Minutes' after landing in the cool, sleek premises of the Change airport, the visitor is whisked down a wide highway lined with glorious tropical palms and bright cheery bougainvilleas. A city of concrete glass and steel, tall sky scrapers stretch themselves jauntily over a blooming landscape full of greenery and fresh flowers. Ahead, the silver high-rise towers of the city sparkle in the sunlight as the ships from all parts of the globe line themselves in the world's busiest container port. Singapore combines the mysticism and culture of the East with the technological expertise of 'the West. Everywhere the traditional and modern co-exist - a fact that is apparent in many facets of the city. Computers rule each commercial hub, contrasting sharply to the primitive weighing scales on street stalls that are used to measure the weight of pearls that are utilised as remedial cures in traditional medicine. Everywhere you turn, this contrast is only greater. In Chinatown, a trishaw ride powered by a man on a rickety bicycle can cost you anything between $20-40, but the sleek limousines and taxi services line the streets, making getting around so much easier and cheaper. Almost every street corner is devoted to wellbeing. Reiki parlours, acupuncture retreats, gemstone therapies, coffee massages, health teas are the flavour of the season. Our own hotel offered this and more, packaging wellbeing into a sleek tourist attraction, which is what Singapore is renowned for.
On the world map, the island of Singapore is just a dot at the tip of the Malay Peninsula. Despite fears regarding its survival as an independent entity, the tiny 625 sq km island has blossomed into one of Asia's economic dragons. Under the careful planning of its founder, Sir Stamford Rafiles, today, Singapore has turned into a garden city. Its floral landscape softens the rough edges of the modern concrete complexes. When Raffles landed in Singapore, there were only forty people inhabiting the island. But today, the population stands at a figure of over two and a half million of which 77 per cent are Chinese followed by Malaysians, Indians, Arabs, Sri Lankans and other Asians.
Sights to see
Built in 1887, the Raffles Hotel is the most famous landmark. It carries the name of Singapore's founder and is one of the great 19th century hotels of the world. The hotel is famous for its shopping arcade which consists of 70 stores. The Jubilee Hail and the historical museum of Raffles attract everyone. As the famous novelist Somerset Maugham once wrote, "Raffles stands as a living proof for all the fables and legends of the exotic East."
Old Changi is the location of the infamous Changi prison. Home for thousands of allied prisoners of war; it still stands on Upper Changi Road and contains records, photographs and paintings depicting the daily lives of prisoners. Not far from here is the Changi air base where, in a room that was used as a chapel during wartime, there are some beautifully painted murals plastered across the walls. These stand as tribute for the men who lived and died in captivity during that dark era.
At Holland village, one gets to witness a slice of Singaporean life. In this small area, a whole day can be spent exploring. If you are a true-blue shopper, lots of treats await! You have to begin at Lorong Mambong, at the back of Holland village where the shops that sell cane ware, and pottery, rattan and metal work baskets, porcelain elephants, multi-coloured glassware, wind chimes, wooden trinkets and scores of other knick-knacks that capture the local flavour spill out onto the pavements. Another interesting store is Este'H studio for Indonesian hand-crafted gifts of exceptional quality. They also exhibit teak wood furniture for which they arrange shipping.
A microcosm of our own land and culture, Little India starts from Serangoon road where the wonderful aromatic fragrance of Indian spices wafts in the air mingling with the sweet scents of Jasmine .and incense. Head out to the fabric shops that are filled with colourful saris, the Mustafa Centre, which is a good place to shop for bargains and Sim Lim Square, just off Little India, which is a treasure trove of electronic goods.
The area South of the Singapore River is referred to as China Town. China Town comprises of low-rise shop houses set against a backdrop of towering banks and office buildings. The basement of the China town complex reveals many mysterious items, from live fish, reptiles and poultry to bean curd, fresh fruit and vegetables! The Singapore Handicrafts centre consists of numerous shops selling arts crafts, souvenirs and antiques. China Town houses the essence of the local Chinese culture.
Located on six hectares of prime waterfront land, by Marina Bay, the Esplanade is the modern face of Singapore. A sleek building in the centre of town is reminiscent of Sydney's opera house. Here, concerts and live shows rock the city the whole year through it would be the ideal place for you to relax and take in a few shows. There are over 5,000 world class hotel rooms, two major convention centres, 7,500 car parking spaces, 1,000 shops, 300 restaurants and 150 bars in its immediate vicinity!
Jurong Bird Park
Jurong Bird Park has a spectacular garden, with twenty hectares of lush landscape. More than 4500 birds from over 420 species cohabit here in an environment that is artificially simulated to resemble their natural surroundings — a speciality of Singapore's preserved zoos. Here, flamingo's with their delicate red tinged long necks and limbs, greet you at the entrance. As you stroll through the tropical rain forest, you can see waterfalls cascading into streams populated by colourful water birds. The sweet notes, gentle doves, whistling teals and cheery parakeets mingle with the laughter of the blue kingfishers! The World of Darkness, another section of the park is an unforgettable experience. Nocturnal birds are spotted here with the help of special lighting effects. The park also includes the Flightless Bird Exhibit and the Penguin Parade complex.
