Singapore Halal Travel Guide
Singapore (Chinese: 新加坡; Malay: Singapura; Tamil: சிங்கப்பூர்) is a city-state in Southeast Asia. Founded as a British trading colony in 1819, since independence it has become one of the world’s most prosperous countries and boasts one of the world’s busiest ports. The food is legendary, with bustling hawker centres and 24-hour coffee shops offering affordable food from all parts of Asia. Combining the skyscrapers and subways of a modern, affluent city with a medley of Chinese, Malay and Indian influences and a tropical climate, with tasty food, good shopping and a vibrant nightlife scene, this Garden City makes a great stopover or springboard into the region.
The country has a partly deserved reputation for sterile predictability that has earned it descriptions like William Gibson’s “Disneyland with the death penalty” or the “world’s only shopping mall with a seat in the United Nations”. Nevertheless, the Switzerland of Asia is for many a welcome respite from the poverty, dirt and chaos of much of the Southeast Asian mainland. If you scratch below the squeaky clean surface and get away from the tourist trail you’ll soon find more than meets the eye.
Singapore is a small country on a small island, but with close to six million people it is a fairly crowded city and in fact second only to Monaco as the world’s most densely populated country. However, unlike many other densely populated countries, Singapore has over 50% of its area covered by greenery and with over 50 major parks and 4 nature reserves; it is an enchanting city in a garden. Large self-contained residential towns mushroomed all over the island, around the clean and modern city centre. The centre of the city is in the south and consists roughly of the Orchard Road shopping area, the Riverside, the new Marina Bay area and also the skyscraper-filled Shenton Way financial district. All of this is known in acronym-loving Singapore as the CBD (Central Business District) or, more simply, town.
|Riverside (Civic District)
Singapore’s colonial core, with museums, statues and theatres, not to mention restaurants, bars and clubs, centred along the banks of the Singapore River at Boat Quay and Clarke Quay.
Miles and miles of shopping malls in air-conditioned comfort. At the eastern end, the Bras Basah District is an arts and culture project in progress.
Dominated by the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort (hotel, casino, shopping mall, convention centre and museum), the futuristic Gardens by the Bay, and the Marina Barrage. Along with the Singapore Flyer and the Esplanade Theatres, Marina Bay makes up the new iconic skyline of Singapore.
|Bugis and Kampong Glam
Bugis and Kampong Glam are Singapore’s old Malay district, good for shopping in the day but especially comes to life at night.
The area was designated for Chinese settlement by Raffles, and is now a Chinese heritage area popular with tourists. Restored shophouses make for trendy hangouts for locals and expats alike.
A piece of India to the north of the city core.
Muslim Friendly Travel to Singapore
Singapore is a microcosm of Asia, populated by Chinese, Malays, Indians and a large group of workers and expatriates from all around the globe, in a country that can be crossed in barely an hour. Having celebrated its 50th birthday, Singapore has more often than not chosen economic practicality over social concerns, encouraging constant reuse and redevelopment of land with huge projects like the Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa integrated resorts as well as becoming a significant Asian financial hub, but there has also been a growing push-back to preserve local heritage in Balestier and elsewhere; just one of the many decisions to balance for the country’s future.
Islamic Public Holidays in Singapore
The Islamic month of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr or Hari Raya Puasa as it is called here, is a major occasion in Malay parts of town, particularly Geylang Serai on the East Coast, which is lit up with extensive decorations during the period. Another festival celebrated by the Malays is Eid-ul-Adha, known locally as Hari Raya Haji, which is the period when Muslims make the trip to Mecca to perform in Hajj. In local mosques, lambs contributed by the faithful are sacrificed and their meat is used to feed the poor.
Singapore holds numerous events each year. Some of its famous festivals and events include the Singapore Food Festival, the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix, the Singapore Arts Festival, the Chin Parade, the World Gourmet Summit and ZoukOut.
Christmas is also widely celebrated in Singapore, a season where the city streets and shopping malls along its famous shopping belt, Orchard Road, are lit up and decorated in vibrant colours. In addition, the Singapore Jewel Festival attracts numerous tourists every year, and is a display of precious gems, famous jewels and masterpieces from international jewellers and designers.
Sights in Singapore are covered in more detail under the various districts. Broadly speaking:
- Beaches and tourist resorts: Head to one of the three beaches on Sentosa or its southern islands. Other beaches can be found on the East Coast.
