Singapore: Asia's Gateway to Heaven

singapore esplanade
The Concert Shell at Singapore Esplanade
A Weekend in Singapore

Given that Singapore is nothing more than the size of a thumb print on a map of Southeast Asia, it might have been a safe guess that a weekend in Singapore would be plenty of time to enjoy this modern Asian city-state but the deeper one explores, the more one discovers there is to do. Indeed, there is plenty to do from shopping, to attractions, and plenty of dining. This is definitely one of the most modern cities in Asia and it is very much a first world, and first class destination. With only two nights in Singapore, I know that we are already going to plan a trip back because there is no way you could do everything in one shot without running out of time or breaking the bank. Singapore's Changi Airport is a destination in itself where you could easily spend an entire day exploring all that it has to offer.

singapore flyer observation wheel
The Singapore Flyer
Founded in 1819 as a British trading colony, the city-state of Singapore is certainly one of the world's most prosperous countries and boasts the world's busiest port. Although it is a relatively small country on a small island, its rich mix of Chinese, Malay, and Indian influences in its population of just over five million people make it a fairly crowded place. It's actually only second to Monaco as the world's most densely populated country. But unlike other densely populated countries, Singapore has managed to maintain more than 50% of its green space with over 50 major parks and 4 nature reserves. This has earned it a reputation as an enchanting garden city.

Nation Building 101...

Singapore has enjoyed an incredibly rich history making it unique and unlike any other country in Asia. In the past, it has been referred to as "Disneyland with the death penalty" and "The World's only shopping mall with a seat in the United Nations." The country has definitely taken a far different approach to public policy, laws, and societal norms than we may be familiar with in the west. But whatever they did seems to have worked as the "Switzerland of Asia" has evolved into an island paradise free of the poverty, dirt, chaos, and crime that burdens the rest of mainland Asia. But if you look beyond the traditional tourist trails, there is much more that will meet the eye. It's hard to imagine that less than 50 years ago, the standards and laws were so strict in Singapore that one was required to be "clean-cut" prior to being permitted entry and chewing gum was an exercise with severe consequences. But how else would Singapore earn a reputation as a squeaky clean country and one of the safest major cities in the world?

marina bay sands skyline
Singapore Skyline across from Marina Bay Sands
Don't cross the thin blue line!

Unlike the west, Singapore treats drug offenses extremely severely. The death penalty is mandatory for those convicted of trafficking, manufacturing, importing or exporting various quantities of drugs. Possession is all that you need to be convicted. Unauthorized consumption could lead up to a maximum of 10 years in jail or a $20,000 fine or even both! All it takes is for a trace of illicit drugs to be found in your system even if you can prove they were consumed outside the country. You can even be charged for trafficking if drugs are found in your bags regardless of whether you're aware of them.

Don't mess with the cleanliness. This is achieved by strict rules against activities that most other countries tolerate including jay-walking, spitting, littering, drinking, and eating on public transport. Heavy fines are applied if you are caught violating any of these rules. If you litter, you're not just subject to a fine, but also to "community service"which typically entails picking up trash in public places. For decades, chewing gum was banned from the country but is now available at pharmacies for medical purposes (nicotine gum) only. But technically, importing gum is still illegal although you can bring a few packs of your own usually without a problem.

If you engage in criminal activity like vandalism, robbery, molestation, rape, Singapore imposes "caning" as a punishment. Strokes from thick rattan canes are excruciatingly painful and take long to heal while leaving a scar for life. Corruption is also punishable by caning. Wouldn't it be nice to apply that to some of our politicians at home? Murder and kidnapping are punishable by death.

Homosexual contact is illegal with a theoretical punishment of two years in prison and/or caning. However, this law is rarely enforced and there is a fairly vibrant gay community. But you should still expect legalized discrimination and unaccepting attitudes from locals and government officials.

If you get hit by a bicycle rider or car, it is considered the pedestrian's fault when it isn't their right of way, and you might have to pay damage costs. Insulting other religions is a crime in Singapore. It carries fines and a prison sentence with it! Alcohol is widely available but very expensive due to Singapore's heavy taxes. 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 most Western countries, public drunkenness is 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.

A pool that overlooks heaven...

singapore marina bay sands
The famous Marina Bay Sands
Now that I have adequately terrified you all from ever setting foot in this country, I can suggest some places to explore. Don't worry about flipping through language guides as English is widely spoken. For our two days in Singapore, we navigated the city utilizing a one-day hop on hop off pass and the city's convenient and extensive light rail transit network. Our first stop brought us to Marina Bay Sands. Opened in April 2010, the Marina Bay Sands Casino and Convention Centre is a huge entertainment complex complete with hotel, theatres, shopping centre, and dining among many other amenities and attractions. The structure itself is magnificent and it cannot be missed from the Singapore skyline.

It is the world's most expensive standalone casino complex with an estimated cost of 8 billion Singapore dollars. The hotel alone is home to more than 2,500 hotel rooms! The centrepiece is Singapore's most dramatic landmark, the 340-metre long Sands Sky Park which sits 55 stories above the ground perched atop the three hotel towers. At the top you will find the best views of Singapore along with a restaurant and perhaps one of the world's highest outdoor pools. Unfortunately, the pool is only open to hotel guests. The pool is a 150m infinity swimming pool, set on top of the world's largest public cantilevered platform, which overhangs the north tower by 67m. Pretty cool, huh?

