I have to be honest; before I went to Singapore I expected it to be just another big city. And it is (a big city) so I was right about that… I don’t know if it’s the fact a local person showed me around or it’s just a very nice city, but I really enjoyed staying here!
The reason I traveled to Singapore was to apply for a new social cultural visa. I went together with Astrid because both of our visas were finished at the same time. One of Astrid’s old guest, Sue, is from Singapore and kindly suggested for us to stay with her and her husband. I am super happy she did because they made me feel at home right away! I came with a very blank canvas, so I barely knew anything about this small country. Therefore, for those of you who don’t know anything about Singapore too, let me introduce it to you.
The Lion City
For starters I didn’t know it’s an island… Singapore consists out of 63 islands in between Malaysia and Indonesia, the city (which has the same name as the country) covers most of the islands. Therefore, Singapore is also known as a city-state because outside the city of Singapore, there are no other towns or villages. 5,791,901 million people live on 721.5 km2, which means about 8,274 people per square meter. A very densely populated city, this explains the amount of apartment buildings.
The population in Singapore is super diverse. I saw many Indian and Chinese people but also a lot of Malay and Indonesian man and women. Sue told me that there are a lot of expats living in Singapore too. This was nice because we could just walk down the streets with our white skin without being looked at for a change.
Besides these ethnic groups, there are many foreigner workers from countries around Singapore such as Bangladesh. These people are often hired for construction projects or other jobs that don’t earn that much. The wages are very low for Singapore standards but for people from countries like Bangladesh this is a very normal or even high payrate.
Today, Singapore keeps on growing and is a country known for a high level of prosperity. The port of Singapore is one of the largest in the world and the Singapore Stock Exchange is among the most influential in the region. Many multinationals are located in Singapore, this and the strict city regulations explain the high amount of expats. The stories about high fines are not exaggerated. I barely saw any trash on the ground, nobody was eating anything in the public transport and everybody knows exactly how to behave in public places. Singapore is safe and clean, this is why Singapore also extracts many tourists every year.
Back in the six century the harbor of Singapore was already an important trading place. First with the name Temasek and later under the name Singapura (which comes from Siṃhapura; siṃha is “lion”, pura is “town” or “city”) that in the end became Singapore. The country has known several different rulers, from which the British, Japanese and the Malaysians are the most recent. From 1819 till the Second World War Singapore was a British colonized area, after that the Japanese took over the area until the end of the war when Great Britain took the country back. Almost twenty years after that, Singapore became independent off England and part of Malaysia. However, this was not successful because the Malaysians were not happy with the large amount of Chinese in Singapore, who seemed to get more and more influence. Not even two years later in 1965 Singapore was forced to become independent. Why Singapore has such a high amount of Chinese people? Because.. in 1830 many Chinese people came to Singapore to find a job after the British people took over the area from the Dutch.
After all the different regimes, the independency from Malaysia is the best thing that happened to the country. After some obstacles and number of setbacks such as the financial crisis in Asia and the outbreak of SARS, Singapore became totally hip and happening. Now it’s known as the trendy bubble of Asia.
On the road (or underground)
As I mentioned before, Astrid and I stayed at Sue’s house. A very cozy and bohemian inspired apartment in Sembawang, the north of Singapore. It was quite a bit out of the center but the MRT in Singapore is organized very well so we had no problem getting around. Sue gave us a card, similar to the ‘OV Chipkaart’ in the Netherlands. You can buy these cards at the kiosk at every underground station. The card is not cheap but it already has a nice amount of money on it. Besides, it’s the most beneficial way to travel with the MRT because buying single tickets is more expensive if you will use the underground on a regular base. Using the underground is the cheapest way to go around, but you can also go by taxi, Uber or Grab. We often used Grab in the evening if the rate was not too high because we were tired of walking around all day.
Oh and another thing about the transport in Singapore. Their airport, Changi International Airport, is great. You can easily reach it with the MRT, it stops at terminal 1 and from there you can use the free shuttle bus service to go to one of the other terminals if this is necessary. Also, the people are friendly, no long lines and logistically it’s one of the better airports I have been. You don’t have to walk too far and it’s all just very clear. There is one thing that needed a bit of investigation and that was the Wi-Fi. At first it was a bit unclear how it worked but after reading in to the regulations a bit it’s actually not that difficult. If you’re struggling with it too, scroll down to the bottom and I will give you a short explanation.
Sleeping in the Lion city
Sleeping in Singapore is known for being expensive and this is sadly true. Even sleeping in a dormitory will be a lot more expensive than in other Asian countries. Somewhere online I read that there is not a big price difference over the year but if you are looking for a nice deal, the trick apparently is to compare different booking sites with each other. Some hotels have deals with these booking websites, so it’s possible that a hotel on Booking.com is way more expensive then on Expedia (to just give you a random example). I often don’t use booking sites but after hearing this, it might be worth the try next time I am staying in Singapore and need a hotel.
What to see?
Before I came to Singapore I had no idea what the options were and what was worth visiting. I knew there would be a lot of shops and malls and I assure you, we definitely saw a lot of malls haha. At some point we basically walked from one mall in to the other. At some points it was very funny because we were in the hospital to pick up one of Sue’s friends and first of all it looked just like a mall and secondly you could enter it from a mall. Personally I thought that was quite funny.
My favorite mall, to see, was the one near to Garden by the Bay. The shops there are very expensive but the way the mall is built is very cool. If you want to shop some nice clothes, for a normal price, just go down town and you will probably find some shops you like.
Normally I am more the ‘walk around and get lost’ kind of tourist and most of the times I don’t visit that many museums and touristic attractions. This time I read one article about Singapore and saw some fun stuff, I told Sue about it and she said she had some nice days planned in her mind. Down below, my four favorite spots of the places I visited.
Singapore is the place for food, besides shopping of course. There are a lot of different kinds of food and I tasted a few off them. Besides the two places above near Arab Street I don’t really have concrete recommendations. I guess I would say, skip the typical mall food (all though I really re-invented the Subway sandwich for lunch!!) and the food doesn’t have to be expensive to be delicious. It’s such a big town so you will probably find many different options and if you are lucky you get some homemade Malay food from your friend’s mum (thanks Sue and of course a big thank you for your mum too!).
Ps. Oh ya… the Wi-Fi at the airport. So when you click on the network on your phone you will get this explanation about how you can get a password by SMS if you fill in your contact information. Don’t do this but look at the top of the page and you will see the option to click on a second tab which says something like ‘For people without data rooming’. If you click on this tab you will read that there are several locations at the airport where you can get a password from a kiosk. To make it even easier they include a little map of all the terminals so you can see exactly where the kiosks are. You can go there and ask for a password. Bring your passport though because they want to scan it.