Despite its small size, the island city
state of Singapore -- measuring just 272 square miles -- offers a
wealth of opportunities and experiences for the discerning
emporia along shopping thoroughfare Orchard Road stand
cheek-by-jowl with old-fashioned retail plazas crammed with tiny
shops offering everything from traditional medicines to jewelry.
Hucksters try to entice passersby into shops filled with the latest
photographic and telecommunications equipment; as in the rest of
the world, everyone in Singapore is busy talking on their mobile
landscape is constantly changing. In the few years since I was last
in Singapore, what's called the "foreshore," along Clarke and Boat
quays, has been transformed from a jumble of bumboat rides and
small restaurants into a bustling entertainment complex that's
partly covered with imaginative, sail-like structures. And
skyscrapers now tower over the whole affair.
not only a world-class range of restaurants but some of the world's
most unusual ones, as well. In one eatery, for example, diners are
seated in wheelchairs. I had dinner at the Metropole Herbal
Restaurant, where meals come complete with diagnoses from a
traditional doctor of Chinese medicine who will prescribe
concoctions to cure any ailment.
Since the earliest
days after the modern state of Singapore was founded by Britain's
Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1819, the city's population has been
made up of a mix of ethnicities and religious groups, including
Chinese, European, Indian, Muslim and Malay. This multicultural
heritage is reflected in Singapore's architecture, lifestyle and
Singapore on foot
modernization of much of the city in recent years, visitors can
still find pockets, such as Emerald Hill, where life seems
unchanged. Originally a nutmeg plantation,
this enclave of houses -- a tiny area tucked away adjacent to the
glitz and glamour of Orchard Road -- is home to many Peranakans,
descendants of the Chinese who settled in the Malay archipelago
from the 17th century.
A number of
companies offer walking tours of these different community
areas. For example, Original Singapore
Walks has two- to three-hour tours such as "Red Clogs Down the Five
Foot Way," covering Chinatown; "A Taste of Empire," a Colonial
District walk; and "Dhobis, Saris and a Spot of Curry," through the
Little India area.
I joined the
"Sultans of Spice" walk in the Arab Street Kampong Glam district,
where the Muslim influence is still very strong.
Named after the
gelam tree, from which medicinal oils were extracted, the district
is full of narrow streets with evocative names such as Sultan Gate,
Bali, Baghdad, Muscat and Kandahar.
Tiny shops sell
everything from embroidered materials (visitors can watch this
intricate work being done), natural oils and perfumes and
Area merchants also
peddle all the accessories observant Muslims would need for a
pilgrimage to Mecca. The nearby Sultan Mosque, built in 1928, is a
fine example of Islamic architecture, with separate worship areas
for men and women and an unusual dome that is ringed by a frieze
comprised of the bottoms of glass bottles.
neighborhood is Chinatown, which sprang up with the influx of
Chinese immigrants in the early days of the city. The Chinese
Heritage Centre on Pagoda Street has fascinating material on the
ethnic group's rich cultural history.
sanitized, Bugis Street was famous for its brothels, but there is
still plenty of activity around Chinatown. The "Secrets of the Red
Lantern" night walk in Chinatown captures some of the atmosphere of
the bygone days when Singapore, because of prostitution, opium and
gambling, really was Sin City.
Singapore is packed
with other attractions, as well, apart from the fantastic shopping
and amazing food.
The Singapore Zoo
is justly famous, its scenic, "open zoo" layout featuring a diverse
collection of animals, from orangutans to polar bears to pygmy
hippos to white tigers. Visitors can have breakfast with some
animals, and the Night Safari, during which nocturnal wildlife is
viewed, is not to be missed.
Tourists can learn
about Singapore's urban history and geography, as well as the
city's founder, at the Raffles Landing Site on the north bank of
the Singapore River.
Raffles Hotel Singapore, although now surrounded by other five-star
hotels, is still the place to be seen. There, visitors can enjoy
the afternoon tea buffet or indulge in a Singapore Sling cocktail
at the hotel's Long Bar, where the drink was invented.
Singaporeans live in high-rise apartment blocks, they like to
escape outdoors on weekends and on holidays. Popular destinations
include Sentosa Island, a short distance off Singapore's south
coast and reached by cable car, ferry or bridge. Locals relax on
its beaches and at its resorts and spas, or take in attractions
such as Underwater World, Butterfly Park & Insect Kingdom and
the Dolphin Lagoon.
wanting to get a glimpse of simpler village life in the region, a
trip to one of the smaller islands off the north coast, such as
Pulau Ubin, is rewarding.
Pulau Ubin is
located beyond Changi, a name synonymous with Singapore's airport
but also as the location of Changi Prison, infamous in World War
II. A visit to the prison, now a museum, is a moving experience.
The trials and hardships of the 50,000 soldiers and civilians
imprisoned there were captured through letters, photographs,
drawings and personal effects.
The Changi murals,
drawn by English bombardier Stanley Warren, and a series of
patchworks created by imprisoned women are especially
In the courtyard of
the museum, the Changi Chapel, built in 1988 by prison inmates,
adds a touch of hope for the future as the visitor reflects on the
grim days during World War II.
In the Malay
language, Singapura, or Singapore, means "Lion City." In recent
decades, the city has roared powerfully as both a trade center and
a hot pot for travelers from all round the world.
information on Singapore, visit www.visitsingapore.com.
contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].