City guide: Singapore
By Esme Fox
A melting pot of ethnicities, religions and cuisines, Singapore is one of the world’s most multicultural societies, where different groups live harmoniously, each contributing their own distinct traditions. Any visit should incorporate the city’s cultural precincts, such as Chinatown, filled with colourful old buildings, hanging lanterns, busy markets and delicious smells wafting through the air. The area is home to one of Singapore’s most interesting sites, the Chinatown Heritage Museum, as well as some of the world’s best street food. The historic area of Little India is also a food lover’s paradise, serving both northern and southern Indian cuisine. Visit during Deepavali (October or November) to see it at its colourful best. Kampong Glam, a Malay enclave, is home to super-trendy Haji Lane and the Sultan Mosque, and truly comes alive during Hari Raya Aidilfitri (the festival after Ramadan). To the east, is Joo Chiat and Katong, home to the Peranakans, and made up of fascinating post-war architecture.
Gardens by the Bay
The Gardens by the Bay may have only been completed in 2012, but they have quickly become Singapore’s premier attraction. Set in the heart of the city and built on 101 hectares of reclaimed land, these waterfront gardens have turned Singapore into one of Asia’s greenest cities. Housing more than one million plants, the gardens are enjoyed not only by visitors and residents, but a whole host of wildlife, too. A web of greenhouses, pavilions, flower gardens, ponds and sculptures, they’re home to everything from dragonflies and kingfishers to otters and turtles. Highlights include the Flower Dome, the world’s largest glass greenhouse; the OCBC Skyway, a 128m-long aerial walkway suspended 22m above the ground; Cloud Forest Dome, which recreates mountain views; and the famous Supertree Grove, where 50m-tall “trees” create vertical gardens that reach the sky. There are a string of dining venues to choose from, including an Italian-Japanese cake and coffee shop, a classic seafood restaurant, and a modern European restaurant offering great views over Marina Bay. Each night, there is also the spectacular – and free – Rhapsody light and sound show at 7.45pm and 8.45pm.
Night Safari and Singapore Zoo
The Night Safari is the world’s first zoo for nocturnal animals and one of Singapore’s most popular attractions, housing more than 2,500 resident animals of more than 130 species, including fishing cats, pangolins, Asian elephants and Malayan tigers. The popular Leopard Trail features the largest collection of wildlife indigenous to Southeast Asia, and there’s also the chance to enjoy a four-course gourmet dinner with the Evening in the Wild experience in a tipi in the rainforest. Part of Wildlife Reserves Singapore, the park is located next door to Singapore Zoo, one of the most famous zoos in the world. It’s notable for its open concept, which means that, instead of being kept in cages, animals live in huge enclosures, framed by natural barriers of rivers, ditches and plants. The rare white tiger and white rhinoceros are highlights, and there are unique experiences such as the Jungle Breakfast with the orangutans. Next door is also the River Safari and Jurong Bird Park, Asia’s largest bird park.
The battle for Singapore was a significant moment in the Second World War, during which the British attempted to defend its colony against attacks from Japan. Today, visitors can still see many vestiges of the war, from forts and bunkers to museums and memorials. To get an overview of the role Singapore played during the war, visit the Reflections at Bukit Chandu heritage centre. One of the top sites to visit is the 19th-century Fort Siloso on Sentosa Island. It played a pivotal role in the battle, which eventually ended in defeat. Today, travellers can visit the fort to marvel at the old guns, fortified military structures and underground tunnels. The next stop on your journey back in time is the Battlebox at Fort Canning, the former British underground command centre, and now also a museum. The Former Ford Factory – taken over by the Royal Air Force during the war to assemble fighter planes – today houses a permanent exhibition on the war and its legacies, while the sombre Kranji War Memorial honours the men and women from the Commonwealth who died in the line of duty. The Changi Museum tells the history of Japanese occupation, and beyond the museum you can explore the historic sites and buildings in the surrounding area, including Changi Village, Old Changi Jail, Changi Beach and Selarang Barracks.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
Founded in 1859, the Singapore Botanic Gardens are among the oldest and most important botanic gardens in Southeast Asia. In fact, they are one of only three botanic gardens in the world that have been awarded Unesco World Heritage status. Situated just a few minutes from the busy shopping street of Orchard Road, it is a tropical oasis right in the centre of the city, and covers a total of 74 hectares. Home to more than 1,000 varieties of plants from all over the world, the gardens also contain Southeast Asia’s most significant collection of orchids, gingers and palms. Inside, visitors will find a wide variety of habitats, from rainforest and wetlands to vast lakes, steamy greenhouses and manicured flower patches. One of the main highlights is the huge Swan Lake, filled with aquatic plants and fringed by palms. Other places to visit here include the Bonsai Garden, the National Orchid Garden and the Walk of Giants – an elevated walkway among the trees. As well as looking out for interesting flora, keep your eyes peeled for wildlife who call the gardens home, including huge monitor lizards, terrapins sunbathing on the rocks, giant catfish moving just below the water and tiny frogs hiding among the lily pads.