The Colonial District owes its name and location to the British. Not long after Sir Stamford Raffles 'discovered' Singapore in 1819, he found that the area had all the necessities of a place of governance - it was central and close to the ports - and made Fort Canning Hill a base of operations. Squalid warehouses eventually made way for an ordered city grid. Most of these colonial elements were left in place even after Singapore gained independence in 1965. Like the rest of Singapore the district is constantly being tinkered with. The government has pumped millions of dollars into revitalising the waterfront for the Formula 1 motorcar night race and the building of the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort. The area is also home to the Marina Barrage, a 10,000-hectare freshwater reservoir that doubles as a park. An intriguing mix of colonial architecture and ubermodern sights, the Colonial District is a perfect introduction to Singapore.
At the river mouth is Singapore's water-spouting mascot, the funky 1960s Merlion - half-fish, half-lion. The local media went into a frenzy when the statue took a lightning bolt to the dome in early 2009. Repairs were made in double-quick time, much to the relief of locals who were sick of reading about it on the front page of local rags.
National Museum of Singapore
A facelift in 2006 has turbocharged this once-dull museum. The colonial-era facade is deceptive - through the huge rotunda, the building opens up to a cavernous modern extension stretching towards Fort Canning Hill.
The basement hosts classy travelling ex-hibitions such as the costumes of Christian Lacroix and is a great starting point. The engaging 'Singapore Story' exhibition begins on the top floor and spirals down over two floors. Visitors are greeted upon entry by a stunning two-storey-high Koyaanisqatsi-esque video installation. Every conceivable slice of Singaporean life, from opium pipes to grainy videos of a young Lee Kuan Yew at a rally, is on display.
Try to book a meal at Chef Chan's before you start your visit.
Asian Civilisations Museum
Inside a grand old Empress Place building (1865) named in honour of Queen Victoria, this museum : is a must for any Singapore visit - escape the humidity, put your watch in your pocket and enter a timeless realm. Ten thematic galleries explore traditional aspects of pan-Asian culture, religion and civilisation, with exquisite, well-displayed artefacts from Southeast Asia, China, India, Sri Lanka and even Turkey. The exploration of Islam and its influence in the region is particularly compelling, though the boys might be more interested in the large display of krisses (daggers).
Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay
Architecturally out of this world, Singapore's S$600-million Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay is the poster-boy for contemporary Singapore. Architects wanted to challenge ingrained conservatism, and they succeeded - the centre has been compared to flies' eyes, melting honeycomb and two upturned durians, and called a whole lot of rude words we can't repeat here. The controversial aluminium shades reference Asian reed-weaving geometries and maximise natural light. Eight years on, the building has been accepted as part of the local landscape. There's a nonstop program of international and local performances, some great restaurants and free outdoor performances. Book tickets through SISTIC ( 6348 5555; www.sistic.com.sg).
People in cities around the world are paying money to get into a gigantic Ferris wheel for glorious views. Why not? The Singapore Flyer is an expensive 30-minute ride with views towards the Colonial District, CBD, Marina Bay, the high-rise housing landscape to the east and out to the South China Sea. You're better off going on a clear day than at night, if only to avoid the annoying flashing neon lights outside the cabin.
An adored Singaporean institution and architectural landmark, Raffles Hotel was opened in December 1887 by the Sarkies brothers, immigrants from Armenia. At first a modest 10-room bungalow, the main building followed in 1899 and the hotel soon became synonymous with Oriental opulence, attracting the British elite and literary luminaries such as Somerset Maugham. The Singapore Sling was invented here by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon, and (far less gloriously) the last Singaporean tiger, which escaped from a trav-elling circus nearby, was shot beneath the Billiard Room in 1902.
By the 1970s, Raffles was a shabby relic, dodging the wrecking ball in 1987 with National Monument designation. In 1991 it reopened after a S$160-million facelift. If you want to stay here, rooms start at S$750 a night. The lobby is open to nonguests, but dress sharp - no shorts or sandals. There are some top-notch restaurants, and high tea is served in the Tiffin Room, or sip a Singapore Sling and throw peanut shells on the Long Bar's floorboards.
You could easily dismiss the Raffles Museum as an exercise in self-aggrandise-ment, but it's actually interesting. Old photos, memorabilia and advertisements sit alongside 'thank you' notes from celebrity guests such as Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward.
Singapore's newest museum : stands as a testament to the Peranakan (Straits-born Chinese) cultural revival in the Lion City. Opened in 2008, it has 10 thematic galleries featuring over 1200 artefacts and a variety of multimedia exhibits designed to introduce visitors to historical and contemporary Peranakan culture.
In addition to featuring traditionally crafted, beaded Peranakan clothing and exquisitely carved antique furniture, the museum also has a number of interactive ex-hibits. Our favourite is the diorama displaying a traditional Peranakan home complete with two video-mounted portraits of elders who argue with each other about whether or not their descendants are leading culturally appropriate lives.
Singapore Art Museum & 8Q SAM
The Singapore Art Museum : occupies the former St Joseph's Catholic boys' school. The gallery champions the arts in an economics-obsessed nation, with exhibitions ranging from classical Chinese calligraphy to electronic arts, though it seems content to hide away its permanent collection. The exhibition spaces are in a constant state of flux, always closed for maintenance or in preparation for the next show. You might get lucky and chance upon some of the S$70-million worth of Wu Guangzhong's donated art.
Round the corner from SAM, the art museum's new extension, 8Q SAM, is named after its address and has a revolving-door focus on quirky installations, interactivity and contemporary art.
There's free admission to both spaces from noon to 2pm daily and 6pm to 9pm Fridays.
Fort Canning Park
Mall-crazy Singaporeans often overlook this gem of a park. Fourteen sights are crammed into this 18-hectare space, the centre being Fort Canning Centre , a 1926 barracks.
When Raffles rolled into Singapore and claimed it for the mother country, locals steered clear of Fort Canning Hill, then called Bukit Larangan (Forbidden Hill), out of respect for the sacred shrine of Sultan Iskandar Shah, ancient Singapura's last ruler. Raffles built a modest atap (thatched roof) residence on the summit in 1822, which acted as Government House until the military built Fort Canning. The latter was named in honour of Viscount Canning, first viceroy of India.
Visitors are greeted by the comforting call of crickets, and mossy paths criss-cross the grounds tempting visitors to veer from sight to sight. Stop at the spice garden and take in the scents of tamarind and cinnamon.
