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 and clean and orderly, yet 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 much 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 so keen on the place. Gibson and Wired were apparently banned from Singapore due to that article, which of course rather proved Gibson’s point! And if I were to be banned for sharing it, I really wouldn’t be all that fussed. That said, as noted above, Singapore makes a very convenient and obvious place to start or finish 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)
Some Singapore Highlights
The most interesting thing I’ve found on my two visits to Singapore is the food – Singapore’s many historical influences are reflected in the cuisine and your stomach should be happy.
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
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