Photo: Commuter and shopfronts on Petain Road.


Shop till you drop

While it's true that Singapore doesn't quite have the guts, grit and grime of Asian mega-cities like Bangkok and Manila, if you give the tiny island a chance you'll see it has loads more than shopping malls, gleaming skyscrapers and strict rules.

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Down to onward travel

This is our broad strokes introduction to the city state. Jump to our Downtown Singapore page if you'd like to immediately discover the best places to stay, eat and play.

The economic powerhouse and chief melting pot of Southeast Asia, Singapore presents a fascinating meld of cultures, religions and languages beneath the shiny veneer of its somewhat characterless commercial front. It's something of a meeting point between East and West -- it has been for centuries in its role as an important port – and you only have to scratch the surface a little to be well rewarded.

Think loads of interesting attractions, ranging from zoos to parks to beaches, mix with some of the region's best (though not cheapest) shopping, some superb transport crisscrossing the lushly green island and add in a wonderful array of tasty cuisines and friendly people, and you'll come a little closer to the heart of what Singapore is all about. Accommodation isn't the cheapest, but the hostel scene is competitive -- and even families can snare rooms at some of them.

The island is incredibly family-friendly, with blissfully unbroken footpaths, wheelchair access to most buildings (don't get used to that if this is the start of your Asian trip!) and a population that generally adores children. And there is plenty for kids to do too, with playgrounds and parks galore. A large concentration of attractions for families -- including world-class Universal Studios -- lies on the island of Sentosa.

Singapore only won independence in 1965 -- it's the youngest country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations -- after a century and a half of British rule, and a short-lived union with neighbouring Malaysia. Today, English is almost universally spoken among the ethnically Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian populations who now call the island home.

Elements of the respective migrant cultures and identities are still present in the cacophony of languages you'll hear, along with the churches, temples, historic buildings and restored shophouses you can tour, and most importantly for the hungry, the delicious food.

In between sightseeing stops, you'll never have to eat the same thing twice, or even from the same cuisine -- that goes for travellers on all budgets. Because of Singapore's complete modernisation, her local food may not seem as varied, cheap and colourful as say in Thailand, but you can still eat phenomenally for very little.

Take your pick, from Little India's sweaty hawker centres popular with locals -- try Tekka Centre -- where for a few bucks you can eat a superb laksa, to splurging on some of the most respected European, Chinese or Japanese restaurants, where you may still pay less than a regular meal out at home. Singapore's chilli crab must be eaten at least once in a lifetime. (And whatever you do, don't wear white!)

With an airport often voted the world's best and excellent transport connections to all parts of the world, including cheap budget flights to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Indonesia, Singapore is well placed to ease you into your trip to Asia.

Stop for a peek, settle down in affordable Little India or Arab Street, and spend a few days following your nose. Go for a walking tour or two -- maybe do a brewery tour or even a tour of Singapore's city water facilities -- and head to the Night Safari for an unusual evening out. And don't forget to sip a Singapore Sling at Raffles for a splurge. Singapore may not be an exotic and gritty Asian city, but there's certainly enough history and fun to go around if you know where to look.

What not to miss

Exhaust yourself on Singapore's shopping broadway of Orchard Road. Visit the Night Safari and the fabulous aquarium. Explore Little India and eat yourself silly. Shop, shop and shop a little more. Take advantage of the city's excellent museums and galleries.

When to go

Singapore is steaming hot pretty much year-round, but it is steaming hot and especially wet during the monsoon. The wettest months are November, December and January. Bear in mind Singapore has excellent public transport and many attractions like museums and shopping are all indoors, so there is still plenty to do on a rainy day.

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