Visit the Battle Box Museum : the former command post of the British during WWII, and get lost in the eerie and deathly quiet 26-room underground complex. War veterans and Britain's Imperial War Museum helped recreate the authentic bunker environs; life-sized models re-enact the fateful surrender to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. Japanese Morse codes are still etched on the walls.
Over the weekend, you can gawk at newly-v,'eds melting in the sun as they pose for wedding photos (the Registry of Marriages is located in the park). The entire park circuit can be completed in a few leisurely hours.
The hill hosts several outdoor events and concerts each year including WOMAD (August to October) and Ballet under the Stars (July).
Churches & Cathedrals
The peaceful St Andrew's Cathedral (16337 6104; www.livingstreams.org.sg; 11 St Andrew's Rd; (3 visitors centre 9am-5pm Mon-Fri, 9am-7pm Sat, 9am-1.30pm Sun) stands in stark contrast against the cityscape.
Completed in 1838 but torn down and rebuilt in its present form in 1862 after lightning damaged the original building (twice!), the cathedral has a 63.1m tall tower, towering naves and lovely stained glass above the west doors.
Dedicated to St Gregory the Illuminator, Singapore's oldest church (1836) is the neo-classical Armenian Church, designed by eminent colonial architect George Coleman. Pushing up orchids in the graveyard is Agnes Joaquim, discoverer of Singapore's national flower - the Vanda Miss oaquim orchid.
All of these churches are open during the day, with the usual Sunday services.
Kuan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple
In the heart of Waterloo St (which we swear has more vibrancy and soul than glossy Chinatown), Kuan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple is lively and colourful. Dedicated to Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, it's usually busy. Flower sellers and fortune tellers swarm around the entrance. Devotees stream into the temple daily, offering joss sticks and shaking kau dm (fortune telling) sticks, all under the gaze of the magnificent golden Buddha.
Next door is the polychromatic Hindu Sri Krishnan Temple, which has a magnificent silver-and-gold shrine. Pragmatic worshippers from the Kuan Im Temple also burn joss sticks here for extra insurance.
Splitting the Colonial District from the CBD is the Singapore River, the site of British landfall and Singapore's main trade artery for over a century. Once the dirty commercial hub that was the lifeline of Singapore's flourishing trade, a determined government clean-up in the 1980s saw the many godowns (warehouses), bumboats and commercial craft moved and the Singapore River 'cleaned up'. With the area now shiny and sparkly, the government quickly admitted that it lacked 'soul' and immediately embarked on yet another initiative to fill the area with bars and restaurants.
Closest to the river mouth, Boat Quay was once Singapore's centre of commerce, and remained an important economic area into the 1960s. By the mid-1980s, many of the shophouses were in ruins, businesses having shifted to hi-tech cargo centres elsewhere on the island. Declared a conservation zone by the government, the area has become a major entertainment district filled with colourful restaurants and bars. You'll find riverfront restaurants serving all manner of Singaporean delicacies, though the restaurant touts are aggressive. Parallel with Boat Quay one block to the south is Circular Road, where there are dozens of bars. After work thirsty businessmen swarm here from the CBD.
Clarke Quay has had more come-backs than John Travolta and Mickey Rourke. This quay, named after Singapore's second colonial governor, Sir Andrew Clarke, was de-veloped into a dining and shopping precinct in the early 1990s and most recently revamped with a slew of bars and clubs in 2006.
It's on this stretch of riverfront that Singapore's most whimsical designers have been given carte blanche to bring their dreams to life. Among the high (or low) lights: lilypad umbrellas straight out of a Dr Seuss colouring book, and many once-dignified shophouses now painted in ultrabright shades.
On the western end of Clarke Quay is the Royal Selangor Pewter Gallery. Walk through the back where pewter-casting demos are run, then gawp at or buy the shiny stuff in the retail cabinets. It also runs pewtersmithing courses .
The most remote and thus least visited of the Quays, Robertson Quay features a desultory collection of restaurants, hotels, bars, a really garish bridge and a club selling cheap drinks (accounts for its popularity with the young 'uns). This area was once used for storage of goods that had come west up the Singapore River.
The white-walled, polished concrete spaces of the Singapore Tyler Print Institute hosts inter-national and local exhibits, showcasing the work of resident print- and paper-makers. Exhibitions often have a 'how to' component, and there's an impressive program of visual arts courses year-round.
Officially known as the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple, the open-walled, blue-green Chettiar Hindu Temple was completed in 1984, replacing a temple built by Indian chettiars (moneylenders). Dedicated to the six-headed Shaivite god, Lord Subramaniam, it's at its most active during the Thaipusam festival.
Undergoing massive renovations at the time of research, the Hong San See Temple was completed in 1913 and set up on a hill. The temple is built in a southern Chinese fashion, with sloping tiled roofs and ornamented columns.
Immediately south of the Singapore River is the central business district (CBD), Singapore's financial hub. Raffles Place is a rare slice of green above the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) station, surrounded by gleaming towers of commerce. There are some great sculptures (see above) around here and along the river nearby.
Strewn among the high-rise landscape are a few colonial relics. The Fullerton Hotel occupies the former general post office and is no less elegant than the Raffles Hotel. Further south is Lau Pa Sat, a popular hawker centre beneath an elaborate wrought-iron structure imported from Glasgow in 1894.
Also check out the Taoist Wak Hai Cheng Bio Temple, which translates as Calm Sea Temple. Dating from 1826, it's an atmospheric place - giant incense coils smoulder over an empty courtyard while a village of tiny plaster figures populates the roof.
Singapore's celebrated cultural heart is Chinatown, roughly bounded by Church St to the north, New Bridge Rd to the west, Maxwell Rd to the south and Cecil St to the east. It's a strange mix of ebullient commerce and slightly rough nightlife, tempered with memories of more desperate times when impoverished immigrants survived on their wits, hard work, prayers and good fortune. Restoration projects and numerous cleanups have created pockets of artificiality, and some locals are of the opinion that the 'soul' of Chinatown has been lost. Wandering off the main thoroughfares, away from the busloads Of tourists, is probably the best way to catch a glimpse of the Chinatown that still endears itself to locals.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
The massive and jaw-dropping five-storey Buddha Tooth Relic Temple opened to great fanfare in 2008, its main drawcard being what is believed to be a sacred tooth of the Buddha (dental experts have expressed doubts over its authenticity).
The main worship hall greets visitors at the entrance: swirling joss smoke and all-day chanting combine in hypnotising fashion. The tooth relic itself sits on a pedestal in a stupa made with 420kg of gold donated by worshippers. Want to see the tooth? It's only brought out on the first day of the Chinese New Year and on Wesak day.
