The Little Red Dot ~ A Sunny Island Called Singapore

14 08 2012

Many friends (both Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans) have asked me whether I intend to write on Singapore. Having grown up in Singapore, this little island is just so close to my heart thatI just have too many things to write and thus at a lost where I should start. After delaying for so long, I have at last managed to pull together my little note on my homeland. The official website by the Singapore Tourism Promotion Board has lots of information but I will list down my top 10 in each category. For more details, you can visit http://www.yoursingapore.com/content/traveller/en/experience.html.

Feel free to drop me questions and I am happy to help ๐Ÿ™‚

Quick Facts About Singapore

– First thing and the answer to the most common question that I get, Singapore has no four seasons. It is summer throughout with daily temperature of generally more than 30 degrees.

– In the old days, Singapore was a fishing village. Due to the good geographical location and the natural habour that the island has, it attracted many of our forefathers from different nations (eg. China, India) to come and stay on this little island. This is the reason why Singapore is historically a multi-cultural country with various ethnic groups. Singaporean Chineses, Malays , Indians, Eurasians lived alongside with foreign workers and expatriates from around the world. Generally, Singaporeans have high cultural and religious tolerance and understanding, upholding the Singapore pledge to be “as one united people,regardless of race, language or religion”.

– The official language of Singapore is English but the national language is Berhasa (which is also the native language of the Malays – but note that apart from the Malays, most Singaporeans can’t speak Berhasa).

– The non-official national language is “Singlish” which is Singapore’s version of English mixed with Berhasa, Mandarin, Chinese dialect (eg. Hokkien, Cantonese) and Tamil, created due to the cultural diversity of the nation, with different races living in harmony with each other and sharing each other’s culture (and indirectly influencing one another, thus creating a blended language called “Singlish”). That is, in a sentence, potentially there will be mix of different languages and dialects and of course, ending the sentence with the signature Singlish of “lor” or “lah”. This is uniquely Singapore and willl certainly warm the hearts of most Singaporeans when we hear Singlish being spoken especially when we are overseas.

– Politically, Singapore is very stable. Singapore used to be a British colony after Sir Stamford Raffles landed in Singapore in 1819 and gave Singapore its current name. Prior to that, Singapore was called Temasek (meaning Sea Town) and Singapura (meaning Lion City). People’s Action Party (founder Mr Lee Kwan Yew) has been the ruling party for Singapore since our little island gained independence on 9th August 1965. The following website provides a brief history of Singapore http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Singapore.

– The Singapore pledge “We, the citizens of Singapore,pledge ourselves as one united people,regardless of race, language or religion,to build a democratic societybased on justice and equalityso as to achieve happiness, prosperity andprogress for our nation”.

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What to do in Singapore

1) Eat, yes eat! – You may have heard that eating is one of Singapore national pastime and food, a national obsession. Indeed, this is not exaggerating. Which other Lonely Planet Guide apart from Singapore has more than half of the book delicated to food? Singaporeans really love to eat and we love our food. We held our gatherings over lunch or dinner (with lots of food). When there’s something to celebrate, we will gather and go for a nice meal. When asked to show friends from overseas around Singapore, the main “highlight” of the itinerary is surely feasting. That’s the way typical Singaporeans will show our hospitality to guests. To many Singaporeans living abroad, the one big thing that we will surely miss apart from our family will be the “Singapore food”. Singapore cuisine is pretty unique in a sense that it has lots of influence from Chinese, Malay, Indian and also the West, reflecting the cultural diversity of the country. I have provided a list of “die die must try” food (that’s Singlish, which means definitely must try). Do note that in most restaurants, there is a 10% service charge being imposed plus 7% GST (ie. VAT). There is no need to tip unless you really find the service really exceptional.

2) Shop – Singapore is a good place to shop, the only limitation is how much your wallet can take lol. The famous Orchard Road is filled with shopping malls and is a good place to start shopping. For greater bargains, you can head to Bugis Village which is like a flea market (http://www.best-singapore-guide.com/bugis-village.html). Try asking friends whether there are any “masar palam” (ie night markets) happening around their home which is a pretty interesting shopping (and dining) experience. Do check out with the retailers whether your purchase is enttiled to GST refund (ie VAT refund) which can save you 7% off your purchase price.

