Difference between revisions of "Singapore"
Revision as of 22:44, 29 January 2008
Singapore is an island-state in Southeast Asia, connected by bridges to Malaysia. 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 ship port. Combining the skyscrapers and subways of a modern, affluent city with a medley of Chinese, Indian and Malay 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 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 centre 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 . Most taxis carry a street directory, which can come in handy in the unlikely event that they don't know your destination. Many are now equipped with GPS navigation systems.
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 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. (There have never been any lions on Singapore, so the mysterious beast was more probably a tiger.) 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, eventually being absorbed into the Melaka Sultanate and later the Johor Sultanate.
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. 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, normally in the afternoons, so it's wise to carry an umbrella at all times, both as a shade from the sun or cover from the rain.
Between May and October, forest fires in neighboring Sumatra can also cause dense haze, although this is unpredictable and comes and goes rapidly: check the National Environment Agency's site  for current data.
The temperature averages around:
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.
Singapore is a secular city state but 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.
Due 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. Hippie types may expect a little extra attention from Customs, but getting a shave and a haircut is no longer a condition for entry.
Duty free allowances for alcohol are 1L of spirits, 1L of wine and 1L of beer per person. Alcohol may not be brought in by persons under the age of 18. 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. Pornography and pirated goods are also illegal.
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 took over Valuair. In addition to the locals, every carrier of any size in Asia offers flights to Singapore, and there are direct services to Europe, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, North America, and even South Africa. Within Asia, Singapore also has excellent connections to the more important cities, particularly those in Indonesia, Thailand, China and India.
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. The airport is split three main terminals (T1, T2 and T3) plus a dedicated Budget Terminal for low-cost airlines (currently only Tiger and Cebu Pacific).
Figuring out which terminal your flight arrives in or departs from can be complicated: for example, Singapore Airlines uses both T2 and T3, and only announces the arrival terminal two hours before landing. Fortunately transfers are quite easy, as the three main terminals are connected with the free Skytrain service, which can be used without passing through immigration. The Budget Terminal, on the other hand, can only be reached by a shuttle bus from the basement of T2.
Note that if one or more of your connecting flights arrives or departs at the Budget Terminal, no transfer facilities are available so you would have to go through arrival immigration and customs, re check-in your luggage and go through departure immigration so always give enough connection time, preferably at least 2-3 hours to complete the process. Those who require visas to enter Singapore must also ensure they have them before transferring to/from the Budget Terminal.
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".
Terminals T1, T2 and T3 all have airside (i.e., accessible without passing through immigration) transit hotels - 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  also offer a basic but functional gym with shower for $8.40 with a Singapore Airlines boarding pass. There are also SingTel and Starhub payphones that offer unlimited free local calls.
From the airport there are a number of ways to get into the city:
Seletar is Singapore's first civil aviation airport. While later airports like Kallang and Paya Lebar have been closed and turned into a military airbase respectively, Seletar is still in use to this day.
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.
Seletar is also Singapore's private aviation airport so if you own a private jet, you will most likely land here.
Singapore is linked by two land crossings to Peninsular Malaysia:
The Causeway is a very popular and thus terminally congested entry point connecting Woodlands in the north of Singapore directly into the heart of Johor Bahru. While congestion isn't as bad as it once was, the Causeway is still jam-packed on Friday evenings (towards Malaysia) and Sunday evenings (towards Singapore). The Causeway can be crossed by bus, train, taxi, car or foot.
A second crossing between Malaysia and Singapore, known as the Second Link, has been built between Tuas in western Singapore and Tanjung Kupang in the western part of Johor state. Much faster and less congested than the Causeway, it is used by some of the luxury bus services to Kuala Lumpur and is strongly recommended if you have your own car. There is no public transport across the Second Link, and only Malaysian "limousine" taxis are allowed to cross it (and charge RM150 and up for the privilege). Walking across is also not allowed, not that there would be any practical means to continue the journey from either end if you did.
Driving into Singapore with a foreign-registered car is rather complicated and expensive; see the Land Transport Authority's Driving Into & Out of Singapore guide for the administrative details. Peninsular Malaysia-registered cars need to show that they have valid road tax and Malaysian insurance coverage. Other foreign cars need a Vehicle Registration Certificate, Customs Document (Carnet), Vehicle Insurance purchased from a Singapore-based insurance company and an International Circulation Permit. All foreign registered cars and motorcycles can be driven in Singapore for a maximum of 10 days in each calendar year without paying Vehicle Entry Permit (VEP) fees, but after the 10 free days have been utilised, you will need to pay a VEP fee of up to $20/day.
