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Holidays in Singapore

Understanding Singapore

Singapore is a microcosm of Asia, populated by Chinese, Malays, Indians, and a large group of workers and expatriates from all across the globe Singapore 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, chaos, and crime of much of the Asian mainland, and if you scratch below the squeaky clean surface and get away from the tourist trail you'll soon find more than meets the eye

Singaporean food is legendary, with bustling hawker centres and 24-hour coffee shops offering cheap food from all parts of Asia, and shoppers can bust their baggage allowances in shopping meccas like Orchard Road and Suntec City In recent years some societal restrictions have also loosened up, and now you can bungee jump and dance on bartops all night long, although alcohol is still very pricey and chewing gum can only be bought from a pharmacy Two enormous casino complexes — or "Integrated Resorts", to use the Singaporean euphemism — opened in 2010 in Sentosa and Marina Bay as part of Singapore's new Fun and Entertainment drive, the aim being to double the number of tourists visiting and increasing the length of time they stay within the country Watch out for more loosening up in the future


The first records of Singapore date back to the 2nd-3rd 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

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, the signing of the Anglo-Dutch treaty in 1824, which separated the Malay world into British and Dutch spheres of influence, ended the conflict with the Dutch renouncing their claim to Singapore Well-placed at the entrance to the Straits of Malacca, straddling the trade routes between China, India, Europe, and Australia, Raffles' masterstroke was to declare Singapore a free 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 neighbouring Malaya were processed and shipped out via Singapore In 1867, Singapore was formally 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 the guns around, this was something the British had not prepared for at all, and on February 15, 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 Tens of thousands perished in the subsequent brutal occupation, and the return of the British in 1945 was less than triumphal — it was clear that their time was up

Granted self-rule in 1955, Singapore briefly joined Malaysia in 1963 when the British left, but was expelled because the Chinese-majority city was seen as a threat to Malay dominance, and the island became independent on 9 August 1965, thus becoming the only country to gain independence against its own will in the history of the modern world The subsequent forty years of iron-fisted rule by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew saw Singapore's economy boom, with the country rapidly becoming one of the wealthiest and most developed in Asia, 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 82 out of 84 seats in Parliament over half won unopposed and opposition politicians regularly bankrupted by defamation suits Societal restrictions have been loosened up in recent years 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


Singapore prides itself on being a multi-racial country, and has a diverse culture despite its small size The largest group are the Chinese, who form about 75% of the population Amongst the Chinese, Hokkien speakers form the majority, while Teochew and Cantonese speakers round out the top three Other notable "dialect" groups among the Chinese include the Hakkas, Hainanese and Foochows The Malays, who are comprised of Singapore's original inhabitants as well as migrants from present day Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, form about 14% of the population, while Indians form about 9% of the population Among the Indians, Tamils form the largest group by far, though there are also a significant numbers of speakers of other Indian languages such as Hindi, Malayalam and Punjabi The remainder are a mix of many other cultures, most notably the Eurasians who are of mixed European and Asian descent, and also a handful of Burmese, Japanese, Thais and many others Slighty over one-third of Singapore's residents are not citizens


Located a mere 15 degrees north of the Equator, the 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, normally in the afternoons, 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 neighboring Sumatra can also cause dense haze, although this is unpredictable and comes and goes rapidly: check the National Environment Agency's site 4 for current data

The temperature averages around:

  • 28°C 84°F daytime, 23°C 76°F at night in December and January
  • 32°C 90°F daytime, 26°C 81°F at night for the rest of the year

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


Gong xi fa cai Singapore style

There are a few twists to the Singapore way of celebrating Chinese New Year, particularly the food, which bears little resemblance to the steamy hotpots of frigid northern China The top dish is bak kwa 肉干, sweet barbecued pork, followed closely by yu sheng 魚生, a salad of shredded vegetables and raw fish enthusiastically tossed into the air by all present Favorite desserts are crumbly sweet pineapple tarts and gooey steamed nian gao 年糕 cakes Red packets of money 红包 ang pow are still handed out generously, but unlike in China, in Singapore you only need to start paying up once married

Singapore is a secular city state but thanks to its multicultural population, Singapore celebrates Chinese, Muslim, Indian, and Christian holidays

The year kicks off with a bang on January 1st and New Year, celebrated in Singapore just as in the West with a fireworks show and parties at every nightspot in town Particularly famous are the wet and wild foam parties on the beaches of resort island Sentosa — at least those years when the authorities deign to permit such relative debauchery

Due to the influence of the Chinese majority, the largest event by far is Chinese New Year 农历新年 or, more politically correctly, Lunar New Year, usually held in February The whole festival stretches out for no less than 42 days, but the frenzied buildup to the peak occurs just before the night of the new moon, with exhortations of gong xi fa cai 恭喜发财 "congratulations and prosper", red tinsel, mandarin oranges and the year's zodiac animal emblazoned everywhere and crowds of shoppers queuing in Chinatown, where there are also extensive street decorations to add spice to the festive mood The two following days are spent with family and most of the island comes to a standstill, and then life returns to normal except for the final burst of Chingay, a colorful parade down Orchard Road held ten days later

On the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar, the Dragon Boat Festival 端午节 is celebrated to commemorate a Chinese folk hero As part of the celebrations, rice dumplings, which in Singapore are sometimes wrapped in pandan leaves instead of the original bamboo leaves, are usually eaten In addition, dragon boat races are often held at the Singapore River on this day The seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar — usually August — starts off with a puff of smoke, as "hell money" is burned and food offerings are made to please the spirits of ancestors who are said to return to earth at this time The climax on the 15th day of the lunar calendar is the Hungry Ghost Festival 中元节, when the living get together to stuff themselves and watch plays and Chinese opera performances Following soon afterwards, the Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋节 on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month Sep/Oct is also a major event, with elaborate lantern decorations — particularly in Jurong's Chinese Garden — and moon cakes filled with red bean paste, nuts, and more consumed merrily

