Since my visa in Thailand requires me to leave the country every 90 days, I am happily forced to visit a new place each time! Due to its proximity (only a 1.5 hour flight from Koh Samui) I chose Singapore in my last trip and here’s what I’ve learnt and seen during my 5-day visit.
– Singapore’s history is similar to its neighbors that includes a British invasion. Long story short Singapore was under a Malay King up until 1819 when the Brits came in and offered him a lot of shiny things and he handed the key of this island to them. After a short Japanese ruling during WW2, they broke free from Britain and became an independent republic in August of 1965.
– Singapore is a multiracial and multicultural country with a population consisting of:
○ 75% Chinese
○ 13% Malay (also recognized as the indigenous community)
○ 9% Indian
○ The rest is expats from other parts of the world
– What I loved most about this little island country is the beautiful harmony they managed to maintain among these diverse races and cultures. Given the homophobia that’s taking over the world, I was very happy and hopeful to witness this.
– The best thing about this diversity was to be able to eat amazing food from Malay, Indian and Chinese cuisines, which are all amazingly rich on their own. Besides Michelin starred top notch restaurants, the food courts and hawkers that are spread around the city offer a great selection of modern and traditional cuisines.
– It’s super easy to get around with the metro: MRT. I bought a 3 day tourist pass for S$20 (US$14) at the airport upon my arrival that was valid on all the trains and buses. For the last 2 days, I got a $12 card at the MRT station. Shout out to Jimmy at the MTR ticket office in Chinatown who happily took the time to explain me the intricacies of the train system on a Sunday morning 🙂
– The weather is hot and humid all year round. When outside is too humid to handle, there are shopping malls almost at the exit of each metro station with blasting A/C. You can also find clean public bathrooms everywhere, happy me!
– The official language is English, national language is Malay (for instance the national anthem) but no one is forced to speak it. They teach English in schools and everyone is free to speak their own respective language. So there’s no language barrier and you can get by very easily.
–Is it expensive? Yes and no. Depending on your choices. Restaurants, hotels and supermarkets in the malls are as expensive as in other metropolitan cities in Europe and the US. But if you choose to stay at a hostel like I did (my first fun capsule trial!) and eat amazing food at food courts, it’s easy to stay on budget.
Don’t forget the high number of Chinese and Indian ethnicities that leads to lots of open air markets all around the island to buy cheap, unpackaged and unprocessed produce. I loved walking around and trying new things in these markets.
– It’s a pretty modern country with highways and high rises yet there’s access to beautiful, lush, tropical nature among them. I enjoyed spending some nature time in the parks around Gardens by the Bay (home to 2000 exotic species of over 700,000 natural plants) , Botanical Garden (especially Orchid Garden) and The Southern Ridges.
– You can find old and new Singapore in one place. I can’t recommend enough the free walking tours of Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam that give a great overview of the history of Singapore and its diverse population.
– Singapore has a multi-party parliamentary system and the same government has been in place since 1959! They must be doing a good job responding to the needs of their people. Here are some highlights:
- They have been ranked the 3rd least corrupt country in the world, most pro-business, and with low tax rates (%7-%22). It has the third highest per-capita GDP in the world in terms of Purchasing Power, which explains the shopping madness!
- 85% of Singaporeans are using Social Housing. They solved the homelessness issue by giving a roof to live under to everyone. Low income ppl can rent a house for as low as $50 from the government.
- They have a racial quota for each neighborhood to maintain the balance and make sure none of the areas become heavy in one ethnic population. This way people learn to live together in peace.
- They educate kids in school from early age to learn and respect the ethnic diversity of the country. The schools are mixed.
– Singapore is known for its impeccable cleanliness and low crime rate, which comes with a price. You get a fine, jail time, caning (whip) or even death penalty if you do these:
- Littering, the most known one is probably chewing gum (think NYC subway floors!) S$1000 fine for first time offenders. There were no gums but I was surprised to see cigarette butts on the streets.
- Urinating in Elevators & Not Flushing the Toilet (thank you!)
- Spitting (if you’ve been to India and consider the Indian population here, this is a perfect rule!)
- Unauthorized graffiti or vandalism: (S$2000 +jail time)
- Eating durian on MTR or public buildings
- Jaywalking (oops)
- Drugs: (death penalty) – Given the rush of Chinese immigrants, opium houses became super popular but had to be closed at some point and this rule came into effect.
- Liquor curfew in some neighborhoods (this was put in place after the riot in Little India in 2013 started by drunk workers).
- Homosexuality: Illegal for men, legal for women 😐
Summary: I’m happy that I visited this beautiful island country and got to know its rich history and culture. I walked sooooo much in 5 days and the switch between hot/ice cold AC messed me up towards the end but everything was forgotten with the honey lemon tea my kind hostel stuff made for me 🙂
Thanks for reading!