The Little Red Dot, the Lion City, Disneyland with the Death Penalty… whatever you want to call it, there is only one Singapore. A young nation, in less than 50 years Singapore has transformed itself from a rustic fishing village into an Asian metropolis. Its Napoleonic ambitions have seen the city-state turn out one of the world’s top airlines and a bustling port, as well as hosting the world’s first Formula One night race; all the while keeping the city clean, green and ultimately very safe.
Here, people leave their iPhone on a chair to reserve a seat in a café – only in Singapore. Likewise only here will you find the following: a commercial ban on chewing gum, a zero-tolerance drug policy, zoned but perfectly legal prostitution, and a law that outlaws homosexuality, even though a drag queen is one of the national icons.
The paradoxes continue. In the streets, rag-and-bone men ply their trade as designer-clad yuppies rush by clutching their Starbucks takeaway. Glass-and-steel skyscrapers sit alongside charming 19th-century shops and houses, and on the trains of the MRT (Singapore’s metro system) at rush hour it is not unusual to see an old dhoti-clad man standing shoulder to chin with a blonde Swedish exchange student.
Criticised for its lack of soul, Singapore’s urban landscape is slowly evolving. The nightlife scene is expanding, getting bigger, brighter and louder – clubs now open till 6am and burlesque shows are on the rise. Local creative talent is celebrated, when once it would have been ignored. The advent of two ‘Integrated Resorts’ (aka casinos) will undoubtedly boost tourist numbers, and the ethnic quarters – Little India, Chinatown, Arab Street – are increasingly becoming the places to live, eat and breathe.
The true spirit of Singapore lies in the hawker centres. While many locals are not as sophisticated as those of London, New York or Paris, their palate for good food is certainly refined. Eating is the national pastime and the great social equaliser. Wealthy Chinese businessmen sit beside minimum-wage construction workers, each tucking eagerly into bowls of noodles, making small talk about what they’ll have for supper, even if it is only 7am. Singapore may be full of quirks and idiosyncrasies, but it is proving itself to be a city of the third millennium.
Singapore Airlines flies from Dubai daily. Prices start from about Dhs1,455 (including tax)
Where to stay
New Majestic Hotel (+65 6511 4700; www.newmajestichotel.com)
4,000,000 (core city 3,894,000)
Where is it?
In south-east Asia, at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula.
Equatorial. Singapore is located one degree (85 miles) north of the equator and has a tropical rainforest climate that is hot and humid.
76 per cent Chinese, 15 per cent Malay, 6 per cent Indian.
Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, Sentosa, Singapore Flyer, Asian Civilisations Museum, Peranakan Museum, National Museum.
Manchester United café, Little India, Chinatown, Arab Street.
Where’s the buzz?
Shopping on Orchard Road, lunching on pan-fried radish cakes at the Maxwell Food Centre, nightlife on Robertson Quay.
Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Taoism, Hinduism.
Key religious buildings
Thian Hock Keng Temple, Sultan Mosque, Sri Mariamman Temple.
Bukit Timah Hill (163.63m).
Number of eateries
More than 4,000.
Chicken rice, fish-head curry, char kway teow (wok-fried flat noodles with dark soy sauce, cockles, beansprouts and possibly Chinese sausage), chilli crab, rojak (raw fruit and vegetables in an addictive sweet spicy sauce), roti prata (unleavened bread with curry sauce).
First Singapore Sling
1915, served in the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel.
Fine for first littering offence
Number of buildings with more than 25 storeys
Percentage of Singaporeans living in public housing flats
Almost 90 per cent of the population.
In Singlish, ‘keep your clothes’ means ‘put your clothes away’.
Arts & culture
Food & drink
Quality of life