Notes from a Nomad

Remarkable People, Memorable Events and Fascinating Destinations from Around the World.

33 No slacking off in Singapore! April 14 2016

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IMG_3719I have just returned from an exhausting four and a half day stay in Singapore and I am wondering if my tiredness was a reflection of getting older or the fact that there was so much to see and I needed much more than four and a half days to fit in everything that I had hoped to visit. Probably a combination of both.

But as I reflect on my visit one thing is very clear – in many ways this is a destination like no other and I will certainly not be leaving it another 17 years before I return!

The scale of so many of the developments that have taken place in this small island state in the last 30 years were quite literally both mind boggling and visually impressive.

1 Singapore is a city that combines one of the most distinctive skylines in the world with a wide range of traditional architecture that reflects its rich ethnic makeup.

1 Singapore is a city that combines one of the most distinctive skylines in the world with a wide range of traditional architecture that reflects its rich ethnic makeup.

And most significantly it all comes together and works as a place to both live and visit!

I first visited Singapore in 1972 when I twice stayed there for two weeks during a six month overland journey through Asia from the UK to Australia (I had to return to Singapore from Indonesia to find a boat to take me to Perth when I was unable to reach Timor).

That was a time when long haired hippies were not tolerated and often requested to get a haircut before entry visas were granted so I purchased a shirt, flattened my hair with Brylcream and tucked it inside my shirt neck collar.

At immigration I stayed very close to my 57 year Mother who had made her first flight to join us for a month in Malaysia and Singapore!

I returned again in 1976 and several times thereafter when travelling between the UK and Australia and/or as part of a family vacation but my last visit had been in the late 1990s. I had long since thought that a return visit was long overdue and decided it would be a close and convenient location when I needed to leave Thailand to renew my visa.

2 Zam Zam has been one of Singapore’s most famous Indian restaurants for over 100 years.

2 Zam Zam has been one of Singapore’s most famous Indian restaurants for over 100 years.

By coincidence my friend and former colleague Tony has also purchased a home here in Pattaya just a few hundred yards away from my townhouse, so after working together for 27 years we are in seems going to be linked together for a few more years to come. Tony was also planning to make Singapore his destination of choice when he needed to make a Visa run and back in January I had asked him

‘So how long are you planning to go to Singapore for Tony?’

and he had replied

‘Not for long, probably just overnight or maybe two nights at most’

I have always been a believer in that if you invest in an airfare you should stay as long as you can afford at your destination and replied

‘That’s crazy – you need at least three days to get a feel of what Singapore has to offer’.

By the time Tony’s girlfriend Cindy had given her input based on the fact she had never previously been to Singapore and liked to shop (as do all Thais!) their trip was extended to three days but I was also wrong as Singapore can easily justify a week’s stay.

3 The Sultan Mosque was located close to my hotel and is one of Singapore’s most recognisable landmarks.

3 The Sultan Mosque was located close to my hotel and is one of Singapore’s most recognisable landmarks.

By the time I left after four a half days and five nights I was already planning an itinerary for my next 4 or 5 day visit to include all the things I had not been able to see this time! However, I think staying in certain destinations can be like exam revision – there is never enough time because you always try and fit in more into the time available!

When I was younger I spent a number of summers hitchhiking around Europe in the late 1960s and I always thought 3 days was a suitable time to explore and discover a city. The first day is for getting one’s bearings and discovering the main attractions, the second day is for seeing the remainder of the well known attractions in a city and the final day is for exploring off the beaten track, walking around and revisiting lesser known Museums etc.

That formula may work for compact European cities with a central Old City area but can be thrown out of the window in Singapore as there is just so much to see and the heat and humidity does slow one down.

And for me the humidity in Singapore is unlike any other destination and really sapping.

4 One of the world’s leading Zoos is located in Singapore.

4 One of the world’s leading Zoos is located in Singapore.

If I had thought to read my 1972 journal, I would have remembered that we found Singapore tiring and that my then 57 year old Mother complained about the pace we rushed around and guess what…………some things never change and I still try to do too much!
So in the end I decided to stay for 5 nights and have an afternoon return flight to give me some time on my final 5th day but I had no idea that the Singapore I was revisiting bore little resemblance to the city I remembered.

All cities change and evolve but a time traveller revisiting central London or Paris would still be familiar with the location of the well known landmarks but Singapore has been totally transformed as a result of massive reclamation projects and an explosion of spectacular high rise skyline in the city centre.

