Singapore: Traversing the Gateway to Asia

Written by Sara Hodgkinson
(A Highly Commended entry in the Heritage Writing Competition.)

Singapore: New Year light show at Marine Bay Sands Hotel
New Year light show at Marine Bay Sands Hotel

There are a number of travel ‘hubs’ dotted around the globe – cities with huge airports and stellar regional transport links that act as gateways to other parts of the world. If you have ever visited Southeast Asia, it’s likely you’ll have passed through the island nation of Singapore. As travel hubs go, Singapore is one of the busiest. It is a place many people spend a night en route to somewhere else, yet this bustling city state is so much more than a stopover destination.

Situated at the southern tip of Malaysia, Singapore is a microcosm of Asia itself. With four national languages and a population consisting of migrants from every corner of the continent, the term ‘cosmopolitan’ has never been more relevant. Singapore’s eclectic cultural heritage is visible in everything from the cuisine to the architecture to the city’s major tourist attractions, making it somewhere with something to suit virtually everyone. So why do so many treat it as a place to merely transit?

Sultan Mosque
The Sultan Mosque

One reason could be the notion that Singapore is simply a city – i.e. generic, business-oriented, and lacking the interesting eccentricities of other Southeast Asian capitals. While Singapore does indeed boast a thriving financial centre, this is merely one facet of its arsenal.

Singapore has a plethora of historical sites, interesting museums, diverse neighbourhoods and landscaped green spaces, making it a place packed with exciting nooks and crannies for people of all ages to explore.

The best way to get around is by public transport – purchase and load money onto an EZ-link card and you can zip around the island on air-conditioned buses or the Tube-like Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system. With such efficient and affordable transport, you can get to pretty much anywhere in Singapore with minimal fuss, and there really is a lot to do and see.

Bussorah Street in Kampong Glan
Bussorah Street in Kampong Glan

To experience Malay culture, head to Kampong Glam. The area was originally allocated to Arab, Malay and Bugis communities back in the nineteenth century, and the heritage of these cultures remains visible today in the various mosques, carpet shops, perfumeries and kopitiams (coffee houses). Visit the Malay Heritage Centre for an insight into the history of those who originally settled here, and be sure to check out arty Haji Lane to pick up a souvenir from one of the quirky independent boutiques.

For a dose of South Asia, check out Little India. Where the majority of Singapore is ultra clean and ordered, Little India could have you thinking you’ve wandered into the colourful chaos of New Delhi.

Originally populated by Europeans, this area now buzzes with all the sensory delights of Indian culture, and the street food here is second to none. Meander along Serangoon Road to take in impressive Hindu temples, and attempt to find your bearings in the Mustafa Centre – a 24-hour shopping mall selling virtually anything you could ever think of.

Little India
Little India

One of the most iconic images of Singapore has got to be the imposing structure of Marina Bay Sands. Housing a five-star hotel, designer shopping centre, and an array of bars and restaurants, this building dominates the Singapore skyline and attracts a huge number of visitors eager to take in the spectacular view from the top. Next door is one of the newest additions to Singapore’s tourist trail, Gardens by the Bay – a truly awe-inspiring nature park intended to enhance the city’s greenery and improve overall quality of life for Singaporeans.

There is perhaps a lingering perception that Singapore is an expensive place to visit. Yet a break away in Singapore doesn’t have to break the bank. Quality accommodation is more affordable than ever and if you’re concerned that eating out might be pricey, think again – opt to dine like a local at one of the city’s many hawker centres and not only you will eat like royalty for a pittance but you’ll mix with the locals which is a valuable experience in itself.

Singapore: Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay

There are numerous attractions that you can access for free in Singapore, such as the beautiful Botanic Gardens and the utterly bizarre Haw Par Villa (something to be seen to be believed). And if relaxation is what you’re after then there are several places to simply lie back and catch those rays, such as the man-made island resort of Sentosa.

Ultimately you won’t be short of something to do in this fascinating and diverse city. Singapore might well be the Gateway to Asia – but it is also so much more.

POSTED 9th MAY 2019 by STEVE HANSON on behalf of SARA HODGKINSON. Photographs 1 to 4 were supplied by the author after the competition had been judged.

See also:
Short Break in the Lion City
Round the World in 40 Days: Stage 2 – Singapore and the Gardens by the Bay