The Hindu festival of lights, Diwali, known locally as Deepavali, is celebrated around October or November and Little India is brightly decorated for the occasion At around January-February, one may witness the celebration of Thaipusam, a Tamil Hindu festival in which male devotees would carry a kavadi, an elaborate structure which pierces through various parts of his body, and join a procession from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Little India to the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple in Tank Road Female devotees usually join the procession carrying pots of milk instead About one week before Deepavali is Thimithi, the fire-walking festival where one can see male devotees walking on burning coals at the Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown

The Islamic month of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr or Hari Raya Puasa as it is called here, is a major occasion in Malay parts of town, particularly Geylang Serai on the East Coast, which is lighted up with extensive decorations during the period Another festival celebrated by the Malays is Eid-ul-Adha, known locally as Hari Raya Haji, which is the period when Muslims make the trip to Mecca to perform in Hajj In local mosques, lambs contributed by the faithful are sacrificed and their meat is used to feed the poor

The Buddhist Vesak Day, celebrating the birthday of the Buddha Sakyamuni, plus the Christian holidays of Christmas Day, for which Orchard road is extensively decorated, and Good Friday round out the list of holidays

A more secular manifestation of government power occurs on August 9th, National Day, when fluttering flags fill Singapore and elaborate parades are held

The Singapore Ministry of Manpower maintains the official list of public holidays 5


  • Singapore Guide http://wwwyoursingaporecom/ The official guide from the Singapore Tourism Board
  • Singapore Infomap http://wwwsg From the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts

Talking in Singapore

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

The Big 3 — Chinese, Malays and Indians — get all the press, but there are plenty of other communities with their own little neighborhoods or shopping malls in Singapore:
Arabs: Arab Street, of course
Burmese: Peninsula Plaza, on North Bridge Rd
Filipinos: Lucky Plaza, on Orchard Rd
Indonesians: City Plaza, near Paya Lebar MRT
Japanese: Robertson Quay and Clarke Quay, especially the Liang Court shopping mall, plus Cuppage Plaza, opposite the Somerset MRT and Takashimaya along Orchard Road
Koreans: Tanjong Pagar Rd
Thais: Golden Mile Complex, on Beach Rd

Malay may be enshrined in the Constitution as the 'national' language, but in practice the most common language is English, spoken by almost every Singaporean under the age of 50 with varying degrees of fluency In addition, all official signs and documents are written in English, usually using British spelling However, the distinctive local patois Singlish may be hard to understand at times, as it incorporates slang words and phrases from other languages, including various Chinese dialects, Malay and Tamil as well as English words whose pronunciation or meaning have been corrupted, and has an odd way of structuring sentences, due to the original speakers being mostly Chinese Complex consonant clusters are simplified, articles and plurals disappear, verb tenses are replaced by adverbs, questions are altered to fit the Chinese syntax and semirandom particles especially the infamous "lah" appear:

Singlish: You wan beer or not? -- Dunwan lah, drink five botol oreddi

English: Do you want a beer? -- No, thanks; I've already had five bottles

Thanks to nationwide language education campaigns, most younger Singaporeans are, however, capable of speaking what the government calls "good English" when necessary To avoid unintentional offense, it's best to start off with standard English and shift to simplified pidgin only if it becomes evident that the other person cannot follow you Try to resist the temptation to sprinkle your speech with unnecessary Singlishisms: you'll get a laugh if you do it right, but it sounds patronizing if you do it wrong The Coxford Singlish Dictionary ISBN 9813056509, also available online, is a great resource for decoding Singlish Wikipedia's Singlish 37 article goes into obsessive and occasionally impenetrable grammatical detail, but the sections on vocabulary 38 and abbreviations 39 are handy

Singapore's other official languages are Mandarin Chinese and Tamil Mandarin is spoken by most younger Singaporean Chinese while Tamil is spoken by most Indians Like English, the Mandarin spoken in Singapore has also evolved into a distinctive creole and often incorporates words from other Chinese dialects, Malay and English, though all Singaporean Chinese are taught standard Mandarin in school Various Chinese dialects mostly Hokkien, though significant numbers also speak Teochew and Cantonese are also spoken between ethnic Chinese of the same dialect group, though their use has been declining in the younger generation since the 1980s due to government policies discouraging the use of dialects in favour of Mandarin Other Indian languages, such as Punjabi among the Sikhs, are also spoken

The official Chinese script used in Singapore is the simplified script used in mainland China As such, all official publications including local newspapers and signs are in simplified Chinese and all ethnic Chinese are taught to write the simplified script in school However, the older generations still prefer the traditional style, and the popularity of Hong Kong and Taiwanese pop culture means that even the youth can usually read traditional Chinese

What to see in Singapore

Sights in Singapore are covered in more detail under the various districts Broadly speaking:

  • Beaches and tourist traps: 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 flavors, 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 Botanical Gardens are all in the North and West Finding "real" nature is a little harder, but the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in the same area is Singapore's largest 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
  • 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 to see where Singaporeans shop
  • Places of worship: Don't miss this aspect of Singapore, where Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam all exist in sizeable numbers Religious sites can be easily visited and welcome non-followers outside of service times Particularly worth visiting include: the vast Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery near Ang Mo Kio, the colorful Sri Mariamman Hindu temple in Chinatown, the psychedelic Burmese Buddhist Temple in Balestier and the stately Masjid Sultan in Arab Street


  • Three days in Singapore — A three-day sampler set of food, culture and shopping in Singapore, easily divisible into bite-size chunks
  • Southern Ridges Walk — An easy nine-kilometer stroll through the jungles of southern Singapore

What to do in Singapore

While you can find a place to practice nearly any sport in Singapore — golfing, surfing, scuba diving, even ice skating — 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 See also Habitatnews 40 and WildSingapore 41 for news and updates about free tours and events


On the cultural side of things, Singapore has been trying to shake off its boring, buttoned-down reputation and attract more artists and performances, with mixed success 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 42 Pop culture options are more limited and Singapore's home-grown arts scene remains rather moribund, although local starlets Stefanie Sun and JJ Lin have had some success in the Chinese pop scene On the upside, any bands and DJs touring Asia are pretty much guaranteed to perform in Singapore

