Singapore is a ‘giant’ of a city with tasty food, architectural riches and natural beauty, where you can find all the cultural values of Southeast Asia in one place.

I have to confess that going to Singapore was not my idea. More precisely, I was going to use Singapore as a transit point for visiting Malaysia and the other Southeast Asian countries. For I had few expectations of this island country, which I didn’t regard as particularly exotic and which has the distinction of being the smallest country of the Far East and second smallest in the world after Monaco. One more confession: when I landed at Changi, Singapore’s world-famous airport, encountered its smiling officials at passport control, and arrived in the city on the metro which is like something out of a space odyssey, I realized right away that I’d been mistaken and was ashamed of myself for having been so prejudiced. Even these first impressions were enough to make me understand why people from every walk of life flock here from the four corners of the earth-from ‘backpackers’ who stay at the cheapest hostels, to the rich who rent hotel rooms costing thousands of dollars a night.

Once a part of Malaysia, Singapore actually consists of 63 small islands, but settlement is concentrated on just one of them since there is almost no life on the others. Despite its diminutive size, this vibrant city ‘like a lion’, which has been around for over 150 years, has the pluck to stand up to many countries in the region both for its economy and for its natural and cultural riches. It’s not for nothing that I use the expression ‘like a lion’, for Singapore is also known as the ‘Lion City’, ‘Singa’ meaning lion and ‘pura’ city in Malaysian. Rumor has it that Prince Sang Nile Utama, who gave the city its name, was caught one day in a severe storm. Quelling the squall by tossing his crown into the water, he arrived at the nearest island in his ship. He named the island Singapur since the first animal he saw there was a lion. A statue—half-lion half-fish, spewing water from its mouth—at tiny Merlion Park near the marina is the city’s main tourist attraction despite being erected only in 1964. You can create your own postcards with the photos you take of the city’s silhouette of giant skyscrapers lined up behind this statue and the Singapur River flowing in front of it. You can also join a boat tour from here, or just sit on a bench and watch the sunset. Meanwhile the metal hemisphere you will see on the opposite side of the Esplanade Bridge that joins the park and the sculpture is the Esplanade-Theatres on the Bay. The small metal ‘fish scales’ that cover the surface of this building, so contemporary in appearance and apparently inspired by the shape of a uniquely Far Eastern fruit called the ‘durian’, offer a visual feast throughout the day, kaleidoscopically creating different views depending on your angle of vision.

Chinese form the majority in Singapore, which has a population of over four million people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds; Indians and Malaysians make up the second largest ethnic group. One can find buildings of incredible beauty—from traditional Chinese temples and Hindu shrines to mosques and churches—just a block apart in Singapore, where people live together in peace and respect for each other without distinctions of religion, language or race and where everyone worships freely. Based on the cultural richness to which this mixture gives rise, we could term Singapore a sort of ‘Southeast Asian melting pot’. In other words, those who don’t have time to travel to the other Southeast Asian countries can get a rough idea about them spending a few days in Singapore.
The area around Arab Avenue, for example, is the center of the Muslim community. Here you can visit Singapore’s largest mosque, the Sultan Mosque, and the smaller but dazzling Malabar Muslim Jama’ath Mosque. Besides the clothes and scarves of Indonesian silk and the perfumes and other gift items you can find at very reasonable prices, a host of restaurants run by Indian and Malaysian Muslims also await you here. And at the heart of Singapore, Chinatown is definitely worth seeing for its magnificent temples and avenues that reflect the full panoply of Chinese culture. What’s more, you can eat some extremely tasty food here at very cheap prices in the small snackstand-type restaurants.

The place where I stayed was only a block away from the area known as Little India, as neat as an architect’s model with everything from authentic shops and restaurants to temples and barbershops. Permeated with spicy aromas, chock full of colorful restaurants, shops selling gold jewelry and venues showing Bollywood films, and throbbing with Indian music on every side, this is a must-see. With its rich history and architecture, the Sri Mariamman Temple especially, Singapore’s largest Hindu temple built in 1843, is too lovely to be missed. Leaving Little India behind and hitting the road again, I see a sign that takes me aback. It says ‘Mustafa Center’. Amused at first, I’m secretly pleased to see my own name on a shopping center! Following the sign, I’m even more amazed at the sight I see. A shopping mall in which everything, from the hotel and foreign exchange bureau to the cafe and the tea sold inside has ‘Mustafa’ before its name. Open 24/7, this mall is the cheapest place in the city to buy everything from electronic equipment to wearing apparel.
A climate that will made you feel you’re in a sauna prevails in Singapore throughout the year. Always hot, always rainy. Perhaps for this reason there are trees and a riot of flowers all over the place. The Orchid Garden at any rate heads the list of places to see in Singapore. The world’s most expensive and elegant flower is exported from here all over the world, and you can see a thousand and one varieties of it at the orchid paradise inside the Botanical Gardens. Not only that but Singapore also boasts one of the world’s outstanding zoos.

Most of all in Singapore you will notice how clean the city is. In the metro, the street, the cafes, in short everywhere, people are extremely neat and orderly. I understood better how correct this impression was when I saw what all is prohibited. There are stiff fines in Singapore for littering, spitting, eating and drinking in the metro, crossing against the light, even for not flushing the toilet. A bit over the top when it comes to cleanliness, Singapore has even prohibited chewing gum in public since cleaning it up off the ground is so difficult.
Singapore is a good illustration of an old Turkish saying, “The lion is known by his lair.” Whether in transit or for a few days’ escape, Singapore is an island where everyone can find what he’s looking for, from seekers of culture or shopping to architecture buffs and epicures with a yen for the exotic, an island where old and new, past and future, are perfectly blended, a city small in size but gigantic in its offerings.