Singapore

SINGAPORE - THE CITY OF LIONS

Singapore is a city-state in Southeast Asia. Founded as a British trading colony in 1819, since independence it has become one of the world's most prosperous countries and boasts the world's busiest port. Combining the skyscrapers and subways of a modern, affluent city with a medley of Chinese, Malay and Indian influences and a tropical climate, with tasty food, good shopping and a vibrant night-life scene, this Garden City makes a great stopover or springboard into the region. Some of the main attractions for tourists in Singapore are city centre with magnificent lighted buildings, temples, gambling in two great casinos, food, entertainment parks and annual festivals. Singapore is also a medical tourism centre of Southeastern Asia. Singapore is in fact one of the most enjoyable cities in Southeast Asia. As you zoom in from one of the world's best airports along the lushly tree-shaded expressway. And as you stroll through the fashion emporiums of Orchard Rd, poke around antique shops in Chinatown or take a walk around one of the dozens of beautiful city parks, you'll know the city bears no comparison to crime- and poverty of neighboring countries. You can be drinking and dancing until dawn in the city's pubs and clubs, or sipping a cocktail surrounded by the colonial elegance of a Raffles Hotel veranda. There's no law that says an Asian city can't be well run. It may have been a long and difficult haul from swampy colonial outpost and notorious den of vice to powerhouse industrial nation, but those who say that Singapore has lost its soul along the way couldn't be more wrong. Few cities in Southeast Asia can boast Singapore's fascinating ethnic brew. Where else in the world can you dip into the cultures of China, India and Muslim Malaysia all in one day, against a backdrop of ultra-modern Western commerce? Not only has Singapore's history of migration left a rich cultural and architectural legacy that makes wandering the streets an absorbing delight, it has created one of the world's great eating capitals. If there's one thing more stylish than the bars and restaurants, it's the boutiques that have made Singapore a byword in Asia for extravagant shopping. Away from the Gucci and Louis Vuitton onslaught of Orchard Rd, however, there are bargains to be found on everything from clothes to electronics - and a range of art and antique shops that few Asian cities can match. But Singapore is not all about shopping and eating. Nor is the notion of Singapore as completely urbanized anything more than popular myth. Adventure activities include diving with sharks at Underwater World on Sentosa, mountain biking around Bukit Timah, leopard-spotting at Singapore Zoo's magical Night Safari, waterskiing or wakeboarding on the Kallang River, go-karting and rock climbing. And if you want to retreat from civilization completely, the centre of the island retains large tracts of forest where the only sound you can hear is the monkeys swinging through the trees. In fact, Singapore is one of only two cities in the world that still retains a patch of primary rainforest, in the form of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. It's a fascinating place - and a remarkable achievement. No-one is denying that Singaporeans have had to sacrifice some level of freedom in their island's rise from racially divided, resource-starved port town. But you get the feeling that if Western development aid had ever matched Singapore's strides in poverty reduction, education, infrastructure and health care, they'd be patting themselves on the back and saying that political freedom was a small sacrifice to make. Besides, it's not all strait-laced conformity. You don't have to look far to find echoes of the island's colourful, rakish past, or evidence of a thriving and creatively unfettered artistic community. Singapore's soul is alive and well - and it is unique.

JURONG BIRD PARK

This ageing attraction is still popular with school kids, families and nature photographers. The Jurong Bird Park is home to 8000 birds -600 species, 30 of them endangered. Visitors walk through themed enclosures along 1.7km worth of trails: pelicans gawp at passers-by along a boardwalk, leggy pink flamingos stand proud by a lake, penguins nosedive through water in air-conditioned comfort and cutting through it all is the escapable scent of bird poop.

ORCHARD ROAD

Famous by name, Orchard Rd was once was lined with nutmeg and pepper plantations. Today it's the domain of Singapore's elite and well-heeled tourists, lured here by the shopping centres, nightspots, restaurants, bars and lounges. A showcase for the material delights of capitalism, Orchard Rd also possesses some sights of cultural interest where a credit card is not required.

LITTLE INDIA

This modest but colourful area of wall-to-wall shops, pungent aromas and Hindi film music is a relief from the prim modernity of many parts of the city. Centred around the southern end of Serangoon Rd, this is the place to come to pick up that framed print of Krishna you've always wanted, eat great food and watch streetside cooks fry chapatis. The Zhujiao Centre is the main market, but there are also interesting spice shops nearby. The best temples are Sri Veeramakaliamman, Sri Srinivasa Perumal and the glitzy Temple of 1000 Lights.

BUTTERFLY PARK & INSECT KINGDOMA

You'll be fluttered by more than 50 species of butterfly inside the Butterfly Park & Insect Kingdom. The Insect Kingdom museum has thousands of mounted butterflies, rhino beetles, Hercules beetles (the world's largest), scorpions, and other critters and varmints - kids stare wide-eyed while adults feign disinterest.

SINGAPORE ATTRACTIONS

SINGAPORE ZOO

Set on a peninsula jutting into the Upper Seletar Reservoir, the Singapore Zoo is world class. Its 28 landscaped hectares and open concept (no cages) are a far cry from the sad concrete confines some zoos retain. The Singapore Zoo is one of the best in the world.

SINGAPORE FLYER

The Singapore Flyer is an expensive 30-minute ride with views towards the Colonial District, CBD, Marina Bay, the high-rise housing landscape to the east and out to the South China Sea. You're better off going on a clear day than at night, if only to avoid the annoying flashing neon lights outside the cabin

SINGAPORE BOTANIC GARDENS

If Singapore's urban planners could manufacture paradise, it wouldn't look too different from the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The front entrance leads to an idyllic koi pond. On weekends, laughing children feed the multicoloured fish. Right behind, a waterfall gurgles and birds hop around the water's edge, at ease with the locals

NIGHT SAFARI

You can walk around the three trails in the 40-hectare forested park but the best experience is via the tram (adult/child S$10/5), even though we think it's a little cheeky (and greedy) that you have to pay for the atmospheric 45-minute jungle tour past a parade of 120 different spot-lit nocturnal species.

WINGS OF TIME

End your day at Sentosa with the Award Winning Outdoor Night Show (Wings of Time) in the world set against the majestic open sea. Be mesmerized by a multi-sensory presentation of water display, laser show, fire effects and spectacular music as you soar through space and time in a magical adventure.

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS

Universal Studios Singapore is a theme park located within Resorts World Sentosa onSentosa Island, Singapore. It was a key component of Genting's bid for the right to build Singapore's second integrated resort. It is the second Universal Studios theme park to open in Asia (Japan being the first), and the first in Southeast Asia. Universal Parks & Resorts markets the park as a "one-of-its-kind theme park in Asia" and promises that the park will be the only one of its kind in Southeast Asia for the next 30 years