Singapore Destination Guide
The 4 official languages of Singapore reflect its diversity: English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. It's a little cultural microcosm of Asia. There are more than 5 million in this city state – which includes 63 islands – at the tip of the Malay Peninsula. Yet, the streets are clean, the buildings gleam and traffic jams are non-existent. More than 50 per cent of its area is parks and this 'garden city' is known for its top shopping and fine food. Singapore is also a major global finance, logistics and travel hub. Only just north of the Equator, there a no distinct seasons here – it's pretty much sunny, with a heavy shower or 2, each day.
The landscaped, cage-free Singapore Zoo is a premier attraction. Spread across 26 hectares, more than 2,800 animals live at the zoo, famed as one of the prettiest in the world. Those visitors who don't have the zoo on their list of things to do in Singapore may well be planning to shop. Orchard Road is comparable with New York's Fifth Avenue or Tokyo's Ginza when it comes to retail therapy. If you're a history buff, the Asian Civilisations Museum has very well put together thematic galleries exploring more traditional aspects of Asian culture, religion and society. If you're wanting to make the most of the climate, heading over to one of the 3 beaches on Sentosa (an island just off the southern coast of Singapore) is also popular.
Singapore does more than a sling. Singapore restaurants are famed for their fare. A blend of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Western influences make for gastronomic treats. Being a maritime city, Singapore does seafood well and its most famous dish is probably chilli crab. You can also find Michelin-starred tapas at 'Esquina' and a fun crowd at The Cufflink Club. Fine dining at a modest price can be enjoyed at The Clan Restaurant too. If you want to try all sorts of everything, cheaply, under one roof – find a hawker centre. A British import continued by the locals is high tea, with a fabulous spread at Raffles Hotel among the offerings.
There's always a high season here so booking Singapore accommodation well in advance is advisable. The high turnover of business guests can mean this can be a tough town if you're looking for budget properties but they do exist; primarily in Little India, Bugis and Clarke Quay. Mid-range hotels cluster near the western end of the Singapore River and you'll find a few boutique properties in Chinatown and Tanjong Pagar too. The most choice is at the luxury end of the spectrum and anyone who's anyone has heard of Raffles Hotel. If you're on a romantic break or are looking for a family-friendly resort, you might like to try Sentosa Island.
What's not to buy? Shopping in Singapore is almost a national pastime. Ann Siang Road is a designer fashion hub with patisseries and niche bookshops. Little India draws a mixed crowd (and includes the shopping hot spot Mustafa Centre) and Singapore's Chinatown is one of Asia's most dynamic. For a whopping 333+ high fashion stores and restaurants, ION Orchard is it. Haji Lane is a vintage-lovers dream but the mother of all Singapore shopping is to be had on Orchard Road. This is a meticulously landscaped, 2.2 kilometres of 6 department stores, 22 malls and close to 5,000 brands.
Singapore like a Local
If you're invited to a Singaporean's home, be sure to take off your shoes before entering. If you bring a gift, it's local custom to open a gift in private, not in front of the person who gave it to you. When choosing a gift, know white flowers are usually reserved for funerals and clocks are also a symbol of death. Conversely, visitors shouldn't be offended at the swastikas seen in Buddhist and Hindu temples – it's regarded as a religious symbol and is not related to Nazism or anti-Semitism.