3) See the Merlion Park, together with the skyline of Singapore – The Merlion is a mythical lion head with a fish body creature and the mascot of Singapore. The lion head represents Singapore which original name is Singapura (meaning lion city) and the fish body symbolises the origins of Singapore as a fishing village.

4) Sentosa & Universal Studio – This is an island off Singapore. You can take the cable car ride from Mount Faber to Sentosa and then take a bus or taxi back to the island after you are done with sightseeing. See the website for all the attractions http://www.sentosa.com.sg/en/

5) The Singapore Zoo and the Night Safari

6) Take a walk in Chinatown

7) Take a walk in Little India

8) Jurong Birdpark – Apart from seeing the birds, the park also has the highest manmade waterfall in South east Asia.

9) Head to the beach – Sentosa has 3 beaches. However, if you want to experience the beach like the locals, head off to East Coast Park.

10) Gardens by the bay

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“Die Die Must Try” Singapore Food (aka Definitely must try)

1) The famous Singapore chilli crab

What’s the dish: This is a national dish and the favourite of most Singaporeans. It is not really spicy (just a little spicy plus some sweetness). When you order, do add on fried man tou (which are fried buns) to go with the gravy. If there’re a couple of you, you can order one chilli crab and one pepper crab (which is another favourite dish of Singaporeans).

Where to eat: There are many places that serve this national dish. Examples of the more popular ones are Seafood Paradise (there’s one at Changi Airport and also at Singapore Flyer) or to Jumbo Restaurant (a couple of chains http://www.jumboseafood.com.sg/profile.html)

2) Hainanese Chicken Rice

What’s the dish: This is a steamed chicken dish served with rice cooked in chicken stock. Apart from steam chicken, you can also order the roast chicken. I will recommend that you order both to try (you can request for them to give you both types in 1 dish and there’s no need to order them as 2 separate dishes which will be more expensive). It is called Hainanese Chicken Rice because it first originated from Hainan in China but the Singapore variation has made so much refinement to the dish that it can now be termed as a “uniquely Singapore” dish.

Where to eat: You can this dish almost everywhere. From the local food courts located in any shopping malls, or the hawker centres (including the famous Newton Circle Hawker Centre – which is only opened in the evening). For a more “upmarket” setting, try Mandarin Oriental Hotel “Chatterbox” cafe.

3) Laksa

What’s the dish: Laksa is a Perankan dish which originates from a fushion of Chinese and Malay cuisine. It consists of thick rice noodles (called “bee hoon” in the local Singapore language) cooked in coconut curry gravy. There may be eggs, prawns, “tau pok” (which are beancurd puffs), fish cake, chicken and/or cockles added. If you don’t like cockles, you can request for the cook to exclude it (whcih I usually do).

Where to eat: Like the chicken rice, you can get this dish quite easily. A famous chain will be Katong Laksa (the original store is at 51 East Coast Road, there are 2 branches at 216 East Coast Road, and also at 101 Thomson Road United Square).

4) Rojak

What’s the dish: The term “rojak” means a mix in Berhasa (a language used by Malays in Singapore and Malaysia). It is essentially a mix of different fruits, vegetabes, tau pok (beancurd puffs), you tiao (Chinese fritters), bean sprouts, prawn paste, etc.

Where to eat: Similar to Chicken rice, you can get this dish quite easily. Try Newton Circle Hawker Centre.

5) Nasi Lemak

What’s the dish: This dish is a Malay dish which consists of rice cooked in cocunut milk, served with fried fish, egg, fried chicken wings, etc.

Where to eat: Similar to Chicken rice, you can get this dish quite easily. Try Newton Circle Hawker Centre or Adam Road Hawker Centre (which is famous for the Nasi Lemak stores).

