What stands out in a first walk through the wide, wide avenues of Singapore is a succession of shops and shopping centers, located in buildings of modern and audacious architecture that in common have the huge height, which are the symbol of this an island-country-state-city.
But a longer route shows the most attractive side of this place: the ethnic and cultural diversity, which brings together in harmonious coexistence Chinese, Malays and Indians to which are added many immigrants from neighboring Asian countries, which account almost 20% of the 5.4 millions of citizens. Singapore also attracts many Westerners who work in multinational companies that have here headquarters or delegations, as the “Lion City” (singa means lion in Sanskrit) is recognized as one of the sites that offer the best conditions for deployment, growth and success of a company.
The success story of this territory began with the British presence you saw here, in the eighteenth century ,a strategic location on the trade route between East and West, offering natural conditions for the location of a port, making this island passed from one village dedicated to fishing for an important trading post. After the Japanese invasion that ended with the end of World War II, Singapore became independent after a short time under the “flag” of “Federation of Malaysia” which included the Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak and Sabah, on Borneo. The independence of Singapore, which in 2015 celebrates 50 years, was not on its own initiative, but resulted from intense ethnic conflicts, which have led the Federation to decide to “kick out” Singapore, preventing the spread of these conflicts to the remaining territory. In a small territory without many natural resources, where even the water is supplied by Malaysia, the government option was to create economic policies to attract foreign investment.
In a country so new and multicultural, where 74% of the population is ethnic Chinese, 13% Malaysian and 9% of Indian origin, is there a Singaporean identity?! Yes, there is, precisely from this ethnic and religious diversity, where tolerance is based on accelerated economic growth, where hundred of commercial surfaces bustling with consumers reflect the bet of this political system that governs Singapore, where economic success hides the restriction of certain freedoms, in a country where there is the death penalty and corporal punishment. However this repressive policy results in low crime and high safety, with citizens to give up some of their privacy and accepting the permanent surveillance of CCTV cameras that are a constant in the city, whether shops, coffee-hops, restaurants, markets, malls, hotels, metro, hostels, at the entrance of buildings, in streets, etc…
Although very modern, according to Western standards, where everything is planned and thought of forming a “perfect”, safe and predictable environment, it is impossible to hide that we are in Asia… the markets, the food, the smells, the bustling of urban life.
But the most attractive in this city-state is the cultural diversity, which is visible all over the place, but that becomes important in certain areas where greater concentration of a particular ethnic group; in the case of Chinatown, Little India and Arab Quarter, where you will feel immediately the differences, as if three or more generations have not been enough to erase the traditions, religions and customs, keeping each group bustling of a very strong identity, where the language is the best example. English is lingua-franca, but Mandarin, Malay and Tamil are also official languages, is common each individual speak two languages: English and corresponding to their own ethnic group.
Obviously these neighborhoods attract the population of these ethnic groups, both Singaporeans and immigrants, who find here their culture, temples, language, food, clothing, etc… And remarkably, arriving to Little India, after a quick subway ride where the vehicles move without driver, and we find the same rhythm, the same smells, the same tastes, the same products in grocery markets, the food served in the same metal plates, the same sahrees, the same lungis, the same ringing bells in temples… where everything takes us immediately to India.
The so-called Arab Quarter (Kampong Glam), which in Arabic has essentially the carpet traders but where you also can find some restaurants of Turkish and Iranian food, is ideal place to enjoy traditional Malaysian dishes, which dominates the meat, but which is not served pork according to Muslim tradition, an area where shines the Golden rood of Majid Sultan mosque. Curiously nearby this area, in the sophisticated and hipster Bugis are located a popular bar zone, along Haji Lane.
In Chinatown, buzzing activity around the food, either in restaurants or in food-courts, which are the most economical option and the one that attracts most of the local population, creating a buzz that is not only limited to dining hours, a concept that Asia is quite extensive. The streets of Chinatown arise organized and perfectly clean teashops, pharmacies of Traditional Chinese Medicine products and shops selling bird-nest (nests with saliva swallows or other bird) that are one of the specialties of Chinese cuisine, also with medicinal effects, constituting one of the most expensive foods in the world.
In Chinatown, along South Bridge Road, in just over 500 meters is the Jamae Majid mosque, Hindu temple Sri Mariamman and the Buddhist temple Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. This last one appears more grandiose than the others, with a stately temple with hundreds of Buddha images, which dominates the ground floor of the building, which also houses a museum, a canteen, the room where the relic is kept and a garden located on the terrace, which is a small paradise. Daily at different times of the day, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, monks chant hypnotic songs that fill the space of a mystical atmosphere that gives an even brighter glow to the rich decoration of the temple.
