Singapore…Heaven, recreated

The people of Singapore are really good at playing God. They have recreated a fascinating world complete with a rainforest, rivers and sandy beaches

What strikes me each time I visit Singapore is its ability to add a new tourist attraction every year to its already well-developed tourism kitty. Not only does Singapore build structures and make long tunnels in no time, it can plant full-grown trees overnight on a spot where none existed earlier. But that’s not what appeals to me the most; what I love best about Singapore is its effective governance and strict execution of law. Perhaps that’s why it is one of the most disciplined, law-abiding, safe and clean cities in the world.

Since people from all over the world have made it their home, festivities in Singapore are a combined affair. The celebrations begin in September with Hari Raya Idul Fitri by the Malay and Indonesian Muslims to mark the end of their month-long fast. Come November, and the entire city sparkles with neon lights for the entire period through Diwali, Christmas and New Year’s.

In the first week of February, Singapore celebrates the Chinese New Year. The Eu Tong Sen Street and New bridge road in China town are alive with activity. If you’re lucky, you might even get to witness the enchanting Lion Dance parade.

While in China town, do not forget to explore the heritage centre for a glimpse into the Chinese culture. If you have the time, you can even visit the other museums in the city like the Singapore Art Museum, the Asian Civilisations Museum, and the Singapore Philatelic Museum.

Singapore is a heaven for the foodies as it offers plenty of choice—from fast food, seafood, Chinese and Thai, to French cuisines.

The vegetarians can grab a bite at the Komala’s Restaurant, Murugan Idli Shop and Sarvanaa Bhavan.

For those who love to make the most of their nights, Singapore offers live wire entertainment venues, nightclubs, wine bars, lounges, open-air restaurants [in Boat quay]. As the night falls, the beaches brim with the cacophony of live music. There is always a concert happening in the city.

Sentosa Island is synonymous with Singapore. Sentosa means peace and tranquillity in Malay language. A visit to Singapore is considered incomplete if you haven’t visited this island. Over five million people visit it every year. At 110m above the ground, the Tiger Sky Tower is the tallest observatory building that offers a fantastic view of the island—a perfect place to capture the beauty of Singapore in your camera.

The island has a lot to be discovered by adventure seekers, nature lovers, and the historical buffs alike. I was mesmerised by the fireworks, light and water displays, and the underwater experience at the oceanarium. Called Underwater World, it is located in the western part of the island and has 250 species of marine life—you can touch the turtles, swim with the sharks and play with the dolphins. To have viewed the marine life through submerged glass window from a moving travel-ator was a rare experience for me.

Sentosa has many artificial beaches that are made using sand brought from Malaysia and Indonesia. Ride the roaring waves, master the different water sports, get close to the friendly animals or simply have a stroll along the stretch of white sandy shores.

The island also has a Dolphin lagoon home where you can swim with the dolphins, if you like—a truly rewarding experience for anyone who dares.

Don’t forget to visit the Butterfly Park located in the Imbiah Lookout area. About 15000 live butterflies of 50 species are housed in the outdoor conservatory.

While you are in Sentosa, don’t miss the ‘Songs of the Sea’, a live cast musical performance using amazing multimedia effects including three water screens, water jets and flames rising up to 20m that are created by the use of lights and lasers.

It is a feast to the eyes and the ears to watch and listen to the symphony of the live orchestra played to an audience of about 2500 persons in the open air gallery.

My most unforgettable experience was the Night Safari, the world’s first night zoo covering an area of 40 hectares. They offer a tram open on both sides where you can witness feeding of white tigers from a close proximity. You can either take the tram or the walking trail. Walking on the trail passing through the trees, you suddenly come face to face with wild animals [there are over 1200 animals of 115 species in the zoo, many of which are endangered] separated by a few feet. The real three dimensional drama of the jungle unfolding right before your eyes is far more thrilling than watching any wild life documentary.

The Jurong Bird Park has one of the largest collections of birds in the world with 4,600 birds representing 380 species. See the beautiful creatures fly, soar, or frolic in habitats designed after their natural habitats. Watch the stunning ‘Birds of Prey’ show where the majestic eagles, falcons, and hawks impress you with their aerial manoeuvres.

Kids can entertain themselves watching the tricks performed by the beautiful parrots in the ‘Parrot Show’ located in the pools amphitheatre. The Penguin Exhibition showcasing about 200 penguins is another attraction.

The park offers a stimulating and educating experience, not just for serious bird watchers, but also for all kinds of visitors.

Visit Singapore Botanic Gardens if you are a nature lover. It is the only garden of its kind in the world that opens as early as five in the morning and closes at midnight. The entry into the garden is free. However, if you want to visit the National Orchid Garden that houses over 3000 species of orchids—some of which are named after celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan—you will have to pay some admission charges.

If you are a little exhausted from all the sight-seeing and would just like to unwind, no place is more perfect than a sea shore. The long well-maintained beach at the East Coast not only offers a peaceful ambience for taking long strolls but also has a cycle trail, specially built for enthusiastic cyclists. Singaporeans are a health conscious lot and you may find hundreds of them practising t’ai chi, swimming, stretching on the parallel bars or just roller skating in the morning. Quite a few can also be seen fishing. Join them or simply enjoy the breath-taking view as the sun rises and spreads its silvery sheet on the waves.

