
Embassies, high commissions and consulates
Singapore is a good place to collect visas for the region. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs  maintains a complete searchable database of diplomatic institutions.
Singaporeans are particular about their hair and there is no shortage of fancy hair salons charging from $20 up for the latest Chinese popstar look. If you are willing to splurge, there is Passion Hair Salon at Palais Renaissance with celebrity hairstylist David Gan doing the haircut. Salon Le Point at Ngee Ann City offers haircuts up to S$500. The middle range hair salons located in town or in the heartlands, offer haircuts with hair wash as well as other frills. Chains include Supercuts and Toni and Guy salong located all over Singapore. For a more backpacker-friendly price, every shopping mall in Singapore has a branch of EC House  or one of its many imitators, offering 10-minute haircuts for $10. Most HDB estates have barbershops which charge $8 to $10 for adults and less for students and children.
Laundromats are few and far between in Singapore, but full-service laundry and dry cleaning shops can be found in every shopping mall. Unfortunately turnaround times are usually upwards of three days unless you opt for express service. Hotels can provide one-day laundry (at a price), whereas hostels often have communal self-service washing machines.
Practically every shopping mall has photo shop that will process film, print digital pictures and take passport photos. Many self-service kiosks which print digital photos from CD-rom, SD-card, USB drive, etc., are available, though their locations are rather unpredictable.
The Singapore Sports Council  runs a chain of affordable sports facilities. Facilities are somewhat sparse but prices are unbeatable, with eg. swimming pools charging $1 for entry and access to ClubFITT gyms only $2.50. The main downside is the inconvenient location of most facilities out in the suburbs and an inexplicable ban on bringing any reading material! (MP3 players are OK.)
Major private gym chains include California Fitness , Fitness First  and Planet Fitness . Facilities are better and locations more central, but the prices are also much higher as non-members have to fork out steep day pass fees (around $40). If you're staying around for a while, Planet Fitness can arrange a membership for as little as one month, but the others require at least a 3-month commitment.
Singapore makes a good base for exploring South-East Asia, with nearly all of the region's countries and their main tourist destinations — Bangkok, Phuket, Angkor Wat, Ho Chi Minh City and Bali, just to name a few — under two hours away by plane.
For day or weekend trips from Singapore, the following are popular: