Over time, Helena and I are realising that we’re not really city people – which I suppose is ironic as we live in one in the UK. At the moment though, we tend to find we’re happiest either somewhere near to the ocean, lost in the jungle or climbing a mountain. Superb Singapore, however, stands in exception to this rule.
We flew in from Boracay, having indulged ourselves in beachy sunsets and cheap San Miguel, and landed in pristine Singapore with a little trepidation. ‘Yeah, Singapore’s nice but it’s sooooooo expensive,’ was the general warning we had been receiving pre-visit, so we were happy to have bagged some accommodation in Little India for a reasonable price for four nights. It was in a large dorm in the upstairs of a pub but we’re not averse to the occasional dorm when needs must.
First impressions of the city then … clean, orderly, calm, quiet even. Everything in Singapore just seems to be well settled, well set up so that there is minimal rush. You don’t get the sense of chaotic hustle that other cities exude from their traffic and mass transport systems. There actually doesn’t even seem to be that much traffic, which adds to the other adjective and indeed point of pride for the city: it’s safe. Not once in our substantial wanderings did Helena and I feel that mild nervousness you occasionally get when you think you may be out a little too late, or have wandered a little too far in the wrong direction.
And Singapore is a real joy to wander around; we covered some significant mileage entirely on foot. Little India is a kind of sterilised, tidied up version of real India with nothing like the amount of strange and bizarre sights you encounter on a walk through Delhi or Mumbai, and a distinct lack of cows and dogs of course! East Coast Park (a vast stretch of open park land running along the cost line for miles) and the more central Canning Fort Park were both lovely to explore. We meandered aimlessly down towards the coastal barrage and the enclosed reservoir which was surrounded by manicured gardens and wide paths buzzing with joggers and cyclists. The successful economic status of the tiny country was evident simply in the number of high end carbon bikes on show on the cycle paths. I had a few pangs of desire to be Lycra clad amongst them, enjoying cruising around in the sunshine.
This is the lovely thing about Singapore really, that the combination of parks and architecture makes for a hassle free and wallet-friendly experience. Wandering around also allows you to come across the excellent hawker food centres with tasty seafood, noodles and fresh smoothies; no crazy prices here either. We would have had a super successful budget stay if it hadn’t been for the small matter of a GoPro purchase on our penultimate day!
So, from the east side of the central reservoir, you get an amazing view of the city and it’s spectacular skyline. The architecture in Singapore ranges from historic to contemporary to down-right mind-blowing, epitomised by the hugely famous Marina Bay Sands hotel complex. Its three, huge, towers would have been an impressive sight on their own, but it is the Sky-Park which really makes you look twice. On first glimpse you’re really not sure what you’re looking at – a mistake? An optical illusion? A cruise liner parked on top of a hotel? Well, that’s what it looks like to me! And although at first your thoughts juggle around between amusement, disbelief, ridicule, confusion, awe, disgust and admiration, in the end you simply kind of get used to it. Like the architecture is exactly what you expected, as if anything else simply wouldn’t do.
A walk inside the hotel atrium is also another experience in sublime style. I thought I may be put off, (envious perhaps?) by the extravagance that even here could be deemed to be unnecessary and yet there was a sense that although the place is designed to impress, it stops clearly short of vulgarity. I did happen to notice there was a casino there though…
The other famous hotel in Singapore is, of course, Raffles; birthplace of the Singapore Sling. It’s pretty much a Singapore rite of passage, or so we heard, to get all dressed up and go and drink the famous cocktail in the famous hotel. This presented Helena and I with a very legitimate problem, however … we have next to nothing in our backpacks in the way of ‘smart’ clothes. We couldn’t possibly go to Raffles in shorts, could we? We’d get thrown out for sure!
As it happened though, we wandered past early one evening and spoke to a very helpful doorman who said we’d be more than welcome to have a drink in the Long Bar, which after as much sprucing up as we could manage, is exactly what we did. Helena looked delightful in a long blue dress (where on earth had she been hiding that?!) and I dug out a shirt (although I didn’t have an iron) and we caught a taxi – luxury! – to Raffles. Whereupon we found a bar full of very casually dressed people happily sipping on cocktails and eating a prolific amount of peanuts – all of the shells of which were subsequently tossed onto the floor. We felt positively over-dressed! But we had a lovely time indulging in a little bit of luxury, to the extent that we thought it may be a good idea to go from the historic iconic Singapore hotel to the modern icon, the Marina Bay Sands. Specifically, to the casino!
Leaving Raffles at about half past eleven, we wandered down to the casino. It was about a mile or so but, as I said before, we had no qualms about walking through the city at night-time. Unfortunately for us, you need to have your passports as ID to get into the casino, so my plans of a big money, big stakes, high rolling, jackpot winning betting streak was over before it had even begun. Probably for the best really!
There is so much amazing architecture in Singapore that I could go on for ages but the top award has to go to Gardens by the Bay; the park created on reclaimed land in front of Marina Bay Sands, the centrepiece of which is the mesmerising Supertree Grove. You are free to wander in and around, gazing up at these vast structures towering above you, their irregular patterned branches reaching out to form spectacular circular tree tops. They have plants growing up their trunks which I suppose are gradually going to spread over the entire structures encompassing them in leaves and flowers which I imagine will be a fabulous sight. We may have to return to check out their progress in due course… (Just one of a myriad of ‘excuses to come back to (inset place name here!) that we are developing as our trip continues). And before you ask, no, the irony was not lost on me – in a world in which so many trees are being cut down, we are now building trees in their place to serve as an architectural attraction in an urban landscape. You would have thought Mother Nature had the patent on that one…
Nevertheless, what we loved the most about the Supertrees was the sound and light show that they run every night. Amongst the interlocking maze-like structures are woven thousands of lights which combine with a musical programme twice every evening. Some say it’s a bit cheesy … but hey, you can’t go wrong when the music starts with ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, segues through Holst and Stravinsky to end up with ‘The Circle of Life’!
Cheesy or not, we loved it, and we had a really special moment actually because we came across it sort of by accident the first time, and, significantly, we didn’t have any cameras with us. So we were forced, in a way, to just lie back, gaze skywards, listen, immerse, dissolve and enjoy as the lights on the trees danced their way into our memories. Liberated by our lack of technology, it was a really happy and moving moment for us, especially when these lyrics came around… You know the ones I mean already, I know you do! They just seemed to speak to us on every level.
‘There’s more to see, than can ever be seen, more to do, than can ever be done. There’s far too much to take in here, more to find than can ever be found…’
We both found ourselves with a little tear in the eye at that moment, and I’m not ashamed to say it! Not one little bit!