Long known as a city of skyscrapers, safety and high-end shopping malls, Singapore rolls out the red carpet for visitors. Gleaming, spectacular, gravity-defying buildings frame the skyline along the harbor. Crowds of label-loving shoppers stalk the malls in air-conditioned comfort. Families safely enjoy Singapore’s many offerings day, night (and in the middle of the night).
Singapore especially rewards those who are willing to see and seek things beyond the malls and luxury hotels.
Singapore has an interesting history, one I knew very little about. I had a vague knowledge of British involvement saw vestiges of the city’s colonial past while walking through the Pedang and Colonial Core…the cricket club, St. Andrew’s Cathedral and the iconic Raffles Hotel.
I expected to see the blending of Chinese and colonial history as I walked from Colonial Core into Chinatown. The architecture of colonialism gave way to winding streets lined with shops selling the wares of today in the beautifully restored shophouses of yesterday. What I didn’t expect was the striking blend of different cultures and religions, all living harmoniously side-by-side in every area of the city.
Singapore has, within its relatively small footprint (49km by 25km), mosques, temples, churches and shrines sitting side by side in every quarter of the city. Streets signs and shops post notices in four different languages. Singapore was clearly a city of surprising cultural tolerance and diverse population, but how did that come to be? I was missing something and my ignorance was showing. I went back to the National Museum of Singapore, where I should have started my trip…after all, you can’t understand a place unless you understand its history.
Things To Know
It’s hot in Singapore (at least in May). Wear appropriate, lightweight clothing and prepare yourself for the arctic level of air conditioning present in the malls by tucking a sweater into your bag. Check the weather before you go. Singaporeans are smart dressers, so leave those jorts and baseball hats at home. Entrance to mosques and temples require suitable dress (shoulders and knees covered). If you are not suitably dressed to enter, you will be offered a “gown” at the door. 🙂
Walking along Singapore’s beautiful parks is a wonderful opportunity to see the tropical flowers and green spaces of the city. The heat, however, makes it advisable to take occasional advantage of the endless, air-conditioned connections through malls and buildings when going from point A to point B. I also advise using a sun umbrella. Really.
Singapore has great public transportation options. The MRT (subway system) is incredibly clean, efficient and safe. Everyone queues for the train by waiting in the marked-off green area until the train arrives. Passengers disembark through the red/exit lanes. MRT maps current routes on the train by flashing upcoming stops so it’s easy to know where you are and when to get off. I loved everything about their subway system, can you tell? If you plan on using the SMRT and public buses throughout your stay, consider a purchasing a tourist pass , which allows almost unlimited travel (check for caveats). Taxis are an excellent, although more expensive option depending on the size of your traveling party. The taxis are clean and the drivers are a wealth of local information.
Yes, Singapore is safe. Very safe, as long as you don’t do anything silly. The Mister and I walked home from a movie at 1am and rejoiced at being able to do so. There are rumors about Singaporean “rules” and subsequent harsh punishments for those who break them. To dispel some of those rules….yes, you can chew gum. No, you can’t spit it onto the streets or stick it on a bus seat. Smoking areas are restricted, as they are everywhere. Defacing public property will bring a harsh fine. Drugs are illegal and traffickers and users face harsh fines. The only fine I risked in Singapore was a jaywalking fine. It was stupid and deserved a fine if caught. The near death experience was enough to convince me not to jaywalk twice. Also, please do not stand on the toilets or pee in the elevator. I don’t know if there are fines for either offense, but…really?