Most people around the world know of Singapore as the country that bans chewing gum, has a fantastic world-class airport, or has a reputation as a clean but ‘fine’ city. Whether you have already visited or are planning to make your first trip, here’s a list of things about Singapore that might surprise you.
Singapore is not one island but an archipelago of 63 islands. The remaining offshore islands are mostly uninhabited and are used for a wide range of purposes including military and industrial use. Popular islands that you can visit include Sentosa – the most built-up island that houses a casino and Universal Studios; Pulau Ubin – popular for cycling and the Chek Jawa wetland nature reserve; and the Southern Islands – consisting St John’s Island, Kusu Island, and Lazarus Island for serenity and beautiful beaches.
Singapore may be small but it hasn’t stopped growing. A lot of land reclamation has taken place in Singapore, expanding the country’s borders by 25% to its current size of 719 sq km. Popular attractions like the Marina Bay area and East Coast Park are built entirely on reclaimed land. Though quite far inland now, Beach Road was named because it used to face an actual beach, and the temples along Telok Ayer Road in Chinatown were the first welcome immigrants received when they stepped off the boat after their long journeys.
Singapore has some of the highest occurrences of lightning activity in the world. Located almost along the equator, the hot and humid climate in Singapore is perfect for thunderstorms. Singapore experiences 168 thunderstorm days in a year on average – that’s almost half the year. Always prepare for wet weather in Singapore. Thunderstorms usually happen in the afternoons and tend to be short-lived heavy downpours.
Temperatures are usually hot, but the lowest temperature ever recorded in Singapore was a cool 19.4º Celsius way back in 1934. That’s positively chilly by Singaporean standards given the average temperature ranges from 28-34º Celsius all year round. Singapore makes up for this by having particularly cold air-conditioning inside the many shopping malls you can find around the island, and Christmas often brings fake snow displays as well. Die-hard snow bunnies can find sub-zero temperatures and the only possible snow in Singapore at Snow City.
The working and education language in Singapore is English, but the national language is actually Malay, a nod to the indigenous heritage of Singapore before the arrival of the British in 1819. Only a fraction of the population today speaks Malay, mostly from the 13% who are of Malay ethnicity. But most Singaporeans know some Malay words like lobang, pakat, and kaki because they are often used in Singapore’s unofficial national language Singlish.
Have you ever filled in ‘Singapore’ under location on one of those online drop-down menus and been surprised to see that there is more than one Singapore listed? Singapore is the name of a ghost town on the shores of Lake Michigan near the town of Saugatuck – once a lumber town, it is now buried underneath sand dunes on private property, all that’s left is a commemorative plaque at the Town Hall and the name of the local Singapore Yacht Club. Singapore is also the name of a settlement in Limpopo, South Africa, though from maps and research it seems like a rural location with not much around it.
Unlike other parts of the world where government-subsidised or public housing tends to be a form of social welfare and providing low income groups with affordable places to live, the majority of Singaporeans – over 80% of the resident population – live in one of these high-rise blocks. Land scarcity and hygiene concerns had government officials shift entire villages into these high-rise blocks complete with plumbing and electricity during the 1960s to the 1980s. Today over 90% of Singaporeans own their home, and one uniquely Singaporean aspect of it is the ethnic integration policy that was implemented in 1989, which ensures each neighbourhood had a healthy mix of ethnicities to promote racial cohesion.
Singapore is home to a sea of skyscrapers and tall apartment blocks so as to maximise limited land, but most buildings in Singapore have to keep to a height limit of 280m, especially if they are close to areas with busy air traffic. One Raffles Place, OUB Centre, UOB Plaza and Republic Plaza were all the tallest buildings at one point, until special permission was granted for Tanjong Pagar Centre, a mixed-used building completed in 2016 that pips the competition at 290m and 64 floors.
By comparison, the highest natural landmark in Singapore is Bukit Timah Hill at a rather short 164m above sea level.
If you like a drink with a view, there are plenty of rooftop establishments to check out in Singapore. 1-Altitude Bar at the very top of the 280m tall One Raffles Place has the honour of being the highest alfresco bar in the world. For craft beer lovers, Level 33 in the penthouse of Marina Bay Financial Centre claims the title of highest urban craft brewery. These spots in downtown Singapore offer a spectacular 360-degree view of the city below, and are especially popular during sunset and when night falls and the lights come on.
Singapore has a great multicultural food scene, but Singapore Noodles – Vermicelli noodles stir-fried with shrimp, char siew, vegetables and a liberal dose of curry powder – is one dish that you will not be able to find here. That’s because Singapore Noodles was most likely invented in Hong Kong instead of Singapore, but there are plenty of other noodle options here to satisfy your cravings. Why not try some mee goreng or hokkien mee instead?
Singapore’s Public Utilities Board has taken recycling to the extreme by finding a way to recycle sewage or waste water in Singapore. This water called NEWater is produced by treating waste water through several processes including microfiltration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet disinfection, mixing it with raw water from the reservoirs and running it through the usual water treatment to produce the tap water found in every household today. NEWater is perfectly safe for drinking and tested to be even cleaner than other water sources. You can actually visit the NEWater plant if you are curious about the science behind this process.