When he visited the city in 1885, the zoologist William Hornaday likened Singapore to “a big desk, full of drawers and pigeon holes, where everything has its place and can always be found.” Amazingly, in spite of the turbulent history Southeast Asia has witnessed over the past century or so, the remark remains as pertinent today as it was when it was made.
The city on the diamond-shaped peninsula is indeed supremely well organized and spotlessly clean. Critics argue this orderliness has come at the cost of Singapore’s soul (most of downtown’s antique buildings have been bulldozed to make way for malls and offices) but the pay offs are plain for all to see.
Chief among them is an all pervasive prosperity that’s decidedly untypical for Asia. An ultra-modern skyline bristling with glass-sided towers bears witness to the record-breaking economic growth of the past four decades – though huddled beneath them, if you look hard enough, are characterful remnants of the colony’s 19th beginnings, including some sumptuous Chinese temples and clan halls. The shopping’s every bit as terrific as they say, too, whether you’re after a designer item of quirky souvenir from a local street stall.
Efficient and modern, but with a fascinating multi-ethnic make up and plenty of sights to keep you busy, Singapore is the obvious choice for extended layovers on longer tours, or for a quick side-trip if you’re exploring other countries in the region.
Area: 683 sq km
Population: 5 million
Languages: English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil.
Time: +8 hours (GMT)