The top floor opens into a peaceful garden with a revolving prayer wheel and the other floors house exhibits and a comprehensive display on the history and building of the temple. There's a teahouse serving a wide range of teas and vegetarian food on the second level. This is also the only temple that - to our knowledge -has its own underground parking garage.
Thian Hock Keng Temple
Also known as the Temple of Heavenly Happiness, Thian Hock Keng Temple is one of Singapore's oldest and most eye-popping temples. Dedicated to Ma Cho Po, Goddess of the Sea, it was built by early Chinese Hokkien immigrants in gratitude for safe passage to Singapore.
Declared a National Monument in 1973 and renovated in 2000, the temple's twin rooftop dragons represent the principles of yin and yang. Stone lions guard the door, and as security back-up, fierce-looking portraits of door gods prevent evil spirits from entering. Inside, gilded ceilings feature intricate carvings of Chinese fblkloric stories and heroes. Locals favour the Wak Hai Cheng Bio Temple (opposite).
Sri Mariamman Temple
Paradoxically cast in the middle of Chinatown, the Sri Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore, origi-nally built in 1823, then rebuilt in 1843. The S$3 fee for taking photos is a rip-off, but tourists still descend in droves - and many trigger-happy snappers ignore the fees.
You can't miss the incredible technicolour 1930s gopuram (tower) above the entrance, key to the temple's South Indian Dravidian style. Sacred cow sculptures graze the boundary walls, while the gopuram is covered in over-the-top plasterwork images of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer. In October each year the temple hosts the Thimithi Festival - devotees queue along South Bridge Rd to hot-foot it over burning coals. Wander around the back for great views of the temple structure set against the skyscrapers of the CBD.
Chinatown Heritage Centre
Set on three floors of an old shophouse, the Chinatown Heritage Centre is an engaging museum focusing on the arduous everyday lives of Singapore's Chinese settlers. Reconstructed living environments are festooned with artefacts. The cramped quarters of shophouse living are decked out with startling reality (right down to the fake poop inside the bucket toilet - thankfully, scent-emitting technology won't be invented until 2050). The oral and video histories of local people are genuinely moving.. .if the projectors and screens decide to work.
Singapore City Gallery
The Urban Redevelopment Authority's Singapore City Gallery provides a rather compelling insight into the government's resolute and much-admired policies of high-rise housing and land reclamation. Highlights include an llmx llm scale model of the city, and a voyeuristic bird's-eye-view roof camera. Would-be property investors would do well to visit for the displays detailing future plans for suburbs in Singapore.
You've got to ring and book a visit to the Baba House, but the one- to two-hour guided tour of this pre-war terrace house built in the elaborate Peranakan style is worth every cent.
Built in the 1890s and formerly home to shipping tycoon Wee Bin, the house was donated to the National University of Singapore. A two-year restoration was completed in September 2008. Every detail, from the carved motifs on the blue facade of the building down to the door screens, has been attended to. The house is a living museum and is furnished as it was in the 1920s. Knowledgeable tour guides weave tales of Peranakan life with every detail: secret peepholes behind screens allowed shy Nonya ladies to spy on visitors in the central hall.
The no-photos-and-video policy is a little draconian but is enforced with the intention of creating a mysterious allure to the place.
Worlds apart from the rest of Singapore, Little India was originally a European enclave, blooming into an Indian cultural centre after a Jewish-Indian businessman started farming buffalo here. Today Little India teems with men on two-year contracts from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka doing the dirty construction jobs that Singaporeans won't stoop to. The weekends are truly an eye-opener for locals and tourists alike. Produce, spices and other trinkets spill onto the streets and crowd the five-foot walkways. Many businesses operate late into the night (some even run 24 hours) and traffic slows to a messy crawl.
Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple
Dazzlingly colourful, the bustling Shaivite Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple is dedicated to Kali, bloodthirsty consort of Shiva. Kali's always been big in Bengal, birthplace of the labourers who built this temple in 1885. Inside, Kali is pictured draped with a garland of skulls, disembowelling victims, and also sharing peaceful moments with her sons Ganesh and Murugan.
Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple
Dedicated to Vishnu, the Sri Srinivasa Perumal
Temple dates from 1855, but the 20m-tall gopuram is a S$300,000 1966 addition. Inside is a statue of Vishnu (aka Perumal), his sidekicks Lakshmi and Andal, and his bird-mount Garuda. Sri Srinivasa Perumal is the starting point for the parade to the Chettiar Hindu Temple (p498) during the Thaipusam festival.
Sakaya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple (Temple of 1000 Lights)
In 1927 a Thai Buddhist monk founded the Sakaya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple, usually called the Temple of 1000 Lights. The entrance is flanked by a leopard and tiger, the latter in midleap, snarling jaws open. Inside is a 15m-high, 300-tonne Buddha alongside an eclectic collection of deities including Guan Yin (Chinese Goddess of Mercy) and the Hindu deities Brahma and Ganesh. At the base of the Buddha's back is a low door into a small prayer room. Around the Buddha's base are 'Buddha - This Is Your Life!' models and, j of course, at least 1000 electric lights.
Leong San See Temple
Across the road from the Temple of 1000 I Lights (above) is the gorgeous Taoist leong San See Temple (Dragon Mountain Temple), dedicated to Guan Yin, Goddess of Mercy. Built in 1917 using traditional joinery and intricately carved ceiling beams in a style similar to that of Thian Hock Keng , this temple has an effervescent, happy atmosphere. The smiling Buddha welcomes you at the door; to promote good feng shui, walk around clockwise.
Neatly self-contained Kampong Glam, roughly bounded by Victoria St, Jin Sultan and Beach Rd, all immediately northeast of Bugis MRT, is Singapore's Muslim centre. Its name derives from the Malay for village (kampung) andge/am, a type of tree that once grew here. By day, the area is a great place for visiting mosques and shops selling clothing, raw cloth and dry goods. By night, hip youths come out and smoke sheesha at one of the many Middle Eastern joints. The offbeat Haji Lane has cool boutiques and eateries.
Kampong Glam's gold-domed epicentre is Sultan Mosque , named after Raffles' buddy Sultan Hussein Shah. Originally built in 1825 with a grant from Raffles and the East India Company, it was replaced 100 years later with the current edifice. The prayer hall can accommodate 5000 .worshippers; a glaring red Digital clock compromises the atmosphere a little, but at least everybody knows when to pray. The massive rug on the prayer hall (no entry to non-Muslims) is a gift from a Saudi prince, whose emblem is woven onto it.
