In 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles founded colonial Singapore. The country was first used a trading post for the East India Trading Company before becoming part of Britain’s Straits Settlements in 1826 after the company collapsed. After being occupied by Japan during World War II, the country eventually won its independence, and is now the world’s only island city-state.
The complicated history created a country that is a melting pot of cultures. English speakers will have no problem navigating Singapore as most of its residents and establishments speak the language as well as Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil.
Getting to Singapore from the United States often involves a layover in Hong Kong or another city. Currently United Airlines is the only airline to offer direct service from the U.S. to Singapore, a flight that last 16 hours and departs daily from San Francisco. Singapore Airlines also plans to renew its non-stop service to Singapore in 2017.
Singapore has a tropical rainforest climate, which means most days are exceptionally humid, with temperatures ranging from 72 to 95 degree Fahrenheit. Despite the heat, the country boats a number of interesting outdoor activities as well as some wonderful indoor (and air-conditioned) options.
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1. Singapore Zoo
What if we told you that you could have breakfast with Orangutans? The Singapore Zoo shows up on a lot of lists for its amazing Night Safari, a trip through the zoo where you get a glimpse of a number of nocturnal animals. There's as much to see if you decide to hit the property early.
The zoo is the only place in the world that offers the opportunity to dine with orangutans. Available from 9-10:30 a.m. each day, the buffet-style breakfast includes local and western options, and is shared with some of the orangutans on the property (who are having a breakfast of bamboo along side you). After you eat, you're able to take a few pictures with the animals.
You will also have the opportunity to interact with other species, including sea lions and giraffes. Entry requires a zoo ticket, which can be purchased on its own or as part of a package deal with the Night Safari and a River Cruise on the property.
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There are more reasons to visit Singapore's Chinatown besides the fact that it's exceptionally clean (although, that's a good one; where else will you find a pristine Chinatown?!). The area has different merchants selling clothing, scarves, chopsticks and the like as well as a market where locals shop for fish, produce, and more exotic fare such as frogs and "post operation fish," a fish used in Chinese medicine to help promote healing after a surgery.
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3. Gardens by the Bay
Singapore is known as "the garden city," and Gardens by the Bay is perhaps the city's most magnificent offering. The property has two indoor exhibits. The garden's "Flower Dome" is the largest glass greenhouse in the world, and boasts a rotating display of flowers and plants from various regions around the world. Within the greenhouse you're able to climb (via elevator) to the top of a 115-foot-tall mountain, and see first hand how plants change the higher you go. The garden's "Cloud Forest" mimics the top of a mountain. Inside you'll find waterfalls and vegetation typically grown at exceptionally high altitudes. And the amazement continues outside, where you can walk through the Supertree Grove, a garden of 18 "trees" that look as if they've grown right out of a sci-fi book. Colorful lights highlight each tree in the evening hours, as the Supertree Grove is open until 2 a.m. each night
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4. Rooftop at Marina Bay Sands
The Marina Bay Sands is hard to miss, which is good because you won't want to. Valued at a whopping $8 billion, the massive three-tower hotel is the most expensive casino property in the world and has what looks like a boat placed on top of it. Inside you'll find a full shopping mall, casino, ice skating rink, museum, theater, and a rooftop infinity pool, which is as terrifying as it sounds, but also so cool.
The pool is only available for hotel guests, but if you're not dripping in enough diamonds to justify a room there, get a taste of the experience by grabbing a Singapore Sling and dinner at Sky 57 located at one end of the rooftop. The bar and restaurant overlooks Gardens by the Bay, and offers views of the city as well as Pacific Ocean and Malaysia.
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5. Raffles Hotel
The Raffles Hotel was originally opened in 1887, and is one of the few remaining 19th century hotels in the world. Named after Singapore's founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, the hotel was patronized by famous authors such as Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling early in its history. The Raffles was the first building in Singapore to have electric lights and the birthplace of the iconic Singapore Sling, widely considered to be the national drink of the country. Today you can enjoy a Singapore Sling in the hotel's Long Bar.
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6. River Cruise
Bumboats were originally used early in Singapore's history to transport foods and cargo from Europe. Hop aboard one of the historic vessels and take a cruise down the Singapore River past a number of landmarks, including The Singapore Flyer, a giant observation wheel, and the Merlion, a fountain that has a lion's head and a fish's body. The lion is widely used as a mascot for Singapore and represents Singapore's rich history as a fishing village married with its original name Singapura, which means "lion city." Cruises are available during the day as well as evening hours, and offer a unique perspective of the country's landscape from the comfort of a seated (and covered in case it's raining) vessel.
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7. Mustafa Centre
If you need to pick up a few gifts to take back home but don't want to go to a tacky souvenir shop, the Mustafa Centre will fulfill your kitschy needs while showing you the local shopping culture. The only 24-hour shopping center in the country, Mustafa is a four-story situation that is sort of like a super Target meets an open-air market where you can buy everything from food and spices to electronics, jewelry and clothing. Be warned: the store is always crowded, even if you stop by in the middle of the night. If you decide to brave the day crowds, be sure to take a walk around the neighborhood, Little India, as well. Grab a bag of the signature coffee, kopi, which is a mixture of coffee and evaporated milk. Plastic bags serve as "to-go cups," which you can pick up for just $1.