In September 2017, what joy, as the bosses announced that Zoe and I would be attending the CLIA Asia River Conference to be held in Ho Chi Minh! Excitement mounted even further when CLIA (Cruise Line International Association) also organised an optional add on offered by Singapore Tourism Board of 2 nights pre-conference familiarisation trip of Singapore! Our heads were in the clouds.
As the trip was to happen on Easter Sunday, Zoe and I decided to go a few days earlier so that we could really immerse ourselves into what Singapore had to offer. So, the Thursday before Easter, Zoe and I headed to Larnaca Airport and the exclusive airport lounge to start our 12 day adventure to learn and experience three new countries and river cruising with 5* AmaWaterways, arriving first into a very humid Singapore early afternoon of Good Friday. The Lounge Pass for Larnaca Airport did make the start of the journey a relaxing one, away from the maddening crowds with an abundance of finger food available and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. It was peaceful and calm and took away the apprehension of the long haul flight ahead of us.
Arrival to Singapore was a breeze, such an organised and clean airport and our pre-booked transfer was waiting for us with a smile and barrage of knowledge of the city we had come to explore. We settled into our hotel in China Town, The Scarlet, a colonial style property transformed into a boutique hotel just steps from the Budha Tooth Relic Temple, a must see, and ventured into the rather warm evening air to see what China Town had to offer, and that is plenty. We chose not to dine on the local speciality of Chilli Crab but found a wonderful restaurant serving Bok Choy with mushrooms, bamboo and noodles. Although we were tired from our through the night flight, we were determined to get into the local time zone immediately, so it was to the roof top bar of the hotel for that signature cocktail, the Singapore Sling! We already knew in advance, sadly, that Raffles was closed for refurbishment, and wouldn’t have the opportunity to enjoy one there, so a rooftop view was the next best thing.
The following day it was the full tourist get up! We started the day navigating the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport), Singapore’s Metro System and once again were blown away with the organisation and cleanliness of the system. Like London’s underground transport system, the maps were very easy to read and found everywhere so you never felt lost. Pricing varies from approximately 50 cents to just under 2 Euros depending on distance or you can buy a daily pass.
We managed to find Raffles so we could at least say we had seen it, and the souvenir shop is still open as well as a temporary ‘Long Bar’, should you wish to pay €30 for a special cocktail! (Ours on the roof top bar did cost €14!) From there we visited Suntec City and took a Duck Tour of Singapore. This started as a bus tour and then headed to the waters of Marina Bay and we ploughed into the river to become an amphibious vehicle with a splash. The tour allowed us to get close to the Singapore Flyer (Asia’s answer to the London Eye), the Science Museum shaped like a lotus flower, the Merlion Sculpture (half lion half mermaid) at Fullerton Bay landing and view the most significant piece of superb architecture you will come across – The Marina Bay Sands Hotel. More of this later.
We noticed a lot of bicycles in use, not on the roads, more on the walkways, and decided to rent one each for an hour. We did have the choice of Electric Scooter or Segway, but felt a bike with a bell to be the safer option to navigate through the crowds. The only downside, the hour we chose, the heavens opened, as they often do in Singapore, so we enjoyed ‘Cycling in the Rain’ rather than Singin’!
That evening we found ‘Bar Street’ just behind our hotel and being that it was Saturday night, it was buzzing. We found a small pavement table and enjoyed one of the nicest Pina Colada’s ever experienced….as it was more like a deconstructed cocktail with a coconut meringue float….weird sounding on the menu but utterly divine to drink. However, it must be added, drinks in Singapore are not cheap.
The following day, we started our hosted tour of this very modern city and the Singapore Tourism Board were not going to let us leave their ‘diamond in the rough’ without seeing it all! After a visit to the new and very modern Marina Harbour Cruise Centre we drove through the main Business District and taken to lunch in the National Gallery at National Kitchen by Violet Oon. Wow, what a treat. The motto of this 5* dining experience is: ‘We pride ourselves on showcasing Singapore’s culinary treasures and heritage from Nyonya, Chinese, Indian and Malay cuisines. Our dishes represent Singapore’s history as the crossroads of the world through the varied ingredients and flavours employed’. The majority of the food was spicy but we had been warned.
