Sunday, July 20, 2014

Captivated by Singapore

Merlion Park, at background is Marina Bay Sands and Flyer

The small city-state of Singapore is bustling, cosmopolitan, trendy, modern, and plays a part on the world’s financial and political stage that seems disproportionate to its size. Its varied traditions and intriguing mix of the old and new make Singapore a great multicultural city in the truest sense.
Merlion (symbol of Singapore) at Fullerton Hotel

Singapore is a sovereign city-state and island country in Southeast Asia. It lies off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. The country's territory consists of the lozenge-shaped main island, commonly referred to as Singapore Island in English, and more than 60 significantly smaller islets. The English name of Singapore is derived from the Malay word Singapura, hence the customary reference to the nation as the Lion City. However, it is most likely that lions never lived on the island, and the beast seen by Sang Nila Utama, who founded and named Singapore, was a tiger. Singapore is separated from Peninsular Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to the north, and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the Singapore Strait to the south. The country is highly urbanized, and little of the original vegetation remains. The country's territory has consistently expanded through land reclamation.

Map of Singapore
 Singapore consists of 63 islands, including the main island, widely known as Singapore Island, or Pulau Ujong in Malay. There are two man-made connections to Johor, Malaysia: the Johor–Singapore Causeway in the north, and the Tuas Second Link in the west. Jurong Island, Pulau Tekong, Pulau Ubin and Sentosa are the largest of Singapore's smaller islands. The highest natural point is Bukit Timah Hill at 166 m (545 ft). On-going land reclamation projects have increased Singapore's land area from 581.5 km2 (224.5 sq mi) in the 1960s to 716.1 km2 (276.5 sq mi) presently. The country is projected to grow by another 100 km2 (40 sq mi) by 2030.  

Walking Tours

The attractions of Singapore are mostly man-made. The city’s skyline gleams with tall skyscrapers giving one of the impression of modernity and sophistication. Its history is reflected in the many buildings which fill the Colonial Core. Among them:
Marina Bay Sands

  • Marina Bay Sands. It is impossible to miss the integrated resort at Bayfront Avenue. Developed by the Las Vegas Sands Corp. includes a 2,561-room hotel, a convention center, the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands mall, and seven celebrity chef-run restaurants. Manila Bay Sands is the world’s most expensive building, at $4.7 billion, including the cost of the prime land. For entertainment, there are two large theatres, an ice skating rink, a casino, and two Crystal Pavilions. Floating on the water and four-storeys high, the pavilion house nightclubs and shops full of designer brands. Hotel guests can also access the Skypark with its infinity pool set on top of the world’s largest public cantilevered platform. The Helix Bridge is a pedestrian bridge linking Marina Centre with Marina South in the Marina Bay area in Singapore. It is located beside the Benjamin Sheares Bridge and is accompanied by a vehicular bridge, known as the Bayfront Bridge. The bridge complements other major development projects in the area, including the Integrated Resort Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Flyer, Gardens by the Bay and the business and financial centre.

  •  Esplanade – Theaters on the Bay. Running along the Connaught Drive from the underpass at Anderson Bridge to Stamford Road, Esplanade Park was one of the most popular outdoor spots for both the European and Asian communities during the colonial era. The park contains Queen Elizabeth Walk and several landmarks, including Esplanade – Theaters on the Bay, the huge, spiked shells of complex contain a plethora of performing arts venues, including a concert hall, theatre, outdoor theatre, and recital studio, as well as gallery space, a library and a shopping mall.
Raffles Hotel

  • Raffles Hotel. A legendary hotel and a national monument which opened in 1887, is a tranquil haven of white, veranda-enclosed, colonial-style buildings with terra-cotta tiled, pitched roofs. The cool, calm refuges of its courtyards, gardens, and covered walkways can still be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.

