So, Singapore then. First of all, it’s a really small country. Have a look on Google maps. It’s basically a city-state rather than a country. It’s also clean, calm, and very green. The pavements are pretty much spotless, everywhere is neat and tidy – even the H&M store in one of the big shopping malls was neat with all the clothes hanging on racks. There’s a general air of sophistication – I didn’t see anyone dressed in baggy tracksuits, or trashy leggings. Shoes, even trainers, were clean and new-looking. Of course there were exceptions, but almost no-one looked down-at-heel.
Singapore is rich. With Malaysia next door as a source of cheap labour, many people can afford cleaners and nannies. Clearly, shopping is the number one pass-time. The malls are huge and stretch the length of the main road down through the city centre.
Singapore has worked hard to become what it is. It went from poverty-stricken to one of the richest countries in a single generation, after gaining independence in 1965. It’s rated very highly for education and healthcare, and is a major player in finance, foreign exchange, oil refining and trading, and is one of the world’s busiest container ports.
It’s also claimed back a lot of land. The fabulous gardens by the bay are entirely built on reclaimed land – land that was drained and then left for 10 years to dry out.
Singapore isn’t without its drawbacks, though. The death penalty is still a punishment for some crimes. Homosexuality is illegal. You can’t chew gum in public, or smoke unless you’re within 3 metres of a designated smoking area. Jaywalking is illegal. And it’s the kind of state where the police will arrest you first, and ask questions later. On the flip side, the streets are clean and crime is extremely rare. There are a couple of casinos, but Singaporians have to sign in to use them, and if any member of their family is concerned about their gambling, they are denied entry. People generally drive considerately, and I didn’t see a single dented or scratched vehicle.
Alcohol, especially wine, is expensive. I’m told people pop across to Malaysia and buy it in bulk. Food is also pricey, although you can buy anything from Spanish tapas to Singapore noodles. We didn’t manage to visit the places where street-food is sold (known as Hawkers Markets) but we did find a Food Republic which is basically a canteen-style arrangement of several independent food outlets where you can buy a variety of Asian dishes. Kimchi with fried rice, an egg on top, a bowl of clear soup and two little dishes of something unidentifiable was the equivalent of £2. The basements of the shopping malls offer a similar arrangement, although a little more expensive at around £5. Everything is spotlessly clean.
FYI, if you’re a vegeterian like me, it’s harder than you might think to find things you can eat. If tofu is on the menu, it’s worth asking if it can be substituted for the usual chicken or pork. The trouble is, I’m not sure Singapore would recognise a green vegetable if it was jumping up and down holding a sign saying ‘I’m a vegetable. Eat me!’. Salad is practically non-existent. Indian food offers dhals , Korean food kimchi, but from what I could see practically every other dish includes meat or seafood, and is fried. No wonder Singapore has a problem with diabetes.
It’s incredibly hot in January, with tropical downpours accompanied by full-on thunder and lightning more often than not. I love a good storm. I recommend taking an umbrella everywhere with you, and wearing sensible, waterproof footwear. It’s far too hot for coats. Public transport is cheap and plentiful, and as everything is in English it’s easy to find your way around.
The hotel we stayed in provided a free smart phone for guests to use, which included free and unlimited access to mobile data as well as free phone calls (including international calls). This was so useful, although I learned on the very last day that you can register your own mobile phone for free public wifi across the city. How cool is that?
My biggest disappointment was finding out that the Raffles Hotel was closed for renovation. I was really looking forward to a Singapore Sling there. I did have one somewhere else, but it just wasn’t the same. Still, I managed to bring back a bottle of Bombay Star gin from the duty free shop (£24 for a litre!) so that went some way to making up for it.
I’m not going to post all my photographs here, but I’ve included a link so you can see the entire album here. So, to sum up, lovely country, lovely polite people, bit expensive but there are ways of mitigating this. Be mindful of the law, and you’ll have a great time. Oh, and Levis are incredibly cheap.