Singapore: What You Need to Know Before You Go

Singapore: What You Need to Know Before You Go

Welcome!

Singapore is a cosmopolitan city-state that is ever-changing, constantly being shaped by the ebbs and flows of global trends. A major financial centre hub today, it seemingly stays true to its history of trade and commerce birthed as a strategic port from the early 14th Century.

The Marina Bay Sands that stands prominently as part of Singapore’s skyline today accentuates the futuristic and technological cityscape vibe that has so encapsulated much of the world’s perception of Singapore. Venture further in, however, and you’ll soon become aware of Singapore’s “City in a Garden” dream, spearheaded by the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Botanic Gardens. Treetop jungle bridges, walking trails, and redeveloped eco-working spaces has sought to reimagine Singapore into a sustainable, living and breathing city-state.

To know and experience Singapore one unequivocally needs to know and experience food in Singapore. Dotted with hawker centres and coffee shops in almost every neighbourhood, street food remains the heart and soul of this country. But that’s not all Singapore has to offer; with Michelin-starred restaurants opening by the dozens, there’s a whole spectrum of food choices from around the world at your fingertips.

Through it all, Singapore is a country that has an eclectic mix of food, cultures, and experiences that melds together a form of Westernised modernity with its traditional cultures and heritage.

“A fast-paced metropolis and global financial hub obsessed with world-firsts, where centuries-old cultural practices adorn steel-and-glass facades with a dizzying array of sights, sounds and tastes all year round. Singapore’s multitudinal character is what makes it so difficult to define – much less stay away from.” 

Best Time to Visit

No matter which time of the year, be sure to pack light when you’re visiting Singapore.

Being a tropical island located just one degree away from the equator, it’s no surprise that the climate here is a steady humid Summer that lasts all year round. Temperatures can get as high as 35°C, though the norm ranges from around 30-32°C. January is when temperatures dip down to the coolest, but even then it doesn’t fall below 24°C.

Rather than weather, Singapore’s seasonality is guided by her year-round schedule of colourful festivals and traditional celebrations.

The city is arguably at her prettiest in the second half of the year. Besides the spectacular parade and fireworks that happen every National Day (Aug 9),  a mind boggling array of street light-ups, markets, fairs and processions – with life-sized decorations looming over it all – pop up in celebration of ethnic and religious events observed by the multicultural nation.

Ramadan brings with it the Geylang Serai Bazaar (May to June), which is fast becoming known as among the best place to fill up on the latest food trends. It’s also a great place introduce your palate to the comfort food that is traditional Malay fare.  

 

The arrival of Deepavali in late October sees the vivacious Little India district go into overdrive, with street-wide parties, rituals and feasting. This religious ceremony celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, and devotees carry out face and body piercing in atonement.  

November and December is the time for Christmas light-ups and winter villages. Leading the pack is Orchard Road with its annual light-up that turns the entire street and its malls into something quite magical. We also recommend dropping by Gardens by the Bay for its Christmas Wonderland winter village.   

In February, the city gears up for her largest celebration yet. Chinese New Year sees the colour red taking centerstage – thanks to the hue’s status as an auspicious symbol among the Chinese celebrants. Be prepared for lucky lion dances which are believed to bring good luck and prosperity to homes and businesses.    

Typical Travel Costs

  • Dorm Bed: SGD$25 to $40

  • Mid-range accommodation (Double room in a hotel): SGD$150 to $300

  • Luxury hotel: SGD$350 to $800

  • Street Food: SGD$2 to $6. 

  • The average price of food for one day is SGD$10 to $30

  • Subway ticket: SGD$0.83 to $2.08

Other Notes:

Tipping is generally not expected. Tipping in Changi Airport is prohibited.

Major credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard are accepted in most hotels and restaurants. Though some hawker stalls are starting to implement cashless forms of payment, the large majority of these street food stalls only accept cash.