  • Gardens by the Bay. Covering a vast area alongside the waterfront of Marina Gardens Drive, this award-winning horticultural attraction offers more than 250,000 rare plants in landscaped gardens and conservatories. Gardens by the Bay is a park spanning 101 hectares of reclaimed land in central Singapore, adjacent to the Marina Reservoir. The park consists of three waterfront gardens: Bay South Garden, Bay East Garden and Bay Central Garden. The largest of the three gardens is Bay South Garden, standing at 54 hectares. It is an integral part of a strategy by the Singapore government to transform Singapore from a "Garden City" to a "City in a Garden". The stated aim is to raise the quality of life by enhancing greenery and flora in the city.
Singapore Flyer

  • Singapore Flyer. One of the city’s most eye-catching attractions is the world’s largest observation wheel, se on the edge of Marina Bay on Raffles Avenue. As the wheel slowly turns, guests travelling in pods that reach 541 ft. above ground level experience fantastic city views.

Resort World Sentosa
There are plenty of offshore islands, the most popular being the island theme park of Sentosa with its vast entertainment complex. The British used the island as a military base until 1967. Today, it has been transformed into a recreational playground with museums, historical sights, theme parks, nature trails, and sporting activities. All the sights can be reached by island’s excellent transport network. Resort World Sentosa, a major family attraction with a vast oceanarium, covers a large part of the island. Going there, you can choose the bus or cab or Sentosa Express or the Cable Car, surely the best possible way to get there. Once there, you are faced with some choices – try out the casino or fulfill some of your childhood fantasies at Universal Studios. Go up the Tiger Sky tower and be hoisted 131 meters above sea level and t then sit back as your cabin gets turned a full 360 degrees. When the sun takes its leave, try to catch the Songs of the Sea, a lights and sound show on Sentosa Beach.
Inside the Marina Bay Sands

A visit to Singapore would hardly be complete without a shopping spree, especially at Orchard Road and Chinatown. The ethnic area of Little India is the spiritual heart and commercial activity of the local Indian community. Packed with restaurants, shops, and ornate temples, the area is a mix of sight, scents, and sounds. In Chinatown, go to Suntec City, that’s where all the major events are, including the famous Garden Festival and some of the best and biggest gadget fairs.
Boat Quay
A thriving strip of restored shophouses converted into restaurants, shops, and bars, Boat Quay (pronounced “key”) today is different from the riverfront area of a century ago. The center of the city’s commercial activities in the 1860s, most of its trading was handled from here. Shophouses crowded the curve of the south bank. The river teemed with bumboats, which were used to load and unload ships anchored on the river. Nightlife is festive in this place, and if you may further up the river is Clarke Quay, an upscale area along the banks of the Singapore River with waterfront shops, wine bars, retail stores, craft stalls and eateries.
Clarke Quay
The heart of Singapore’s colonial district is the Padang (“Square”). The square is flanked by grand structures such as the domed Supreme Court, the Neo-Classical City Hall, the Parliament House, and the exclusive Singapore Cricket Club. Also interest here is Esplanade Park, one of the oldest parks in Singapore, is home to many historical landmarks.

Hop on a bus and make your way to Pasir Ris or Changi Village on the east end of the East-West MRT or go to the opposite way to the Chinese Garden where you can walk you troubles away. Pasir Ris and Changi are towns with the beach on one side. You can walk freely in these areas but take note of where you’re not allowed to swim. Pasir Ris is primarily a residential area comprising many high-residential dwelling block, mostly public housing. While, Changi Village is a modern village at the north-eastern end of Singapore.

Where to Shop

        Singapore is a shopper’s paradise. Scores of shops at every turn offer almost unlimited choices. Whether you want to immerse in plush shopping arcades of Orchard Road or Raffles City, or scour the flea markets and back alleys of the ethnic quarters in Little India, Chinatown, Arab Street and Holland Village, Singapore caters to all tastes and budgets.
Orchard Road
        Orchard Road with its vast stretch of glitzy department stores and malls, such as Tanglin Shopping Centre (a paradise for antique lovers, furniture, carpets, arts, etc); Ngee Ann City (with seven floors, it has restaurants, a Japanese department store and more); ION Orchard (vast, architecturally impressive center offers a huge number of brands); The Centrepoint (flagship Robinson’s has an excellent range of household goods and best supermarket selections) and The Heeren (trendy clothing and accessories), is packed with just about everything one could want. Park Mall specializes in furniture and interior decorations. Plaza Singapura is one of the earliest malls on Orchard, it houses a number of specialist outlets.

