Asia for beginners? A city of sterile buildings with no character, without any soul? Few other places in South-East Asia are laden down with as many clichés as the five-million metropolis of Singapore. Everybody thinks they know the small tropical island – 42km (26 miles) long and a maximum of 23km (14 miles ) wide – at the south-eastern tip of the Asian continent. Most visitors immediately think of marathon shopping sprees on Orchard Road, or maybe about the famous Singapore Sling cocktail, a relic from times long past when the city was a British crown colony. Of course, there is a certain element of truth to these clichés. The city actually is ‘Asia light’ because it does all it can to make Europeans feel at home in no time.
Singapore has metamorphosed again over the past few years. The scruffy harbour town that transformed itself with iron discipline into a colonial metropolis and then rose to become the centre of South-East Asia, has now blossomed into a global, cosmopolitan city. It is easy to explore Singapore on your own, you will be able to eat and drink wherever the urge hits you and feel safe everywhere in the city. What’s more, you will always meet friendly passers-by who will be happy to help and to proudly tell you about how life really is in their homeland.
Unique experiences, only in Singapore, with Marco Polo’s insider tips:
Eat like the locals
Forget all about the gourmet restaurants and eat seated on a plastic stool in one of the countless food courts or ‘hawker centres’. Do not worry about the quality: taxes and rent are very low so that makes it possible for the stall owners to serve high-class traditional food for a couple of dollars. One of the best hawker centres in the city is Makansutra Gluttons Bay directly next to the Esplanade.
If you love to gamble, Singapore is the place to be. Spend an evening with the locals and join in the fun. The best place is in the Marina Bay Sands complex which has the charm of Las Vegas without visiting the US.
It is true; they do look like they were dipped into axle grease. Put on an old, dark shirt (to hide the spots) mingle with the Singaporeans and sink your teeth into the black pepper crabs at the East Coast Seafood Centre.
Speed along the coast
If you want to find out what Singapore is really like, pedal along the surfaced promenade of the East Coast. Just take a taxi as far as Marine Cove where you can rent bikes and inline skates every few hundred yards; all the rental facilities are equally good.
Shop until you drop
The Singaporeans love shopping – the real spending variety, as well as just window shopping. Do not only stroll through the main malls, visit the small merchants on Pagoda Street in Chinatown or in the side streets of Serangoon Road in Little India.
Singapore’s national flower is the orchid. Prominent visitors to the city state are often honoured with a new variety named after them; for example Dendrobium Jackie Chan and Papilionanda Andrea Bocelli.
Buy the Singapore Marco Polo Guide.