Discovering Singapore’s hidden gems

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Singapore is one of Cambodia’s closest neighbours, and one of the most popular holiday destinations in the region – but look just a little closer and visitors will find a whole new treasure trove of experiences.

So you’ve already visited Singapore before – marvelled at the Supertrees, had your rib-sticking hawker centre feast, checked the Merlion off your mandatory monuments bucket list.

But beyond the picture-perfect skyline and the bustling city centre, there’s plenty more to Singapore for the intrepid explorer to uncover. Whether spying on wildlife in a pristine nature reserve or sipping a bespoke cocktail in a turn-of-the-century design district, you have an endless range of possibilities to discover – even if it means tearing yourself away from your fifth plate of chicken rice to try something new. Here are 10 things you never knew about Singapore that’ll ignite your passion for the island city.

1. It’s a city of not just one island, but 63

Singapore’s a tiny island, but not tiny enough to contain quite everything it has to offer. Pulau Ujong, the mainland most refer to as Singapore, is surrounded by 62 offshore islands that range from Sentosa – the famed island resort in the south – to Pulau Ubin – an island with possibly Singapore’s last remaining intact village community (and a fascinating litter of wild boars). But dig deeper still and you’ll find everything from an island overrun by terrapins (Kusu Island) to an island marine park (Sisters’ Islands) to an island amusement park-turned idyllic cycling park (Coney Island). Singapore’s a tiny island, you say?

2. It’s home to the world’s first night zoo

Singapore may be a buzzing metropolis, but it’s also home to untamed jungles and exotic wildlife. The Night Safari is the world’s first night zoo, with more than 1,000 nocturnal animals exhibited in their natural habitat across a sprawling 35-hectare park. If the four interlinked walking trails don’t feed your spirit of adventure, the Night Safari brings the adventure to you with a meandering 40-minute tram ride that takes you up close and personal with creatures of the night.

3. It’s a city of (man-made) waterfalls

Singapore’s first large-scale man-made waterfall was unveiled at Jurong Bird Park in 1971, dropping at a height of 30 metres – the tallest waterfall in an aviary to date.

Since then, the city hasn’t stopped its enduring love affair with thunderous cascades: at the Cloud Forest dome in Gardens by the Bay, you’ll find the tallest indoor waterfall ever built (35 metres), standing as the centrepiece of the misty conservatory designed to house tropical highland plant life. Come 2018, Jewel, a sprawling retail and lifestyle complex at Changi Airport, will house the Water Vortex (40 metres), a stunning waterfall that will be surrounded by a lush indoor garden.

4. Singaporeans speak English…and also Singlish

Don’t be too surprised to hear Singaporeans adding the ubiquitous “lah” and the occasional “leh” at the end of their sentences – these are just bits of what makes the local vocabulary so unique. Singlish, the incredibly complex national patois, is the colourful product of Singapore’s history of multiculturalism. After all, you can’t have a rich melting pot of ethnicities, religions and cultures without the daily language being infused with elements from each. Few other people in the world would address an older stranger as “Uncle” or “Auntie”, or refer to reserving your hawker centre seat as “choping”. So pull up a chair and learn a few new words, lah.

5. Singapore pioneered the first F1 night race

As if Formula 1 racing weren’t thrilling enough, Singapore debuted the world’s first night race in 2008, with top drivers vying for pole position against a backdrop of dazzling night lights. A decade on, the race  has become a firm fixture on the international F1 calendar, with the Marina Bay street circuit gaining renown as one of the most exciting, challenging tracks in the world. The race is accompanied by an equally spectacular gamut of off-track action, including headliner concerts, roving performances and festivities across the city for fans and visitors of all ages.

6. It’s one of the world’s greenest cities

Nearly half of Singapore’s approximately 700 square kilometres is, in fact, under green cover. Its tropical climate fosters an extraordinarily rich biodiversity, with more than 2,100 native vascular plant species throughout the city, from urban parks and rooftop gardens to the wildest of nature reserves. The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, in particular, is not just home to Singapore’s highest point – it also contains more tree species in a single rainforest hectare than the total number of tree species found in all of the North American continent. If Singapore’s national colour weren’t red, it’d certainly be green.

7. It’s home to a Unesco World Heritage Site – and some unique VIPs

Inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2015, the Singapore Botanic Gardens is the only tropical garden in the world to be recognised with this distinction.

The Gardens have a history of over 150 years since their creation in 1859 – that’s more than a century older than modern Singapore itself. Nestled in the heart of the Gardens is the National Orchid Garden, which houses thousands of orchid species known as Very Important Plants (VIPs). More than 200 hybrid orchids have been officially named after visiting foreign dignitaries such as Nelson Mandela, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Mdm Bun Rany.

8. Little-trodden neighbourhood gems

Besides the history-rich Little India, Kampong Glam and Chinatown cultural precincts, Singapore presents a dizzying array of colourful enclaves waiting to be uncovered. Between the sweeping Art Deco buildings of Tiong Bahru – with their buzzy eateries and boutiques – and the exquisitely preserved Peranakan shophouses of Katong and Joo Chiat –  with their traditional food and craft purveyors – you’re truly spoilt for choice should you wander off the beaten tourist path.

9. The Lion City may actually have been inspired by a tiger

If you’ve taken your obligatory Merlion selfie at the iconic Marina Bay statue, this one’s for you. The mythical creature takes reference from the city’s ancient Sanskrit name, Singapura (‘lion city’). According to legend, Singapore was founded by the Sumatran prince Sang Nila Utama, who came ashore after spotting a lion. What the guidebooks don’t tell you, though, is that the beast he spotted was likely a tiger  the striped cats roamed the island until the 1930’s and not a lion, which isn’t native to this neck of the woods. We still think half-lions go better with fishtails than half-tigers do, but now you can relook that Merlion selfie with fresh eyes.

10. There’s always something to celebrate in Singapore

Think you’ve done everything on this list? There’s even more to see and do in Singapore. Hardly a day goes by without some cultural festival or lifestyle event happening in the city, and every time you return there’s always something else to experience. See the breakout box below for some exciting events in 2017.

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