Western way smoothes path for first-timers

Western way smoothes path for first-timers

SINGAPORE is, without doubt, the cleanest, safest, most comfortable gateway to the Far East.

It has top-class hotels, great shopping and plenty of good restaurants, all of which are connected by an easy-to-use and efficient public transport system.

For these reasons, Singapore is an ideal choice for first-time visitors to Asia, as it offers a gentle introduction to the Far East while enjoying all the comforts of the west.

Seasoned travellers will probably be disappointed that much of Singapore's character was wiped away during the vigorous clean-up campaign of the 1980s, but the city still has a strong Asian flavour.

Modern high-rise hotels dominate the skyline, but in their shadows are the ethnic areas of Little India, Chinatown and Arab Street. Although these areas have also been spruced up they still give visitors a taste of old Singapore.

In Chinatown there are old temples, lots of picturesque shophouses selling such items as Chinese herbs, kites and calligraphy, and Chinese restaurants and tea rooms where visitors can take part in a traditional tea ceremony.

Chinatown also has a few traditional Singapore hotels which provide an alternative to the city's modern properties.

Little India is the place to buy silk, gold, jewellery and spices, while Arab Street is a flood of saris, leather, jewellery, perfumes and brass. The Sultan Mosque is also worth a visit.

Singapore has added lots of new attractions in recent years to try to tempt visitors to spend longer in the city.

A top draw is the Night Safari, which has a collection of exotic animals in about 40 acres of secondary rainforest. It is open from 7.30pm until midnight and costs about $16 for adults and $11 for children. A tram ride around the park costs extra, and to avoid the long queues visitors are best advised to go after 9pm.

Other attractions include the Singapore Zoological Gardens, the Singapore Crocodilarium, Jurong Bird Park and the Botanic Gardens.

Eating out in Singapore is a real treat as there is such a vast array of restaurants to choose from, including Chinese, Indian, Malay and Nonya - the closest Singapore has to an indigenous cuisine. There are also plenty of western restaurants.

Popular places to eat are Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Chijmes. But a much cheaper option is to dine in one of the many Hawker centres which are packed with stalls selling food from all over Asia.

Visitors are likely to have exhausted Singapore's attractions within three or four days, but those with more time could travel to one of the neighbouring islands such as Sentosa, which is linked to the city by cable car, ferry and the Causeway Bridge.

The island's attractions include a Family Entertainment Centre with rides for children, Butterfly Park, oceanarium and water theme park.

A quieter option is Pulau Ubin where visitors can either take a stroll or hire a bike and pedal round the island. It can be reached by traditional bumboat from Changi Point.

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