40 years ago Tower Bridge, the Eifel Tower and the Raffles Hotel would probably be the most recognisable attractions in London, Paris and Singapore respectively but todays Singapore are characterised by the (and I use this word accurately) incredible Gardens by the Bay and the spectacular City skyline as viewed from the new Marina Bay.

x 4 Orang Utans and Bats are just two of many species the visitor can approach at the Singapore Zoo.

5 Orang Utans and Bats are just two of many species the visitor can approach at the Singapore Zoo.

Like most visitors I arrived at Changi Airport which was built in the mid 1970s and at the time was perhaps the first of Asia’s super airports (Norita in Tokyo, Hong Kong International and Suvarnabhumi Bangkok are amongst the others that would follow) and the first of the mega engineering projects that were to transform Singapore into a booming city/state.

Older readers will be familiar with Changi as the location for an infamous POW camp when Singapore was under Japanese occupation during World War two which was immortalised in James Clavell’s famous novel ‘King Rat’.

Singapore is renowned as being perhaps the cleanest and most honest destination in Asia so no worries about any airport taxi scams or tortuous fare negotiations and after activating the local Singapore Sim Card that I had bought on my flight (£7/$11 for 5 days unlimited calls including international and Data) I was speeding along for the 20 minute transfer to my hotel (the newly renamed Village Hotel Bugis) on Arab St and as the name indicates, close to the infamous Bugis St.

Although a little dated my hotel, one of the more competitively priced three/four star hotels in Singapore, proved to be a good choice with very generously sized rooms, friendly staff, reliable wi fi and a location both close to downtown and in the hip Kampong Glam area.

6 The Fullerton Hotel is a wonderful example of colonial architecture.

6 The Fullerton Hotel is a wonderful example of colonial architecture.

And as it was only one stop from Singapore’s famous Little India neighbourhood the hotel was not unsurprisingly popular with the many Indian tourists who visit Singapore.

One of Singapore’s most famous Indian restaurants Zam Zam was located just yards away so no prizes for guessing where a very tasty dinner was taken my first evening at a pavement table whilst I watched the cook making Rotis in the kitchen.

One of the problems of writing a piece that is destination led is that it is very easy to fall into the trap of describing one attraction after another without any narrative to bind it together – and that is easy to do with Singapore as there is so much to see but I hope I can manage to convey a sense of the city rather than just describe a list of attractions.

Notwithstanding above I decided I would try and concentrate on one main attraction every day and then depending on the time remaining decide what to do with the balance of each day.

7 An evening cruise on the River offers a grand selection of spectacular night time views. The Merlion is the symbol of Singapore.

7 An evening cruise on the River offers a grand selection of spectacular night time views. The Merlion is the symbol of Singapore.

So I opted for Singapore Zoo on my first full day and even before arriving part of Singapore’s character was revealed – its reputation for honesty.

I shared a taxi with some other guests from the hotel and one of them unfortunately left their iphone in the taxi and so before entering the Zoo we were calling various taxi companies leaving details for if or when the phone would be handed in.

We tried calling the phone but no reply but when we tried again the taxi driver answered and apologised for not answering earlier as the phone was on the back seat and he was driving. He explained his taxi was about to be serviced but he would return the phone to our hotel the following day – and he did!

The Zoo itself was outstanding and has to be at the forefront of any list of the world’s great Zoos. It was beautifully landscaped with large open plan areas for most of the animals and interesting themed areas such as ‘The Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia’ with a troop of more than 90 red arsed baboons and ‘Fragile Forest’.

There was a shuttle tram that picked you up and set you down as you explored the various areas as well as a number of Shows.

8 The Resort and Entertainment island of Sentosa is connected to the nearby port area by causeway and cable car.

8 The Resort and Entertainment island of Sentosa is connected to the nearby port area by causeway and cable car.

For me the Reptile House and free ranging Orang Utan were impressive but the most interesting animals for me were the Pygmy Hippos! I had no idea that they galloped underwater just like horses – it was incredible to watch.

By the time we had exhausted both the Zoo and ourselves it was late afternoon so we took a taxi back to the City Centre at Clarke Quay with its collection of restaurants and bars which are always popular with the after work crowd and tourists alike. The Clarkje Quay area also provides a wide range of dinner options.

As far as I can recollect I never took the River Cruise previously as it did not strike me as anything special but this time was very different as a vast reclamation project has created the Marina Bay – a feature that did not exist at the time of my previous visits because although it was completed in 1992 the development around it followed in the subsequent years.

