A fascinating mix of contrasts, Singapore lies at the crossroads of East and West, and as a result, it hums with a unique culture that is equal parts oriental and occidental. From the steel-and-glass skyscrapers that rise above Chinatown's historic narrow lanes to vibrant Little India's burst of sights, sounds, and smells, the old blends seamlessly with the new in Singapore. In 1 day, it is possible to trek through a rainforest, visit various places of worship from a multitude of religions that exist together in harmony, and stop in a sleek mall on Orchard Road to buy a new outfit in time for a sumptuous dinner prepared by a Michelin-starred chef. Singapore has always been, and will always be, a nation that blends the best of all worlds into one nation.
In its haste to modernize, Singapore often appears to have sold its Asian soul in exchange for a Western lifestyle. On the surface, the terrain is unremarkably globalized and consumer driven; its rows of shiny shopping malls flank wide, manicured avenues dotted with McDonald's and Starbucks. But for those who pause to take a closer look, Singapore's cultural heart is alive and well beneath the polished veneer. Singapore's Chinese are still driven by ancient values that respect the family, authority, and success merited by hard work. Its Malays share openly their warm ideals of generosity, hospitality, and joy among friends and family. And the city's Indians possess a culture steeped in thousands of years of traditional beauty and passion for life. Add to this the spirit of Arabs and Armenians, Bugis and British, various Europeans and Eurasians, and many more -- a multitude of cultures that, combined, defines what it means to be Singaporean.
Singapore strives to honor its past while keeping one eye firmly focused on the future. Amid its efforts to grow the nation's economy and its people's standard of living are huge plans for tourism development. Already it hosts stellar world-class institutions, such as the Asian Civilisations Museum, the Singapore Arts Museum, and the award-winning Singapore Zoo and Night Safari. In 2010, two enormous casino complexes -- the Marina Bay Sands, which dominates the downtown city skyline, and Resorts World Sentosa, on the city's family-fun island getaway -- opened, changing the dynamic of the city.
Singapore's tireless drive for growth is contrasted by Malaysia's laid-back atmosphere, where in some places it can seem as if time stands still. In fact, many Singaporeans look to their northern neighbor for the perfect vacation, exploring its rich national forests and marine parks, unwinding on picture-perfect beaches at sophisticated resorts, taking in the down-to-earth culture of its small towns, shopping for inexpensive handicrafts, and eating some of the most delicious food in Southeast Asia. But despite its exotic and world-class holiday offerings, Malaysia lacks the hoards of tourists that beat feet for Singapore and Thailand. Because Malaysia remains comparatively quiet, it's easy to enjoy a holiday without the tacky trappings of the tourist trade.
My favorite part of Malaysia, however, is the warmth of its people. I have yet to travel in this country without collecting remarkable tales of hospitality, openness, and generosity. I've found the Malaysian people to be genuine in their approach to foreign visitors, another fine byproduct of the underdeveloped tourism industry. For those who want to find a nice little corner of paradise, Malaysia could be your answer.
I've crept down alleys, wandered the streets of cities and towns, combed beaches, and trekked jungles to seek out the most exciting things that Singapore and Malaysia have to offer. In this guide, I've presented the sights and attractions of these countries with insight into historical, cultural, and modern significance to bring you a complete appreciation of all you are about to experience.