Singapore is probably Southeast Asia’s cleanest and most disciplined country. Everything is timed and measured, and the feeling of security you get when you walk through even its unknown alleyways is different from when you venture out on your own in any other place this part of the planet.
Since it’s a small country (Manila, the capital of the Philippines, is bigger) with an obvious bias toward anything Western, it’s very easy to find your way with just a metro ticket and a tattered map. So you wanna visit Singapore? Get those backpacks ready as we say a big “Hello le!” to this wonderful city-state.
1. Pay attention. Do you remember the saying, “When in Rome, do what the Romans do”? It never gets any true-r than that when you’re in Singapore. If ever you’ve read that bit on a tourist being jailed for chewing gum or vandalizing, then you better pay attention and follow the rules. After all, it never hurts to wait for the pedestrian light to give the go signal, especially when you do your shopping along the famous Orchard Road, or to throw your trash in the proper containers.
2. Hear. Singaporeans speak Singlish, their own kind of English. The accent is a cross between Chinese, Malay and English, so people not accustomed to hearing other varieties of the language must be more patient in trying to understand what the locals are trying to say. To their credit, Singaporeans are very hospitable and would be more than willing to repeat what they have said if only to make you understand.
3. Get lost. In a country so orderly, getting lost seems to be a difficult task… which makes getting lost even more interesting! Try exploring places with minimal help from your city map: the small streets in Little India with its vast array of restaurants that serve curry and shops that sell spices, the quaint alleyways in Chinatown lined with souvenir shops, Chinese items and watering holes, and the bazaars in the Arab Quarters with their exotic perfumes, handicrafts and fabrics. Enter the numerous Buddhist and Hindu temples, and Moslem mosques that pepper the city. It’s an experience you will never forget.
4. Chomp. Since many cultures converge in this country, the place boasts of a wide array of cuisine to suit your palate. For adventure lovers, a plate of curry might make your day. You can also go for the honeyed chicken biryani that is served in the Arab Quarters, or some noodles and seafood in Chinatown. You can also go to Clark Quay where international restaurants abound, or simply opt for a McDonald’s or Burger King in one of the city’s many shopping malls.
5. Cruise. Singapore used to be a fishing village before Ruffles arrived in the country, so it’s no wonder that a river cuts across its central business district. Go for a 30-minute cruise for S$15 (if I remember it correctly). The best time to do so is at night when the skyscrapers are all lit up. The boat would even take you to the Merlion, Singapore’s most recognizable symbol, with a lavish hotel as its background, and the Esplanade, Singapore’s answer to the Sydney Opera.
Marlon’s Singapore Route (1-2): It’s a small city which can be explored easily, even without an itinerary. If you want to go to Sentosa, the country’s famed leisure resort, it’s best to reserve one whole day for that. During the summer months, the period from 1 to 4 PM is very hot, so you might want to squeeze in your visit to the shopping malls around that time to avoid the heat.
Marlon’s Budget Tip: Ask your hotel or hostel if they have any SG card to spare. It’s the transportation card you acquire at S$7 that allows you to travel throughout the island. The money serves as your deposit and will be returned to you once you surrender the card. To avoid the hassle of returning it to the metro office, some hostels have cards ready for their guests, which the guests would have to load themselves and return to the hostels when they check out.