Once routinely criticised for being dull, Singapore has reinvented itself as one of Southeast Asia’s most modern and dynamic cities. Melding together a mass of different cultures, cuisines and architectural styles, the city-state is now studded with vast new showpiece constructions to complement its colonial-era hotels and civic buildings. Cutting-edge tourist developments continue to spring up. Shopping avenues and underground malls throb with life, as do the food courts, the riverside bars and the temple-dotted outlying neighbourhoods. It’s never going to be Bangkok, but it’s doing a fantastic job of being Singapore.
Chinese, Indian, Malay and European influences all flow through daily life here. Boring? Hardly. It’s true to say, however, that the former British trading post and colony still has a reputation for its cleanliness (it’s still panned for its seemingly petty regulations, such as the banning of chewing gum). Likewise, levels of serious crime are very low. It’s worth pointing out, too, that Singapore’s cultural mix has left it with a genuinely world-class food scene – and you won’t need to spend big to eat well.
Recent years have seen the city really pushing for recognition as an international tourist destination in its own right, rather than as a convenient stopover. Significant investment has resulted in developments such as Marina Bay Sands, the three-towered skyscraper that now stands as Singapore’s centrepiece; Resorts World Sentosa, which is home to a Universal Studios theme park; and Gardens by the Bay, a remarkable project complete with “supertrees” and two colossal plant domes.
More traditional attractions include the designer malls of Orchard Road, the exotic clatter of Chinatown and Little India and the elegance of Raffles Hotel, still standing proud more than 125 years after being built. On the subject of hotels, Singapore now offers one of the best spreads of high-end accommodation in the region: a sign, amongst other things, of its ambition to keep visitors flooding in. It’s likely to succeed.