Malay Heritage Centre
This dignified terracotta-tiled heritage centre: is set back against a large garden and was once the Malay royal istana (palace), built in 1843 for Singapore's last sultan, AH Iskandar Shah. An agreement allowed the palace to stay in the sultan's family as long as they continued to live there. This was repealed in 1897, but the family stayed on for another century, the palace gradually sliding into ruin.
The restored building opened as a museum in 2004, celebrating Singapore's Malay heritage with a reconstructed kampung house upstairs, spare but wordy displays through-out and cultural performances (available by website-booking only).
Painted cream and brown, the Hajjah Fatimah
Mosque was built in 1846 and named after the mosque's wealthy Malaccan-born Malay benefactor. Equally curious is its 'Leaning Tower of Kampong Glam' - a European-style minaret tilting about 6 degrees off-centre. The outbuildings are also well out of kilter.
Located on a busy street corner, the sky-blue hexagonal-tiled Malabar Muslim Jama-Ath Mosque is hard to miss. Malabar Muslims from the southern Indian state of Kerala have worshipped here since 1963. Overgrown with time and tree roots, the Royal Cemetery is behind the mosque, its shambolic tombstones slowly succumbing to gravity.
Singapore's premier shopping strip is really a massive shrine devoted to the Gods of Retail. And locals flock here in droves to pay homage and make offerings. It's a far cry from the verdant and ordered nutmeg and pepper plantations found here in the 19th century.
Orchards have been replaced with towering malls and ubiquitous five-star hotels that induce some tourists to scream with delight and others to run screaming. Shopping aside, there are several pockets that still delight.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
If Singapore's urban planners could manufacture paradise, it wouldn't look too different from the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The front entrance leads to an idyllic koi pond. On weekends, laughing children feed the multicoloured fish. Right behind, a waterfall gurgles and birds hop around the water's edge, at ease with the locals.
Established in 1859 and covering 52 hectares, the gardens were originally a testing ground for potential cash crops such as rub ber. Today they host a herbarium, a library of archival materials dating back to the 16th century, wide-open spaces, manicured gardens and a 4-hectare patch of the primary rainforest that once blanketed the island.
The National Orchid Garden is also here, with over 60,000 plants and a cool house showcasing pitcher plants and orchids from cooler climes. Don't miss the Vcmda Miss Joaquim, Singapore's national flower, which Agnes Joaquim discovered in her garden in 1893.
The gardens are at their busiest on Sunday mornings. Domestic helpers congregate here on their day off for impromptu small-group church services. Families come out in full force and share the pavement with joggers and pet owners being dragged by leashed dogs. Free open-air concerts are held on the last Sunday of the month at the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage - call or check the website. Buses 7, 77, 105, 106, 123 and 174 all run to the gardens from the Orchard MRT exit on Orchard Blvd.
Film buffs will go ga-ga at the Cathay Gallery, housed in Singapore's first high-rise building. The displays here trace the history of the Loke family, early pioneers in film production and distribution in Singapore and founders of the Cathay Organisation. Check out old movie posters, cameras, and programs that capture the golden age of local cinema.
Constructed between 1867 and 1869 by Indian convicts transported from Bencoolen on Sumatra, the Istana is where Singapore's President SR Nathan hangs out. The neo-Palladian structure, set 750m back from Orchard Rd in beautifully maintained grounds, was originally Government House, built at great expense to impress the visiting Duke of Edinburgh. It's only open to the public on selected holidays (eg New Year's) -bring your passport to get past the gun-toting guards. Call, or check the website, for details.
Emerald Hill Road
Take some time out to wander through the pedestrianised Peranakan PI to residential Emerald Hill Rd, where original Peranakan terrace houses reside in states that run the gamut from glamorous decay to immaculate restoration. The quiet atmosphere around here feels a million miles from shop-till-you-drop Orchard Rd. All the walking will mean you need to grab a beer from one of the many bars at the Orchard Rd end of Emerald Hill.
Heading east of the city centre, the sleazy red-light Geylang district is also home to temples, mosques, churches and some of the best eating spots in Singapore. It connects up to Geylang Serai, a largely Malay district rarely frequented by foreign visitors. Further on is the popular East Coast Park. Next door, the Katong district is a gentrified neighbourhood, once filled with old Peranakan homes, now a hotbed of condominiums. Further east is Pasir Ris Park, the Changi Museum and Chapel; and snoozy Changi Village, the jumping-off point for leafy Pulau Ubin.
Nowhere else in Singapore are food, commerce, religion, culture and sleaze more at ease with each other than in Geylang. It's nothing more than a vaguely busy road during the day, but once night falls, it transforms.
You might see a crowd rubbing shoulders with prostitutes after spilling out onto the streets from evening prayer at a mosque. And if the sights haven't yet gotten to you, the smell of food soon will. You'll see hordes of
HARRY LEE KUAN YEW'S HUMBLE ABODE
If you're planning a jaunt down Orchard Rd,make a short detour along Oxley Road. The father of modern Singapore,Harry Lee Kuan Yew, lives along this street,In order to keep out the plebs and crazies, car gantries are installed at either end of the road. Pedestrians are free to walk through, but expect to be hurried along by heavily armed Gurkhas. Go on, walk on the side of the guards for a closer look. We dare you people sweating over plates of fried beef hor fun and frogs' leg porridge.
Come see the circus. Take the MRT to Kallang. Cross the road and head south towards all the lights across the street.
Geylang Serai is a Malay residential area, but you're not going to see any traditional atap houses or sarong-clad cottage-industry workers. This is strictly high-rise country.
Trundle out to Paya Lebar MRT station, from where it's a short walk along Sims Ave to the temporary home of Geylang Serai Wet Market. The original market across the street is getting a facelift and has already missed its 2008 reopening deadline. Expect a crowded, traditional Asian wet market with meat hanging on hooks, baskets of sloshing fish, squirming frogs, slippery eels and people haggling over the produce. Watch your step! There's a food centre next to the wet market that achieved some notoriety in April 2009 after more than 100 people got food poisoning from eating contaminated Indian rojak (salad with peanut-sauce dressing). If you push further into the complex, you'll find textiles and clothes - a perfect place to pick up traditional Malay dress.
Down Joo Chiat Rd from the Malay Cultural Village is the Katong district. Along Koon Seng Rd just east of loo Chiat Rd are some of the finest Peranakan terrace houses in Singapore, decorated with plaster stucco columns, dragons, birds, crabs and brilliantly glazed tiles. Pintu pagar (front saloon doors) are also typical, letting the breezes in and keeping peering eyes out.
