Observations of Singapore: Is it a utopia or police state?

Getting to Singapore from Malaysia is supposed to be just a bus ride away and very simple to do. I purchased my ticket to Singapore from the Melaka bus station the morning of with no problem. I then read the “TOURIST CONDITIONS” on the back of the ticket and rule #3 stood out to me:

“Bus will depart if passengers take more than 20 minutes at customs and immigration. Company is not responsible for delayed passengers.”

I thought “oh great… I hope this doesn’t happen to me” and well guess what happened to me? Yup just that, I was left at the border entering Singapore. I had never been left at any border since I’ve started traveling. I had no control over how long it took me to get through customs and immigration, I was a bit pissed and kept thinking “now what?”. I then spotted someone who I had seen earlier on my bus because we had very similar backpacks. Lucky for us we were left stranded at border of Singapore… one of the most efficient countries in the world. Right next to where our bus was supposed to leave from were public buses leaving every few minutes. We asked which one went to where we were going “Little India” and were told to wait for it. 5 minutes later we were on our way to where needed to be, not a big deal after all. This was the 1st sign of how meticulous Singapore is.

I spent a week in Singapore and enjoyed a bit of luxury, swimming at the worlds highest infinity pool & was overwhelmed walking down Orchard Road (Singapore ritziest street).  The entire time though as I walked around to get from place to place or explore any part of Singapore I was kind of shocked at everything. I guess I must admit that this was my first time back in a First World Country in over year. Yes I have spent the last year traveling through developing countries and it’s been shocking, but I got used to the chaos. I was shocked for so many reasons upon arriving in Singapore and made several observations of the city/state. Here are a few:

  • Everything is clean and organized.
  • Even constructions sites are very clean and organized.


  • You can never really get lost because every street actually has a street sign.
  • Everyone one waits for the red man to turn green before crossing the street.


  • Everyone seems so civilized and minding their own business.
  • You will find no jay walking signs everywhere and an arrow pointing to the nearest intersection.


  • No one shows any emotions.
  • It seems like everyone has a smart phone and is on it at all times.


  • I didn’t see a single cop the entire week I was there.
  • You have so many restrictive laws and can be fined for just about anything.


  • Surveillance cameras are everywhere and it’s creepy.
  • Even all the hotels, hostels & resorts have so much surveillance.


  • It has a lot of vegetation for a concrete city.
  • It’s almost too perfect.

Within 48 hours of arriving I shared some of my observations with my readers on Facebook and mentioned that it felt like I was in a utopia and wondered if any of them felt that way when they visited Singapore. I was surprised at the response. The majority said that “no it actually felt like a police state”. I was a bit confused how can a place so free be a police state, but then it all made sense. Here is the definition of the two terms:
  • Utopia – is a community or society possessing highly desirable or perfect qualities.
  • Police State – is a state in which the government exercises rigid and repressive controls over the social, economic, and political life of the population.
Before visiting Singapore I would have never used the terms “Police State” to describe it, but after spending a week there I’d have to say that is what it really is. Yes Singapore has so many perfect qualities that make it seem like a “Utopia”, but in reality the only reason they are there is because just about everything is enforced by the state. Everywhere I walked I would see surveillance cameras; I would sometimes even see up to 20 of them in one room. Its sick, they are recording you from every angle possible and from anywhere in the city you may be. The other thing I found strange was that no one would show emotions. It seemed like everyone was a robot coming to or from somewhere.
I have visited 28 countries around the world now and I think Singapore will go down as the strangest country. I mean I enjoyed my week there a lot, but something about Singapore I just didn’t like and I think it was that I felt like I couldn’t screw up or make a wrong turn because I would be caught and get in trouble for it. It’s as if you re on a set of a huge production and your every move is being watched and it’s quite extreme. I don’t how else to describe, but that’s the best I can say and would now like to hear from you. So have you been to Singapore… how did you feel about it? Have you been anywhere else that is similar to this? Am I wrong for thinking Singapore is a “Police State”?
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  1. I love Singapore. Been there twice and plotting to return. Wish I could live there. Nothing creepy about it.

