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Singapore is a city-state in Southeast Asia. Founded as a British trading colony in 1819, since independence it has become one of the world's most prosperous countries and boasts the world's busiest port. The food is legendary, with bustling hawker centres and 24-hour coffee shops offering affordable food from all parts of Asia. Combining the skyscrapers and subways of a modern, affluent city with a medley of Chinese, Malay and Indian influences and a tropical climate, with tasty food, good shopping and a vibrant nightlife scene, this Garden City makes a great stopover or springboard into the region. The country has a partly deserved reputation for sterile predictability that has earned it descriptions like William Gibson's "Disneyland with the death penalty" or the "world's only shopping mall with a seat in the United Nations". Nevertheless, the Switzerland of Asia is for many a welcome respite from the poverty and dirt of much of the Asian mainland. If you scratch below the squeaky clean surface and get away from the tourist trail you'll soon find more than meets the eye. (less...) (more...)
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Points of Interest in Singapore
Sights in Singapore are covered in more detail under the various districts. Broadly speaking:
- Beaches and tourist resorts: Head to one of the three beaches on Sentosa or its southern islands. Other beaches can be found on the East Coast.
- Culture and cuisine: See Chinatown for Chinese treats, Little India for Indian flavours, Kampong Glam (Arab St) for a Malay/Arab experience or the East Coast for delicious seafood, including the famous chilli and black pepper crab.
- History and museums: The Bras Basah area east of Orchard and north of the Singapore River is Singapore's colonial core, with historical buildings and museums.
- Nature and wildlife: Popular tourist attractions Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park and the Botanical Gardens are all in the North and West. Finding "real" nature is a little harder, but the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve (located in the same district as the zoo) has more plant species than that in the whole of North America. Pulau Ubin, an island off the Changi Village in the east, is a flashback to the rural Singapore of yesteryear. City parks full of locals jogging or doing tai chi can be found everywhere. Also check out the tortoise and turtle sanctuary in the Chinese Gardens on the west side of town for a great afternoon with these wonderful creatures. $5 for adult admission and $2 for leafy vegetables and food pellets.
- Skyscrapers and shopping: The heaviest shopping mall concentration is in Orchard Road, while skyscrapers are clustered around the Singapore River, but also check out Bugis and Marina Bay to see where Singaporeans shop.
- Places of worship: Don't miss this aspect of Singapore, where Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Baha'i faith, Christianity, Islam and even Judaism all exist in sizeable numbers. Religious sites can be easily visited and welcome non-followers outside of service times. Particularly worth visiting include: the vast Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery near Ang Mo Kio, the colourful Sri Mariamman Hindu temple in Chinatown, the psychedelic Burmese Buddhist Temple in Balestier and the stately Masjid Sultan in Arab Street.
- Three days in Singapore — A three-day sampler set of food, culture and shopping in Singapore, easily divisible into bite-size chunks.
- Southern Ridges Walk — An easy scenic 9 km stroll through the hills and jungles of southern Singapore. Highlights of the trail includes a 36 m high Henderson Waves pedestrian bridge providing a stunning view of the sea beyond the jungle.
If you are travelling to Singapore, be sure to carry the following:
- Sun Glasses - Singapore is usually bright and sunny.
- Umbrella - Be sure to carry an umbrella in your luggage,as there is some precipitation throughout the year. However, the rain does not last long (usually).
- Sun block - If you plan to go out during the day time, it is advisable to apply sun block as it is mostly sunny throughout the year.
- Shorts/Half Pants - Singapore can get real warm. Although air-conditioning is available in all public transports (except a few public buses) and almost all internal areas, it is advisable to carry some light clothing. Do note that some places of worship may require visitors to dress conservatively.
- Flip-flops - Singaporeans love to wear flip-flops. Be sure to carry a pair, just to blend in. Try sandals if you're not used to flip flops, but beware - in some formal establishments (e.g. catching a show at Esplanade) no flip flops, sandals, or shorts are allowed.
- Sweater - the malls and museums' air conditioning can get cold, though usually this is a welcome relief from the heat.
The first mentions of Singapore in written historical records date back to the second and third centuries where a vague reference to its location was found in Greek and Chinese texts, under the names of Sabana and Pu Luo Chung respectively. According to legend, Srivijayan prince Sang Nila Utama landed on the island in the 13th century and, catching sight of a strange creature that he thought was a lion, decided to found a new city he called Singapura, Sanskrit for Lion City. Alas, there have never been any lions anywhere near Singapore or elsewhere on Malaya, so the mysterious beast was more probably a tiger or wild boar.
More historical records indicate that the island was settled at least two centuries earlier and was known as Temasek, Javanese for "Sea Town", and an important port for the Sumatran Srivijaya kingdom. However, Srivijaya fell around 1400 and Temasek, battered by the feuding kingdoms of Siam and the Javanese Majapahit, fell into obscurity. As Singapura, it then briefly regained importance as a trading centre for the Melaka Sultanate and later, the Johor Sultanate. However, Portuguese raiders then destroyed the settlement and Singapura faded into obscurity once more.
The story of Singapore as we know it today thus began in 1819, when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles made a deal with a claimant to the throne of the Sultanate of Johor: the British would support his claim in exchange for the right to set up a trading post on the island. Though the Dutch initially protested, an Anglo-Dutch treaty was signed in 1824 separating the Malay world into British and Dutch spheres of influence (resulting in the current Malaysia-Indonesia and Singapore-Indonesia borders). This treaty ended the conflict. The Dutch renounced their claim to Singapore and ceded their colony in Malacca to the British, in exchange for the British ceding their colonies on Sumatra to the Dutch.
Well-placed at the entrance to the Straits of Malacca, straddling the trade routes between China, India, Europe, and Australia, Raffles' master stroke was to declare Singapore a free port, with no duties charged on trade. As traders flocked to escape onerous Dutch taxes, the trading post soon grew into one of Asia's busiest, drawing people from far and wide. Along with Penang and Malacca, Singapore became one of the Straits Settlements and a jewel in the British colonial crown. Its economic fortunes received a further boost when palm oil and rubber from neighbouring Malaya were processed and shipped out via Singapore. In 1867, Singapore was formally split off from British India and made into a directly ruled Crown Colony.
When World War II broke out, Fortress Singapore was seen as a formidable British base, with massive naval fortifications guarding against assault by sea. However, not only did the fortress lack a fleet - as all ships were tied up defending Britain from the Germans - but the Japanese wisely chose to cross Malaya by bicycle instead. Despite hastily turning their artillery around, this was something the British had not prepared for at all and, on February 15, 1942, with supplies critically low after less than a week of fighting, Singapore ignominiously surrendered and the colony's erstwhile rulers were packed off to Changi Prison. Although tens of thousands perished in the subsequent brutal occupation, the return of the British in 1945 was triumphalist.
Granted self-rule in 1955, Singapore briefly joined the Malaysian Federation in 1963 when the British left, but was expelled because the Chinese-majority city was seen as a threat to Malay dominance. Consequently, when the island became independent on 9 August 1965, Singapore became the only country in the history of the modern world to gain independence against its own will! The subsequent forty years of iron-fisted rule by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew saw Singapore's economy boom, with the country rapidly becoming one of the wealthiest and most developed in Asia despite its lack of natural resources, earning it a place as one of the four East Asian Tigers. Now led by Lee's son Lee Hsien Loong, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) continues to dominate the political scene with 80 out of 87 seats in Parliament. Societal restrictions have been loosened up in recent years though, with the government trying to shake off its staid image, and it remains to be seen how the delicate balancing act between political control and social freedom will play out.