        Major shopping malls can be found in the city center, including Parco Marina Bay, Raffles Hotel Shopping Arcade, Marina Bay Sands and Raffles City Shopping Center. For electronic goods and cameras, head to Sim Lim Square, The Sony Center or Funan Digitalife Mall (near City Hall in Padang). Little India’s Mustafa Center, a Singapore favorite, sells every conceivable item, from electronic to household goods. Japanese chain Isetan and Takashimaya are very popular, as is the British retail outlet Marks & Spencer. Cathay Photo Store and Mustafa Center have a good range of all the popular camera brand names.
Little India
        For a great selection of textiles, the best areas are Arab Street and Serangoon Road in Little India. For exclusive platinum and 18-carat gold jewelry, luxury brands such as Bulgari and Tiffany have outlets at Raffles Hotel Shopping Arcade, Orchard Road and Raffles City Shopping Center. Chinatown is also a good place to buy Chinese jade jewelry. The hawker stalls at Clarke Quay offer a good range of trendy silver pieces.

Where to Stay

Singapore offers a variety of accommodations, from luxury hotels to simple guesthouses. Singapore tends to be more expensive than Peninsular Malaysia. Top international hotel chains are well-presented, and there are some beautiful resorts in idyllic settings. Mid-range options include some lovely boutique hotels and locally run chains. Budget travellers will find excellent guesthouses offering dormitory beds. Here is a list of some budget hotels:

  • Checkers Inn Backpackers Hostel. 50 Campbell Lane, Little India. This brightly colored, friendly hostels offcers cheap and cheerful accommodation with easy access to the MRT stations. It can sleep 75 guests in a choice of male-only, female-only, and co-ed dormitories, each with 6-10 beds. Facilities include bathrooms on each floor, a 24-hour laundry, and free Wi-Fi access. (Php940 to P1,147.00) 
  •  The Inncrowd Hostel. 73 Dunlop, Little India. This budget hotel is noted for its immaculately clean and comfortable rooms, friendly owners, and excellent facilities, including a library and kitchen with a washing machine. Guests stay in dormitories and private rooms. Bathrooms are communal, large and airy. Bus stops and MRT stations are nearby. (Php700 to Php2,000)
  • YMCA International House. 1 Orchard. The YMCA is popular not just for being one of the rare budget options in the Orchard Road area but also for its clean rooms fitted with the latest modern facilities and extremely friendly staff. Rooms and dormitories are available and the breakfast is included. (Php4,375 promo rate)
  • Fernloft City Hostel. One in the heart of Chinatown and in Little India. Amenities include free Wi-Fi, daily breakfast, air-conditioned rooms. (Php770 to Php1,050)


As of 2012, the population of Singapore was 5.3 million people, of whom 3.3 million (62%) are citizens, while the rest (38%) are permanent residents or foreign workers/students. Twenty-three percent of Singaporean citizens are foreign born. There are about half a million permanent residents in Singapore in 2012. The resident population does not take into account the 11 million annual visitors to Singapore. The median age of Singaporeans is 37, and the average household size is 3.5 persons. Due to scarcity of land, four out of five Singaporeans live in subsidized, high-rise, public housing apartments known as Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats, after the board responsible for public housing in the country.

