NO one, I don’t think, ever visits Singapore just to check out Sentosa, or the world’s first night safari, or to say hello to Kai Kai and Jia Jia, the Sichuan pandas, domiciled in the adjacent River Safari since 2012. They’re all side-shows to the bigger deal—the shopping and the food, and perhaps the Formula One Night Race.
But a lover of plants and flowers could conceivably arrive on our sunny shores and warm clime just to explore the 156-year-old Botanic Gardens, recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Singapore’s first. Or the other botanical showpiece—a little more man-made, kissed with more sky than green, and dotted with 18 tall, wiry structures called Super Trees. This is Gardens by the Bay, a 101-hectare park built on reclaimed land, home to the Flower Dome, the world’s largest columnless greenhouse, and the Cloud Forest, a taller sister structure, housing a 35-meter tall mountain flanked by the world’s tallest indoor waterfall.
Then there’s another kind of visitor, the medical tourist, who makes a yearly pit stop for a health screen, or maybe longer, for a medical procedure, with some shopping thrown in.
Next comes the gaming tourists, who have the choice of holing up amid the flashing lights and dizzying bling of the casinos in the Resorts World Sentosa or Marina Bay Sands, both called IRs, or Integrated Resorts, because that’s what they are essentially: a one-stop food-and-entertainment, roll-the-dice, and shop-all-you-want type of place. And if you’re into magic kingdoms and wild roller coaster rides, there’s also the Universal Studios in Sentosa.
All this makes up a sizable chunk of tourism dollars for Singapore, what the Singapore Tourism Board calls the SEG market—sightseeing, entertainment, and gaming. But there’s something else that makes Singapore such a big draw with tourists all over the world. She’s an out-and-out food destination, a place for serious eaters whose palate can range from street food to haute cuisine backed by celebrities such as Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud, Gordon Ramsay, Joel Robuchon, and Tetsuya Wakuda, all of whom serve up their creations in the ultra-luxe Marina Bay Sands.
Which brings us to the next type of tourist—the gastro-tourist—whose definition of Singapore would likely be “the city that never stops eating.” That’s exactly how Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef and writer-traveler, has characterized this food-mad city with a culinary spread that’s as diverse as its people—a colorful blend of ethnicities from Chinese, Malays, and Indians to Eurasians and Peranakans.
And being such a tiny island that takes less than an hour from east to west by car, Singapore really is, as Bourdain says, “the best place you can go for maximum bang in a minimum period of time.” And if you’re talking about hawker fare and street food, there’s that added bang for your dollar. It’s cheap, it’s delicious, it’s everywhere, it would be no surprise if you hear a tourist say, “I love chicken rice, I’ll come back again!” Bourdain didn’t exactly say that, but he’s been back, many times—if not for the chicken rice, definitely the crab bee hoon. You’ll find it in his bestselling Kitchen Confidential, the Insider’s Edition, one among many of his other global favorites, tucked away at the bottom left corner of the front page.
Which features of Singapore and its citizens make it a major tourist attraction
for people from all over the world?
(‘O’ Levels 2014, Paper One, Question #2)
This essay was written on July 28, 2015