What Should I Know About Singapore?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Singapore is a small island nation in Southeast Asia. It covers 270 square miles (700 sq. km), making it roughly one-fifth the size of Rhode Island. It is just south of Malaysia, and north of the Riau Islands of Indonesia.

Singapore is a popular tourist destination.
Singapore is a popular tourist destination.

The island has been inhabited for thousands of years, and first appears definitively in the written record in roughly the 2nd century, when it was described as a pivotal trading stop. The Greeks were aware of a port town in the location of Singapore as far back as the 1st century. It was controlled by several kingdoms and empires, including the Javanese and Siam, which is modern-day Thailand.

By the 14th century Singapore had become a very influential port, facilitating trade between eastern cultures such as the Chinese and Malay and western cultures. By the end of the 14th century it had come under the control of a prince of Srivijaya, a Malay kingdom on Sumatra, after he was forced to flee his kingdom. This prince eventually founded the Sultanate of Malacca, and absorbed the island into that kingdom. Later, the Sultanate of Johor would take control of the island, and it would continue to flourish as a center of trade.

In the early 17th century, the Portuguese burned the entire settlement of Singapore down, and for the next two-hundred years the island was virtually unknown. In the early 19th century, however, the British built a trading post on the island, which laid the groundwork for the modern state. The island was seen as an ideal base from which to challenge Dutch trade supremacy in Southeast Asia, and the British invested a great deal in making sure it flourished.

The island soon grew beyond its historical importance as a trading post, serving as one of the cornerstones of trade with Asia. When the Suez Canal was opened in the mid-19th century, its already lucrative trade business increased even further. The island was eventually made a Crown Colony in 1867, to help facilitate more streamlined government and a stricter order.

In 1939 the British built an enormous naval base on Singapore, primarily as a defense against the Japanese Empire, should it expand into the British sphere. In 1941 the Japanese did in fact invade, but did so from the land to the north, and by 1942 the British had surrendered the island.

Following the war, the British took control of the island once again, and set about to rebuilding the destroyed infrastructure and economy. By the end of the 1940s the economy had recovered, and a growing nationalist sentiment had also begun to stir among the population. In the mid-1950s the British handed some minor control of politics over, but kept a fairly tight rein on the handling of internal affairs, as a result of fears of Communists taking over the government. By the end of the 1950s the government had achieved full self-government, and in spite of pro-communist tendencies, promoted a campaign courting foreign investment and intense economic development.

In 1963 Singapore merged with a number of other countries in the region to form the Federation of Malaysia. Although leaders in both Singapore and Britain had high hopes for the merger, it quickly devolved into racial riots and intense violence. In 1965 it was expelled from the Federation, and became an independent republic.

Although many powers were skeptical that it would succeed as such a tiny nation in such a harsh political and economic environment, the small country quickly set to work bolstering its economy and creating alliances for protection. With a focus on trade and technology, the country became extremely prosperous, weathering the 1997 Asian financial crisis admirably. The country now has the 22nd highest GDP per capita, and has been ranked 11th in the world for quality of life.

There is wide range of activities available in Singapore, and the country has a bustling tourist economy and strong infrastructure. A wide variety of gardens and parks can be found throughout the region, from the Bukit Timah Nature Preserve to the Mandai Orchid Garden to the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. There are also a number of museums preserving the natural and cultural history of the region. The various islands in the area offer an opportunity to get out of the city itself, and explore some of the pristine regions of Kusu Island, Sentosa, Saint John’s Island, or Pulau Ubin.

Singapore is a major international air hub, and flights arrive daily from most major cities throughout the world. It can also be reached overland by train, bus, or car from Malaysia and Thailand.

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    • Singapore is a popular tourist destination.
      Singapore is a popular tourist destination.