Going to the movies is a popular Singaporean pastime, but look for "R21" ratings 21 and up only if you like your movies with fewer cuts The big three theatre chains are Cathay 43, Golden Village 44 and Shaw Brothers 45 Censorship continues to throttle the local film scene, but Jack Neo's popular comedies showcase the foibles of Singaporean life

In summer, don't miss the yearly Singapore Arts Festival 46 Advance tickets for almost any cultural event can be purchased from SISTIC 47, either online or from any of their numerous ticketing outlets, including the Singapore Visitor Centre on Orchard Rd


Singapore is no Las Vegas or even Macau, but nearly 10 billion dollars were poured into its two sparkling-new casinos and it shows Marina Bay Sands at Marina Bay is the larger and swankier of the two, while Resorts World Sentosa at Sentosa aims for a more family-friendly experience While locals have to pay a steep $100/day to get in, visitors can enter for free


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 48, the famously challenging home of the Barclays Singapore Open, and the Marina Bay Golf Course 49, the only 18-hole public course See the Singapore Golf Association 50 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 F1 Singapore Grand Prix 51 was held in September 2008, and will be a fixture on the local calendar until at least 2012 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 are through the roof Tickets start from $150

The Singapore Turf Club52 in Kranji hosts horse races most Fridays, including a number of international cups, and is popular with local gamblers The Singapore Polo Club53 near Balestier is also open to the public on competition days


Singapore has recently been experiencing a spa boom, and there is now plenty of choice for everything from holistic Ayurveda to green tea hydrotherapy However, prices aren't as rock-bottom as in neighbors Indonesia and Thailand, and you'll generally be looking at upwards of $70 even for a plain one-hour massage Good spas can be found in most five-star hotels and on Orchard, and Sentosa's Spa Botanica also has a good reputation There are also numerous shops offering traditional Chinese massage, which are mostly legitimate, and "health centres", which are mostly not

When looking for beauty salons on Orchard Road, try out the ones on the fourth floor of Lucky Plaza They offer most salon services like manicures, pedicures, facials, waxing and hair services A favorite of flight crew and repeat tourists due to the lower costs as compared to the sky high prices of other salons along the shopping belt Shop around for prices, some of the better looking ones actually charge less


Forget your tiny hotel pool if you are into competitional 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 meter-pools some facilities even feature up to three 50 meter pools, accessible for an almost ridiculous entrance fee of $100-150 Actually, this is so cheap that half 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 from 8 AM to 9 PM, 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 54 maintains a list of pools, most of which are part of a larger sports complex with gym, tennis courts etc, and are located 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

Buying stuff in Singapore

The Singaporean currency is the Singapore dollar, abbreviated SGD, S$ or just $ as used throughout this guide, divided into 100 cents There are coins of $005 gold, $010 silver, $020 silver, $050 silver and $1 gold, plus bills of $2 purple, $5 green, $10 red, $50 blue, $100 orange, $1000 purple and $10000 gold The Brunei dollar is pegged at par with the Singapore dollar and the two currencies can be used interchangeably in both countries, so don't be too surprised if you get a Brunei note as change As of May 2010, one US dollar is worth about $140 and one euro is worth about $180

Restaurants often display prices like $1999++, which means that service charge 10% and sales tax 7% are not included and will be added to your bill Tipping is generally not practised in Singapore, and is officially frowned upon by the government, although bellhops still expect $2 or so per bag Taxis will usually return your change to the last cent, or round in your favor if they can't be bothered to dig for change

ATMs are ubiquitous in Singapore and credit cards are widely accepted although shops often levy a 3% surcharge, and taxis a whopping 15% Travelers checks are generally not accepted by retailers, but can be cashed at most exchange booths

Currency exchange booths can be found in every shopping mall and usually offer better rates, better opening hours and much faster service than banks The huge 24-hour operation at Mustafa in Little India accepts almost any currency at very good rates, as do the fiercely competitive small shops at the aptly named Change Alley next to Raffles Place MRT For large amounts, ask for a quote, as it will often get you a better rate than displayed on the board Rates at the airport are not as good as in the city, and while many department stores accept major foreign currencies, their rates are often terrible


Singapore is expensive by Asian standards but cheap for visitors from most industrialized countries: $50 is a perfectly serviceable daily backpacker budget if you are willing to cut some corners, though you would probably wish to double that for comfort Food in particular is a steal, with excellent hawker food available for under $5 for a generous serving Accommodation is a little pricier, but a bed in a hostel can cost less than $20, an average 3-4 star hotel in the city centre would typically cost anywhere from $100-$300 per night for a basic room, and the most luxurious hotels on the island except maybe the Raffles can be yours for $300 with the right discounts during the off-peak season

Budget travellers should note that Singapore is much more expensive than the rest of Southeast Asia and should budget accordingly if planning to spend time in Singapore In general, prices in Singapore are about twice as high as in Malaysia and Thailand and 3-5 times as high as in Indonesia and the Philippines



Ripped off by a shop? Give the Singapore Tourism Board's free hotline at 1800 736-2000 The Small Claims Tribunal at 1 Havelock Sq also has a special expedited process for tourists that can solve simple cases within 24 hours

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 7 days a week from 10AM until 10PM, although smaller operations particularly those outside shopping malls close earlier — 7PM is common — and perhaps on Sundays as well Mustafa in Little India is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year Keep an eye out for the Great Singapore Sale 55, usually held in June-July, when shopping centres pull out all stops to attract punters 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 till midnight