These include the magnificent Gardens by the Bay and the floodlit Singapore Formula 1 Circuit, site of the world’s only night time Formula One Grand Prix.

9 Universal Studios Singapore on Sentosa will keep children and their parents entertained all day – and longer!

9 Universal Studios Singapore on Sentosa will keep children and their parents entertained all day – and longer!

With a stunning range of innovative and exciting architectural features on one side of the Bay and the collection of towers in the Central/Financial centre on the other side, the River Cruise down the River and past Boat Quay and the magnificent Fullerton Hotel, a grand survivor from the Colonial era, and out into the Bay offered never-ending vistas of some spectacular architecture and looked even more impressive by night.

Once in the Bay one’s eyes were immediately drawn to the Singapore Flier, the Helix Bridge, the ArtScience Museum and in particular to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, quite unlike any other hotel in the world.

And if I tell you that the night-time views of Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights and of Hong Kong from Kowloon are probably the most impressive night-time cityscapes I have viewed and that in my opinion this did not fall far short at times you will understand why I strongly recommend a night time River cruise.

My last article compared Sydney and Melbourne and I think everyone will always compare Singapore and Hong Kong as both are two of the worlds very great port cities, both are entrepot ports (they import and re-export), they are both in South East Asia and until Hong Kong reverted to China, both were small self-governing city states (almost as far as HK was concerned).

10 The South East Asia Aquarium on Sentosa displays an impressive variety of Sea Life.

10 The South East Asia Aquarium on Sentosa displays an impressive variety of Sea Life.

And I think it would be fair that most people perceived Singapore as the clean and more responsible brother, but perhaps a little boring, whereas Hong Kong was more ‘edgy’, vibrant and exciting. However, 45 minutes on the River and the evidence before my eyes told me Singapore was now anything but ‘boring’ – indeed times have changed.

We made our way back to the hotel via the state of the art MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) rail system. Although it dates from 1987, with its 101 modern and immaculate clean stations for just 106 miles of track, it is a great tool to help visiting tourists explore the city and island and easy to understand why visitors rank the system in itself as Singapore’s 3rd most popular tourist attraction on Tripadvisor!

And whenever I travel on a subway system I immediately compare it with London – overcrowded, filthy and still with exposed cables hanging from the roofways!

Yes, I know London was the first and there is limited potential to expand it but it can surely be modernised and kept clean if the collective will was there.

12 The Jurong Bird Park has been one of Singapore’s most popular attractions for decades.

11 The Jurong Bird Park has been one of Singapore’s most popular attractions for decades.

You only have to look at the appearance and mindset of the typical station attendant and worker in London and Singapore to realise the shortcomings in London or NYC do not result from history alone.

The subway systems in Singapore and Hong Kong are immaculate – there is never any litter in sight. For me it shows what can be done by collective responsibility. The fact that everything is so clean and tidy on the Singapore MRT is not only because it is a more modern system. It is because it is a reflection of the local society’s mindset and a basic psychological reaction.

If one walks into a kitchen with unwashed plates and food left on the counter the chances are you will put your dish down near the sink and walk away or leave the opened packet of biscuits on the counter. If the kitchen is immaculate you will rinse off your dish and put it in the dishwasher!

And the collective mindset, sense of responsibility or call it what you will is very much down to the local administration/culture/national identity.

13 As well as being one of Singapore’s hip neighbourhoods Kampong Glam offers a wide range of inexpensive dining options.

12 As well as being one of Singapore’s hip neighbourhoods Kampong Glam offers a wide range of inexpensive dining options.

Which neatly leads us to the fact that multi ethnic singapore does indeed have a reason that explains this sense of responsibility or identity.

Or rather Singapore has an individual to thank for shaping the development of this City/State over the past 60 years. I am talking of course about Lee Kuan Yue because modern day Singapore is nothing if not a reflection of this man’s dreams, energy and aspirations.

It was Lee Kuan Yue who oversaw the separation of Singapore from a newly independent Malaysia in 1963 and who transformed Singapore into a viable, successful and prosperous city – state.

It was Lee Kuan Yue (LKY) who oversaw almost every aspect of government that has impacted on the lives of Singapore’s citizen’s since the early 1960s. From barring long haired hippies from Singapore in the 70s because of their pernicious influence to draconian fines for littering, Lee Kuan Yue was behind it all and for decades at every election his party was returned and usually without a dissenting voice in parliament.

