Escapism

Jill Worrall leaves Timaru to take on the world - bringing adventure travel to your desktop

Singapore: From shopping fever to serene retreat

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Colourful parrots at Singapore's Jurong Bird Park. Photo / Thinkstock
Colourful parrots at Singapore's Jurong Bird Park. Photo / Thinkstock

There are more than 80 shopping malls in Singapore and by early December they are all seriously hitting Christmas fever pitch.

Despite the fact it might be sticky and hot outside and the afternoons punctuated with lightning, thunder and monsoon rains, the malls are not only icy cold but resplendent with snowmen, Father Christmases of all dimensions, reindeer, icicles and holly. Tinkling carols complete the package.

By accident (it is probably the last place I would have gone to by choice) I found myself in one of the biggest malls, Vivo (near the harbour) and inside the biggest toy shop in Singapore, Toys "R" Us. All I wanted was some accessories for a Thomas the Tank Engine train-set but somehow I lost an hour of my life and ended up with a half a trolley full of Christmas presents.

Never before have I been struck by the shopping urge like this (well apart from in plant nurseries). I don't really know what happened. Maybe it was the combination of being disoriented by the sounds of my most hated Christmas song - Winter Wonderland - (the only saving grace was Vince Martin wasn't singing it) and the knowledge that I'd knowingly broken my rule never to darken the doors of a business labelled anything "R Us".

After wandering the aisles, which were a mix of the familiar and the incomprehensible (I still don't get the appeal of Hello Kitty) I emerged with possibly the world's largest plastic carrier bag and the knowledge that I still had to get back to my hotel on the underground. That proved only the first of my worries. Somehow in my retail frenzy I'd forgotten that I was already verging on surpassing my luggage weight limit and my bag was already full.

So be warned, even if you're not a shopper, Singapore might prove to be your downfall: be prepared to wear your heaviest clothes on the plane and abandon much of the rest in your hotel room.

It also pays to do some research on which shopping malls to frequent. Hit Orchard Road which is wall-to-wall shopping malls for what seems like kilometres and you could waste a lot of time among the Louis Vuittons, Guccis and Cartiers (unless of course those are your intended targets) before finding shops that are rather more affordable.

If you're content to watch the well-heeled shop and simply ogle the goods and the prices take a trip to the new Marine Bay Sands hotel complex which dominates the eastern skyline of Singapore's CBD.

The complex features three 55-storey high tower blocks linked by a cantilevered Skypark which includes an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Apparently it's now the world's most expensive hotel development.

You can't swim in the pool if you're not a hotel guest and there's an entry charge to get to the observation deck but wandering through the attached shopping mall is free. T

here's a canal down one aisle where you can have a short sampan boat ride or watch the extraordinary waterfall fountain fill up and then cascade earthwards. Then, when all that running water gets too much, simply observe the rich at play in what might be the most extensive collection of high-end brand shops anywhere in the world.

You could try your luck at amassing your own fortune in the new casino but even the fruit machines seemed to gobble up our meagre offerings in double-quick time. Our taxi driver told us that to discourage Singaporeans from gambling, an entry fee of about $100 was imposed on non-foreigners (you need to show your passport to get in). The casino was making a huge profit in its first year, he reckoned, as the fee didn't appear to deter local punters at all.

The remarkable thing about Singapore is that when its urban delights get too much there are places like the Jurong Bird Park to retreat to.

The park has been round a long time but, like any good attraction, it's continually upgrading and expanding. It's lush, tranquil (apart from the cacophony of exotic bird calls) and a world away from the malls.

There is now a penguin house featuring king penguins (there are African penguins outdoors too), a raptor show where it wasn't the eagles that stole the show for me, but the vultures, the line-up of owls and the African Waterfall Aviary. There are more than 50 African bird species in here including bee-eaters, lovebirds and an array of dazzling starling species.

The centrepiece is what is billed as the world's tallest artificial waterfall but the luxuriant growth of rainforest trees and other vegetation is equally beautiful.

The smaller Jungle Jewels Flight Aviary is home to South American rainforest birds - like the birds themselves this is a little gem of an attraction.

Do allow enough time for the park as there is an enormous variety of birds on display - gloriously pink flamingoes, unbelievably scarlet ibis and some magnificent hornbills and toucans.

I could happily have spent all day there, soothing my nerves after my close brush with shopaholicism.

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