Singapore is one of the most popular destinations in Asia. Situated on an old east-west trade route, the island-city has become a bustling urbanized entrepôt. Surprisingly this resource-poor tiny city-state is the most economically developed country in Southeast Asia. While it imports half its water, most of its food, and all its energy from outside, still it is affluent and residents enjoys a high quality of life.
Singapore has a tropical climate and is hot all year round. But not to worry, there is air conditioning everywhere, plus an array of gardens and theme parks to keep your family chill and entertained. Casinos and Formula 1 Grand Prix are also major attractions.
Tourism is highly encouraged by a proactive government. Capitalising on its unique heritage and habitat, a number of specialty niches have been developed. These include educational tourism and medical tourism. The location of Singapore also make it a popular node for cruise tourism. Investment in newer technology (mobile apps) and manpower are two crucial steps to ensure Singapore remains a major destination amidst rising competition.
Singapore is one of the world’s cleanest city. Strict policy has transformed it into an attractive place to live as well as visit. Nonetheless, this has not always been so. In the 1960s, it was considered one of the filthiest and disease-prone cities in Asia. Things have changed a lot, and those visiting should respect the law, including no chewing gum, vandalism, spitting, littering and flushing the toilet after use.
Because it is family-friendly
Singapore is a destination for the entire family. Considered one of the most family-friendly destinations in Asia. Everything is clean and there are many places of interest, such as Night Safari, Science Centre and Botanic Gardens, as well as well-visited theme parks: Universal Studios and Wild Wild Wet, a water-park.
Because it is a melting pot of cultures
Singapore is a cosmopolitan society. Its original inhabitants were Malay fishers, today the population is a medley of Chinese, Indian and Malay and Western influences, a diversity that is seldom found in Asia. Such influences are evident in its cuisine, architecture and religion. High religious tolerance is seen in the city. A Sikh temple has been built besides an Islamic mosque and a Chinese temple and a church, all in one street. This ethnic diversity and multi-cultural environment makes Singapore one of the most interesting places in Asia.
Because locals speak English
Language has been one of the country’s greatest advantages over most of the Asia. English is spoken by almost everybody. But Singaporean English is by no means ordinary. It is rather snappy and colloquial. “Singlish” fuses various dialects and is perhaps the most idiosyncratic element of the city-state—and an irreplaceable part of its identity. Tourists may find a dosage of the local vernacular useful when bargaining: "So expensive! Cheaper can? I no money lah."
Because it is a safe
Singapore is a crowded yet safe city. Stringent penalties on traditional crimes, like theft, has yield an all-time low crime-rate. Murder rates are 2nd lowest in the world. The quality of infrastructure means there is less risk of structural failure or building collapse, plus the area is not prone to any major disasters (earthquakes, typhoons and tsunamis). Quality medical staff and hospitals means healthcare is second to none. Furthermore the city-state is rapidly improving its technology to combat cybercrime and raising its profile as a “smart city”.
Because it is an efficient city
Innovation and limited national resources have resulted in an efficient city with the finest infrastructure. The transportation network is functional, people move around quickly, easily, and comfortably. Crowding is minimal. Tourists will notice this once they get off the plane, but no other industry benefits more from efficiently than healthcare, making Singapore’s medical tourism a major world player.
In our not too distant memory, the infirmed travelled to developed regions for medical advice or treatment, benefiting from the latest technology and expertise of a more affluent area. Today, increasingly more people are travelling from high-income countries to access services from cheaper countries, a phenomena known as “medical tourism”.
Differing to its predecessors—spa or onsen therapy—today the challenge is to convince tourists that it is safe and that treatments are comparable – if not better – than standards at home. Privatisation of healthcare and insurance policies, plus long waiting time, and/or unavailability of some procedures has encouraged patients to look elsewhere. The advancement in transport links, information technology and communication off-shore have meant that outsourcing medical services has become commonplace. Besides treatment, medical tourists usually find time for tourist activities as well. The result is a combination of medical care (often minor or non-urgent treatments) with recovery time, visiting attractions, sightseeing, shopping and/or enjoying one's favourite foods overseas.
First world service, at third world cost
Singapore is a medical tourism success story. A country with low infant mortality and high life expectancy, has become the leader of Asia’s medical tourism industry. While considerably more affordable than its western counterparts, still it remains more expensive than the rest of Asia, where there is increasing number of choices and competition. Nonetheless, Singapore is considered a good option if you are looking less expensive surgery in a developed country.