Go through immigration first and get your passport stamped. Then follow the Red Lane to buy the AutoPass ($10) from the LTA office. At the parking area, an LTA officer will verify your car, road tax and insurance cover note and issue you a small chit of paper which you take to the LTA counter to buy your AutoPass and rent an In-vehicle Unit (IU) for road pricing charges (or opt to pay a flat $5/day fee instead). Once that is done, proceed to customs where you will have to open the boot for inspection. After that, you are free to go anywhere in Singapore. Any VEP fees, road pricing charges and tolls will be deducted from your AutoPass when you exit Singapore. This is done by slotting the AutoPass into the reader at the immigration counter while you get your passport stamped.
Driving into Malaysia from Singapore is relatively uncomplicated, although small tolls are charged for both crossing and (for the Second Link) the adjoining expressway. Do be sure to change some ringgit before crossing, as Singapore dollars are accepted only at the unfavorable rate of 1:1.
In both directions, note that rental cars will frequently ban or charge extra for crossing the border.
Direct to/from Malaysian destinations There are buses to/from Kuala Lumpur (KL) and many other destinations in Malaysia through the Woodlands Checkpoint and the Second Link at Tuas. Unfortunately, there is no central bus terminal and different companies leave from all over the city. Major operators include:
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 a direct "international bus" is to make the short hop to Johor Bahru to catch domestic Malaysian long-distance express buses to various Malaysian destinations from the Larkin Bus Terminal. Besides having more options, fares may also be lower because you will be paying in Malaysian ringgit rather than Singaporean dollars. The downside is the time-consuming hassle of 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.
Singapore is the southern terminus of Malaysia's Keretapi Tanah Melayu (Malayan Railway or KTMB)  network. It runs two day trains (the Ekspres Sinaran Pagi and Ekspres Rakyat) and a sleeper service (Ekspres Senandung Malam) daily from Kuala Lumpur. From Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, the Sinaran Pagi departs at 08:40, the Ekspres Rakyat at 13:00 and the Senandung Malam at 22:15. There is also a day train (the Lambaian Timur departing Singapore at 06:00) and sleeper (Ekspres Timuran departing at 18:15) daily along the "Jungle Railway" between Singapore and Tumpat, near Kota Bharu in the East Coast of Malaysia. 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.
The terminal station itself is quite simple, for instance when compared to KL Sentral from which many depart, consisting of an open air restaurant, a money changer, and a ticket counter. If you find yourself in need of an ATM upon arrival just grab a cab and the driver will take you by one, and trips into the city proper should cost but around SD10. The taxi stand is just out the station and to the right.
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:
Also note that you will not get a Malaysian entry stamp in your passport if you enter the country by train, so don't panic. Passports are checked (but not stamped) by Malaysian immigration before you enter the platform to board the train in Tanjong Pagar but you will only get a Singapore exit stamp at Woodlands station, about half-an-hour's journey away. Coming in from Malaysia, the situation is much more conventional - Malaysia stamps you out in Johor Bahru (you don't even need to get out of the train) and Singapore stamps you in at Woodlands (you will have to disembark and walk through immigration, though).
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.
Ferries link Singapore with neighbouring Indonesian province of Riau Islands, and the Malaysian state of Johor (regular ferry services to Tioman Island were discontinued late in 2003). Singapore has four ferry terminals which handle international ferries: HarbourFront (formerly World Trade Centre) near the southern part of the Central Business District, Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal on the East Coast, as well as Changi Ferry Terminal and Changi Point Ferry Terminal, at the eastern extremity of the island. 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:
To/from Batam: Ferries to/from Batam Centre, Batu Ampar (Harbour Bay), Sekupang and Waterfront City (Teluk Senimba) use HarbourFront FT, while ferries to/from Nongsapura use Tanah Merah FT. Operators at Harbourfront include:
At Tanah Merah:
To/from Bintan: All ferries for Bintan ports of the capital of Riau province Tanjung Pinang, Lobam and Bandar Bentan Telani in Lagoi (for Bintan Resorts) go to/from Tanah Merah. For Tanjung Pinang, there are total of 6 ferries a day, increasing to 9 during weekends. $25/35 one-way/return before taxes and surcharges. Operators include:
For Lobam, Penguin operates one or two ferries daily. No service on Sunday or public holidays. $25/35 one-way/return before taxes and surcharges.
For 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 Indonesian islands
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, Klang (Kuala Lumpur), Penang, Langkawi, Redang and Tioman in Malaysia, as well as Phuket, Krabi, Ko Samui and Bangkok in Thailand. There are also several cruises every year to Borneo (Malaysia), Sihanoukville (Cambodia), Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) and even some 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, the ez-link  farecard might be a worthwhile purchase. You can store value on it and use it on the MRT trains as well as all city buses at a 15% discount, and you get a $0.25 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 or 7-Eleven stores.
