Most people know about the shopping and the eating, but Singapore has taken a serious look at the subject of fun, decided that it is good, and set about converting itself into the ultimate 21st-century metropolis.
The once-staid entertainment scene has erupted into life, with new megaclubs and beach parties placing the city on Asia's nightlife map. Vast new 'integrated resorts' promise to lure hordes of visitors to their casinos, theme parks and big-note attractions. Arts and cultural festivals crowd the calendar. And always, everywhere, there is food, glorious food, the single overwhelming obsession that unites and defines all Singaporeans.
Yet, nestled among it all, and frequently overlooked, are the wonderful green spaces that make Singapore such a masterpiece of urban design, surprising anyone who thinks of this tiny island state as an urban jungle. Whatever you thought you knew about Singapore, there's always a surprise around the corner.
Hitting the shops in Singapore is a unique experience that swings from classic Southeast Asian street stalls and markets to luxury boutiques and quirky pocket-sized stores. Put some plastic in your pocket and head to these top picks.
The old school hawker centre is a Singaporean dining institution. Sure, they can be noisy, crowded and hot, but their atmosphere - and crucially their food - can't be beat. Grab a seat (and some chicken rice) at these top picks.
Challenging New York and Shanghai for vertical thrills, Singapore is reaching for the sky with cloud-tickling decks, a giant Ferris wheel and what can only be described as a space-age Stonehenge. Get high at these top five viewpoints across the city.
Singapore, unlike many cities, doesn't impose geographic restrictions on your day; it's just 40 minutes in a taxi between opposite corners of the island. It's perfectly feasible to spend a morning on Sentosa and an afternoon on Pulau Ubin. And despite the energy-sapping climate, you're usually never too far from a refreshing breeze or blissful dose of air-conditioning.
Got questions? We've got answers. Here, experts from Lonely Planet and Visa answer commonly asked questions about travelling to Singapore and managing your money while you're there. Have more questions? Email us at email@example.com.
Question: When is the best time to visit?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] Any time is a good time to go to Singapore. There are cultural events and festivals year round and being practically on the equator the island is constantly hot - the temperature never drops below 20 degrees C.
Question: What do I do if I lose my card?
Answer: [Visa expert] Call your bank immediately to cancel your card. In an emergency, you can get a temporary card replacement or cash disbursement in 24-48 hours with the help of Visa's Global Customer Assistance Service (GCAS).
Question: If the shopkeeper offers to charge me in my home currency instead of the local currency, is that a good idea?
Answer: [Visa expert] When you travel internationally, some merchants may offer you the option to convert your purchases into your home currency at the register. This is called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) and means the merchant - not Visa or your issuing bank - is converting the currency. While you may appreciate the convenience of knowing the exact price in your home currency at the point-of-sale, you should be aware that the merchant may charge you for this service. Visa requires that you be given a choice to either accept or decline DCC. In addition, Visa requires merchants offering this service to inform cardholders of the exchange rate including any applicable commissions or fees being charged. Only agree to this do this if you think you are getting a good deal.
Question: What's the policy on tipping?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] Tipping is prohibited at the airport and not expected in major hotels and restaurants where a 10% service charge is usually included in the bill. Taxi drivers will also scrupulously give you your exact change. Thank you tips for good service are entirely discretionary.
Question: How much should I budget per day?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] Singapore can cater to all budgets, but is certainly not as cheap as other countries in Southeast Asia. It's possible scrape by on $50-60 a day sleeping in a hostel dorm, eating meals at hawker centres and visiting museums during free times. Mid-range travellers will be looking at spending $150-400 a day depending on how fancy a hotel or restaurant meals they want and how much shopping they're interested in doing. At the top end, staying in luxury hotels and sipping fine imported wines at gourmet restaurants, it's easy to run through $1000 a day without trying.
Question: Do I need to let my bank know that I'm traveling before I depart? And who at the bank should I tell?
Answer: [Visa expert] Yes, it is good practice to let your bank know you will be travelling so they don't decline any of your legitimate transactions. Call your bank's credit card customer service centre - the number is usually on the back of your card.
Question: Can I use my Visa credit, debit or prepaid card in Singapore?
Answer: [Visa expert] Yes. Singapore is well and truly a card-carrying society. Visa and other globally recognised cards are widely accepted, for everything from hostel beds and restaurant meals to adventure tours, and a credit card is pretty much essential (in lieu of a large deposit) if you want to hire a car. They can also be used to get cash advances over the counter at banks and from many ATMs, depending on the card, but be aware that these incur immediate interest.
Question: What's the best way to get around?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] The Singapore Mass Rapid Transit (SMRT; www.smrt.com.sg) system is easy, fast, efficient and comfortable. It runs from 5.30am to midnight with single trip tickets costing from 90 cents to $2.70, less if you use a rechargeable EZ-Link card ($15, including $10 worth of travel and a $5.
Question: It seems like locals speak English but there are some expressions that I don't quite understand...
