Singapore is famous as the quintessential, almost perfect stopover destination for long haul flyers heading through south east Asia, but there are a ton of reasons why this tiny island state is much more than just a stopover and deserves far more of your time.
Everyone who has ever flown over south east Asia on their way anywhere knows that Singapore is the perfect stopover destination. Luxury city accommodations, one of the best public transport systems in the world making getting around a breeze and an almost endless choice of things to see and do make Singapore ideal to spend the night or a long weekend in.
Even Changi airport is so good that it is becoming a destination in its own right, with those on long layovers able to use the award winning food courts, cinemas, spas, pools and jacuzzis and so much more. Travellers can spend an entire weekend in the airport and never want to leave!
Quite simply, Singapore spoils the casual traveller rotten.
I love Singapore, that much should be obvious to anyone at this point, and I would urge anyone and everyone to visit this amazing country. Even if you don’t have the time for an extended visit or you can only afford a short layover, it is all fine and you should still come and experience Singapore. But as someone who has not only spent countless stopovers in Singapore but also extended periods as a serial expat, I’m here to tell you that despite all of the excess of traveller riches and delights, the casual traveller and stopover tourist is missing out on so much.
How long do you need in Singapore?
Quite simply as long as your budget will allow. You could easily spend months in this amazing city (and I have) and still not see and do everything! And whilst there are bargains to be had and it is great value compared to Europe or the UK, it is still an expensive country when compared to the rest of south east Asia, so obviously you will have to measure up how much time you can budget for it.
If your budget only allows you to spend a short layover or a few days in Singapore then that is fine you can still have a great time, but if you can slow down and extend that to a few weeks or even a month, then you won’t regret it.
For those who give the Lion city a bit more of their attention and take the time to explore underneath the admittedly spectacular veneer, then Singapore will reward them ten fold and show them the deep undercurrent of culture and a hidden identity.
Why spend so long in Singapore?
Let’s face it, Singapore is a very westernised country, and in many ways is so perfect and so advanced it is how we imagine the UK, the US and Australia should be. In about 100 years time. If they are lucky. The government is relatively strong and stable, the healthcare system is world class and the education system is second to none. Everyone jokes about the heavy criminal sanctions and the fines that are imposed for every little thing in Singapore but at the end of the day it is one of the safest countries in the world as a result and any visitor or traveller can go about their business in complete ease of mind. Everything in Singapore is clean and everything works. The public transport system works so well I remember an incident where a 10 second delay on the MRT made the evening news!
There would be riots in the streets in Singapore if they saw the state of the public transport system in the UK!
I know that many people think of Singapore as sterile and boring as a result of all this, but think about it for a minute. You can visit – or live in – a city that is safe, clean, modern and your every need is catered to, taken care of instantly and without fuss! What is there to complain about? This is bloody paradise!
Despite that very westernised veneer, Singapore still very much exudes an exotic Asian feel and a very distinct cultural ambiance that all at once welcomes every culture and religion into one great melting pot, but at the same time claims them as her own in a very unique Singaporean way.
With four official languages to her name, not to mention the unofficial ‘Singlish’, Singapore is the one place on earth where I have seen multiculturalism work in such a seamless way. The PEW research center has even named Singapore as one of the worlds most religiously and culturally diverse places. You can celebrate the Chinese New Year with fireworks and lion dancers in Chinatown one month, and be dazzled by the lights of Diwali in Little India the next. Christmas explodes all over Orchard Road in December and fasting is respected in Geylang Serai during Ramadan. Every race, colour, creed and religion is not only welcome but celebrated, and yet despite this, or perhaps because of it, everything is still unashamedly Singaporean.
And it is this undercurrent of culture that many visitors fail to see on a short stopover. Sure you can get a quick glimpse of it, but take a bit of time and stay in different parts of Singapore, see the subtle but unique flavours that each region adds to the pot, see the unique ways each culture has adapted to, and added to, life in the Lion city.
