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 this Garden City makes a great stopover or springboard into the region.
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.|
|Orchard Road 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.|
|Marina Bay 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.|
|Chinatown 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.|
|Little India A piece of India to the north of the city core.|
There's more to see outside the main city centre of Singapore, from the HDB (Housing and Development Board) heartlands where hawker food is king, to the Singapore Zoo. Or chill out in the parks and beaches of the East Coast and Sentosa.
|Sentosa and Harbourfront A separate island once a military fort that has been developed into a resort. Sentosa is the closest that Singapore gets to Disneyland, with a dash of gambling and the Universal Studios theme park thrown in. Across the water, there's Mount Faber and the Southern Ridges, an urban treetop walk with local monkeys.|
|East Coast The largely residential eastern part of the island contains Changi Airport, miles and miles of beach and many famous eateries. Also covers Geylang Serai, the true home of Singapore's Malay Muslim, and Pulau Ubin, the last remnant of a rustic Singapore.|
|North and West The northern and western parts of the island, known as Woodlands and Jurong respectively, form Singapore's residential and industrial hinterlands. The Mandai area is home to the Singapore Zoo, the River Safari and the Night Safari.|
|Balestier, Newton, Novena and Toa Payoh Budget accommodations and Burmese temples within striking distance of Central Singapore. Toa Payoh, one of Singapore's first planned neighbourhoods, is an easy way to wander around a local housing estate and experience the town centre design unique 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.
Singapore prides itself on being a multi-racial country and has diverse cultures despite its small size. Singaporeans make up two-thirds of the population. The largest group are the Chinese (about 75%), in which the largest subgroups are the Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese speakers, with Mandarin acting as the lingua franca of the community. Other notable dialect groups among the Chinese include the Hakkas, Hainanese and Foochows.
Malays, who are comprised of descendants of Singapore's original Muslim inhabitants as well as migrants from present day Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, form about 14% of all Singaporeans. Indians form about 9% of residents. Among the Indians, Tamils form the largest group by far, though there are also significant numbers of speakers of other Indian languages such as Hindi, Malayalam and Punjabi.
Singapore is religiously diverse with no religious group forming a majority and religious freedom guaranteed by the constitution. Buddhism is the largest religion with about one-third of the population declaring themselves Buddhist. Other religions which exist in significant numbers include Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Taoism. In addition to the "big five", there are also much smaller numbers of Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Jews, Baha'is and Jains. Some 17% of Singaporeans claim no religious affiliation.
As Singapore is 1.5 degrees north of the Equator, its weather is usually sunny with no distinct seasons. Rain falls almost daily throughout the year, usually in sudden, heavy showers that rarely last longer than an hour. However, most rainfall occurs during the northeast monsoon (November to January), occasionally featuring lengthy spells of continuous rain. Spectacular thunderstorms can occur throughout the year, any time during the day, so it's wise to carry an umbrella at all times, both as a shade from the sun or cover from the rain. Between May and October, forest fires in neighbouring Sumatra can also cause dense haze, although this is unpredictable and comes and goes rapidly: check with the National Environment Agency for up-to-date conditions. The temperature averages around:
- 32°C (86°F) daytime, 25°C (76°F) at night in December and January.
- 33°C (90°F) daytime, 26°C (81°F) at night for the rest of the year.
Singapore's lowest temperature ever was 19.4°C, recorded in 1934. The high temperature and humidity, combined with the lack of wind and the fact that temperatures stay high during the night, can take its toll on visitors from colder parts of the world. Bear in mind that spending more than about one hour outdoors can be very exhausting, especially if combined with moderate exercise. Singaporeans themselves shun the heat, and for a good reason.
Many live in air-conditioned flats, work in air-conditioned offices, take the air-conditioned metro to air-conditioned shopping malls connected to each other by underground tunnels where they shop, eat, and exercise in air-conditioned fitness clubs. Follow their example if you want to avoid discomfort in the searing heat and humidity of Singapore.
A more secular celebration occurs on 9 August, National Day, when fluttering flags fill Singapore and spectacular National Day parades are held to celebrate independence.
Citizens of the European Union, Norway, South Korea, Switzerland and the United States do not need a visa for stays of 90 days or less. Citizens of most other countries can stay without a visa for 30 days or less, so that's the case if your country is not named here. An exception is in place for citizens of the following countries who have to apply for an advance, online visa: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Georgia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, North Korea, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. Citizens of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kosovo, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen have to apply for an advance visa at a Singaporean embassy or consulate. Nationals of several former Soviet countries (Georgia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and the Commonwealth of Independent States) are eligible for visa-free transit for up to 96 hours if you have an onward plane ticket. Nationals of India are also eligible but with more complicated requirements. All foreigners aged 6 and above are electronically fingerprinted as part of immigration entry and exit procedures. This may be followed by a short interview conducted by the immigration officer. Entry will be denied if any of these procedures are refused. Most citizens of African and South American countries, and travellers who have recently been in a country with yellow fever, require a yellow fever vaccination certificate for entry into Singapore. Women from countries such as Ukraine may have trouble getting a visa, due to problems with "illegal activity" (presumably prostitution). Males who enter Singapore illegally or who overstay their permits by more than 14 days face a mandatory sentence of three strokes of the cane.
Singapore has very strict drug laws, and drug trafficking carries a mandatory death penalty — which is also applied to foreigners. Even if you haven't entered Singapore and are merely transiting (i.e. changing flights without the need to clear passport control and customs) while in possession of drugs, you would still be subject to capital punishment. In Singapore, it is an offense even to have any drug metabolites in your system, even if they were consumed outside Singapore, and Customs occasionally does spot urine tests at the airport! In addition, bringing in explosives or firearms without a permit is also a capital offense in Singapore.
Bring prescriptions for any prescribed medicines you may have with you, and obtain prior permission from the Singapore Health Sciences Authority before bringing in any sedatives (e.g. Valium/diazepam) or strong painkillers (e.g. codeine ingredients). If you can scan and attach all required documents (called for by HSA) to an e-mail note, you may receive written permission in as little as 10 days, certainly in 3–4 weeks. By regular mail from any great distance, allow a few months. "Stay safe" below provides additional details about drugs and medicines.
Singapore is one of Southeast Asia's largest aviation hubs, so unless you're coming from Malaysia or Batam/Bintan in Indonesia, the easiest way to enter Singapore is by air. In addition to flag-carrier Singapore Airlines, which is widely regarded as one of the world's best airlines in terms of customer service, and its regional subsidiary SilkAir, Singapore is also home to low-cost carriers Jetstar Asia and Scoot. Singapore Airlines' flight to Newark is the longest nonstop commercial flight in the world, taking around 18 hours to cover a distance of 15,323 km (9,521 miles).
In addition to the locals, every carrier of any size in Asia offers flights to Singapore, with pan-Asian discount carrier AirAsia and Malaysian regional operator Firefly operating dense networks from Singapore. There are also direct services to Europe, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, North America, and even South Africa. Singapore is particularly popular on the "Kangaroo Route" between Australia and Europe, with airlines like Qantas and British Airways using Singapore as the main stopover point. In addition to the local airports, travellers from Malaysia or Indonesia can consider flying into Johor Bahru or Batam respectively instead, as prices are often cheaper for domestic flights, and those airports also charge lower landing fees than Changi or Seletar. The downside is that you'll have to pass through customs and immigration twice, and there are no direct transportation links between those airports and Singapore, meaning that you will have to arrange your own transportion.
As befits the country's main airport and major regional hub status, Changi Airport is officially the 'best airport in the world'. It's big, pleasant, well-organised, and immigration and baggage distribution is remarkably fast. The airport is split into four main terminals (T1, T2, T3 and T4). On the MRT, it takes about 45 minutes to town with an easy transfer at Tanah Merah. A standard ticket to City Hall costs $2.30 + $0.10 non-refundable deposit, with trains running from 05:31 to 23:18. Taxis are the quickest way to the city, and will cost about $20–30 including a $3–5 airport surcharge. An additional 50% surcharge applies 00:01-06:00.