Alternatively, the Visitors Card  also includes ez-link card functionality and a variety of discounts for attractions; prices start at $45 for 3 days.
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.
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. 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). EZ-link cards (described above) are the easiest and most popular way to use the MRT. All lines are integrated, 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 typically have platform doors between the train and the platform so there is no risk of falling onto the tracks. The North-East line is fully automated, 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!
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 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 be charged the maximum fare! Inspectors occasionally prowl buses to check that everybody has paid.
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 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. If you are in a group of 3 or 4, it's sometimes cheaper and faster to take a taxi than the MRT.
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/CityCab at 6552-1111, SMRT at 6555-8888, 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.
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. That being said, roads in Singapore are in excellent condition and driving habits are generally good with most people following the traffic rules due to stringent enforcement. International Driving Permits (IDPs) are accepted in Singapore for up to 3 months. 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. Note that the legal age for driving in Singapore is 18 - higher than that in neighbouring Malaysia and most Western countries (where it's 16). Don't drink and drive, especially late at night. Traffic police often set up road blocks after midnight to catch errant drivers with a breathalyser test, and if you fail it, you'll face heavy fines, possibly a jail term and you may even be barred from driving in Singapore again. If stopped for a traffic offense, don't even think about trying to bribe your way out.
Hitchhiking is almost unheard of in Singapore, and with the country's tiny size and cheap, efficient public transport, there really isn't any reason to even try.
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 handkerchief 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.
Singapore's other official languages are Mandarin Chinese and Tamil. Mandarin is spoken by most of the educated Singaporean Chinese while Tamil is spoken by most of the Indians. Various Chinese dialects (mostly Hokkien, though significant numbers also speak Teochew and Cantonese) are also spoken between ethnic Chinese of the same dialect group. 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, many shop signs and restaurant menus are still in traditional Chinese. This, in addition to the popularity of Hong Kong and Taiwanese pop culture and television serials, means that most Singaporean Chinese are also able to read traditional Chinese even if they cannot write it.
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 $70 even for a plain one-hour massage. Good spas can be found in most five-star hotels and on Orchard, and Sentosa's Spa Botanica also has a good reputation. There are also numerous shops offering traditional Chinese massage, which are mostly legit, and "health centres", which are mostly not.
On the cultural side of things, Singapore has been trying loosen up and attract more artists and performances. The star in Singapore's cultural sky is the Esplanade theatre by the Riverside, a world-class facility for performing arts like classical music and the home of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra ]. Pop culture options are more limited and Singapore's home-grown arts scene remains rather moribund, but any bands and DJs touring Asia are pretty much guaranteed to perform in Singapore. In summer, don't miss the yearly Singapore Arts Festival . Advance tickets for almost any cultural event can be purchased from SISTIC , either online or from any of their numerous ticketing outlets, including the Singapore Visitor Centre on Orchard Rd.
The Singaporean currency is the Singapore dollar, abbreviated SGD, S$ 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 pegged at par with the Singapore dollar and the two currencies can be used interchangeably in both countries, so don't be too surprised if you get a Brunei note as change. As of November 2007, one euro is worth about $2.10 and one US dollar is worth about $1.45.
Restaurants often display prices like $19.99++, which means that service charge (10%) and sales tax (7%) are not included and will be added to your bill. Tipping is generally not practised 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.
A refund of the 7% sales tax is available for visitors leaving Singapore by air subject to various conditions. Note that there is no provision for those who plan to leave Singapore by land or sea to get a GST refund.
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 under $5 for a 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 $300 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. Many stores along the shopping belt of Orchard Road and Scotts Road now offer late night shopping on the last Friday of every month with over 250 retailers staying open till midnight. Public transport operating hours are also be adjusted on these particular Fridays.
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.
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, 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 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 and Indian elements.
Besides these dishes, the Peranakans are also known or their kueh or snacks which are somewhat different from the Malay versions due to stronger Chinese influences.
Malay food originates largely from the migrants from present-day Indonesia. 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.
Malay desserts, especially the sweet pastries and jellies (kuih) 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:
Chinese food as eaten in Singapore commonly originates from southern China, particularly Fujian. While "authentic" fare is certainly available, especially in fancier restaurants, the daily fare served in hawker centres has absorbed a number of tropical touches, most notably the fairly heavy use of chilli and the Malay fermented shrimp paste belachan as condiments. Noodles can also be served not just in soup (湯 tang), but also "dry" (干 kan), meaning that your noodles will be served tossed with chilli and spices in one bowl, and the soup will come in a separate bowl.
