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Guide to Singapore by Dave Rabinowitz

  • Submitted by: Dave Rabinowitz
  • Website: None Available
  • Submission Date: 22nd Feb 2006

The first step in planning a trip anywhere in Asia is to buy the Lonely Planet book for that area. "Southeast Asia on a Shoestring" covers most of southeast Asia, but there are also books for each country, including one for Malaysia and Singapore. The books include information on how to get to the country inexpensively, how to get around, where to stay, where to eat, what to see, what to do and what not to do, with approximate prices. There are also sections on history, culture and other useful topics. Reading the book gives you a good idea of what it's like to be there. If you can't find the book in a local bookstore you can order it from:

Lonely Planet Publications
P.O. Box 88
South Yarra
Victoria 3141
Australia

or

P.O. Box 2001A
Berkeley, CA 94702
USA

Singapore is a modern, westernized city where almost everyone speaks English. At the same time it is a blend of cultures from around Asia so there is much to see and experience. Singapore could serve as a useful gateway to Asian vacations; it could help ease culture shock in either direction. You can get inexpensive tickets from Singapore to other countries from bucket shops there such as Airmaster Travel on Selegie Road.

The Changi airport in Singapore is a major hub for flights all over the region. The Singapore Tourist Promotion Board runs free tours of the city for transit passengers at Changi airport. Last time I was there the tours started at 2:30pm and 4:30pm and lasted about 2 hours. You might want to take advantage of that. You don't need an advance visa if you're on a US passport (I don't know about other countries), but clearing immigration can take half an hour if you're the last one on line (it goes fast when you get to the front of the line, but a 747 holds a lot of people), so try to be one of the first people off the plane and go straight to immigration if you decide to go to the city. I don't know if this would disqualify you from the free tour.

Shops in the airport are not as outrageously overpriced as in most airports, and there is an NTUC-Fair Price supermarket/department store in the basement which charges the same prices as in town. There is also a 1-hour photolab in the airport if you have any print film to be processed. If you decide to eat at the airport, walk past the McDonalds on the arrival level to an elevator and take it down to the hawker center. Here you can get a good assortment of real Singaporean food at reasonable prices.

Getting around Singapore without a private car is pretty easy. There are city buses at the airport (in the basement) which will take you downtown and to the Orchard Road tourist shopping area for S$.80 (about US$.45). Taxis from the airport add a S$3 charge but they don't add that charge on trips to the airport, so you might want to take a bus from the airport to town (about as fast as a taxi) and a taxi back if you're not near an airport bus route. There is a bookstore at the airport at which you should be able to get a bus guide, and there are free tourist guides to Singapore you can pick up in the arrival lounge at the airport. The MRT subway system covers much of the island and is well worth taking (don't chew gum), but buses give a better view, especially the double-decker buses. You can buy day passes for the bus system, which simplifies the fares since you pay different amounts depending on how far you go.

There are lots of places to stay in Singapore. The fancy tourist hotels can cost as much as anywhere, but there are smaller hotels and a few private hostels, in addition to YMCA and YWCAs. The Lonely Planet book will give a good idea of the options.

The three most popular activities among Singaporeans is Shopping, Eating and watching TV. Orchard Road is the principal tourist-oriented shopping area, but you have to bargain at the small shops, and you need to know what the product is worth before you start. There are fixed-price shops, including the major Japanese retail chains; some of the best fixed prices are in the Kitchener Road area off Serangoon Road. Prices in Singapore used to be significantly cheaper than in the US, but the repeal of fair-trade laws and the growth of mail-order outlets have dropped US prices to the point where they are comparable. Singapore uses 220V 50Hz power and the PAL TV system, so anything you plug into the wall or use to watch or record TV would have to be an export product. With anything you buy you need to get an international warranty. On my last trip there I brought back mostly food products (packaged - USDA won't let you bring in unprocessed vegetables or fruits), some of which are difficult to find or very expensive in the US.