But the place that makes us forget for a moment that we’re in Singapore, is located next to Chinatown Visitor Center, behind the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, where daily gather men that spend here most of the day playing cards and chess, chatting, reading the newspaper or simply sleeping. On Sundays the plaza nearby becomes a dance floor, with music provided by loudspeakers that attracts several generations of men and women who gather here to perform elaborate choreographies.
Wafles Place, is the financial center of Singapore, which accounts for the largest buildings in the city, creating the famous sky-line dominate by skyscraper that is the image of Singapore and successful economic policy, in a country that the World Bank considers the “Easiest place to do business.” The dark streets of Wafles Place whose buildings hide the sun’s rays, circulate men in white shirt and gray business suits, a sober bustle.
Despite dominating buildings, boulevards and highways the city has plenty of green areas, where trees are quite common along the streets, adding some areas reserved for natural parks, furthest from the center, which retain some wildlife. The Botanic Gardens, millimeter organized with the thoroughly identified plant specimens are worth a visit and serve as a nice walk. The tropical climate of Singapore creates optimal conditions for vegetation with temperatures close to 30°C and humidity above 80%, with constant climate throughout the year, and frequent storms that bring rain and further increase the humidity.
Next to the Marina Bay, behind the iconic set of buildings Marina Bay Hotel, is another great green spot but a more artificial and entertainment approach, with the SuperTree Grove, a set of metal structures shaped trees, covered by vegetation that are lit in the evening earning fantastic colors.
Apart from the skyscraper, there are many niches where the old town, dominated by shophouses (buildings with ground floor for trade and housing above) typical Chinese influence, remain impeccably preserved, housing various commercial activities, highlighting shops and restaurants, which with its 5 foot inn (sidewalks under the arches formed by the first floor of shophouses) are the most attractive areas for walking around the city, but that invariably culminate in wide and rectilinear avenues where organized traffic flows quietly .
Singapore a city-state, technologically modern, planned and organized, where coexist harmoniously different cultures, ethnicities and religions, where everything is controlled by CCTV, where the wi-fi is available for free in almost all locations, where for eating in the subway you can get a fine, which the ever present air-conditioning almost makes one forget the tropical climate, where succeeded economy relies on migrant labor and where the wealthy population keeps entertained shopping.
Free activities in Singapore:
In an expensive city and where almost all the entertainment and tourist sites is charged entrance, you can find in Singapore free activities:
- SuperTree Grove, and part of the Garden By the Bay
- Botanical Gardens
- Concert at the Esplanade Theaters
- Lion Dance Performace (Pagoda St)
- Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
The accommodation in Singapore, a city struggling for lack of space, represents the largest share of the budget, so the hostels, offering dorms with 4 or more beds are the most popular and economical option.
And it’s not hard to find hostels in Kampong Glam, Little India or Chinatown, but where the price per night is never less than 20S$.
5 foot way inn … a concept made of small rooms, almost all with bunk beds, air-conditioning, en-suite shared, breakfast included (bread, cereal, milk, margarine, sweet and fruit); a machine serving coffee, tea, cappuccino, chocolate milk, etc… is available all day.
These hostels share the same concept, minimum dimensions of rooms, most without windows, lined up in narrow corridors forming a labyrinth, occupying old shophouses; intended primarily for short term stays, for who spends most of his time touring in the city, but also being used for those who come here on business.
5 foot way inn is located in various parts of the city with different standards in terms of quality and comfort, and with different prices. Prices vary from day to day, with higher values at the weekend or when occupancy is higher. Reservations can not be made at reception and to use the web-site or send an email to the reservation center.
The choice went to Chinatown 2 and the Bugis situated next to Kampong Glam. Prices per night range between 20 S$ and 30 S$ for a 4 bed dorm.
5footway.inn Project Bugis
Address: 10 Aliwal Street, Bugis, Singapore 199903
5footway.inn Project Chinatown 2
Address: 227 South Bridge Rd, Singapore 058776
The best way to move around in Singapore is the MRT, the underground, covering efficiently the city, with regular services. Comfortable, quick and easy orientation.
In tickets can be brought in machines of stations halls and with the first trip you get a card by additional charge of 0.10 S$, that can be reused a maximum up to 6 travel and the amount paid for the card is refunded at the end of the third recharge. One can purchase round-trip ticket, that if not totally used you can ask for refund at ticket counters.
The cost of travel is proportional to the distance with a minimum of 1.4 S$ (Singaporean Dollar).
Buses are also modern and comfortable and allow you to see the city while moving.