Singapore has been highly regarded for its provision of sophisticated medical procedures; its clean environment, world class technology, well-developed infrastructure and supporting environment make it especially attractive for more intricate procedures. It competes over quality rather than price, handling lots of “superior” specialist cases like heart transplants. But its complete range is far more comprehensive—covering procedures from the standard (hip replacements) to the “health tourism offer” such as medical spas, including from cardiology and cardiac surgery, gastroenterology, general surgery, hepatology, neurology, oncology, ophthalmology, orthopaedics and stem cell therapy. Besides medical procedures and treatment, dentistry is also alluring patients from Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand. There are also patients coming for medical advice, especially a second opinions on diagnoses made by doctors at home.
Hospital in Singapore pride themselves on their quality, reliability as well as professionalism (overseas training) of its staff. Some of the more visited hospitals include, Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre offer the largest number of specialists under one roof, the Raffles Hospital Group caters to an international clientele of 11 languages, while Gleneagles Hospital is considered one of the best cancer treatment hospitals.
After the IT recession, medical tourism has become a ray of hope for Singapore. Today, it holds a quarter of all JCI-accredited facilities in Asia with a major patient pool from new markets, such as China and India.
A Final Cut: The future of Singapore's medical tourism
Medical tourism had saw a migration of doctors, initially skilled doctors (e.g. from Malaysia) arrived in Singapore for better job prospects. Yet there’s fear that they will return home once job opportunities arise, and effectively drain away skills and Singapore’s patient-base. Moreover, as the most expensive economy in South East Asia up against competition across Asia (Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and India), staying ahead remains a major challenge. Some larger hospitals are even considering reinvesting in Indonesia to take up an early entrant advantage in this niche sector.
Singapore’s most distinguishing feature is its multi-racial population. For the tourist, be it of Asian heritage or western background, the main cultural offerings are its ethnic neighborhoods--a manifestation of Singapore's diversity. Chinatown, Little India, Kampong Glam all offer a rich reservoir of culture that makes the tourist appreciate the city's cultural diversity. In any case, heritage is a valuable asset or a social glue that contributes to society’s health and well-being; and even more so in its hybrid form: "Peranakan" resulting from the melting pot of Malay and Chinese traditions. And unlike colonial architecture that feels void once the colonial administration has moved on, ethnic enclaves remain as "living heritage". Multi-ethnic enclaves offer the potential to experience cross-cultural encounters and consume ethnic heritage.
Surrounded by temples and shop houses that nurtured traditional trades, Chinatown encapsulates the pioneering spirit. It stands as a testimony of early prosperity and a symbol of the ole’ center of trade. Today it survives as a reminder of the humble beginnings and ethnic segregation from the nation’s earliest days. Museums and temples
To understand the lives of families who lived in early Chinatown--their hard work, hopes and struggles that made Singapore flourish, visit the small 3-floored Chinatown Heritage Center. Visitors see first-handed the cramp living quarters as they listen to an audio guide received upon paying the admission fee.
Besides museums, there are an array of “living heritage” in the neighbourhood. These include temples dedicated to common deities, built initially to express gratitude for a safe passage aboard, and for later worshiped for personal and familial well-being. One of the most interesting buildings is Thian Hock Keng--it is not only a living wonder but an architectural masterpiece. Built by Hokkein sailors, it is dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea Mazu, to whom the seafarers and migrants prayed for safe passage. The temple was no doubt “first base” for many upon safely touching base in a foreign land. Visitors are encouraged to donate upon entry.
When strolling through Chinatown, Sri Mariamman is a nice detour. Spend 10 min taking photos of this colourfully decorated Indian temple. Note: Footwear should be removed before entry. During the day, it can be scorching hot to walk bare feet! A ticket of S$3 is expected for photographers; more is expected from video-takers. Donations are welcomed by all visitors.
Built by Chinese immigrants from Teo'chew, Wak Hai Cheng Bio (“the Temple of Calm Sea”) is one of the oldest Taoist relics. Its predecessor was a simple thatched shrine where sailors went to express their gratitude for smooth sailing. Visitors should not expect a huge edifice but you will be impressed with the ornate details. As one gawks at the sculptural reliefs, the giant incense coils hanging overhead in an empty forecourt will fill the air with fragrant smoke and make your eyes watery.
Dwarfed today by skyscrapers, the Seng Wong Beo is a landmark known only to older people. A temple of solace and well being that emerged when migrants dearly missed their families in China. It has also been a site where mothers of deceased un-married children performing “ghost marriages” to ensure companionship in the afterlife.
