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Singapore . . .officially the Republic of Singapore, lies about one degree of latitude north of the equator. To me that’s close enough to “sitting on the Equator”. And at certain times of the year, it feels it: while the actual temperature never gets excessive (to a West Australian born on the edge of the desert), the humidity is a force to be reckoned with. Of course, it presents visitors and residents alike with a good reason to drink . . . lots . . . and often. It’s no coincidence the nation is immortalised in the iconic “Singapore Sling”, developed in response to thirsty foreigners by an enterprising bartender at the famour Raffles Hotel . . . or so the story goes. It is potent alcoholic mix of cherry brandy, gin, cointreau, grenadine and Dom Benedictine, topped off with lime and pineapple juice . . . or at least, that’s the “official” word of the Raffles this day and age. Arguments abound around the peripheries of the concoction, but the basics are pretty well settled. And it’s delicious, and cooling, and simply irrestible in the humidity.
Singapore has the second highest population density in the world, but I’ve felt more crowded in Paris at the height of tourist season, or Dubrovnik in the peak of summer (post Crown of Thorns. What is it with people who travel halfway around the world just for a selfie near a wall that featured in a tv show?).I’ve queued for hours to get into the Empire State Building (a childhood dream, no queue was going to stop me), given up on waiting for entry to the Galata Tower in Istanbul (another childhood dream, but it’s on the list for next time . . . ), but never had to queue for more than a few minutes in Singapore . . . everything just seems so well organised. Of course, maybe we’ve just been lucky.
Singapore has around 5.7 million residents, speaking any of four official languages: English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil, with English being the lingua franca.
Multiracialism is enshrined in her constitution–that alone puts her higher in my esteem, but there’s so much more . . .
Singapore to me is a mix of the fast-paced ultra-modern and the slower-paced traditional . . . and everything in between. Her food is truly fantastic. Probably my favourite foodie destination in the world, tussling with Instanbul, Hong Kong and Vietnam.
The FREE nightly light-show at the Supertree Forest are unique and well worth experiencing. In fact, the whole Gardens By The Bay area is a must see, with the free light-shows later in the cooler evening.
The main tourist/business focused roads are interesting and always being redeveloped . . . but if you can be persuaded to walk off the beaten tourist path, you will see a slightly less-refined, slightly more real Singapore. The food is less tourist-oriented (and very often much cheaper), the shops are more “local”, and some of the more historic buildings off the main drag have managed to avoid being “developed” (knocked down and replaced). We always go walking off the tourist strip.
And speaking of walking off the tourist strip . . . do not pass up the chance to visit China Town and Little India. We always stay in China Town when we’re in Singapore, and we always spend days both there and in Little India. Did I mention how good the food in Singapore is? China Town has a street called “Food Street” . . . full of the most amazing restaurants and food stalls you can imagine. But just down from the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple there is a dull grey multi-storey building that looks like a 1970s carpark . . . with floors of food stalls. The ones the locals use. Check it out . . . do your taste-buds and your wallet a huge favour.
In fact, all visitors to Singapore should buy a good guide book and look up all the food markets . . . and then set about sampling them all. You never need eat expensively in Singapore unless you specifically choose to do so . . . and for the life of me, I cannot think of a single reason to do so. There are markets that specialise in breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner . . . and every minute in between. As they say, do yourself a favour.
A few final words on Singapore:
Singapore has a reputation as being a place the older folk visit. It has earned this reputation by way of its planning and immensely sensible infrastructure–public transport is soooo easy to navigate, shopping and eating are all soooo easily done without moving off the main roads, and every effort is made to treat older folk with care and respect. It’s an absolute no-brainer that it truly is a great place for the older folk to visit. But it’s not JUST a place for the older folk. There are any number of attractions for ANY age, if you look in the right places . . . and a good guide book and a little pre-trip research will show you that. So if you’re an older traveler, go for it. If you’re a younger traveler, or have kids, go for it too–there’s plenty for everyone.
Public Transport: everyone uses the underground trains, the MRT. There are stations everywhere, they’re all over the place. You can get anywhere. And they’re cheap, reliable, spotlessly clean, and nice and cool. They are a delight. Look into buying an EZ-Link card. But the underground trains are . . . well . . . underground much of the time. So we use the buses mostly: they’re above the ground !! . . . and you can see where you’re going. Much more interesting, and just as cheap, clean, reliable and cool. And the “oh look at THAT, stop the bus” situation becomes a possibility.
Temples and Mosques:
A good guide book is going to list a huge number of temples and Mosques scattered throughout Singapore. Most, if not all, permit visitor access at certain times of day. All are well worth a visit (I’m beginning to repeat myself . . . but it’s simply true). We have been made to feel welcome in so many different houses of worship in Singapore, and all that is asked in return is respectful behaviour, respectful dress, and a few points of etiquette (removal of footwear, no flash photography). Take the time to read up on each location beforehand and your visit to this fascinating city-state will be lifted well beyond that of the even slightly conservative tourist.
One last thing (I promise):
On our last visit to Singpore, I would go running at 4:30am every day. It was a magic time: the coolest time of day, still dark, and the only company would be a few shop-keepers taking delivery of stock, and the Cat Ladies. The Cat Ladies seem to be mainly older ladies who feed the local cats very early in the day. Every 100 metres or so down most streets and in the parks there’d be a small group of cats eating together, and always somewhere nearby would be a Cat Lady with a bag of food, moving on to the next feeding station. The ladies would mostly ignore the mad foreigner running along the dark streets, but occasionally I’d get a fleeting smile. I found something immensely humane and human and humbling in these ladies’ unselfish act toward the cats of Singapore. It is a totally selfless act, done more or less secretly, in no way seeking recognition or acclaim or reward, other than I guess the knowledge that one is doing something “good”. We could do with more Cat Ladies