    • Jaime Davila says:

      Yes Sheena, I’ve heard so many people love it. Hope you get the chance to visit again or maybe even live there.

  2. We’re glad we went, but it wasn’t a favorite of ours. I do want to go to that pool though 🙂
    Kent @ No Vacation Required recently posted..Off the Grid Ski Adventure

    • Jaime Davila says:

      Yeah it wasn’t my fav either Kent. As for that pool expect to spend a night at the hotel to get access & well it’s not cheap like at all.

  3. I had the same feeling about Singapore… I mean beautiful and all, very safe, enjoyable walks… but there’s something missing. Freedom?
    Giulia recently posted..Ode to my ugly shoes

    • Jaime Davila says:

      Exactly Giuilia, I never quite felt FREE… i felt restricted and as if I was being watched every minute. I did though feel safe and thought it was beautiful too, but yeah I’d rather feel free.

  4. I felt like this in Colombia!!! I felt eyes watching me wherever I went. I found it to be really suffocating!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Macy’s Heart Of Haiti Campaign

    • Jaime Davila says:

      Really in Colombia? Very interesting Andi, had never heard that about there. It is hard to enjoy a place when you feel suffocated. That is a great word to describe it. Why didn’t I think of that?

  5. Just saw on tv that for this year, Singaporean are the saddest people in the world in contrast to Filipinos that is 4th among the happiest

    • Jaime Davila says:

      Oh wow I didn’t know that Louis. I could so see that… because it’s crazy there. In a very weird way. I feel sorry for them.

  6. Hi, I’m a Singaporean and I agree with you on some of the points you mentioned above. Practicality (and maybe selfishness?) is deeply ingrained into our culture which is why we don’t mind other people’s businesses. It’s a pity that with the advancement in technology, we have become more absorbed into our iphones and devices. Sometimes, you can see a family or couple having dinner where both of them are on their iphones and not talking to each other which is really really sad and increasingly, more common nowadays.

    Singapore may be a police state because the government wants us to be a stable country to attract investors etc. We may be the fastest country in the world to go from being developing to developed but all these are at a expense of relationships, freedom of expressions, etc. I think Singapore is a good, safe and stable country to live in, but not really a country that allows you a lot of freedom and be happy in.

    • Jaime Davila says:

      Hi Ling, I love that you mentioned about the family being connected to their devices during dinner, because I saw one & the entire dinner they did not say a word to each other. What I found interesting was that when I went to the movies to watch ARGO one of the commercials was about THAT. It showed parents being on the phone while their children were doing something, the children on their phone while their parents were talking with them and so on. It was interesting to see, but I think that applies to the whole world today. I see that so often… and is why I try not to have a smart phone, I don’t wanna be so connected. I am connected enough with my laptop.

      I did love that Singapore felt safe at all times and agree it is stable and growing, but at what cost?

  7. Quote: ‘Everywhere I walked I would see surveillance cameras; I would sometimes even see up to 20 of them in one room. Its sick, they are recording you from every angle possible and from anywhere in the city you may be. The other thing I found strange was that no one would show emotions. It seemed like everyone was a robot coming to or from somewhere.’ That sounds just like London to me, to be honest! I guess after living in London for three years I was used to the surveillance and the lack of emotion when I got to Singapore.

    I loved the city – the architecture (especially around Marina Bay), the different neighborhoods (Chinatown, Little India, Kampong Glam), and how you still had all the hawker food centers even though it is such a developed city – but even all the suit-wearing office workers would gather at a hawker food stall during their lunch break! Also loved all the parks, the beaches on Sentosa Island, the street art in Kampong Glam. Already looking forward to returning one day!
    Dani recently posted..Polaroid of the Week: Man’s best friend, and Editor

    • Jaime Davila says:

      Dani, I have heard that about London. I learned more about it when I read a book on BANKSY he hates the CCTV everywhere. Anyway so about Singapore it’s an amazing city no lie there, but I mean I just couldn’t get over all these observations I kept making over & over again. I don’t know if it’s on my list of countries to return any time soon. Now I wonder what I will think about London when ever I visit it???

