South of the peninsula of Malaysia is this tiny island called Singapore. I remember when I was a young lad, and they taught in history classes about how Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore in 1819.
Since then, the city-state has become one of the 1st world countries with skyscrapers, subways, vibrant night life, plethora of tasty local food influenced by multi cultures, some interesting sights, and of course lots of shopping.
Singapore is now one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. Continue reading to find out why?
Where is Singapore?
This island country is located one degree north of the equator. As mentioned earlier, it is situated at the southern tip of the Malayan Peninsula. To the south of Singapore is Indonesia with its Riau Islands.
Most people usually see Singapore as just one island. But she actually comprises of that one island with 62 other islets.
Races, Culture & Religion
Since young, it was clear to me that we lived in a multi-racial society. There are Chinese, Malay, Indian and many other races here. The Chinese is about 75% of the population. The Malay is about 14%. Indians are about 9%. The rest are an exciting mix of many other cultures such as the Eurasians who are a mix of European and Asian races.
There are also many other people from other countries such as from mainland China, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Filipinos, etc. Many are here as expatriates, having found work in Singapore.
Festivals and Public Holidays
Due to having so many races in this land, and being multicultural, Singapore is basically secular. At the same time, this island celebrates holidays and festivals from each culture and religion.
Here are some of the public holidays and festivals in Singapore:
1 January, New Year
Singapore celebrates with many parts of the world to welcome the New Year. There are many exciting events in various parts of the island. At the Marina Bay, there is the New Year Countdown. At Sentosa, there are the famous wet and wild foam parties. At these venues, awesome fireworks display announces the arrival of the new year.
Usually in February, Lunar New Year
This is the big festival for the Chinese. Not just in Singapore but anywhere in the world where there are Chinese.
The Chinese calendar is based on lunar cycles. As such, the new year arrives on a different date on the solar calendar for the Chinese. Usually, the Lunar New Year is in Feb but sometimes it arrives earlier in January, and can even be late and arrives in March.
The celebration lasts for 15 days but officially the public holidays lasts only 2 days. During these 2 days, Chinese families will visit each other to wish each other a very good and prosperous new year with the greeting – Gong Xi Fa Cai (恭喜发财).
There is so much more to talk about this festival, and I will write a blog post about this in the future.
Also, during Lunar New Year Celebrations are:
This is one of the highlights during the Lunar New Year celebrations. Held at the NS Square at the Marina Bay floating platform, this lively festival ushers in the Lunar New Year with song, dance, carnival games and more. It climaxes to pyrotechnics display to welcome the new year in bright and auspicious style. If you visit during this time, do not miss this exciting activity.
This is a vibrant and colourful parade that you must not miss if you are in town. There are bright lights, dazzling floats, lion dance and dragon dance troupes as well as performers to entertain everyone. This parade showcases the spectrum of Singaporean culture such as the Chinese, Malays, Indians, Eurasians, and many others.
Usually January or February, Thaipusam
This festival is a traffic stopper. A large and colourful procession of Hindu devotees seek blessings from their Lord Subramaniam, also known as Lord Murugan. Some participate to fulfil vows or offer thanks to their Lord who is known for virtue, youth, power and also the destroyer of evil. Some devotees carry milk pots, some pierce their tongues with skewers, and some carry a kavadi decorated with flowers and peacock feathers.
Usually in March or April, Good Friday
This is a relatively quiet celebration. Churches in Singapore will hold services that are short and solemn.
In contrast to Good Friday mentioned above, there is a little more festive activities during Easter Sunday. Churches would again have special services like sunrise services. Christians will gather for a meal. Hot cross buns, Easter eggs, chocolate eggs, chocolate rabbits, and various types of candies are popular during this time.
May 1, Labour Day
This is a public holiday in Singapore that began in 1960 where the workers are remembered for their contributions to the country. Again, it is also quietly celebrated. Most people simply enjoy the day off. At the same time, recently, there are more May Day (another term for Labour Day) celebrations organized for the workers to have fun and enjoy.
Usually in May, Vesak Day
The most significant day for Buddhists. Vesak Day celebrates the birth, attainment of Enlightenment and the passing of Buddha. Temples in Singapore celebrate this important day with devotion and prayers. Festivities start at the crack of dawn. Long ceremonies and chanting the sutra by monks are held to bless all. Devotees offer flowers, candles and joss sticks. At some temples, there are candlelight processions. A beautiful sight to behold.
Hari Raya Puasa
This is an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims all over the world. It marks the end of fasting, and celebrates forgiveness, fellowship and food. Muslims wake early on this day to visit the mosques to pray and give thanks for what they have in life. Families in Singapore would visit each other, dressed in beautiful new clothes. Greet your Muslim friends on this glorious day with ‘Eid Mubarak’!
Dragon Boat Festival
An exciting festival filled with zest and cheer! At the beat of drums, dragon boat racers in long and narrow boats race to the finish line at the roar of crowds. This is an exciting spectacle not to be missed. It is held during the Dumpling Festival. The legend goes that a patriot in ancient China, called Qu Yuan, died in despair when his country was defeated. He cast himself into the river and died. The villagers rushed out in long boats to search for his body, and they threw rice dumplings to feed the fish so that they would not eat Qu Yuan’s body.
