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Top 5 Things to Experience in Singapore

Singapore is a Southeast Asian tropical island city-state located at the southern tip of the Malay peninsula. With a population of 6 million residents and a total land area of only 710 square kilometres, Singapore is a popular travel destination, receiving over 1.3 million international tourists every month, and serves as a convenient hub from which to visit other Southeast Asian countries. While there are many things to do in Singapore, this article focuses on what to experience.

Here are the Top 5 things to experience in Singapore.

5) Experience Singapore Changi Airport

Woman looking at the Jewel Rain Vortex in Singapore Changi Airport.
The Jewel Rain Vortex, the world’s largest indoor waterfall, Singapore Changi Airport.

Perhaps it sounds questionable to suggest experiencing the airport of the country you’ve arrived at, however Singapore Changi Airport is unique. Regularly awarded the accolade of World’s Best Airport, it exudes the magical aura of travel whilst also feeling like a city within a city. It’s home to the Jewel Rain Vortex, the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, that entertains with a light and music show at night. And if you’re in transit, with a layover period of at least 5.5 hours but less than 24 hours, you can book a Free Singapore Tour. There’s a hub of energy within Singapore Changi Airport, so if your schedule allows it, it’s worth experiencing what it has to offer before moving on to your next destination.

4) Experience Sentosa, Singapore’s beach island

Siloso Beach, Sentosa, Singapore
Siloso Beach, Sentosa, Singapore

Sentosa is an island resort off the southern coast of Singapore’s main island that’s home to Fort Siloso (a site of intense fighting during WW2), Universal Studios Singapore and popular beaches including as Siloso Beach, Palawan Beach and Tanjong Beach. There are a variety of activities you can participate in such as zip-lining, stand-up paddle boarding and taking a cable car ride.

While there are many things to do on the island, simply being on Sentosa is an experience in itself, heightened by the fact that much of the island’s territory is reclaimed land. In fact, Siloso, Palawan and Tanjong beaches are artificially constructed, with sand having been brought in from Malaysia and Indonesia. Adding to the experience is the novelty with which one can shift from the skyscraper-filled concrete jungle of Singapore’s Central Business District to the sand-filled, clear water beaches of Sentosa with only 15 minutes.

3) Experience the Singapore River area

Singapore Merlion at sunrise.
The Merlion, part-fish, part-lion, Singapore’s national icon.

The Singapore River area is a lively, bustling part of the city that’s home to various attractions such as the Asian Civilisations Museum, Gardens by the Bay, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay and the Merlion statue, where you can take the typical tourist photo that makes it seem like Merlion is spouting water into your mouth.

However, simply exploring the Singapore River area can be a historical experience in itself. The Merlion statue, with its part-fish, part-lion features, represents the early history of Singapore as a fishing village and the legend of a prince from Palembang landing on the shores of the island during a storm, spotting a creature resembling a lion, and giving the island its original name of Singapura.

The River Merchants statue alongside the Maybank Tower and Singapore River.
The River Merchants.

As you pass by The River Merchants statue alongside the Maybank Tower, you’ll be at the very location where merchant captains would enter the Singapore River to trade with the locals in the early 1800s. The statue depicts Alexander Laurie Johnston, an early settler, negotiating with a Malay chief and a Chinese trader while Indian and Chinese coolies load sacks onto cart. This would have been a common sight at the time, and so exploring the Singapore River can be quite the experience, stimulating one’s imagination of life back in the founding days of modern Singapore.

2) Experience the Cultural Diversity of Singapore

Painted Indian-style figures at Sri Mariamman Temple, Chinatown, Singapore.
Sri Mariamman Temple, Chinatown, Singapore.

Singapore is a vibrant, melting pot of cultures with a population that is Chinese (75%), Malay (15%) and Indian (7%). Languages spoken include English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. The English is sometimes referred to as Singlish, a creole-based language that’s arisen from the historical mixing of English with Malay, Chinese dialects and Tamil. So don’t be surprised if you hear a lah at the end of a sentence for emphasis or the word shiok to express amazement.

Magazine cut-out describing the use of Singlish. "Impress the locals by speaking Singlish, Singapore's non-standard variety of English mixed with various local languages and dialects".
This is a good explanation lah!

To experience the full flavour of Singapore’s cultural diversity, it’s worth visiting Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam. Chinatown was established in the 1820s as an enclave for China’s immigrant community and it retains its strong Chinese cultural identity exhibited by its architecture, food and festivals such as Chinese New Year and Mid-autumn Festival.

Little India was originally known as Soonambu Kambam, which means “village of lime” in Tamil, referring to the lime pits and brick kilns that many Indians found employment in during the 1800s. Today, Little India is a vibrant reflection of Indian culture that you can experience as you walk down the famous Serangoon Road and take in the bright colours, smell of spices and sounds of street hawkers.

Kampong Glam is Singapore’s Muslim Quarter that was once the centre of Malay royalty and traders, and likely derived its name from the gelam tree, which was used for the construction of boats. Exploring the quarter gives you a taste of Malay cultural heritage, exemplified by Malay architecture and cuisine, as well as Middle Eastern influences such as the colourful textile and fabrics shophouses on Arab Street and Haji Lane.

Sultan Mosque at night, Kampong Glam, Singapore
Sultan Mosque, Kampong Glam.

And if you’d like a taste of Singapore’s cultural diversity, try some Singaporean food, which is a blend of influences from Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Peranakan (fusion of Chinese and Malay) traditions.

Singaporean desserts, Cendol and Cheng Tng
Singaporean desserts, Cendol (left), Cheng Tng (right).

1) Experience Singaporean Values

Bag Down Benny, a poster that says "Bag on the floor makes space for more", Singapore MRT.
Bag Down Benny, a poster in the Singapore MRT.

By simply visiting and exploring Singapore, you can experience the country’s unique set of values. As we wrote in our Top 5 Things to Experience in Tokyo, Japan article, the metro is a place that can reveal a lot about society. Exemplifying Singapore’s culture of respect and harmony, the Land Transport Authority’s Gracious Commuting campaign encourages people to be thoughtful and considerate to other passengers. The law comes down hard on offences such as sexual harassment, and you may even see posters in the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) naming and shaming those who’ve been convicted of an offence.

You’ll probably notice how clean Singapore is as soon as you exit Changi Airport and see rows of lined trees and spotless roads. Singapore has developed a reputation for being clean and attractive, and strives to live up to its reputation. To give you an idea of how Singapore maintains its squeaky clean image, anyone who commits a littering offence is liable for a court fine of up to $2,000 SGD, equivalent to $1,481 USD. Also chewing gum is banned in Singapore, and one can face a jail term if you’re caught importing, selling or manufacturing it.

Singapore is also a very safe place, consistently ranked among the safest cities in the world. Anecdotally, some Singaporeans take pride in mentioning that you can be solo female traveller walking home at 2am at night, and you’ll still be safe. To give an example of Singapore’s low crime rate, people often leave their bags on a table to reserve a seat at a food court, and then they go off to find the food they want. The understanding is that you can leave your belongings unattended and they’ll still be there once you return with your food. Now, of course, this doesn’t mean one should abandon all caution in Singapore. It’s always worth exercising common sense wherever you travel.

The more you explore, the more you’ll learn about Singapore’s value systems and priorities, which can be an enlightening experience.

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