  8. Hey Jaime, first time on your site. I had exactly the same feelings about Singapore. I’ve added a link in my sig to a bunch of street photos I took, some are surprisingly similar to yours, I think you’ll enjoy them. You’re not alone with your opinion – it just seems to get more and more obvious each time I visit this strange island nation. But, I always enjoy myself, and will return again and again.

    • Jaime Davila says:

      Hi Nate, thanks so much for visiting my site. I’ve visited yours on many occasions because I am a HUGE fan of your photography. Thanks for sharing your Singapore photos with me. I hadn’t seen them so will now! Yes it’s a very strange island nation indeed and everyone says they will return again and again, but I don’t think I will. I don’t know I loved that it was interesting, but lacked the SPARK I find in some of the countries I love.

  9. I quite enjoyed Singapore when I visited. It was almost the perfect mix of Asia and Western Culture for me as it lessened the reverse culture shock I had when I flew to Australia.

    That said, I kinda missed the chaos of Asia when I was there. It was too clean, too business. I missed the little rush of getting lost and not finding your way. In Singapore, it was next to impossible to get lost, what with all the signs and efficiency of the transit system (which, at home, I kinda wish we had). I would take issue with your “no feelings or emotions” thing as when I tripped over my feet I had some people laugh at me. I also had a free place to stay from a complete stranger. And within a few minutes of arriving, a local took time to explain the subway system and direct me to which ticket I should buy based on how long I was staying.

    Though you will be hard-pressed to find me knocking CCTV and it’s abundance in our lives. Without it, my laptop would never have been recovered after being stolen!

    An interesting discussion though could be had with how far we will allow surveillance in our lives in exchange for the lack of privacy.

    • Jaime Davila says:

      Corey yes I could so see Singapore as a great transition point from the chaos of SEAsia and the normality of a 1st world country. Everything you mentioned about Singapore is what I didn’t like about… I missed it all. Singapore was so perfect… and it was no fun in that part. Even though that was the case I enjoyed it. I guess CCTV is good for somethings but like you mentioned HOW FAR WILL WE ALLOW it in our lives in exchange of no privacy??? I meant because you don’t have any in Singapore that is for damn sure.

  10. I visited Singapore back in 1996
    Erik recently posted..The Dark Horse Brewing Comany

    • Oops-

      I was not impressed. It lacked the chaos of the rest of Southeast Asia, which provides the region so much of character. I found it sterile and boring.

      Since, I’ve read a lot of positive things about Singapore. If I’m in Southeast Asia again, it might be worth a revisit.
      Erik recently posted..The Dark Horse Brewing Company

      • Jaime Davila says:

        Oh wow Erik, so even in 1996 it missed the chaos of the rest of SEAsia? Yeah I think you will see that it’s changed so much since then and it would be interesting to see what you think about it now. Oh man… that’s gonna be insane.

  11. I have heard mixed reviews of Singapore. I don’t know, I kinda like chaos.

  12. Singapore is a melting pot of cultures, it’s so multicultural that it hardly feels like a particular place, instead more like a global city. I loved it. The food there is incredible. I had the best Thai food there

  13. Hi Jaime,

    I stumbled upon your blog because I’m planning my own RTW trip. Great to see that you’ve completed your two-year trip! Will definitely be reading your blog for tips.

    However, from a Singaporean born and bred in the country, I had to respond to this post.

    Yes, Singaporeans are pretty emotionless. This comes from years of living in a nation that’s geared towards business and an economic growth strategy that puts overseas investment above all else. Combine this with a very warped East Asian conservatism, the end result is a blind, sometimes rigid obsession with order and living just for the next paycheck.

