Imagine you had just five days to experience the best of Singapore. That during this time you’d encounter highrises, rooftops, culture, gardens, history, rivers, sea, prime attractions and adrenalin pumping activities.
That you’d share it in the finest of company, cared for by the most charming hosts and guides, eat in top restaurants and stay in stylishly indulgent accommodations. All as a guest of Singapore Airlines, Shangri-La Resorts, Hotel Jen and Singapore Tourism as arranged by Lesley Simpson Communications. Then imagine, that I don’t have to imagine at all.
Just back from an extraordinary trip to Singapore, I look back on all we achieved in the limited time, without being rushed or flustered, still having downtime to relax, shop and enjoy the beach and pool. It was perfectly balanced in every way, impeccably planned and went a little like this.
Day 1 – Depart Cape Town for Singapore. Intro to the city-state.
On check-in, I was upgraded to Business Class by Singapore Airlines, an unexpected treat that made for an easy journey. One that involved loads of bubbly and a delicious meal, before settling into the flatbed with a pile of complimentary magazines and a selection of good movies. There’s no denying that this is THE way to travel. There are flights directly from Cape Town and Johannesburg to Singapore daily. In Johannesburg we simply stayed in our seats while the extra passengers appeared on board, then we were up and away. A total of 13 hours to the destination.
On arrival a simple transfer and early check-in to the beautiful Shangri-La Hotel Singapore, a flagship property that lives by its promise: ‘Where the city disappears a sanctuary arises.’ My suite offered space, a king-size bed, a large bathroom, all amenities and a balcony overlooking the pool, gardens and the city beyond. I could barely refrain from jumping up and down with delight, opting instead to enjoy a Nespresso, eat all the complimentary chocolates, take a long shower and comfy nap before joining our hosts for lunch and a site inspection of the property.
Francis Dominic Roch was the guide set to enhance our stay in Singapore with his anecdotal insight into all we’d see and do. In true tourist style, after lunch, we headed with Francis to Suntec City and took the Hop On Hop Off Heritage Tour which allows walks in Little India and Chinatown. Two must see’s. We visited the Sri Mariammam Temple and Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, both during worship. Walked the buzzing streets and stopped for freshly hacked-open coconut water in the Maxwell Food Centre. Sleep is very sweet.
My initial thoughts: This place is remarkable, the ornate details, preserved history, people, warm weather and endless diversity!
Day 2 – River Cruise. Merlion. Singapore Flyer. Peranakan Museum.
A reasonably early start followed by a day rich in experiences. Starting at Clarke Quay, a festive village dedicated to good times that combines dining, shopping and heritage inns. This is a good time for evenings that turn into late nights.
We enjoyed a boat cruise on the Singapore River to take in the city views. All along life-size statues mimic days gone by. Besides, a water perspective is always a good one. I met the Merlion and drank from her water, sort of … And enjoyed some time with a wonderful group of children on a school outing. learning about the history and culture of Singapore forms an important part of the school syllabus.
After lunch we took to the skies in the incredible Singapore Flyer, a giant Ferris wheel that at a height of 165-meters is the world’s tallest, leaving me drooling with the camera over the old and new landscapes. We spent time at the Peranakan Museum, an essential place to visit for learning more about the culture of mixed communities in Southeast Asia. From here a drive to Sentosa Island to check in to the only beach resort in Singapore, Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa Resort & Spa with its magnificent views, numerous pools, lovely rooms and welcoming people.
My first time gazing upon the busy South China Seas. How much romance is found wrapped up in those very words. I could see the famed Singapore port in the distance, all the while ships lined up to access it. Their presence held a mystery.
Thought for the day: Whatever I want, I will find it here. I want a baby Merlion.
Day 3 – Sentosa Island. Beach. The South China Sea.
Sentosa Island is a playground, a place of fantasy and fun. Whatever you seek, be it heights, theme park thrills, history, beach bars and restaurants or simply time on the beach – you will find it here. And much more. Besides kayaking the calm waters and cycling beach road which is a must, I recommend visits to Universal Studios, Images of Singapore, the Skyline Luge and Tiger Sky Tower. But honestly, you can indulge in the good life before heading to the beach for a swim before dinner. There is something for everybody on this well-run island of entertainment-themed dreams. Actually, the sand is even brought in from Hawaii to ensure the best is offered.
I spent the day exploring, starting with a visit to Siloso Fort, making my way to Sentosa Resort World and walking back through the secondary rain forest, along the beachfront to Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa Resort & Spa for a Tiger beer on the deck overlooking the pool, veggie spring rolls and shade, friendly resident peacocks for company. That night we walked down to the Wings of Time Show, a spectacular laser, fire and water extravaganza against the backdrop of the sea. Then, sleep came easy.
