Conveniently situated just off the Malay Peninsula, this unique city-state consists of mainland Singapore as well as numerous smaller islands covering a total area of about 640 square kilometres. With its strong Chinese, Malay, Indian and western influences, this metropolis offers a dazzling melting pot of the diverse cultures, exotic cuisines and a range of architectural styles. This multicultural population has resulted in a number of national cultural districts, such as Chinatown with its impressive Hindu shrines and temples adorned with marigold garlands. These pockets of traditional culture stand in stark contrast to the rows of glitzy state-of-the-art malls and futuristic skyscrapers. With all of this variety on offer, it is easy to see why famous natural historian William Hornaday described this remarkable city as 'the handiest and most marvellous city [he] ever saw'.
Banking and Currency
Singapore Dollar (SGD; symbol S$) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of S$10,000, 1,000, 500, 100, 50, 10, 5 and 2. Coins are in denominations of S$1, and 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1 cents.
The currency of Brunei is also legal tender, although coins may not be accepted; 1 Brunei Dollar = 1 Singapore Dollar.
US Dollars, Australian Dollars, Yen and Pounds Sterling are also accepted at many major shopping centres in Singapore.
There is no limit to the import and export of local or foreign currency, but amounts exceeding S$30,000 (or equivalent) should be declared on arrival.
Foreign currencies, traveller's cheques and cheques can be changed at most banks and licensed money changers, the latter generally offering slightly better rates. They can be found throughout the city, particularly on Orchard Road and in Little India. Some banks do not offer this service on Saturdays.
Banking hours: Mon-Fri 0930-1500, Sat 0930-1230 (some are open later). Branches of certain major banks on Orchard Road open Sun 0930-1500.
American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa credit cards are widely accepted, although cheaper eateries are likely to accept only cash.
ATMs are widespread and many will accept cards from overseas banks.
To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers from the UK are advised to take traveller's cheques in Pounds Sterling. A passport is required when cashing traveller's cheques.
Travel, Transport and Getting Around
Singapore is too small for domestic flights to be useful or available. Sightseeing flights can be arranged locally through the Republic of Singapore Flying Club(www.singaporeflyingclub.com).
Singapore’s size means that getting around by car is feasible, although driving tends to be aggressive and traffic is often chaotic. This, combined with an excellent public transport network, mean that it rarely makes sense for tourists to drive in the city.
Expressways run roughly around the perimeter of the island (barring the restricted areas in the west), and also through the middle of the island from the central business district in the south to Woodlands in the north (which is the access point for the causeway to Johor Bahru in Malaysia).
There are several car hire/self-drive firms with offices at the airport and in hotels. They are expensive, however, and public transport is good enough that driving offers few advantages. A national driving licence is sufficient for stays up to one month. For visits beyond one month, an International Driving Permit is required. Drive on the left, use seat belts in both the front and the back seats, and do not use mobile phones while driving. All motorists driving into the central business district or travelling on some major roads are required to pay the ERP (Electronic Road Pricing). This toll is automatically collected from an device in the car, into which a special cash card is inserted (it can be charged at petrol stations and 7-Eleven stores).
Taxis are numerous and relatively cheap, although there can be a wait during peak times, late at night or when it rains. They can be picked up from outside hotels and official ranks or flagged down in the streets (except in the the city centre where you will have to go to a designated taxi rank). Taxis are metered, but some surcharges are not shown on the meter. It is possible to negotiate hourly rates for round-island tours. The pricing system is complex, but at least drivers use the meters.
Cycling on the main road is not advisable. Taking a ride in the main island’s various parks, many of which are now linked by cycle paths, is a much better idea. Many of the parks have hire outlets.
Singapore’s bus network is extensive and efficient. The main operators are SMRT (1800 3368 900;www.smrtbuses.com.sg) and SBS (1800 225 5663; www.sbstransit.com.sg). Pay with the exact change, or using an EZ-Link card or Tourist Pass. The former is pay-as-you-go, while the latter (www.thesingaporetouristpass.com) offers unlimited travel for a day.
Trishaws: This traditional form of chauffeur-pedalled transport is a fun way to tour the streets of Singapore, but agree on a price before setting off.