As the night falls, the hundreds of ships anchored here look like jewels studded in a necklace when seen from the shore—the sunset too at the East Coast is a fascinating sight.

East Coast is also where you will get a culinary treat as a lot of eating joints are located here.

To take a tour of the city from the outside, hop aboard a DUKW [pronounced as duck], a six wheel amphibious truck, which is actually a revamped Vietnamese war craft. The DUKW takes you along the city land marks like Esplanade, Padang, Supreme Court and War Memorial among others and suddenly splashes down the water in Marina Bay to give you a fantastic view of the famous Singapore skyline. I found it to be a thrilling experience. My heart never fails to swell with awe to see the majestic Merlion [cross between fish and lion], which is one of the most famous landmarks in Singapore.

It was during my eighth visit to Singapore in 2008 that I discovered the Singapore Flyer, which is a giant observation wheel [165 m height] looked like an exact replica of London eye but is 30m taller than the latter.

The wheel has a diameter of 150m and completes a round in about 30 minutes. It has 28 capsules with a sitting capacity of 28 passengers in each of the capsule. The flyer is located on the Marina centre reclaimed land. The Flyer gives you a breathtaking view of Collyer Quay, Raffles Place, The Fullerton Singapore, Esplanade, Empress Place, Singapore River, Padang, Fort Canning Park, Floating Stadium, Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort, Art Park and even some parts of Indonesia.

Aboard the flyer, you feel on the top of the world. Looking at the skyline of Singapore from top is a thrilling experience in itself. In addition to the visual delight, the Flyer also offers a luxurious dining experience, spa and other delights.

At night, a view of the pubs and restaurants that line the Singapore river is simply breathtaking. The historical Boat Quay [wharf] located on the southern bank of the Singapore River. During 1860s, it handled shipping business, trade and maritime commerce, but today, it caters to the tourism needs and is brimming with the glitter of the pubs and restaurants. The road along the quay is now a pedestrian mall, with many shops.

A similar spot along the river is Clarke Quay. In the old days, it served as warehouse for the goods transported by the barges to this quay. Today, the place is flooded with a number of pubs and bars. As the night falls, Clarke Quay comes to life. It is the place to head for, if you want to try your hand at reverse Bungee jumping.

Reverse bungee jumping is a great attraction for tourists. In conventional bungee jumping, you leap off a bridge while remaining tied to a bungee cord, whereas in reverse bungee jumping, you catapulted into the air. Here, you are not alone and are seated in a passenger car with two other people.

The capsule is suspended between bungee cords and bounces up and down several times between two thirty five metres tall towers like a Yo-Yo. It remains air borne for about a minute in each bounce. I had to contend with simply watching the youngsters enjoy the thrill as the adventure is not advisable for seniors and those with a weak heart.

The latest addition to the burgeoning Singapore attractions is the second Integrated Resort at the Marina Bay sands—the first one is located in the Sentosa Island. An integrated resort is basically a casino and resort into one. Here, there are attractive hotels, casinos, spas, theatres and business meeting avenues.

Other than fun and frolic, Singapore also welcomes medical tourists with open arms.

With everything a visitor can ask for—nature, adventure, shopping, culture—Singapore is certainly man-made paradise.

Traveller’s tips

Climate: Hot, humid, tropical, Temperature between 25 to 30 degree centigrade, Rainfalls: Between November - January.

Airport: Changi airport about twenty to thirty minutes from city. The new terminal completed last year has a unique architecture utilizing natural light.

Languages: Mandarin, Malay, Tamil and English.

Tipping in restaurants prohibited. Ten percent service tax charged.

Shop-o-logy

Shopping is a national pastime of Singaporeans. They throng to the malls in large numbers, especially when there’s a sale [which happens almost around the year]. There are a number of shopping malls but the most fashionable and a must-see on all itineraries is the bustling Orchard Road Shopping Boulevard with local and international department stores on both sides. Spurred by a host of incentives [heavy discounts are a regular feature invariably in all the Singapore malls], you are sure to be enticed into buying something or the other. You will be simply hypnotised by the dazzling glitter of the malls on the stretch from the Tanglin mall down to Plaza Singapura.

Suntec City Mall located on the Temasek Boulevard is the largest shopping mall with over 300 retail shops dealing in sports apparel, international brands of readymade garments, arts and crafts, music, toys and more. Located at the centre of the mall, is the world’s largest fountain, the Fountain of Wealth.

Mustafa Centre is another prominent shopping destination located in the Little India. It has everything right from kitchen items and grocery to gold and silver jewellery. The best part is that it is open 24 hours a day. If you are looking for bargains on artefacts, antique pieces, apparels, accessories, shop at the China Town. For the expatriates, Holland village is the place for shopping of wide variety of gifts, antiques, art, music and more.

This was first published in the April 2011 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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