Singapore 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.
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|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.
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.
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 Malays, 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.
History of Singapore
The first mentions of Singapore in written historical records date back to the second and third centuries where a vague reference to its location was found in Greek and Chinese texts, under the names of Sabana and Pu Luo Chung respectively. According to legend, Srivijayan prince Sang Nila Utama landed on the island in the 13th century and, catching sight of a strange creature that he thought was a lion, decided to found a new city he called Singapura, Sanskrit for Lion City. Alas, there have never been any lions anywhere near Singapore or elsewhere on Malaya, so the mysterious beast was more probably a tiger or wild boar.
More historical records indicate that the island was settled at least two centuries earlier and was known as Temasek, Javanese for "Sea Town", and an important port for the Sumatran Srivijaya kingdom. However, Srivijaya fell around 1400 and Temasek, battered by the feuding kingdoms of Siam and the Javanese Majapahit, fell into obscurity. As Singapura, it then briefly regained importance as a trading centre for the Melaka Sultanate and later, the Johor Sultanate. However, Portuguese raiders then destroyed the settlement and Singapura faded into obscurity once more.
The story of Singapore as we know it today thus began in 1819, when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles made a deal with a claimant to the throne of the Sultanate of Johor: the British would support his claim in exchange for the right to set up a trading post on the island. Though the Dutch initially protested, an Anglo-Dutch treaty was signed in 1824 separating the Malay world into British and Dutch spheres of influence (resulting in the current Malaysia-Indonesia and Singapore-Indonesia borders). This treaty ended the conflict. The Dutch renounced their claim to Singapore and ceded their colony in Malacca to the British, in exchange for the British ceding their colonies on Sumatra to the Dutch.
Well-placed at the entrance to the Straits of Malacca, straddling the trade routes between China, India, Europe, and Australia, Raffles' master stroke was to declare Singapore a free shipping port, with no duties charged on trade. As traders flocked to escape onerous Dutch taxes, the trading post soon grew into one of Asia's busiest, drawing people from far and wide. Along with Penang and Malacca, Singapore became one of the Straits Settlements and a jewel in the British colonial crown. Its economic fortunes received a further boost when palm oil and rubber from other parts of Malaya were processed and shipped out via Singapore. In 1867, the Straits Settlements were split off from British India and made into a directly ruled Crown Colony.
When World War II broke out, Fortress Singapore was seen as a formidable British base, with massive naval fortifications guarding against assault by sea. However, not only did the fortress lack a fleet - as all ships were tied up defending Britain from the Germans - but the Japanese wisely chose to cross Malaya by bicycle instead. Despite hastily turning their artillery around, this was something the British had not prepared for, and on 15 February 1942, with supplies critically low after less than a week of fighting, Singapore ignominiously surrendered and the colony's erstwhile rulers were packed off to Changi Prison. Although tens of thousands perished in the subsequent brutal occupation, the return of the British in 1945 was triumphalist.
Granted self-rule in 1955, Singapore briefly joined the Malaysian Federation in 1963 when the British left, but was expelled in the aftermath of two bloody racial riots in 1964, because the Chinese-majority city was seen as a threat to Malay dominance. Consequently, when the island became independent on 9 August 1965, Singapore became the only country in the history of the modern world to gain independence against its own will. The subsequent 31 years of iron-fisted rule by the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew saw Singapore's economy boom, with the country rapidly becoming one of the wealthiest and most developed in Asia despite its lack of natural resources, earning it a place as one of the four East Asian Tigers. Now led by Lee's son Lee Hsien Loong, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) continues to dominate the political scene with 83 out of 89 seats in Parliament. Societal restrictions have been loosened up though, with the government trying to shake off its staid image, and it remains to be seen how the delicate balancing act between political control and social freedom will play out.
Entry requirementsCitizens 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.
|Languages spoken||English, Chinese, Malay, Tamil|
|Currency used||Singapore Dollars|
|Area (km2)||643,801 km2|