Singapore, a diamond-shaped island of 260 square miles, lies off the southernmost tip of the Malay Peninsula. It's connected to the mainland city of Johor Bahru, Malaysia, by a half-mile-long causeway. Most points of interest are in the southern third of the island, radiating outward from the mouth of the Singapore River, where Sir Stamford Raffles landed in 1819 and founded the modern city. The island's hilly midsection is largely undeveloped, comprising the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Singapore Zoo. Changi International Airport is on the eastern end of the island, about 20 minutes from the city center. South of Singapore Island are a few minor islets and the crowded urban beach resort of Sentosa.
WHEN TO GO
Just one degree north of the equator, Singapore is always hot and humid. Rain showers can happen almost any time, but during November and December, it can pour nonstop. The best time to visit is during the breezy, relatively dry season that lasts from June to August.
HOW TO GET THERE
Singapore's international airport, Changi, is one of the best in the world. Every aspect of the traveler's experience is expertly managed: quick, easy customs formalities; amazingly prompt baggage handling; fabulous food and shopping; an array of efficient local-transport choices. Virtually every major international airline flies direct to Changi, but Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) offers the most luxurious options; as well as nonstop flights to and from Los Angeles and New York, the airline has newly upgraded flight classes (which include the widest first- and business-class seats in the world, along with superb food and service). The airline will start flying the first superjumbo A380 jets in summer of 2007. Cab fare from Changi to central Singapore runs about $10.
The taxi fleet in Singapore is efficient and cheap, with fares within the central district usually running less than $5. Cabs can be hailed on the street, but it's better to go a taxi stand, where more often than not a cab is waiting for a fare. The subway system, the MRT, is one of the most advanced in the world—quick and easy to use—but the stations are sometimes spaced a mile or more apart (For schedules and fares, check out www.smrt.com.sg). Singapore is friendly to pedestrians, with many lovely greens and gardens, but be careful of overexposure to the midday sun. The main commercial districts, thankfully, have subterranean, air-conditioned walkways.
One of the most common complaints about Singapore—that it's an overly developed, artificial environment—discounts the island's main strengths. It's a safe, clean, efficient modern metropolis, and will cause almost no culture shock for Western travelers. English is widely spoken. The tap water is fine to drink. No inoculations are required because there are no serious communicable diseases (and in any case, the health-care system is world-class and reasonably priced).
Exchanging money is easy but not really necessary, as you can get Singaporean dollars from ATMs, drawn on your account at home at the bank rate, and foreign credit cards are welcomed almost everywhere (including some taxis). Tipping is seldom necessary, as a ten-percent service charge is added to almost every bill (though a couple of Sing dollars for efficient waiters, bellboys, and taxi drivers is appreciated).
Experienced travelers don't need to be told to pack cool, summer-weight clothes, but they should also bring something dressy; Singapore tends to be more formal than other cities in Southeast Asia—more like New York or London than L.A., despite the heat. Shorts in public aren't taboo, but you'll be pegged instantly as a tourist. Singapore is serious about enforcing its very strict laws against narcotics use and possession of even small amounts of illegal drugs.
The tirelessly helpful and courteous Singapore Tourism Board operates Visitors' Centers at six locations, including Changi airport. Its website is informative and updated frequently (www.visitsingapore.com). For listings of public events and performances, see the city's daily English-language newspaper, The Straits Times.
NEED TO KNOW
Language: English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil
Capital City: Singapore
Population: 4.4 million
Area: 260 square miles
Telephone Calling Code(s): 65
Electricity: 220240V, 50 Hz
Currency: As of Nov 22, 2011:
1 Singapore Dollars = $0.77 US Calculate Other Amounts
Entry Requirements: Most Western nationals do not require a visa and are issued a 30-day permit on arrival. Extensions are difficult to obtain.
January: 1, New Year's Day
Late February: Chinese New Year
Late March/Early April: Good Friday (Friday before Easter)
May: 1, Labor Day
May: 31, Vesak Day
Late October/Early November: Diwali
December: 25, Christmas