6) Curry fish head

What’s this dish: This is a Singapore Indian dish. I have to add “Singapore” in the name as no where in India you will be able to get this dish. Curry originated from India but cooking fish head in curry is quite uniquely Singapore. It can be a little spicy though (but most of my foreign friends who tried love it despite the spice).

Where to eat: The famous one is at Muthu Curry http://www.muthuscurry.com

6) Roti Prata

What’s this dish: This is also a Singapore Indian dish. You only get prata in India and not “roti prata” ๐Ÿ™‚ It is an Indian pancake served with curry.

Where to eat: You can also get this dish quite easier in many food courts or hawker centres. The more famous stores are located at Jalan Kayu or at Causaurina (which personally I like Casuarina Curry http://casuarinacurry.com/)

7) Satay

What’s this dish: Grilled meat (usually beef, mutton, chicken) on skewers dipped in peanut sauce. Order some ketupat (Malaysia rice dumpling) to go along with the satay. I will strongly recommend that you buy from those served by the Malays as their version is more tasty unless you are a pork lover (then you will have to get from the Chinese).

Where to eat: In most hawker centres (the most convenient one will be the Newton Circle Hawker Centre).

8) Ice Kacang

What’s the dish: This is a dessert Grated ice coated with different colour syrups and evaporated milk, with jelly, red beans, corn and attap seeds.

Where to eat: In most hawker centres or food courts in most shopping malls.

9) Singapore Sling

What’s the drink: The famous cocktail first “invented” by Raffles Hotel around 1915. It’s basically a mix of gin, Cherry Herring, pineapple juice.

Where to drink: Raffles Hotel. If you are flying by Singapore Airlines, the crew served Singapore Sling as well.

10) Local Coffee (or “Kopi” in Singlish)

What’s the drink: The local coffee. There are many variations and the fun of the drink is to order it in the Singapore way (using singlish), like black coffee without milk (kopi-O), black coffee with condensed milk (kopi), black coffee with evaporated milk (kopi-C). You can order tea as well with or without milk (just swapped the “kopi” with “teh”). To ask for less sweet, add “siew dai” to the back of the order (eg kopi-O siew dai). For a sweeter drink, add “gah dai” to the back of the order (eg kopi-O gah dai). Also, try ordering some kaya toast (toasted bread with “kaya” spread which is a spread made mainly from pandan leaves, eggs, coconut milk) to go with the coffee or tea. They are supper yummy ๐Ÿ™‚

Where to drink: In most coffee shops. One of the big coffee chain is the Ya kun coffee http://www.yakun.com/singapore.aspx

** There are just so many great food to try. Be it typical Chinese food (eg dim sum, fried hokkien noodles), Malay food (eg Nasi Lemak, Mee Siam), Indian food (eg Murtabak, Nasi Briyani) and all sorts of cuisines from all around the world. With so many different varieties, it is of little wonder why eating is one of the favourite pastime of Singaporeans – there are just too many good food here to tempt us, all shouting “eat me, eat me!” ๐Ÿ™‚

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Transport

– Getting to/from airport and city centre: You can either take a taxi (which is the most convenient, only 20 minutes ride and typically less than $25), or the MRT (which is Singapore’s version of the subway. One trip cost less than $3).

– Getting around Singapore: Getting around Singapore is really easy and convenient. The MRT is the fastest way of getting from one place to another. If you prefer to see Singapore from above the ground (instead of in tunnels), you can hop on to the buses. Of course, the easiest way to navigate is to take the taxi which is pretty affordable.

– Do note that you will need an “EZ link card” for MRT rides which you can purchase at the MRT station. The one-way ticket has a $1 deposit which you can get back at the end of each ride.

– Driving in Singapore is easy. Do note that Singapore is right hand drive and the speed limit is typicall 50km/h on normal roads and 90km/h on expressways (but check the signs for the speed on each roads). You may need to purchase a “cashcard” to pay for ERP (the electronic road tolls) and parking at some places.

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Where to Stay

If you love a centrally located area with lots of shopping and food, choose Orchard Road area. The price may be more expensive but it is a super convenient location. For those who love waterfront view, the marina bay area is good.