Joo Chiat Rd and traffic-plagued East Coast p4 have some top-notch Peranakan restaurants. Also in this area is the Katong ftntique House. Owner Peter Wee will show you his large collection of Peranakan an-tiques including beautifully beaded slippers, wedding costumes and traditional ceramics and furniture.
Further along East Coast Rd are Kim Choo's Kitchen and Human Bebe. You can catch demonstrations of how to make bak chang (rice dumplings) at the former. Both places also sell traditional keba-yas (Nonya-style blouses with decorative lace) and beaded shoes, and run beading classes. Don't forget to buy some bak chang or kueh (bite-sized titbits) before you go.
The nearby Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple is stunning, with its intricate yet understated facade. The temple eschews colour on the exterior and instead stuns visitors with its devotional art inside.
Heading west back to the city, East Coast Rd becomes Mountbatten Road - there are some grand old bungalows around here, dating from the early 20th century. From East Coast Rd, buses 12 and 32 head into the Colonial District, while bus 14 goes down Stamford Rd and then Orchard Rd.
East Coast Park
This waterside park, stretching for 10km along East Coast Parkway (ECP), is where Singaporeans come to take a dip in the soupy Straits of Singapore, windsurf, cable-ski, eat, cycle, in-line skate and chill out on the sand. The beach is built on reclaimed land -it won't win any tropical-paradise awards, but it's popular with families, and the park has some great seafood restaurants and a busy hawker centre. Bikes and in-line skates can be rented from kiosks that line the busiest areas of the park. You can also camp in the park.
Bus 401 runs from Bedok MRT station to Mountbatten Rd and stops along the park's service road.
Pasir Ris Park & Downtown East
Paris Ris Park is a 71-hectare waterside park with family-friendly activities galore. Rent a bike or in-line skates to get around. Or hoof it and explore the 6-hectare mangrove boardwalk - go during low tide to see little crabs scurrying in the mud. Speaking of hooves, kids will love the pony rides at Gallop Stables.
Head to Downtown East E Hub. It's the building with the Ferris wheel built inside. The standouts here are the Escape Theme Park and Wild Wild Wet . Price of admission allows access to unlimited rides: go-kart, slide, ride and splash around till you're wrinkled, sunburnt and sore.
There are lots of restaurants and food stalls to keep the energy levels up. To get here, take the MRT to Pasir Ris and walk to the park. A free shuttle bus serves Downtown East. Or take bus 12, 354, 358 or 403.
Changi Museum & Chapel
The Changi Museum & Chapel poignantly commemorates the WWII Allied POWs who suffered horrific treatment at the hands of the invading Japanese. Stories are told through photographs, letters, drawings and murals; tales of heroism and celebration of peace temper the mood. There are also full-sized replicas of the famous Changi Murals painted by POW Stanley Warren in the old POW hospital. The originals are off limits in what is now Block 151 of the nearby Changi Army Camp.
The museum's centrepiece is a replica of the original Changi Chapel built by inmates as a focus for worship and as a sign of solidarity and strength.
Bus 2 from Victoria St or Tanah Merah MRT will take you past the entrance. The bus terminates at Changi Village.
On the far northeast coast of Singapore, Changi Village (Map pp514-15) is an escape from the city mayhem. The low-slung buildings are modern, but there's still a village atmosphere; the lively hawker centre next to the bus terminus is the focal point. Changi Beach (where thousands of Singaporean civilians were executed during WWII), lapped by the polluted waters of the Straits of Johor, is lousy for swimming, but there's a good stretch of sand. The ferry terminal for catching a bum-boat to Pulau Ubin is located opposite the hawker centre. Bus 2 from Tanah Merah MRT runs here.
A chugging 10-minute bumboat ride (one way S$2.50, trips between 7am and 8pm) from Changi Point Ferry Terminal at Changi Village lands you on the shores of Pulau Ubin .There's no timetable; boats depart when 12 people are ready to go.
Singaporeans like to wax nostalgic about Ubin's karnpung atmosphere, and it has thus far resisted the lure of cashed-up developers. It remains a rural, unkempt expanse of jungle full of fast lizards, weird shrines and ca-cophonic birdlife. Tin-roofed buildings bake in the sun, chickens squawk and panting dogs slump in the dust.
The best way to get around is by mountain bike (rental per day S$2 to S$10). Don't bother with the cheaper clunkers as your bum will appreciate proper suspension. Veer right from the jetty to the Pulau Ubin information kiosk (, pick up a map, and sniff around the exhibition on Ubin's culture, history and wildlife.
Trundle off on your bike and see where the road takes you. For those keen on scraping their knees, there's Ketam Mountain Bike Park, with over a dozen trails of varying difficulty. You can also take a trip to the Chek Jawa Wetlands in the island's east. A 1km coastal boardwalk takes you out to sea and loops back through the mangrove swamp and the 20m-high Jejawi Tower offers stunning views of the area.
There are plenty of places to eat near the ferry terminal - complete your island adventure with some chilli crab and Tiger beer as the Bee Gees wail shamelessly from the stereo.
For those inclined to stay on the island, you can rent a basic but comfortable chale run by the Marina Country Club. Rates plunge on weekdays.
NORTHERN & CENTRAL SINGAPORE
Apart from the major sights listed below you'll also probably find yourself visiting Dempsey Hill, a once-crumbling army barracks now packed with several very 'see and be seen' restaurants and bars as well as furniture stores and even an art gallery. The nearby busy expat enclave of Holland Village is also a prime dining destination.
Set on a peninsula jutting into the Upper Seletar Reservoir, the Singapore Zoo is world class. Its 28 landscaped hectares and open concept (no cages) are a far cry from the sad concrete confines some zoos retain.
There are more than 2530 residents here and most of them, with the possible exceptions of elephants used in a ride, seem pretty happy. Attractions such as the 'The Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia' enclosure convey entire ecosystems: animal, mineral, vegetable and human. Visitors can stand behind a window in 'Ethiopia' and watch 50 shameless red-bummed baboons doing things that Singaporeans still get arrested for. The popular proboscis monkeys sit on tree branches in two different enclosures, scratching and swinging more than their arms.
Children will be entertained by the list of shows and feeding sessions that seem to require a PhD to decipher. You can get around the zoo on foot or by tram. To get here take bus 138 from Ang Mo Kio MRT or bus 927 from Choa Chu Kang MRT. A taxi to/from the city costs around S$18.
