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Singapore Tips For The First Time Visitor

Singapore is quite different to anywhere in South East Asia. It probably always has been but the modern affluent Singapore is where it is today because of Lee Kwan Yew who could best be described as a benevolent dictator, as well as his successors who have continued the process of making downtown Singapore one of the top city centres anywhere.

The Singapore of earlier years, as remembered by thousands of ex British servicemen has long gone. The attractions of Bugis Street only exist as a street name, and Change Alley is a shopping mall under a high rise. The old colonial Raffles Hotel with all its charm has been modernised and is no longer the down at heel faded grandeur but a series of shops and glitz. If you visit and remember the good old days you will long for their return. Indeed the famous Long Bar is not where it used to be and is but a pale shadow of its former glory.

There is however a positive aspect of Singapore in the 21st century, and it is definitely a place to stopover for a few days. One word of warning, don’t go and stay in one of the new high rise hotels at the end of Orchard Road. They are full of shopping malls, and frankly you could be anywhere in the world.

Much better you should stay in the downtown area, where Singaporeans eat in huge eateries under the car parks, and tourists, expats, and locals eat and drink in the pavement cafes along both sides of the river. The river itself is amazingly clean as is the whole of Singapore. There is no debris anywhere, which is remarkable.

The only problem for tourists and locals alike is the oppressive and constant humidity. You should wait until the evening, after seven o’clock which is when everyone seems to appear, and then the street cafes fill up and the city seems to come alive. At the other end of the day, if you are out and about before eleven in the morning, nothing seems to be open, and you will even find it tricky to get a cup of coffee. Singapore is definitely a night owl’s paradise.

Old memories of Orchard Road have been all but obliterated by high rise. There seems to have been an obsession with destroying the old, infinitely more attractive Singapore and replacing it with new faceless blocks. However not all has been lost, and Singapore’s Chinatown retains its old world charm, and is a must visit. Old colonial buildings have been conserved, and the atmosphere minus the smell has been retained.

If you lived in the Far East, either HongKong or Singapore in the fifties and sixties, it was the smell that you remember. Open drains and sewers are long gone in Singapore and something has been lost. Street food in Chinatown whilst almost only for tourists is a must do.

If one is to have a verdict on the new Singapore, there is a lot to commend it. It has become one of the safest cities in the world, where a woman can walk safely day or night.There really are no hustlers left on the streets. Prices are no longer low, indeed it is an expensive place to visit, but nevertheless a place that is a must see, even if only for a few days. Just go at least once, and then it will draw you back.

Ian SG Smith