Finally a bit of life in Singapore!

Singapore has to be one of the most fascinating places on earth. I’ve visited close to a dozen times, though for the life of me can’t answer “what’s Singapore like?” when asked by friends.

I think the simplest answer is “Asia light.” If you’re making your first trip to Asia I’d say Singapore is a great introduction, along with Hong Kong, both of which are pretty “mild” cities.

But the thing that makes Singapore so interesting is that it lacks a vibe, in my opinion. Perhaps it’s a function of it not having a single culture, or maybe it’s a function of everything being so damn well organized that it’s almost like a big theme park.

From the perspective of a visitor, Singapore is a utopia of sorts. It’s probably the cleanest city in the world and has virtually no (visible) crime. Public transportation is great, there’s very little traffic, and it’s easy to get around speaking English. Their biggest concerns are chewing gum, jaywalking, and oral sex (though perhaps that was recently legalized? I wouldn’t know), all of which are nice “problems” to have.

But I’ve never really seen where the locals hang out in large numbers, until last night, when I met a friend for dinner in Little India. Now, I’ve been to both Little India and Chinatown before, though in neither case were they bustling.

Well, that all changed on Sunday night. Apparently a lot of the Indian workers on permits work six days a week, and Sunday nights they’re all out and about. And they sure were! In this case I felt like I was in Delhi and not Singapore, which is a welcome change of pace for a city that otherwise seems dead.

Now I’ll go back to my second favorite activity in Singapore…

One day I hope to figure Singapore out. Meh, who am I kidding?

Filed Under: Travel
  1. FWIW Oral/Anal sex were legalized for heterosexuals and lesbians in 2007. For gay men it still carries a 2 year prison term. Singapore is really a horrible place to be any kind of minority.

  2. “… or maybe it’s a function of everything being so damn well organized that it’s almost like a big theme park”

    WDW East!

  3. Hong Kong has lots of these worker-crowd-gathering as well, especially on weekends.

    Always shocked me in the sheer numbers

  4. Singapore does have a vibrant nightlife…you just have to search for it. It’s not as open as what you’d find in Hong Kong, and it’s not cheap either. But for those into that sort of thing, there are plenty of bars and nightclubs to keep you entertained all week long. Again, it’s not Hong Kong, but it can be fun.

    As for it not having one culture…well, it’s kind of like a miniature Malaysia, you get to experience different Asian cultures all in 1 clean city. And of course, with all those cultures comes some great shopping and food. Singapore has some of the best street food stalls you’ll find in Asia.

    Not my favorite city in Asia, but still, you could do far worse.

  5. Just in case readers don’t know, if you’re transiting SIN and have a several hour layover, they offer a free 2 hour tour of the city. My son and his bride got a short taste of SIN and enjoyed it.

  6. Ben- If you don’t think Singapore is that exciting, then why do you keep going back? I sure as heck would not travel so many hours just to go to Singapore. I would only go there as part of a bigger trip. I agree with you it’s not one of the most exciting or dynamic cities in Asia.

  7. As a person who grew up in Singapore, I find your impression on Singapore rather superficial. As with anything, if you bother to scratch the surface a bit further, you will find Singapore does have her own problems, such as income inequality, housing and medical affordability, immigration etc. albeit these issues may not be apparent to visitors.

  8. You should visit Taipei sometime. Not on the radar of most Westerners, but it’s got culture, awesome food, and great nightlife as well. Definitely not as clean or efficient as Singapore, but it’s got way more character. And plus, I’m partial to saying the Taiwanese people are truly some of the friendliest in Asia 🙂

  9. Lucky, I know Frank doesn’t faze you, and he’s just white noise. I admire how you never censor your blog comments. But maybe just to give the rest of us a break from Frank’s childish obsession with you, is there any chance you could block his comments for a while? Sometimes I just get weary at watching what a baby he is.

    Anyway, your ability to capture the feel of a travel experience – from 1st class snoring to world class cities – is truly exceptional. Add in a dash of fun edgy but always classy humor, and your blog is a must read. Not just for travel, but for overall entertainment. Kudos. No wonder Frank has a crush on you.

  10. If you are bored in Singapore, hop on to ferry and go to Batam or Bintan island which is about 1 hour ride

  11. I third the recommendation of Taipei just for the food alone. There’s not much to do there, so maybe 4 days max? If you go, I’d recommend trying both the W and Le Meridien. Both are great.

  12. i definitely agree with what’s been said here about taipei. whenever friends visit, i basically just take them around eating.

    would be totally up for showing you around if you ever do visit!

  13. It’s kinda funny that Singapore, a one-party state with media censorship and few civil liberties, is one of the favorite places of a well-known blogger whose day job is at a libertarian think-tank. That’s always good for a laugh.

    What’s in Singapore? A cool zoo, one or two decent museums, excellent food, and blandness. I’ll submit that the night safari is worth it just for the novelty, and for up-close encounters with bats.

