It pains me to think that we made the mistake on more than one occasion of merely passing through the state of Singapore en route elsewhere in the world. Knowing that this tiny island is home to the world’s best airport, should have been an indicator of some of the amazing sights and treasures to be discovered. Because our friends Carol and Roy were temporarily living there, we were privileged to a week of nonstop entertainment with their ‘local’ insight.
This small nation in Southeast Asia has become one of the world’s most prosperous countries. Singapore is known to be expensive. It isn’t just one of the world’s most expensive cities to live in, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s report, it is the MOST expensive. Singapore’s reputation for being clean, non-corrupt and efficient is due to the fact that it has extremely strict laws, covering not only drugs, but also vandalism and political activity. We’d heard about the hectic fines facing anyone who spits in public or creates graffiti, but I was amazed to hear that the penalty for not flushing a public loo is $150 and chewing or selling gum could lead to two years in jail! 😳
Raffles Hotel for Singapore Slings
When in Singapore it is of course necessary to immediately sweep into the gorgeous and grand Raffles Hotel, head for the famous Long Bar, and order a Singapore Sling. Amongst the many modern and luxury hotels in Singapore, Raffles Hotel prominently stands out as an historically rich landmark dating back to 1887. It encapsulates the old world charm of the British colonial era with its exemplary hospitality, (the doorman makes you feel like a royalty) and remains a calm oasis amidst the bustling city. The colonial grandeur invokes visions of the past, before rapid modernisation changed Singapore forever. Just walking around the hallways admiring the art and the flower arrangements was something special.
The Long Bar itself is like stepping back in time with its polished teakwood bar, comfy wicker chairs and traditional reed ceiling-fans. Part of the experience are bags of monkey nuts on the tables – guests being encouraged to toss the casings on the ground, just as Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling would have done in their day. The shells make a satisfactory crunch beneath your feet.
Then it was off for drinks with amazing views of the Marina Bay Sound and Light show. Roy and Carol know how to show you a fantastic time. Next on the agenda was dinner at ‘The Lighthouse’, an upmarket Italian restaurant with delicious, not inexpensive fare and then a taste of Singapore’s soaring nightlife. The Altitude bar boasts the highest views in Singapore. Located on the 63rd floor of One Raffles Place, it has a 360-degree vista and only a thin, shoulder-height glass panel to stop people falling off the edge. This was clearly where the fashionable set were hanging out and we enjoyed the on-top-of-the-world feeling.
A stroll through the vibrant streets of Singapore was a lovely end to the evening.
This 150+ year-old property is the only tropical garden to be honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was close to Carol and Roy’s home, so we managed to spend a bit of time each morning, appreciating a small corner of the garden before it got too busy. The National Orchid Garden, with more than 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids on view was truly special. The pathways, the sculptures, the plants and flowers, were all truly spectacular. Every bend revealed something special and beautiful.
The Gardens by the Bay
I’d never heard of this amazing place, and it turned out to be the highlight of the trip. You will want to get there right at 9 a.m. to get ahead of the crowds. I was absolutely mesmerized by the Supertree Grove. These cleverly designed ‘trees’ that are between 25 and 50 meters tall collect rainwater and generate solar power. At night they are illuminated for a spectacular light show, set to music.
The Flower Dome is the world’s largest glass greenhouse and a tulip exhibition was on display. It was breath-taking in both color and scale.
We then explored the Cloud Forest which is home to the world’s highest indoor waterfall. What a peaceful and refreshing space to escape the outdoor humidity.
‘Planet’ by Marc Quinn
We went on a short ‘train’-ride around the gardens and came across this beautiful work. At a hefty seven tons, this impressive white-painted, bronze sculpture is 9m long and 3m tall. It portrays an oversized reproduction of the artist’s own son, Lucas, as a baby. The sculpture’s weight is masterfully balanced on the infant’s right hand, creating the illusion that the sculpture is floating in the air.
Quinn has explained that the work deals with “a paradox, an inversion of our relationship to our planet. It makes you realize that something big, like our planet, is vulnerable as well, and kind of precious” (Phaidon.com)
Marina Bay Sands
You don’t have to have a room at the hotel to take in the view from this iconic spot. We opted to have lunch in the restaurant on the 57th floor and were stunned by the panoramic views of the city as well as the rooftop infinity pool.
Carol insisted that we take a trip aboard a refurbished WWII amphibious vehicle from Vietnam for a unique tour of Singapore. One moment you are driving through the streets looking at some of Asia’s most stunning architecture, the next moment you calmly enter the water and cruise along the Marina Bay, to admire further views of the bustling city’s skyline.
We checked out Singapore’s most iconic landmark—the towering Merlion fountain. This half-fish, half-lion statue is the symbol of Singapore.
On our last day we headed to the National Gallery. Its special to see how some of the oldest buildings find new life through creative uses. The national gallery is a case in point : Two beautifully restored monuments, (the former City Hall and Supreme Court) linked in an iconic way using aluminum and glass that maximise light and spaciousness. The huge museum always has a range of exhibitions and we enjoyed the eclectic mix of art as well as the great views from the roof terrace.
Carol whisked us around some of the best shopping malls (even one that had a magnificent water feature, where gallons of water swirl around in a glass dome periodically cascading into the pool below). We paused to have lunch at Din Tai Fung which offers some of the best Chinese cuisine in Singapore, serving a tantalising collection of dishes. We opted for the steamed pork dumplings and some delicious duck pot-stickers with an outstanding plum dipping sauce, amongst other delicacies.
Singapore is often referred to as a “City in a Garden” and it’s not hard to see why. The balance of maintaining beautiful green spaces, combined with amazing architectural icons makes this city-country truly exotic, vibrant and exciting.