  • Antiques: The second floor of the Tanglin Shopping Centre on Orchard and the shops on South Bridge Rd in Chinatown are good options if looking for the real thing or high-quality reproductions
  • Books: Borders at Wheelock Place and Kinokuniya at Ngee Ann City, both on Orchard, are amongst the largest bookstores in Singapore Another option is Page One at VivoCity Many second-hand bookstores are located 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 has 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 best 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 unwary tourists The best way is to know 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
  • Clothes, high-street: Ion, Ngee Ann City Takashimaya and Paragon on Orchard have the heaviest concentration of branded boutiques
  • 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 56 at the Raffles Hotel, will charge at least $120
  • Clothes, youth: Most of Bugis is dedicated to the young, hip and cost-conscious Some spots of Orchard, notably Far East Plaza and the top floor of the Heeren, also target the same market but prices are generally higher The basements of both Wisma Atria and Ngee Ann City also have loads of options for the young
  • Computers: Sim Lim Square near Little India is great for the hardcore geek who really knows what he's after, but lesser mortals run a risk of getting ripped off and are better off shopping at Funan IT Mall Challenger 57 is a local chain that provides a great one-stop option for computer and other electronic but mostly computer products, with eight locations across the island, the largest and most central being on the 6th floor of Funan If you plan on buying a lot, the $30 membership card may pay off
  • Consumer electronics: Very competitively priced in Singapore Funan IT Mall Riverside#Buy|Riverside, Sim Lim Square 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 Australian retailer Harvey Norman also has many stores scattered throughout Singapore Check out the massive Harvey Norman Mega Superstore at Millenia Walk For any purchases, remember that Singapore uses 230V voltage 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 IC's, etc and bargain for larger quantities as well
  • Ethnic knick-knacks: Chinatown has Singapore's heaviest concentration of glow-in-the-dark Merlion soap dispensers and ethnic gewgaws, mostly but not entirely Chinese and nearly all imported from somewhere else 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
  • Fakes: Unlike most South-East Asian countries, pirated goods are not openly on sale and importing them to the city-state carries heavy fines Fake goods are nevertheless not difficult to find in Little India, Bugis, or even in the underpasses of Orchard Road
  • Food: Local supermarkets Cold Storage and NTUC Fairprice are ubiquitous, but for specialties, Jason's Marketplace in the basement of Raffles City and Tanglin Market Place at Tanglin Mall both on Orchard are some of Singapore's best-stocked gourmet supermarkets, with a vast array of imported products Takashimaya's basement Orchard has lots of small quirky shops and makes for a more interesting browse For a more Singaporean and much cheaper shopping experience, seek out any neighborhood wet market, like Little India's Tekka Market
  • Games: Video and PC games are widely available in Singapore, and prices are usually cheaper than in the West You can find games from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and even the United States in many game stores Games sold for the local market are usually in English, and sometimes in Chinese However, note that for video games, Singapore's region code is NTSC-J; same as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the rest of Southeast Asia, but not compatible with consoles in North America, Europe, Australia, India or mainland China
  • Hi-fi stereos: The Adelphi Riverside has Singapore's best selection of audiophile shops
  • Marine sports: Many of the shophouses opposite The Concourse on Beach Rd in Bugis sell fishing and scuba diving gear
  • Mobile phones: Very competitively priced in Singapore due to high consumer volume, available throughout the country both used and new Phones are never SIM locked, so they can be used anywhere, and many shops will allow you to "trade in" an older phone to offset the cost of a new one
  • Music: The HMV at Somerset 313 Orchard is Singapore's largest music store, with a second, smaller outlet in the CityLink mall linking Raffles City and Suntec City Mall Gramophone, however, provides much better prices on CDs and has an interesting selection Numerous branches are scattered across the CBD and Orchard Road Better Gramophone locations are at Capitol Centre at street level on North Bridge Road across from St Andrews Cathedral and at Ngee Ann City in B2

  • Peranakan goods: The Peranakan, or Malay-Chinese, may be fading but their colorful clothing and artwork, especially the distinctive pastel-colored 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
  • Sports goods: Queensway Shopping Centre, off Alexandra Rd and rather off the beaten track take a cab, seems to consist of nothing but sports 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 Note that if you plan to buy weapons such as swords, you have to apply for a permit from the local 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, most notably at Marks and Spencer in Centrepoint
  • 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 at Changi Airport or Seletar Airport, but the process is a bit of a bureaucratic hassle See Singapore Customs 58 for the full scoop

Food and eating in Singapore

This guide uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:
Budget Under $10
Mid-range $10-30
Splurge Over $30

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 59, held every year in July During the last three festivals, all visitors to Singapore smart enough to ask for them at any tourist information desk received coupons for free chilli crab, no strings attached!

Local delicacies

Singapore is justly famous for its food, a unique mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Western elements

Peranakan/Nonya cuisine

Culinary borrowings

Many regional terms and the odd euphemism tend to crop up in notionally English menus A few of the more common ones:

tamarind Malay
bee hoon 
thin rice noodles Hokkien 米粉
grouper, a type of fish Portuguese
a type of conch Chinese
hor fun 
very wide, flat rice noodles Cantonese 河粉
water spinach, an aquatic vegetable Malay
kway teow 
flat rice noodles Hokkien 粿条
blue ginger Malay
thick egg noodles Hokkien 面
lemon grass Malay
squid/cuttlefish Malay
spare parts 
offal such as liver, heart, gizzard
tang hoon 
thin, transparent starch noodles Hokkien 冬粉

The most identifiable cuisine in the region is Peranakan or Nonya cuisine, born from the mixed Malay and Chinese communities of what were once the British colonies of the Straits Settlements modern-day Singapore, Penang and Malacca