For outsiders it was difficult to know if this was because he was so loved by Singaporeans or because the system was weighted to the advantage of the controlling party and in truth it was probably a little of both.

14 The Helix Bridge and The Marina Bay Sands Hotel are just two examples of the innovative architecture that surrounds Marina Bay.

13 The Helix Bridge and The Marina Bay Sands Hotel are just two examples of the innovative architecture that surrounds Marina Bay.

But if ever the title ‘founding father’ or ‘father of the nation’ was deserved it must surely be for LKY who was Prime Minister from 1959 to 1990 winning eight elections and followed this up by remaining in the Cabinet for a further 21(!) years as firstly Senior Minister and then as Minister Mentor (2004 – 11) when his son was Prime Minister.

Lee died aged 92 in March 2015 and his legacy is clear to see for all who visit Singapore and he has been described as ‘having transformed Singapore from third world to first world in a single generation’ and all based on a system of incorrupt government and civil service.

This is unique for South East Asia. He was often criticised for curtailing civil liberties but he argued that such measures and the rule of law were necessary for assured and safe economic development.

And when one visits Singapore and talks to its educated, knowledgeable and (for Asia) affluent citizens it is impossible to argue that Lee got much wrong!

15 There are outstanding views of the distinctive ArtScience Museum from the Helix Bridge.

14 There are outstanding views of the distinctive ArtScience Museum from the Helix Bridge.

The closest MRT station to the hotel was Bugis and despite a long day and feeling tired I could not resist a quick look at Bugis St for nostalgia’s sake but alas rather than the colourful dining street which was famous in decades past for attracting a bevy of ladyboys as the evening progressed it was now no more than a covered arcade, closing up after a day of selling a selection of tawdry goods and cheap souvenirs attracted to the location for no reason other than the name.

However, refreshed after a few hours sleep the island of Sentosa beckoned for my second day’s activities.

Sentosa is the closest and one of the largest of the many small islands close to Singapore and faces one of the industrialised Port areas. It says a lot for the enterprise of the Singaporeans that they have transformed this island into almost a mega Disneyland with 14 hotels and an apparent neverending collection of entertainment/amusement type visitor attractions of which the most well known is Universal Studios Singapore.

I had never previously visited Sentosa and thought that a visit was long overdue and it was only after spending my second day in Singapore on the island that I fully appreciated the scale of what has been achieved at Sentosa which can be reached by Cable Car, causeway, a spectacular new covered Boardwalk for the fit and the Singapore Express Monorail.

16 The Flower Dome contains a number of themed Gardens all under a vast dome and is an air conditioned haven in humid Singapore!

15 The Flower Dome contains a number of themed Gardens all under a vast dome and is an air conditioned haven in humid Singapore!

And the Taxi Terminal/Underground parking complex at Resorts World Sentosa which opened in 2010 was bigger than anything I recollect seeing on any of my many visits to Las Vegas. This is a serious development but I thought the footpaths could be better signposted for people who did not want to wait for the Shuttle Bus after descending from the Cable Car from the mainland.

I spent the day at Universal Studios which was fun and I thought better laid out than Disneyland Hong Kong which I visited a few years ago. As it was a midweek day the queues for most attractions and rides were either non-existent or manageable but (due to the kid in me) I stayed longer than anticipated and at the end of the evening all I had time for was to continue my return cable car to Mt Faber at 105 metres the highest point on the Island. Memo to myself: Don’t bother next time!

However I found myself back on Sentosa the following morning as I had ended up spending so long in Universal Studios that I had not left myself with the planned couple of hours that evening to visit the adjacent South East Asia Aquarium.

Inside the flower dome

16 Inside the flower dome

This was perhaps just as well because there was a lot to see in this really impressive facility with the biggest tanks I have ever seen in an Aquarium – some were truly enormous and afforded wonderful viewing experiences and especially in regard to the different species of Sharks and giant Rays.

There were innumerable viewing areas of incredibly coloured tropical fish but my particular flavour were the Jellies, luminescent and expanding and contracting as they floated upwards. I could have watched them for hours and probably did as it was past lunchtime before I was in a taxi and heading towards Jurong Bird Park, perhaps the best known of Singapore’s many attractions?