- Culture and cuisine: See Chinatown for Chinese treats, Little India for Indian flavours, Kampong Glam (Arab St) for a Malay/Arab experience or the East Coast for delicious seafood, including the famous chilli and black pepper crab.
- History and museums: The Bras Basah area east of Orchard and north of the Singapore River is Singapore’s colonial core, with historical buildings and museums.
- Nature and wildlife: Popular tourist attractions Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park and the Botanic Gardens are all in the North and West. For something closer to the city, visit the futuristic Gardens by the Bay, behind the Marina Bay Sands. Finding “real” nature is a little harder, but the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (in the same district as the zoo) has more plant species than that in the whole of North America, and is also home to a thriving population of wild monkeys. Pulau Ubin, an island off the Changi Village in the east, is a flashback to the rural Singapore of yesteryear. City parks full of locals jogging or doing tai chi can be found everywhere. Also check out the tortoise and turtle sanctuary in the Chinese Gardens on the west side of town for a great afternoon with these wonderful creatures. $5 for adult admission and $2 for leafy vegetables and food pellets. See Botanical tourism in Singapore for details on where to see trees and plants.
- Skyscrapers and shopping: The heaviest shopping mall concentration is in Orchard Road, while skyscrapers are clustered around the Singapore River, but also check out Bugis and Marina Bay to see where Singaporeans shop.
- Places of worship: Don’t miss this aspect of Singapore, where Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Baha’i faith, Christianity, Islam and Judaism all exist in sizeable numbers. Religious sites can be easily visited and welcome non-followers outside of service times. Particularly worth visiting include: the vast Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery near Ang Mo Kio/Bishan, the colourful Hindi Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown, the psychedelic Burmese Buddhist Temple in Balestier and the stately Masjid Sultan in Arab Street.
Tours and excursions in Singapore
- Three days in Singapore — A three-day sampler set of food, culture and shopping in Singapore, easily divisible into bite-size chunks.
- Southern Ridges Walk — An easy scenic 9 km stroll through the hills and jungles of southern Singapore. Highlights of the trail include a 36 m high Henderson Waves pedestrian bridge providing a stunning view of the sea beyond the jungle.
Singapore makes a good base for exploring South-East Asia, with nearly all of the region’s countries and their main tourist destinations — including Bangkok, Phuket, Angkor Wat, Ho Chi Minh City and Bali — under 2 hr away by plane. Thanks to budget carriers, Singapore is an excellent place for catching cheap flights to China and India. Singapore also has direct flights to many of the smaller cities in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, which can be convenient points of entry if you wish to skip the ever-present queues and touts at their main airports.
For day or weekend trips from Singapore, the followings are popular:
- Batam — The nearest Indonesian island to Singapore, just a short ferry trip away. Mainly industrial and infamous for its vice trade, but has some resorts.
- Bintan — Indonesian island just 55 min away by ferry, offering both high-end resorts and the “real Indonesia” experience.
- Johor Bahru — Malaysian city just across the Causeway. Just 20 min by bus 950 from Woodlands Bus Interchange. Not much to look at, but popular for cheap eats and shopping plus the newly opened Legoland Malaysia.
- Kuala Lumpur — Malaysia’s vibrant capital. 35 min by plane, 4–5 hr by bus or overnight by train.
- Malacca — Once one of the three Straits Settlements, now a sleepy colonial town. 3–4 hr by bus.
- Tioman — The nearest of Malaysia’s East Coast paradise islands, reachable by bus & ferry or plane.
For those who can afford more time to travel, here are several destinations popular among Singaporeans:
- Bali — One of Indonesia’s biggest tourist draws with its nice beaches and good food. About 2.5 hr away by plane.
- Bangkok — Thailand’s capital and considered a food, shopping and clubbing paradise by many Singaporeans. It is less than 2 hr flight away, or 2 nights by train, assuming you don’t stop off in Kuala Lumpur or Butterworth (for Penang).
- Phuket — One of the largest islands in Thailand, is another popular destination for Singaporeans. It offers a great weekend getaway and is less than 2 hr flight away. Relatively cheaper than Singapore, it is a great destination to hang around.
- Ipoh — The capital of the Malaysian state of Perak, it is famous among Singaporeans for its food. 7–8 hr away by coach, or 1 hr by turboprop flight.
- Langkawi — An island in the Malaysian state of Kedah, just south of the Thai border, famed for endless beaches. Just over an hour by plane.
- Penang — One of the Straits Settlements, with a rich history and fabulous food. About 12 hr away by coach, or 1 hr if you choose to fly. Also popular for its medical tourism.