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] Aha, that will be Singlish you're hearing! Singlish is the local patois which mixes up ungrammatical English with borrowed words from Hokkien and Malay, such as shiok (delicious) and kiasu (pushy, selfish). Lah at the end of sentences is added as a kind of emphasis, and 'can' is either a question (can? = Is that ok?) or an affirmation (can! = Yes, that's fine!).
Question: What exchange rate will I receive when using my Visa card abroad?
Answer: [Visa expert] Exchange rates on Visa cards are competitive and may be better than rates available from other sources. You can research Visa's current exchange rate for your destination using the Visa exchange rate calculator. This will allow you to compare it to the exchange rates offered by foreign exchange bureaus. Do remember that there is always a charge for changing currency, no matter where you do it – at a bank, hotel, bureau, online or by buying travellers' cheques. Visa cards are no exception.
Question: What is the best way to access cash when I am abroad?
Answer: [Visa expert] With your Visa card you can access local currency from 1.8 million ATMs worldwide - just look for the Visa or PLUS sign. All ATM transactions require a PIN so make sure you know yours prior to leaving on your trip. Your PIN should be 4 digits as many international ATMs do not accept longer PINs. It's a good idea to contact your issuing bank before you leave and ask if your cards have daily cash withdrawal restrictions.
Question: Will I be charged a fee for using my Visa card while overseas?
Answer: [Visa expert] Fees are dependent on your issuing bank and whether they will just charge you the foreign exchange conversion rate or include an additional service charge. Some banks charge an ATM access fee as well. For more details, contact your issuing bank.
In one of the most dramatic Hindu festivals devotees march in a procession carrying kavadis (heavy metal frames decorated with peacock feathers, fruit and flowers) hung from their bodies with metal hooks and spikes that are driven into the flesh, pierce their cheeks and tongues with metal skewers (vel), or walk on sandals of nails.
Dragon dances and pedestrian parades mark the start of the New Year. Families hold open house, unmarried relatives receive ang pow (gifts of money in red packets) and businesses clear their debts. Chinatown is lit up and the 'Singapore River Hongbao Special' features pasar malam (night market) stalls, variety shows and fireworks.
Annual 10-day feast of world music, jazz and indie laid on by the Esplanade theatre, featuring acts local and international, renowned and obscure. The schedule is peppered with free concerts held in the Esplanade's smaller venues. http://www.mosaicmusicfestival.com/
On All Souls' Day, Chinese traditionally visit the tombs of their ancestors to clean and repair them and make offerings. Singapore's largest temple complex, Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery, is the place to be on consecutive weekends throughout the month, when relatives descend on columbaria en masse.
First full moon in May
Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death are celebrated by various events, including the release of caged birds to symbolise the setting free of captive souls. Temples such as Sakaya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple in Little India throng with worshippers, but the centre of the activity is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple on South Bridge Rd.
End of May - beginning of July
Orchard Rd and the big malls are decked with banners, and retailers around the island cut prices (and wheel out the stuff they couldn't sell earlier in the year). http://www.greatsingaporesale.com.sg/
A month-long celebration of all things edible and Singaporean. Well-known restaurants lay on events, cooking classes, food-themed tours for visitors and plenty of opportunities to sample classic Malay, Chinese and Indian dishes - though if there are discounts or freebies on offer expect to be trampled in the stampede. http://www.singaporefoodfestival.com/
This huge nationalist frenzy takes the whole year to prepare and sees military parades, extravagant civilian processions, air force fly-bys, frenzied flag-waving and a concluding fireworks display. Look out for the slightly unsettling rows of white-clad People's Action Party members surveying the proceedings. http://www.ndp.org.sg/
In the Tamil month of Purattasi, the Hindu festival of 'Nine Nights' is dedicated to the wives of Siva, Vishnu and Brahma. Young girls are dressed as the goddess Kali; this is a good opportunity to see traditional Indian dancing and singing. The Chettiar Hindu Temple, Sri Mariamman Temple and Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple are the main areas of activity.
Also known as Hari Raya Aidilfitri, this festival celebrates the end of the Ramadan fasting month (it can also occur in October). Kampong Glam (the Arab Quarter) and Geylang Serai are the hubs of Hari Raya Puasa celebrations, with cultural events, lighting displays and special Hari Raya food.
Rama's victory over the demon king Ravana is celebrated during the 'Festival of Lights', with tiny oil lamps outside Hindu homes and lights all over Hindu temples. Little India is ablaze with lights for a month, culminating in a huge street party on the eve of the holiday.
Late October/early November
At this fire-walking ceremony, Hindu devotees prove their faith by walking across glowing coals at the Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore's oldest Hindu temple. Supposedly they feel no pain, although spectators report that quite a few hot-foot it for the final few steps!
Singapore has enthusiastically embraced everything we all love about Christmas: rampant commercialism, vacuous sentiment and gaudy municipal decoration. But no matter how cynical you are, the light display that stretches for a kilometre or more down Orchard Rd starting in late November is breathtaking.