The first written account of the island that is now known as Singapore appeared in the third century in an ancient Chinese account, and it referred to the island of Pu Luo Chung, which was populated by the Malay people. In the 13th century, legend states that Prince Srivijaya gave the island the name of Singapura when he stepped on the island and saw a lion. The Malay people lived in relative peace on the island through its earliest years.
In 1390, trade came to Singapore when the Mongol Empire sent traders to the southern half of the island. Little else is known about the early history of Singapore until European settlement began in the early 16th century. This came to a head when the British Empire took over the island in the 1800s.
Singapore became a part of modern history when Sir Thomas Raffles declared it a part of the British Empire in 1819. Part of the reason that so little is known about the island prior to his arrival is the fact that so few people lived there. When Raffles landed on what is now Singapore, only about 1,000 Malay and Chinese people called the island home.
After the British established a trade port on the island, it quickly grew into a prosperous free-trade hub in Southeast Asia. However, the population growth that occurred during this time was not matched by an increase in civil services. As a result, diseases ran rampant due to poor sanitation, and the opium industry reigned supreme.
Also, piracy on the seas made sea trade challenging. The colonial governments tried to make policies to fix these problems, but without success. Still, the economic prosperity drew Chinese immigrants to jobs in Singapore in spite of the social challenges, and they began to intermingle with the local Malay people to create the Peranakan people.
When the Japanese invaded Singapore during World War II, they brought a brutal dictatorship to the island. Thousands of people were executed or taken prisoner during this time. When the war was over and the Japanese were defeated, the people of Singapore welcomed the British back, but their rule was not as strong as it had been before.
In 1954, the socialist People’s Action Party was founded under Lee Kuan Yew. The party quickly took over the government with its socialist rhetoric. By 1959, Lee was the first Singaporean prime minister, a position he held for 31 years.
The PAP has been quite successful in establishing Singapore as a player in the Asian world. The country has few natural resources of its own, but it has a strong labor force. As such, Yew built a manufacturing and industrial program to help the island succeed economically. By the mid 1990s, Singapore had the highest rate of home ownership in the world. The government set up strict controls over media and social behavior in order to further their socialist philosophies and goals. Yew resigned in 1990, when Goh Chok Tong replaced him, only to be replaced a few years later by Yew’s eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong.
- Unlike many socialist countries, Singapore has a very open economy. In fact, it is thriving economically. Yet, the people of Singapore have few freedoms of expression, which creates a bit of a contradiction.
- The people of Singapore speak English as their trade language, but few speak it well. Thus, the language of the country is a distorted version of English known as Singlish, which incorporates Malay and Chinese words and expressions into English.
- Singapore is one of the most culturally diverse areas you can visit. Here you will see distinctively Western influence, as well as influences from British rule, and the Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures.
- Singapore has 63 tiny islands in its boundaries, most of which are uninhabited.
- Singapore is the most densely populated country in the world outside of Monaco, yet it is one of the 20 smallest countries in the world. There are approximately 6,430 people per square kilometer in Singapore.
- The country is the world’s largest exporter of ornamental fish, in spite of its highly urban landscape.
- Singapore’s Changi Airport regularly earns the title as the “Best Airport Worldwide” from Business Traveller magazine.
- Singapore is home to the largest fountain in the world. Located in Sun City, it cost around $6 million (US dollars) to build in 1997 and is cast out of bronze.
- The Night Safari at Singapore Zoo– Singapore is home to the world’s first night zoo. Be sure to plan a visit during your trip.
- Bukit Timah Nature Reserve – This nature reserve has more species of trees than the entire continent of North America. Keep your camera handy as you explore some of these exotic species.
- Chinatown – the Chinatown experience in Singapore is not to be missed, as the Chinese are one of the largest ethnic groups on the island. Chinatown is located in the southern portion of the island in Singapore City.
- Asian Civilizations Museum – Explore all of the cultures that make Singapore such a unique destination in this museum.
- Little India – Immerse yourself in Indian culture in Little India. Sunday nights are particularly festive as the community goes a bit “Bollywood.”
- Singapore Botanic Gardens – Revel in the beauty of Asian gardens at this location.
- Orchard Road – Orchard Road is the place to go in Singapore for excellent shopping.
- Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay – Catch a cultural performance or other show at this performing arts center. There are regular ongoing series throughout the year to cater to everyone, children and adults.
- Raffles Hotel – Even if you don’t stay here, you’ll want to catch a glimpse of the colonial-inspired Raffles Hotel.
- Hawker Centre – This is the place to go to experience some of Singapore’s mouthwatering cuisine.
How Do You Get Cash?
- You can find ATMs nearly everywhere in Singapore. This is a convenient and fairly affordable way to get your hands on some Singapore dollars, but be prepared for fees from your bank.
- Credit cards are widely accepted throughout the country. Be prepared for a surcharge, though. The taxis, for instance, charge 15 percent for those who use credit cards. You can also use Nets Flash Pay or eZ-Link at most fast food restaurants and convenience stores.
- Retailers will not accept traveler’s checks, but you can cash them at most currency exchange booths.
- Currency exchange booths offer excellent rates and better hours than banks. In Little India, you will find a 24 hour exchange that takes just about any type of currency. Always ask a quote if you are exchanging a larger amount, as you may get a better rate than what is displayed.
- If all else fails, look for a Western Union to have money transferred to you. Keep in mind that this is an expensive process, but it works in an emergency.