  • Chilli crab is a whole crab ladled with oodles of sticky, tangy chilli sauce It's spicy at first, but the more you eat, the better it gets Notoriously difficult to eat, so don't wear a white shirt: just dig in with your hands and ignore the mess The seafood restaurants of the East Coast are famous for this For a less messy but equally tasty alternative, ask for black pepper crab
  • Kaya is a jam-like spread made from egg and coconut, an odd-sounding but tasty combination Served on toast for breakfast, canonically accompanied by runny eggs and strong, sweet coffee kopi Exists in two distinctive styles; the greenish Nonya version, colored with pandan leaf, and the brownish Hainanese version
  • Laksa, in particular the Katong or lemak style, is probably the best known Singaporean dish: a fragrant soup of noodles in a coconut-based curry broth, topped with cockles or shrimp Singapore laksa is very different from Penang laksa which is made with a tamarind-infused broth instead of coconut, and has a spicy sourish taste
  • Mee siam is rice flour noodles served with sour gravy made from tamarind, dried shrimp and fermented beans Usually served with bean curd cubes and hard boiled eggs Though the Chinese, Malays and Indians all have their own versions, it is the Peranakan version that is most popular with Singaporeans
  • Popiah or spring rolls come fresh or fried They consist of a filling of boiled turnip, fried tofu, pork, shrimp with a slew of condiments, wrapped in a thin crepe and eaten like a fajita
  • Rojak means a mixture of everything in Malay, and there are two very different types Chinese rojak is a salad of pineapple, white turnip, cucumber, tau pok fried bean curd with thin tiny slices of bunga kantan torch ginger flower buds, tossed in shrimp paste sauce and sugar, then sprinkled with crushed peanuts Indian rojak consists of mainly fried fritters made from flour and various pulses with cucumber and tofu, with sweet & spicy sauces
  • Satay bee hoon is rice vermicelli bee hoon served with the same peanut and chilli sauce used for satay, hence the name Usually see hum cockles, dried squid and pork slices are added in
  • Ice cream is just as it is in Western countries However, in Singapore, there are various local flavours such as durian and red bean which are not available outside the region and are certainly worth a try To impress the locals, try asking for ice cream in roti bread

Besides these dishes, the Peranakans are also known or their kueh or snacks which are somewhat different from the Malay versions due to stronger Chinese influences

Malay cuisine

The Malays were Singapore's original inhabitants and despite now being outnumbered by the Chinese, their distinctive cuisine is popular to this day Characterized 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 fried fish or chicken wing are common accompaniments More often than not, also combined with a variety of curries and/or sambal see below
  • 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, 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 is 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 $24/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 Note: 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 colored 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 colorful 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

Chinese cuisine

Chinese food as eaten in Singapore commonly originates from southern China, particularly Fujian and Guangdong While "authentic" fare is certainly available, especially in fancier restaurants, the daily fare served in hawker centres has absorbed a number of tropical touches, most notably the fairly heavy use of chilli and the Malay fermented shrimp paste belacan as condiments Noodles can also be served not just in soup 湯 tang, but also "dry" 干 kan, meaning that your noodles will be served tossed with chilli and spices in one bowl, and the soup will come in a separate bowl

  • Bak chor mee(肉脞面)is essentially noodles with minced pork, tossed in a chilli-based sauce with lard, ikan bilis fried anchovies, vegetables and mushrooms Black vinegar may also be added
  • Bak kut teh 肉骨茶, lit "pork bone tea", is a simple-sounding soup of pork ribs simmered for hours in broth until they're ready to fall off the bone Singaporeans prefer the light and peppery Teochew style, but a few shops offer the original dark and aromatic Fujian kind Bak kut teh is typically eaten with white rice, mui choy pickled vegetables and a pot of strong Chinese tea, hence the name — the broth itself doesn't contain any tea To impress the locals, order some you tiao fritters from a nearby stall and cut them up into bite-sized chunks to dip into your soup
  • Char kway teow 炒粿条 is the quintessential Singapore-style fried noodle dish, consisting of several types of noodles in thick brown sauce with strips of fishcake, Chinese sausage, a token veggie or two and either cockles and shrimp It's cheap $2-3/serve, filling and has nothing to do with the dish known as "Singapore fried noodles" elsewhere! And which actually doesn't exist in Singapore
  • Chee cheong fun 豬腸粉 is a favorite breakfast consisting of lasagna-type rice noodles rolled up and various types of fried meats including fishballs and fried tofu The dish is usually topped with a generous amount of sauce
  • Chwee kway (水粿) is a dish consisting of rice cakes topped with chai po salted fermented turnips, usually served with some chilli sauce
  • Fish ball noodles 魚丸面 come in many forms, but the type most often seen is mee pok, which consists of flat egg noodles tossed in chilli sauce, with the fishballs floating in a separate bowl of soup on the side
  • Hainanese chicken rice 海南鸡饭 is steamed "white" or roasted "red" chicken flavoured with soy sauce and sesame oil served on a bed of fragrant rice that has been cooked in chicken broth and flavoured with ginger and garlic Often accompanied by chilli sauce made from crushed fresh chillis, ginger, garlic and thick dark soy sauce as well as some cucumber and a small bowl of chicken broth
  • Hokkien mee 福建面 is a style of soupy fried noodles in light, fragrant stock with prawns and other seafood Oddly, it bears little resemblance to the Kuala Lumpur dish of the same name, which uses thick noodles in dark soy, or even the Penang version, which is served in very spicy soup
  • Kway chap 粿汁 is essentially sheets made of rice flour served in a brown stock, accompanied by a plate of braised pork and pig organs tongue, ear and intestines
  • Prawn noodles 虾面, hei mee in Hokkien is a prawn-based dark brown soup served with noodles and a giant tiger prawn or two on top Some stalls will serve it with boiled pork ribs as well
  • Steamboat 火锅, also known as hot pot, is do-it-yourself soup Chinese style You get a pot of broth bubbling on a tabletop burner, pick meat, fish and veggies to your liking from a menu or buffet table, then cook it to your liking When finished, add in noodles or ask for rice to fill you up This usually requires a minimum of two people, and the more the merrier
  • Wonton mee 云吞面 is thin noodles topped with wantan dumplings of seasoned minced pork Unlike the soupy Hong Kong version, it is usually served dry
  • Yong tau foo 酿豆腐 literally means "fermented tofu", but it's more exciting than it sounds The diner selects their favorites from a vast assortment of tofu, fish paste, assorted seafood and vegetables, and they are then sliced into bite-size pieces, cooked briefly in boiling water and then served either in broth as soup or "dry" with the broth in a separate bowl The dish can be eaten by itself or with any choice of noodles Essential accompaniments are spicy chili sauce and sweet sauce for dipping

