Airport Rating *****
Reception of locals *****
If there is one place that I have visited that I wish I had spent more time in, Singapore would be the place. Not quite as charming as Chiang Mai, not as loud as Bangkok, there is nevertheless a lot to do in this small city state. I only had a handful of days available in Singapore so I had to pick and choose the sights that I wanted to see.
Singapore Changi Airport has won numerous awards over the years, and its not difficult to see why. The airport is clean and efficient and staff are friendly and knowledgeable. It really makes the whole experience of flying more relaxed and pleasant.
I got a cab from the airport into the city. I decided to stay in little India, a cultural gem in the city and even in traffic it didn't take much longer than 30 minutes to get there from the airport. The cab driver was friendly and all he wanted to do was talk about English football, something I was happy to talk about. It was during my trips to SE Asia that I realised the greatest British export of the 21st century so far is the Premier league. Everyone watches it and everyone wants to talk about once they realise you are from England. They all tend to support the big teams, so when I mention Aston Villa, I always get asked why. Sometimes I ask myself the same question.
It was late afternoon by the time I managed to shower and get changed so I decided to spend the evening exploring little India and Chinatown. The Sri Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in the city, built back in 1827. The 1800's saw thousands of Indian troops land in Singapore for the British, although cultural exchanges with India had been happening for centuries prior to this. Built in a Dravidian (southern Indian) style, the temple has a feel not too dissimilar from the Hindu temples in Thailand.
Singapore is famed the world over for its cuisine, and the food here was hands down the best I have tasted, anywhere. A mix of styles, and tastes to cater for everyone, I'm surprised how people manage to live here and stay in shape.
The next day I decided to see another modern architectural wonder that has been on my list for a while, the Marina Bay Sands hotel. The hotel is a large resort that caters to people with large budgets (although sometimes deals can be found) but anyone can enter the hotel, and for about GBP 25 get access to the roof garden. I decided to walk from where I was staying. I followed the signs around the city, asked a few helpful Singh's along the way, and just under an hour later I could see it in the distance. The resort although not nearly as tall as the Burj Khalifa, has a large footprint as covers a large amount of land. I found myself significantly more impressed looking at the Marina Bay Sands hotel than I did looking at the Burj Khalifa, I guess I just didn't expect the sheer scale of the complex.
Walking into the hotel, I felt like a bit of a fraud. This was a resort complex for people with cash, and here I was, with shorts, a t shirt, and a white patka to reflect the sun off my head. The inside of the hotel is very impressive, high ceilings, large glass windows and ornaments everywhere I looked. I bought a ticket, hopped into the very quick lift and a few seconds, and a couple of popped eardrums later I had arrived at the SkyPark.
As soon as I got to the top, the feeling of not belonging dissipated quickly. There is no denying it, the view is nothing short of spectacular. Sometimes the height of a building can work against it as you lose all sense of proportion with the buildings below. This is true of the CN Tower in Canada, and the top of the Shard in London. This was comparable to SkyGardens in London, a perfect height to appreciate the cityscape surrounding the building.
I decided to stay around to watch the sunset over downtown Singapore. It's definitely something special watching the city begin to switch on its lights, the whole vibe changes. The other side of the hotel had views of the port. Singapore was once the busiest port in the world, and is still ranked highly. so I watched some of the boats come and go. As a guy from a town in England that is as far from a body of water as you can be on an island, there is something about open water that I have always found fascinating and relaxing.
I spent a good few hours, making the most of the money I had spent and watching the contrast between daytime and night time Singapore from one of the best vantage points in the city. I decided to head back down and explore the area around the hotel.
Towards the back of the hotel, away from downtown is a large open area with structures unlike anything I have seen in my life. The Supertree Grove and Cloud Forest area left me speechless and jaws on the floor. I guess this is how it must feel to be a kid in Disneyland. I'm not sure how to describe it, but it felt like something out of Avatar. Large 'trees', hundreds of feet high, all light up, with walkways connecting them. I literally had to rub my eyes and make sure I wasn't seeing things.
Light shows occur at regular intervals, and when this happens, the lights of all the structures dance in unison with loud, atmospheric music reverberating throughout the area. It honestly felt like I had been taken to another planet. I have never in my life seen anything like it.
I decided to pay the approximately GBP 10 fee to climb to the top of the trees and get a chance to have a go on the walkways. The walkways are small bridges connecting each treelike structure, and they pass infront of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, an absolutely stunning sight. Now, I don't really have a fear of heights, but overtime the wind blew, there was definitely a little apprehension in my step. Some people were frozen in fear, one man was literally clinging onto the side, waiting to be rescued.
You can't stop on the walkways for too long a time or the guards get a little antsy, so I took my time walking around at a slow pace so I could really take this weird, fantasy world in. I still sometimes look back and think, did that really happen?!
Singapore is a modern, progressive city. In terms of its futuristic appearance, it surpasses cities in Europe so I ended up relaxing a little too much, completely forgetting what part of the world I was in. As I walked back from the Cloud Forest, through the dark streets of little India, I walked right into mosquito central. They weren't messing around either. After avoiding any significant bites throughout SE Asia, the mosquitos went in strong. Lesson learnt. Even if it looks modern, do not forget your anti mosquito spray, these guys are getting pushed further and further out the city as swamplands are cleared and they are angry and territorial.
The next day I met an old friend of mine who I used to work with in the UK. He had transferred to my company's Singapore office a couple of years earlier so I thought it would good to catch up with him and get a relatively local perspective to the city.
After a quick catch up we headed toward downtown Singapore. The metro system in Singapore is clean, efficient and generally on time. My friend was telling me that due to the size of Singapore, car purchases are restricted and therefore other transport systems such as taxi's, buses and the subway system are very good. In order to buy a car in Singapore, you first need to buy a permit that costs tens of thousands of pounds, in addition the cars themselves are significantly more expensive than in Europe or America. This city, like Dubai, really is the domain of the rich.
After showing me around the city we headed off the Orchard Road, the Singaporean equivalent of Oxford Street. All the large designer stores had a presence and although not quite as busy as Oxford Street, there were a lot of people out and about in the area. As with Dubai, if you have the money, you can have a lot of serious fun here.
I will definitely revisit Singapore later on in life, when I have a bit more time and a lot more money. There was so much still to see that I didn't have time for including Singapore Zoo, the night safari, Sentosa and Kusu Island. As I was leaving the city was gearing for its annual F1 race. As a Formula 1 fan, the night circuit in Singapore is one of the highlights of the year and I would love to come back and see it in person.
Thank you to Sarosh for showing me around Orchard Street and Downtown
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British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.