Hungry Ghost Festival
During the 7th Lunar Month, the Chinese believe that the dead return to roam the earth. To appease the dead, people burn paper money and other paper versions of material such as cars, watches, gold, etc. Some would also offer food and burn joss sticks. There are also Chinese operas and live acts to entertain the ghosts.
August 9, National Day
In 1965, Singapore gained independence. To commemorate this day, a parade is held with performances by various groups, and a firework extravaganza at the Marina Waterfront. There is even flypast by the air force with commandos parachuting down to the site. In all, it is a spectacular event.
Hari Raya Haji
This religious day marks the end of the annual holy pilgrimage to Mecca. In mosques, prayers are said and sermons given. There are also sacrifices of cows, goats and sheep. At the end of the day, Muslims visit parents and families to celebrate over a big meal.
Singapore F1 Grand Prix
This is not so much a festival or public holiday. It is a major event that is worth mentioning here. Singapore has managed to be one of the venues for the FIA Formula One World Championship. Today, this event attracts tourists from all over the world. Famous entertainers hold sold out concerts during this time.
Also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, this is a delightful and sweet night when families get together to enjoy foods and snacks, especially mooncakes. The origin of this festival is that Chang Er, wife of a merciless king, took an elixir of immortality. This magic potion floated her to the moon, and she became the Moon Goddess.
Nine Emperor Gods Festival
This festival welcomes the Nine Emperor Gods and devotees worship them for nine days. It begins on the 9th day of the 9th lunar month. As part of the celebrations, long processions with colourful lion and dragon dance troupes and sedan chairs to go to a designated river and invite the Gods. On the 9th day, the same procession goes back to the same river to send off the Gods.
Usually November, Deepavali
Deepavali is sometimes also called Diwali. It is known as the Festival of Lights because this festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Hindus all over the world light up their homes with candles and electric lights. On this day, gifts are exchanged and feasts are ravished. Devotees perform puja, which is a type of prayers to deities such as Lakshmi, the goddess of fertility and prosperity.
December 25, Christmas Day
All over the world, Christmas is celebrated. In Singapore, this used to be a major event with even stores competing to win the best Christmas display. Sadly, today the lights are minimal and the festivities are a little boring. Nevertheless, there is a little bit of magic in the air as people go about quietly excited with gifts and Christmas dinners.
Dress Codes & National Dress
There is no official dress code in Singapore. But at certain venues, there is acceptable dress codes that you should be aware of. For example, at a temple, do not wear revealing clothes, shorts or slippers. The same can be said for any place of worship.
Other than that, you can wear comfortable clothing. Especially during the hot season.
There is also no National Dress. Instead, people will wear traditional clothes that represent their culture. For example, the Chinese ladies wear the cheongsam, better known as the QiPao.
There is no actual National Sport of Singapore. Most Singaporeans participate in sports for recreation. Some do it for competition.
Currency in Singapore
The currency of Singapore is the Singapore Dollar. It is sometimes symbolized by S$. The currency code is SGD.
The Singapore dollar is used everywhere in Singapore. No other currency is accepted for purchases here. So, please do change your currency and get some Singapore dollars to spend.
Weather in Singapore
Being so close to the equator, the weather here is usually hot and humid. The temperature is usually around 30°C by day. Although, it does get cooler during the year end when the monsoon arrives.
It does rain throughout the year. During the monsoon season, which is usually from November to January, latest February, there is more rainfall. During this period, it rains almost every day. It would be heavy rain, sometimes with lightning and thunder.
Another period of time can sometimes be not ideal for visiting Singapore. This is between May and October. There are forest fires in the neighbouring country, Indonesia. The result is haze. This is unpredictable. Some years the haze is really bad. Some years, it is quite mild, and even to the point of none at all.
Other than the above, Singapore can be said to be a great place to visit almost any time of the year. What you can do is check the local weather before planning a visit here.
Things to See in Singapore
Singapore is a small island. And yet, there are many things to do here, many Things To See In Singapore.
For a start, when you land at Singapore Changi Airport, there is a lot to see at the airport. There is the famous Kinetic Rain Moving Sculpture, just to name at least one.
As you enter the city, there are many areas of interest. There is Chinatown, Little India, Arab Street, and many places where you can find interesting things to see and do.
There is also the Singapore Zoological Gardens, which I personally find is one of the best zoos in the world. There is also the enchanting Botanical Gardens. And let’s not forget the popular Sentosa island, just south of Singapore. It is where you can visit the Universal Studios, and enjoy sun, sea and sand. It is also where many foam parties are held.
There is plenty more. And I will add them as I blog about each of these great and fun things to do in Singapore.
What to eat in Singapore?
Singaporeans love to eat. Well, most of them, including me. And that is why there are many delicious foods to eat in Singapore. Also, the many cultures in Singapore has created a vast variety of cuisines.
The Chinese offers chicken rice, fried kway teow, seafood dishes, bak kut teh, kway chap, duck rice, mee pok, laksa, yong tau foo, and plenty more.
