Singapore: The Lion City

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Despite both its port and airport being among the busiest in the world, Singapore remains largely unexplored by travellers. With so much to see and do it’s a crying shame that it is rarely a destination in itself, many visitors on their way to Australia coming away with only a great impression of Changi airport. Having lived there for ten years until I was sixteen, this bustling, vibrant and completely unique place is like an old friend of mine. But for family holidays, business trips, honeymoons, city breaks and gap year travels, Singapore could be your new best mate.

Even though Singapore is famous for its cosmopolitan city, its history is a tangible part of the country. It was founded by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, who called it ‘Singapura’, or ‘Lion City’ after spotting a lion on shore from his ship. The country’s geographical location soon drew merchants from all over Asia and the Middle East and integration and intermarriage has created a cohesive cultural melting pot. History and modernity are melted together in a surprisingly charming way. Landmarks are a mix of old and new, a case in point being the beautiful quayside, where a row of old colonial shop houses sit backed by a forest of skyscrapers.

I can certainly understand why travellers often bypass the sights of Singapore. It can be very costly – a shock after budget trips through Thailand. There are stunning restaurants, classy casinos and mind-blowing clubs that can set you back a fortune. Many nice bars will charge up to £10 for a beer. However if you are travelling on a budget, there are some real gems where £10 will buy you a meal for four, such as the Hawker centres throughout the country that sell incredible local food for dirt cheap prices. One of my favourite spots in the city is the ornate white cast iron hawker centre of Lau Pa Sat, an open plan food market bustling with some of the most incredible smells of local cuisine, nestled in the CBD at the foot of its skyscrapers. Here you can find the national dish, chilli crab, for only a few dollars, or £1.50.

If you are looking for a good night out, Singapore is home to some world class clubbing. Like Zouk, a complex of three clubs and a wine bar, which has an international reputation that attracts dance acts such as Carl Cox, Paul Oakenfold, the Chemical Brothers and Primal Scream. Zouk even hosts its own dance festival on the beach at Sentosa, Sinagpore’s man-made pleasure island full of aquariums, theme parks and attractions.

If clubbing isn’t your thing, the night safari is always a crowd pleaser. This open plan zoo, where the animals are kept in by subtle trenches and trees, or just wander across the paths, is ideal for a great family evening out. Note: the giant bat enclosure is not for the faint of heart! And neither is Singapore’s shopping: the vast array of high end designers could bring on a stroke for any fashionista. Head to Orchard Road for a never ending choice or dip into the mix of Singapore’s many cultures in Little India, China Town, or the Thai Golden Mile.

For a romantic night out you could try a spa treatment and a dip in the infinity pool at the top of the Marina Bay Sands Resort, which looks out over the whole city.

Whether you’re looking for shopping, culture, nature, history, relaxation or mind-blowing nightlife, Singapore has it all, for any budget. It is somewhere, like New York or Paris, that you really need to see before you die; and if you do, say hi from me.

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