SINGAPORE: Singapore is a city-state of stark contrasts. Combining modernity with tradition, the country offers a melting pot of Chinese, Malay, Indians, Eurasian and foreign expats, which comprise more than a third of its population.
Singapore has developed into one of the world’s financial capitals, making it a country of contrasts as modern cityscape and bustling nightlife grow alongside enduring traditions and well-kept religious relics.
On arrival Small international airports like Rafik Hariri International pale in comparison to Singapore Changi, with its wall-climbing foliage in the baggage pick-up and sporadic art displays. It’s also clean to the point of obsession.
There are rules: Do not make any inappropriate jokes; do not have cigarettes in your bag; don’t even bring chewing gum. Even on the streets of Singapore, it will cost you $500 if you spit gum onto the street. Not such a good way to start your holidays.
Public GardensNature planted and maintained all over the city offers a break from the smog and pollution.
Green spaces – something missing in our beloved Beirut – will make you want to spend the whole day walking around.
You can discover eclectic species of orchids at the National Orchid Garden. This large space offers a multitude of orchids you’ve likely never seen before. Strangely shaped, colorful to the extreme with different sizes, the flora in this garden is a paradise to the eyes. Fish pedicureIf you want to try something new, step into one of the city’s tiny beauty salons, such as one at the beginning of the Chinatown street market, and do a fish pedicure.
If you choose this Chinatown hole-in-the-wall, a smiling Singaporean man will great you after climbing dozens of stairs and explain the process. The fish, which live in tanks that are cleaned throughout the day, will eat the dead skin off your feet without hurting you. Yes, they bite, but the feeling is more ticklish than painful. You will be surprised of the result – which is all natural.
Religious templesWandering the streets of Chinatown and eventually you will fall upon a marvelous vestige of Hinduism in Singapore known as Sri Mariamman Temple. You will enter through a towering and colorful gateway (called “gopuram”) into Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, bursting with sculptures of Hindu deities.
To enter, you’ll have to remove your shoes. And if you are lucky, you may be on time for regular Hindu celebrations, when the temple’s interior is filled with flowers and the faithful are dressed with traditional Hindu clothing.
Also located in the Chinatown district is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. Before entering, women are asked to cover their shoulders and scarves are readily available to borrow if you don’t have anything to cover up. Golden relics, Buddhists monks meditating, honoring their deities, offering food and other stuff to their god can be seen. Pay attention not to make too much noise, as monks are usually seen meditating in the temple. The monks live an acetic life and welcome food donations, but make sure it’s something vegetarian. Chinatown marketAlthough a very touristic neighborhood, Chinatown’s market bursts with souvenirs, antiques and traditional clothing.
The merchants are very polite and easily on-hand. Several stands are dedicated to ancient local medicine comprised of huge unidentifiable insects kept in an unknown yellow liquid and snakes rolled up like rope. If you are adventurous enough, vendors are more than happy to let you try them.
Marina BayIf you are more into shopping malls and high luxury places, you can head down to Marina Bay.
A huge mall is host to fashion boutiques such as Louis Vuitton, Victoria’s Secret and other high-end luxury styles. If you go up on the roof, you will be at the Marina Bay Sand Resort which has one of the best swimming pools in the world. This boat-shaped resort has a 150-meter-long pool overhanging the hotel underneath it – but beware if you’re afraid of heights.