The smallest of the area's minorities, 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 dosai, idli, sambar, and others, as well as north Indian meals including various curries, naan bread, and more. In addition, however, a number of Indian dishes have been "Singaporeanized" and adopted by the entire population, including:
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. However, be leery of overzealous pushers-cum-salesmen (especially at the Satay Club in Lau Pa Sat, and Newton Food Centre at Newton Circus) -- Check to see what is on offer.
To order, first chope (reserve) a table by parking a friend by the table, 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 da pao), in which case they'll pack up your order in a plastic box/bag and even throw in disposable utensils. Once finished, just get up and go, as tables are 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. Some of Singapore's favourite eating places (that are cheap and oh so good!) are located in the heartlands like Bedok, Toa Payoh or Geylang. And if you miss western food, Botak Jones  in several hawker centers offer reasonably authentic and generously sized American-restaurant style meals at hawker prices.
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 and up, whereas a teh tarik ("pulled" milky tea) (try it flavored with ginger)or kopi coffee 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, Carl's Jr., Burger King, KFC, MOS Burger, Dairy Queen, Orange Julius, Subway 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. While Chinese restaurant food is certainly closer to authentic Chinese fare than hawker food is, it too has not managed to escape local influences and you can find many dishes little seen in China. 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.
Singapore also has its share of good Western restaurants, with British and American influenced food being a clear favourite among locals. Most of the more affordable chains are concentrated around Orchard Road and prices are around $10-20 per person for the main course. French and Italian food is also readily available, though prices tend to be on the expensive side.
Thai and Japanese food are also rather popular among Singaporeans so such restaurants are widely available, though good Japanese food tends to come at a very high price. Good Thai food though, is available for reasonable prices and is very much worth a try.
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.
Singaporeans are big on buffets, especially international buffets offering a wide variety of dishes from Western to Chinese and Japanese as well as some local food at a fixed price. Popular chains include Sakura , Pariss  and Vienna .
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 for 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, the popular Banquet  chain of food courts is entirely halal and an excellent choice for safely sampling halal Chinese food. Many, if not all, of the Western fast-food chains in Singapore use halal meat: look for a certificate around the ordering area, or ask a manager if in doubt. A few restaurants skimp on the formal certification and simply put up "no pork, no lard" signs; it's your call if this is good enough for you.
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 artist 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. Two new additions to the night scene - St James Power Station and Ministry of Sound give party animals even more reason to dance the night away. 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. Note that in Singapore, the pronunciation of karaoke follows the Japanese "karah-oh-kay" instead of the Western "carry-oh-key".
Alcohol is widely available but is more expensive than in many other industrialized countries like Japan and Australia 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.
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 while cocktails would usually be in the $15-25 range. On the upside, happy hours and two-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.
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. The tipple of choice in Singapore is the local beer, Tiger, a rather ordinary lager. To sample speciality beers, head to Brewerkz at Riverside Point or Paulaner Brauhaus, a German microbrewery at Millenia Walk.
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 including hawker centres have restrictions on smoking, and it is prohibited in public transport as well. There is a total ban on smoking in all air-conditioned places, and strict limitations on where you can smoke outside as well (eg. bus stops and all except the designated sections of hawker centres are off limits). The designated zone should be marked with a yellow outline, and may have a sign reading "smoking zone".
Prostitution is tolerated in six designated districts, most notably 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--although most sex workers will insist on it anyway.
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, so the risk of theft and STDs is significantly higher, and not a few of the "women" are actually transsexuals.
Accommodation in Singapore is expensive by South-East Asian standards. Particularly in the higher price brackets, demand has been outstripping supply recently, but cheap hotels and hostels remain affordable and available.
Cheap hotels are clustered in the Geylang, Balestier and Little India 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. A few budget hotel chains of note include:
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 $300 for a room in a five-star hotel, which is still a pretty good deal by most standards. Hotel rates fluctuate quite a bit: a large conference can double prices, while on weekends in the off season heavy discounts are often available. 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. While over 80% of Singaporeans live in government-subsidized Housing Development Board (HDB) flats, 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 $2,000 per month for an older apartment in the suburbs to $20,000 for a top-of-the-line deluxe one on Orchard Road. Most condos have facilities like pools, gyms, tennis court, carpark and 24-hour security. As the supply of studio and one-bedroom apartments is very limited, most people on a budget share an apartment with friends or colleagues, or just sublet 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 need to pay the agent a commission of 2 weeks per year of lease. 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 apartment-mates. You might also want to check the classified ads in the local newspapers.
