It's the economic boomtown of Asia, one of the world's biggest ports and a relentlessly efficient, heavily regulated (some critics say repressive) city-state.

ON HIGH at Singapore’s Esplanade center, a worker cleans its architecturally daring roof. The Esplanade, a state-of-the art concert hall and theater, is one of Asia’s top performing-arts venues. It fits right in with modern Singapore, where shimmering high-rises and avant-garde design, such as the Esplanade’s aluminum sunshade roof, dwarf Singapore’s remaining 19th-century colonial buildings and Buddhist temples.

Singapore is the economic boomtown of Asia, one of the world’s biggest ports and a relentlessly efficient, heavily regulated (some critics say repressive) city-state. Some deride it as too boring, too unadventurous to be the “real” Asia. But it’s a city that works, blending ethnic and religious groups from Chinese Buddhists to Muslim Malays and Indian Hindus and Christians into a prosperous multicultural mix of 5.3 million people.

Founded as a British trading colony in 1819, Singapore became an independent nation in the 1960s and thrives on international trade.

For visitors, Singapore is an easy, efficient (and steamy-hot) jumping-off point to explore Southeast Asia. It helps that English is widely spoken. And you could drop by the waterfront Esplanade center to catch some local culture — everything from Sufi gospel and pop bands to symphonies.

Kristin R. Jackson is The Seattle Times’ NWTraveler editor. Contact her at kjackson@seattletimes.com.