Next door but completely separate from the zoo is the Night Safari. You can walk around the three trails in the 40-hectare forested park but the best experience is via the tram (adult/ child S$10/5), even though we think it's a little cheeky (and greedy) that you have to pay for the atmospheric 45-minute jungle tour past a parade of 120 different spot-lit nocturnal species.
The tram takes you past tigers, elephants, anteaters and lions, and some species, like the sambar deer, often sidle up close to the side of the tram. It's best to come early as the animals would have just been fed and are happy to come out to play. Don't use the flash on your camera, as it unsettles the animals.
The impressive and humorous 'Creatures of the Night' show (7.30pm, 8.30pm, 9.30pm and, on weekends, 10.30pm) will make you wonder why we ever bothered to evolve. You can save some money with a combined Zoo and Night Safari ticket (adult/child S$32/16).
After the Night Safari catch a return bus by 10.45pm to ensure you make the last train from Ang Mo Kio (11.30pm) or Choa Chu Kang (midnight). There's a taxi rank at the zoo entrance.
Mandai Orchid Gardens & Orchidville
Cultivating orchids is big business in Singapore - Mandai Orchid Gardens, four flowery hectares near the zoo, is the place to see them. Orchidville is similar to the Mandai Orchid Gardens, but has the bonus of a fantastic on-site restaurant, Forrest (mains from S$12; (3 lunch & dinner). To get to these two sights, see the transport details to the zoo (opposite).
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
Singapore's steamy heart of darkness is Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, a 164-hectare tract of undeveloped primary rainforest clinging to Singapore's highest peak, Bukit Timah (163.63m). Established as a reserve in 1883, Bukit Timah has never been logged.
Guffawing British naturalist David Bellamy once noted that the reserve holds more tree species than the entire North American continent. The unbroken forest canopy of the reserve also shelters what remains of Singapore's native wildlife, including long-tailed macaques (monkeys), pythons and literally dozens of bird species.
There are four well-established walking trails through the reserve, which take from 20 minutes to one-hour return. The most popular and easiest is the concrete-paved route straight to the summit, though you should leave time to explore the less busy side trails. The steep paths are sweaty work, so take plenty of water, embalm yourself in mosquito repellent, and don't feed the monkeys no matter how politely they ask. There is also 6km of cycling trails circumnavigating the forest - pick up a trail map from the visitors centre (;B 8.30am-6pm).
To get here catch bus 171 from Orchard MRT, bus 75 from the CBD or bus 170 from Queen St Bus Terminal. Get off at the Bukit Timah Shopping Centre; the park's entrance is about 1km north along Hindhede Dr.
Bring lots of water and wear good walking shoes.. .this ain't no ordinary hike in the park. In the middle of the 2000-hectare Central Catchment Nature Reserve is the MacRitchie Reservoir. The mirror-surfaced reservoir is surrounded by a 12km, five-hour, circular jungle trail. Though less popular, the six trails here are no less beautiful than the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve walks and provide more of a challenge. Pick up a map from the rangers' office along Lornie Rd or at the start of the Pierce Track.
The standout attraction here is the treetop walk. Yes, it's a hard slog to get here, but once you're standing in the middle of the narrow 250m suspension bridge, all tiredness will fade. You can see glimpses of Lower Seletar Reservoir, and if you look down at the forest canopy, your naked eye alone will easily be able to spot at least nine different species of flora.
For those not inclined to walking up rocky trails, you can also hire a kayak or go fishing.
Kids will delight at the monkeys that appear along the trails...but don't feed them, no matter how cute they look.
Bus 157 runs here from Toa Payoh MRT station.
Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve
Attention bird-nerds! The 87-hectare Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve overlooks the Straits of Johor in the far northwest of the island. The park sustains 140 bird species, most of which are migratory, and features mangrove boardwalks, walking trails enclosed by thick foliage, observation huts and guided tours on Saturdays (9am, 10pm, 3pm and 4pm). Audiovisual shows on the park's flora and fauna are held at 9am, 11 am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm (hourly between 9am and 5pm on Sunday). BYO binoculars and mosquito repellent.
Take bus 925 from Kranji MRT to the Kranji'Reservoir bus stop - it's a 15-minute hike from here. The bus stops at the park entrance on Sundays. There's also a shuttle bus from Kranji MRT that does rounds past Kranji farms (see the boxed text, above).
Lian Shan Siiuang Lin Monastery
Nestled in a corner of the Toa Payoh HDB housing estate, the photogenic Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery, aka Siong Lim Temple, is a little out of the way, but well worth the journey. The original temple structure at the back of the compound is rather blah, no thanks to the many Frankenstein renovations done through the years. The sprawling mass built up around it, though, is something out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Shaded pathways connect massive halls covered in gold, red and blue. A massive white reclining Buddha greets visitors in one room. Look for 12 large mythical-style paintings telling the story of the temple's founding abbots.
Next door, the Cheng Huang Temple ( 9am-5pm) is constantly buzzing with locals paying their respects. Dedicated to a god who administers justice in the netherworld (must explain the crowd), the atmospheric interior of the 1912 structure soars up to red and ochrehued ceilings, thick beams stained with decades of incense smoke.
The monastery and temple is about 1km east of Toa Payoh MRT station - follow the signs down Kim Keat Link off Lg 6 Toa Payoh, or take bus 238 three stops from Toa Payoh bus interchange.
Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery
Take a few hours to explore the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery, Singapore's largest (12 buildings) and most stunning. 'Don't speak unless it improves the silence' is the creed here, the resultant quiet a surreal counterpart to dragon-topped pagodas, shrines, plazas and lawns linked by Escher-like staircases.
On the premises is a large columbarium, several different halls devoted to various guises of the Buddha and even a dining hall that serves up free vegetarian meals to devotees. Finish your visit by reflecting under a bodhi tree beside the Hall of Precepts (the tree is claimed to be a descendant of the sacred bodhi tree at Buddha Gaya).
Buses 52 and 410 (white plate) run here from Bishan MRT station.
Kranji War Memorial
Near the Causeway off Woodlands Rd, the austere white structures and rolling lawns of the Kranji War Memorial contain the WWII graves of thousands of Allied troops. It's hard to believe that this area was once a hospital and ammunitions dump. Headstones are lined in neat rows across manicured orass. Walls are inscribed with the names of 24,346 men and women who lost their lives in Southeast Asia. Row 262 has the name of a suspected (but never convicted) Japanese spy, Patrick Balcombe Heenan. Register books are available for inspection. The bodies of Singapore's first two prime ministers are interred at the front. To get here catch the MRT to Kranji then walk 10 minutes, or take bus 170 two stops west.
