People walk through a street set up with stalls ahead of the upcoming Chinese lunar New Year in Chinatown in Singapore.

Cape Town - China has become our fourth largest source market for tourism and many Chinese visitors arrive on Singapore Airlines – the only Far Eastern airline flying into Cape Town now that Air Malaysia has withdrawn from South Africa.

The airline is also popular with South Africans, particularly Capetonians, who pass through Singapore on their way to Thailand, China, Australia and New Zealand, making use of the excellent connecting flights from the city’s Changi Airport.

The airport itself offers excellent shopping facilities, cinemas and themed gardens, and transit passengers are encouraged to shop by being given free vouchers to spend there.

But an increasing number of South Africans now make a stopover in Singapore itself. It is a fascinating city with a great deal to see and do, as visitors realise when they take advantage of the free sightseeing tours offered to transit passengers, and new attractions seem to be added every year.

They range from the city’s Chinatown and Indian quarter with their charming shops, restaurants and architecture, the theatre which offers productions that have been a success in London and New York, a bird park with giant aviaries in which an astonishing variety of birds fly freely, two casinos, open-air markets, sophisticated department stores, and a museum recording the changes that have taken place since Singapore was a small fishing village, before its transformation into a sophisticated international city and centre for trade and one of the busiest ports in the world.

It has excellent hotels with favourable prices for passengers making a stopover, and a vibrant nightlife.

Tim Lee, the airline’s new manager in Cape Town, tells me that many of the passengers in both directions are on business. And although the start of the Chinese new year at the end of next week will bring a large number of extra tourists to Cape Town, the airline will also carry large numbers of Chinese who are in business in this country on visits to their family homes in China.

Singapore Airlines was the launch customer for the giant Airbus A380. It now has 19 in service and has just made a second repeat order, this time for five more. In addition to this it has ordered a total of 40 of the new Airbus A350 XWB (extra wide-bodied) aircraft.

It is currently using the popular Boeing 777-200 extra long-range aircraft on its South African route and refitting them, with those in use on other long-haul routes, to offer passengers more space.

The first of the refitted aircraft, with business class seats that convert into fully flat beds, and larger entertainment screens in business and economy class, came into use on the Amsterdam route last week. - Weekend Argus