Getting into the City (From Changi Airport)

By Airport Transfer

The Airport Transfer bus may prove to be the most comfortable, but it’s also the most expensive option. You can opt for the 4-seater limousine at SGD$55 or the 7-seater large taxi at SGD$60. It might be more worth it if you have a bigger group, if not, there are more affordable options below!

By Mass Rapid Transit (MRT)

The MRT is the public train system in Singapore and it’s as efficient as one can get from the Airport into the city as long as you have some time to spare. Easily one of the cheapest options out there, it’ll get you into the city around 45 mins to an hour. All you’ll need is an Ez-Link card and you’re good to go.

By Bus

The alternative to the MRT, public buses are available at all four terminals. You can board with the Ez-Link card (public transport card) or cash but do take note that change is not given so it’ll be best to prepare exact change for the ride.

By Taxi

Taxi remains the undisputed champion when it comes to convenience but as usual, it can get quite costly. A taxi ride into the city would take around 30 minutes and would set you back about SGD$20 to $40.

You can also check out this link for more information on how to get into the city from Changi Airport.

Useful Facts

  • Country Code: +65
  • Currency: Singapore Dollar
  • Time Zone: GMT+8 hours
  • Language: Primarily English, but Mandarin, Bahasa Melayu, and Tamil are spoken as well by different communities.
  • AC Socket Type: Type G – 230V 50Hz
  • Transport Card: Ez-Link
  • Four Seasons: No, tropical Summer all-year round. Thunderstorms are common.
  • Tourist App: VisitSingapore

Getting Around Singapore

Singapore has a small geographical space that allows for a highly dense but efficient public transport system that can get you across the island in 45 minutes. With the MRT lines, you’ll be zipping from one historic neighbourhood to another in less than 10 minutes.

For first-timers to Singapore, you can opt for the Singapore Tourist Pass (STP), which operates like the Ez-Link card to help you get around the city. You’ll get unlimited rides on public transport at SGD$10/$16/$20 at 1/2/3 days respectively. There’s a SGD$10 refundable deposit which you’ll get back when you return card before leaving Singapore.

The STP grants you special deals at certain Food and Beverage (F&B) establishments and various attractions around Singapore as well!

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Weekender’s Guide: Kampong Glam, Singapore

Weekender’s Guide: Kampong Glam, Singapore

For such a small country, there are surprisingly many locales of interest in Singapore. 

Yes, we may never have the majesty of Mt Fuji in our backyard, nor be able to hop on a train (the real type, complete with bentos and whistles) to find a village taken over by cats, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have adventures to call our own on this tiny island.

All it takes is a little willingness to explore.

Photograph by____.lam via Instagram.

In spite of our rapid pace of urbanisation (or perhaps because of it), we decided that it was important to acknowledge and preserve our history. Our colonial past – with its multi-faceted character – became a focusing lens through which we view our future.

Singapore is a melting pot not only in name, but in heart and spirit. Alongside the Malay natives, Chinese and Indian migrants settled and grew roots into the land.

Work, trade and a brief wartime occupation provided further opportunities for the races to grow together, culminating in the easy interaction and co-mingling enjoyed by all Singaporeans today. 

For the restless among us, all these leaves plenty to explore – from different cuisines, each delicious in their own way, to colourful festivals and celebrations that happen year round, to distinctive architecture styles that provide glimpses into hopes and dreams.

Kampong Glam/Beach Road

Photo source: Visit Singapore

Kampong Glam was set aside for Sultan Hussein Mohamed Shah and his, I kid you not, 600 families. There were also a host of Bugis, Arabs, Javanese, and Boyanese who took up residence in the area.

Today, it’s still a hub for the Muslim community, but there have been significant infusions of Turkish and Mediterranean influences in the area.

As a result, the downtown enclave – conveniently located next to the Arts District – has taken on a sort of Far Eastern bohemian vibe, with the colourful threads of Islam-infused cultures coming together to weave an enchanting tapestry.

Where to Stay

Photograph by thepodcapsulehotel via Instagram

The POD @ Beach Road is perhaps the most unique hotel experience out of all.