SOUTHERN & WESTERN SINGAPORE
Mt Faber & the Cable Car
Mt Faber stands proud (if not tall) at 116m on the southern fringe of the city, opposite the HarbourFront Centre, VivoCity and not far from Sentosa Island. From the summit, the strange splendour of Singapore rolls away to the horizon in all directions. To the south are scenes of Keppel Wharves and industrial Pasir Panjang. Turn around to the north and the landscape does a 180. The sheer density and homogeneity of Singapore's high-rise buildings are set in a perfect panorama.
To get to the top, ride the spectacular cable car from the HarbourFront Centre or take bus 409. Walking is difficult but rewarding, a maze of steep trails taking you through twisted copses of dense, buzzing forest, with strategically positioned seats, pavilions, lookouts and colonial-era black-and-white bungalows along the way. The summit is also part of the Southern Ridges span of parks (see below).
Impress the pants off the object of your desires with Sky Dining in the cable car -a romantic three-course dinner with plummeting 60m-high views. An interesting spot to get steamy; a bad place to break up.
Southern Ridges - Kent Ridge Park to HortPark
Mt Faber is connected to Kent Ridge Park via HortPark in a 9km-long chain known as the Southern Ridges. Set aside a day, pack lots of water and start at Kent Ridge Park. This park commands views over the port and the southern islands and is nearly always deserted. The walk will take you through a treetop boardwalk with the call of crickets your only companion. Look out for signs directing you to HortPark. Don't forget to visit Reflections at Bukit Chandu (below) en route.
The idyllic leafy shade of Kent Ridge quickly gives way to the wide-open gardens of.. .don't laugh... HortPark . This Hort(icultural) Park has more than a horrid name and a lack of shelter from the merciless sun. Walk past prototype glasshouses (sadly not open to the public) filled with all manner of flora. There are interactive displays for kids to learn about exciting gardening methods (hydroponics is cool kids!). Buy gardening tools and supplies at the HortMart before stopping for a Thai lunch at Kha.
Cross the leaf-like Alexander Arch bridge from HortPark and follow the gently ascending walkways up to the stunning Henderson Waves. This undulating sculptural pedestrian bridge is Singapore's highest, suspended at 36m above ground. It connects pedestrians to Telok Blangah Hill Park. If you're really keen on further testing the limit of your sweat glands, you could walk on through to Mt Faber (left).
The nearest bus stops to Kent Ridge Park (for buses 10, 30, 51 and 143) are on Pasir Panjang Rd, from where it's a steep hike up the hill. A taxi from the nearest MRT station, at Queenstown, will cost around S$6. You can also take bus 61, 93, 97, 100, 166, 408 or 963 from HarbourFront MRT station to HortPark.
Reflections at Bukit Chandu
Atop Bukit Chandu (Opium Hill), this WWII interpretive centre is set inside a tiny renovated villa. The focus is on the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Malay Regiment, who bravely (and unsuccessfully) defended the hill against the 13,000 Japanese in the Battle of Pasir Panjang in February 1942.
The nearest bus stops (for buses 10, 30, 51 and 143) are on Pasir Panjang Rd, from where it's a steep hike up the hill. A taxi from Orchard Rd will cost around S$10. Combine this sight with a walk through the Southern Ridges (left).
Labrador Nature Reserve & Labrador Secret Tunnels
Believe it or not, this was an overgrown patch of jungle, slated to be turned into a theme park in the late '80s. Some locals had the sense to protest, and the discovery of WWII gun batteries put a stop to dreams of Disneyland. A lush park was carved into the hillside instead.
In addition to old gun placements on top of casemates, there's the intriguing Labrador Secret Tunnels. This series of storage and armament bunkers leads to the base of a 9.2in-circumference gun emplacement. Look for the buckled and caved-in walls from a direct hit from a Japanese bomb. Ring before visiting, as the tunnels aren't regularly manned.
Bus 408 from HarbourFront MRT takes you here. A taxi from HarbourFront costs S$6.
Haw Par Villa
There's no accounting for taste, really. Millionaire philanthropist and co-inventor of the Tiger Balm, Aw Boon Haw, certainly didn't hold back when he built the Haw Par Villa, an unbelievably weird (some say tacky) and undoubtedly kitsch theme park.
Inspired by Chinese literature and mythology, the park is filled with thousands of statues set in dioramas depicting scenes from disparate sources including Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Confucianism. The park's crowning glory is the 'Ten Courts of Hell', where grotesque statues depict sinners' fates in gory detail (impaling seems to be a popular form of punishment). Recompose yourself and calm your now-disturbed children at the nearby laughing Buddha.
Located on a hill within the compound is the Hua Song Museum. As classy as the villa is tacky, this museum offers visitors a glimpse into the lives, enterprises and adventures of Chinese migrants around the world in a more studious fashion than those in Haw Par Villa.
Bus 200 from Buona Vista MRT runs here as well as buses 10, 30 and 143 from HarbaurFront MRT.
Ask any local about the trio of small art museums in the National University of Singapore (NUS) campus and you'll probably get a blank stare before they reply, 'Huh? NUs has got a museum?' Which is a shame, as these galleries are top-notch and house a more exciting collection than the heavily advertised Singapore Art Museum (p496).
On the ground floor is the Lee Kong Chian Art Museum with artefacts and works spanning 7000 years of Chinese art. Look out for ceramic pillows (ouch) and delicate funerary jars from the Song dynasty. The concourse level features the South & Southeast Asian Gallery with art from across the region, including textiles and sculptures, all expertly curated. When we visited, there was a huge display of art by Jendela, an Indonesian collective.
Upstairs is the Ng EngTeng Gallery, displaying 1106 paintings, drawings and sculptures by Ng Eng Teng (1934-2001), one of Singapore's foremost artists, specialising in imaginative, sometimes surreal, bodily depictions. There's a human, sometimes self-deprecating, element to the work, perhaps best seen in a display of bloodied cotton balls (the artist had tuberculosis).
Visit the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (below) while you're on campus. Catch bus 95 from Buona Vista MRT to get here.
Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research
If examining stuffed animals and creatures preserved in large jars gets your pulse racing, the small Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, on the NUS campus, will give your adrenal glands a workout.
There are stuffed and preserved examples of rare and locally extinct creatures, including a 4.42m king cobra (clubbed to death when it slithered into the Singapore Country Club) and a banded leaf monkey (mauled by dogs... do we sense a theme here?) eerily floating in a tank, arms held up by strings.