Apart from the buildings that survived and continue to serve its original function, some have transformed their use. Singapore's oldest temple, Fuk Tak Chi, is like many other temples--where many immigrants gave thanks for their safe journey to Singapore. It has since become an elegant street museum. Likewise, back in the days, Chor Eng Institute, was one of the oldest schools. Here the voices of children chanting ancient classics can be heard, but not anymore, as it has become a themed restaurant. Last but not least, a main reason why people come and return to Chinatown is the food. Click on food tourism for details.
This historic pocket transports you to another place, another time. A shop owner shared, “All shops have an Indian flavor. There are too many Chinese shops around, they [the Chinese] can work elsewhere, here, shops are owned by Indians…” Unlike any other part of Singapore, the neighbourhood is a center for Indian merchants and shoppers and also a meeting place for migrant workers. An overwhelming majority hail from South India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Men come as migrant workers to support their families back at home. Working long hours, life is centred around Little Indian, where it's easy to remit money and buy familiar groceries or Bollywood videos that are not available elsewhere.
Tourists heading to this quarter will soon find everything you ever need and more—from pharmacies to grocery stores, cheap fabric, bric-a-brac and everyday items. The best way to explore the area is by foot.
Temple and museums
Apart from shopping, one can appreciate the cultural diversity by visiting places of interest including Hindu temples, Indian mosque and museums.
The most colourful of all is the Hindu temple. The Sri Veeramakaliammam is a stunningly decorated with too many different deities to name. The gentlemen at the door will remind you, “put your camera away and have some holy food”. Visitors can observe local worship after removing footwear at the door. If you are looking for an old but well-maintained Hindu temple, visit Sri Srivivasa Perumal—a site where you can see weddings and prayers being regularly conducted.
To appreciate a mix of Islamic and European architecture, the Abdul Gafoor Mosque (Dunlop St) is the place to go. The gate are widely open, with a signboard stated "All visitors are welcome.” At this elaborate mosque you will appreciate elegant Arabic calligraphy. As culturally sensitive visitors respect local traditions and etiquette: shoes must be removed and ladies are refrained from wearing skirts. Information is available for non-Muslims to understand the traditions and history of Tamil Muslim immigrants in Singapore.
Indians first set foot in Singapore when they begun trade through the East India Company. If you are interested to learn more about Indian culture and their presence in Singapore, a museum visit is worth your while. The Indian Heritage Centre showcases the origin and heritage of Singapore Indians. A free tour of 1.5 hours runs regularly. And if you are worrying about bringing children along, don't, because there's plenty to keep them amused.
Last but not least, to experience local life, order tandoori at the most famous hawkers in Tekka Centre. The proper way to eat is using fingers—right hand please! (Reserve your left one for wiping your rear end. Seriously this is how it is done!).
Kampong Glam Like Chinatown and Little India, Kampong Glam is another interesting pocket. Despite losing many old buildings to the wrecking ball, Kampong Glam survives to be more than just the Arab Quarter. Located in north east of modern Singapore, the old Malay Quarters, sometimes refer to as Arab St, retains much of its old world charm and its kampong-like surroundings, street art and ambiance attracts locals and foreigners alike.
Shopping, eating and temple hopping are the three most common activities. For shoppers or those who wish to browse and wander around, the place is renowned for handicrafts, colored fabrics and textiles, perfumes and textiles like silks and lace. Persian rugs and multi-colored glass lamps are also local specialties. Late afternoon/early evening is the best time to visit, and take your time exploring the quaint vintage shops and mosque before finishing with a traditional Arabic meal. The precinct is easily accessible by foot and restaurants of all sorts are abundantly available, serving delightfully and exotic Turkish, Arabic, and Indian Muslim cuisines.
Featuring a resplendent golden dome, Singapore's largest and most enchanting mosque is the Sultan. Originally built in 1825, Muslims from all walks of life, who work or live nearby have the advantage of being able to perform their religious obligations here, daily. The surrounding areas fosters a vibrant, local and cosmopolitan vibe.
Opened in 1963, the Jama-ath mosque is a lovely piece of architecture and one of the must-see mosques in town. It is known for its eye-catching blue tiles. Indians, mostly textile and jewelry workers formed the Malabar Muslim Jama'ath in Singapore, an association to look after their community. Construction was stalled, however, due to low funds, but it enduring legacy remains as the only building to be fully managed by Malabar Muslims.