The rooms adopt a capsule-like structure, with minimalistic designs, providing fuss-free living. There are mixed rooms, male-only, and female-only rooms so you can pick whichever makes you more comfortable. They even have a Ladies-only floor to ensure your stay is worry-free.

It’s one thing to stay in a hotel room with different designs and inflexions, it’s another to sleep in a pod. Just the experience of sleeping in a capsule-like environment is worth a try.

Eat and Drink

Photograph by _vphang via Instagram

Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle is located in a rather nondescript coffee shop, and if you weren’t specifically finding it, you probably would just dismiss it as just another typical coffee shop. Alas, the snaking, hour-long queue gives it away.

Yes, the queue can stretch to an hour long, but I suppose that’s only natural for the only other 1-Michelin-star hawker in Singapore.

With springy, al dente noodles, well-marinated minced meat, and tender liver slices, this is one heck of a noodle bowl. Oh, not forgetting the fried sole fish which takes the flavour profile to a whole new level. But be warned, the vinegar is overpoweringly strong in this one.

So if you don’t like vinegar, this bowl isn’t for you, Michelin starred or not.

See and Do

Photograph by mattwildmedia via Instagram

Ah Haji Lane, the hipster enclave of Singapore.

Littered all over the area are cafes, boutique shops, bars and restaurants that scream hip and indie. The art murals you see just add to the hip factor of the neighbourhood.

It’s easy to see why droves of people spend their entire day in Haji Lane – if it’s not having a photoshoot with the murals, it’s sipping a cuppa joe in one of the many cafes.

Just a stone’s throw away, The Bencoolen provides a shopping experience you won’t readily find in glitzier spots like Orchard Road or Marina Square. 

Watch collectors will be delighted by the impressive range on display at the various independently run shops, whose languid atmosphere hide a spirited bargain waiting to be struck.

If you’re looking for the latest Casios and G-Shocks, head for the basement for some of the best prices on the island.

Top image by____.lam via Instagram.

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Weekender’s Guide: Clarke Quay, Singapore

Weekender’s Guide: Clarke Quay, Singapore

At it’s most basic, taking a vacation simply means taking a break from routine, swapping out the same-ole for something new or rarely indulged in. Luckily for us here in Singapore, it’s easy to do just that.

Photograph by zellevia via Instagram.

Sure, we could insist that a real vacation starts with checking ourselves in at the airport, but to do so would be to miss out on the gems that are waiting in our very own backyard. 

That’s why staycations are the ideal recreational activity to complement our busy lives. They allow us a much needed escape, but doesn’t demand as much planning as a full-fledged overseas holiday.

At their best, staycations reward with unexpected surprises – such as a rooftop pool just cosy and high up enough to make you feel like the king of your little world; or the bakery at the end of the alley with the lightest, most delicate sponge cake you have ever tasted. 

So the next time the travel bug bites, stay home for a staycation instead. 

Clarke Quay

Photo by Marcin Kaliński on Unsplash

Situated along the Singapore River, its history is tied inextricably to its water companion.

Once being a conduit for trade as well as a major zone for transshipment, there were numerous godowns, commercial houses, shophouses and even a dock located along the river in the Clarke Quay area in the early years of Singapore’s history.

Today, these godowns and houses have been retrofitted and remolded to become bars, restaurants and clubs. Known for its buzzing night scene, Clarke Quay is no stranger to droves of people partying into the wee hours of the morning.

Where to Stay

Hotel Clover The Arts may not have much lore and history, but dang if it isn’t the prettiest.

From the exterior to the individual rooms, the hotel walls are decked in colourful and vibrant art murals that will be sure to mesmerise you at every corner.

With a mission to promote creativity in Singapore, Hotel Clover The Arts reached out to different arts and design schools for students to compete in a mural competition for 19 out of their 44 rooms. Combined with artists, every room features diverse styles, ranging from street art, line art and manga.

Trust me, you’ve never seen hotel rooms like these before.