Jurong Crocodile Park
This is the most unique crocodile theme park in the world. It is the first to have an underwater viewing gallery offering exciting glimpses of crocodiles swimming inside an aquarium-like facility. Another highlight is the Cavern of Darkness, which recreates the sensation of walking through the jungle in pitch darkness!
The Night Safari
The unique Night Safari is the only night zoo in the entire world. A comfortable pram ride takes you through 40 hectares 'of man-made jungle, recreated under regulated temperatures and subtle lighting so that one may view over 1200 animals [of which there are 110 exotic species] engaged in their active night lives. The animals prowl freely over the landscape however they are separated from tourists by deep trenches and mesh wires hidden under the thick foliage. There is a special cave containing many different species of bats and separate walkways where one can explore the jungle wildlife on foot, guided by the silvery light of the moon!
Sentosa Island is a tiny stretch of land positioned opposite to the World Trade Centre. It can be reached by a twenty-minute ferry ride from Singapore mainland or ten minutes by cable car. Visitors from all over the world can loll around on the golden shores, watching the bustling ports of the Singapore harbour. Sentosa Island Is a paradise for children. Featuring a huge amusement park, it also has other attractions well worth a visit. Asia's largest tropical oceanarium called the UnderWater World can be found here. It has an 80 m submerged acrylic tunnel with moving floorboards, which take you into an actual journey under the sea!
One can view over 2500 species of marine creatures and see sharks, stingrays, moray eels, stone fish, turtles and weedy sea dragons swimming around, above and on all sides of you!
You can also explore the museums showcasing the history of Singapore, view the beautiful butterfly park and the informative insect Kingdom museum, a Cinemania which is a three dimensional entertainment with state-of-the-art sight and sound effects. A laser show called "Songs of the Sea" is very popular at the moment and will transport you to an underwater fantasy world full of music, colourful costumes and graceful mermaids. After this extravaganza, you can witness the dolphin show which will have you glued to the edge of your seats. The dolphins are almost human and most remarkable when they perform with their jovial instructors. Gaily-coloured shops clustered with restaurants selling all kinds of foods are other attractions.
Science Centre and Snow world
The Singapore Science centre is proof of how much importance is given to science and technology, and how these skills are ingrained in youngsters at a tender age. Full of school children on a field trip, the science centre would be ideal for your kids as it decodes the amazing facets of science in a friendly and interactive way. There are many exhibits that explain the concept behind startling illusions and other scientific phenomena that we encounter in our daily lives, even an Egyptian tomb model that explains the notion behind embalming.
Haw Par Villa Tiger Balm Gardens
A sprawling park based on stories from Chinese mythology, here one can discover more about the Ten Courts of Hell and enjoy the beautiful scenery. It offers many a Kodak moment as you pose with the typical Chinese dolls that are reminiscent of the cultural nuances of the original inhabitants of this land. So, you can rub shoulders with statues of Sumo wrestlers and bearded Chinese emperors, all set amidst a most picturesque garden filled with blooms.
Tang Dynasty City
This was an attempt to recreate the Chinese city of Chang' An, which existed in the 7th Century. Here visitors can look forward to architectural reproductions of the Imperial Palace, a Wax Museum and the tomb of the valiant warriors, figures of which are sculpted from terracotta. Check out the ghost mansions and let "spirits" communicate to you through sophisticated 3-D sound illusion!
Tips for travellers
The Singapore Flyer, modelled after the London Eye, is the latest attraction which opens to the public in April. This giant Ferris wheel like structure has several pods that are the size of rooms. The visitors can step into these pods and take photos as the wheel rotates slowly. It takes half an hour for it to complete a revolution, giving you a bird's eye view of the city. Book your trip at night, when you can enjoy the sparkling lights glittering over the cityscape. This Singapore Flyer is said to be the largest in Asia. If you're interested in a flight of another kind, you can also take the DHL hot air balloon and float above the city's sky scrapers for a thrilling experience. If you're interested in viewing the history of the city from an unique perspective, take the Duck Tours from Sun Tech City Mall. You will board a bus with a live tour guide who will tell you about the sights and the historical importance of all the buildings in the island nation. Then, mid-way through the ride, your bus suddenly pulls in its wheels, transforming into a boat! It launches itself into the harbour and the guide will proceed with details of Singapore's fascinating harbour and waterfront properties. It's an experience that will live on in your memory and one you wouldn't want to miss, especially if you're a first-time traveller, intrigued by Singapore's meteoric rise in the hierarchy of Asian nations. Book in advance with Duck Tours, for both the hot air balloon and the duck boat ride.
When to go
Singapore has a tropical climate full of sunshine and mild showers. Any time of the year would be beautiful to visit, but going on festive occasions like Christmas, Deepavali and the Chinese New Year are bound to make your days more picturesque as the entire city is decked with beautiful lights and colourful ornaments!
Singapore has a highly efficient underground railway system called the MRT [Mass Rapid Transit Corporation]. However, the fastest and easiest way to travel around here would be on taxi. There are almost 10,000 taxis that plow through the island nation and most popular shopping malls have queues where one must wait in line to board taxis. Most Singaporeans use this method of travel, as it is very expensive to buy a car on the island due to the existing pollution control regulations. Singapore is a very safe city, literally free of crime and pickpockets. However, the law enforcement is extremely strict and littering and dumping garbage casually on the streets is considered to be a great offence. So clean up your act while you're there!
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