As Singapore is located a mere 1.5 degrees north of the Equator, its weather is usually sunny with no distinct seasons. Rain falls almost daily throughout the year, usually in sudden, heavy showers that rarely last longer than an hour. However, most rainfall occurs during the northeast monsoon (November to January), occasionally featuring lengthy spells of continuous rain. Spectacular thunderstorms can occur throughout the year, any time during the day, so it's wise to carry an umbrella at all times, both as a shade from the sun or cover from the rain.
Between May and October, forest fires in neighbouring Sumatra can also cause dense haze, although this is unpredictable and comes and goes rapidly: check with the National Environment Agency for up-to-date conditions.
The temperature averages around:
- 32°C (86°F) daytime, 25°C (76°F) at night in December and January.
- 33°C (90°F) daytime, 26°C (81°F) at night for the rest of the year.
Singapore's lowest temperature ever was recorded way back in 1934, when it hit a low of 19.4°C.
The high temperature and humidity, combined with the lack of wind and the fact that temperatures stay high during the night, can take its toll on visitors from colder parts of the world. Bear in mind that spending more than about one hour outdoors can be very exhausting, especially if combined with moderate exercise. Singaporeans themselves shun the heat, and for a good reason. Many live in air-conditioned flats, work in air-conditioned offices, take the air-conditioned metro to air-conditioned shopping malls connected to each other by underground tunnels where they shop, eat, and exercise in air-conditioned fitness clubs. Follow their example if you want to avoid discomfort in the searing heat and humidity of Singapore.
While you can find a place to practice nearly any sport in Singapore — golfing, surfing, scuba diving, even ice skating and snow skiing — due to the country's small size your options are rather limited and prices are relatively high. For watersports in particular, the busy shipping lanes and sheer population pressure mean that the sea around Singapore is murky, and most locals head up to Tioman (Malaysia) or Bintan (Indonesia) instead. On the upside, there is an abundance of dive shops in Singapore, and they often arrange weekend trips to good dive sites off the East Coast of Malaysia, so they are a good option for accessing some of Malaysia's not-so touristy dive sites.
On the cultural side of things, Singapore has been trying to shake off its boring, buttoned-down reputation and attract more artists and performances, with mixed success. The star in Singapore's cultural sky is the Esplanade theatre in Marina Bay, a world-class facility for performing arts and a frequent stage for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Pop culture options are more limited and Singapore's home-grown arts scene remains rather moribund, although local starlets Stefanie Sun and JJ Lin have had some success in the Chinese pop scene. On the upside, any bands and DJs touring Asia are pretty much guaranteed to perform in Singapore.
Going to the movies is a popular Singaporean pastime, but look for "R21" ratings (21 and up only) if you like your movies with fewer cuts. The big three theatre chains are Cathay, Golden Village and Shaw Brothers. Censorship continues to throttle the local film scene, but Jack Neo's popular comedies showcase the foibles of Singaporean life.
In May or June, don't miss the yearly Singapore Arts Festival. Advance tickets for almost any cultural event can be purchased from SISTIC, either on-line or from any of their numerous ticketing outlets, including the Singapore Visitor Centre on Orchard Rd.
Singapore has two massive casinos, always referred to with the euphemism "integrated resort", which pull in nearly as much revenue as the entirety of Las Vegas. Marina Bay Sands at Marina Bay is the larger and swankier of the two, while Resorts World Sentosa at Sentosa aims for a more family-friendly experience (but offers No Limit Holdem from $5/$10). While locals (citizens and permanent residents) have to pay $100/day to get in, foreign visitors can enter for free after presenting their passport.
Besides the casino, there are other forms of legalised betting which are more accessible to the locals. This includes horse racing, which is run by the Singapore Turf Club on weekends, as well as football (soccer) betting and several lotteries run by the Singapore Pools.
Mahjong is also a popular pastime in Singapore. The version played in Singapore is similar to the Cantonese version, but it also has extra "animal tiles" not present in the original Cantonese version. However, this remains pretty much a family and friends affair, and there are no (legal) mahjong parlours.
Despite its small size, Singapore has a surprisingly large number of golf courses, but most of the best ones are run by private clubs and open to members and their guests only. The main exceptions are the Sentosa Golf Club, the famously challenging home of the Barclays Singapore Open, and the Marina Bay Golf Course, the only 18-hole public course. See the Singapore Golf Association for the full list; alternatively, head to the nearby Indonesian islands of Batam or Bintan or up north to the Malaysian town of Malacca for cheaper rounds.
The inaugural F1 Singapore Grand Prix was held at night in September 2008, and the organisers have confirmed that the night race will be a fixture until 2017. Held on a street circuit in the heart of Singapore and raced at night, all but race fans will probably wish to avoid this time, as hotel prices especially room with view of the F1 tracks are through the roof. Tickets start from $150 but the thrilling experience of night race is definitely unforgettable for all F1 fans and photo buffs. Besides being a uniquely night race, the carnival atmosphere and pop concert held around the race ground as well as the convenience of hotels and restaurants round the corner, distinguish the race from other F1 races held in remote spots away from urban centres.
The Singapore Turf Club in Kranji hosts horse races most Fridays, including a number of international cups, and is popular with local gamblers. The Singapore Polo Club near Balestier is also open to the public on competition days.
Singapore has recently been experiencing a 'spa boom', and there is now plenty of choice for everything from holistic Ayurveda to green tea hydrotherapy. However, prices aren't as rock-bottom as in neighbors Indonesia and Thailand, and you'll generally be looking at upwards of $50 even for a plain one-hour massage. Premium spas can be found in most 5 star hotels and on Orchard, and Sentosa's Spa Botanica also has a good reputation. There are also numerous shops offering traditional Chinese massage, which are mostly legitimate. The less legitimate "health centres" have been shut down. Traditional Asian-style public baths are non-existent.
When looking for beauty salons on Orchard Road, try out the ones on the fourth floor of Lucky Plaza. They offer most salon services like manicures, pedicures, facials, waxing and hair services. A favourite of flight crew and repeat tourists due to the lower costs as compared to the sky high prices of other salons along the shopping belt. Shop around for prices, some of the better looking ones actually charge less.
Forget your tiny hotel pool if you are into competitive or recreational swimming: Singapore is paradise for swimmers with arguably the highest density of public pools in the world. They are all open-air 50 m pools (some facilities even feature up to three 50 m pools), accessible for an entrance fee of $1–1.50. Some of the visitors don't swim at all. They just come from nearby housing complexes for a few hours to chill out, read and relax in the sun. Most are open daily 08:00-21:00 and all feature a small cafe. Just imagine swimming your lanes in the tropical night with lit up palm trees surrounding the pool.
