After a jam-packed week in Singapore, it’s time for a wrap-up post. This is my seventh post in my ‘Can I live here?’ experiment. (Check out my previous wrap-up posts here). After six collective weeks in China, Taiwan and Malaysia, let’s see how Singapore compared!
Despite being the penultimate country/city on my list, Singapore was actually the first in my Asia itinerary that I had previously visited. It’d been a long six years since my last Singapore visit – read about my ‘second first-impressions’ here.
To be honest, Singapore frequently has a dull reputation amongst many Asia lovers, obviously depending on whom you talk to. Singapore isn’t the biggest, the loudest, the cheapest or the most ‘foreign’ city you will find in Asia. Aside from cleanliness, there isn’t any one thing that Singapore seems to hold the Asian crown for but don’t let that put you off!
I feel like most visitors to Singapore sit one side of the fence or the other. My Australian hosts who lived in Kuala Lumpur couldn’t say enough good things about Singapore and loved flying over there for weekends. (‘Well they live in KL so of course they love Singapore!’ jokingly scorned my cousin when I told him this. He and his wife have lived in Hong Kong for 23 years and he’s not a fan of Singapore but likes Kuala Lumpur even less! Haha.)
Personally, I think it’s a great city! Sure, it’s certainly not my favourite, but I think you’re always sure of a good time in Singapore without bending over backwards to make things ‘work’ (*ahem* China).
Let’s see how Singapore fared in my ‘points and categories’ comparison. As I’ve said before, I’ve only employed a ‘rating out of 5’ system so I have an easy way to rank and compare each city – I’m not wanting to judge anyone else’s homeland harshly!
Similar to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore is a fabulous melting-pot of cultures and, as a result, has four official languages: Chinese, Tamil, Malay and English. Although around 75% of the population is ethnically Chinese, there is still a sizeable number of ethnic Malays and Indians, in addition to a small Eurasian population.
When I left the UK at the beginning of July 2016, it was still in the midst of some ugly post-Brexit-vote racial tension so when in Singapore I was touched to see a living example of a modern society that can blossom as a result of it’s wide ethnic diversity. Near the National Museum is a large plague engraved with hundreds of different faces (I assume designs submitted by citizens) with the following words written in each of the four national languages: “We, the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society based on justice and equality so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation.”
Whilst Singapore is largely a celebratory example of harmonious racial relations, they don’t take this for granted. On the 21st July every year since 1997, Singaporeans observe Racial Harmony Day, which I think is something many other countries could benefit from doing.
I found Singaporeans to be very friendly people who took joy in sharing their culture with me, from an ethnic-Indian man I met outside a Hindu temple to two ethnic-Malays I met in a Singapore tourist office who shared with me the different types of coffee drinks Singaporeans enjoy.
As I mentioned above, English is an official language in Singapore (along with Chinese, Hindi and Malay) so you’ll have absolutely no problem getting around or communicating. In fact, I found it to be an excellent opportunity to pick up some more Chinese! Since all public signs and notices are at least bilingual, it’s a perfect time to practice side-by-side with English. Famously, Singapore has colloquially developed it’s own version of English, endearingly named ‘Singlish‘!
Singapore is a total dream to get around. I stayed with a lovely young couple at their apartment in northern Singapore which meant I had to journey down south to the other side of the country every day to reach the city. But Singapore is so tiny and efficient that it takes no time at all! I took both the bus and the MRT everyday, both of which are cheap and highly-efficient. (Top tip: make sure you get a top-up card at one of the MRT stations so you can go cashless and ‘tap’ in and out of buses and metro trains).
Taxis are also a reliable and fairly reasonably priced way to get around. You can use several different local taxi apps to hail one as well. I used ‘Go Taxi’ several times without any problems.
Unlike Kuala Lumpur, Singapore is very pedestrian friendly and the train stations are not miles apart so it’s super easy to take the metro to the nearest stop to your destination and walk from there.
