Updated 9 December 2017 - Singapore is often considered the “Gateway to Asia”. It is a heavily blended city-state, highly developed, and one of Asia’s safest destinations for women.
Being solitary will attract more attention than being a female.
Walking in many districts with a backpack and my wide eyes, I felt relaxed enough to exhibit typical tourist behavior – gawking, picture taking, and stopping in the middle of a sidewalk to look at the map on my phone. In a dangerous city this would have been an absolute no-no, a bit like painting a bullseye on your back. While I certainly stood out traveling in more ethnically condensed districts like Chinatown and Little India, I never felt threatened.
If anything, I raised eyebrows here or there. Singapore is a busy place, with a work hard, play hard vibe. Being a relaxed lone traveler would get me a single sidelong glance and people would then return to their business. People seemed highly respectful of personal boundaries, and I never received catcalls or felt harassed.
Even if you feel the urge to explore beyond the normal tourist hubs, it is absolutely safe to walk the streets alone. My inquisitive eyes darted around corners, I held my camera openly in residential neighborhoods, and walked in public parks that were more inhabited by neighbors than tourists. I drew attention to myself but never felt uneasy about my obvious status as a tourist. Crime is low, the city is well-organized, and walking around was so easy I felt like I was in my own home town.
If you're not in the mood to do the rounds on your own, take a Singapore city tour or visit some of these top Singapore sights.
One of Singapore’s most fascinating facets is its diversity. Many destinations chirp away about their various cultural influences but rarely do you see them coexisting so smoothly. There are of course various districts known for exemplifying a specific background – Little India or Chinatown, for example.
Singapore's Chinatown is ideal for strolling along alleys and hawker centers for cheap good fare, a relaxing reflexology massage, or gifts to send home. An enticing one-stop shop is Yue Hwa Chinese Products at the corner of Eu Tong Sen and Upper Cross Street. It is five whole levels of goods, from ginger flavored candy, silk embroidered mandarin jackets to exquisite ceramic tea sets. (And if you know anyone locally, try to get invited to a Chinese New Year celebration!)
Little India is good for spices and inexpensive clothes. If you’re a fan of Indian food, stop by to pick up ingredients from markets, grocery stores, and perhaps try a plate or two of local cuisine.
Many temples in Singapore are open to the public and welcome non-believers into their grounds. Be mindful that these spaces, while gracious enough to open their doors to the curious, are places of worship.
I had the great honor of entering a Burmese-style Buddhist temple for some meditation and blessings. I made a point to watch others first before coming into the main hall and was helpfully instructed on how to observe the deities with incense.
There’s much you can do in Singapore that’s free and the Internet is a good place to start looking. Target museums, libraries or gardens, or find some of the new cultural hot-spots which are becoming so widespread as Singapore invests in cultural institutions and arts. The Singapore Botanical Garden and the Singapore's National Gallery are perfect places to wander around if you're on a solo trip to Singapore. If you’re willing to splurge on overpriced liquor and appetizers, head to one of the many bars on top of the museum's roof for a dazzling view of the city. There is also a great set of bars on top of the Esplanade overlooking Marine Sands Bay.
By the way, no tipping is necessary in Singapore and many places levy a 10% service charge. I took multiple cabs, drank at several bars, ate in restaurants and was always given exact change without any afterthought. I saw one Westerner provide a tip to a bar on my final night, but he had to insist the server keep the change. This may not always be the case…
Do you wear a hijab? Do you like your shorts short? Summer dresses or a nice top with some jeans? Singapore is a cosmopolitan city and a major shopping destination so (almost) anything goes.
Singapore is certainly about style. This means well-tailored silhouettes and chic textiles. You don’t have to be rich to look good, but granola styles are going to make you stand out. Showing some skin and being conservative in dress are all about a matter of choice here in Singapore and I found harmonious examples of both co-existing.
On a practical note, make sure your shoes are made for walking but if you want to blend in, leave the muddy sneakers at home. And remember that Singapore is on the equator, where you’ll find it’s hot and humid. Keep that in mind when you pack and don’t forget your umbrella.
Alexandra Heidler has traveled her own country far and wide, then decided to marry her college sweetheart who happened to be from quite literally, the other side of the planet. She is a freelance writer and English educator currently residing in Bandung, Indonesia where she runs PuzzledPilgrim.com