Nasi Lemak, Nasi Padang, Mee Siam, Mee Rebus and many more piquant dishes are by the Malays.
Then there are the spicy Mee Goreng, Roti Prata, Indian Rojak, Thosai and more from the Indians.
Added to the above, there are dishes from the Eurasians, Thais, Vietnamese, Filipino, and many more others that add to the culinary offerings.
All above can be found at food courts around Singapore. There are even food courts that has dessert stalls! Check out this one that sells the most divine chocolate cakes in a food court!
And if you are vegetarian and love organic food, try the New Green Pasture Cafe.
When in Singapore, must eat. Check out the Best Places to Eat in Singapore.
Shopping in Singapore
In almost every district, there are shops and there are malls. So many that some people may wonder if they are all necessary? And they have a point.
Today, the crowds at the malls are gone. Most people shop on the Internet. Retail shops are struggling. Still, it is a nice leisure activity to walk around and simply look.
How to get to Singapore?
Singapore is an island. As such, there are many ways to get to Singapore.
Singapore’s national carrier is the Singapore Airlines. SilkAir is a sister airline that covers routes which Singapore Airlines do not, and at a lower price, too. Scoot is its sister carrier that is no frills and is a budget airline.
All airlines land at the famous Singapore Changi Airport. The airport is well known and has been rated high every year. It is not just an airport, it is also a place where locals and tourists go to shop at the numerous retail stores, and dine at the food and beverage outlets.
Sadly, the old train system that used to travel to and from Malaysia has been closed down. There has been plans for a new train system that comes from neighbouring Malaysia, but that has been shelved till further notice.
There are many buses and coaches that travel from Malaysia to Singapore. There are many transportation companies that provide this service.
One of the best bus operators we have experienced so far is Aeroline. We have used this luxury bus service often from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, and back. The experience is very good. We will share about it in a blog post soon.
Cars are another mode of transport to and from Singapore. Do note that you will need an International Drivers Permit (IDP) in order to drive into and around Singapore. Do check with your car rental company for more details.
By Boat / Ferry
There are ferries that sail over the seas to Singapore from Malaysia and Indonesia. Most of them arrive at Harbourfront. You can also take these ferries to Malaysia or Indonesia. A popular destination is Batam, where many Singaporeans go to for a quick weekend getaway. They take the ferry from Harbourfront to Batam. The ride is only about 40 to 50 minutes.
There are also luxury cruises that can take you from Singapore to different parts of Southeast Asia, and back. These cruises offer a more comfortable journey with all the facilities, amenities, great food and entertainment.
Do check out the ferry and cruises sites for further information.
Walking on foot across the causeway bridge to or from Malaysia is not permitted. Please do not try this as it is illegal.
All foreign visitors must ensure that they meet or possess the visa as required by the Singapore Immigration & Checkpoints Authority.
Depending on the country you are from, the length of stay permitted can be 14, 30 or 90 days.
To know whether you require a visa to visit Singapore or not, please confirm with the Singaporean Embassy in your country. Better still, visit the Immigration Department of Singapore website and the Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for confirmation.
Do note that when you overstay in Singapore, you are subjected to a possible fine. The fine is dependent on the type of stay you have been given, and the length of overstay. Again, the best is to visit the Immigration Department of Singapore website to get accurate information and details.
How to Get Around in Singapore?
As an island, it should be easy to get around Singapore, right? Strangely enough, before the advent of MRT (Mass Rapid Transit), it was not. During the pre-MRT days, people had to take the bus and that can be tedious and require long hours of waiting and traveling. The alternative to faster travel was (and still is today) via taxi or your own car.
By MRT (Mass Rapid Transit)
The MRT system is getting to reach more places. It is now the main public transport that most Singaporeans and tourists take to get to many places. In fact, many of the places of interest or attractions can be reached via the MRT.
Check the MRT website for more information on how to travel around Singapore using the mode of transportation.
The bus system in Singapore is quite good. It can reach certain places that the MRT cannot. There are a few bus operators in Singapore, but that does not really matter.
How you take a bus is to look up the bus guide for buses to your destination. The bus guide will also tell you which bus stop or terminal to board the bus you require.
There is a website where you can find out this information, too. Also, an app is available.
Taxis go by the meter in Singapore. When you board a taxi, simply state your destination. You can either wave down a taxi or go to a taxi stand to hail a cab. There are laws regarding where a taxi can stop. So, make sure the area you are hailing a cab allows the taxi to stop legally.
There are some taxi operators that work with Grab. See Grab below.
This is a service where you can get a cab or a Grab driver (for example an owner of a private car) to drive you to your destination. It is exactly like Uber.
All you have to do is download the app, and fill in your details. Then use the app to ‘hail’ a vehicle to get you to your destination.
Most people get around in Singapore using the above modes of transportation. Occasionally, some like to walk from one place to another. Even if it is over a great distance. And that is OK.
In Singapore, it is quite easy to walk about Singapore. And when after a long walk, take a break and enjoy the local coffee.
If you have ANY questions about Singapore, ANY at all, please submit your questions as comments below. I will be happy to help you out.
Thank you for reading this.
Wishing you and your loved ones safe and happy travels,