Singapore: Always something new to see

By Chris Wiltshire

Take time to savour the marvels of Singapore, writes an impressed Chris Wiltshire.
Singapore’s Supertrees are a testament to the city’s energetic ambition. Photo / 123RF
Singapore’s Supertrees are a testament to the city’s energetic ambition. Photo / 123RF

Perched high up in Singapore's vertigo-inducing Supertrees, I'm struck by the scale of the island's ambitions.

Huge swathes of lush vegetation stretch out before me as part of a staggering project to turn the garden city into a City In A Garden.

Off to my left, towering cranes jostle for position to build ever more skyscrapers, and, to the right, the busiest port in the world is preparing to make way for a new waterfront city on reclaimed land.

Any visitor to Singapore cannot help but be impressed by the energy and enterprise of this steamy metropolis.

Those who stay for a few days are rewarded with sights and sounds, tastes and smells as potent as the famous Singapore Sling cocktail that takes its name.

For a country just one degree north of the equator and one of the most densely populated islands in the world, I had visions of being drenched by monsoons and stuck in endless traffic jams.

But I didn't see a drop of rain or feel in any way harried or claustrophobic.

After a 13-hour flight, I am immediately struck by the beauty of the rain trees that line the East Coast Parkway, like giant umbrellas offering shelter to passers-by.

Underneath, huge clusters of pink-white flowers strain for attention, each bunch seemingly more bountiful and beautiful than the next.

The trees must have planted a seed in the mind of Andrew Grant, whose Bath-based landscape architects firm Grant Associates won an international competition to design Gardens By The Bay, the awe-inspiring 101ha of fragrant delight in the centre of the city. Opened four years ago, it has already attracted more than 20 million visitors.

Two enormous conservatories dominate the skyline, featuring a breathtaking indoor waterfall and plants and trees from just about every corner of the earth.

The Supertree Grove draws most attention, the enormous solar-powered structures sprouting like a scene from The Day Of The Triffids horror flick. A lift inside one of the trees takes visitors 50m up to a walkway for a panoramic view.

At night, soft lights dance to choreographed music in a scene that would not look out of place in a Disney World production.

Undoubtedly, the best view is from the SkyPark Observation Deck at the top of the iconic 55-storey Marina Bay Sands hotel complex, where guests splash about in one of the world's most-photographed infinity pools.

Those with deep pockets can indulge in modern Asian cuisine at the renowned Ce La Vi restaurant and savour the 360-degree panoramic view of the city's skyline and Straits of Singapore.

It is said Singaporeans live to eat, rather than eat to live, and food is something of a national obsession. As British ex-pat Neil Humphreys says in his wonderful Notes From An Even Smaller Island: "If there is one thing Singaporeans can be truly proud of, it is their dominant food culture. The extent and choice of dishes in the country cannot be overstated."

A Singapore Sling cocktail.
A Singapore Sling cocktail.


The cuisine is truly diverse, with strong influences from the Malays, Chinese, Indonesians and Indians, who arrived in large numbers when the country gained independence from Malaysia in 1965.

Every evening the drone of commuter traffic subsides in the centre of town and tables and chairs are hastily arranged outside hawker centres. The aroma of sizzling satay chicken and prawns fills the clammy night air and Tiger Beer girls bark out drinks orders. Lau Pa Sat is considered the best, having been in operation since the 1800s, and is a must visit.

My trips to Singapore's Chinatown and Little India also had the taste buds salivating, and I loved the vibe at the Middle East restaurant, Artichoke.

But the meal of the week - and easily among the top 10 of my life - was at the Peranakan family-run restaurant Candlenut in New Bridge Rd. Imagine a perfectly formed medley of your favourite Chinese food with the spicy flavours of an Indian curry, washed down by a very agreeable white wine. Simply heaven.

My memorable day was topped off with a trip through the modern-day skyscrapers to that old colonial architectural gem, Raffles Hotel.

An overnight stay in one of the luxurious five-star suites would have blown the budget, so I settled for a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar - - even if I did almost choke when the bill arrived: $32 a glass.

My travel guide, Toon Teng, certainly enjoyed scattering his peanut shells on the tiled floor - it is one of the few places in the city where he could happily throw litter without incurring a $1083 fine. In fact, it's tradition here.

The next day, we made our way to Sentosa Island, for an afternoon of R and R, reaching the man-made beach and Disney-type theme parks in style via the new cable car sky network.

It was worth the cost of a pass to see the dozens of enormous ships from around the world heading for the port and harbour. Teng told me it was the best barometer of the world's economy - the more cranes were in action, the better the world was doing. It seemed like a busy place to me.

For those who like to strut their stuff wearing the latest beachwear and listening to high-decibel music, the Splash & Dash pool party at the smart W Hotel must seem like utopia.

There was a time when I would have been among them, but I was more inclined to head to Marina Bay to watch the following day's Singapore Grand Prix practice session with a cool beer in hand.

I'm no petrol head, but there's something magical about seeing the world's fastest drivers tear around the street circuit at night, their immaculate Formula One cars gleaming under the floodlights.

Checklist

GETTING THERE

Singapore Airlines flies daily between Auckland and Singapore, with return Economy Class fares starting from $1805. singaporeair.com

ONLINE

yoursingapore.com

- AAP

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