Indian cuisine

The smallest of the area's minorities, the 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 "Singaporeanized" 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 The head itself is not eaten, as there's plenty of meat to be found inside and all around Singapore's Little India is the place to sample this Note that there are two distinct styles, the fiery Indian and the milder Chinese kind
  • Nasi briyani is rice cooked in turmeric, giving it an orange colour Unlike the Hyderabadi original, it's usually rather bland, although specialist shops do turn out more flavorful 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 Strict vegetarians 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

Hawker centres

Social welfare Singapore style

One thing notably absent from Singaporean cheap eateries is any form of napkins or tissues The solution to the mystery is in Singapore's lack of government welfare: instead, every hawker centre has a resident invalid or two, who make a living by selling tissues $1 for a few packets

The cheapest and most popular places to eat in Singapore are hawker centres, essentially former pushcart vendors directed into giant complexes by government fiat Prices are low $2-5 for most dishes, hygiene standards are high every stall is required to prominently display a health certificate grading it from A to D and the food can be excellent — if you see a queue, join it! Ambience tends to be a little lacking though and there is no air-conditioning either, but a visit to a hawker centre is a must when in Singapore However, be leery of overzealous pushers-cum-salesmen, especially at the Satay Club in Lau Pa Sat and Newton Food Centre at Newton Circus: the tastiest stalls don't need high-pressure tactics to find customers Touting for business is illegal, and occasionally a reminder of this can result in people backing off a bit

To order, first chope reserve a table by parking a friend by the table, note the table's number, then place your order at your stall of choice They'll deliver to your table, and you pay when you get the food Note that some stalls particularly very popular ones have signs stating "self-service", meaning that you're expected to get your food yourself — but if it's quiet or you're sitting nearby they'll usually deliver anyway At almost every stall you can also opt to take away called "packet" or ta pao 打包 in Cantonese, in which case they'll pack up your order in a plastic box/bag and even throw in disposable utensils Once finished, just get up and go, as tables are cleared by hired cleaners

Every district in Singapore has its own hawker centres and prices decrease as you move out into the boonies For tourists, centrally located Newton Circus Newton MRT, Gluttons Bay and Lau Pa Sat near the River, are the most popular options — but this does not make them the cheapest or the tastiest, and the demanding gourmand would do well to head to Chinatown or the heartlands instead Many of the best food stalls are located in residential districts away from the tourist trail and do not advertise in the media, so the best way to find them is to ask locals for their recommendations And if you miss western food, Botak Jones 60 in several hawker centers offer reasonably authentic and generously sized American-restaurant style meals at hawker prices

Coffee shops

Coffee, see, and tea, oh!

Coffee and tea in hawker centres and kopitiam goes for under a dollar a cup, a steep discount on Starbucks prices, but you'll need to learn the lingo to get what you want If you order just kopi the Malay word for "coffee" or teh Hokkien for "tea" in Singapore, it will definitely be served with a heaped spoonful of sugar, and more often than not with a squirt of sweet condensed milk Kopi-C or teh-C substitutes unsweetened evaporated milk, while kopi-O or teh-O makes sure it's served with no milk To get rid of the sugar, you need to ask for it kosong "plain", but if you want a plain black cup of joe, you need to ask for kopi-O kosong! If you want your drink cold, just add a peng to the end of the drink name, eg kopi-O-peng, teh-peng, teh-C-peng, Milo-peng etc and it will be served with ice

Despite the name, coffee shops or kopitiam sell much more than coffee — they are effectively mini-hawker centres with perhaps only half a dozen stalls one of which will, however, sell coffee and other drinks The Singaporean equivalent of pubs, this is where folks come for the canonical Singaporean breakfast of kopi strong, sugary coffee, some kaya egg-coconut jam toast and runny eggs, and this is also where they come to down a beer or two and chat away in the evenings English proficiency can somtimes be limited, but most stall owners know enough to communicate the basics, and even if they don't, nearby locals will usually help you out if you ask Many coffee shops offer zi char/cze cha 煮炒 for dinner, meaning a menu of local dishes, mostly Chinese-style seafood, served at your table at mid-range prices

The usual Starbucks and other local cafe chains such as Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf can be found in any shopping mall but an iced coffee or tea can put you back $5 and up, whereas a teh tarik "pulled" milky tea or kopi coffee runs closer to $1 at any hawker centre

Food courts

Found in the basement or top floor of nearly every shopping mall, food courts are the gentrified, air-conditioned version of hawker centres The variety of food on offer is almost identical, but prices are on average $2-3 higher and the quality is usually lower

Fast food

International fast food chains like McDonald's, Carl's Jr, Burger King, KFC, MOS Burger, Dairy Queen, Orange Julius, Subway etc are commonly found in various shopping malls Prices range from $2 for a basic burger and $5 upwards 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:

  • Bengawan Solo http://wwwbengawansolocomsg Singapore version of Indonesian cakes, Chinese pastries and everything in between The name is taken from the name of a famous river in Java
  • BreadTalk http://wwwbreadtalkcom This self-proclaimed "designer bread" chain has taken not just Singapore but much of South-East Asia by storm Everything is jazzily shaped, funkily named eg ''Crouching Tiger, Hidden Bacon'' and baked on premises Just note that, to the Western palate, almost everything is rather sweet
  • Jollibean http://wwwjollibeancom Fresh soy drinks, beancurd and tasty ''mee chiang kueh'' Chinese pancakes
  • Killiney Kopitiam http://wwwkilliney-kopitiamcom Serves kaya toast, kopi and ginger tea with ice or without; waiters at the original Somerset location shout your order towards the back with gusto
  • Old Chang Kee http://wwwoldchangkeecom Famous for their curry puffs, but their range now covers anything and everything deep-fried Take-away only
  • Ya Kun Kaya Toast http://wwwyakuncom Serves the classic Singaporean breakfast all day long: kaya toast, runny eggs and strong, sweet coffee plus some other drinks Arguably one of the more successful chains with branches in as far as South Korea and Japan


Kee-ping up with the Lims

Ever wonder why every other Chinese hawker stall and restaurant in Singapore has a name that ends in Kee? The answer is simple: the character kee 记 is Chinese for "brand" or "mark", and is used much like the trademark symbol in the West A name like Yan Kee thus means "run by the Yan family", and should not be taken as a political statement!