The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) (tel: 1 800 336 8900, in Singapore only; www.smrt.com.sg) is a modern, comfortable, efficient and cheap way to explore Singapore. The trains operate 05h30-midnight, starting a little later on Sundays, with stations being served on average every six minutes. Around 90 stations link the city centre and suburbs. The MRT system also extends out to Changi Airport. Pay-as-you go travel is easier and cheaper with an EZ-Link card, which can be purchased and topped up from MRT stations. Otherwise, the Singapore Tourist Pass offers unlimited travel for a day.
Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice
Food hygiene is generally good, particularly now that most individual street stalls have been closed down in favour of hawker centres. As always it’s safer to avoid raw vegetables, shellfish and reheated foods, and to wash fruit which has not been peeled. The tap water is safe to drink.
Singapore is a gourmet's paradise, with everything from humble street stalls to 5-star restaurants. There are over 30 different cooking styles, including various regional styles of Chinese cuisine, American, English, French, Indian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Russian and Swiss.
The most common, though are Malay, Indian and Chinese cuisines. Malay food is famed for its use of spices and coconut milk; no pork is used, as most Malays are Muslim. The Indian community mostly traces its roots back to South India and their food reflects this, meaning that spicy vegetarian dishes are predominant. To try many small dishes, order a thali (which may be served on a banana leaf). The most popular Chinese regional cuisine is Cantonese, which includes a lot of stir fry dishes as well as dim sum (small dishes, often steamed, which are intended for sharing at lunchtime).
Tipping is officially discouraged in restaurants, hotels and the airport. A 10% service charge is included in restaurant bills.
Climate and Weather
Located just north of the equator, Singapore has a tropical climate and stays hot and humid throughout the year. Temperatures average around 31º C (88º F) during the day with little seasonal variation, although it’s slightly cooler in December and January, and hottest in April and May. Temperatures are unlikely to dip below 23º C (74º F) at night; the lowest temperature ever recorded was just over 19º C (66º F).
Singapore receives a considerable amount of rainfall - approximately 2340 millimetres annually. Although there are no distinct wet or dry seasons, the region is affected by two different monsoons. The Northeast Monsoon generally takes place from December to March and is accompanied by more frequent rain, particularly from November to January.
Conversely, the Southwest Monsoon produces a marginally dryer climate from May to September. Despite the slightly lower overall precipitation levels, particularly from June to August, the Southwest Monsoon is characterised by its early-morning rainstorms; these often persist for one or two hours then taper off for the afternoon. Even these drier months experience a fair amount of rain (around 150mm each month), so be prepared for unpredictably wet weather any time of the year.
The beginning and end of the two monsoon seasons are not well defined, but are separated by the shorter inter-monsoon periods of April/May and October/November, during which months afternoon and evening rain showers are likely. These showers are typically sudden and heavy, but often only last for a short time.
The region is extremely humid, with humidity levels usually between 70% and 90%; often the air is muggiest in the early morning, abating somewhat in the afternoon. On rainy days it is not unreasonable to expect the humidity to reach 100%. When visiting, be sure to drink enough water and seek frequent refuge from the sticky heat indoors. March and September are particularly humid and often very uncomfortable.
Thunderstorms are also a very regular phenomenon, occurring on roughly 40% of all days year-round but particularly common during the Southeast Monsoon. In fact, this small city-state has one of the highest rates of lightning activity worldwide.
Despite the unpredictability of the weather, Singapore experiences as much brilliant sunshine as it does rain, and therefore makes for a delightful beach destination. If sunbathing happens to be interrupted by an unexpected shower, there is at least a plethora of indoor entertainment.
Clothing and Dress Recommendations
Be sure to pack lightweight cottons and linens to avoid becoming overheated in the humid Singapore climate. Also remember to carry an umbrella any time of year, but particularly during the rainy season. A sunhat, sunglasses and sunscreen is essential.
Internet cafes throughout Singapore provide public access to internet and email services. Most hotels and hostels offer Internet access, but there is also a free city-wide Wi-Fi service called Wireless@SG. Visitors can register either online or by telephone.
Electricity and Plug Standards
Electrical sockets (outlets) in Singapore are the "Type G " British BS-1363 type. If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in. Travel plug adapters simply change the shape of your appliance's plug to match whatever type of socket you need to plug into.
Electrical sockets (outlets) in Singapore usually supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts AC. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need.
But travel plug adapters do not change the voltage, so the electricity coming through the adapter will still be the same 220-240 volts the socket is supplying. If your appliance is from another part of the world, and it is not compatible with 220-240 volt electricity, the voltage will have to be changed. This is accomplished with a voltage transformer.