Seletar Airport. Completed in 1928 and first used for civil aviation in 1930, it was Singapore's first airport. Today, Seletar Airport is only used for general aviation, so if you're flying your own aircraft to Singapore, you'll most probably land here. The only practical means of access to Seletar is taxi, and trips from the airport incur a $3 surcharge.
Singapore is linked by two land crossings to Peninsular Malaysia: The Causeway is a very popular and thus terminally congested entry point connecting Woodlands in the north of Singapore directly into the heart of Johor Bahru. While congestion isn't as bad as it once was, the Causeway is still jam-packed on Friday evenings (towards Malaysia) and Sunday evenings (towards Singapore). The Causeway can be crossed by bus, train, taxi or car, but it is no longer feasible to cross on foot after Malaysia shifted their customs and immigration complex 2 km inland. A second crossing between Malaysia and Singapore, known as the Second Link, was built between Tuas in western Singapore and Iskandar Puteri in the western part of Johor state. Much faster and less congested than the Causeway, it is used by some of the luxury bus services to Kuala Lumpur and is strongly recommended if you have your own car. There is only one infrequent bus across the Second Link, and only Malaysian "limousine" taxis are allowed to cross it (and charge RM150 and up for the privilege). Walking across is also not allowed, not that there would be any practical means to continue the journey from either end if you did. Driving into Singapore with a foreign-registered car is rather complicated and expensive; see the Land Transport Authority's Driving Into & Out of Singapore guide for the administrative details.
Direct to/from Malaysian destinations There are buses to/from Kuala Lumpur (KL) and many other destinations in Malaysia through the Woodlands Checkpoint and the Second Link at Tuas. Unfortunately, there is no central bus terminal and different companies leave from all over the city. Major operators include:
- Aeroline. Luxury buses with meal on-board, power sockets, lounge area etc, to Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya. Departures from HarbourFront Centre. From $47 one-way.
- First Coach. No frills, but the buses have good legroom and use the Second Link. Another selling point is convenient public transport: buses depart from Novena Square (Novena MRT) in Singapore and arrive right next to (KJ 16) Bangsar LRT in Kuala Lumpur. $33/55 single/return.
- NiCE. Over 20 daily departures from Kuala Lumpur's old railway station. Double-decker NiCE 2 buses (27 seats) RM80, luxury NiCE++ buses (18 seats) RM88. Departures from Copthorne Orchid Hotel on Dunearn Road.
- Transnasional. Malaysia's largest bus operator, offers direct buses from Singapore through the peninsula. Departures from Lavender St. Executive/economy buses RM80/35.
- Transtar. Transtar's sleeper-equipped Solitaire ($63) and leather-seated First Class ($49) coaches offer frills like massaging chairs, onboard attendants, video on demand and even Wi-Fi. More plebeian SuperVIP/Executive buses are $25/39, direct service to Malacca and Genting Highlands also available. Departures from Golden Mile Complex, Beach Road (near Lavender MRT).
Most other operators have banded together in three shared booking portals. Many, but by no means all, use the Golden Mile Complex shopping mall near Bugis as their Singapore terminal.
The most popular options to get to/from Johor Bahru are the buses listed in the table. There's a pattern to the madness: Singaporean-operated buses (SBS, SMRT, SJE) can only stop at one destination in Malaysia, while the Malaysian-operated Causeway Link buses can only stop at one destination in Singapore. Terminals aside, all buses make two stops at Singapore immigration and at Malaysian immigration. At both immigration points, you must disembark with all your luggage and pass through passport control and customs, then board the next bus by showing your ticket. Figure on one hour for the whole rigmarole from end to end, more during rush hour.
From July 2015 onwards, Singapore is no longer the main southern terminus of Malaysia's Keretapi Tanah Melayu (Malayan Railway or KTMB) network, with trains mostly terminating at the JB Sentral railway station in Johor Bahru, Malaysia instead. A new shuttle service has been started between the Woodlands Train Checkpoint (in the north of Singapore) and Johor Bahru Sentral. It's a mere 5 minute trip, but one-way tickets originating in Singapore will cost $5 while the reverse will cost MYR5. From Woodlands, immigration formalities for both countries are carried out before boarding.
From Johor Bahru, Malaysia immigration stamps you out before boarding, and Singapore immigration stamps you in upon arrival at Woodlands. Taking immigration clearance time into account, the journey from Johor Bahru to Woodlands takes 30-60 minutes, while the reverse direction takes about 30 minutes. Shuttle trains will leave JB Sentral for Woodlands at 05:00, 05:25, 05:55, 06:20, 07:30, 08:40, 09:50, 11:20, 12:50, 14:20, 15:30, 16:40, 17:50, 19:00, 20:10, 21:20, 22:30 and leave Woodlands for JB Sentral at 07:20, 08:30, 09:40, 10:50, 12:20, 13:50, 15:20, 16:30, 17:40, 18:50, 20:00, 21:10, 22:20, 23:30.
Gate opens 30 minutes before departure and closes 10 minutes before departure. On weekdays, the early morning departures from JB Sentral and evening departures from Woodlands cater to commuters working in Singapore, and sell out as soon as tickets are released for sale 30 days in advance. On weekends, morning departures from Woodlands and evening departures from JB Sentral are popular among day trippers to Johor Bahru, and sell out a few days before.
While normal Singaporean taxis are not allowed to cross into Malaysia and vice versa, specially licensed Singaporean taxis permitted to go to Larkin bus terminal (only) can be booked from Johor Taxi Service ☎ +65 6296 7054, $45 one way), while Malaysian taxis, which can go anywhere in Malaysia, can be taken from the taxi terminal at Ban San St ($32 to charter, or $8/person if you share with others). In the reverse direction, towards Singapore, you can take Singaporean taxis from Larkin to any point in central Singapore ($30) or Changi Airport ($40), while Malaysian taxis can only bring you to Ban San St (MYR80). The main advantage here is that you do not need to lug your stuff (or yourself) through Customs at both ends; you can just sit in the car.
Ferries link Singapore with the neighbouring Indonesian province of Riau Islands, and the Malaysian state of Johor. Singapore has five ferry terminals which handle international ferries: HarbourFront (formerly World Trade Centre) near Sentosa, Marina Bay Cruise Centre in Marina Bay, Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal on the East Coast, as well as Changi Ferry Terminal and Changi Point Ferry Terminal, at the eastern extremity of the island. Getting to/away from the ferry terminals:
- HarbourFront FT: Inside HarbourFront Shopping Mall (alight at HarbourFront MRT station).
- Marina Bay Cruise Centre: Alight at Marina South Pier MRT station. Or take bus number 402 from Tanjong Pagar MRT station, Exit C.
- Tanah Merah FT: Alight at Bedok MRT station and take bus No. 35 to ferry terminal.
- Changi FT: No bus stop nearby, take a taxi from Tanah Merah MRT station.
- Changi Point FT: Take bus No. 2, 29 or 59 to Changi Village Bus Terminal and walk to the ferry terminal.
To/from Batam: Ferries to/from Nagoya (Indonesia) (Harbour Bay Ferry terminal), Sekupang, Batam Centre and Waterfront City (Waterfront City) use HarbourFront FT, while ferries to/from Nongsapura use Tanah Merah FT. Operators at Harbourfront include:
- Indo Falcon, ☎ +65 6278 3167, Hourly ferries to Batam Centre, fewer to Waterfront City. This company does not operate to/from Sekupang. Similar fares.
