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Singapore

The Merlion was designed as an emblem for the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) in 1964. The designer was Mr Fraser Brunner, a member of the souvenir committee and a curator of the Van Kleef Aquarium. The Merlion has a lion head and a fish body resting on a crest of waves. The lion head symbolises the legend of the rediscovery of Singapura, as recorded in the "Malay Annals". In ancient times, Singapore was known as Temasek, a Javanese word for sea.

Singapore is in fact one of the most enjoyable cities in Southeast Asia. As you zoom in from one of the world's best airports along the lushly tree-shaded expressway or on the zippy MRT train line, you'll quickly realise this is no traffic-snarled Bangkok. And as you stroll through the fashion emporiums of Orchard Rd, poke around antique shops in Chinatown or take a walk around one of the dozens of beautiful city parks, you'll know the city bears no comparison to crime- and poverty-ridden Manila or Jakarta.

It's a fascinating place - and a remarkable achievement. No-one is denying that Singaporeans have had to sacrifice some level of freedom in their island's rise from racially divided, resource-starved port town. But you get the feeling that if Western development aid had ever matched Singapore's strides in poverty reduction, education, infrastructure and health care, they'd be patting themselves on the back and saying that political freedom was a small sacrifice to make.

Located a mere 1.5 degrees north of the Equator, the weather is usually sunny with no distinct seasons. Rain falls almost daily throughout the year, usually in sudden, heavy showers that rarely last longer than an hour. However, most rainfall occurs during the northeast monsoon (November to January), occasionally featuring lengthy spells of continuous rain. Spectacular thunderstorms can occur throughout the year, normally in the afternoons, so it's wise to carry an umbrella at all times, both as a shade from the sun or cover from the rain. The temperature averages around 30C (84F) daytime, 24C (76F) at night in December and January & 32C (90F) daytime, 26C (81F) at night for the rest of the year.

The high temperature and humidity, combined with the lack of wind and the fact that temperatures stay high during the night, can take its toll on visitors from colder parts of the world. Bear in mind that spending more than about one hour outdoors can be very exhausting, especially if combined with moderate exercise. Singaporeans themselves shun the heat, and for a good reason. Many live in air-conditioned flats, work in air-conditioned offices, take the air-conditioned metro to air-conditioned shopping malls connected to each other by underground tunnels where they shop, eat, and exercise in air-conditioned fitness clubs. Follow their example if you want to avoid discomfort in the searing heat and humidity of Singapore.

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