    Yes, there’s surveillance. Even as someone who lives there, I’m quite uncomfortable with the surveillance especially on our MRT. There’s a history to it though: our security forces were caught wrong-footed by a terrorist plot once and have been increasing security ever since. That said, I do think the surveillance is just as fierce in major US and European cities.

    As for the comments about the ‘chaos’ of other Southeast Asian cities, I don’t quite understand why Westerners like yourself associate chaos with a distinctive Southeast Asian character. At best, it sounds naive to expect Asian cities to be messy (as opposed to first-world cities). At worst, it’s a broad sweeping statement about Southeast Asian culture (and the region is quite diverse, as you’ve experienced). I don’t travel to North America and Europe and expect well-groomed cities, efficiency and white-skinned people. We travel not to confirm our assumptions or what the media says about a country, but to see things from the bottom up ourselves.

    These are just my thoughts on your own reflections and reasoning.

    That said, from your posts, all I can say is that there’s more to Singapore than Orchard Road, MBS and Sentosa. If you ever are in the region (S’pore or M’sia) for business or pleasure, drop me an email. I’ll be glad to take you through the less-visited estates in Singapore or the string of southern towns in Johor if you want to see more about this strange place you’ve described 🙂

    • Jaime Davila says:

      Hi YX,

      I’m so happy you came across my blog and am happy you are enjoying it. As for your comment thank you so much for providing input. Its very rare that we (travel bloggers) get comments from people of the places we visit so it is always nice to hear. I agree with you on a few things especially about surveillance in the US and well now that we know they are literally tracking everything! I felt more uncomfortable in Singapore becuase you actually see the cameras EVERYWHERE and in some rooms you can count even up to 20. It’s crazy, but I understand at the end of the day it’s for our safety, but at what cost.

      As for the chaos I do not agree with what you mention. In reality the majority of the cities in developing countries (not just SEA) are very chaotic, loud, crazy, a bit dirty and so on. It’s something that we notice and call chaotic because it’s so different from home. It’s something I love though because it makes me feel so alive when I am out exploring a city, it does that because it reminds me I am not at home. I hope that make sense. I don’t say it to offend anyone or a city, nothing wrong with being chaotic. Oh & I know there is so much more to Singapore then what I did and my favorite areas were actually the neighborhoods of different ethnicity. I will admit though that Singapore is not on my list of must return any time soon. That is also not a bad thing.

  14. Miguel Lorenzo says:

    I’ve never felt self-conscious just because there are CCTV cameras everywhere in Singapore. I mean, if you’re not doing anything wrong, then you should be just fine, right? Just go about your business and don’t mind if all those “eyes” are on you. That’s what I do. I used to be based in Singapore and I just loved how efficient, organized and orderly everything is. Singapore is a great place to live in, but I would have to agree with what some people say that it does lack soul.

    • Jaime Davila says:

      So true Miguel and I understand that… but it’s still a bit overwhelming. At least that is how I felt. It was very efficient city & organized and my OCD loves that, but I like some chaos too…lol! It’s just missing something… it’s missing a pulse that most cities have. It just felt very robotic a lot of people from all over the world conditioned to live a certain way.

  15. I’m in Singapore right now and it feels rather sterile. I met a local for coffee last night and he described the government more as operating like a corporation and that they’re not citizens but employees…. It was interesting comparison that really stood out to me.

    • Jaime Davila says:

      Oh that is a good word for it Aaron. It is very sterile & I have heard of the government acting like a corporation. I know its one of the best cities in the world to have a business because of tax reforms and the liberties and SECURITY it gets from the government.

  16. Singapore definitely wasn’t my favourite place, I think it is a ‘difficult’ country to visit especially if you’re coming down through SEA (or from India/Nepal as I was – even Malaysia was a bit of a culture shock for me).
    It’s the exact opposite of all the chaos, vibrancy and rock bottom prices that you’ve adapted to. I was only there for 4 days, but was more shocked about how expensive everything is, from food to hostels, to learning about the cost of cars, homes or even renting! Crazy expensive! You don’t have much of a choice but to follow the rules and try to be successful. Interesting.