In 2010, three quarters of Singaporean residents live in properties that are equal to or larger than a four-room HDB flat or in private housing. The rate of home ownership is 87%. Mobile phone penetration rate is extremely high at 1,400 mobile phone subscribers per 1000 people. Around 1 in 10 residents own a car. In 2009, the government census reports that 74% of residents were of Chinese, 13.4% of Malay, and 9% of Indian descent, while Eurasians and other groups made up 3.2%. Buddhism is the most widely practised religion in Singapore, with 33% of the resident population declaring themselves adherents at the most recent census. The next-most practised religion is Christianity, followed by Islam, Taoism, and Hinduism. 17% of the population did not have a religious affiliation.


Temasek ('sea town'), a second century outpost of the Sumatran Srivijaya empire, is the earliest known settlement on Singapore. The island was part of the Sri Vijaya Empire until it was invaded by the south Indian Emperor Rajendra Chola I, of the Chola Empire, in the 11th century. In 1613, Portuguese raiders burned down the settlement and the island sank into obscurity for the next two centuries. Nominally, it belonged to the Johor Sultanate during this period.
Singapore CBD view from Skypark, Marina Bay Sands

In 1819, Thomas Stamford Raffles arrived and signed a treaty with Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor, on behalf of the British East India Company, to develop the southern part of Singapore as a British trading post. In 1824, the entire island became a British possession under a further treaty with the Sultan, as well as the Temenggong. In 1826, Singapore became part of the Straits Settlements, under the jurisdiction of British India, becoming the regional capital in 1836. Prior to Raffles' arrival, there were approximately 1,000 people living on the island, mostly indigenous Malays along with a handful of Chinese. By 1860, the population exceeded 80,000 and more than half were Chinese. Many immigrants came to work at rubber plantations and, after the 1870s, the island became a global centre for rubber exports.

Singapore's first general election in 1955 was won by David Marshall, the pro-independence leader of the Labour Front. He led a delegation to London to demand complete self-rule but was turned down by the British. He subsequently resigned and was replaced by Lim Yew Hock, whose policies convinced Britain to grant Singapore full internal self-government for all matters except defence and foreign affairs.


Singapore is a unitary multiparty parliamentary republic, with a Westminster system of unicameral parliamentary government. The People's Action Party (PAP) has won every election since self-government began in 1959. The dominance of the PAP, coupled with a low level of press freedom and suppressed civil liberties and political rights, has led to Singapore being classified as a semi-authoritarian regime.

During the May 1959 elections, the People's Action Party won a landslide victory. Singapore became an internally self-governing state within the Commonwealth and Lee Kuan Yew became the country's first Prime Minister. Governor Sir William Allmond Codrington Goode served as the first Yang di-Pertuan Negara (Head of State), and was succeeded by Yusof bin Ishak, who became the first President of Singapore in 1965.

On 31 August 1963, Singapore declared independence from the United Kingdom, and joined with the Federation of Malaya, the Crown Colony of Sarawak and Crown Colony of North Borneo to form the new Federation of Malaysia as the result of the 1962 Merger Referendum. Singaporean leaders chose to join Malaysia primarily due to concerns regarding their limited land size and scarcity of land, water, markets and natural resources.

In 1990, Goh Chok Tong succeeded Lee as Prime Minister. During his tenure, the country faced the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the 2003 SARS outbreak and terrorist threats posed by Jemaah Islamiyah. In 2004, Lee Hsien Loong, the eldest son of Lee Kuan Yew, became the country's third Prime Minister.

The country's constitution establishes a representative democracy as the political system. The Parliament serves as the legislative branch of the government. Members of Parliament (MPs) consist of elected, non-constituency and nominated members. Elected MPs are voted into the Parliament on a "first-past-the-post" (plurality) basis and represent either single-member or group-representation constituencies. The People's Action Party has won control of Parliament with large majorities in every election since self-governance was secured in 1959.

Judicial System
Colonial district of Padang (right is the Supreme Court)
The legal system of Singapore is based on English common law, but with substantial local differences. Trial by jury was abolished in 1970 so that judicial decisions would rest entirely in the hands of appointed judges. Singapore has penalties that include judicial corporal punishment in the form of caning, which may be imposed for such offenses as rape, rioting, vandalism, and certain immigration offenses. There is a mandatory death penalty for murder, as well as certain aggravated drug-trafficking and firearms offenses. In a 2008 survey of international business executives, Singapore and Hong Kong received the top ranking with regard to judicial system quality in Asia. Singapore has been consistently rated among the least corrupt countries in the world by Transparency International.