The Singapore Sports Council maintains a list of pools, most of which are part of a larger sports complex with gym, tennis courts etc., and are located near the MRT station they're named after. Perhaps the best is in Katong (111 Wilkinson Road, on the East Coast): after the swim, stroll through the villa neighbourhood directly in front of the pool entrance and have at look at the luxurious, original architecture of the houses that really rich Singaporeans live in. If you get bored with regular swimming pools, head to the Jurong East Swimming Complex where you get the wave pool, water slides and Jacuzzi at an insanely affordable entrance fee of $1.50 on weekdays and $2 on weekends. For those who feel richer, visit the Wild Wild Wet water theme park or the Adventure Cove Waterpark and get yourself wet with various exciting water slides and tidal wave pools.
For those who don't like pools, head out to the beaches. The East Coast Park has a scenic coastline that stretches over 15 km. It's a popular getaway spot for Singaporeans to swim, cycle, barbeque and engage in various other sports and activities. Sentosa island also has three white, sandy beaches - Siloso Beach, Palawan Beach and Tanjong Beach - each with its own distinct characteristics, and also very popular with locals.
Besides more regular water sports such as water skiing, wake boarding, windsurfing, and canoeing, Singapore also offers water sports fans trendy activities such as cable-skiing and wave surfing in specially created environments.
While obviously not the best place on earth for skiing, sunny Singapore still has a permanent indoor snow centre. Snow City offers visitors a chance to experience winter. Visitors can escape from the hot and humid tropical weather to play in snow or even learn to ski and snowboard with certified professional instructors.
Singapore is a melting pot of cuisines from around the world, and many Singaporeans are obsessive gourmands who love to makan ("eat" in Malay). You will find quality Chinese, Malay, Indian, Japanese, Thai, Italian, French, American and other food in this city-state.
Eating habits run the gamut, but most foods are eaten by fork and spoon: push and cut with the fork in the left hand, and eat with the spoon in the right. Noodles and Chinese dishes typically come with chopsticks, while Malay and Indian food can be eaten by hand, but nobody will blink an eye if you ask for a fork and spoon instead. If eating by hand, always use your right hand to pick your food, as Malays and Indians traditionally use their left hand to handle dirty things. Take note of the usual traditional Chinese etiquette when using chopsticks, and most importantly, do not stick your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice. If eating in a group, serving dishes are always shared, but you'll get your own bowl of rice and soup. It's common to use your own chopsticks to pick up food from communal plates, but serving spoons can be provided on request.
Keep an eye out for the Singapore Food Festival, held every year in July.
Singapore is justly famous for its food, a unique mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Western elements. The following is only a brief sampler of the most popular dishes.
The most identifiable cuisine in the region is Peranakan or Nonya cuisine, born from the mixed Malay and Chinese communities of what were once the British colonies of the Straits Settlements (modern-day Singapore, Penang and Malacca).
- Chilli crab is a whole crab ladled with oodles of sticky, tangy chilli sauce. It's spicy at first, but the more you eat, the better it gets. Notoriously difficult to eat, so don't wear a white shirt: just dig in with your hands and ignore the mess. The seafood restaurants of the East Coast are famous for this. For a less messy but equally tasty alternative, ask for black pepper crab.
- Kaya is a jam-like spread made from egg and coconut, an odd-sounding but tasty combination. Served on toast for breakfast, canonically accompanied by runny eggs and strong, sweet coffee (kopi). Exists in two distinctive styles; the greenish Nonya version, coloured with pandan leaf, and the brownish Hainanese version.
- Laksa, in particular the Katong laksa or laksa lemak style, is probably the best-known Singaporean dish: white noodles in a creamy, immensely rich coconut-based curry broth, topped with cockles or shrimp. The common style found in hawker centres is very spicy, although you can ask for less/no chilli to dial down the heat. The Katong style is much less spicy and is generally found only in Katong itself (see the East Coast page).
- Mee siam is rice flour noodles served in a sweet-sour soup (made from tamarind, dried shrimp and fermented beans), bean curd cubes, and hard boiled eggs. Though the Chinese, Malays and Indians all have their own versions, it is the Peranakan version that is most popular with Singaporeans. You will largely find this at Malay stalls.
- Popiah, or spring rolls, come fresh or fried. They consist of a filling of boiled turnip, fried tofu, pork, shrimp with a slew of condiments, wrapped in a thin crepe smeared with sweet dark soy sauce and eaten like a fajita. They are related to the lumpia and runbing of other Chinese communities in Asia.
- Rojak means a mixture of everything in Malay, and there are two very different types. Chinese rojak is a salad of pineapple, white turnip, cucumber, tau pok (fried bean curd) with thin tiny slices of bunga kantan (torch ginger flower buds), tossed in shrimp paste sauce and sugar, then sprinkled with crushed peanuts. Indian rojak consists of mainly fried fritters made from flour and various pulses with cucumber and tofu, with sweet & spicy sauces.
- Satay bee hoon is rice vermicelli (bee hoon) served with the same peanut and chilli sauce used for satay, hence the name. Usually cockles, dried squid and pork slices are added.
- Ice cream is just as it is in Western countries. However, in Singapore, there are various local flavours such as durian and red bean which are not available outside the region and are certainly worth a try. To impress the locals, try asking for ice cream in roti (bread).
Besides these dishes, the Peranakans are also known for their kueh or snacks, which are somewhat different from the Malay versions due to stronger Chinese influences.
The Malays were Singapore's original inhabitants and despite now being outnumbered by the Chinese, their distinctive cuisine is popular to this day. Characterised by heavy use of spices, most Malay dishes are curries, stews or dips of one kind or another and nasi padang restaurants, offering a wide variety of these to ladle onto your rice, are very popular.
- Mee rebus is a dish of egg noodles with spicy, slightly sweet gravy, a slice of hard boiled egg and lime.
- Mee soto is Malay-style chicken soup, with a clear broth, shredded chicken breast and egg noodles.
- Nasi lemak is the definitive Malay breakfast, consisting at its simplest of rice cooked in light coconut milk, some ikan bilis (anchovies), peanuts, a slice of cucumber and a dab of chilli on the side. A larger ikan kuning (fried fish) or chicken wing are common accompaniments. More often than not, also combined with a variety of curries and/or sambal (see below).
- Otah/Otak is a type of fish cake made of minced fish (usually mackerel), coconut milk, chilli and various other spices, and grilled in a banana or coconut leaf, usually served to accompany other dishes like nasi lemak.
- Rendang, originally from Indonesia and occasionally dubbed "dry curry", is meat stewed for hours on end in a spicy (but rarely fiery) coconut-based curry paste until almost all water is absorbed. Beef rendang is the most common, although chicken and mutton are spotted sometimes.
- Sambal is the generic term for chilli sauces of many kinds. Sambal belacan is a common condiment made by mixing chilli with the shrimp paste belacan, while the popular dish sambal sotong consists of squid (sotong) cooked in red chilli sauce.
- Satay are barbecued skewers of meat, typically chicken, mutton or beef. What separates satay from your ordinary kebab is the spices used to season the meat and the slightly spicy peanut-based dipping sauce. The Satay Club at Lau Pa Sat near Raffles Place is one popular location for this delicacy.
Malay desserts, especially the sweet pastries and jellies (kuih or kueh) made largely from coconut and palm sugar (gula melaka), bear a distinct resemblance to those of Thailand. But in the sweltering tropical heat, try one of many concoctions made with ice instead:
- Bubur cha-cha consists of cubed yam, sweet potato and sago added into coconut milk soup. This can be served warm or cold.
- Chendol is made with green pea noodles, kidney beans, palm sugar and coconut milk.