I had been to Jurong once, if not twice previously, and in truth I am not a bird person and although the Park is beautifully landscaped and there are many interesting birds on view they are not always easy to spot whether in a cage or in one of the many walk through aviaries.
I had also spent much of the previous two days on my feet at the Zoo and Universal Studios. And Singapore is nothing if not humid…………very humid! So I was pretty wiped out after another four hours wandering around the Bird Park and even more so when waiting the best part of an hour for a Taxi.

17 Bruno Catalano’s sculpture ‘La Famille de Voyageurs’ (The Travelling Family) is on display in the Flower Dome.

17 Bruno Catalano’s sculpture ‘La Famille de Voyageurs’ (The Travelling Family) is on display in the Flower Dome.

It eventually dawned on me that the reason why there were so few taxis was as Jurong was aways from the city centre there were no passing cabs and I finally realised the notice board clearly had the contact numbers posted for the main taxi companies. All one had to do was call for a cab and step aside from the queue!

And interestingly enough the cab firms have slightly different rates (which are all posted) and our taxi driver explained to me that the all Black Saloons have a higher flag fall and rate per kilometre than the more colourful taxis. That explained why the taxi back from the Zoo on my first day was more expensive!

On one hand I was annoyed with myself that I did not pick up on this earlier because I had been hoping to continue to the Singapore Turf Club for one of the famed night meetings at this magnificent Racecourse.

On the other hand, I had been going full speed since arriving in Singapore so I was also happy to settle for a meal at a Persian Restaurant on Arab St near my hotel and wandered through some carpet shops and the vibrant area around the Sultan Mosque, another of Singapore’s longstanding landmarks.

18 The Cloud Forest is the second great glasshouse conservatory in the Gardens by the Bay.

18 The Cloud Forest is the second great glasshouse conservatory in the Gardens by the Bay.

By now I was beginning to think that I should have allowed a week in Singapore as there was clearly a lot I was not going to fit in. And perhaps I should be limiting myself to just one major visit a day as the humidity in combination with being on my feet meant that I was feeling pretty beat at the end of each day.

However as one who has always tended to say
‘Yes I will take note of that………….next time!’
it was not all together surprising that on my last full day I ended up attempting to do more than on any of the previous days!

Of course that all cities change and it is inevitable as new buildings are constructed and skylines change. However I think most of us will agree that the essence that is New York, London, Paris or Rome remains the same and is still recognisable but with Singapore in many ways I felt I was in a completely new city.

20 The Cloud Forest Dome replicates the cool moist conditions found in tropical mountain regions.

19 The Cloud Forest Dome replicates the cool moist conditions found in tropical mountain regions.

And I think that was for two reasons.

Firstly, with the exception of the Raffles Hotel, Singapore does not have a surfeit of historical buildings that are well known internationally and which provide visitors with reference points. Consequently, as one wanders around one does not come across familiar buildings which one remembers from previous visits.

And secondly the Geography of the city has changed dramatically. Previously Clifford Pier faced the sea and one could get lighters out to, and to cruise around amidst, the hundreds of vessels anchored off shore awaiting a Port berth.

Today Clifford Pier just juts out into the newly formed Marina Bay, now a freshwater Reservoir and the Sea can no longer be seen from the City unless you are atop one of the many dramatic skyscrapers.

Ironically it is the already iconic Architecture and features that surround the Bay that will provide future generations with both a Reference point and sense of continuity and the Marina Bay Sands Hotel is already the image of present day Singapore.

21 It is possible to descend the 138 feet Cloud Mountain by a circular path.

20 It is possible to descend the 138 feet Cloud Mountain by a circular path.

And it was to the Marina Bay area where I planned to spend my last full day in Singapore together with a friend from the hotel. After taking pictures of the Bay and City Centre from near the Float (the world’s largest floating stage) we crossed the futuristic Helix Bridge which affords excellent views of the ArtScience Museum, stylised to represent an opening Lotus Flower to arrive at the Gardens by the Bay.

The Gardens by the Bay!

The five words sound so innocuous but I am not sure how to do them justice even with five pages. Suffice to say I think these Gardens are the most impressive man made attraction/structure that has been created in the last century that I have ever visited or viewed.

I had not the slightest idea how impressive they would be as the sheer scale of this development is quite simply mind boggling. I am sure one could come to Singapore and spend a couple of days at the Garden by the Bay and see very little else and still consider that it was a trip well worth making.

22 The Supertrees are one of the distinctive landmarks of contemporary Singapore.

21 The Supertrees are one of the distinctive landmarks of contemporary Singapore.

How to describe the Gardens?