Photograph by hotelclover on Instagram

Eat and Drink

It’s past midnight and your stomach is growling after a few drinks and partying, dining establishments are closed and food is hard to come by.

Enter Ramen Keisuke Lobster King, your saving grace, opening till 5am in the morning.

Helmed by Ramen King Keisuke Takeda, Ramen Keisuke Lobster King is one of the many successful concepts under the Ramen Keisuke banner. Drawing techniques from French culinary styles as well as flavours from the famous French lobster bisque, the ramen broth here takes anywhere from 6-12 hours to simmer and brew.

Another great soup-based option is Song Fa Bak Kut Teh which serves up a delicious pork bone broth famed as a comfort food throughout the region. Given that you’re chillaxing on your staycation, this is the perfect time to wait patiently in line for a lip-smacking bowl of heaven.

See and Do

Photograph by pamgoestravelling via Instagram

These statues seek to commemorate other notable figures in the early years of Singapore’s history, looking to add diversity and complexity to our already rich history.

So you know what that do. Grab your portable charger and head for a walk, and get ready to flood your Instagram feed with selfies!

And when you’ve had your fill of history-drenched selfies, take a seat by the river to cool off before heading off to investigate the various museums, sculptures and historical artifacts that dot the stretch. 

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Weekender’s Guide: Chinatown, Singapore

Weekender’s Guide: Chinatown, Singapore

With a total landmass of less than 750 sq km, you could say Singapore is a small country. Tiny, even.

In between work that never seems to end (Singaporeans work among the longest hours on the planet) and the four-walls of my HDB flat, Singapore just feels… monotonous and stuffy. It feels like there’s no escape, which in turn, makes me think of fleeing to an idyllic place outside of Singapore (and no, Sentosa does not count).

Photograph by cegoh via Pixabay
Yes, it’s easy to fall into such a trap, because we’re hardwired to associate travel with exotic locales and new experiences. But as I recently discovered, with Singapore’s unique blend of cultures and heritage, there’s more than enough here for a staycation that’s as refreshing as any overseas trip.

 

Would you be surprised to learn that our island possesses some of the most culturally enriching experiences you can find in the region? Don’t be; we are, afterall, sitting at the crossroads between East and West,

With 2019 being the bicentennial anniversary of the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles, there’s perhaps no better time to have a staycation in Singapore. You’ll get a much needed break, while having fun learning about the rich cultural history that has formed the bedrock of our communities.

Chinatown

Photograph by alex_alderuccio via Instagram
Chinatown began life as the Chinese enclave designated by Sir Stamford Raffles in his Town Plan in 1822. Raffles derived the concept from his earlier travels in colonial towns like Georgetown in Penang. And thus, the area west of the Singapore River became Chinatown, becoming the homes of many Chinese immigrants, as well as a transit point for coolies (unskilled workers) heading to Malaya.

The long and narrow streets, lined with the now iconic shophouses, were designed to evoke the layout of the towns back in China, offering some degree of familiarity. Much of that has been retained today, with no small effort going into remodelling and preservation works over the years. Nearly 200 years later, Chinatown has grown to become the foremost historic district in Singapore, attracting no shortage of visitors all year round. If you want to steep yourself in Singapore’s Chinese culture or immerse yourself in one of the most bustling areas in Singapore, look no further than Chinatown.

Where to Stay

Mirroring a larger design trend seen in Singapore, Hotel 1929 is a marriage between its old colonial façade and its modern chic interior. Situated in the heart of Chinatown along Keong Saik Road, the hotel is one of the many shophouses that dot the Chinatown enclave.

True to its name, Hotel 1929 is made up of 5 conserved shophouses that were built in 1929. If you’re worried that the hotel feels or looks “old”, know that the 33 rooms they offer are fully refurbished, featuring clean and sleek designs.

Move a little towards the periphery of Chinatown and you’ll reach Ann Siang Hill. Here, you have a new boutique hotel quietly making waves in the staycation scene in Singapore. The newest conservation effort by property mogul Ashish Manchharam, Ann Siang House used to be a clan house for Chinese immigrants to socialise over mahjong and opera performances.

