Singapore - A Destination, Not Just A Layover!

For many people Singapore is somewhere on the way to, or from somewhere. Usually that's Australia or New Zealand. Often people spend only a few hours, or perhaps an overnight. That is a great pity because, as those who've been fortunate enough to spend more than a day or so in this fascinating and beautiful city-state, there's so much more to it than a rest stop. I was fortunate to visit and explore Singapore at length. And was immediately struck by both how exotic and organised it seemed. By how varied the culture was, but by how happily everyone co-existed. And by how spectacular the architecture was, and how luscious the countryside seemed. If Singapore is one thing, it's a place of contrasts.

To totally understand the reasons behind this, we need to look at some history and geography. Singapore is an island, separated from the Malay Peninsula by the narrow Straits of Johore but connected by way of two causeways, to the mainland. Being only 85 miles from the Equator, Singapore boasts a tropical rainforest climate and a pretty much constant year-round temperatures of 30 degrees celsius, with frequent heavy, but short, rain showers, leaving the otherwise heavily built up island some 50 percent lush and green. 

An important trading post of the East India Company, under Sir Stamford Raffles in the early 19th century, it became part of the British Empire. During the Second World War, Singapore was invaded and occupied by the Japanese military, reverted to British control after the war, becoming self-governing in 1959. In the early 1960s it joined the other Malay states to become part of Malaysia and, in 1965 became a fully independent state.

But it's as much the mix of inhabitants that gives Singapore its rather unique blend and feel. The population is primarily made up of people of Chinese, Malay and Indian origin, with a splash of Europeans, mostly working in the business community, although some with ties to the old colonial times remain also. Singapore has always welcomed immigrants and particularly in recent years when the population has suffered from one of the world's lowest birthrates. According to government figures some 37 per cent of the population are non-nationals with permanent residents and foreign workers making up most of that percentage. Of the 63 percent who are Singaporean citizens, 23 per cent were born outside of Singapore. 

This happy mix has several advantages for the visitor. It seems that just about everyone in Singapore goes about their daily lives in a constant state of blissful contentment. Everyone wants to show you things. You are made to feel special and, unlike time spent in many foreign climes, you are never made to feel like an outsider. Everyone is incredibly polite and helpful. Early one morning, while collecting my newspaper from outside my hotel room, I managed to lock myself out. Fortunately I was both fully dressed (although bare-footed) and had someone two doors down who would let me ring down for help. Just a few minutes later, anticipating a glare of irritation from the member of staff assigned to my rescue, I was relieved to be met by a delightful young chap who politely unlocked my door and then spent time demonstrating the anti-locking latch that I had failed to notice. I did still feel an idiot, but at least he smiled at me.

Indeed, smiling seems to be pretty much compulsory in Singapore, which might surprise many of you. After all, Singapore has a reputation for some pretty draconian laws. And yes, littering, jaywalking (crossing a road within 50 metres of a crossing, but not using that crossing), not flushing a toilet and possession of chewing gum are all punishable by a hefty fine. And they all seem pretty sensible rules to me. And, providing you're not planning on stealing something, assaulting anyone or dealing drugs, you've really no more to worry about than you do at home. And you can just get on with enjoying the fabulous world that awaits you.

With a place as ethnically diverse as Singapore you get a really rich mix in culture. Religiously speaking, it's possible to visit a Buddhist temple, a Christian church, an Islamic mosque and a Hindu temple all in one day. And, if you like modern architecture, Singapore's got it all. Just make sure to make use of one of the rooftop gardens or restaurants after dark to get a fabulous view of the city all around you. And you can travel through time too, with countless heritage sites to visit. There are centres dedicated to the various cultures, and their history within the country. And the dark times are not forgotten, with Changi Museum on the site of the former prison camp, giving some insight into the lives and deprivations of prisoners of war.

If wildlife's your thing then you'll find it everywhere you look. Stunning and fragrant orchids grow wild in the trees and thanks to a number of nature reserves you can get right amongst exotic flora of all kinds.  At Singapore Zoo and the extraordinary Night Safari you can see animals as you've never seen them before. 

But if you like your entertainment just a little bit, well, natural, there are a host of theme parks and entertainment complexes. Extensive land reclamation in recent years has allowed the construction of some spectacular hotels and attractions. And there's even an indoor real snow attraction.  And don't forget about the important landmarks like the Merlion, the war dead at the Kranji War Memorial, and Raffles Hotel. 

And, because, Singapore is so often used as a brief stopover on the way to the Antipodes, you'll probably find that just about every  hotel offers tours and excursions right across the island, and onto the Malaysian mainland too. Singapore puts a lot of effort into welcoming visitors, it's about time we visitors started taking it seriously.