Singapore

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Introduction to Singapore

Singapore has traded in its rough-and-ready opium dens and pearl luggers for towers of concrete and glass, and its steamy rickshaw image for hi-tech wizardry, but you can still recapture the colonial era with a gin sling under the languorous ceiling fans at Raffles Hotel.

At first glance, Singapore appears shockingly modern and anonymous, but this is an undeniably Asian city with Chinese, Malay and Indian traditions from feng shui to ancestor worship creating part of the everyday landscape. It's these contrasts that bring the city to life.

One day you're in a hawker stall melting over a bowl of Indian curry, the next you're enjoying high tea in whispered environs complete with air-con, starched linen table cloths and gliding waiters. Super-safe and mega-clean Singapore may be, but its sultry rhythms wash inexorably beneath the regimented beat of big-city life.

In the crowded streets of Chinatown, fortune tellers, calligraphers and temple worshippers are still a part of everyday life. In Little India, you can buy the best sari material, freshly ground spices or a picture of your favourite Hindu god. In the small shops of Arab St, the cry of the imam can be heard from the nearby Sultan Mosque.

Area: 683 sq km

Population: 4 million

Country: Singapore

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +8 (Standard Time)

Telephone Area Code: There are no area codes in Singapore; just dial the eight-digit number.

Orientation

Singapore is a city, an island and a country. Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore on the Singapore River, which is still the heart of the city, encompassing the central business district and the popular entertainment and dining precinct along the quays. Most of Singapore's tourist action is centred around Orchard Rd, Chinatown and Little India.

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Traveler Facts

Not Available

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Events

The multicultural people of Singapore celebrate with the roar of a Chinese dragon at New Year, feasting for the living and the dead and dancing with the fervour of religious passion. Every phase of the lunar cycle brings a new opportunity for colour and festivity.

Because they follow the lunar calendar, the dates of Chinese, Hindu and Muslim festivals vary from year to year. Chinese New Year, in January or February, is welcomed in with dragon dances, parades and much good cheer. Chinatown is lit up with fireworks and night markets. Vesak Day in May celebrates Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death. It is marked by various events, including the release of caged birds to symbolise the liberation of captive souls. The Dragon Boat Festival, held in May or June, commemorates the death of a Chinese patriot who drowned himself as a protest against government corruption. It is celebrated with boat races across Marina Bay, accompanied by much eating of rice dumplings.

The Chinese Festival of the Hungry Ghosts is usually celebrated in September. This is when the souls of the dead are released for feasting and entertainment on earth. Chinese operas are performed for them and food is offered; the ghosts eat the spirit of the food but thoughtfully leave the substance for the mortal celebrants. During Ramadan, food stalls are set up in the evening in the Arab St district, near the Sultan Mosque. Hari Raya Puasa, the end of Ramadan in November, is marked by three days of joyful celebrations. The festival of Thaipusam is one of the most dramatic Hindu festivals and is now banned in India. Devotees honour Lord Subramaniam with acts of amazing body-piercing - definitely not for the squeamish. In Singapore, devotees march in procession from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Serangoon Rd to the Chettiar Hindu Temple on Tank Rd. Dates for the festival vary according to the lunar calendar.

Public Holidays

1 Jan - New Year's Day

Jan/Feb - Chinese New Year

Feb/Mar - Hari Raya Haji

Mar/Apr - Good Friday

1 May - Labour Day

May - Vesak Day

9 Aug - National Day

Oct - Deepavali

25 Dec - Christmas Day

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Best time to Visit

Go anytime. Climate is not a major consideration, as Singapore gets fairly steady annual rainfall. Co-ordinate your visit with one of the various festivals and events: Thaipusam is a spectacular festival, occurring around February. If shopping and eating are major concerns, April brings the Singapore Food Festival and the Great Singapore Sale is held in June.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Singapore Dollar

Tipping is not expected but is growing as a practice in Singapore: more expensive hotels and restaurants may impose a 10% service charge, and a gratuity is not expected in excess of this. Don't tip at hawker stalls, though the more expensive coffee shops and restaurants that do not add a service charge may expect a tip. Taxi drivers don't expect a tip and may actually round a fare down if it is a little bit above an even dollar similarly, they may expect you to round it up. Staff in the international hotels, such as room staff or the doorman who hails your taxi, may expect a tip if they have provided good service.

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Attractions

Arab St

The Muslim centre of Singapore is a traditional textile district, full of batiks from Indonesia, silks, sarongs and shirts. Add to this mix rosaries, flower essences, hajj caps, songkok hats, basketware and rattan goods, and you have a fair idea of the products haggled over in this part of the city. The grand Sultan Mosque is the biggest and liveliest mosque in Singapore, but the tiny Malabar Muslim Jama-ath Mosque is the most beautiful. There's fine Indian Muslim food along nearby North Bridge Rd and the foodstalls on Bussorah St are especially atmospheric at dusk during Ramadan.

Chinatown

Chinatown is Singapore's cultural heart and still provides historic glimpses with its numerous temples, decorated terraces and its frantic conglomeration of merchants, shops and activity. Gentrified restaurants and expensive shops are gradually overtaking the venerable incense-selling professions.

Colonial Singapore

The mark of Sir Stamford Raffles is indelibly stamped on central Singapore. By moving the business district south of the river and making the northern area the administrative centre, Raffles created the framework that remained the blueprint for central Singapore through generations of colonial rule and the republican years of independence. Places of interest include: Empress Place Building, an imposing Victorian structure, built in 1865, that houses a museum, art and antique galleries and a chic restaurant; the incongruous Padang, where flannelled cricketers once caught, bowled and batted in the searing heat; Raffles Hotel, a Singaporean institution which has become a byword for oriental luxury; and any number of imposing churches, such as St Andrew's Cathedral and the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.

Jurong

Jurong Town is a huge industrial and housing area that is the powerhouse of Singapore's economy. This might seem an unlikely spot for a number of Singapore's tourist attractions but it is home to the Haw Par Villa (an incredibly tacky Chinese mythological theme park) and some beautiful parks.

Little India

This modest but colourful area of wall-to-wall shops, pungent aromas and Hindi film music is a relief from the prim modernity of much of the city. It's the place to come to pick up that framed Ganesha print you've always wanted, eat great vegetarian food and watch streetside cooks fry chapatis.

Orchard Rd

Dominated by high-class hotels this is the playground of Singapore's elite, who are lured by the shopping centres, nightspots, restaurants, bars and lounges. A showcase for the material delights of capitalism, Orchard Rd does possess some sights of cultural interest where credit cards stay sheathed.

Sentosa Island

The granddaddy of Singapore's parks, Sentosa Island is the city-state's most visited attraction. It has museums, aquariums, beaches, sporting facilities, walks, rides and food centres. If one day isn't enough for all the sites and activities, Sentosa has a camping ground, hostel and luxury hotels.

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Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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