We left the restaurant with heavy tummies and were able to briefly bask in the glorious sunshine in front of the Padang Field, home of Singapore Cricket Club, highlighting the history of the days Sir Stamford Raffles founded this nation.
A quick change for the evening and to Sentosa Island, a resort off Singapore’s southern coast, connected to the city by road, cable car, pedestrian boardwalk and monorail. We enjoyed Singapore Sling’s once again with a view to die for, views that can stretch as far as Indonesia, before we enjoyed a 30-minute ride on the cable car. We didn’t get to enjoy the three-course dinner that you could book in advance in your own private car as we had plans but we were lucky enough to see others enjoying the experience.
Dinner was served at Clifford Pier Restaurant, located in the Fullerton Bay Hotel. Wow…….such an elegant restaurant, clearly aimed at those that wish to spend time over their dinner as the courses always had a leisurely gap between so that you had time to enjoy the amazing view or the Marina Bay lightshow. Then it was on to the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel, a total contrast from the Fullerton Bay. A modern, 57 stories high, 2,500 room, 500 table casino, luxury resort with ice-skating rink and shopping mall, made from 3 cascading hotel towers with a 340m long observation deck , it can fit at least four A380 planes side by side – named the Sky park at the top. The Sky Park has the world’s longest elevated swimming pool, with a 146m vanishing edge, also known as an infinity pool, located 190 metres above ground. The views are out of this world as long as you do not have a fear for heights! We were treated to Champagne at the C’Est La Vie roof top bar which was buzzing with high flyers blending with tourists.
But in all honesty, I think I would rather stay at the Fullerton Bay and have a view of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and it’s light show every evening than stay at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and have a view of downtown Singapore.
The next day saw my personal highlight of the trip to Singapore, as a military daughter, a visit to Fort Canning Hill, a place in Singapore where Malay royalty once ruled in medieval times, the British decided to surrender to the invading Japanese during the Second World War, and more recently, some of the world’s biggest music acts played to screaming audiences. We were honoured to tour Battle Box, a former WWII British underground command centre inside Fort Canning Hill. Today, the it is a museum that unveils the true causes behind “the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history”….the surrender of Singapore to the Japanese. A must see on your visit to this amazing nation.
After such a sobering tour, the locals livened the show up and we took a rickshaw ride around Little India, originally an overflow from the division of colonial Singapore where ethnic Indian immigrants would reside under the British policy of ethnic segregation. Shop til you drop at the Mustafa Centre or take in the atmosphere by visiting one of several Hindu temples, mosques, and other place of worship.
For our final evening in Singapore, the guides took us to see Garden’s By the Bay and the night zoo.
Gardens by the Bay, in their words, is a showpiece of horticulture and garden artistry that presents the plant kingdom in a whole new way, entertaining while educating visitors with plants seldom seen in this part of the world, ranging from species in cool, temperate climates to tropical forests and habitats. But it is the Supertree Grove that makes this attraction visible for all of those in the Marina area. Measuring between 25 and 50 metres tall, 18 iconic tree-like vertical gardens are designed with large canopies that provide shade in the day and come alive with an exhilarating display of light and sound at night. The tallest one measuring up to 16 storeys in height. One can stroll along the 22-metre-high OCBC Skyway, a 128-metre aerial walkway that connects two of the Supertrees, and see the Gardens from a different point of view. The night light show is a must.
We finished our enjoyment of Singapore with a visit to the night safari at Singapore Zoo where we could watch the animal behaviour during the dark hours! A highlight being ‘The Creatures of the Night Show’, a popular attraction that lasts about 25 minutes where animals display their natural talents at night.
So, to sum up, my favourite description of Singapore: Singapore is like a garden salad, its people like the different ingredients that retain distinctive flavours to make up the salad’s overall taste. Made up of Chinese, Malays, Indians, Eurasians and increasingly, people of other nationalities with their own cultural distinctiveness and strengths, yet maintains good relations with each other.
It is a small country, with a short history, but boy, does it have a surprise for you! And I will go back in a heartbeat.
Zoe will tell all about the Mekong, Vietnam and Cambodia next month.