Singapore- first impressions

Singapore is one of Asia’s great success stories. Tiny and lacking natural resources, the city state managed to raise itself from an impoverished reject (it was briefly part of Malaysia before being kicked out) in 1965 to become one of the world’s richest nations and major financial hubs. Singapore manages to punch well above its weight in business, trade, tech, tourism, and regional politics. Singapore is also unique in that it was ruled by a legendary strongman who was very respected, feared and admired – the late Lee Kuan Yew, who passed away in 2015. Much of Singapore’s economic success and development has been credited to his leadership. But Lee also contributed to Singapore’s reputation as a nanny state due to severe laws that limit freedom of expression, dissent, and other more banal things (like chewing gum for instance). While supposedly a democracy, Singapore has been ruled by only one party, Lee’s PAP, which always wins elections in an overwhelming manner (PAP currently hold 83 out of 89 seats).

I visited Singapore last year for the first time, and I was prepared to be bored, but instead I was quite impressed by the buildings and attractions, and how modern the country was in general. There was a lot of open space and greenery, and places did not feel crowded, despite being a small country with over 5 million. While the population is about 75% ethnic Chinese, Indians, Malays and expats make up the other 25%, and this was apparent everywhere in terms of the people and the food.

My birthplace Hong Kong seems to regard Singapore as its main competitor, due to both being tiny city states that are thriving financial hubs and former British colonies. But from what I saw, Hong Kong is so far behind that there is almost no contest. As mentioned, Singapore felt so spacious and uncongested, in comparison to Hong Kong and its cramped buildings and sidewalks and very crowded spaces.

Also, Hong Kong has nothing like the Gardens by the Bay or the Marina Bay Sands hotel, which even though they often appear in countless photos , are impressive to see in person. I saw a lot of towers with rooftop gardens or plants strewn across the building itself, which besides supposedly being good for the environment also looks kind of cool. I’m sure Hong Kong might have similar buildings, but I haven’t seen any yet.

However, there were a few issues.
As spacious and clean as the streets and buildings in Singapore were, it often felt a bit too orderly. While not boring, I did feel like everything was a bit too perfect and artificial. In fact, parts of the city were a bit sparse like the riverside where the Asian Civilizations Museum was.

I also found the subway system to be kind of slow. For instance, I took the subway from my hotel in Little India to the airport, thinking it would take 1 hour, but in reality it took almost 1 hour and a half, which resulted in me having to rush to check in and scramble to my gate (I made my flight). Apparently, when going to Changi airport by subway, you need to get off at Tanah Merah station and wait for another train to go the final two stops, which took about 15 minutes to come. I hadn’t realized it would take so long because I thought that as a train going to the airport, it would be more frequent.
I also took the subway to visit a friend who worked there as an expat. Foolishly, I thought 45 minutes would be enough since I only had go less than 10 stations, albeit transferring twice, but instead it took over an hour.

A very surprising issue is the dual pricing at attractions like the Gardens at the Bay, which means Singaporeans pay much less than tourists. While this exists across Southeast Asia, I was surprised at seeing this in Singapore since it is a very wealthy country (if anything tourists should be paying less than locals, but I know locals have contributed to these attractions through tax). Still, dual pricing doesn’t exist across Europe, Japan or North America.

It may not be a place to stay for too long or go wild and let loose (go to Thailand for that) but Singapore is a very interesting small country that is an oasis of calm and order in Southeast Asia.


15 thoughts on “Singapore- first impressions

  1. You’ve got a fantastic opening shot ~ one that screams all that I love about Singapore. My first visit there I fell in love with the order, the beauty, and in a sense the wealth of the people (even though I was a penniless traveler at the time). It was beautiful to see the pride of the population, and while some freedoms were given up – it was safe and prosperous. While I love Singapore, it cannot hold a candle to Hong Kong in my eyes. My first visit to HK followed my first visit to Singapore and the life of HK blew me away 🙂 Wishing you a great spring season ~

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Randall. Very glad to see your comment. While I think Singapore is a bit too orderly (I guess this is why you prefer HK as well), I wish HK could copy Singapore in urban planning, especially open spaces, and affordable housing (I think over 70% of Singaporeans live in government flats). Have a good spring as well.


    1. Cool blog post. Waterloo Street, the Peranakan Street and the Haw Paw Villa look very interesting. I like how Singapore manages to preserve some of its historical ethnic neighborhoods though I suppose it’s very neat and sanitized for tourists.


    1. You’re welcome, Kally. It was very interesting being in Singapore for the first time ever. I hope to visit again in future. Did you see anything you strongly agreed or disagreed with?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. How many days did you spent in Singapore? Your first impression is astute. I am a tourist in my own country after spending nearly 6 years away from her. Whenever I go back, I find it stiflingly, maybe the lifestyle is too fast paced and systematic for me. Lol.


        1. I only spent 4 days in Singapore. I found it very orderly too. To me, it did not seem as fast paced as Hong Kong, but I think Singapore, like Taipei, has a good balance – not slow and not too fast.
          Actually I used to think maybe Singapore and KL were similar. But after going there last year (I also went to KL and Malaysia for my first time in 2017), I realized there is a huge difference, ha. To be honest, I’m not that big a fan of KL. Perhaps spending more time there (I went there again a few months ago but just for 3 days) would give me a different impression.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. To fall in love with KL, you’ll need to peel off the outer layers. Go with a local as a guide and you’ll see through their eyes why they love KL despite bad government management. In just 3 years, I’m in love with KL. I can withstand the horrid system all because of the people and food of KL.


            1. That’s an interesting point about KL. Sounds like it’s hard for visitors to like KL a lot but living there and knowing locals, as you say, make it much better.

              Liked by 1 person

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