Singapore overland travel guide

Singapore slings at the Raffles hotel's Long Bar

Singapore slings; disappointing (photo credit: see below)

Singapore is an island city-state at the southern tip of the Malay peninsula. It’s a well-developed country with a top-class airport and bridge connections to Malaysia, making it a good bookend at the start or finish of an overland route through SE Asia. It isn’t exactly my favourite place though – nice & clean, polite & orderly, yet also stifled, controlled and a bit dull. I recall my friend and I marvelling upon arrival from India at how clean it was, at the way the taxi driver made no attempt to rip us off, at how sensible the driving was – after 6 weeks of chaos in India, the contrast was amazing. Yet given the choice between the two, I’d probably prefer to go to back to India… sci-fi author William Gibson nailed it in his ‘Disneyland with the Death Penalty‘ skewering for Wired magazine; it was written in the 90s but remains valid in my experience and sums up why I wasn’t massively keen on the place. Gibson and Wired were apparently banned from Singapore due to that article, which of course rather proved Gibson’s point! That said, as noted above, Singapore is a pleasant place to spend a few days and it makes a very convenient and obvious starting or finishing point for an overland run through SE Asia:

How to travel to and from Singapore overland

Singapore is connected to Malaysia by road and rail. The Malaysian city facing Singapore across the causeway is Johor Bahru, and the two are connected by regular buses and trains. There are also regular direct bus services between Singapore and other major Malaysian cities, especially of course Kuala Lumpur; however, there are no longer any direct through trains from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur and beyond. To travel further north by train, take a bus or train from Singapore to Johor Bahru, and change to an onward train from there (note that these days there are also no more direct through trains between Malaysia and Thailand, with a change now necessary at their border; see Seat61 for full details)

You can also use the airport in Johor Bahru for Singapore, with a shuttle bus connection make it pretty straightforward; see here (I did so once and it was no trouble at all)

Another option is Singapore – Indonesia by sea; Singapore is of course a major stop for cruise ships, but in terms of regular passenger ferries you can easily get to Indonesia’s Riau Islands (specifically, Batam and Bintan islands) a short distance away. From there you can continue on Indonesian ships to Sumatra proper and elsewhere in Indonesia, but if you want to travel between Singapore and Sumatra by sea without dog-legging through the Riau Islands, it’s best to use the Malaysian port of Malacca which has regular ferries to and from Sumatra. For example, from Singapore take the bus to Malacca and spend a night or two there (it’s a historic city with UNESCO status), then the ferry to Dumai and a bus or minivan to Bukittinggi (I think it took us about ten hours in total from Malacca to Bukittinggi. More Sumatra details here)

Some Singapore Highlights

My favourite thing on my two visits to Singapore was the food – Singapore’s many historical influences are reflected in the cuisine and your stomach should be happy.

Check out Marina Bay, home to the Marina Bay Sands (the hotel with the amazing rooftop pool), the Merlion (Singapore’s national symbol), and the Gardens by the Bay

Explore the streets, shops, and eateries of Chinatown and Little India.

Not generally being too keen on zoos I haven’t done the Singapore Night Safari, but it’s a highly rated activity for most visitors.

Shop till you drop, if that’s your thing.

The Long Bar at the Raffles hotel is where the original Singapore Sling was created. As a former bartender, that was actually my number one priority in Singapore! I have to say though that despite the swanky surroundings it was a major disappointment; the drink was premixed in huge jugs ready for decantation and was cloyingly sweet.

Resources and Useful Links for Visiting Singapore

World Nomads offer flexible travel insurance that you can buy even if you’re already overseas (this is a key point, as I once learned the hard way when I got pickpocketed in Bangkok).

Lonely Planet: Malaysia Singapore & Brunei

For more details on the various attractions (and a more positive take overall!) check out the Travelfish Singapore page

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(Photo credit: VasenkaPhotography, used under Creative Commons licence)