- Durian is not exactly a dish, but a local fruit with distinctive odor you can smell a mile away and a sharp thorny husk. Both smell and taste defy description, but eating garlic ice cream next to an open sewer comes to mind. If you are game enough you should try it, but be warned beforehand — you will either love it or hate it. The rich creamy yellow flesh is often sold in places like Geylang and Bugis and elsewhere conveniently in pre-packaged packs, for anywhere from $1 for a small fruit all the way up to $24/kg depending on the season and type of durian. This 'king of fruits' is also made into ice cream, cakes, sweets, puddings and other decadent desserts. Note: You're not allowed to carry durians on the MRT and buses and they're banned from many hotels.
- Ice kachang literally means "ice bean" in Malay, a good clue to the two major ingredients: shaved ice and sweet red beans. However, more often than not you'll also get gula melaka (palm sugar), grass jelly, sweet corn, attap palm seeds and anything else on hand thrown in, and the whole thing is then drizzled with canned evaporated milk or coconut cream and coloured syrups. The end result tastes very interesting — and refreshing.
- Kuih (or kueh) refer to a plethora of steamed or baked "cakes", mostly made with coconut milk, grated coconut flesh, glutinous rice or tapioca. They are often very colourful and cut into fanciful shapes, but despite their wildly varying appearance tend to taste rather similar.
- Pisang goreng is a batter-dipped and deep-fried banana.
Chinese food as eaten in Singapore commonly originates from southern China, particularly Fujian and Guangdong. While "authentic" fare is certainly available, especially in fancier restaurants, the daily fare served in hawker centres has absorbed a number of tropical touches, most notably the fairly heavy use of chilli and the Malay fermented shrimp paste belacan as condiments. Noodles can also be served not just in soup (湯 tang), but also "dry" (干 gan), meaning that your noodles will be served tossed with chilli and spices in one bowl, and the soup will come in a separate bowl.
- Bak chor mee（肉脞面）is essentially noodles with minced pork, tossed in a chilli-based sauce with lard, ikan bilis (fried anchovies), vegetables and mushrooms. Black vinegar may also be added.
- Bak kut teh (肉骨茶), lit. "pork bone tea", is a simple-sounding soup of pork ribs simmered for hours in broth until they're ready to fall off the bone. Singaporeans prefer the light and peppery Teochew style ("white"), but a few shops offer the original dark and aromatic Fujian kind ("black"). Bak kut teh is typically eaten with white rice, mui choy (pickled vegetables) and a pot of strong Chinese tea, hence the name — the broth itself doesn't contain any tea. To impress the locals, order some you tiao fritters from a nearby stall and cut them up into bite-sized chunks to dip into your soup.
- Char kway teow (炒粿条) is the quintessential Singapore-style fried noodle dish, consisting of several types of noodles in thick brown sauce with strips of fishcake, Chinese sausage, a token veggie or two and either cockles and shrimp. It's cheap ($2–3/serve), filling and has nothing to do with the dish known as "Singapore fried noodles" elsewhere! (And which actually doesn't exist in Singapore.)
- Chee cheong fun (豬腸粉) is a favourite breakfast consisting of lasagna-type rice noodles rolled up and various types of fried meats including fishballs and fried tofu. The dish is usually topped with a generous amount of sauce.
- Chwee kway （水粿） is a breakfast dish consisting of rice cakes topped with chai po (salted fermented turnips), usually served with some chilli sauce.
- Fishball noodles (魚丸面) come in many forms, but the noodle variety most often seen is mee pok, which are flat egg noodles. The noodles are tossed in chilli sauce and accompanied by a side bowl of fishballs in soup.
- Hainanese chicken rice (海南鸡饭) is steamed ("white") or roasted ("red") chicken flavoured with soy sauce and sesame oil served on a bed of fragrant rice that has been cooked in chicken broth and flavoured with ginger and garlic. Accompanied by chilli sauce made from crushed fresh chillis, ginger, garlic and thick dark soy sauce as well as some cucumber and a small bowl of chicken broth.
- Hokkien mee (福建面) is a style of soupy fried noodles in light, fragrant stock with prawns and other seafood. Oddly, it bears little resemblance to the Kuala Lumpur dish of the same name, which uses thick noodles in dark soy, or even the Penang version, which is served in very spicy soup.
- Kway chap (粿汁) is essentially sheets made of rice flour served in a brown stock, accompanied by a plate of braised pork and pig organs (tongue, ear and intestines).
- Prawn noodles (虾面, hae mee in Hokkien) is a dark-brown prawn broth served with egg noodles and a giant tiger prawn or two on top. Some stalls serve it with boiled pork ribs as well. The best versions are highly addictive and will leave you slurping up the last MSG-laden (probably from the shrimp heads) drops.
- Steamboat (火锅), also known as hot pot, is do-it-yourself soup Chinese style. You get a pot of broth bubbling on a tabletop burner, pick meat, fish and veggies to your liking from a menu or buffet table, then cook it to your liking. When finished, add in noodles or ask for rice to fill you up. This usually requires a minimum of two people, and the more the merrier.
- Tau huay (豆花) is probably the most common traditional Chinese dessert, a bowl of tofu curds in syrup, served either hot or cold. A recent innovation that has swept the island is a delicious custard-like version ("soft tau huay") which includes no syrup and is extremely soft despite being solid.
- Wonton mee (云吞面) is thin noodles topped with wantan dumplings of seasoned minced pork. Unlike the soupy Hong Kong version, it is usually served 'dry' in soy sauce and chilli.
- Yong tau foo (酿豆腐) literally means "fermented tofu", but it's more exciting than it sounds. The diner selects their favourites from a vast assortment of tofu, fish paste, assorted seafood and vegetables, and they are then sliced into bite-size pieces, cooked briefly in boiling water and then served either in broth as soup or "dry" with the broth in a separate bowl. The dish can be eaten by itself or with any choice of noodles. Essential accompaniments are spicy chili sauce and sweet sauce for dipping.
The smallest of Singapore's big three ethnic groups, Indians have had proportionally the smallest impact on the local culinary scene, but there is no shortage of Indian food even at many hawker centres. Delicious and authentic Indian food can be had at Little India, including south Indian typical meals such as dosa (thosai) crepes, idli lentil-rice cakes and sambar soup, as well as north Indian meals including various curries, naan bread, tandoori chicken and more. In addition, however, a number of Indian dishes have been "Singaporeanised" and adopted by the entire population, including:
- Fish head curry is, true to the name, a gigantic curried fish head cooked whole until it's ready to fall apart. Singapore's Little India is the place to sample this. Note that there are two distinct styles, the fiery Indian and the milder Chinese kind.
- Nasi briyani is rice cooked in turmeric, giving it an orange colour. Unlike the Hyderabadi original, it's usually rather bland, although specialist shops do turn out more flavourful versions. It is usually served with curry chicken and some Indian crackers.
- Roti prata is the local version of paratha, flat bread tossed in the air like pizza, rapidly cooked in oil, and eaten dipped in curry. Modern-day variations can incorporate unorthodox ingredients like cheese, chocolate and even ice cream, but some canonical versions include roti kosong (plain), roti telur (with egg) and murtabak (layered with chicken, mutton or fish). Strict vegetarians beware: unlike Indian roti, roti prata batter is usually made with eggs.
