I was blown away by the airport. All so sleek, modern, clean, beautiful. Greenery in the middle of the baggage belt. Vast carpeted halls. Classy shops. No lines at customs. Pristine washrooms. The drive into the city was even more impressive with lush bougainvillea in bloom along the highway and stunning skyscrapers looming in every direction.
Welcome to Singapore. For futuristic architectural magnificence, it’s tops. Of course, there’s more. Fascinating ethnic neighborhoods. Beautiful botanic gardens. Mega shopping. Fun and interesting entertainment venues. And, of course those pricey Singapore Slings at the legendary Raffles hotel bar.
Husband Bob and I began a six-week odyssey which would take us to Bali, New Zealand and Australia in this awesome metropolis.
Dinner after arrival at the Maxwell Road Food Center near our hotel on the edge of Chinatown was a fun and tasty introduction to the city. This “hawker center” — there are many in Singapore — is a big building packed with vendor stands, all selling different Asian specialties, and bustling with diners, all using chopsticks, seated at tables opposite the stands. Pigs’ organ soup. Braised pigs’ trotters. Soup dumplings. Onion pancakes. Plus, desserts and strange drinks such as chestnut wheat grass and dragon fruit. I chose a stand with Seafood Crispy Noodles for 3.20 Singapore dollars ($2.50) — a bargain.
Friends had raved about the Botanic Gardens, first stop on our city visit. We mastered the subway, another marvel of modernity, to get close, then trekked, and trekked yet more once we arrived. It’s enormous (150 acres). Meandering paths lead up hills, around lakes and waterfalls, all lined with abundant vegetation and colorful blossoms. The Rain Forest and Orchid sections were my favorites.
These days Singapore’s star attraction is the new Marina Bay Sands, a gargantuan three-towered, five-star hotel complex with more than 2,500 rooms. On the rooftop there are viewing platforms and a glamorous, monstrous infinity pool, said to be the world’s largest.
“This was all sea three years ago. This is all reclaimed land and these buildings weren’t here three years ago,” explained the taxi driver on our ride to the sensational structure.
The $15.50 admission to the Sky Park viewing platform no longer includes a walk around the pool. Guests who obviously pay big bucks to lounge in these elegant surroundings on top of the city were probably complaining about groups of tourists parading around. Now only one pool tour is scheduled each day at 2 p.m. But the views of the sprawling city, its dramatic skyline, numerous construction sites and harbor, are worth the price.
Sentosa Island, a tram ride from the city center, has been developed as “Asia’s Favorite Playground” with all manner of attractions: Universal Studios (a Hollywood theme park), rides, interactive movies, a water show, a sandy beach and more. We rode the elevated tram to the last stop, Underwater World Singapore, an oceanarium with an 83-meter long tunnel surrounded by water and all matter of sea life. We watched divers feed sharks and rays, admired fish large and small, sea dragons, jelly fish and more. The show at the outdoor Dolphin Lagoon is a treat with adorable seals clapping, dancing, shaking hands, and dolphins swimming in synchronization, then leaping out of the water, even gliding over to the edge of the pool so selected visitors could touch them.
After our sea adventure, we walked to the beach where we had lunch and watched as a young couple tried to master the Flying Trapeze. Harnessed and attached to a cable, they jumped off a platform and soared, bounced, and flew high above a mat.
My Singapore research recommended the Night Safari, an excursion through a jungle park on the edge of the city. Instead of riding the tourist train into the darkness, we walked along paths in the tropical forest, spooky at times, but full of surprises. Crazy, noisy birds; bats you could pet hanging from branches; otters frolicking in streams; lions; civets; even a beauty of a leopard who stared at us from behind a glass enclosure. A fun finale is the Night Creation Show at an outdoor auditorium where handlers come on stage and entertain with various creatures – otters trained to recycle, raccoons, wolves etc. For drama, a boa constrictor was said to have escaped. Staff ran up and down, rousing the audience. The missing critter was discovered under the seat of someone in the audience where it had obviously been planted.
Singapore’s Chinatown and Little India are packed with ethnic shops and eateries. Chinatown features a lively night market with colorful lanterns decorating the streets. Our best meal of the trip was at Da Nang in Chinatown where I went for the special, Chili Crab, a whole crab smothered in a gooey, red, spicy sauce. It was very messy to eat, but delicious. Bob ordered a scallop, shrimp and broccoli dish with fried rice. Tab with two beers: $105.
Other highlights of our visit included a river cruise with interesting commentary on the city, and the obligatory Singapore Slings, the city’s legendary cocktail served at the Long Bar, a woodsy place with ceiling fans, in the Raffles Hotel. The colonial style hotel was built in 1887, its white façade and old world architecture standing out amidst the contemporary surroundings. It is considered one of the world’s finest hotels.
The Long Bar was the favorite watering hole of Somerset Maugham and Ernest Hemingway. Today it’s a must for tourists who want to relive the colonial era, soak in the ambience, and are willing to pay $60 for the privilege of sipping two of the sweet pink drinks. You do get some peanuts at no extra cost.
We loved our Singapore hotel, the Berjaya Singapore Hotel, with a friendly and helpful staff, convenient location. www.berjayahotel.com
For a taste of Malaysia, click on “Malaysian-Style Chicken Curry” under Recipes in right column. Photos follow. Click on photo to see full size.