Singapore's universities are generally well-regarded and draw exchange students from near and far.
A number of foreign universities, business schools and specialized institutes have also setup their Asian campuses in Singapore.
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 a work permit requires that you have a firm job offer and the sponsoring company applies on your behalf; however, highly skilled people can apply for an Employment Pass Eligibility Certificate (EPEC), which allows you to stay in Singapore for a maximum of one year while you look for a job.
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 (as long as you can show some income every 5-10 years) and can change jobs freely.
Singapore is one of the safest major cities in the world in terms of crime and personal safety. Most people, including single female travellers, will not face any problems walking along the streets alone at night. Nevertheless, as with any other city, one should still use some commonsense and avoid areas that look particularly deserted. In addition, while there is no need to be paranoid, one should still be wary of pickpockets in crowded areas.
Singapore's squeaky cleanliness is achieved in part by strict 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 one is caught committing an offence. Look around for sign boards detailing the Don'ts and the fines associated with these offenses, and heed them. Enforcement is however sporadic at best, and it is a common sight to see locals openly litter, spit, smoke in non-smoking zones, etc. Chewing gum, famously long banned, is now available at pharmacies for medical purposes (e.g. nicotine gum) if you ask for it directly, show your ID and sign the register. (Importing it is, theoretically, still an offense though.)
For some crimes, most notably illegal entry and overstaying your visa for over 90 days, Singapore imposes caning as a punishment. Other offenses which have caning as a punishment include vandalism (just ask Michael P. Fay), robbery, molestation and rape. Do note that having sex with a girl under the age of 16 is considered to be rape under Singapore law, regardless of whether the girl consents to it and would land you a few strokes of the cane. This is no slap on the wrist: strokes from the thick rattan cane are excruciatingly painful, take weeks to heal and scar for life.
Singapore also continues to uphold the death penalty for crimes such as murder, kidnapping, unauthorised possession of firearms and drug trafficking.
Oral and anal sex, long banned under colonial-era sodomy statutes, was legalized for heterosexuals in October 2007. Homosexual contact, however, remains illegal, with a theoretical punishment of life in prison and/or caning. Though this law is rarely enforced and there is a fairly vibrant gay community, gays should still expect legalized discrimination and unaccepting attitudes from locals and government officials.
Be aware of illicit activities in Geylang and surrounding areas. Open gambling (which is illegal) and petty crime are common.
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 (66.9 degrees Fahrenheit.)
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. Despite the lower prices, standards are often as good as those 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, MRT stations, 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.
Casual conversation — for example, greeting a shopkeeper — isn't really done in Singapore, and you may get strange looks if you try. No offense is intended, Singaporeans are just protective of their personal space and showing courtesy by trying not to impose on others. Furthermore, the local dialect with its heavy Chinese influences may appear brusque or even rude, 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!
At rush hour, be prepared for a lot of pushing on the MRT (even just to get off) and everyone racing for the empty seat. This is normal, despite signs asking people to be a little more courteous. Just go with the flow.
Beware of taboos if bringing gifts. Any products (food or otherwise) involving animals may cause offence 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. Many Singaporean Muslims and some Hindus abstain from alcohol.
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 with both hands 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 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 many 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 900/1800 (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. All 3 service providers have both GSM 900/1800 and 3G (W-CDMA) networks and roaming onto these may be possible, subject to agreements between operators.
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.
The first phase of the nationwide free Wireless@SG system is now operating and visitors are free to use the system, although they must register and receive a password via e-mail or a mobile phone first. See the Infocomm Development Authority website  for a current list of hotspots. Commercial alternatives include McDonalds, which offers free WLAN at most outlets; 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 (hairstylist of Zhang Ziyi and other famous celebrities) doing the haircut. Le Salon at Ngee Ann City offers haircuts up to S$2000. 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 salons 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 fuss-free 10-minute haircuts for $10, although the hairdressers are mostly happy to spend as long as necessary on your hair, within reasonable limits. 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 a photo shop that will process film, print digital pictures and take passport photos. Many pharmacies and supermarkets also have self-service kiosks which print digital photos from CD, SD-card, USB drive, etc.
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.
Some of the parks  offer rental of bicycles and inline skates ($3-6/hour, open till 8pm). Especially rewarding for skaters and cyclists is the 10 km long stretch along East Coast Park with a paved track and lots of rental shops, bars and cafes around the McDonalds. Along the track one can find toilets and showers. Furthermore every park has a couple of fitness stations.
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:
For those who can afford more time to travel, here are several destinations popular among Singaporeans: