“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” Anonymous
Singapore is pretty much one big densely populated city yet it manages to be clean, tidy, safe and beautiful. The world’s only island city state, it’s 277 square miles in size, 23% larger than the 1960s due to land reclamation and now offers world class shopping, dining and attractions. Just 1° north of the equator it’s hot and humid year round but there are plenty of opportunities to escape the heat and discover something new.
In recent years Singapore seems to be trying to rival Dubai for iconic hotels and attractions, however the lush vegetation and steady temperatures somehow give it the edge. The main attraction is now Marina Bay Sands resort and neighbouring Gardens by the Bay, both of which are only a few years old. Yet there is still plenty to discover off the beaten track and unusually for a city, there aren’t any ‘no-go’ areas.
Gardens by the Bay
The gardens have several attractions with something for everyone; an indoor tropical cloud forest, flower dome, children’s area with interactive water fountains, sculptures and perhaps most famously a network of steel and electric trees up to 50 feet tall connected by an aerial walkway. I’m not usually a fan of artificial interpretations of nature, but the trees (Supertree Grove) are very impressive. At night they come alive with a light display to music, well worth a watch although perhaps best seen from Marina Bay Sands. One of them has a bar on the roof with a gorgeous breeze and fabulous views of the bay and Marina Bay Sands resort next door.
Marina Bay Sands
The world famous resort is made up of a 2561 room hotel, enormous shopping mall featuring canals with gondolas, casino, theatres, ice skating rink and convention centre. The real gem is the ‘SkyPark’ on the roof, with the capacity for nearly 4000 people it gets pretty busy, so if you’re planning to meet someone up there good luck! That said, the views are stunning and the breeze refreshing given the 24/7 heat in the city.
There are few cities that captivate me, but the view from the SkyPark does it for me. Despite the crowds and restricted seating – even for hotel guests – I never tire of the view. Stand at the bar or grab a high table when they’re available if you want the avoid the significant minimum spend a perimeter table requires.
Sentosa means ‘peace and tranquility’ in Malay, and the island does have this vibe, certainly compared to the main city just 5 miles away. The island is home to golf courses, hotels, Universal theme park, marina, beach and a boulevard of restaurants and bars, it’s much more developed than it looks as you drive through so it’s been cleverly camouflaged. It’s worth taking a trip across for an afternoon or evening meal. I ate by the marina and highly rate it.
5 miles from downtown the gardens are well worth a half day visit. They’re pretty big with several zones featuring stunning tropical plants, orchids, lakes and sculptures and they regularly host events in the natural amphitheatre by the lake. Beware the middle of the day as it’s very hot and humid there with limited shade, but the gardens do offer an oasis from the high rise buildings that dominate the city.
Street Food Markets
‘Hawker’ street food markets can be found all across the city, they offer a wide range of food vendors serving delicious food with communal seating. The markets are lively and friendly and offer an authentic local experience away from the more formal shopping malls and hotels. I visited Lap Pa Sat market for a delicious plate of noodles, followed by a pleasant half hour stroll along the city roads, past the marina and in to Marina Bay Sands for rooftop drinks in the Skypark, a really nice evening experiencing two very different aspects of the city.
There are strict laws related to drinking, public indecency and drugs so gen up on laws before you go.