Hajjah Fatimah is an eclectic mosque. The most distinguishing feature is the “leaning tower of Pisa”—a minaret that slants at 6° as its foundations were built on sand. The building has been redecorated in green and blue tiles. It is a rare example of a wealthy Malay Muslim widow's contribution to society. In the mid-19th century, she successfully managed her husband’s business after his death.
Also worth checking is the Malay Heritage Centre. Located at the end of Sultan Gate, it was once the palace of the Sultan, but since has been converted into a museum, showcasing a depository of rich customs and traditions, memories and history of the Malay-Singaporeans through multimedia and live performances. The museum is air-conditioned and worth at least an hour of your time. Free tours are available from 11am, Tues to Fri, otherwise download the audio guide, which will help you make sense of the rich history, from early trade migration to how ethnic groups have developed and contributed to modern-day Singapore.
Peranakan heritage is probably the country’s best example of its multi-racial melting pot. The notion of Peranakan is none other than a marriage of Chinese and Malay cultures. Children of such unions retrained a hybrid identity, practicing Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism, but adapted Malay way of life, as evident in their dress, foods and leisure pursuits. Language was also a mixture of the two. Chinese (Mandarin) schooling was the norm but so was speaking Malay at home. Their dwellings also reflected the unique lifestyle and fused the two cultures, drawing on influences from South China, particularly Fujian and western themes, resulting in a distinctly eclectic product. Such architecture can be found at Katong, near Joo Chiat Rd., where many middle class post-war Peranakans lived and worked—they continued to be occupied by the same families to this very day. The earliest buildings emerged as early as 1900s and the most iconic are the Koon Seng Rd shophouses.
When exploring Chinatown, take a detour and visit one of the best preserved heritage homes: The Baba House (157 Neil Rd, phone: 62275731), a pre-war terrace dwelling, painted in a vibrant bright blue. Visitors will enjoy the collection of beautifully carved furniture and families relics on display, as well as learn about the trading acumen and the great wealth accumulated by Peranakan families in Singapore. Visits are free and you will be accompanied by a volunteer guide. Booking is necessary. Call ahead to ensure your place.
Throughout history, gardens have always been symbols of a nation's greatness. In Singapore, the city has a long association with nature, and despite intense urbanisation and industrialisation, an urban beautification scheme was already in place by 1967. The intent was to make life more pleasant, based on the belief that nature as essential to human well-being.
Today, visitors and residents alike can enjoy the benefit of the abundant, lush greenery and biodiversity. Spending time alone or with family in nature’s embrace is something we can all do—and do more often. The best thing about Singapore is the variety of well-preserved habitats.
Since 1859, the tropical Botanic Gardens has grown to international renown. It became an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015---the only such site in Singapore. An 82-hectare ground provides a good escape for nature-lovers. Admission is free. The garden features national orchid garden, rainforest, ginger garden, botany centre and Tanglin gate and Jacob Ballas children's garden. Lots of species are labelled—trees, plants and especially orchids—and manicured to perfection. The site is also suitable for a family picnic. The nearest MRT station is ''Orchard' (the ''Tanglin Gate'' entrance is a 10 min walk away). Taking a taxi for about S$10 may be preferable to walking under the sun.
Another oasis of tranquility and natural wonder is Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. It is one of the few remaining areas in Singapore to get lost in a surprisingly dense forest. Established in 1883, the small reserve is one of the largest primary rainforest left (1.64 km2) and one of the most productive pieces of nature found at the centre of Singapore. You will trek among the original vegetation and undisturbed tropical forest dating back to the time of Raffles. The place is good for a short trek, with boardwalks over swampy areas, rope handrails. Visitors are advised to stay on the trail at all time. A downside is it is not easy to reach on public transport. Taxis are the way to go.
Labrador Nature Reserve is situated close to the sea and at the edge of secondary forest. Vegetation is wild and wildlife is thriving. Visitors can hear songs from a variety of bird species, and observe monkeys and squirrels scurrying up and down trees. Going solo is possible, but visitors should be warned that mosquitoes can be extremely hungry!
The decision to study abroad is one of the most expensive and significant decisions one will ever make. Singapore might not be the first destination that springs to mind, but in this ever-connected world, it is a good alternative to the west. Piggybacking on good ole’ British colonialism where English survives as the lingua franca, plus the economic growth of Asia – and all the opportunities it entails – means Singapore has become a major play in the educational tourism market.