- Putu mayam is a sweet dessert composed of vermicelli-like noodles topped with shredded coconut and orange sugar.
The cheapest and most popular places to eat in Singapore are hawker centres, essentially former pushcart vendors directed into giant complexes by government fiat. Prices are low ($2.50–5 for most dishes), hygiene standards are high (every stall is required to prominently display a health certificate grading it from A to D) and the food can be excellent — if you see a queue, join it! Ambience tends to be a little lacking though and there is no air-conditioning either, but a visit to a hawker centre is a must when in Singapore. However, be leery of overzealous pushers-cum-salesmen, especially at the Satay Club in Lau Pa Sat and Newton Food Centre at Newton Circus: the tastiest stalls don't need high-pressure tactics to find customers. Touting for business is illegal, and occasionally a reminder of this can result in people backing off a bit.
To order, first chope (reserve) a table by parking a friend by the table, note the table's number, then place your order at your stall of choice. Employees deliver to your table, and you pay when you get the food. Note that some stalls (particularly very popular ones) have signs stating "self-service", meaning that you're expected to get your food yourself, but if it is quiet or you are sitting nearby, they will usually deliver anyway. At almost every stall you can also opt to take away (called "packet" or ta pao (打包) in Cantonese), in which case employees pack up your order in a plastic box/bag and even throw in disposable utensils. Once you are finished, just get up and go, as tables are cleared by hired cleaners.
Every district in Singapore has its own hawker centres and prices decrease as you move out into the boonies. For tourists, centrally located Newton Circus (Newton MRT), Gluttons Bay and Lau Pa Sat (near the River), are the most popular options — but this does not make them the cheapest or the tastiest, and the demanding gourmand would do well to head to Chinatown or the heartlands instead. A dizzying array of food stalls with a large South Indian representation can be found in the bustling Tekka Centre at the edge of Little India. Many of the best food stalls are located in residential districts off the tourist trail and do not advertise in the media, so the best way to find them is to ask locals for their recommendations. Good examples closer to the city centre include Old Airport Road Food Centre (near Dakota MRT) and Tiong Bahru Market (near Tiong Bahru MRT), both of which are sprawling and home to a number of much-loved stalls. And if you miss western food, Botak Jones in several hawker centres offers reasonably authentic and fairly sized American-restaurant style meals at hawker prices.
Despite the name, coffee shops or kopitiam sell much more than coffee — they are effectively mini-hawker centres with perhaps only half a dozen stalls (one of which will, however, sell coffee and other drinks). The Singaporean equivalent of pubs, this is where folks come for the canonical Singaporean breakfast of kopi (strong, sugary coffee), some kaya (egg-coconut jam) toast and runny eggs, and this is also where they come to down a beer or two and chat away in the evenings. English proficiency can sometimes be limited, but most stall owners know enough to communicate the basics, and even if they don't, nearby locals will usually help you out if you ask. Many coffee shops offer zi char/cze cha (煮炒) for dinner, meaning a menu of local dishes, mostly Chinese-style seafood, served at your table at mid-range prices.
The usual Starbucks and other local cafe chains such as Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf can be found in any shopping mall but an iced coffee or tea can set you back $5 or more, whereas a teh tarik ("pulled" milky tea) or kopi coffee runs closer to $1 at any hawker centre. While exploring, you're also likely to come across a good number of independent cafes offering gourmet coffee, pastries and cakes, which have mushroomed across the city centre over the last decade.
Found in the basement or top floor of nearly every shopping mall, food courts are the gentrified, air-conditioned version of hawker centres. The variety of food on offer is almost identical, but prices are on average $1–3 higher than prices in hawker centres and coffee shops (depending on the area, it is slightly more expensive in tourist intensive areas) and the quality of food is good but not necessary value for money.
International fast food chains like McDonald's, Carl's Jr., Burger King, KFC, MOS Burger, Dairy Queen, Orange Julius, Subway etc. are commonly found in various shopping malls. Prices range from $2 for a basic burger and $5 upwards for a set meal. All restaurants are self-service and clearing your table after your meal is optional. In addition to the usual suspects, look out for these uniquely Singaporean brands:
- Bengawan Solo. Singapore version of Indonesian cakes, Chinese pastries and everything in between. The name is taken from the name of a famous river in Java.
- BreadTalk. This self-proclaimed "designer bread" chain has taken not just Singapore but much of South-East Asia by storm. Everything is jazzily shaped, funkily named (e.g. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Bacon) and baked on premises. Just note that, to the Western palate, almost everything is rather sweet.
- Jollibean. Fresh soy drinks, beancurd and tasty mee chiang kueh Chinese pancakes.
- Killiney Kopitiam. Serves kaya toast, kopi and ginger tea (with ice or without); waiters at the original Somerset location shout your order towards the back with gusto.
- Mr Bean. Offers a variety of soya bean drinks, ice-creams and pastries snacks.
- Old Chang Kee. Famous for their curry puffs, but their range now covers anything and everything deep-fried. Take-away only.
- Ya Kun Kaya Toast. Serves the classic Singaporean breakfast all day long: kaya toast, runny eggs and strong, sweet coffee (plus some other drinks). Arguably one of the more successful chains with branches as far away as South Korea and Japan.
Singapore offers a wide variety of full-service restaurants as well, catering to every taste and budget.
As the majority of Singapore's population is ethnic Chinese, there is an abundance of Chinese restaurants in Singapore, mainly serving southern Chinese (mostly Hokkien, Teochew, or Cantonese) cuisines, though with the large number of expatriates and foreign workers from China these days, cuisine originating from Shanghai and further north is also not hard to find. As with Chinese restaurants anywhere, food is eaten with chopsticks and served with Chinese tea. While Chinese restaurant food is certainly closer to authentic Chinese fare than hawker food is, it too has not managed to escape local influences and you can find many dishes little seen in China. Depending on where you go and what you order, prices can vary greatly. In ordinary restaurants, prices usually start from $20–30 per person, while in top-end restaurants in luxury hotels, prices can go for more than $300 per person for delicacies such as abalone, suckling pig, and lobster.
Being a maritime city, one common speciality is seafood restaurants, offering Chinese-influenced Singaporean classics like chilli crabs. These are much more fun to go to in a group, but be careful what you order: gourmet items like Sri Lankan giant crab can easily push your bill up to hundreds of dollars. Menus typically say "market price", and if you ask they'll quote you the price per 100 g, but a big crab can easily top 2 kg. The best-known seafood spots are clustered on the East Coast, but for ambience, the riverside restaurants at Boat Quay and Clarke Quay can't be beat.
Singapore also has its share of good Western restaurants, with British- and American-influenced food being a clear favourite among locals. Most of the more affordable chains are concentrated around Orchard Road and prices start from around $10–20 per person for the main course. French, Italian, Japanese and Korean food is also readily available, though prices tend to be on the expensive side, while Thai and Indonesian restaurants tend to be more affordable.
One British import much beloved by Singaporeans is high tea. In the classical form, as served up by finer hotels across the island, this is a light afternoon meal consisting of tea and a wide array of British-style savoury snacks and sweet pastries like finger sandwiches and scones. However, the term is increasingly used for afternoon buffets of any kind, and Chinese dim sum and various Singaporean dishes are common additions. Prices vary, but you'll usually be looking at $20–30 per head. Note that many restaurants only serve high tea on weekends, and hours may be very limited: the famous spread at the Raffles Hotel's Tiffin Room, for example, is only available from 15:30-17:00.