In Singapore pick up a Guide to Hawker Center Food at a bookstore (there's one at the airport) and eat at hawker centers. They are inexpensive and the food is excellent. Have a banana leaf lunch in the Indian section. There are a couple of inexpensive restaurants on on Selegie Rd at Rochor Canal Road It's called a banana leaf lunch because it is served on a banana leaf. You sit down at a table with a banana leaf on it and the waiter brings some rice and several sauces, yogurt, and such and ladles them onto the leaf. In the meantime you walk to the back of the restaurant to wash your hands, especially your right hand which you will be eating with, and then return to your seat and eat your fill. The waiter will usually come around with more selections until you have finished and folded your leaf in half (away from you), the signal that you've finished. Order some tea with it (it won't be what you expect - you'll like it). Return to one of these same restaurants for a dinner of dosai (rice pancakes), chapati and dal, and/or roti prata with curry. Have some Nasi Briani at Zam Zam across from the Sultan Mosque. There are also some good international buffets in some of the hotels. The international buffet at the Glass Hotel and the Thai buffet at the Tai Pan are among my favorites, but there are many more. Expect to stuff yourself and don't plan on any further meals that day. If you wander over to residential neighborhoods you'll find small bakeries with a wide variety of delights, ranging from excellent custard pastries to buns with hot dogs baked into them. You just pick up a tray and tongs and help yourself. When you have what you want, walk over to the counter and they'll add it up and bill you.

The major tourist activities are described in all the tourist guides, and include Sentosa Island, which caters more to the locals than to tourists, the Jurong Bird Park, Haw Par (Tiger Balm) Gardens, which has been rebuilt as a modern theme park, the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, the Singapore Science Center and the historic areas. The following are recommendations for things you might not find in a typical guide book.

Take a bus out to Changi Village (#1 or #2 bus) and a boat to Pulau Ubin. It is relatively undeveloped and will give you a feel for what Singapore was like before modernization (the SAF trains for jungle fighting there). From Changi Village take a boat to Pangaran in Malaysia (bring your passport). Walk to the village, inspecting the pillboxes left over from WW II. On your way back stop off at Changi prison. They have a small but interesting museum about life in the prison during WWII when it was a Japanese prison camp.

Go out to East Coast Park (take any bus which goes out Upper East Coast Road to Bedok South Ave. 1) and take some windsurfing lessons or just rent a board if you already know how to windsurf. They have special classes for tourists (they also rent boards at Sentosa, but it's in a small lagoon with light winds). Or just walk along the beach and enjoy the area. Afterwards have a good seafood dinner there.

Visit the Big Splash. Bring a bathing suit and towel and just enjoy the slide and other water-oriented attractions. Have a seafood dinner there too.

Visit the Singapore Zoo. Be sure to see the shows - they are excellent.

Take a #170 bus to Johore Bahru (bring your passport) and walk around that Malaysian city. Visit the zoo (not nearly as nice as the Singapore zoo, but worth the nominal admission fee), the Istana and walk along the strait.

Check the Straits Times for plays, concerts or other evening activities and check one out.

On Sunday afternoon go to the free concert at the botanical gardens. On Tuesday evening (I believe - check the paper) see the free French film at the Alliance Francais (behind the Shangri-La hotel).

Take a bus to the Bukit Timah Nature Preserve and hike around. Enjoy the monkeys.

Go to a movie and enjoy the advertisements before the film (get there early).

If you'll be there over a full weekend contact the Singapore Club Aquanaut and see if you can get on a dive trip with them. If you are not a certified scuba diver you can still go and snorkel.

Take a hovercraft to Batam Island (in Indonesia - about a 30 minute trip. This is not the Bataam of WWII fame). Bring a passport. There has been some tourist development but there's not much to do there. Still, it is Indonesia, and it's off the beaten track.

Take a boat from the World Trade Center to one or more of the south islands and have a picnic.

Spend a day at Parkway Parade (a major shopping mall which caters to Singaporeans, not tourists). I believe the #16 bus takes you there, among many others. Walk around the housing estates nearby or over to the Katong shopping center. Ride the MRT to a residential area and just walk around and see how people live there. There are lots of small shops, wet markets and hawker centers. Visit a branch of the national library.

There's lots of stuff to do in Singapore.