Things to do/nightlife 4/5
Some may tell you Singapore is bland and there’s not much to do but they’re wrong! There are theme parks, an impressive zoo, museums, beautiful green spaces, shopping havens and endless amounts of places to drink and eat at. I might do a post on specific things another time but my top recommendations would be Gardens by the Bay, Singapore Zoo, eating and shopping in both Little India and Chinatown. Oh, and don’t forget to get your hands on Singapore’s best satay in Lau Pa Sat!
Despite all these things to do, I will say that a lot of Singapore can feel very artificial or ‘for show’. Maybe this is just for the benefit of tourists hotspots, I’m not sure. I admit it felt a little more real up in the residential north of the country but even there I sort of felt like I was living in the Truman Show in some scarily perfect and controlled town! I often say Singapore is like a real life Disneyland: there’s lots of wholesome family fun to be had; the streets are colourful, inviting and meticulously clean; the locals are friendly; and everywhere feels safe.
But it’s like Singapore is too afraid to show any weaknesses or cracks, unlike Hong Kong which embraces it’s noisy streets, authentically unkempt back roads and delightfully boisterous Cantonese culture. As delightful as it is, I never know if I’ve seen the true Singapore or not.
Singapore has to be one of the cleanest countries you will ever visit. Even Singaporeans joke about their excessive laws by printing the funniest ones on tourist fridge magnets! Although chewing gum may be illegal here, I challenge you to find a country with more pristine pavements. There is also very little litter anywhere and the air quality is generally good for a city. (However, at times in the summer, bad haze can travel over from Indonesia where crops are slashed and burnt or wild fires begin).
The weather in Singapore is pretty typical of most South Asian countries. Unlike more northern shores such as Hong Kong or Taiwan, Singapore has consistently warm weather all year round and rarely gets colder than 25 degrees in the ‘winter’ Instead of varying temperatures, the yearly weather evolves around two rainy seasons. I’d take warm monsoon rain over a British winter any day!
Socially, I have never felt unsafe in Singapore, even when walking the streets alone at night. Crime is incredibly low and citizens very law abiding. This definitely plays a deciding factor in why many expats relocate to Singapore.
Wherever I may make my home in Asia, it’s got to have a beautiful city skyline somewhere. Whilst the main city in Singapore is not that big, it does boast some truly impressive architecture. It’s not as bright as Hong Kong’s skyline nor as long as Shanghai’s but it’s certainly unique and beautiful.
Having now been to Singapore twice, I can confirm I certainly like it. It’s a great place to enjoy yourself without worrying about red tape matters like transport efficiency or personal safety. I truly do like Singapore but I always feel it’s lacking something.
My Hong Kong-based cousin has a perfect hand gesticulation he does when he talks about Singapore! Singapore just lacks that *hand gesture* ‘je ne said quoi’. The first time he said that to me we were eating dinner at a Tapas restaurant down a vibrant side-street in central Hong Kong and were talking over the loud chatter of the restaurant and the beeping horns of cars outside which were trying to manoeuvre round a large smoke-puffing truck parked right outside the open restaurant door! It says it all really. Hong Kong is far from perfect but you will never be bored in Hong Kong. You will always find something to laugh about and to remind you you’re not in banal Europe. I could happily live in Singapore and even raise a family there but I think part of me will always be searching for the imperfect and a sense of adventure. I think I would go mad after a while of living in a country so seemingly perfect as Singapore!
That aside, I’m so glad I got to return to Singapore and I’m somewhat sad I didn’t stay for longer than a week. There were plenty of other things I wish I could have experienced, like hiking and exploring outside of the main city. But wherever I eventually end up in Asia, I won’t be far from Singapore and I truly look forward to going returning and enjoying everything this tiny but impressive country has to offer.
Have you been to Singapore or perhaps you live there? What do you think of the city? What are your favourite things to do there? Tell me in the comments below!