Singapore offers a wide variety of full-service restaurants as well, catering to every taste and budget

As the majority of Singapore's population is ethnic Chinese, there is an abundance of Chinese restaurants in Singapore, mainly serving southern Chinese mostly Hokkien, Teochew or Cantonese cuisines, though with the large number of expatriates and foreign workers from China these days, cuisine originating from Shanghai and further north is also not hard to find As with Chinese restaurants anywhere, food is eaten with chopsticks and served with Chinese tea While Chinese restaurant food is certainly closer to authentic Chinese fare than hawker food is, it too has not managed to escape local influences and you can find many dishes little seen in China Depending on where you go and what you order, prices can vary greatly In ordinary restaurants, prices usually start from $20-30 per person, while in top end restaurants in five-star hotels, prices can go as high as more than $300 per person if you order delicacies such as abalone, suckling pig and lobster

Being a maritime city, one common specialty is seafood restaurants, offering Chinese-influenced Singaporean classics like chilli crabs These are much more fun to go to in a group, but be careful what you order: gourmet items like Sri Lankan giant crab or shark's fin can easily push your bill up to hundreds of dollars Menus typically say "Market price", and if you ask they'll quote you the price per 100g, but a big crab can easily top 2 kilos The best-known seafood spots are clustered on the East Coast, but for ambience the riverside restaurants at Boat Quay and Clarke Quay can't be beat

Singapore also has its share of good Western restaurants, with British and American influenced food being a clear favourite among locals Most of the more affordable chains are concentrated around Orchard Road and prices start from around $10-20 per person for the main course French, Italian, Japanese and Korean food is also readily available, though prices tend to be on the expensive side, while Thai and Indonesian restaurants tend to be more affordable

One British import much beloved by Singaporeans is high tea In the classical form, as served up by finer hotels across the island, this is a light afternoon meal consisting of tea and a wide array of British-style savoury snacks and sweet pastries like finger sandwiches and scones However, the term is increasingly used for afternoon buffets of any kind, and Chinese dim sum and various Singaporean dishes are common additions Prices vary, but you'll usually be looking at $20-30 per head Note that many restaurants only serve high tea on weekends, and hours may be very limited: the famous spread at the Raffles Hotel's Tiffin Room, for example, is only available between 3:30PM and 5PM

Singaporeans are big on buffets, especially international buffets offering a wide variety of dishes including Western, Chinese and Japanese as well as some local dishes at a fixed price Popular chains include Sakura 61, Pariss 62 and Vienna 63

Most hotels also offer lunch and dinner buffets Champagne brunches on Sundays are particularly popular, but you can expect to pay over $100 per head and popular spots, like Mezza9 at the Hyatt on Orchard, will require reservations

Dietary restrictions

Singapore is an easy place to eat for almost everybody Many Indians and not a few Chinese Buddhists are strictly vegetarian, so every Indian stall will have a number of veggie options and most hawker centres will have a Chinese vegetarian stall or two, often serving up amazing meat imitations made from gluten Chinese vegetarian food traditionally does not use eggs or dairy products and is thus almost always vegan; Indian vegetarian food, however, often employs cheese and other milk products Be on your guard in ordinary Chinese restaurants though, as even dishes that appear vegetarian on the menu may contain seafood products like oyster sauce or salted fish — check with the waiter if in doubt

Muslims should look out for halal certificates issued by MUIS, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore This is found at practically every Malay stall and many Indian Muslim operations too, but more rarely on outlets run by the Chinese, few of whom are Muslims That said, the popular Banquet 64 chain of food courts is entirely halal and an excellent choice for safely sampling halal Chinese food Many, if not all, of the Western fast-food chains in Singapore use halal meat: look for a certificate around the ordering area, or ask a manager if in doubt A few restaurants skimp on the formal certification and simply put up "no pork, no lard" signs; it's your call if this is good enough for you

Jews, on the other hand, will have a harder time as kosher food is nearly unknown in Singapore Nevertheless, kosher food is still available near Singapore's two synagogues at Oxley Rise and Waterloo Street in the Central Business District; check with the Jewish Welfare Board 65 for details

Drinking in Singapore

Singapore's nightlife isn't quite a match for Patpong, but it's no slouch either! Some clubs have 24-hour licenses and few places close before 3 AM Any artist touring Asia are pretty much guaranteed to stop in Singapore, with superclub Zouk in particular regularly clocking high on lists of the world's best nightclubs Singapore's nightlife is largely concentrated along the three Quays — Boat, Clarke and Robertson — of the Riverside, with the clubs of Sentosa and nearby St James Power Station giving party animals even more reason to dance the night away Gay bars are mostly found around Chinatown Drinking age is 18, and while this is surprisingly loosely enforced, some clubs have higher age limits

Friday is generally the biggest night of the week for going out, with Saturday a close second Sunday is gay night in many bars and clubs, while Wednesday or Thursday is ladies' night, often meaning not just free entrance but free drinks for women Most clubs are closed on Monday and Tuesday, while bars generally stay open but tend to be very quiet

For a night out Singapore style, gather a group of friends and head for the nearest karaoke box — major chains include K-Box 66 and Party World Room rental ranges from $30/hour and up Beware that the non-chain, glitzy or dodgy looking, neon-covered KTV lounges may charge much higher rates and the short-skirted hostesses may offer more services than just pouring your drinks In Singapore, the pronunciation of karaoke follows the Japanese "karah-oh-kay" instead of the Western "carry-oh-key"


Alcohol is widely available but very expensive due to Singapore's heavy sin taxes Tax-free at Changi Airport, on the other hand, has some of the best prices in the world; you can bring in up to one litre each of liquor, wine and beer if you arrive from countries other than Malaysia Careful shopping at major supermarkets will also throw up common basic Australian wine labels for under $20