The landscaped Gardens extend over 101 hectares (250 acres) of reclaimed land. The Gardens represent a variety of different characteristics and themes but there are three features that all visitors will inevitably remember.

As well as being the most pleasant areas in Singapore to walk around the two giant cooled conservatories are both masterpieces of design and engineering. Neither of the two buildings (The Flower Dome and The Cloud Forest) have any internal support, indeed the Flower Dome is the world’s largest columnless glasshouse.

Both Domes collect rainwater from their glass surfaces and circulate it to provide their cooling systems and are connected to the third feature everyone will remember, the giant futuristic supertrees which are used to both vent hot air and to cool circulated water.

23 The Supertrees also provide a venting system for the Domes and are one of the highlights of the Gardens by the Bay.

22 The Supertrees also provide a venting system for the Domes and are one of the highlights of the Gardens by the Bay.

The Flower Dome is the larger of the two domes and replicates a Mediterranean Climate and consequently contains gardens, trees, flowers and plants representing areas such as South America, South Africa, Australia and California. On top of this there are ever changing displays in the Flower Field!
By contrast the taller Flower Dome contains over 60,000 plants from tropical highlands replicating flora found 2000 metres above sea level. There are two walkways at varying levels – the Cloud Walk and the Treetop walk and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall is found amidst the orchids, plants and ferns.

And when you leave the cool domed areas you cannot miss the giant supertrees connected by a Skyway some 22 metres above sea level. At night the trees come alight with the ‘Garden Rhapsody’, an exhilarating (so I was told!) light and music show.

The outdoor areas also include two lakes with a Boardwalk, the World of Plants and the Heritage Gardens with sections reflecting the culture of Singapore’s three main ethic groups – the Chinese, Malay and Indians as well as its colonial past.

24 A six storey elevator inside one of the trees provides access to the skyway connecting the giant Supertrees.

23 A six storey elevator inside one of the trees provides access to the skyway connecting the giant Supertrees.

The sheer scale of the project and innovative architecture was truly breathtaking even if some observers or traditionalists might prefer Singapore’s also famous Botanical Gardens or some of the city’s older and more historic attractions.

But surely there was a time when the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and Angkor Wat were new developments n’est ce pas?

Please let’s not fail to give full appreciation to such impressive achievements because they are ‘new’. The gardens are environmentally friendly in every sense and designed to help transform Singapore from a ‘garden city’ to ‘a city within a garden’ and attracted over 20 million visitors in the first three and a half years after they opened in June 2012.

25 The Skyway provides magnificent views over the Gardens by the Bay.

24 The Skyway provides magnificent views over the Gardens by the Bay.

Our next stop was to visit the Little India neighbourhood famous for displaying the vibrant culture of Singapore’s Indian community. After an incredibly inexpensive late lunch or early dinner we spent a couple of hours wandering around the Tekka Centre amidst both fresh food and colourful clothing before we finally emerged into the nearby Little India arcade and then wandering around the local markets and colourful shops and painted buildings.

I had been on my feet for the best part of 8 hours but the day was far from done as I was keen to visit Peoples Park where I had fond memories of shopping with my mother in 1972 on her first journey outside of the UK at the age of 57, ten years younger than I am now!

At the time Peoples Park was an innovative development with a large shopping centre below a 31 storey residential block and was also one of the largest shopping complexes in Singapore. It was also where I bought my first single lens reflex camera – a Minolta SRT 101.

26 The Marina Bay Sands Hotel is one of the world’s most distinctive hotels in appearance with a skypark adorning its three towers. It is already the symbol of modern Singapore.

25 The Marina Bay Sands Hotel is one of the world’s most distinctive hotels in appearance with a skypark adorning its three towers. It is already the symbol of modern Singapore.

Today it is all looking rather tired and dated but it was a good excuse to visit Chinatown and perpetuate the tradition of electrical purchases by buying a second hand iphone!

By now both my ankles and the soles of my feet (which is surely another incentive for losing some weight!) were aching but there was still time to get a taxi to the Singapore Flyer close to where our day had started on the shore of Marina Bay.

The Singapore Flyer was the world’s tallest Ferris Wheel until marginally surpassed by the High Roller in Las Vegas (where else!) and despite a chequered history that includes three breakdowns that stranded passengers for up to 6 hours (!) and receivership the leisurely rotation still afforded spectacular night time views of Singapore and is well recommended.

I slept well after a very full day and for my last day it was easy to eliminate a visit to Singapore’s famous Botanical Gardens as anoption for what to do as I had already spent parts of all four days walking around big outdoor attractions in the sapping humidity so instead my first stop was another step down memory lane as I took a taxi to Haw Par Villa, or as it used to be known, Tiger Balm Gardens.

27 There are a number of colourful markets in the Little India neighbourhoods.

26 There are a number of colourful markets in the Little India neighbourhoods.

The Park contains some 1000 colourful statues and 150 giant dioramas depicting popular themes from Chinese History, Legends and Folklore.

The Park was originally built by the Aw brothers (who developed Tiger Balm) in 1937 and its most well known feature is the Ten Courts of Hell with its gruesome depictions of Hell.

Despite being on a hilly site the park is fairly compact which has to be a big plus when walking in hot and humid Singapore and from the highest point one could still spot dozens of vessels offshore, a sight that will always be characteristic of Singapore as long as there are ships that follow the traditional trade routes and dock at great ports like Singapore.

For sure the gardens are Kitsch, Old School and very definitely non-tech but nevertheless a fun and colourful place to wander around whilst tipping one’s hat to a bygone era.

28 Shopkeepers in Little India.

27 Shopkeepers in Little India.

However my final visit in Singapore was anything but old school and non-tech as I was returning to the Supertree Grove in the Gardens by the Bay as the Skyway had been closed the previous day due to afternoon rain.

As my taxi drove past the Port area with cranes everywhere I was reminded that when all is said and done about Singapore’s transformation into one of the world’s great cities its foundation remains its status as one of the world’s most important ports.

After reaching the Supertree Grove and taking the lift up the Skyway that connects two of the giant Supertrees, one is given 25 minutes to walk between the trees and to admire the view towards the nearby City Centre and over the Gardens.

And there is probably no better vantage point from which to view and admire the futuristic Marina Bay Sands Resort and Casino with its 2,500 rooms contained in three towers all connected by a Skypark sitting above the three towers.

30 Colourful streetscapes and period buildings make Little India a distinctive neighbourhood.

28 Colourful streetscapes and period buildings make Little India a distinctive neighbourhood.

The Skypark contains the world’s longest elevated swimming pool (147 metres) located almost 200 metres above ground level! I will reserve judgement on the merits of a vanishing edge 191 metres above sea level until I experience it for myself on my next visit to Singapore!

And so wondering if I will indulge myself with a stay at the Marina Bay Sands for perhaps part of my next visit I found myself heading back to the hotel to pick up my bag en route to the airport after four and a half very full days in a Singapore I found much changed from my previous visits.

Indeed, I had not even got to one of my former haunts Orchard Road, famous for a collection of upmarket hotels and widely recognised as one of the pre-eminent shopping streets in Asia.

Old Hands will remember it for being the site of one of Singapore’s best sources of Hawker Food. The now no longer Orchard Road Car Park was transformed into one of the City’s finest dining experiences every evening when I first visited Singapore 44 years ago and I can still taste the best Spring Rolls I have ever eaten!

31 Little India is popular with visitors and locals alike.

29 Little India is popular with visitors and locals alike.

But this had not been a shopping trip so Orchard Road did not feature on my itinerary.
Indeed, as I sped towards the airport I could not help but think that whilst it is Dubai that gets all the publicity as being the world’s city with perhaps the most spectacular developments in recent decades, it is understated Singapore where it actually all comes together and works as a whole for residents and visitors alike

The Gardens by the Bay are more than a match for the Palm Jumeirah Development which is only fully appreciated from the air and the Marina Bay Sands Resort is certainly as architecturally distinctive the Burj Al Arab Hotel without having the double floor suites which characterise the latter.

And whilst it is true that Singapore, like nowhere else on the planet has a high rise tower to match Dubai’s 830 metre Burj Khalifa, Singapore has never been in danger of bankrupting the nation as did Dubai when overreaching in financing the construction of the Burg Khalifa.

31 The Singapore Flyer is one of the world’s tallest Ferris Wheels and offers great views over the Gardens by the Bay and downtown Singapore.

30 The Singapore Flyer is one of the world’s tallest Ferris Wheels and offers great views over the Gardens by the Bay and downtown Singapore.

Dubai has developed on the back of underpaid migrant workers and has a questionable human rights record and whilst it could be argued that Singaporean governments have a bit of the ‘Nanny’ state about them that is an undeniable legacy of LKY (‘we know whats best for you!’) no one can deny that Singaporeans are educated, articulate, well governed and enjoy a high standard of living.

And all this with a population of just 5.5 million people, significantly less than the size of London.
Just as when I travel on a punctual local train in challenging mountainous terrain in Switzerland I find myself thinking

‘How does such a small nation do this?

I can only conclude that small well governed countries like Switzerland and Singapore like well run small companies perhaps have an example of flexibility and easier decision making over their bigger brethren?

But I think there is also another factor at play.

32 Haw Par Villa used to be known as Tiger Balm Gardens and is a throwback to a bygone era.

31 Haw Par Villa used to be known as Tiger Balm Gardens and is a throwback to a bygone era.

When my friend Tony returned to Tony from Singapore from Thailand he wrote me that ‘Singapore demonstrated just what a well run capitalist nation could achieve’.

Well with respect to Tony I disagree. Putting aside the fact that Tony is somewhat to the right or this writer politically I think Singapore’s success is due to a factor we often forget and that is the contribution of a single individual to the success of a venture, company or indeed the development of a nation.

I think Singapore has a lot in common with another island nation that has also grown and developed in a unique mould that was the result of a single individual and I am talking of Fidel Castro’s Cuba, a nation that has been spurned by much of the world as an irrelevant postscript to the Cold War years an absurdity that finally, and long overdue, is currently being righted by President Obama.

33 The aging Ten Courts of Hell with its gruesome depictions of Hell is still one of the most macabre and popular sections of Haw Par Villa.

32 The aging Ten Courts of Hell with its gruesome depictions of Hell is still one of the most macabre and popular sections of Haw Par Villa.

Both Singapore and Cuba have evolved as the result of a single individual’s energy and vision. Whether or not we agree with that vision is irrelevant but no one can visit either Cuba or Singapore and fail to realise that pretty much everything one sees is the result of a single individual’s vision and aspirations.

And both nations provide a high level of health care for their citizens, something that for some reason many Americans regard as akin to a criminal offence when you consider the opposition to Obamacare!

And whilst no one will challenge or dispute the role that Nelson Mandela played in shaping post Apartheid South Africa it can be argued that LKY and Fidel Castro have done more to shape the development of their respective nations than any other  individuals in the 20th century.

And for what he has achieved for his nation and people in that regard, there can be no doubt that Lee Kuan Yue is deserving of a place in the highest pantheon of 20th Century World Leaders.

 still one of the most macabre and popular sections of Haw Par Villa.

33 Haw Par Villa contains over 1000 statues and 150 dioramas depicting scenes from Chinese mythology.

And the City that LKY created certainly has much to offer visitors.

As well as feeling quite tired after almost five days of full on sightseeing, I was already making a list of the places that I had not got back for consideration of my next visit and this included the Botanical Gardens, the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, the iconic Raffles Hotel, as well as the National Gallery, ArtScience Museum, the Changi Museum and one or two other Museums that I had earmarked.

And I will of course have to revisit the Gardens by the Bay and also make sure I get to a floodlit evening Race Meeting at the Singapore Turf Club and perhaps take a night time tour of Geylang.

It was after all Singapore where the infamous phrase ‘No Money No Honey’ originated and it has always been ironic that puritanical Singapore never forsook its Red Light area in Geylang but just kept it tightly regulated in one place, not dissimilar from Amsterdam in that respect.

35 It does not take too long to explore the colourful park at Haw Par Villa.

34 It does not take too long to explore the colourful park at Haw Par Villa.

So for sure Singapore is a destination that well and truly has its act together and offers something for everyone and as my friend Jeff in Australia recently commented after watching his son sail in a Regatta on Marina Bay.

‘Yes the developments there are really impressive but almost equally as impressive is the fact you can still get a good meal in Little India and Chinatown for as little as $5 a head.

Somehow I don’t think it will be long before I return.

© Michael Bromfield

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additional Images

It was planned to incorporate the following images into the above article but for reasons of space they had to be omitted.

 The South East Asian Aquarium incorporates some giant tanks which offer excellent viewing.

The South East Asian Aquarium incorporates some giant tanks which offer excellent viewing.

 A myriad of colours and textiles await within the Tekka Centre!

A myriad of colours and textiles await within the Tekka Centre!

 Tailors at work in Little India’s Tekka Centre.

Tailors at work in Little India’s Tekka Centre.

 

One thought on “33 No slacking off in Singapore! April 14 2016

  1. What a tremendous account.

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