    • Jaime Davila says:

      Megan I agree with everything you just said… it is difficult to go from developing to developed… it’s like wow!!! Oh & yes the prices are so damn crazy… like crazy!!!

  17. Well, i guess it’s nothing like most of London.
    In Singapore, you won’t see drunken people urinating on the walls, people randomly spitting as they walk past you, general aggresive behaviour, feet on seats on the buses, kfc and Mcdonalds junk in public transport. A gallery of muggings and unprovoked attacks.

    It must be really hard to live in a society that has zero tolerance to these things, if you like to break the law!!!!!

    • Directly to the comment above mine: That’s the reason why this is a perfect place for people like myself who will absolutely not break the law! As a lady, I am comfortable walking on the streets at 3/4 a.m. after a drink fest. Although Singapore advocates, “Low crimes doesn’t mean no crime”.

      Well, it’s a trade off for privacy and restriction on freedom of speech (in certain ways, especially politics) and freedom on other things. I am absolutely safe here. That’s the reason why expats send their kids to school here.

      So much said, sometimes i’d rather be away from this emotionless, too-efficient, fast paced rat race country. Sometimes it suffocates me (mon-thu).. and then let go (weekends). And repeat it a billion times. That’s the annoying part.

      No country is perfect. It depends on what you value most and what you are willing to trade with.

  18. People on this thread keep asking (rhetorically) “at what cost?” comes the “safety” of a surveillance-state like Singapore. It would be a very interesting conversation if someone actually attempted to answer that question. What _are_ the costs of this – in real, practical, terms? Do you get arrested and serve jail time in Singapore for crossing a street where/when you’re not supposed to? I doubt it – although most people obey pedestrian signals, some don’t, and no repercussions are apparent. People here are very conformist, but I doubt that’s because the state is forcing that on them – it’s cultural. Are political activists repressed? What would they be activists for that provoked state repression? Seriously, what? Average people in the U.S. are amongst the least politically-literate in the world (note Donald Trump’s popularity), yet every American whoops and hollers about “freedom” – as if it’s something they exercise on a daily basis. Is it freedom not to have universal health insurance, and to have low gas taxes with crumbling roads and pathetic public transit (like New Jersey), yet very high federal income taxes to fund a global-police military to protect the interests of oil companies? Everyone in Singapore has a job and a decent apartment, seemingly guaranteed by the state, and there are no traffic jams and the subway costs 85 cents and takes you anywhere in minutes. What is freedom if not freedom to move about? I’ve heard you can be arrested for gay public displays of affection – but even in the U.S. in most places gays still wouldn’t dare hold hands walking down the street, not in fear of police, but in fear of ignorant thugs who are tolerated by the majority. Someone also said they didn’t mind all the security cameras in Singapore because they’re doing nothing wrong. For most people, “wrong” means something like stealing, or assault – and there is nothing “free” about a society with a high rate for those kinds of crimes. Does Singapore enforce other restrictions which truly impinge on freedoms of speech or association? Religious freedom is guaranteed here. Although it definitely feels “sterile”, as several people noted, it also feels completely cosmopolitan – every (mainstream) creed appears tolerated. Same as in the U.S. (in theory) and in NYC (in practice), but there is plenty of racial/religious friction everywhere in America. Lastly, you may see cameras ubiquitously, but definitely no more than in London or (lately) in NYC, and you can go weeks without seeing a police officer or even a police car. In New York, you can’t go 10 minutes without hearing a siren or seeing a police car. “Freedom” seems like a word with vastly different meanings for people, and for Americans in particular, it’s something we take for granted, are very defensive about, yet don’t usually define or actually exercise in a way that has real political meaning.

