Singapore is a city-state in Southeast Asia. Founded as a British trading colony in 1819, since independence it has become one of the world's most prosperous countries and boasts the world's busiest port.
Combining the skyscrapers and subways of a modern, affluent city with a medley of Chinese, Malay and Indian influences and a tropical climate, with tasty food, good shopping and a vibrant night-life scene, this Garden City makes a great stopover or springboard into the region.
Singapore is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world for a lot of reasons. One of which is the less stringent entry requirements.
Singapore is a microcosm of Asia, populated by Malays, Chinese, Indians, and a large group of workers and expatriates from all across the globe.
Singapore has a partly deserved reputation for sterile predictability that has earned it descriptions like William Gibson's "Disneyland with the death penalty" or the "world's only shopping mall with a seat in the United Nations". Nevertheless, the Switzerland of Asia is for many a welcome respite from the poverty, dirt, chaos, and crime of much of the Southeast Asian mainland, and if you scratch below the squeaky clean surface and get away from the tourist trail you'll soon find more than meets the eye.
Singaporean food is legendary, with bustling hawker centres and 24-hour coffee shops offering cheap food from all parts of Asia, and shoppers can bust their baggage allowances in shopping centres like Orchard Road and Suntec City. In recent years some societal restrictions have also loosened up, and now you can bungee jump and dance on bar tops all night long, although alcohol is still very pricey and chewing gum can only be bought from a pharmacy for medical use.
Two casino complexes — or "Integrated Resorts", to use the Singaporean euphemism — opened in 2010 in Sentosa and Marina Bay as part of Singapore's new Fun and Entertainment drive, the aim being to double the number of tourists visiting and increase the length of time they stay within the country. See Do, Gambling, below. Watch out for more loosening up in the future.
Singapore prides itself on being a multi-racial country, and has a diverse culture despite its small size. The largest group are the Chinese, who form about 75% of the population.
Amongst the Chinese, Southern Min/Min Nan (including Teochew and Hainanese) and Cantonese speakers are the largest subgroups, with Mandarin acting as the lingua franca of the community. Other notable "dialect" groups among the Chinese include the Hakkas and Fuzhounese. There is also a strong presence of mainland Chinese in Singapore after the Singapore government opened up the immigration policy for mainland Chinese since mainland China started its economic reforms since the 1980s, resulting in the new wave of immigration of mainland Chinese to Singapore during the late 20th century. The mainland Chinese in Singapore speak Mandarin.
Malays, who are comprised of descendants of Singapore's original inhabitants as well as migrants from present day Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei, form about 14% of the population.
Indians form about 9% of the population. Among the Indians, Tamils form the largest group by far, though there are also a significant numbers of speakers of other Indian languages such as Hindi, Malayalam and Punjabi.
The remainder are a mix of many other cultures, most notably the Eurasians who are of mixed European and Asian descent, and also a handful of Burmese, Japanese, Thais and many others. Slightly over one-third of Singapore's residents are not citizens.
Singapore is also religiously diverse, with no religious group forming a majority. Religious freedom is guaranteed by the constitution of Singapore. Buddhism is the largest religion with about 33% of the population declaring themselves Buddhist. Other religions which exist in significant numbers include Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Taoism. In addition to the "big five", there are also much smaller numbers of Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Jews, Baha'is and Jains. Some 17% of Singaporeans profess to have no religious affiliation.