Thought for the day: It all begins with history, time at the Sintosa Fort offered me a grounding a look at the area. But after history, it’s what man makes of it. Here man has created a world of fun and entertainment second to none. Because fun matters, relax into it.
Day 4 – Southernmost tip of Asia. Gardens by the Bay. Marina Bay Sands.
I noticed on the map of Sentosa Island, that the Southern Most Tip of Asia was within easy reach of the hotel. I needed to stand on it and shout excitedly to the world at the privilege. So that became the start to my day. From there a surreal look at the award-winning Gardens by the Bay. If you find yourself with even just a day in this city, this is where you must go! I could have spent forever here but enjoyed my precious time in the Cloud Garden (I love the name), the World of Plants and looking up at the giant Supertree Grove. Also as walking the grounds, bridges, rivers. I even spotted a happy terrapin having a midday swim. Here they are offering an invaluable look at the environment, recycling, and the effects of global warming and are powering the entire place through energy produced on-site. There’s an App for when you go.
Lunch was a feast of Chinese, Indian and Malay dishes at Strait’s Kitchen at the Grand Hyatt Singapore, where the best of hawker food is offered in the most glamorous of ways. What a treat! How to top the best lunch on offer? Well, by heading up to the 56th floor of the Marina Bay Sands Sky Park where views are forever and perspectives of Singapore’s tourism landscape are perfectly placed. This masterpiece which places an ‘arc’ on top of three high rises is a new addition to the Singapore skyline, one that has fast become iconic. It’s more than a hotel, it’s micro-city offering hospitality, entertainment, restaurants, shopping and museums. Each night there’s a laser show which can be enjoyed from anywhere within the eye’s view.
That night I stayed at Hotel Jen Orchardgateway Singapore. Its fresh, contemporary approach is matched only by the view from the window seat in my 17th-floor room. Jen is a sweetheart who welcomes me with post-it notes on the mirror and gifts of treats in the fridge. It’s a special place I’d recommend to the young and seasoned traveller who is seeking a slightly more independent approach to light hotel living. Dinner is at Jen’s sister hotel, the Hotel Jen Tanglin and consists of 7-courses of local fare, including the Chinese New Year celebratory Yusheng dish.
Thought for the day: Favourite things include urban gardens, impressive architecture, delicious food and Jen.
Day 5 – Singapore Airlines. Rooftop pools. Friends in far places. Home.
What to do on your last day in Singapore? A visit to the Singapore Airlines operations and training centre, before some time catching up with a South African friend currently living in Malaysia. Also, precious time swimming in the 19th-floor rooftop pool of Hotel Jen Orchardgateway Singapore, a walk of the city and a visit to Little India for some shopping. Amazing colours and finds. After a gorgeous meal and before a late checkout and transfer to the airport, the girls took a night swim watching the Marina Bay Sands laser show from the cool pool. Is this even real?
Then far too soon, packed up and away, checked in and comfy on our Singapore Air flight home, a mind and heart filled with gratitude for all I’d seen and done.
Parting thought: It goes too fast. The people you travel with make the experience. Singapore is the idyllic mix of modern and old, its well kept, much loved and the Singaporeans have an understandable pride and endearing charm. Their balance of Feng Shui, mixed culture and commitment to do everything they do well, shines strong. There is a buzz, but there are numerous places of quiet sanctity too.
One of the things that I took away from my time in Singapore is the all-embracing multi-cultural pride of its people. It is evident in the way they embrace each other’s customs, traditions and religious beliefs and celebrated its rich Malay, Chinese and Indian food offerings. The name Singapura or “Singapore” literally means ’Land of the Lions’ and in this pride a paradise of order, discipline and environmentally conscious practice. It’s my kind of Asia.
Also, don’t be put off by the notion that it’s too expensive to enjoy. Sure, there are places where spending money will come far too easy, but everywhere are ways to find affordability. Activity packages, cheap public transport, hawker food centres where you can eat till you burst, shopping in the likes of Little India and endless parks, museums, libraries and arcades to enjoy for free. It’s there, all you need to do is look.
And to think I only touched the tip of what this iconic city-state has to offer. Yet even in that this modern Asian capital certainly exceeded all my imaginings and I have many more stories to come.
Disclaimer: My trip to Singapore was a hosted press trip sponsored by Singapore Airlines, Shangri-La Resorts, Hotel Jen and Singapore Tourism, as arranged with my thanks, by the remarkable Lesley Simpson Communications.