Singapore.

Hands down, my new favourite country; beating out other asian powerhouses like Hong Kong and Japan! Singapore (officially known as The Republic of Singapore) is a sovereign city-state and country located in South East Asia. The English name, Singapore, is derived from the Sanskrit word, Singapura, which roughly translates to "Lion City". The island received this name from the Sumatran prince, Sang Nila Utama, who, upon landing on its shores, saw a lion. Historians now believe, however, that it is unlikely that lions ever actually lived on the island, and what Sang Nila Utama might have seen was a Malayan tiger.

The primary reason this country has become my new favourite (aside from Jack Sparrow's high recommendation) is because of its futuristic feel and seamless integration of both the West and East. Granted, prior to visiting Singapore, Hong Kong reigned as my top favourite—what with it feeling like a video game, and all. However, after exploring Singapore, I would have to say that Singapore takes the best of what Hong Kong has to offer and makes it just that much better!

Some of the cool things you can look forward to seeing, should you choose to visit Singapore:

  • English. Sure, there are a lot of places around Asia that speak English. However, in an effort by the Singapore government to lessen the confusion between its country's inhabitants, they opted for English being the first language of Singapore, with Mandarin coming in as second.
  • Fresh Orange Juice. This may sound like a weird one, but Singapore has these awesome orange juice vending machines which dispense freshly squeezed orange juice right before your eyes; all at the cost of only $2 SGD (roughly $1.90 CAD)!
  • Reasonable food prices. You can visit a local 24-hour food court and get a meal and a drink for under $4 CAD (I'm Canadian, so I like to reference everything in CAD).
  • Amazing architecture. I was first blown away by the level of complexity found in Hong Kong's architecture—exceptionally tall and sleek looking high-rises—but Singapore takes it to a whole other level with its oddly shaped, weirdly themed and designed buildings!
  • Agricultural innovation and tech. The Singapore government has planted various trees around the city, colloquially known as Rain Trees, which catch rain water in their leaves and funnel that same water back to the trunk in order to keep those underneath it dry! Singapore also possesses a giant Botanical Garden exhibit which includes a Rare Species biosphere which powers itself through naturally generated, green energy; all while serving as a leading exemplar and advocate for natural energy resources and protecting our planet.
  • Delicious food. Sure, this one seems to be in-line with the other feature above, but this point really deserves a line unto itself. You can find a lot of really cheap food around Asia, but that doesn't mean that it's always going to be good! In Singapore, you can always trust that the food that you are going to get is going to be good, wherever it is that you go!
  • It's multicultural. If you're coming from the West, you can appreciate how important this one can be. It can be a little daunting to travel to a new place where everyone looks the same. However, in Singapore, you'll find many different cultures and races all packed into one location, making you feel a lot less like you're sticking out like a "sore thumb".
  • Jack Sparrow was here. Little known fact, I'm a huge fan of Pirates of the Caribbean (namely, Jack Sparrow), and it was constantly referenced throughout the series that Jack had been to Singapore (even having the characters visit Singapore in the third movie as they searched for him). These series of *props* throughout the franchise make Singapore just THAT much cooler! Definitely a place worth checking out. Though, only later on did I find out that these references had to do with prostitution; where, in Singapore, it's not illegal—merely frowned upon.

So, if you're new to Asia but excited to explore the region on your own, I would highly recommend making Singapore (Chiang Mai, Thailand, coming in as a close second) your first stop along the way! It can serve as the perfect induction and hub for all of you Western travellers looking to dip your feet in the Far East!