Singapore may be one of Southeast Asia's most prosperous places, but there is still plenty of culture to be found alongside Singapore's contemporary skyscrapers and shopping centres. Singapore was already a prosperous port before Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles first founded his British East Indian Company colony on the island in 1819.
By 1870, over 80,000 people called Singapore home. A large percentage of this population were Malay, Indian, and Chinese rubber plantation workers. Influences from all three of these cultures remain very much evident in Singapore today. Singapore also became the site of Great Britain's worst ever military loss after Japanese Imperial Forces occupied the island during WWII.
Singapore became an independent British Commonwealth republic in 1965, 10 years after its first political elections. The decade in between was filled with years of civil unrest and rioting. These tumultuous years in Singapore's history are described in further detail at the National Museum of Singapore, but history buffs may also enjoy Riverside's Asian Civilisations Museum and the Peranakan Museum.
Despite its straight-laced reputation, Singapore lets down its hair during the 42-day Chinese New Year festival. Dragon dancers, fireworks, and seasonal markets are merely a few of the ways Singaporeans celebrate this holiday from mid-January to mid-February. Fireworks also light up Singapore's night sky during its 9 August National Day.
Little India is never livelier than during traditional Indian festivals such as Thaipusam and Deepavali. Women carry milk pots on their heads while men use piercing hooks to pin ornate shrines onto themselves during Thaipusam, which takes place during the full moon of the Thai lunar month. Little India residents celebrate the Deepavali Hindu festival of light by selling goods from open air markets and decorating buildings with festive lights.
The Singapore Arts Festival and Arts in the Park are two important Singapore arts festivals which usually take place in July, while the Singapore Garden Festival attracts over half a million visitors every second December.
All sorts of classical music, dance, and opera performances take place at both the 19th century Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall and the more contemporary Esplanade Theatres on the Bay throughout the year. The Esplanade Theatres on the Bay was designed to closely resemble one of Singapore's most famous fruits, the spiky durian.
Two of Sentosa Island's more unique live shows are the Beach Station's Songs of the Sea and Resort World Sentosa's Voyage de la Vie. Lasers, fireworks, and water jets accompany Songs of the Sea performances, while Voyage de la Vie is a circus theatre spectacular which tells a metaphoric tale about the meaning of life.
However, nowhere is Singapore's original culture better preserved than on the island of Pulau Ubin. The Ketam Mountain Bike Park is the most popular spot for a bike trail tour in Pulau Ubin because of its 10kms worth of cycling trails, but the Chek Jawa Wetlands are also worth the trek to Pulau Ubin's east end. This island, whose residents still live in houses on stilts in small villages, seems like a world away from mainland Singapore's hustle and bustle.