The Merlion has settled upon the shores of the Singapore River since 1972. At the Merlion Park, the 40 tonne creature sprouts an endless jet of water from its jaws. Why this half-lion, half-fish hybrid spits water despite the country’s long history of water shortages, no one will ever know. But one thing is certain, the Merlion is Singapore’s most famous landmark. The Singapore Merlion, a legendary beast native to Singapore waters or a blatant marketing mascot? You be the judge.
The media often touts the Merlion as a legendary creature. Some sources even go so far as to cite (fictional) fables from when the country was still a fishing village and tales of how the mythical beast protected Singapore’s waters. This has confused some tourists into believing that till this day, Singaporeans still worship the Merlion idol.
The true nature of the Merlion however, is much more practical. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the new country of Singapore began to attract tourists from all over the world. As an immigrant country, Singapore did not possess any cultural creations to call its own. To counter this problem, the government created the Singapore Tourism board to help support the country’s fledgling tourist industry.
Lacking any elements to model local Souvenirs after, the Merlion was imagined in 1964 by Mr Fraser Brunner, a member of the Souvenir Committee in the Singapore Tourism Board. The character was a combination of Singapore’s traditional name “Temasek” (from when it was a fishing village) and it’s new name “Singapura” (lion city).
Brunner’s creation, and it’s fabricated history was easily accepted as canon by by tourists. Overjoyed at the success of it’s new marketing tool, Singapore erected a statue of the Merlion along its river banks in 1972. The grand statue was constructed from cement, plates and teacups.
As a key figure in Singapore’s tourist industry, the Merlion is still worthy of praise. Locally, the Merlion doesn’t claim to be anything more than an obvious gimmick. Also, when compared to some of the other nonsensical tourists traps elsewhere, the Merlion doesn’t seem half as bad.
In fact, Singapore owes the Merlion much gratitude for garnering the continual attention of foreigners over the past 40 years. Since the creature’s conception 1964, the number of visitors to Singapore has increased from 100,000 to more than 10 million. The government continues to expand this billion dollar industry, generating countless jobs. If there was anything worth worshiping the Merlion for, it is how much money this cover child of Singapore tourism has brought (and continues to bring) to our soil.
Despite our love-hate relationship with the lion-fish, the Merlion still tops our list of must see sites to those visiting Singapore.
Visiting the Merlion
The Singapore Merlion overlooks Marina Bay at the northern end of the Merlion Park.
The Merlion park stretches across the entire front of the One Fullerton hotel at Collyer Quay.
It is located directly opposite the Esplanade at Marina Bay.
The search location for the Merlion Park is marked incorrectly on Google Maps. Instead follow this route to reach the real location of the park.
The easiest way to reach the Merlion is to take the SMRT subway to Raffles Place Station (NS26/EW14).
Exit from one of the north exits of the station (A, B or H).
Continue straight along Battery Road until you come into sight of the Fullerton Hotel.
Continue walking on the side of the hotel until you see a traffic light (it is just before a bridge).
Cross this traffic light to reach the Merlion Park.
At the Merlion
Entry to the Merlion Park is free. The only downside is that you will have to endure the crowds of other tourists and locals here. It has become fashionable in the recent years for Singaporeans to take up photography as a hobby. So as with all other tourist locations in Singapore, expect lots of locals carrying entry level DSLRs here. To minimize the number of unwanted heads in your own photographs, come here during working hours on a weekday afternoon.
Singapore River Cruise
The Singapore River Cruise, which has been operating tours along the Singapore River for more than 20 years has one of its 9 stations here.
They offer two different cruises here, Singapore River Experience (Adults: $15, Children: $8) and the extended New River Experience (Adults: $20, Children: $10).
Both tours offer views of the Merlion and Esplanade, as well as the quays and bridges along the river. The only difference between both rides is that the more expensive New River Experience heads another 400 meters down to the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel and Zouk. I would recommend taking the basic Singapore River Experience tour, since there is nothing of particular interest within the additional route.
Direct trips to particular boat terminals are also offered for between $4-$12.
In Singapore, Trishaw riders often camp at popular tourist spots around the city area. Since all areas can be easily accessed by foot, this is a luxury for only the most extravagant.
One thing to take note of is that unlike the trishaws in Japan, which are pulled by young people on foot, trishaws in Singapore are operated by aging men on bicycles. Still though, any location within central Singapore can be reached within 30 minutes by trishaw.
While often left to the operator’s discretion, a trip on a trishaw will set you back at least $25 for each person sitting on the trishaw.