 

Today, it is a homely 20-suite boutique hotel that will meet your every need. It is built with long term residential stay in mind, anywhere from single night to a whole month. With suites featuring kitchenettes, it can truly be a home away from away. Sounds like a staycation if you ask me, fit for the whole family too.

Between Hotel 1929 and Ann Siang House, there’s no shortage of options to enjoy the comforts of modern living while steeped in Singapore’s rich history.

Eat and Drink

When you’re in Chinatown, the last thing you have to worry about is food.

If you want something rooted in cultural heritage, you have to go to Chinatown Complex Food Centre. Built in 1983, Chinatown Complex boasts a whopping 700 stalls selling food, produce, and many other goods. A majority of the stalls you can find here lay claim to some sort of heritage, with ownership being passed down from generation to generation.

 

The Complex wasn’t particularly popular outside of the district, for years faithfully serving its clientele of the area’s residents, office workers and the occasional family seeking a quick bite in between bouts of shopping. However, it quickly gained popularity when one of its stalls earned the coveted Michelin star. Dubbed the cheapest Michelin star meal you can get in the world, Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodles has shot to fame since winning the star back in 2016.

After queuing for 30-45 minutes, you’ll be greeted with a plethora of options from Soya Sauce Chicken Rice, Soya Sauce Chicken Noodle, Roasted Pork Rice, Char Siew Rice, and Char Siew Noodles – all of which mind you, range from $2-$3. Talk about value-for-money, nay, this is a steal ladies and gentlemen. The star of the show is the incredibly tender chicken, but the rest of the meats on offer can easily hold their own in a buffet line.

So prolific is the effort and skill of Hawker Chan and his peers that locals have recently raised a clamour, culminating in a movement to nominate Singapore’s hawker culture into the Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Not too bad for a country known for its modernity eh?

Photograph by kazuokoguchi via Instagram
When discussing food in Chinatown, it would be remiss of us not to mention Mei Heong Yuen Dessert. Tucked amongst the myriad of shops along Temple Street, this Chinese dessert establishment has received no shortage of accolades and coverage over the years.

In a world of artisanal ice creams and complex Korean Bingsu, Mei Heong Yuen is the gateway to the past. They have been making some waves with their own contemporary twist on Bingsu with their Snow Ice series, but for us, nothing beats the nostalgia and warmth of a bowl of Almond or Black Sesame paste. The desserts here leans towards the healthier side (well, as healthy as a bowl of dessert can get), so all you health-conscious folks out there, here’s a treat for you.

It’s a place frozen in time, and one that we hope will continue to exist far into the future.

Sadly, the Chinatown Complex Food Centre will be closed from 1 March to 31 May for some much needed renovations. But don’t worry, you’ll find plenty of other options to chow down on while immersing yourself in the sights and sounds. 

 

See and Do

Photograph by Philippe Dehaye via Unsplash

A little history lesson here: the oldest temple in Singapore is actually located in Chinatown, and it’s not even remotely Chinese.

Touting a 192 years of history, the Sri Mariamman Temple was a beacon for early Indian immigrants and settlers. Nestled along South Bridge Road, in the middle of the Buddha Relic Tooth Temple and the Jamae Mosque, Sri Mariamman Temple forms a trio of religious institutions that serves to represent the culturally diverse society that is Singapore.

Being a historic landmark, and attracting close to a 500-strong crowd of tourists on a good day, Sri Mariamman Temple is a window into Indian culture, religion, and heritage set against the backdrop of an ever happening Chinese enclave.

 

If worshipping at the alter of commercialism is more your speed (hey, everyone indulges once in a while…!), head for the sinuous paths of Ann Siang Hill.

The quaint little shophouses there hide anything from bookstores to bakeries to cafes, pubs and restaurants, and there’re even lifestyle boutiques trading in Tibetan singing bowls and yogawear. 

