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Singapore History

It might look ultra-modern but Singapore is a city with a history that dates back almost two millennia. Although given a mention by Ptolemy in the 2nd century and later by a 3rd-century Chinese manuscript, it wasn’t until another 1,000 years later that Singapore properly began.

In 1299, the Kingdom of Singapura was founded by Sang Nila Utama, a prince from Palembang in Indonesia. After spotting a lion, he concluded that the island was a perfect spot for a city, which he promptly named Singapura (Lion City). Despite Utama’s high hopes, the growing settlement was repeatedly dragged into conflicts among the Malay sultanates, Siamese kingdoms and Indian empires until the British arrived in 1819.

First through the door was globe-trotting adventurer Thomas Stamford Raffles, who claimed Singapore for the British East India Company. Recognising its maritime potential, he invited settlers to relocate to the area and by 1880, 1.5 million tonnes of goods were passing through the city each year. By the turn of the century, Singapore had become one of the most important cities in the British Empire, albeit one with a reputation for colourful (and often illegal) goings-on in poorer parts of town.

But dark clouds were on the horizon and although it was unscathed during WWI, it wouldn’t be so lucky the second time around. In December 1941, the invading Japanese landed on the Malaya Peninsula and just under two months later, Singapore surrendered and a three-year occupation (marked by the ruthless brutality of the Japanese forces) began. Finally liberated in August 1945, governance was taken over by a military council before elections were held in 1948.

Singapore was part of Malaysia when they were given independence in 1959, but it later took control of its own destiny and declared independence from Malaysia in 1965. After a number of teething problems, Singapore began to boom, with the pace picking up in the 1980s and 90s. Today, the city is a global commerce, finance and transport powerhouse.

Did you know?
• The Cloud Forest in the Gardens by the Bay houses the world’s tallest indoor waterfall at 35m (115ft).
• Singapore has 63 offshore islands surrounding the main island with Sentosa being the largest.
• The Irishman George D. Coleman became Singapore’s first official architect from 1833. His Palladian style set the tone for the city’s early development.

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Featured Hotels


Lodge 41

From 4-bed to 12-bed to a room and some rooms are exclusive to females only, this basic but clean hostel is popular with young adults looking for a cosy place to stay.

Naumi Liora

Housed in a row of beautifully restored 1920s shophouses, Naumi Liora is a 79-room boutique hotel in the heart of Chinatown.

Ibis Novena

There are three Ibis hotels in Singapore and all of them are of good standard. The three outlets are in Bencoolen (within walking distance to Bugis MRT station), Novena (with a free shuttle service to Novena MRT station) and MacPherson (with a free shuttle service to Orchard Road). The rooms are clean and modern.

The Pod @ Beach Road

There are quite a few capsule hotels in Singapore catering to those seeking an authentic and fuss-free experience. Located in the Kampong Glam neighbourhood, The Pod @ Beach Road offers a basic sleeping pod for a reasonable fee. Bathroom and toilet facilities are shared.

Raffles Hotel Singapore (closed for restoration)

A national monument, named after Singapore's founding father, Thomas Stamford Raffles, Raffles Hotel Singapore is a high point on the sightseeing trail. This hotel is currently closed for restoration with a plan to reopen in the second half of 2018.

The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore

This high-rise luxury hotel in Singapore has some of the best rooms on the island. The top-floor Ritz-Carlton Club has a lounge with 360° views and cocktail bar. Location wise, it is within walking distance to the Singapore Flyer and Marina Square Shopping Centre.