Singaporeans are big on buffets, especially international buffets offering a wide variety of dishes including Western, Chinese, and Japanese as well as some local dishes at a fixed price. Popular chains include Sakura, Pariss, Vienna and Todai.
Most hotels also offer lunch and dinner buffets. Champagne brunches on Sundays are particularly popular, but you can expect to pay over $100 per head and popular spots, like Mezza9 at the Hyatt on Orchard, will require reservations.
While Singapore has been previously described as a place with excellent casual dining, but a lack of fine dining options, the opening of the two casinos in Marina Bay and Sentosa has led to several of the world's top chefs opening branches of their restaurants, including Santi, Waku Ghin, and Guy Savoy. Prices are generally what you would expect for eating at a fine dining restaurant in the West, with $400+ per person not unheard of for a tasting menu with drinks.
Singapore is an easy place to eat for almost everybody. Many Indians and not a few Chinese Buddhists are strictly vegetarian, so Indian stalls may have a number of veggie options and some hawker centres will have a Chinese vegetarian stall or two, often serving up amazing meat imitations made from gluten. Chinese vegetarian food traditionally does not use eggs or dairy products and is thus almost always vegan; Indian vegetarian food, however, often employs cheese and other milk products. Be on your guard in ordinary Chinese restaurants though, as even dishes that appear vegetarian on the menu may contain seafood products like oyster sauce or salted fish — check with the waiter if in doubt. Some restaurants can be found that use "no garlic, no onions".
Muslims should look out for halal certificates issued by MUIS, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore. This is found at practically every Malay stall and many Indian Muslim operations too, but more rarely on outlets run by the Chinese, few of whom are Muslims. That said, the popular Banquet chain of food courts is entirely halal and an excellent choice for safely sampling halal Chinese food. Many Western fast-food chains in Singapore use halal meat: look for a certificate around the ordering area, or ask a manager if in doubt. A few restaurants skimp on the formal certification and simply put up "no pork, no lard" signs; it's your call if this is good enough for you.
Jews, on the other hand, will have a harder time as kosher food is nearly unknown in Singapore. Nevertheless, kosher food is still available near Singapore's two synagogues at Oxley Rise and Waterloo Street in the Central Business District; check with the Jewish Welfare Board for details.
Celiac disease is relatively unheard of in Singapore, so don't expect to find information on menus about whether dishes contain gluten or not. A few exceptions to this include Cedele and Barracks @ House.
Singapore's nightlife isn't quite a match for Patpong, but it's no slouch either. Some clubs have 24 hr licenses and few places close before 03:00. Any artists touring Asia are pretty much guaranteed to stop in Singapore, with superclub Zouk in particular regularly clocking high on lists of the world's best nightclubs. Singapore's nightlife is largely concentrated along the three Quays — Boat, Clarke and Robertson — of the Riverside, with the clubs of Sentosa and nearby St James Power Station giving party animals even more reason to dance the night away and the casino on Marina Bay also entering the fray. Gay bars are mostly found around Chinatown. The drinking age is 18, and while this is surprisingly loosely enforced, some clubs have higher age limits.
Friday is generally the biggest night of the week for going out, with Saturday a close second. Sunday is gay night in many bars and clubs, while Wednesday or Thursday is ladies' night, often meaning not just free entrance but free drinks for women. Most clubs are closed on Monday and Tuesday, while bars generally stay open but tend to be very quiet.
For a night out Singapore style, gather a group of friends and head for the nearest karaoke box — major chains include K-Box and Party World. Room rental ranges from $30/hour and up. Beware that the non-chain, glitzy (or dodgy) looking, neon-covered KTV lounges may charge much higher rates and the short-skirted hostesses may offer more services than just pouring your drinks. In Singapore, the pronunciation of karaoke follows the Japanese "karah-oh-kay" instead of the Western "carry-oh-key".
Alcohol is widely available but expensive due to Singapore's heavy sin taxes. On the other hand, tax-free at Changi Airport has some of the best prices in the world. You can bring in up to one litre of liquor and two litres of wine and beer if you arrive from countries other than Malaysia. Careful shopping at major supermarkets will also throw up common basic Australian wine labels for under $20.
Alcohol is haram (forbidden) to Muslims, and most Muslim Singaporeans duly avoid it. While most non-Muslim Singaporeans are not puritanical and enjoy a drink every now and then, do not expect to find the binge-drinking culture that you will find in most Western countries. Unlike in many Western countries, public drunkenness in socially frowned upon in Singapore, and misbehaving yourself under the influence of alcohol will certainly not gain you any respect from Singaporean friends. Do not allow any confrontations to escalate into fights, as the police will be called in, and you will face jail time and possibly caning.
Prices when eating out vary. You can enjoy a large bottle of beer of your choice at a coffee shop or hawker centre for less than $6 (and the local colour comes thrown in for free). On the other hand, drinks in any bar, club or fancy restaurant remain pricey, with a basic drink clocking in at $10–15 while fancy cocktails would usually be in the $15–25 range. On the upside, happy hours and two-for-one promotions are common, and the entry price for clubs usually includes several drink tickets. Almost all restaurants in Singapore allow bringing your own (BYO) wine and cheaper restaurants without a wine menu usually don't even charge corkage, although in these places you'll need to bring your own bottle opener and glasses. Fancier places charge $20–50, although many offer free corkage days on Monday or Tuesday.
Tourists flock to the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel to sample the original Singapore Sling, a sickly sweet pink mix of pineapple juice, gin and more, but locals (almost) never touch the stuff. The tipple of choice in Singapore is the local beer, Tiger, a rather ordinary lager, but there's been a recent microbrewery boom with Archipelago (Boat Quay), Brewerkz (Riverside Point), Paulaner Brauhaus (Millenia Walk) and Pump Room (Clarke Quay) all offering interesting alternatives.
Tobacco is heavily taxed, and you are not allowed to bring more than one opened pack (not carton, but a single pack!) of cigarettes into the country. This is particularly strictly enforced on the land borders with Malaysia, where all baggage is regularly X-rayed. Many public places including hawker centres have restrictions on smoking, and it is prohibited in public transport as well. There is a total ban on smoking in all air-conditioned places (including pubs and discos), and strict limitations on where you can smoke outside as well (e.g., bus stops, parks, playgrounds and all except the designated sections of hawker centres are off limits). The designated zone should be marked with a yellow outline, and may have a sign reading "smoking zone".
Prostitution is tolerated in six designated districts, most notably Geylang, which — not coincidentally — also offers some of the cheapest lodging and best food in the city. While the age of consent in Singapore is 16, a higher minimum age of 18 applies to prostitutes. The industry maintains a low profile (no go-go bars here) and is not a tourist attraction by any stretch of the word. Legally practising commercial sex workers are required to register with the authorities and attend special clinics for regular sexually transmitted disease screening. However, please be prudent and practice safe sex—although most sex workers will insist on it anyway.
Orchard Towers, on Orchard Road, has been famously summarised as "four floors of whores" and, despite occasional crackdowns by the authorities, continues to live up to its name. Beware that the prostitutes working here are usually not registered, so the risk of theft and STDs is significantly higher, and note a few of the women are transsexuals.