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Weekender’s Guide: Little India, Singapore

Weekender’s Guide: Little India, Singapore

Of the myriad reasons that explain travel’s magnetic hold, we think the strongest is the allure of the unknown. The most exciting part of a trip is anticipating what we will discover this time. A swanky new hangout? The next big Insta spot? The best breakfast you’ve ever had? The perfect gift you’ve spent months hunting for? 

Photograph by pfrankmuc via Instagram

We like to think we can only have such experiences overseas (and indeed, some of our best memories were created abroad), but these wonderful delights can also be found right here in Singapore.

Thanks to her unique mix of heritages and cultures, Singapore is home to a vibrant mix of communities which each offer their own unique take on life and the world.

Perhaps there’s no better time than now to enjoy our unique position at the crossroads of East and West – 2019 marks the bicentennial anniversary of the arrival of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles.

And there’s no better way to savour it all than with a staycation at one of the most colourful districts on the island.

Little India

Few people know this, but Little India was a vibrant district in the 1840s amongst the Europeans, mainly for the racecourse that was running back in the day. For the Indians, cattle trading was the primary trade. Interestingly, aside from being sources of meat and milk, cattle also served as a popular means of transportation by way of pulling bullock carts.

These two aspects of life in 19th Century Little India would prove to leave a lasting legacy in Singapore. Walk around Little India today and you’ll notice rather European sounding street names – Dunlop Street was named after a prominent European family and Belilios Lane was for cattle importer I.R. Belilios.

Photograph by alexiarjs via Instagram

Where to Stay

The lanes of Little India, much like Chinatown, are lined with numerous shophouses which have been turned into boutique hotels. 

Looking to capture the essence of the rich architectural history of the shophouses in Little India, The Daulat melds its stunning colonial facade with its contemporary interior design. The main pull would have to be the Loft Rooms and Suites which should no doubt be the fancy of many staycationers out there.

The hotel even has two bicycles for rental that you can take to the streets with. (Hint: head to the places below!)

Photograph by thedaulat via Instagram

Eat and Drink

The Tekka Centre is more than just a hawker centre – it’s an institution, a landmark of the community.

Built in 1915, the colourful wet market and food centre is unmistakable. Serving up predominantly Indian cuisine, you can get your Biryani (spicy rice dish with chicken or mutton curry) fix from Hanifa’s or Allauddin. If you’re up to try Indian Rojak (combination of salad, fried dough fritters, cuttlefish, and a whole lot more), Temasek Indian Rojak is a good place to start.

Of course, one can never forget a good cup of Teh Tarik(frothy hot milk tea) to end off your meal.

Photograph by singapura_hawkers via Instagram

Can’t get enough of Indian food, especially dishes bearing Singapore’s unique twist? We recommend heading over to Muthu’s Curry on Race Course Road.

Ask for their signature Fish Head Curry, which continues to be a steadfast favourite among Singaporeans of all walks and heritage.

So well-liked is this dish that the Chinese community came up with their own adaptation!

See and Do

There are tons of things to do in this district, but you cannot miss the other landmark of Little India. Mustafa Centre is probably the heart and soul of shopping in the Indian enclave, a shopping experience quite like no other. They have stocks of everything under the sun, and I truly mean everything.

Photograph by singaporeguidebook via Instagram

From a humble beginning in a small shop along Campbell Lane first conceived in 1971, its business has exponentially grown in size over the years. One can now walk from one end of the entire mall to the other and not know where you came in from.

If you need anything – from groceries to electronics to medication – literally anything at all, Mustafa’s your one-stop shop. Oh did I forget to mention that it’s open 24 hours as well?

Photograph by beckybowen__ via Instagram

Even though Little India is no Portobello Street of London, it is possibly the most colourful district in Singapore. There are traces of street art in some of the back alleys and buildings which make them a visual delight to wander about. Somewhere along Kerbau Road, you wouldn’t have not noticed the multi-coloured House of Tan Teng Niah, the last surviving Chinese villas built in 1900 by a businessman for his wife. Today, the house has become a popular photo spot for tourists and Instagrammers.

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