Today, Singapore has a highly developed market economy, based historically on extended entrepĂ´t trade. Along with Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan, Singapore is one of the original Four Asian Tigers. The 2013 Index of Economic Freedom ranks Singapore as the second freest economy in the world, behind Hong Kong. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index, Singapore is consistently ranked as one of the least corrupt countries in the world, along with New Zealand and the Scandinavian countries.

Singapore is the 14th largest exporter and the 15th largest importer in the world. The country has the highest trade-to-GDP ratio in the world at 407.9 percent, signifying the importance of trade to its economy. Singapore attracts a large amount of foreign investment as a result of its location, corruption-free environment, skilled workforce, low tax rates and advanced infrastructure. There are more than 7,000 multinational corporations from the United States, Japan, and Europe in Singapore. There are also approximately 1,500 companies from China and a similar number from India. Singapore is also the second-largest foreign investor in India. Roughly 44 percent of the Singaporean workforce is made up of non-Singaporeans. Singapore also possesses the world's eleventh largest foreign reserves, and has one of the highest net international investment position per capita. The currency of Singapore is the Singapore dollar, issued by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
Skypark with Infinity Pool, Marina Bay Sands
Singapore's economy depends heavily on exports and refining imported goods, especially in manufacturing, which constituted 27% of the country's GDP in 2010, and includes significant electronics, petroleum refining, chemicals, mechanical engineering and biomedical sciences sectors. Tourism also forms a large part of the economy, and 10.2 million tourists visited the country in 2007. To attract more tourists, the government legalized gambling in 2005 and allowed two casino resorts (called Integrated Resorts) to be developed. Singapore also promotes itself as a medical tourism hub: about 200,000 foreigners seek medical care there each year. Singapore medical services aim to serve at least one million foreign patients annually and generate USD 3 billion in revenue.
Universal Studio in Sentosa
Singapore is a world leader in several economic areas: The country is the world's fourth leading financial centre, the world's second largest casino gambling market, one of the world's top three oil-refining centres, the world's largest oil-rig producer, and a major hub for ship repair services. The port is one of the five busiest ports in the world. The World Bank has named Singapore as the easiest place in the world to do business, and ranks Singapore the world's top logistics hub. It is also the world's fourth largest foreign-exchange trading centre after London, New York City and Tokyo.


Since Singapore is a small island with a high population density, the number of private cars on the road is restricted so as to curb pollution and congestion. As with most Commonwealth countries, vehicles on the road and people walking on the streets keep to the left. Most Singaporean residents travel by foot, bicycles, bus, taxis and train (MRT or LRT). Two companies run the public bus and train transport system – SBS Transit and SMRT Corporation. There are almost a dozen taxi companies, who together put out 25,000 taxis on the road. Taxis are a popular form of public transport as the fares are relatively cheap compared to many other developed countries.
Helix Pedestrian Bridge
Singapore is a major international transport hub in Asia, positioned on many sea and air trade routes. The Port of Singapore, managed by port operators PSA International and Jurong Port, was the world's second-busiest port in 2005 in terms of shipping tonnage handled. It is also the world's second-busiest, behind Shanghai, in terms of cargo tonnage with 423 million tons handled. In addition, the port is the world's busiest for trans shipment traffic and the world's biggest ship refuelling centre.

Singapore is an aviation hub for Southeast Asia. There are eight airports in the country, and Singapore Changi Airport hosts a network of 80 airlines connecting Singapore to 200 cities in 68 countries. It has been rated one of the best international airports by international travel magazines, including being rated as the world's best airport for the first time in 2006 by Skytrax. The national airlines are Singapore Airlines, SilkAir and Scoot.

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