    Singapore is also close to some genuinely interesting places, both south and northwest.

  14. Thanks Ben for the insight. I’ve read that there is an industry grade Flight Simulator experience there as well. I’ve checked it out online and would contemplate going there just to try it out. For those into birding, I’ve read there’s also a neat bird park there.

  15. I love Taipei. The food is the best I’ve ever had anywhere! I married a Taiwanese girl so I have lots of excuse to go back.

  16. @ John — In this case I had a meeting to go to. It’s not that I think Singapore isn’t interesting, because it really is. It’s more that I can’t figure the place out, and that’s why I’m always intrigued to return.

    @ collector — That’s exactly why I said “from the perspective of an outsider it seems like a utopia.” That disclaimer wasn’t a coincidence. I’m well aware of the actual issues Singapore faces.

    @ glu800 — That’s the next major city on my list of places to see.

    @ thegasguru — Hah, thanks! Carefully considering moderation as well. Then again, I feel like everyone has the right to make an ass of themselves on the internet.

  17. Studying abroad there has given me a soft spot for Singapore, even though I share most of your general sentiment.

    I will fourth the suggestion of Taipei and Taiwan. I am definitely biased though since it is my parents’ homeland. Definitely not as common on most tourists’ radar, but it has so much to offer in such a tiny place.

  18. Not just Taipei, but all of Taiwan. Yes, Taipei is great, but if visitors see just how stunning the east coast of Taiwan is as well as the old-town feel of Tainan and resort beaches of Kending, they will realize just how much Taiwan has to offer in such a small plot of land – well, small when compared to its much larger neighbor to the west!

  19. Let’s just say that “Singapore” and “diversity” go together like chalk and cheese.

    And yes, it’s a stunningly sterile place to visit as a consequence.

  20. It’s been many years since I’ve last been to Singapore, and when people ask me, the first thing I say is that “you can eat a sandwich off the street because it’s THAT clean”. Amazing for a city of its size.

  21. The first few times I was in Sin, I agreed… Asia for beginners. Spend a bit of time there and you see it is an amazing city, one that I would gladly move back to.. Way more livable than Hong Kong and much easier to transfer. From the plane door to my house, in 25 minutes… Try that in A major western city, or even Hong Kong

  22. @Lucky- Funny, the way you describe Singapore is exactly how I felt about it when I visited. It doesn’t seem like there’s a dominant vibe or culture to it, but still an interesting place to visit. I do like the vibe of Clarke Quay at night time though.

    Having lived in Taipei, I’ll add that Taiwan is a great place to visit. Food is great, coastal scenery is beautiful, and people are very friendly. And, there are tons of hot springs, which is a favorite winter pastime of the Taiwanese. Just be forewarned if you plan on visiting Taipei in the summer. Taipei heat and humidity makes Orlando seem like a tundra, lol. (For a comparison, if you’ve been to Hong Kong during the summer, it’s very comparable)

  23. A couple more thoughts… As conservative a place as Singapore is, there are some shockingly liberal areas and activities there that I didn’t expect.

    Taiwan- Night markets are a really cool part of the culture, although you’ll have to deal with the unavoidable aroma of stinky tofu 😉

  24. wow, what offensive comments from this “frank”, and I rarely agree with this blogger but these comments are really not acceptable and contribute nothing.

    that being said, I am sure that I find the masses of worker/slaves that it takes to keep these luxury travel afloat a glaring omission from most blogs, nice that you at least hinted at it here. Ironically given the failure of the USSR the political-economic explanations of Marx seem far more useful today than anything from the usual right wing dribble to explaining the real workings of 5 star hotels in Dubai or the USA.

  25. @Frank T

    I’ve discovered only bland and empty people do usually basg Singapore on grounds of “bland”.
    I guess if you need lot of beggars, traffic jams and transvestite prostitutes for city to be “exciting” or “dynamic”, you must be really shallow.
    Singapore has constantly changing architecture and landscapes, also the fresh blood of dynamic entrepreneurs and other exciting people, that makes it inmy view much more exciting than any other city in Asia, with possible exceptions of Hong Kong (similar things) and Tokyo (purely exotic).

    Bangkok, Delhi, Shanghai? No comparison when it comes to “exciting”-factor.

  26. As a Singapore resident, there is no other place I would want to live in. Personal safety, rule of law, meritocracy, efficiency, full employment, strong emphasis on family values. Lose your wallet? I just did, and I got it back intact with every dollar accounted for a few days later. One has over 80% probability of recovering personal items lost accidentally ( Readers Digest Statistic ) second best in Asia after Japan. For a holiday – not the greatest place, but to live in – can’t get better.

  27. Rule of law my ass. Singapore is a democracy in name only. The gov’t is one of the most corrupt on Earth. You go to jail for saying neg things about the gov’t. The gov’t freq jails members of the opposition party. The Pres of Singapore, a figurehead type position, is pd around $3 million a yr!

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