Prices when eating out vary You can enjoy a large bottle of beer of your choice at a coffee shop or hawker center for less than $6 and the local colour comes thrown in for free On the other hand, drinks in any bar, club or fancy restaurant remain extortionate, with a basic drink clocking in at $10-15 while fancy cocktails would usually be in the $15-25 range On the upside, happy hours and two-for-one promotions are common, and the entry price for clubs usually includes several drink tickets Almost all restaurants in Singapore allow bringing your own BYO wine and cheaper restaurants without a wine menu usually don't even charge corkage, although in these places you'll need to bring your own bottle opener and glasses Fancier places charge $20-50, although many offer free corkage days on Monday or Tuesday

Tourists flock to the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel to sample the original Singapore Sling, a sickly sweet pink mix of pineapple juice, gin and more, but locals almost never touch the stuff The tipple of choice in Singapore is the local beer, Tiger, a rather ordinary lager, but there's been a recent microbrewery boom with Archipelago Boat Quay, Brewerkz Riverside Point, Paulaner Brauhaus Millenia Walk and Pump Room Clarke Quay all offering interesting alternatives


Tobacco is heavily taxed, and you are not allowed to bring more than one opened pack not carton, but a single pack! of cigarettes into the country This is particularly strictly enforced on the land borders with Malaysia Many public places including hawker centres have restrictions on smoking, and it is prohibited in public transport as well There is a total ban on smoking in all air-conditioned places including pubs and discos, and strict limitations on where you can smoke outside as well eg bus stops and all except the designated sections of hawker centres are off limits The designated zone should be marked with a yellow outline, and may have a sign reading "smoking zone"


Prostitution is tolerated in six designated districts, most notably Geylang, which — not coincidentally — also offers some of the cheapest lodging and best food in the city The industry maintains a low profile no go-go bars here and is not a tourist attraction by any stretch of the word Legally practising commercial sex workers are required to register with the authorities and attend special clinics for regular sexually transmitted disease screening However, please be prudent and practice safe sex--although most sex workers will insist on it anyway

Orchard Towers, on Orchard Road, has been famously summarized as "four floors of whores" and, despite occasional crackdowns by the authorities, continues to live up to its name Beware that the prostitutes working here are usually not registered, so the risk of theft and STDs is significantly higher, and not a few of the "women" are actually transsexuals

Accommodation in Singapore

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget Under $100
Mid-range $100-300
Splurge Over $300

Accommodation in Singapore is expensive by South-East Asian standards Particularly in the higher price brackets, demand has been outstripping supply recently 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


Backpackers' hostels can be found primarily in Little India, Bugis and the East Coast Around $20-30 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 like 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


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 recent surge of "boutique" hotels in renovated shophouses here and in Chinatown and 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


Housing in Singapore is expensive, as the 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 67, 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-subsidized Housing Development Board HDB flats, their availability to visitors is limited, although JTC's SHiFT 68 scheme makes some available with monthly rents in the $700-1000 range

Most expats, however, turn to private housing blocks known as condos, where an average three-bedroom apartment will cost you anything from $2,000 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-hour 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 in the centre rents are regularly measured in tens of thousands but can drop if you're willing to head out into the woods — 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 $3000 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 one year Singapore Expats 69 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

Working in Singapore

Casual work is nearly impossible to come by, as you must have a work permit WP or 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; however, highly skilled people can apply for an Employment Pass Eligibility Certificate EPEC, which allows you to stay in Singapore for a maximum of one year while you look for a job There is also a Working Holiday Programme 70 for recent university grads who want to live in Singapore for up to 6 months

Work permits are mostly intended for menial, low-skilled laborers To be eligible for an employment pass, you would generally need to have a minimum salary of more than $2500 per month and hold at least a bachelor degree from a reasonably reputable university There is also an intermediate known as the S pass, which is usually granted to mid-skilled workers who have been promoted to positions of junior leadership such as worksite supervisor, and would require you to have a minimum salary of more than $1800 per month as well as your employer's recommendation Employment pass holders as well as S pass holders with a monthly salary of more than $2500 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 and certain deportation For more information, contact the Ministry of Manpower 71

Once you have been working in Singapore for a year or so with an employment pass or S pass, applying for permanent residence PR is fairly straightforward If granted — and the rule of thumb is, the higher your salary, the more likely you are to get it — you can stay in Singapore indefinitely as long as you can show some income every 5 years and can change jobs freely

Cities in Singapore


What do you think about Singapore?

How expensive is Singapore?
(1 SGD = 0 USD)
Meal in inexpensive restaurant9.6 SGD
3-course meal in restaurant (for 2)55.4 SGD
McDonalds meal6.93 SGD
Local beer (0.5 draft)6.72 SGD
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 7.6 SGD
Cappuccino5.76 SGD
Pepsi/Coke (0.33 bottle)1.53 SGD
Water (0.33 bottle)1.19 SGD
Milk (1l)2.75 SGD
Fresh bread (500g)2.29 SGD
White Rice (1kg)2.82 SGD
Eggs (12) 2.79 SGD
Local Cheese (1kg) 16.21 SGD
Chicken Breast (1kg) 8.36 SGD
Apples (1kg) 3.49 SGD
Oranges (1kg) 3.08 SGD
Tomato (1kg) 2.99 SGD
Potato (1kg) 2.28 SGD
Lettuce (1 head) 1.86 SGD
Water (1.5l)1.79 SGD
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range) 28.8 SGD
Domestic Beer (0.5 bottle)6.19 SGD
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 5.5 SGD
Cigarettes13.86 SGD
One way local bus ticket1.7 SGD
Monthly pass for bus100 SGD
Taxi start3.76 SGD
Taxi 1km0.54 SGD
Taxi 1hour waiting19.7 SGD
Gasoline (1 liter) 2.38 SGD
Utilities for a "normal" apartment179.57 SGD
Tennis Court Rent (1 Hour on Weekend) 12.28 SGD, your travel companion

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