  19. HI Jaime, i stumbled on your blog. (i don’t read blogs btw) I’m currently in Cairo. I just read your entry and your goodbye entry. that’s really sad… Have you watched the love of Siam? on a side note, Naturally. .. I went to see what you have to say about my country! i’m glad you enjoyed it.

    I take great pride in how my country is run. how clean it is. how efficient it is and how organised it is. i have travelled all 7 continents. (not as extensively in each country as you have). and the only country that made me feel safe or at home was Japan.

    i wont say it’s utopia but a police state is a far cry. although press freedom and some other rights are ranked amongst the worst in the world. (not really proving my point here) i don’t think it’s an accurate representation of how we actually are. for the many surveillance cameras and laws .. the bottom line is this, if you’re decent human being, you have nothing to fear. I believe one notorious US citizen visiting Singapore vandalized public property. Despite Clinton trying to step in to pardon him, we continued with the punishment. I feel it was right deserved. Fret not, I have not heard of anyone being punished for jaywalking. (i do it quick often myself). With a government that is the most highly paid in the world, you can forget running into similar trouble as per that night in Manilla.

    sadly, i feel that Singapore can be a bit boring after a while. But this is just like the novelty of exploring new places. ultimately, it is not what you do but who you are with that matters. and i rather be in a safe country with someone i love. we can always travel. plus we have one of the best education systems too 🙂 and great food 🙂

    most singaporeans are reserved. I, for one, lived and studied in America for 1 yr. I till this date cant comprehend why ppl in shops like to ask me how I am doing. My reaction usually is stunned and the moment to respond to the question is gone, so i started off with just a smile. it took me 2 months to force out “i’m good, thank you, how are you doing”. because, i’m thinking in my head (they dont really care how i’m doing. My mum cares, not some random person i just met). This hopefully provides you an insight in the psyche of my Singapoean mind. If you fell down, i would help you. If i saw you struggling or looking lost, i would have helped you. but unlike travellers from south america, where they see each other in the airport bus enroute to the airplane, and once spanish is spoken they are like family; this is just not how we are. but i must say, Singaporeans (and most south east / asian) people are extremely loyal friends. when you have been through the worst, you would understand. (i lived around the world for some time) It is an excellent example of how actions speak louder than words.

    I also noticed that SIN was not part of the list of airports you travelled to/from. this is a horrendous! how could you! SIN has the best airport in the world. after experiencing 31 different ones i’m sure you will now settle for the best.

    I love travelling but I always look forward to coming home. There is so much to live for in Singapore. We may not show it and we definitely will never say it but if you get to know us better, you will see we are very human after all. 🙂 hope to see you in Singapore again.

  20. Daniel Tzabary says:

    I live in Perth, Western Australia. There are countless security cameras in the CBD area here too. People here are on their smartphones much of the time also and lack emotion too. I think reduced liberty, increased surveillance and a society of shallow, narcissistic, selfish, materialistic individuals is a mark of modern society in general. At least Singapore is clean and modern. Perth is always in a state of repair, boring and backwards socially and in terms of supply of goods.

  21. I live in Singapore now and I absolutely loathe the place. It’s not just the government’s intrusion into everything but the locals’ unquestioning acceptance, even defense, of it and their willingness to surrender freedoms and rights, and take away others’, for economic comfort and so-called harmony (note: pretending discrimination, poverty, homelessness etc. don’t exist doesn’t mean that they actually don’t exist).

    There’s also an innate selfishness to Singaporeans that I find unpalatable the longer I’m here. People won’t give up their seats on trains for those less firm (especially if they’re not in the corner special seats, because then it’s not their problem), they only do something if there’s a direct benefit to them, they don’t stand up for other people or care when their actions negatively affect others. They even accept that they’re “kiasu,” the local word for a grasping, selfish attitude, but it’s almost a point of pride for them, which in itself says a lot. Contrast this, for example, with the kindness, consideration and integrity Japanese people regularly display, even toward complete strangers, and Singapore holds very little allure.

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