Studying aboard today, much like the past, has much more to offer than merely academic credentials. Learning another language, understating of culture—and appreciating difference, as well as being in Asia—where all the action and development is located, will undoubtedly make a huge difference on one’s career.
In recent years, the high demand—and limited intake—means the country has been selective in choosing the best and brightest brains.
The “Boston of the East”
In Singapore, educational tourism is more than a business. As a resource poor country, education has become an incubator of inspiration and a doorway to ample opportunities for innovation, which is necessary to ensure its global competitiveness.
The city prides itself on both quality and relevance of knowledge. Most notably is its industry-partnership model of education, particularly in fields of engineering, information communication technology and applied science. It means education remains highly relevant to real-world applications and at the same time also contributes to society’s long-term prosperity. By incorporating "world's best practices", Singapore aspires to be the “Boston of the East”.
There are over 30 universities in Singapore, and among them, the top universities are also the leading educational providers in Asia. The best known are National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), followed by Singapore Management University. These global institutions, especially the first two, are consistently ranked among the top 100 in the world.
Benefits of overseas study
Perhaps not dissimilar to the days of the Grand Tour, the best education a person will find is in his/her travels. Leaving home allows for a transformative experience and personal (re-)discovery. Students who travel overseas accrued a myriad of benefits including personal growth, increase life skills, knowledge and interest in the world, better communication and problem-solving skills. All these culminate into connections and competitiveness in the job market.
The top three source countries to Singapore are China, India, and Indonesia.
Factors that students should consider when evaluating the suitability of a destination:
Safety and security
International background and cultural diversity
Quality of life and living expenses
Quota and visa requirements
Medium of instruction
Singapore is a safe place to live and study, but in comparison to the rest of Asia, the living cost is higher. English as medium of teaching keeps the education system globally competitive. On top of that, its innovative research output, and diverse, multi-lingual and multi-national student cohort make it an attractive node to make friends and learn about cultures from all walks of life.
Singapore is not your typical food destination. Here cuisine is diverse and multifaceted. Fusion dishes offer a compelling mix of local and international tastes to satisfy your desire. Low-cost and traditional hawker food are especially popular.
National dishes include:
Chili crab – crab in chili tomato sauce
Fish head curry – red snapper cooked in southern Indian curry paste
Hainanese Chicken Rice – sliced chicken cooked in chicken stock, with chili and ginger condiment
Katong Laksa – thick rice noodles in a coconut curry gravy with prawn and egg
Roti prata – Indian pancake eaten with curry or sugar
Peranakan or Nyonya cooking that combines Chinese, Malay flavours with South Indian and Eurasian influences is also notable in the region for its complexity, elaborate preparation and use of spices. Curry Laksa is among one of the best loved varieties and a must try Nyonya cuisine.
Singapore Airlines is the national flag carrier. It has a hub at Changi International Airport. Two subsidiaries airlines include SilkAir and Scoot. For more information on flights, check individual carriers’ websites below:
There are three budget airlines—Jetstar Asia Airways, Valuair, and Tiger Airways, which operate regionally covering Asia (Philippines, India, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia and China) and the Pacific (Australia). For more information on flights, check individual carriers’ websites below:
The local rail network is known as the MRT or Mass Rapid Transit. It is an integrated system with five lines and over 90 stations. Such extensive coverage means it is not only the backbone of the city, but also one of the quickest ways to get around. Trains run every few minutes from 5:30am until midnight. For more information, visit its website:
An alternative to the regular EZ-Link card is a special tourist pass. It offers unlimited travel for a day or few days. A card of unlimited travel for one, two or three days, costs S$10, S$16 and S$20 respectively.
With close to 30,000 vehicles on the road, it is not hard to find a taxi. They are serviced by 6 different operators.
Fares are charged according to the meter. Surcharge applies during peak hours. Flag falls at S$ 3-3.40. Tipping is not expected, but a courteous passenger may round up the fare. For more information, check the following website:
To flag a taxi: extend arm out and flick the wrist. Driver may not pick up if it is not in their interest (changing shift, or on their way elsewhere). Best way to ensure a ride is to line up at a rank. Otherwise call 6-DIAL CAB (6342-5222) or download the app GRAB onto your phone:
Scheduled ferries run daily from Marina South Pier to the Southern Islands, such as Kusu, St John, and Sisters' Island. These islets are popular among day-trippers, campers and canoeist. To reach the Marina, the easiest way is to take the MRT to Marina South Pier station. For the ferry schedule and prices, click on the link below: