Leisure & Travel

Leisure & Travel

Singapore's myriad charms

A shopper’s paradise and one of the busiest business hubs worldwide, in 2005 this island city-state (682 sq. km) attracted 8.94 million foreign tourists — a tourism inflow 100 percent greater than of India (3.84 million sq. km)

itherto a shopping, tourism
and job-market destination for Indians, the city-state of Singapore (pop. 4.2 million) is rapidly transforming into a major education centre in South-east Asia. Recently the Singapore government invited India’s high-profile IIM-B (Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore), ranked among Asia’s top-10 B-schools, to set up a bricks and mortar campus in the city-state. Former Singapore prime minister Goh Chuk Tong visited IIM-Ahmedabad and reiterated his country’s interest to host IIM campuses. Moreover the National University of Singapore has also announced plans to open a study centre in the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

For visitors from India’s chaotic, unkempt cities and worse villages, spic ‘n’ span Singapore with its 630,000 strong Indian population is likely to prove edifying in terms of what is possible in civic planning and intelligent governance. Singapore is a shopper’s paradise as well and one of the busiest global business hubs worldwide. Unsurprisingly, this nation state with a majority (60 percent) Chinese population, is also a major tourist attraction. In 2005 the island city-state (682 sq. km) attracted 8.94 million foreign (including 583,000 Indian) tourists — a tourism inflow 100 percent greater than of India (3.84 million sq. km).

Situated on the southern tip of Malaysia, the earliest known record of Singapore is in a third century Chinese account which describes the nation as pu-luo-chung or ‘island at the end of a peninsula’. In terms of ancient history, little is available by way of records and documents. The earliest recorded history of the island dates back to the 14th century when the region was a territory of the mighty Indonesian Sri Vijayan empire, and was known as temasek (sea town). In the latter half of the 14th century, this small but strategically located island had earned a new name — Singa Pura (Lion City) after a visiting Sri Vijayan prince saw an animal there, closely resembling a lion.

It was only in the 18th century during British rule, that the next notable chapter in the history of the city-state was written. Observing the need for a strategic ‘halfway house’ to harbour, refit, provide and protect the Royal Navy, as well as to discourage Dutch expansion in the East Indies, Sir Stamford Raffles decreed Singapore a free trade city. Its policy of free trade attracted merchants from across Asia, the Middle East and even the US.

By 1824, a mere five years after the founding of modern Singapore, the population had grown from 150 to 10,000. By 1832, Singapore became the centre of government for Penang and Malacca. The operationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1869 and advent of the telegraph and steamships increased Singapore’s importance as a centre for the expanding trade between east and west. During World War II, its strategic location on the east-west trade route attracted the attention of imperial Japan. Though considered an impregnable fortress, the Japanese conquered the island city in 1942 and held it until 1945. After the end of the second world war, Singapore reverted to being a crown colony and attained its independence on August 9, 1965.

Contemporary Singapore comprises a main island (682 sq.km) surrounded by 63 neighbouring islets. Notwithstanding its compact size and a failed union with Malaysia and Indonesia, under the guidance of its sagacious first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s trading economy experienced a continuous boom for over four decades transforming it into one of the most prosperous nation states in the world (per capita income: $ 24,200 cf. India’s $ 620).

Today it rivals Rotterdam as the busiest port in the world with over 600 shipping lines doing business here. Also one of the world’s leading oil refining and distribution centres, Singapore is a major supplier of electronic components and a leader in ship-building and repair. Unsurprisingly it has transformed into one of the most important financial hubs of Asia with more than 130 banks serviced by the country’s state-of-the-art communi-cations network which links it with the rest of the world via satellite, and its 24-hour telegraph and telephone systems. Simultaneously its scrupulously corruption free administration has transformed this multi-cultural city into a prime tourist attraction with a fine reputation for providing business and pleasure opportunities.

As a holiday destination, Singapore offers something for everyone — children and adults alike — abounding as it does, with an eclectic mix of the traditional and modern in the form of steel and glass buildings and manicured greenery, golden beaches and an array of leisure and sports opportunities.

The island boasts several interesting and unusual tourist spots. Among them: Jurong Bird Park, teeming with 600 rare, exotic avian species and acknowledged as one of the world’s best examples of conservation and bird life displays in natural settings. Its successes include the largest breeding colony of Humboldt Penguins and the endangered Golden Conure. The park is also the first in the world to breed the 12-wired Bird of Paradise. With its tallest man-made waterfall, Jurong also features two highly entertaining shows titled All Star Bird Show and Birds of Prey Show.

Another popular attraction is the 24x7 Singapore Zoo, which hosts rare species of wildlife, including polar bears and sea lions. Cages and cramped enclosures are unknown in this habitat with wilder species housed in spacious, natural surroundings behind glass partitions. The night safari offers a good opportunity to sight rhinos, leopards, striped hyena and giraffe in near natural environments.

The world-acclaimed Singapore Science Centre contains perhaps Asia’s largest collection of educational exhibits (over 850), depicting the wonders and beauty of science. A special attraction here is the Omni Theatre featuring a five-storey tall and 23-metre wide hemispheric screen supplemented by sophisticated sound systems, offering a thrilling cinematic experience. The theatre also has an 18-seat virtual voyages simulation facility, which presents science phenomena visually and physically in a 15-minute adventure story.

Sentosa island is a tropical resort, nature park and heritage centre all rolled into one. Just minutes away from the city by cable car, ferry or road, this island resort is a 390-hectare recreational jewel boasting a kaleidoscope of attractions including Underwater World, unfolding the awesome beauty of the ocean bed and its amazing variety of marine life. Other attractions of Sentosa are the Carlsberg Sky Tower which takes about 72 people in its cosy, air-conditioned cabin for a seven-minute zip over the city; Cinemania, an interactive simulation theatre and Sijori Wonder Golf, a family-oriented miniature golf park with innovative obstacles, slopes, tunnels and traps.

Other attractions

Multicultural Singapore also hosts a number of museums and places of worship which are worth checking out. The Asian Civilization Museum showcases Asian cultures and displays objects d’ art in a meticulously restored neo-classical building constructed in 1910. The Changi Chapel, located within the open-air courtyard of the museum, is a symbolic replica of the many chapels built during the Japanese occupation of the island.

The NUS (National University of Singapore) Museum at the western end of the city exhibits a treasure trove of Asian art and cultural artefacts. The Chinese Garden, built in 1975 and modelled on the northern Chinese imperial style of architecture and landscaping, offers an authentic experience of China.

Among the several places of worship in the island city are the Abdul Gafoor Mosque, completed in 1910 and tucked away in Little India, which contains a sizeable Indian population; the Armenian Church built in 1835, reputedly the oldest in Singapore; and the Central Sikh Temple, a popular convergence venue for Singapore’s 15,000 Sikhs, built to commemorate the 518th anniversary of Guru Nanak. Another interesting religious monument is the Jamma Chulia Mosque, in the city’s Chinese hub aka Chinatown. Originally built in 1826 by the Chulias, (Tamil muslims from the famous Chola Kingdom of Tamil Nadu), the mosque has been recently restored.


Apart from the main island of Singapore, many of the surrounding isles are charming weekend getaways.

Kusu Island. A four-hour journey by boat, this island comes into view with a looming turtle sculpture, a Chinese temple and a Malay shrine. Legend has it that a giant sea turtle saved two shipwrecked sailors — Malay and Chinese — who as an act of gratitude built the places of worship.

The Lazurus and Sisters islands situated off the southern coast are dotted with sandy beaches with inviting waters. Swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving are popular water sports.

Pulau Ubin is a rustic village which offers a glimpse into the nation’s past when life was simpler. Leisure walking and cycling are ideal ways to enjoy the natural vegetation and relaxed, sylvan ambience of this charming isle.

St. John’s Island, a former penal settlement, with its hills and rocky cliffs is the perfect locale for a weekend sortie to enjoy its lagoons, beaches, trekking routes and soccer fields.

Dining out and entertainment. Singapore’s swinging and hugely popular nightlife is justly famous. While Boat Quay is the epicentre of entertainment, Clarke Quay featuring five blocks of restored warehouses with second-hand and antique shops, Sunday flea markets, restaurants which are a gourmet’s delight of local and international cuisines, is becoming increasingly popular. Moreover there’s Robertson Quay, with a more tranquil ambience for dining and entertainment by the Singapore River. While these are the better-known entertainment hubs of the island city, one just has to stir out to stumble upon nightspots where one can wine, dine and dance the night away.

Shopping. Singapore famously bristles with malls and shopping centres, offering everything under the sun for you to shop until you drop! At Suntec City, you can take in the world’s largest fountain, discover feng shui — the ancient art of geomancy — and indulge in retail therapy, apart from browsing through endless and hugely varied shops. At Singapore’s 24-hour mall, the immensely popular Mustafa Centre in Little India, you can choose from over 120,000 products, including our very own papads, packed parathas and pickles.

Cuisine. Singaporeans are passionate foodies. In almost every corner of the island, you will find an endless variety of street and restaurant food, a plethora of cuisines from around the globe served hot or cold, at any hour of the day or night — truly a reflection of the multicultural character of this island nation.

Transport. Every nook and corner of the island is connected by excellent public transport services which include a bus network and mass rapid transit (MRT) rail system. Taxis are abundant, affordable and work strictly on the queue system. Detailed information on bus routes, MRT stations and fares can be found on www.sbstransit.com.sg or www.tibs.com.sg.

Accommodation. Singapore offers a wide variety of residential accommodation to suit all budgets and preferences. It ranges from backpacker, budget and youth hostels to boutique and five-star hotels. Most hotels provide standard facilities like international dialing, internet and cable, room service, mini bars, data ports for modems, no-smoking rooms or floors, and business and fitness centres furnished with the best equipment.

Top end: Amara Singapore (SGD 220-700), Raffles Hotel (SGD 750 onwards), Ritz Carlton Millenia (SGD 375 onwards). Mid range: Hotel Conrad (SGD 175), Beach Hotel (SGD 120), Alexandria Hotel (SGD 90), Amber Hotel (SGD 80). Budget: A Traveller’s Rest Stop (SGD 39), Betel Box hostel (SGD 39), Bunkz and Bedz (SGD 39).

Rates are subject to a 10 percent service charge, 5 percent goods and services tax and 1 percent cess (NB: SGD=Rs.25)

Gaver Chatterjee (Mumbai)