Today’s Singapore is one of the world’s most prosperous countries. What stood out to me the most was the incredible urban planning, and representations of so many world religions, lifestyles, and cuisines. It’s also emerging as a top travel destination.
There were also many aspects that surprised me. When I arrived I had no idea what to expect. Probably because I booked my flight 6 days before I left and my hostel only two days before my flight. I can’t say that I’m surprised at myself.
I’ve accepted that I’m a spontaneous traveler – for better or for worse.
If there are safety concerns, however, I do a little less ‘winging it.’ I knew from research that Singapore would be a safe and easy place to travel. It’s great to go with the flow in cases like this, but if I had any concerns about my safety there I would have planned my itinerary a bit more.
Singapore was a diverse mix of cultures, delicious cuisines, and striking urban planning. There was so much to see, do, learn, and experience, there was no way I could fit it all into only 3 days.
When visiting a new place, I sometimes forget to pay attention to my first impressions. Somehow they get sidelined in between hustling to find my accommodation, plan out things to see, and trying to experience it all.
But I think it’s important to pay attention to the little things. I like to contemplate the little surprises and interesting aspects of travel along the way.
Here are 13 surprising facts about Singapore that I think you should know. They are my first impressions and details that I didn’t expect!
Singapore is a city, an island, and a country
Singapore is a small and prosperous nation, city, and island all in one. It is located off the southern tip of Malaysia, Southeast Asia. This place is definitely an anomaly and Singaporeans seem to be proud of it!
There are very few women on the street
This isn’t exactly one of the facts about Singapore, but rather an observation. I found that men in the streets outnumbered women about 9 to 1. This city felt very developed and modern yet women were not talking on street corners, taking public transportation, or eating in restaurants.
Try durian, but you probably won’t like it!
If you’ve ever smelled durian, you probably remember it as being a deathly disgusting fruit. In fact it is banned on Singapore Public Transit because of how foul the smell is! At outdoor markets you can occasionally catch a whiff. If you want to try it, consider the durian ice cream. It’s not half bad (because of all the sugar) but somehow the tangy sweetness resembles onions and garlic.
The heat can be too much
Locals may be used to it, but for me the heat and humidity was very intense. Perhaps I was effected so much because I came from a rainy Australian winter, but I quickly realized that my jam-packed 3 days of sightseeing wasn’t all going to happen. I needed lots of water and ice cream breaks to handle the heat.
The cost of living is low, but the standard is high
This was an interesting fact a Vietnamese man in my hostel told me. What this means is that food and living is inexpensive for Singaporeans, yet 80% live in government housing which enhances quality of life. The high standard of living is different from the lifestyle in most areas of Southeast Asia.
3$ Hainanese chicken rice is the local go-to
This was my favorite meal in Singapore because it was so delicious, affordable and available everywhere. My favorite spot is a 3$ chicken and rice stall at the Chinatown food center near Sri Mariamman Temple. If you don’t make it to that particular centre, don’t worry – it’s hard to find a meal in Singapore that isn’t delicious.
Book a hostel that offers free breakfast (because almost all of them do)
Most hostels in Singapore offer free breakfast, so make sure to book one that does. This is a great way to save some cash, befriend other travelers, and get advice on the best things to see and do. My hostel had an awesome breakfast with eggs, toast, spreads and cereals.
There’s a 500$ fine for eating on public transit
There are many illegal activities in Singapore that might surprise you – jaywalking, selling gum, singing in public, and even eating on public transit. To avoid a bummer on your vacation, save your sandwich until you get off the metro!
You will get your takeaway coffee in a bag
This one of these facts about Singapore confused me at first. When you order a coffee to go, they will put a little plastic bag around it so it’s easier to carry. This is convenient for public transit where you aren’t allowed to eat or drink, but mostly it’s a waste of plastic. Ask for your coffee without it – we don’t need more plastic bags in the oceans!
80% of Singaporeans live in public housing
As an American, this fact about Singapore was shocking. Housing, that is managed and maintained by the government? That 80% of people use?! The public housing system is available for married couples and anyone over the age of 35. The goal is to improve the standard of living and limit the homeless population. Why we don’t have something like this in the United States, I don’t know.
Singapore is one of the world’s greenest cities
This city of skyscrapers is also filled with many gardens and green infrastructure incorporated into buildings. Nearly half of Singapore’s land area (approximately 700 square kilometers) is under green cover. Singapore is also home to more than 2,100 native plant species. This photo is from one of the greatest green projects in the city, the free-to-access botanic gardens.
Eat at hawker stalls
Hands down, the best way to eat cheap, good food in Singapore is at one of its many hawker centers. ‘Hawker centers’ are outdoor food market stalls serving local and international dishes at affordable prices. For $2-4 USD you can get a delicious and satisfying meal, with drinks costing an additional dollar or two. Be sure to try Hainanese chicken rice, spring rolls, laksa (rice noodles with bean curd and coconut sauce) and prata (Indian roti).
Homosexuality? Still illegal
For all the development and modern aspects of in Singapore, it is still illegal to be gay. Same-sex relationships continue to be criminalized, and many view this as the state’s endorsement of discrimination against sexual minorities. Even so, LGBTQ events have taken place since 2009, with increasing attendance. Perhaps this is a sign that this country is on its way to becoming more liberal and progressive.
There Is No Need to Tip
Singapore is super safe
After talking with other solo travelers, I realized that my experience wasn’t an anomaly – Singapore is a safe place to travel alone. Being a solo female traveler can sometimes feel risky but Singapore felt very safe to sightsee, explore, and walk around myself. Of course also take precautions, be aware, and walk on well lit streets at night.
I hope these surprising aspects and facts about Singapore made you want to visit.
Want ideas for what to do while you’re here? Check out this Itinerary for Singapore in 3 Days.