But if you want to enjoy this magnificent pool, be prepared to shell out at least $250-$300 per night to stay in just a standard room at the hotel! Since that is the cost of roughly an entire month of rent in the Philippines, it wasn't such a tough decision for my partner and I to postpone that adventure for a future trip. Within walking distance of Marina Bay Sands is Singapore's newest tourist trap, the 150-metre-high observation wheel known as the Singapore Flyer. It was modeled after the London Eye and is the world's tallest observation wheel. One rotation takes about 30 minutes and if you're in a spending mood, you can splurge and enjoy dinner or drinks within one of the capsules.

marina bay sands fountain
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
Half-way down the hop-on-hop-off route, we encountered Singapore's Orchard Road also known as the shopping district. There are at least 12 shopping malls along this strip. The street is also known for its Christmas decorations which although lack variety are pleasing to the eye making Orchard Road the brightest and most festive street in Singapore during the Christmas season. A network of underground tunnels connects all the malls along Orchard Road enabling shoppers to avoid the blistering equatorial heat. There is a tourist office along the street for visitor information and a diverse mix of shops which offers more than enough choice for all budgets.

orchard road christmas singapore
Christmas along Orchard Road
Outside of the city centre is the area known as Sentosa. It is a small island just off the southern coast of Singapore. Although we did not have an opportunity to visit it on this trip, I am including it in this blog because it is high on our bucket list for future trips to Singapore. The island is a gigantic tourist attraction featuring hotels, shopping malls, a Universal Studios theme park and several other attractions. Sentosa used to be the home of Britain's Fortress Singapore during World War 2. Today, visitors can still see Fort Siloso which was Britain's largest naval base in Fortress Singapore. The island is also home to Singapore's first casino, cable car rides, Asia's largest tropical oceanarium, a dolphin lagoon, and Asia's tallest observation tower. From what we have heard, the majority of attractions are geared more to a younger audience. But I am confident that Universal Studios would not disappoint and that is at the top of our list on our next trip.

An airport as fun as the destination itself...

sunflower garden terminal 2 changi airport
The Sunflower Garden at Singapore's Changi Airport Terminal 2
In many cities, you wouldn't normally consider an airport an attraction. But Singapore's Changi airport sets such a high standard that I can't possibly leave it out. Perhaps it's not the place you would travel to Singapore to see but it will certainly make your arrival, departure or layover in Singapore an incredibly pleasant and relaxing experience. Ignoring the fact that I am an aviation geek, I can honestly say that Singapore's airport left us with no shortage of activities. For the first time, I was actually wishing we had more time to enjoy all that it had to offer. Nobody in their right mind would ever wish for a flight delay but after listening to what's in this place, you might reconsider. It is better than a hotel or even some of the more impressive shopping malls in Asia. In addition to all of the standard shopping and dining features of an airport, Changi Airport is comprised of three terminals each connected by a monorail system. Complimentary internet access is provided to everyone via a wireless network and some 200 internet kiosks spread throughout.
changi airport terminal 3 butterfly garden
World's first Butterfly Garden inside Terminal 3 at Changi Airport
If you have more than 5 hours to spare, free Singapore city tours are offered that depart the airport five times per day. One benefit of shopping at Changi Airport is that it is a duty free zone. This means if you really want alcohol, this is the only place to escape the high taxation on alcohol faced in the rest of the country. Mobile phone charging stations are provided in all terminals and they cater to various phone brands meaning you don't need your own charger. There are also a number of complimentary lounges providing access to free television and business centres if you need privacy to complete work. Women can enjoy their own spacious powder room to freshen up and each terminal also features shower facilities with complimentary towels and toiletries. There is also complimentary foot massage stations spread throughout the airport.

singapore airport movie theatre
Changi Airport's very own 24 hour movie theatre
Terminal 1 features a cactus garden and rooftop swimming pool if you want to take a dip between flights! Terminal 2 likely has the most to offer with an Entertainment Deck featuring Playstation and Xbox games along with computers set up to enjoy online gaming. In the Xperience Zone, you can send an interactive e-Postcard by taking a picture of yourself and adding in a uniquely Singaporean icon to go with it. There is a sunflower garden, an orchid garden, and believe it or not, a movie theatre with complimentary screenings 24 hours per day. In terminal 3, you will find the world's first butterfly garden inside an airport. There is also a Koi Pond, an Aviation Gallery, another movie theatre and a four storey high slide reaching speeds of up to 6 metres per second. It is the world's tallest slide inside an airport. Truly, this blog could never do the airport justice and it must be seen to be believed. But it is fair to say that this airport is indeed well deserving of its title as "World's Best Airport" which it has held for many consecutive years in a row.

tiger airways singapore
Tigerair Philippines prepares for its return trip to Clark Airport
After a couple of days exploring Singapore and the airport, it's safe to say we are eager to come back again one day. After our brief exploration of the city, we definitely found many things that we want to spend more time enjoying in the future. Plus there are lots of areas that we didn't get to explore like Chinatown and Little India. I am also told that the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari are not to be missed. Don't forget to stop in at the Long Bar in the infamous Raffles Hotel to sample the original "Singapore Sling," a sweet pink mix of pineapple juice, gin and much more! Oh and if you're truly homesick, Singapore boasts its own permanent indoor snow centre where it snows inside year round!


Singapore enjoys a number of flight connections to the Philippines including:
Singapore is not by any means a cheap place to find a hotel. We usually stay at the Sheraton Towers Hotel Singapore. However, if you have the budget, there are a number of top hotels to choose from including:


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