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Your ultimate guide to experiencing the very best of Singapore

Singapore is a beautiful, clean, friendly and bizarre little country, with so much culture to discover; and yet most of us just touch down for a few hours in transit between planes. Why not change that?

Singapore: travel guide

I’ve been to Singapore about 53 times. And on one of those trips I actually left the airport.

Isn’t that true for most of us on our holidays or business trips?

In fact, I’ve actually stayed twice now. The first time was for around 36 hours about 20 years ago, when I managed to cram in Raffles, Sentosa Island and Orchard Road shops with a toddler in tow. I guess I felt I’d covered everything.

More recently, I stayed for 10 days in a residential area of the country and got to live like a normal Singaporean. Eating at the cheap hawker centre nearby, dealing with a steady, humid 32°C day and night, and leaving the front door unlocked at all times. Seeing a different side of the city/island/country/all-of-the-above, and falling in love with the place.

With a little planning, you too could add a new dimension to your business trip and disappear into a whole different world.

If you have deep pockets, stay the night at the Marina Bay Sands hotel. At US$8 billion, it’s the most expensively built resort in the world, but with 2,500 rooms you can stay for about A$500. The rooftop pool is like nothing you’ve seen, and so go for a selfie if you can’t afford a stay. Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s one that’s definitely worth a visit.

Balance this accommodation and save money on dining out by heading off the beaten track to one of the hawker centres: they’re like an indoor food market, with stands that can look cheap and nasty. They are cheap – A$5-a-dish-cheap – but the food is amazing. They span the city, but one in Chinatown has more than 260 stalls alone. Avoid the frog porridge if you’re not keen (although it’s surprisingly good), as there are plenty of Westernised Asian dishes.

I even had possibly the best steak of my life at an unassuming little corner market in Katong, a small suburb 20 minutes ride from Orchard Road.

Make sure you go to the beach too. It’s refreshing but eerie. If you go in the early morning to somewhere like East Coast beach, as the sun is coming up through Singapore’s haze, the horizon shines with neon. It’s actually a huge line of container ships that sit in the harbour – they become more visible as it gets light. The beach is littered with coconuts from the many palm trees, and it’s an unworldly mix of tropical and industrial.

At night head to Singapore Zoo and jump aboard the Safari Tram for a crazy ride through nature at a reasonable price. If you do it halfway home from a gruelling business trip, you’ll thank yourself for such a life-affirming and perspective-setting glimpse at the world. Gardens by the Bay is also a wonder of nature that will also seriously make you question your place in the world.

If you need a mainstream holiday break, then hit a beach club – they’re plentiful.

For something different, head to the The Live Turtle & Tortoise Museum. Or go to Bukit Brown Cemetery or visit the Umbrella Trees. Go to The cat Cafe. Head to one of the 63 offshore Islands. Get on Google and check out these and many other strange sights.

Or just go to Raffles for High Tea and Orchard Road for shopping. They’re really very good.

The point is, do something. Singapore is an amazing place and to only see a small portion of Changi is such a waste. Indulge yourself, indulge your senses, life is short – take a day to explore a whole new world. You’ll thank yourself.

11 things for travellers to know about Singapore

  1. You can’t buy chewing gum. It’s not illegal to chew it, but you’ll have to take your own with you. Don’t sell it to anyone though – that could be a A$100k fine or jail time. You can get Nicotine gum, if you visit a doctor.
  2. Close the curtains if you’re walking around naked – you can be hit with pornographic laws if you’re spotted. Be careful when jumping in the shower.
  3. Smoking in public can lead to big fines, although there are small designated smoking areas in the City Centre. Littering, spitting and feeding pigeons can also lead to big fines.
  4. People sometimes drink coffee from a bag, rather like the blood bags you see in hospitals. It looks so weird, but let’s face it, coffee is every bit as important as your blood supply sometimes.
  5. Talking of coffee, it’s pretty bad in Singapore generally (if you’re Australian). Starbucks is the safest bet, and they are everywhere.
  6. Singaporeans walk fast – it’s a real thing! Apparently, the average speed is greater than most world cities, at over 6km/h.
  7. Airbnb is risky – not strictly illegal, but there are definitely laws against short-term rentals. So book at your own peril.
  8. Changi Airport has a cinema – at both Terminals 2 and 3. If you can’t get enough movies on the plane then watch one before you take off.
  9. The garbage truck comes every day and many suburban streets have their own cleaner. Most people also leave their front doors unlocked, as crime is minimal.
  10. You can be fined around A$150 for not flushing a public toilet after using it.
  11. Uber is called Grab, and you need a different app for it. There is also Grab Eats and both are really cheap in comparison to the Uber versions.

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