It's not exactly on the tourist trail, but it's worth the trip if you combine it with the NUS Museums (left) nearby. Catch bus 95 from Buona Vista MRT.
Jurong Bird Park
This ageing attraction is still popular with school kids, families and nature photographers. The Jurong Bird Park is home to 8000 birds -600 species, 30 of them endangered. Visitors walk through themed enclosures along 1.7km worth of trails: pelicans gawp at passers-by along a boardwalk, leggy pink flamingos stand proud by a lake, penguins nosedive through water in air-conditioned comfort and cutting through it all is the escapable scent of
Other highlights include the penguin feedings at 10.30am and 3.30pm, the Waterfall Aviary (with its 30m-high man-made waterfall, the highest in the world), and the nocturnal World of Darkness. There are various flappy-bird shows throughout the day and a 'panorail' to shunt you around if you're feeling lazy.
To get here take bus 194 or 251 from Boon
Singapore Science Centre
The endearingly geeky Singapore Science Centre is chock-full of exhibits covering a variety of themes, from optical illusions to maths (ugh), the human body and even climate change. Many displays are of a push/ pull/twist-and-see-what-happens variety but our favourite is the gi-normous Tesla coil that frenetically shoots up sparks to the ceiling. No touching, kids!
Outside is the free Kinetic Garden, an interactive scientific sculpture garden. Next door, the Omni-Theatre projects films (of the nature-documentary variety) onto a 23m hemispheric screen and blasts your eardrums with 20,000 watts of sound.
Jurong East is the nearest MRT station -take the left-hand exit, walk through a row of stores and across Jurong Town Hall Rd. A taxi from Orchard Rd costs around SS18.
Five hundred metres off the south coast of Singapore is Sentosa Island , the city's unfailingly popular resort getaway. The Brits turned the island into a military fortress in the late 1800s. In 1967 it was returned to the Singaporean government, who developed it into a. holiday resort. These days, a concerted effort to transform the island from tacky second-rate to tacky world-class is under way. By 2010, the entire northern front will be home to a Universal Studios Theme Park and a casino . Like its beaches with imported sand, fake boulders and piped tin-drum renditions of 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' and 'Summer Holiday', Sentosa is an almost entirely synthetic attraction, but kids love the flashy rides and there are some substantial museums and outdoor activities for adults to chew on.
There's easily enough here for a full day's entertainment; if that's not enough time, you can stay overnight . The improving crop of restaurants and bars will keep you fed and watered.
Most attractions cost extra, which really adds up if you want to see them all. Ticket packages are a solid option at adult/child S$38.90/26.90. The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) branches have all the details. Free stuff on the island includes the buses and beaches.
Sentosa's saving grace, Grade the dugong is the star performer at Underwater World. Leafy sea dragons and wobbling Medusa jellyfish are mesmeric, while stingrays and 10ft sharks cruise inches from your face as the travellator takes you through the Ocean Colony's submerged glass tubes. Watch divers feeding the fish, or muster some nerve for the 30-minute Dive with the Sharks experience ($120 per person; call for details and bookings). The lights are turned off after 7pm and the aquarium takes on an eerie torchlit atmosphere.
Entry includes admission to Dolphin Lagoon at Palawan Beach, where Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphins (aka pink dolphins) dutifully perform at 11am, 1pm, 3.30pm and 5.30pm. For S$150 you can swim with the dolphins (call or check the website for bookings).
Dating from the 1880s, when Sentosa was called Pulau Blakang Mali (Malay for 'island behind which lies death'), is Fort Siloso. Three self-guided tours lead you around the various gun emplacements, tunnels and buildings, with waxwork recreations and voice-overs. When it came to the crunch in the WWII Japanese invasion, Siloso's guns were all pointing the wrong way (you can see the view from the southernmost gun emplacement). The Japanese used the fort as a POW camp.
From 1989 until 1992, Siloso housed Sentosa's most unusual 'attraction', political prisoner Chia Thye Poh. Arrested in 1966 for alleged communist sympathies, Chia served 23 years in jail before being placed under house arrest in Siloso - Sentosa's holiday delights sprang up around him.
This diverting historical and cultural museum kic off with Singapore as a Malay Sultanate then takes you through its consolidation as a port and trading centre, WWII and the subsequent Japanese surrender. Scenes are recreated using lifelike wax dummies, film footage and dramatic light-and-sound effects. Recreations of local customs and tradition are particularly interesting. A well-worn attraction on the school-excursion trail.
Sentosa's three southern beaches - Siloso to the west, Palawan in the middle and Tanjong to the east - will never match the beaches in Malaysia or Indonesia, but that doesn't seem to matter to the Singaporeans who flock here. The sandy coconut vibe is soporific, even if the muddy Straits of Singapore are a little uninviting.
Songs of the Sea is set out on kelongs (offshore fishing huts) and nightly combines musical gush-ings with a spectacular S$4-million sound, light and laser extravaganza - worth hanging around for.
You'll be fluttered by more than 50 species of butterfly inside the Butterfly Park & Insect Kingdom. The Insect Kingdom museum has thousands of mounted butterflies, rhino beetles, Hercules beetles (the world's largest), scorpions, and other critters and varmints - kids stare wide-eyed while adults feign disinterest.
Among the trashier of Sentosa's attractions is the Merlion, a 37m hybrid lion-mermaid statue towering over the island; the view is great but it's better from the cable car.
Cineblast, 4D Magix and Desperadoes offer different 4-D virtual-reality thrill rides and shows per admission - the 'fourth' dimension being the water sprayed at you (how rude!). There are several nature trails including the Dragon Trail Nature Walk, which has been typically livened up with plaster dragons and fossils. There are also plenty of long-tailed macaques about - keep your food hidden!
The 'overtoo quickly' Sentosa Luge is a 650m Downhill blitz on a wheeled toboggan felake like a dotcom dork on a Segway ride with Gogreen Segway Eco Adventure. Get perpendicular on this two-wheeled vehicle and scoot round a circuit (10 minutes, S$10) or opt for a longer jaunt to Tanjong or Siloso Beach (45 minutes, S$35).
Resembling a camembert impaled on a carrot, the former Carlsberg Sky Tower has had a fresh coat of paint and been rebadged the Tiger Sky Tower. Take the slow ride up the 110m column for magical Singapore views. Thankfully, the Carlsberg Float - a beer and ice-cream monstrosity at the bar - was not replaced with a Tiger version.
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