The Singaporean currency is the Singapore dollar, abbreviated SGD, S$ or just $ (as used throughout this guide), divided into 100 cents. There are coins of $0.05 (gold), $0.10 (silver), $0.20 (silver), $0.50 (silver) and $1 (gold), plus bills of $2 (purple), $5 (green), $10 (red), $50 (blue), $100 (orange), $1,000 (purple) and $10,000 (gold). The Brunei dollar is pegged at par with the Singapore dollar and the two currencies can be used interchangeably in both countries, so don't be too surprised if you get a Brunei note as change. You can safely assume that the "$" sign used in the island-nation refers to SGD unless it includes other initials (e.g., US$ or USD to stand for US collar).
Restaurants often display prices like $19.99++, which means that service charge (10%) and sales tax (7%) are not included and will be added to your bill. When you see NETT, it means it includes all taxes and service charges. Tipping is generally not practised in Singapore, and is officially frowned upon by the government, although bellhops still expect $2 or so per bag. Taxis will usually return your change to the last cent, or round in your favour if they can't be bothered to dig for change.
Currency exchange booths can be found in every shopping mall and usually offer better rates, better opening hours, and much faster service than banks. The huge 24 hr operation at Mustafa in Little India accepts almost any currency at very good rates, as do the fiercely competitive small shops at the aptly named Change Alley next to Raffles Place MRT. For large amounts, ask for a quote, as it will often get you a better rate than displayed on the board. Rates at the airport are not as good as in the city, and while many department stores accept major foreign currencies, their rates are often terrible.
Singapore is one of the largest financial centres in the region, so there are numerous banks to choose from. Partly due to strong banking secrecy laws and the fact that interest paid on bank deposits is not taxable in Singapore, Singaporean banks are increasingly seen as an alternative to Swiss banks for the world's richest people to stash their assets. Opening a bank account is a straightforward process and there are no restrictions on foreigners owning a bank account in Singapore. Due to Singapore's status as a major financial centre, most of the larger banks offer dual currency and foreign currency accounts. The largest local banks in Singapore are United Overseas Bank (UOB), DBS Bank and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC Bank). Major foreign banks that have a large presence in Singapore include HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank and Citibank.
ATMs are ubiquitous in Singapore and credit cards are widely accepted (although some shops may levy a 3% surcharge, and taxis a whopping 15%). Travellers cheques are generally not accepted by retailers, but can be cashed at most exchange booths. eZ-Link and Nets Flash Pay cards are accepted in some convenience stores and fast food chains.
Singapore is expensive by Asian standards, but affordable compared with OECD countries: $50 is a perfectly serviceable daily backpacker budget if you are willing to cut some corners, though you would probably wish to double that for comfort. Food in particular is a steal, with excellent hawker food available for under $5 for a generous serving. Accommodation is a little pricier, but a bed in a hostel can cost less than $20, an average mid-range hotel in the city centre would typically cost anywhere from $100–300 per night for a basic room, and the most luxurious hotels on the island (except maybe the Raffles) can be yours for $300 with the right discounts during the off-peak season.
Budget travellers should note that Singapore is much more expensive than the rest of Southeast Asia and should budget accordingly if planning to spend time in Singapore. In general, prices in Singapore are about twice as high as in Malaysia and Thailand and 3-5 times as high as in Indonesia and the Philippines.
7-Eleven stores are abundant, but they're in many cases outrageously expensive. For example a half-litre bottle of water that costs 40-50 cents in the supermarket and one dollar when bought from a street vendor, costs $1.80 in those stores.
Shopping is second only to eating as a national pastime, which means that Singapore has an abundance of shopping malls, and low taxes and tariffs on imports coupled with huge volume mean that prices are usually very competitive. While you won't find any bazaars with dirt-cheap local handicrafts (in fact, virtually everything sold in Singapore is made elsewhere), goods are generally of reasonably good quality and shopkeepers are generally quite honest due to strong consumer protection laws. Most stores are open daily 10:00-22:00, although smaller operations (particularly those outside shopping malls) close earlier — 19:00 is common — and perhaps on Sundays as well. Mustafa in Little India is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Many stores along the shopping belt of Orchard Road and Scotts Road now offer late night shopping on the last Friday of every month with over 250 retailers staying open until midnight.
- Antiques: The second floor of the Tanglin Shopping Centre on Orchard and the shops on South Bridge Rd in Chinatown are good options if looking for the real thing (or high-quality reproductions).
- Books: Borders at Wheelock Place has since closed down. However, Kinokuniya is at Ngee Ann City, on Orchard, and Page One at Vivocity are among the largest bookstores in Singapore. Many second-hand book stores are located in Far East Plaza and Bras Basah Complex, where you may attempt to bargain if you are buying a lot. For university textbooks, the bookshops at the National University of Singapore have the best prices on the island, up to 80% off compared to prices in the West.
- Cameras: Peninsula Plaza near City Hall has Singapore's widest selection of camera shops. However, there are no great bargains to be had, and many camera stores in Singapore (particularly those in Lucky Plaza and Sim Lim Square) have a reputation for fleecing even the most careful tourists. The best way is to know exactly what you are looking for and then when you arrive, drop by the shops at the airport's transit area and take a look at the price and check with them whether they have any promotions. Then go to the downtown shops and compare prices/packages to see which shop will give you value for money. To be safe, always check prices and packages for everything you're interested in at large retailers like Courts, Harvey Norman and Best Denki first. Be very careful when shop staff attempt to promote brands or models other than the one you have in mind; a few stores at Sim Lim Square, Lucky Plaza, and elsewhere are known to use this tactic and sell products at two to four times their actual list prices. Also watch for the bait-and-switches. Inspect the model number and condition of the item, then do not let it out of your sight when you pay. (In Lucky Plaza, the most common scam is doubling the charge without your agreement, daylight robbery, essentially.)
- Clothes, high-street: Ion, Ngee Ann City (Takashimaya) and Paragon on Orchard have the heaviest concentration of branded boutiques. There are another malls such as Raffles City located at City Hall MRT that also hosts a variety of brands for instance, Kate Spade, Timberland.
- Clothes, tailored: Virtually all hotels have a tailor shop attached, and touting tailors are a bit of a nuisance in Chinatown. As elsewhere, you'll get what you pay for and will get poor quality if you don't have the time for multiple fittings or the skill to check what you're getting. Prices vary widely: a local shop using cheap fabrics can do a shirt for $40, while Singapore's best-known tailor, CYC the Custom Shop at the Raffles Hotel, will charge at least $120. You can also check Brazil Tailor shop for another data point.
- Clothes, youth: Most of Bugis is dedicated to the young, hip and cost-conscious. Currently Bugis St (opposite Bugis MRT) is the most popular in the Bugis area, consisting of 3 levels of shops. Some spots of Orchard, notably Far East Plaza not to be confused with Far East Shopping Centre and the top floor of the Heeren, also target the same market but prices are generally higher.