This is just one of the many reasons why I love Singapore.
But of course every traveller still wants to explore the sights and attractions that make a destination special, and Singapore has these in abundance. Apart from the fact that the mixture of ultra modern chrome and glass blending seamlessly with English colonial and Chinese heritage architecture, as well as temples from numerous religions, makes Singapore a visually and aesthetic treat, there is so much to do in Singapore that it really is impossible to see and do even a fraction of it in just a short layover.
The very same attractions and sites that bring stopover tourists in droves to Singapore’s shores are still there to be enjoyed by any long term traveller, with the added benefit of not having to rush around to see just a glimpse of them!
The major tourist attractions like Universal Studios on Sentosa are as good as – and cheaper than – their more famous counterparts in Orlando and you can easily spend a week or two exploring this tiny offshoot of Singapore on its own as an alternative to a break in Florida. The zoos are world class and are world leaders in responsible zoo management, but because they are so big and there are so many of them (there are currently four major parks that are all relatively interconnected, Singapore Zoo itself, the night safari, the river safari, Jurong bird park which is being renovated and relocated and the new rainforest park which will connect them all in one huge ecotourism hub), they alone take at least the better part of a week to explore. And that is only scratching the surface of what Singapore has to offer.
All of the major tourist spots and sites of Singapore can be seen in a whole new light when they are explored more thoroughly. Try sitting down with a cup of coffee at the Merlion park and spending a few hours people watching instead of just jostling for a selfie with the iconic statue, or spend an evening strolling on the Esplanade and soaking in the free concerts and cultural exhibitions.
The food in Singapore is famous for a reason and it is worth spending longer here for this alone. It is not for nothing that the city is renowned as the premier foodie destination in the world. Casual tourists will of course not be disappointed by the wealth of restaurants and food courts that are easily accessible through every transit spot and shopping mall, but the traveller that delves deeper can discover the truly local delicacies, the hidden foodie spots that only the locals know about. Even Singapore’s shopping, as famous as Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Fifth Avenue in New York or the Ginza in Tokyo, is an indulgent experience in and of itself and is best experienced on a slow burn.
And for those who tire of an ultra clean and modern city, Singapore doesn’t disappoint. Like a well tendered and carefully manicured flower bed, the gleaming glass and chrome topography that Singapore is famous for is surrounded and enhanced by an explosion of natural colour, and is often nicknamed a city in a garden because of its sheer range of open spaces, greenery and biodiversity.
Spending time outdoors is a natural thing to do in the tropical climate of Singapore, and one of my favourite ways to spend a lazy Sunday in Singapore was to go for an early morning run or practice some Tai Chi in the Chinese and Japanese gardens. There is just something about being able to get away from the city and filling your lungs with clean, natural air, even if it is just a couple of stops away on the MRT! And if I wanted something a little more energetic I could just as easily take a hike in Singapore’s tamed jungle interior via the picturesque MacRitchie Reservoir.
I love the fact that for an ultra modern country, Singapore is so green. Even a lot of the roads are lined with tree filled boulevards, and for such a relatively tiny country, Singapore has an absolute abundance of green spaces, with over 300 parks and 4 core protected nature reserves including Bukit Timah Nature reserve and Sungei Buloh wetland reserve, and that isn’t even including the UNESCO listed Singapore Botanical Gardens, or the stunning Gardens By The Bay, built on reclaimed land.
This is why I love Singapore. It is a city, a country, that is so much more than the sum of its parts. It is a country where the small differences are celebrated and the whole is a welcoming haven, a paradise. It is a country where anyone can experience a taste of what it has to offer, but a gourmand can truly take their time and fall in love with one of the best destinations in the world.
Of course Singapore’s location does make it the perfect travel hub for hopping around south east Asia, and it is a perfect stopover or weekend break destination, but with such a perfect country to explore why would you want to leave so soon?
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