- Horizon Fast Ferry, ☎ +65 6276 6711. Operates 16 trips to/from Harbour Bay Ferry Terminal and Batu Ampar. Fares are similar to the other companies.
- Dino/Batam Fast, ☎ +65 6270 0311 in Harbourfront ☎ +62 778 467793, +62 778 470344 in Batam Centre ☎ +62 778 325085, +62 778 3250856 in Sekupang ☎ +62 778 381150 in Waterfront City. Also hourly ferries to/from Harbour Bay Ferry terminal, fewer ferries to/from Sekupang and Waterfront City.
At Tanah Merah:
- Dino/Batam Fast, ☎ +65 6270 0311 in Singapore ☎ +62 778 761071 in Nongsa. Around 8 ferries daily to/from Nongsa, the resort area on the northeastern tip of Batam. $16/22 one-way/return before taxes and surcharges.
To/from Bintan: All ferries for Bintan use Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. For Tanjung Pinang, there is a total of 6 ferries a day, increasing to 9 during weekends. $25/35 one-way/return before taxes and surcharges. Operators include:
- Dino/Batam Fast, ☎ +65 6542 6310 in Tanah Merah.
- Penguin, ☎ +65 6542 7105 in Tanah Merah ☎+62 771 315143 in Tanjung Pinang ☎ +62 770 696120 in Lobam.
- Indo Falcon, ☎ +65 6542 6786 in Tanah Merah.
- Berlian/Wave Master, ☎ +65 6546 8830 in Tanah Merah.
For Bintan Resorts (Bandar Bentan Telani)
- Bintan Resort Ferries. operates five ferries from Tanah Merah FT on weekdays, increasing to 7 during weekends. $34.60/50.20 one-way/return peak period, $26.60/39.20 one-way/return off-peak including taxes and fuel surcharge..
To/from Karimun: Tanjung Balai is served by Penguin and IndoFalcon from Harbourfront, with six ferries total on weekdays, increasing to 8 during weekends. $24/33 one-way/return including taxes and fuel surcharge.
Ferries shuttle from Singapore to southeastern Johor and are handy for access to the beach resort of Desaru. The scheduled ferry service to Tioman was discontinued in 2003.
- Pengerang: Bumboats shuttle between Changi Point Ferry Terminal at Changi Village, 51 Lorong Bekukong, ☎ +65 6545 2305, +65 6545 1616, and Pengerang, a village at the southeastern tip of Johor. Boats ($10 per person, $2 per bicycle one-way) operate 07:00-19:00 and leave when they reach the 12-passenger quota.
- Sebana Cove Resort, Desaru: Ferries to/from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal operated by Indo Falcon, ☎ +65 6542 6786 in Tanah Merah. Three ferries daily except Tuesday. $48 for adults, $38 for children return including taxes and fuel surcharge.
- Tanjung Belungkor, Desaru: Limbongan Maju Ferry Services ☎ +60 7 827-6418 or +60 7 827-6419, operates passenger ferries from Changi Ferry Terminal daily. The previous car ferry service has been suspended.
Star Cruises offers multi-day cruises from Singapore to points throughout Southeast Asia, departing from HarbourFront FT. Itineraries vary widely and change from year to year, but common destinations include Malacca, Klang (Kuala Lumpur), Penang, Langkawi, Redang and Tioman in Malaysia, as well as Phuket, Krabi, Ko Samui and Bangkok in Thailand. There are also several cruises every year to Borneo (Malaysia), Sihanoukville (Cambodia), Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) and even some 10 night long hauls to Hong Kong. An all-inclusive 2 night cruise may cost as little as $400 per person in the cheapest cabin class if you book early, but beware the numerous surcharges for services. Non-residents may be charged significantly higher rates. Singapore is also a popular stop for round-the-world and major regional cruises including those originating from as far as Japan, China, Australia, Europe and North America. Many of those cruises embark/disembark passengers here during all-day or over-night port visits, while others stop for perhaps just a day. Check with cruise companies and sellers for details. Ships use the same two terminals noted above for ferries.
Getting around Singapore is easy: the public transportation system is extremely easy to use and taxis are reasonably priced - when you can get one. Very few visitors rent cars. CityMapper Singapore and Google Maps does a pretty good job of figuring out the fastest route by MRT and bus and even estimating taxi fares between any two points. If you are staying in Singapore for some time or are planning to return to Singapore several times in the future, the EZ-link contactless RFID farecard or a NETS Flash Pay card might be a worthwhile purchase.
NETS Flash Pay is more widely accepted. Those who are familiar with Hong Kong's Octopus card, London Underground's Oyster card, Washington DC's SmarTrip card, Melbourne's myki card, Vancouver's Compass card, Stockholm's SL Access Card or Japan Railways' IC cards already know how to use the EZ-link and Nets Flash Pay card. You store value on it and use it on the MRT trains as well as all city buses at a 15% discount. The card costs $12, including $7 stored value, and the card can be "topped up" in increments of at least $10 at any ticketing machine or 7-Eleven stores (the latter will allow a top-up for a service fee). You can also set up automatic top off for NETS Flash Pay. You can use the same card for 5 years. Attention, the $5 card fee will not be refunded and is lost. If you are leaving Singapore and you have some money on your card, you can go to any TransitLink ticket office for a refund, but then your card will be invalidated and the $5 is lost again.
Alternatively, the Singapore Tourist Pass available at selected TransitLink ticket offices (including Changi Airport and Orchard MRT stations) also includes ez-link card functionality and a variety of discounts for attractions. The pass includes unlimited travel on MRT, LRT and non-premium buses, and costs $10 for 1 day, $16 for 2 days, or $20 for 3 days (together with a $10 rental deposit refunded if this card is returned within 5 days after purchase). The passes are valid until the end of operating hours on the day they expire. The cost of MRT, LRT and non-premium buses are different based on the distance, but usually average is $1 per trip. Please calculate first before buy it, due to the service end at midnight and if you arrive in Changi Airport in the night, buy the Singapore Tourist Pass and use it, relatively you loss one day of the ticket (from your 1st usage of the pass to the end of public transport service for that day is one day).
The MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) and LRT (Light Rail Transit) are trains that are the main trunk of Singapore's transit system. They are a cheap and very reliable mode of transportation, and the network covers most points of interest for the visitor. All train lines use contactless RFID tickets. Just tap the reader to validate your train ticket at the ticket gate when entering and exiting paid areas of stations. Since 2012, single-trip tickets have been replaced with new standard tickets which can be used up to six times within 30 days. A trip costs between $0.80 and $2, and a $0.10 deposit is incurred on first purchase. The deposit is refunded on the third top-up of the ticket and a $0.10 discount is automatically given on the last (sixth) top-up. The ticket can thereafter be discarded or kept as a souvenir.
EZ-Link or NETS FlashPay farecards (described above) are the easiest and most popular ways to use on the MRT. All lines are seamlessly integrated, even if the lines are operated by different transport companies, so you do not need to buy a new ticket or go through multiple gates to transfer between different operators' lines. The MRT stations are clean and equipped with free toilets. All stations have screen doors, so there is no risk of falling onto the tracks.
The North-East Line, Circle Line, Downtown Line, LRT and all upcoming lines are operated automatically without a driver, so it is worth walking up to the front of the train to look out a window and realize that there is no driver! As of October 2017, a Downtown Line extension connects the Chinatown Station with the Expo Station on the Changi Airport Extension, providing travellers with an alternative route to get between Changi Airport and the city. When using escalators, stand on the left to allow those in a hurry to pass on the right.
Buses connect various corners of Singapore, but are slower and harder to use than the MRT. Their advantage is you get to see the sights rather than a dark underground tunnel at a low price. On a long distance bus, frequent stops and slow speeds may mean your journey could take two to three times as long as the same trip via MRT. You can pay cash (coins) in buses, but the fare stage system is quite complex (it's easiest to ask the driver for the price to your destination), you are charged marginally more and there is no provision for getting change. Payment with EZ-Link or NETS Flashpay card is thus the easiest method: tap your card against the reader at the front entrance of the bus when boarding, and a maximum fare is deducted from the card. When you alight, tap your card again at the exit, and the difference is refunded. Make sure you tap out, or you'll end up paying the maximum fare. Inspectors occasionally prowl buses to check that everybody has paid or tapped, so those who are on tourist day passes should tap before sitting down. Dishonest bus commuters risk getting fined $20 for not paying or underpaying fares (by premature tapping-out) and $50 for improper use of concession cards.
Taxicabs use meters and are reasonably priced and honest. Outside weekday peak hours, trips within the city centre should not cost you more than $10 and even a trip right across the island from Changi to Jurong will not break the $35 mark. If you are in a group of 3 or 4, it's sometimes cheaper and faster to take a taxi than the MRT. However, at peak periods and when it rains, demand often exceeds supply, so if there's a long queue at a taxi stand, you'll want to call a taxi from the unified booking system at ☎ +65 6342 5222 (6-DIAL-CAB) or take the MRT instead. Ride-sharing apps also provides an alternative in such conditions, though surcharges during periods of high demand should be expected.
Taxi pricing is largely identical across all companies at $3.00-3.90 as a flag down rate (depending on the type of vehicle used), which lasts you 1 km before increments of $0.22 per 400 m (for the first 10 km) or $0.22 per 350 m (after the first 10 km). (The sole exception is SMRT's giant black Chryslers, which charge $5 and then $0.30 per 385 m.) Watch out for surprises though: there are a myriad of peak hour (25%), late night (50%), central business district ($3), trips from airport or the casinos ($3–5 during peak hours), phone booking ($3.00 and up) and Electronic Road Pricing surcharges, which may add a substantial amount to your taxi fare.
Via ride sharing
Beginning April 2018, the major rideshare competitors Uber and Grab have consolidated into a single Grab app with complete coverage and presence in Singapore; Uber will cease to operate in the country. Before arriving, download the Grab ride-hailing app. Rides are reasonably priced and the app also allows users to hail conventional taxis. Most international credit/debit cards are accepted on the app, and Grab notably allows you to pay using cash as well. Lyft has partnered with local ride share service Grab, so you can use the Lyft app to grab a car. Other ride sharing apps include Ryde, SWAT and Maxi Taxi.
Trishaws, three-wheeled bicycle taxis, haunt the area around the Singapore River and Chinatown. Geared purely for tourists, they should be avoided for serious travel as locals do not use them. There is little room for bargaining: short journeys cost $10–20 and an hour's sightseeing charter about $50 per person.
Tourist-oriented bumboats cruise the Singapore River, offering point-to-point rides starting from $3 and cruises with nice views of the CBD skyscraper skyline starting from $13. Bumboats also shuttle passengers from Changi Village to Pulau Ubin ($2.50 one-way), a small island off Singapore's northeast coast which is about as close as Singapore gets to unhurried rural living.
Car rental is not a popular option for visitors to Singapore, as public transport covers virtually the entire island and it's generally cheaper to take taxis all day than to rent. You will usually be looking at upwards for $100 per day for the smallest vehicle from the major rental companies, although local ones can be cheaper and there are sometimes good weekend prices available. This does not include petrol at around $2/litre or electronic road pricing (ERP) fees, and you'll usually need to pay extra to drive to Malaysia. If planning on touring Malaysia by car, it makes much more sense to head across the border to Johor Bahru, where both rentals and petrol are half price, and you have the option of dropping your car off elsewhere in the country. This also avoids the unwelcome extra attention that Singapore cars tend to get from thieves and greedy cops.
Using bicycles as a substitute for public transportation is possible. While the city is small and its landscape is flat, it can be difficult to predict how ridable a route will be without scoping it out first. Singapore has an expanding infrastructure of segregated bike lanes, named the "Park Connector Network" (PCN) as they are primarily intended for leisure and not transportation. An up-to-date cycling route map can be found in the Park Connector Network website.
Singapore is very pedestrian-friendly. In the main business district and on main roadways, pavements and pedestrian crossings are in good shape and plentiful. Drivers are mindful of marked crossing zones, but are less likely to be aware or respectful of pedestrians crossing at street corners on less busy streets where crossings are not marked, even though by law any accident between a pedestrian and a vehicle is presumed to be the driver's fault.
Jaywalking is illegal and punished with fines of $25 and up to three months in jail. This is however rarely enforced.
An unavoidable downside, though, is the tropical heat and humidity, which leaves many visitors sweaty and exhausted, so do as the locals do and bring along a little towel and a bottle of water. Also, afternoon thunderstorms are fairly common during the monsoon season. It's best to get an early start, pop into air-conditioned shops, cafes and museums to cool off or take shelter from rain, and plan on heading back to the shopping mall or hotel pool before noon.
Malay may be enshrined in the constitution as the "national language", but in practice the most common language is English, spoken by almost every non-elderly Singaporean with varying degrees of fluency. English is spoken much better here than in most Asian neighbours. Standard British English is also the medium of instruction in schools, except for mother tongue subjects, e.g., Malay, Mandarin and Tamil, which are also required to be learned in school by Singaporeans. It is not uncommon to find that the younger Singaporeans tend to view English as their first language. In addition, all official signs and documents are written in English, usually using British terminology and spelling.
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.
While you can find a place to practice nearly any sport in Singapore — golfing, surfing, scuba diving, even ice skating and snow skiing — due to the country's small size your options are rather limited and prices are relatively high. For watersports in particular, the busy shipping lanes and sheer population pressure mean that the sea around Singapore is murky, and most locals head up to Tioman (Malaysia) or Bintan (Indonesia) instead.
On the upside, there is an abundance of dive shops in Singapore, and they often arrange weekend trips to good dive sites off the East Coast of Malaysia, so they are a good option for accessing some of Malaysia's not-so touristy dive sites.
Culture & Tradition of Singapore
On the cultural side of things, Singapore has been trying to shake off its boring, buttoned-down reputation and attract more artists and performances. The star in Singapore's cultural sky is the Esplanade theatre in Marina Bay, a world-class facility for performing arts and a frequent stage for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Pop culture options are rapidly growing and Singapore's home-grown arts scene is undergoing a second renaissance, with local English-language acts like The Sam Willows and Gentle Bones joining local Chinese pop starlets Stefanie Sun and JJ Lin on the scene. Any bands and DJs touring Asia are also pretty much guaranteed to perform in Singapore. Going to the movies is a popular Singaporean pastime, but look for "M18" (age 18 and above only) or "R21" ratings (age 21 and above only) if you like your movies with fewer cuts.
The big three theatre chains are Cathay, Golden Village and Shaw Brothers. For a taste of Singapore through film, Jack Neo's popular comedies showcase the foibles of Singaporean life, while directors like K. Rajagopal, Boo Jun Feng, and Tan Pin Pin are ushering in a new wave of contemporary film art in Singapore. In May or June, don't miss the yearly Singapore Arts Festival. Advance tickets for almost any cultural event can be purchased from SISTIC, either on-line or from any of their numerous ticketing outlets, including the Singapore Visitor Centre on Orchard Road.
Despite its small size, Singapore has a surprisingly large number of golf courses, but most of the best ones are run by private clubs and open to members and their guests only. The main exceptions are the Sentosa Golf Club, the famously challenging home of the Barclays Singapore Open, and the Marina Bay Golf Course, the only 18-hole public course. See the Singapore Golf Association for the full list; alternatively, head to the nearby Indonesian islands of Batam or Bintan or up north to the Malaysian town of Malacca for cheaper rounds.
The inaugural Singapore Formula One Grand Prix was held at night in September 2008, and the organisers have confirmed that the night race will be a fixture until 2021. Held on a street circuit in the heart of Singapore and raced at night, all but race fans will probably wish to avoid this time, as hotel prices especially rooms with views of the F1 tracks are through the roof. Tickets start from $150 but the thrilling experience of night race is definitely unforgettable for all F1 fans and photo buffs. Besides being a uniquely night race, the carnival atmosphere and pop concert held at the periphery of the race ground as well as the convenience of hotels and restaurants round the corner, distinguish the race from other F1 races held in remote spots away from urban centres.
Forget your tiny hotel pool if you are into competitive or recreational swimming: Singapore is paradise for swimmers with arguably the highest density of public pools in the world. They are all open-air 50 m pools (some facilities even feature up to three 50 m pools), accessible for an entrance fee of $1–1.50. Some of the visitors don't swim at all. They just come from nearby housing complexes for a few hours to chill out, read and relax in the sun. Most are open daily 08:00-21:00 and all feature a small cafe. Just imagine swimming your lanes in the tropical night with lit up palm trees surrounding the pool. The Singapore Sports Council maintains a list of pools, most of which are part of a larger sports complex with gym, tennis courts etc., and are near the MRT station they're named after.
Perhaps the best is in Katong (111 Wilkinson Road, on the East Coast): after the swim, stroll through the villa neighbourhood directly in front of the pool entrance and have at look at the luxurious, original architecture of the houses that really rich Singaporeans live in. If you get bored with regular swimming pools, head to the Jurong East Swimming Complex where you get the wave pool, water slides and Jacuzzi at an insanely affordable entrance fee of $1.50 on weekdays and $2 on weekends. For those who feel richer, visit the Wild Wild Wet water theme park or the Adventure Cove Waterpark and get yourself wet with various exciting water slides and tidal wave pools. For those who don't like pools, head out to the beaches.
The East Coast Park has a scenic coastline that stretches over 15 km. It's a popular getaway spot for Singaporeans to swim, cycle, barbeque and engage in various other sports and recreational activities. Sentosa island also has three white, sandy beaches - Siloso Beach, Palawan Beach and Tanjong Beach - each with its own distinct characteristics, and also very popular with locals.
Canoeing and dragon-boating are popular water-sports in Singapore, and there are many beautiful reservoirs and rivers where one can partake in such physical activity. Check out the MacRitchie Reservoir, Kallang River and Marina Bay for reasonably priced options. Besides these more regular water sports, Singapore also offers water sports fans trendy activities such as cable-Skiing and wave surfing in specially created environments.
While obviously not the best place on earth for skiing, sunny Singapore still has a permanent indoor snow centre. Snow City offers visitors a chance to experience winter. Visitors can escape from the hot and humid tropical weather to play in snow or even learn to ski and snowboard with certified professional instructors.
The Singaporean currency is the Singapore dollar, denoted by the symbol S$ or $ (ISO code: SGD ). It is divided into 100 cents. There are coins of $0.05 (2nd series: bronze; 3rd series: gold), $0.10 (silver), $0.20 (silver), $0.50 (silver) and $1 (2nd series: gold; 3rd series: silver with gold rim). Notes are in denominations of $2 (purple), $5 (green), $10 (red), $50 (blue), $100 (orange), $1,000 (purple) and $10,000 (gold).
Singapore is one of the largest financial centres in the region, so there are numerous banks to choose from. Partly due to past strong banking secrecy laws, Singaporean banks are increasingly seen as an alternative to Swiss banks for the world's richest people to stash their assets. Opening a bank account is a straightforward process and there are no restrictions on foreigners owning a bank account in Singapore. The largest local banks in Singapore are United Overseas Bank (UOB), DBS Bank and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC Bank). Major foreign banks that have a large presence in Singapore include HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank and Citibank.
To open a bank account in Singapore, a Bank reference letter must be provided and source of funds.
Tipping is generally not practised in Singapore. However, it is common for restaurants to levy a 10% service charge before GST, the local Goods and Services Tax. Restaurants often display prices like $19.99++, which means that service charge (10%) and sales tax (7%) are not included and will be added to your bill. When you see NETT, it means it includes all taxes and service charges.
Bellhops and hotel porters still expect $2 or so per bag. Tipping is not expected in taxis, who usually return your change to the last 5 cents, or round the fare down by that amount in your favour, if they can't be bothered to dig for change; congestion or Electronic Road Pricing charges are often already included in the final fare. All taxis must advertise a hotline to call if the customer feels dissatisfied. Do not under any circumstances offer a tip to any government employee, especially police officers, as this is regarded as bribery, and would most likely get you arrested and pressed with criminal charges.
Shopping in Singapore
Shopping is second only to eating as a national pastime, which means that Singapore has an abundance of shopping malls, and low taxes and tariffs on imports coupled with huge volume mean that prices are usually very competitive. While you won't find any bazaars with dirt-cheap local handicrafts (in fact, virtually everything sold in Singapore is made elsewhere), goods are generally of reasonably good quality and shopkeepers are generally quite honest due to strong consumer protection laws. Most stores are open daily 10:00-22:00, although smaller operations (particularly those outside shopping malls) close earlier — 19:00 is common — and perhaps on Sundays as well.
Mustafa in Little India is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Many stores along the shopping belt of Orchard Road and Scotts Road now offer late night shopping on the last Friday of every month with over 250 retailers staying open until midnight.
- Antiques: The second floor of the Tanglin Shopping Centre on Orchard and the shops on South Bridge Road in Chinatown are good options if looking for the real thing (or high-quality reproductions).
- Books: Borders at Wheelock Place has since closed down. However, there are other bookstores like Kinokuniya. Kinokuniya is one of the largest bookstores in Singapore. Its main branch is at Ngee Ann City, which is in Orchard. It has three other branches at Liang Court (near Robertson Walk, close to Fort Canning MRT station), Bugis Junction (a shopping complex directly above Bugis MRT station) and JEM (a shopping complex near Jurong East MRT station). Many second-hand book stores are in Far East Plaza and Bras Basah Complex, where you may attempt to bargain if you are buying a lot. For university textbooks, the bookshops at the National University of Singapore have the best prices on the island, up to 80% off compared to prices in the West.
- Cameras: Peninsula Plaza near City Hall has Singapore's widest selection of camera shops. However, there are no great bargains to be had, and many camera stores in Singapore (particularly those in Lucky Plaza and Sim Lim Square) have a reputation for fleecing even the most careful tourists. The best way is to know exactly what you are looking for and then when you arrive, drop by the shops at the airport's transit area and take a look at the price and check with them whether they have any promotions. Then go to the downtown shops and compare prices/packages to see which shop will give you value for money. To be safe, always check prices and packages for everything you're interested in at large retailers like Courts, Harvey Norman and Best Denki first. Be very careful when shop staff attempt to promote brands or models other than the one you have in mind; a few stores at Sim Lim Square, Lucky Plaza, and elsewhere are known to use this tactic and sell products at two to four times their actual list prices. Also watch for the bait-and-switches. Inspect the model number and condition of the item, then do not let it out of your sight when you pay. (In Lucky Plaza, the most common scam is doubling the charge without your agreement.)
- Clothes, high-street: Ion, Ngee Ann City (Takashimaya) and Paragon on Orchard have the heaviest concentration of branded boutiques. There are another malls such as Raffles City at City Hall MRT that also hosts a variety of brands for instance, Kate Spade, Timberland.
- Clothes, tailored: Virtually all hotels have a tailor shop attached, and touting tailors are a bit of a nuisance in Chinatown. As elsewhere, you'll get what you pay for and will get poor quality if you don't have the time for multiple fittings or the skill to check what you're getting. Prices vary widely: a local shop using cheap fabrics can do a shirt for $40, while Singapore's best-known tailor, CYC the Custom Shop at the Raffles Hotel, will charge at least $120. You can also check Brazil Tailor shop.
- Clothes, youth: Most of Bugis is dedicated to the young, hip and cost-conscious. Bugis St (opposite Bugis MRT) is the most popular in the Bugis area, consisting of 3 levels of shops. Some spots of Orchard, notably Far East Plaza not to be confused with Far East Shopping Centre and the top floor of the Heeren, also target the same market but prices are generally higher.
- Computers: Sim Lim Square (near Little India) is great for the hardcore geek who really knows what he's after - parts price lists are available on HardwareZone.com and are given out in Sim Lim itself, making price comparison easy. Lesser mortals (namely, who have failed to do their price-checking homework) stand a risk of getting ripped off when purchasing, but this is generally not a problem with the price lists offered by most shops. Some Singaporeans purchase their electronic gadgets during the quarterly "IT shows" usually held at Suntec City Convention Centre or at the Expo, at which prices on gadgets are sometimes slashed (but often only to Sim Lim levels). Another possibility is to shop at Funan IT Mall, the stores of which may be more honest on average (according to some). Do not be attracted by side gifts/sweeteners of thumbdrives, mice and so on; these only tend to hide inflated prices.
- Consumer electronics: Singapore used to be known for good prices, but nowadays electronics here are generally more expensive than from US and international online vendors. Funan IT Mall (Riverside#Buy|Riverside) and Mustafa (Little India) are good choices.
- Avoid the tourist-oriented shops on Orchard Road, particularly the notorious Lucky Plaza, or risk getting ripped off.
- Also take great care to avoid shops on the 1st and 2nd levels of Sim Lim Square, some of which tend to rip off tourists and locals alike by overcharging by 100% or more, adding on ludicrous charges beyond what was agreed on, swapping items for used ones, leaving out cases and batteries, and a host of other practices that should be (or are) criminal.
- Please do your research before buying electronics from any store in Singapore; online research and multi-shop price comparison (and bargaining, occasionally) are essential. Mustafa has fixed, fair prices and is a good option, and so are Challenger and other large fixed-price retailers. For any purchases, remember that Singapore uses 230 V voltage at 50 Hz with a British-style, three-pin plug.
- Electronic components: For do-it-yourself people and engineers, a wide variety of electronic components and associated tools can be found at Sim Lim Tower (opposite Sim Lim Square), near Little India. You can find most common electronic components (such as breadboards, transistors, various ICs, etc.) and bargain prices for larger quantities as well.
- For Malay and Indian stuff, the best places to shop are Geylang Serai and Little India respectively.
- Fabrics: Arab Street and Little India have a good selection of imported and local fabrics like batik.
- Peranakan goods: The Peranakan, or Malay-Chinese, may be fading but their colourful clothing and artwork, especially the distinctive pastel-coloured ceramics, are still widely available. Antiques are expensive, but modern replicas are quite affordable. The largest selection and best prices can be found in Katong on the East Coast.
- Sporting goods: Queensway Shopping Centre, off Alexandra Road and rather off the beaten track (take a taxi), seems to consist of nothing but sporting goods shops. You can also find foreigner-sized sporty clothing and shoes here. Do bargain! Expect to get 40-50% off the price from the shops in Orchard for the same items. Velocity in Novena is also devoted to sports goods, but is rather more upmarket. Martial arts equipment is surprisingly hard to find, although most of the clothing shops around Pagoda Street in Chinatown sell basic silk taiji/wushu uniforms. If you plan to buy weapons such as swords, you have to apply for a permit from the police (around $10) to get your weaponry out of the country.
- Tea: Chinatown's Yue Hwa (2nd floor) is unbeatable for both price and variety, but Time for Tea in Lucky Plaza (Orchard) is also a good option. English tea is also widely available around Orchard Road. For those who are looking for high-end luxury tea blends, local brand TWG has branches throughout the island to cater to this market.
- Watches: High-end watches are very competitively priced. Ngee Ann City (Orchard) has dedicated stores from the likes of Piaget and Cartier, while Millenia Walk (Marina Bay) features the Cortina Watch Espace retailing 30 brands from Audemars Piguet to Patek Philippe, as well as several other standalone shops.
For purchases of over $100 per day per participating shop, you may be able to get a refund of your 7% GST if departing by air, but the process is a bit of a bureaucratic hassle. At the shop you need to ask for a tax refund cheque.
Even with her young age, Singapore has a wide range of souvenirs available for tourists due to the rich multi-cultural history. While you can find Merlion Keychains, Chocolates, T-shirts & Postcards around Chinatown & Little India, there are plenty of unique souvenirs that are homegrown labels & represent Singapore. Fashion label Charles & Keith (started out as Shoe Heaven), has got you covered if you're looking for a pair of perfect shoes & has evolved into handbags & accessories.
|This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:|
Singapore is a melting pot of cuisines from around the world, and many Singaporeans are obsessive gourmands who love to makan ("eat" in Malay). You will find quality Chinese, Malay, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Italian, French, American and other food in this city-state. Eating habits run the gamut, but most foods are eaten by fork and spoon: push and cut with the fork in the left hand, and eat with the spoon in the right. Noodles and Chinese dishes typically come with chopsticks, while Malay and Indian food can be eaten by hand, but nobody will blink an eye if you ask for a fork and spoon instead. If eating by hand, always use your right hand to pick your food, as Malays and Indians traditionally use their left hand to handle dirty things. Take note of the usual traditional Chinese etiquette when using chopsticks, and most importantly, do not stick your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice. If eating in a group, serving dishes are always shared, but you'll get your own bowl of rice and soup. It's common to use your own chopsticks to pick up food from communal plates, but serving spoons can be provided on request. Keep an eye out for the Singapore Food Festival, held every year in July.
Singapore is justly famous for its food, a unique mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Western elements. The following is only a brief sampler of the most popular dishes.
Malay Halal cuisine
The Malays were Singapore's original inhabitants and despite now being outnumbered by the Chinese, their distinctive cuisine is popular to this day. Characterised by heavy use of spices, most Malay dishes are curries, stews or dips of one kind or another and nasi padang restaurants, offering a wide variety of these to ladle onto your rice, are very popular.
- Mee rebus is a dish of egg noodles with spicy, slightly sweet gravy, a slice of hard boiled egg and lime.
- Mee soto is Malay-style chicken soup, with a clear broth, shredded chicken breast and egg noodles.
- Nasi lemak is the definitive Malay breakfast, consisting at its simplest of rice cooked in light coconut milk, some ikan bilis (anchovies), peanuts, a slice of cucumber and a dab of chilli on the side. A larger ikan kuning (fried fish) or chicken wing are common accompaniments. More often than not, also combined with a variety of curries and/or sambal
- Otah/Otak is a type of fish cake made of minced fish (usually mackerel), coconut milk, chilli and various other spices, and grilled in a banana or coconut leaf, usually served to accompany other dishes like nasi lemak.
- Rendang, originally from Indonesia and occasionally dubbed "dry curry", is meat stewed for hours on end in a spicy (but rarely fiery) coconut-based curry paste until almost all water is absorbed. Beef rendang is the most common, although chicken and mutton are spotted sometimes.
- Sambal is the generic term for chilli sauces of many kinds. Sambal belacan is a common condiment made by mixing chilli with the shrimp paste belacan, while the popular dish sambal sotong consists of squid (sotong) cooked in red chilli sauce.
- Satay are barbecued skewers of meat, typically chicken, mutton or beef. What separates satay from your ordinary kebab are the spices used to season the meat and the slightly spicy peanut-based dipping sauce. The Satay Club at Lau Pa Sat near Raffles Place is one popular location for this delicacy.
Malay desserts, especially the sweet pastries and jellies (kuih or kueh) made largely from coconut and palm sugar (gula melaka), bear a distinct resemblance to those of Thailand. But in the sweltering tropical heat, try one of many concoctions made with ice instead:
- Bubur cha-cha consists of cubed yam, sweet potato and sago added into coconut milk soup. This can be served warm or cold.
- Chendol is made with green pea noodles, kidney beans, palm sugar and coconut milk.
- Durian is not exactly a dish, but a local fruit with distinctive odor you can smell a mile away and a sharp thorny husk. Both smell and taste defy description, but eating garlic ice cream next to an open sewer comes to mind. If you are game enough you should try it, but be warned beforehand — you will either love it or hate it. The rich creamy yellow flesh is often sold in places like Geylang and Bugis and elsewhere conveniently in pre-packaged packs, for anywhere from $1 for a small fruit all the way up to $18/kg depending on the season and type of durian. This 'king of fruits' is also made into ice cream, cakes, sweets, puddings and other decadent desserts. You're not allowed to carry durians on the MRT and buses and they're banned from many hotels.
- Ice kachang literally means "ice bean" in Malay, a good clue to the two major ingredients: shaved ice and sweet red beans. However, more often than not you'll also get gula melaka (palm sugar), grass jelly, sweet corn, attap palm seeds and anything else on hand thrown in, and the whole thing is then drizzled with canned evaporated milk or coconut cream and coloured syrups. The end result tastes very interesting — and refreshing.
- Kuih (or kueh) refer to a plethora of steamed or baked "cakes", mostly made with coconut milk, grated coconut flesh, glutinous rice or tapioca. They are often very colourful and cut into fanciful shapes, but despite their wildly varying appearance tend to taste rather similar.
- Pisang goreng is a batter-dipped and deep-fried banana.
Indian Halal cuisine
The smallest of Singapore's big three ethnic groups, Indians have had proportionally the smallest impact on the local culinary scene, but there is no shortage of Indian food even at many hawker centres. Delicious and authentic Indian food can be had at Little India, including south Indian typical meals such as dosa (thosai) crepes, idli lentil-rice cakes and sambar soup, as well as north Indian meals including various curries, naan bread, tandoori chicken and more. In addition, however, a number of Indian dishes have been "Singaporeanised" and adopted by the entire population, including:
- Fish head curry is, true to the name, a gigantic curried fish head cooked whole until it's ready to fall apart. Singapore's Little India is the place to sample this. There are two styles: the fiery Indian and the milder Chinese kind.
- Nasi briyani is rice cooked in turmeric, which gives the rice an orange colour. Unlike the Hyderabadi original, it's usually rather bland, although specialist shops do turn out more flavourful versions. It is usually served with curry chicken and some Indian crackers.
- Roti prata is the local version of paratha, flat bread tossed in the air like pizza, rapidly cooked in oil, and eaten dipped in curry. Modern-day variations can incorporate unorthodox ingredients like cheese, chocolate and even ice cream, but some canonical versions include roti kosong (plain), roti telur (with egg) and murtabak (layered with chicken, mutton or fish). Vegans beware: unlike Indian roti, roti prata batter is usually made with eggs.
- Putu mayam is a sweet dessert composed of vermicelli-like noodles topped with shredded coconut and orange sugar.
Found in the basement or top floor of nearly every shopping mall, food courts are the air-conditioned version of hawker centres. The variety of food on offer is almost identical, but prices are on average $1–3 higher than prices in hawker centres and coffee shops (depending on the area, it is slightly more expensive in tourist intensive areas) and the quality of food is good but not necessarily value-for-money.
International fast food chains like McDonald's, are commonly found in various shopping malls. Prices range from $2 for a basic burger to upwards of $5 for a set meal. All restaurants are self-service and clearing your table after your meal is optional. In addition to the usual suspects, look out for these uniquely Singaporean brands:
Where to stay in Singapore
|Note: Since February 2017, short term home or room rentals (of 6 months or less) such as provided by platforms such as Airbnb is illegal in Singapore. Curiously, advertising rooms or houses on such platforms is not illegal, and therefore don't be surprised to find listings for Singapore on Airbnb. The enforcement of the law has been lenient so far, but immediate action will be taken if there is any complaint by the neighbours. In case this happens, you will not face any adverse consequences other than having to find another place to stay in a hurry, but your host may be subject to legal action.|
|This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:|
Accommodation in Singapore is expensive by South-East Asian standards. Particularly in the higher price brackets, demand outstrips supply and during big events like the F1 race or some of the larger conventions it's not uncommon for pretty much everything to sell out. Lower-end hotels and hostels, though, remain affordable and available throughout the year. Unless you're a shopping maven intent on maximizing time in Orchard Road's shopping malls, the Riverside is probably the best place to stay in Singapore.
Backpackers' hostels can be found primarily in Little India, Bugis, Clarke Quay and the East Coast. backpacker hostel cost from $12–40 for a dorm bed. Cheap hotels are clustered in the Geylang, Balestier and Little India districts, where they service mostly the type of customer who rents rooms by the hour. Rooms are generally small and not fancy, but are still clean and provide basic facilities such as a bathroom and television. Prices start as low as $15 for a "transit" of a few hours and $40 for a full night's stay. The two major local chains, with hotels throughout the island, are:
- Fragrance Hotel. Chain of 13 hotels and one backpackers' hostel. Rooms from $58, discounts on weekends and for ISIC holders.
- Hotel 81. A chain of over 20 functional hotels with rates starting at $49 for two.
Much of Singapore's mid-range accommodation is in rather featureless but functional older hotels, with a notable cluster near the western end of the Singapore River. There has, however, been a surge of "boutique" hotels in renovated shophouses here and in Chinatown, these can be pretty good value, with rates starting from $100/night.
Singapore has a wide selection of luxury accommodation, including the famed Raffles Hotel. You will generally be looking at upwards of $300 per night for a room in a five-star hotel, which is still a pretty good deal by most standards. Hotel rates fluctuate quite a bit: a large conference can double prices, while on weekends in the off-peak season heavy discounts are often available. The largest hotel clusters can be found at Marina Bay (good for sightseeing) and around Orchard Road (good for shopping). For securing possibly cheaper rates for luxury hotels, consider using the HotelQuickly app (available for free in GooglePlay and iTunes); only stays for the same day and the next day are available. Being spoilt for choice in the lion city as far as luxurious accommodation is concerned is quite an understatement.
Housing in Singapore is expensive, as the high population density and sheer scarcity of land drives real estate prices through the roof. As a result, you would generally be looking at rentals on par with the likes of New York and London. Apartment hotels in Singapore include Ascott, which also operates under the Somerset and Citadines brands. Prices are competitive with hotels but quite expensive compared to apartments. Renting an apartment in Singapore will generally require a working visa. While over 80% of Singaporeans live in government-subsidised Housing Development Board (HDB) flats, their availability to visitors is limited, although JTC's SHiFT scheme makes some available with monthly rents in the $1700–2,800 range. Most expats, however, turn to private housing blocks known as condos, where an average three-bedroom apartment will cost you anything from $3,200 per month for an older apartment in the suburbs to $20,000 for a top-of-the-line deluxe one on Orchard Road. Most condos have facilities like pools, gyms, tennis court, carpark and 24 hr security. As the supply of studio and one-bedroom apartments is very limited, most people on a budget share an apartment with friends or colleagues, or just sublet a single room. Landed houses, known as bungalows, are incredibly expensive near the city centre (rents are commonly tens of thousands) but can drop if you're willing to settle outside the city centre — and remember that you can drive across the country in 30 minutes. One or two-month security deposits are standard practice and for monthly rents of under $3,000 you need to pay the agent a commission of 2 weeks per year of lease. Leases are usually for two years, with a "diplomatic clause" that allows you to terminate after 1 year. Singapore Expats is the largest real estate agency geared for expats and their free classifieds are a popular choice for hunting for rooms or apartment-mates. You might also want to check the classified ads in the local newspapers.
Singapore's universities are generally well-regarded and draw exchange students from near and far.
- National University of Singapore (NUS). Singapore's oldest university, strong in law, medicine, computing and science. One of the premier universities in Asia.
- Nanyang Technological University (NTU). The second university in this island state, more geared towards engineering, media and business studies. Host for the Youth Olympics 2010
- Singapore Management University (SMU). The third, and the only publicly-funded private university in Singapore. Geared towards finance and business.
- Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). The fourth autonomous university in Singapore, established in collaboration with MIT. Teaches engineering and architecture with a special focus on design.
- Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS). Previously known as Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) Singapore's private university with a number of international degree courses. The school offers a wide range of first degrees, from the arts to business to technology studies. As of 17 March 2017, SUSS is restructuring to become Singapore's newest autonomous university.
A number of foreign universities, business schools and specialized institutes have also set up their Asian campuses in Singapore.
- SP Jain School of Global Management (SPJ). International campus of the business school in Mumbai.
- INSEAD. The Asian campus of European business school, INSEAD.
- University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The Asian campus of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, offering one of the most expensive MBAs in the world.
- DigiPen Institute of Technology. The Asian campus of the DigiPen Institute of Technology, Redmond, Seattle, Washington.
- ESSEC. International campus of the business school in Paris.
You must have a work permit (WP) or an employment pass (EP) to work in Singapore. In practice, receiving either requires that you have a firm job offer and the sponsoring company applies on your behalf. There is also a Working Holiday Programme for recent university graduates who want to live in Singapore for up to 6 months.
Employment pass and S pass holders with a monthly salary of at least $5,000 are allowed to bring in their family members on a dependent pass. If your employment is terminated, you will get a social visit pass (a visitors visa with no employment rights) which allows you to stay for no longer than 14 days. You can look for another job during this time, but don't overstay your visa, and do not think about working without the right papers; this will result in a short stay in the local prison, with added fines, possibly caning, certain deportation and being banned from re-entering.
In addition, your employer will also face hefty fines and imprisonment. For more information, contact the Ministry of Manpower.
Stay safe and avoid Scams in Singapore
Singapore is one of the safest major cities in the world by virtually any measure. Most people, including single female travellers, will not face any problems walking along the streets alone at night. But as the local police say, "low crime does not mean no crime" — beware of pickpockets in crowded areas and don't forget your common sense entirely. The Singapore Police Force is responsible for law enforcement throughout the country, and you can recognise police officers by their distinctive dark blue uniforms. Most visitors will find the majority of Singaporean police officers to be professional and helpful, and you should report any crimes that you encounter to them as soon as possible.
Racial and religious discrimination
Singapore has made great efforts to ensure a peaceful integrated society; making disparaging remarks against any ethnicity or religion is a crime that carries a prison term. Bloggers have been arrested and sentenced to imprisonment for making racist remarks on their blogs, and religious leaders have also gotten into trouble with the law for insulting other religions in their sermons.
Emergency numbers in Singapore
- Police (main number for Emergency Services) ☎ 999
- Ambulance/ Fire ☎ 995
- Non-emergency ambulance ☎ 1777 (a $274 charge is paid for a non-emergency ferry to a hospital)
- Singapore General Hospital ☎ +65 6222 3322
- Drug & Poison Information Centre ☎ +65 6423 9119
Stay healthy in Singapore
Water is safe for drinking with very high sanitation standards. The hot and humid climate means that drinking plenty of water is advisable. Malaria is not an issue, but dengue fever is endemic to the region, and in 2016 Singapore experienced a Zika virus outbreak. Singapore maintains strict mosquito control (leaving standing water around will get you fined), but the government's reach does not extend into the island's nature reserves, so if you're planning on hiking bring along mosquito repellent.
The standard of medical care in Singapore is uniformly excellent and Singapore is a popular destination for medical tourism (and medical evacuations) in the region. Despite the lower prices, standards are usually as good as those in the West at both public and private clinics and hospitals, making this a good place to get your jabs and tabs if heading off into the jungle elsewhere.
You'll still want to make sure your insurance is in order before a prolonged hospitalisation and/or major surgery. For minor ailments, head down to the nearest suburban shopping mall or HDB shopping district and look for a general practitioner (GP). They usually receive patients without appointment and can prescribe drugs on the spot, and the total cost of a consultation, medicine included, rarely exceeds $30.
For larger problems, head to a hospital. Public hospital services in Singapore are not free, though they are heavily subsidised by the government for Singapore citizens and permanent residents. However, these subsidies are generally not available to visitors and expatriates, the exception being emergency medical treatment, so you will have to meet the full cost either by yourself, or through your insurance policy. Public hospitals are legally required to provide emergency medical care regardless of your ability to pay, but you will be billed at a later date.
As mentioned above, 995 is the emergency number if you only require an ambulance, though if your case requires police attention as well, you should call 999; the police will arrange for the ambulance and you do not need to call for an ambulance separately. The ambulance service is free in the event of a genuine medical emergency due to the Coronavirus, but expect to pay a hefty sum if your case is judged as minor by the emergency department doctor.
- Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Mount Elizabeth (near Orchard MRT station). A&E operates 24/7. Singapore's largest private hospital and a popular destination for medical tourists. Also features a special suite that was built for the Sultan of Brunei, but now available to anybody with the means to pay when not in use by the Brunei royal family, with prices starting from an eye-watering $5043 per night. Consultations with specialists start from $100.
- Singapore General Hospital, College Road, 1st-3rd Hospital Ave (next to Outram Park MRT station). Singapore's oldest and largest public hospital.
- Outram Polyclinic offers doctor's consultations for $20.30 and can refer patients to specialists at the hospital, although waiting times can be long; afternoons are better than mornings. Opens Monday to Friday 08:00-16:30.
- Tan Tock Seng Hospital, 11 Jalan Tan Tock Seng (next to Novena MRT station). Monday to Friday 08:00-13:00 & 14:00-17:00; Sa 08:00-12:00, no appointment needed. One of Singapore's largest public hospitals, fully equipped to handle most anything. Specialist departments here include a one-stop Travellers' Health & Vaccination Centre for immunizations, malaria prophylaxis, pre-trip and post-trip evaluations and general advice. $80 fee for doctor's consultation, vaccines for $10 plus cost (consultation unnecessary).
If you are travelling to Singapore, be sure to carry the following:
- Sun glasses - Singapore is usually bright and sunny.
- Umbrella - Be sure to carry an umbrella in your luggage, as there is some precipitation throughout the year. However, the rain usually does not last long.
- Sun block/sun screen - If you plan to go out during the day, it is advisable to apply sun block as it is mostly sunny throughout the year. The ultraviolet index (UVI) is usually very high in the afternoon when it is sunny. Please see NEA's website on ultraviolet index for more information.
- Shorts/Half Pants - Singapore can get real warm. Although air-conditioning is available in all public transports and almost all internal areas, it is advisable to carry some light clothing. Some places of worship may require visitors to dress conservatively.
- Cotton or dri-fit shirts - Wear comfortable shirts that can let the air flow through.
- Flip-flops - Singaporeans love to wear flip-flops. Be sure to carry a pair, just to blend in. Try sandals if you're not used to flip flops, but beware that in some formal establishments (e.g. catching a show at Esplanade), no flip flops, sandals, or shorts are allowed.
- Sweater - the cinemas', shopping malls' and museums' air conditioning can get cold, though usually this is a welcome relief from the heat.
Singapore makes a good base for exploring South-East Asia, with nearly all of the region's countries and their main tourism destinations — including Bangkok, Phuket, Angkor Archaeological Park, 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.