Its more than 15 years since I last had the pleasure of visiting Singapore and I am really excited (or as excited as possible after a 16 hour + flight!) as we touch down at Changi airport. The first thing that strikes me about Singapore 15 years on is that the usually utilitarian and stark airport buildings are softened by thousands of orchids…what a great welcome to Singapore. And the charm continues as you make your way into town along the broad bustling boulevards, all draped in exotic green vegetation, with yet more orchids peeping out here and there. The park-like motorway provides a corridor of green through the soaring modern sky-scrapers that epitomize this modern city, and just about wherever you go in Singapore there will be pockets of green vegetation to take the edge off city living.
Singapore 15 Years On
Marina Sands, SkyPark and more
The city has changed a great deal in 15 years, and our taxi driver assured me that when (not if!) I visit again in a few years’ time, there will be yet more change as the entire waterfront area of the city is being remodelled; the old port is being moved to the other side of the island and its’ place will be taken by acres of parks, gardens, sporting and other outdoor-living areas, some of which are already a reality. Sitting right slap in the middle of all this rejuvenation is the amazing Marina Sands complex, where the hotel has been built to resemble a cruise ship sailing across the Singapore skyline.
Like good tourists we pay the rather ridiculous sum of S$23 to ride up to the SkyPark, where we find that our access is rather severely restricted to an observation deck and a very expensive restaurant/bar. Is it worth the price? I think so…the views are incredible and you can get a really good perspective of the changes that are taking place at ground level. The guests who have paid upwards of S$430 pp to stay in the hotel are assured of a breathtakingly luxurious experience, and can enjoy the pool and superb restaurants here on the roof of Singapore. Across the road from the complex is a huge luxury shopping centre where all the big name designers have outlets which are apparently well-supported (according to our taxi driver) by visiting wealthy Chinese.
Although many people come here to shop, Singapore has a lot to offer visitors besides shopping and we chose a 1 day Hop-on-hop-off bus tour to re-introduce ourselves to the city. It was great, and we saw all the major tourist attractions including Chinatown, Little India, and the Botanical Gardens (which are stunning and definitely worth a visit). Some of the other attractions are the Singapore Zoo (where almost all the animals are kept in really natural enclosures) where you can have breakfast with the Orangutans – a delight for children – the Orchid Park, the Butterfly Park and the amazing Underwater World Sea Park on Sentosa Island.
Shopping in Singapore
We found it really easy to use the underground railway (MRT) – it will get you just about anywhere and is quick and efficient (not to mention really clean!) We stayed at the Orchard Hotel just off Orchard Road, which put us right in the centre of all the great shopping; alas, our weak South African currency meant that we did more drooling in front of shop windows than actual shopping, but we still enjoyed the little foray into retail therapy and there were some end-of-season bargains.
If you are looking for electronics you will have a great time in Singapore; the best places to head for are Sim Lim Square and Funan Digital Life Mall. Here there are hundreds of shops side-by-side where you can find just about anything. If one dealer does not have what you need he will run off and fetch it from somewhere else in a minute or two…a great place for bargain hunters, and the prices are really good.
Dim Sum, Peking Duck, Chilli Crab and Chicken Rice
Finally … the highlight of our trip … the incredible food! Singapore is such a melting pot of nationalities and the cuisine seems to combine all the best elements of Chinese, Thai and Malaysian food. Wherever you go in the city you can smell the tantalizing (well, usually its’ tantalizing, but that will depend on your tolerance for Fish Sauce!) aroma of food being prepared. Singaporeans seem to eat all day rather than at set times and we had some amazing meals. We chose to eat mostly at the food courts in the larger malls where you can get a great plate of tasty food at a very modest price. One of our best meals was a dim sum feast at Din Tai Fung which was a little more expensive but truly memorable. There are several branches in the city and you will have to queue, but it is totally worth it, and you can watch the army of dim sum makers at work while you wait for a table. Don’t leave without tasting Singapore Chilli Crab, Peking Duck and Chicken Rice, a few of the specialities that the city has become synonymous with.
Singapore should be on everyone’s bucket list, and is a very convenient stop-over between Australia/New Zealand and Europe or the Middle East. Don’t miss it, book your accommodation in Singapore and spend at least 3-4 days to get a glimpse of the real Singapore beyond the shopping malls.