- Computers: Sim Lim Square (near Little India) is great for the hardcore geek who really knows what he's after - parts price lists are available on HardwareZone.com and are given out in Sim Lim itself, making price comparison easy. Lesser mortals (namely, who have failed to do their price-checking homework) stand a risk of getting ripped off when purchasing, but this is generally not a problem with the price lists offered by most shops. Some Singaporeans purchase their electronic gadgets during the quarterly "IT shows" usually held at Suntec City Convention Centre or at the Expo, at which prices on gadgets are sometimes slashed (but often only to Sim Lim levels). Another possibility is to shop at Funan IT Mall, the stores of which may be more honest on average (according to some). Do not be attracted by side gifts/sweeteners of thumbdrives, mice and so on; these only tend to hide inflated prices.
- Consumer electronics: Singapore used to be known for good prices, but nowadays electronics here are generally more expensive than from US and international online vendors. Funan IT Mall (Riverside#Buy|Riverside) and Mustafa (Little India) are good choices. Avoid the tourist-oriented shops on Orchard Road, particularly the notorious Lucky Plaza, or risk getting ripped off. Also take great care to avoid shops on the 1st and 2nd levels of Sim Lim Square, some of which tend to rip off tourists and locals alike by overcharging by 100% or more, adding on ludicrous charges beyond what was agreed on, swapping items for used ones, leaving out cases and batteries, and a host of other practices that should be (or are) criminal. Please do your research before buying electronics from any store in Singapore; online research and multi-shop price comparison (and bargaining, occasionally) are essential. Mustafa has fixed, fair prices and is a good option, and so are Challenger and other large fixed-price retailers. For any purchases, remember that Singapore uses 230V voltage with a British-style, three-pin plug.
- Electronic components: For do-it-yourself people and engineers, a wide variety of electronic components and associated tools can be found at Sim Lim Tower (opposite Sim Lim Square), near Little India. You can find most common electronic components (such as breadboards, transistors, various ICs, etc.) and bargain for larger quantities as well.
- Ethnic knick-knacks: Chinatown has Singapore's heaviest concentration of glow-in-the-dark Merlion soap dispensers and ethnic gewgaws, mostly but not entirely Chinese and nearly all imported from somewhere else. For Malay and Indian stuff, the best places to shop are Geylang Serai and Little India respectively.
- Fabrics: Arab Street and Little India have a good selection of imported and local fabrics like batik. Chinatown does sell rather reasonable and cheap fabrics, bargaining is allowed so do know your stuff on what fabric to buy. Fabrics in Singapore may not be as cheap as overseas, for most fabrics are imported to Singapore.
- Fakes: Unlike most Southeast Asian countries, pirated goods are not openly on sale and importing them to the city-state carries heavy fines. Fake goods are nevertheless not difficult to find in Little India, Bugis, or even in the underpasses of Orchard Road.
- Food: Local supermarkets Cold Storage, Prime Mart, Shop 'n' Save, and NTUC Fairprice are ubiquitous, but for specialities, Jason's Marketplace in the basement of Raffles City and Tanglin Market Place at Tanglin Mall (both on Orchard) are some of Singapore's best-stocked gourmet supermarkets, with a vast array of imported products. Takashimaya's basement (Orchard) has lots of small quirky shops and makes for a more interesting browse. For a more Singaporean (and much cheaper) shopping experience, seek out any neighbourhood wet market, like Little India's Tekka Market. For eating out, most shopping centres offer a range of small snack stands and eateries in their basements, as well as a food court or two.
- Games: Video and PC games are widely available in Singapore, but prices may not be cheaper than in the West. Games sold for the local market are generally in English, though some games imported from Hong Kong or Taiwan will be in Chinese. Do note, however, that Singapore's official region code is NTSC-J (together with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc.), which means that games sold may not be compatible with consoles in mainland China, North America, Europe, or Australia. During the four times in a year IT Shows, PC, Xbox, Wii, PlayStation games prices may drop at such IT shows, if not the games will be bundled with others (Example: Buy 2 at $49.90). Search for reputable shops online and avoid Sim Lim Square's first two floors, as always.
- Hi-fi stereos: The Adelphi (Riverside) has Singapore's best selection of audiophile shops.
- Marine sports: Many of the shophouses opposite The Concourse on Beach Rd in Bugis sell fishing and scuba diving gear.
- Mobile phones: Very competitively priced in Singapore due to high consumer volume, available throughout the country both used and new. Phones are never SIM locked, so they can be used anywhere, and many shops will allow you to "trade in" an older phone to offset the cost of a new one. Do not purchase phones at Lucky Plaza, because there's a significant risk you'll be almost literally robbed, if tourist reports are anything to go by.
- Music: The HMV at Somerset 313 (Orchard) is Singapore's largest music store, with a second, smaller outlet in the CityLink mall linking Raffles City and Suntec City Mall. Gramophone, however, provides much better prices on CDs and has an interesting selection. Numerous branches are scattered across the CBD and Orchard Road. One of the better Gramophone locations is at Ngee Ann City in B2.
- Peranakan goods: The Peranakan, or Malay-Chinese, may be fading but their colourful clothing and artwork, especially the distinctive pastel-coloured ceramics, are still widely available. Antiques are expensive, but modern replicas are quite affordable. The largest selection and best prices can be found in Katong on the East Coast.
- Sporting goods: Queensway Shopping Centre, off Alexandra Rd and rather off the beaten track (take a cab), seems to consist of nothing but sporting goods shops. You can also find foreigner-sized sporty clothing and shoes here. Do bargain! Expect to get 40-50% off the price from the shops in Orchard for the same items. Velocity in Novena is also devoted to sports goods, but is rather more upmarket. Martial arts equipment is surprisingly hard to find, although most of the clothing shops around Pagoda Street in Chinatown sell basic silk taiji/wushu uniforms. Note that if you plan to buy weapons such as swords, you have to apply for a permit from the local police (around $10) to get your weaponry out of the country.
- Tea: Chinatown's Yue Hwa (2nd floor) is unbeatable for both price and variety, but Time for Tea in Lucky Plaza (Orchard) is also a good option. English tea is also widely available around Orchard Road, most notably at Marks and Spencer in Centrepoint. For those who are looking for high-end luxury tea blends, local brand TWG has branches throughout the island to cater to this market.
- Watches: High-end watches are very competitively priced. Ngee Ann City (Orchard) has dedicated stores from the likes of Piaget and Cartier, while Millenia Walk (Marina Bay) features the Cortina Watch Espace retailing 30 brands from Audemars Piguet to Patek Philippe, as well as several other standalone shops.
For purchases of over $100 per day per participating shop, you may be able to get a 6% refund of your 7% GST at Changi Airport or Seletar Airport, but the process is a bit of a bureaucratic hassle. At the shop you need to ask for a tax refund cheque. Before checking in at the airport, present this cheque together with the items purchased and your passport at the GST customs counter. Get the receipt stamped there. Then proceed with check-in and go through security. On the air side, bring the stamped cheque to the refund counter to cash it in or get the GST back on your credit card. See Singapore Customs for the full scoop.
This year, the Great Singapore Sale will be held from 31 May-28 Jul. Nearly all shops will drop their prices 50-80% or more across Singapore. Keep in mind, though, the significant drop of prices means that local Singaporeans will go crazy as most of them save up for a whole year just for the sale, meaning almost all shopping centres, especially those in the vicinity of Orchard Road, become very crowded on weekends. If you prefer not to shop in crowded malls, it is advisable to take advantage of the sales on weekdays when most locals are at work.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Singapore on Wikivoyage.