If you’re a regular flier between London and Sydney, chances are you've made – or are preparing to to make – a stopover in Singapore. The tiny island city-state is safe, clean and modern but there are dos and don’ts to remember to make an extended Singapore sojourn a success.
Don’t head to a Michelin-starred hawker stall at lunchtime. If the sun is high in the sky and your breakfast kopi and kaya toast seems like it was years ago, today is not the day to sample Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle’s Michelin-starred Hainanese chicken rice for yourself. Singaporeans and food-tourists will patiently wait in the queue that snakes around the second-floor hawker market in the Chinatown Complex until long after lunchtime.
Instead, plan your trip to the market. Get up early, have a light breakfast and join the queue for world-class Hainanese chicken rice early. You’ll be enjoying chef Chan Hon Meng’s handiwork after a much shorter wait – we recommend an icy-cold Tsingtao to accompany lunch.
Don’t plan to be exploring the streets in the middle of the day. The humidity is oppressive and while the locals may wander around in jeans without breaking a sweat, we guarantee you you’ll melt into the pavement and no one will ever hear from you again.
Instead, head somewhere air-conditioned during the hottest part of the day – one of the many malls, restaurants or museums the city has to offer. And don’t go anywhere without a bottle of water.
Don’t eschew the local etiquette. It’s famously illegal to chew gum in Singapore and while you’re highly unlikely to be placed under arrest for popping a piece, it won’t earn you any mates.
Instead, follow the rules: don’t chew gum (you won’t be able to buy it here anyway), refrain from eating or drinking on public transport, don’t jaywalk, only smoke in designated areas and never litter.
Don’t order Singapore chilli crab before you’ve asked the price. Some menu items such as seafood will be priced seasonally, which means that tasty crab could set you back a lot more than you expected.
Instead, check how much your crab weighs and how much is being charged per 100 grams, even if the restaurant seems humble. The proprietors won’t mind, and it could save some serious embarrassment.
Don’t assume Marina Bay Sands is the only rooftop worth knowing about.
Instead, head to one of Singapore’s lesser-known rooftop bars. The views will be just as spectacular, minus the crowds. Kinki is hugely popular with the local expat population thanks to its cool Japanese street vibe, and the views over Marina Bay are glittering. Nearby is Lantern, the rooftop bar of the incredibly plush Fullerton Bay Hotel. Enjoy panoramic views of the skyline and Marina Bay while sipping a signature cocktail or fine champagne.
Don’t sit down just anywhere at a café or hawker market.
Instead, double-check there’s not a packet of tissues, a bottle of water or an umbrella on a seat or table. This is a method Singaporeans use to reserve a seat while they queue for food, and they’ll be mightily displeased to find you in their place when they return with a piping hot dish of fish ball noodles.
Don’t get suckered into visiting too many malls. Heading to major shopping centres is a popular pastime for Singaporeans – probably for the air-conditioning – but if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
Instead, do your shopping in interesting areas like colourful Little India, eclectic Haji Lane, the ex-pat hub of Tiong Bahru and the bargain-hunter’s dream Bugis Street Market.
Don’t avoid the airport. It’s common to want to spend as little time as possible at the airport before or after a flight, but Changi Airport is something else.
Instead, make a plan of things to do and see at the airport and plan to arrive a little early for your return flight.
Don’t neglect Singaporean history. The city-state can appear an impossibly shiny new metropolis of skyscrapers, but Singapore has roots in the 19th century.
Instead, head to the Chinatown Heritage Centre to get a sense of early Singapore. The museum has entire faithfully recreated streets and homes that visitors can explore beyond the skyscrapers.
The Chinatown Heritage Centre gives visitors a taste of old Singapore.
Don’t get ripped off on electronic goods at Sim Lim Square.
Instead, do your homework and your haggling. You can find the latest tech gadgets here for at least 10 to 20 per cent off the retail price, but make sure you know exactly what you’re getting. You might get the latest iPhone for a steal – but the vendor could the charge you an extra fee to unlock it.
Don’t head out for a night on the town if you’re on a budget.
Instead, pick up some of your favourite tipple duty-free. In Singapore, alcohol is heavily taxed – the so-called sin tax. It’s charged at S$88 (AU$81) per litre of alcohol content for wine and spirits and S$60 (AU$55) per litre of alcohol content for beer. Your best bet is a jug of beer at a hawker market, which costs about $12.