Surprising Singapore!

Words and photography by Peter Thorpe

We found Singapore a city full of surprises

Europe is a great place to visit but, let’s face it, it’s a long way from Australia! So, on a recent trip to the Mediterranean, we decided to break the journey with a few days stopover in Singapore, on the way there and the way back. Best thing we ever did…

Singapore is a great place to visit. It’s very clean and safe – there is virtually no crime here. You never see a beggar in the streets or a homeless person and there is NO GRAFFITI! Unlike most of the European places we visited, where beautiful, historic buildings were desecrated by it.
I asked our Singaporean taxi driver why there was no graffiti here and he said – “They give them (the perpetrators) a few strokes of the cane!” I thought maybe he was pulling my leg so, I later Googled it and sure enough: Upon conviction, the penalty is a fine not exceeding $2,000 or imprisonment not exceeding three years, and also the corporal punishment of not less than three strokes and not more than eight strokes of the cane. That works! I also found Singaporeans generally have a pride in their city and they don’t hesitate to tell you about it.

Everywhere you look, there's a wonderful mixture of old and new

Singapore is a small place with a lot of people so, as you might expect, there are lots of tall buildings everywhere you look. However, it’s pleasing to see the local architects have a bit of imagination and there are some very different and attractive designs. This presents an interesting dichotomy of very old traditional buildings, mixed in among the very new. And despite the large number of people living here, the streets are not that crowded and the traffic generally moves around freely. All of the streets have large name signs written in English, so it’s a very easy place to get around.
We chose to stay the Park Hotel in Clarke Quay, which turned out to be a great decision. The location is close to the city and main attractions and an easy stroll to the subway, which is cheap, safe and easy to use. The hotel itself is very well appointed with a large swimming pool but the best part of it is, if you book the Crystal Club package, it includes access to their club lounge.

The Crystal Club Lounge at the Park Hotel Clarke Quay

Situated on the tenth floor, it offers spectacular city views and has a really nice ambience. They also include a food and beverage package with delicious canapes and free flowing drinks (including cocktails, beer, wine or spirits) every night from 5.30pm to 7.30pm. You can enjoy your breakfast here too. The other great thing about the club is, you get to meet lots of other travellers (mostly from Australia, when we were there) and swap stories about the best things to see and do.
If you’re the sort of person who enjoys a few drinks before dinner, this is a big saving, because drinks in Singapore are not cheap. Taxis are relatively cheap and you can eat quite inexpensively, providing you avoid the main tourist beats but alcohol is generally expensive.

The bar tender shakes a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar at Raffles

This is an extreme example but we had a Singapore Sling at Raffles Long Bar and they cost around $A40 each! This includes all the peanut you can eat and you get to throw the shells on the floor. The Singapore Sling was fabulous too. Was it worth $40? Probably not but you can’t go to Singapore without doing that at least once. You’re paying for the experience – not the drink.*

We couldn't resist a ride to Chinatown in a trishaw

Trishaws (rickshaws powered by a bicycle) are almost a thing of the past in Singapore now but we found one not far from our hotel and couldn’t resist taking a ride. The poor guy pedalling was in his 70s and we were at our top weight, after a month of eating and drinking. He didn’t seem to mind though and smiled away, while giving us a running commentary on our way to Chinatown. It was pretty slow going and I reckon it had to be the hardest five bucks he ever earned! Chinatown is a lot of fun too. Great place to enjoy a meal, like the famous Chilli Crab or some Singapore Noodles. And it’s teaming with market stalls selling everything from souvenirs to high end jewellery and custom-made tailoring.

The National Orchid Garden offers a fantastic display of orchids

Other great places to visit here are:
The Singapore Zoo is well worth a visit. Here you can see orangutans in their natural state. You can also visit it at night and do a night safari. Tip: Get a combined bus and zoo entry ticket from your hotel. This includes unlimited rides on the road train. Hop on the road train first and do a complete circuit of the zoo. That way you can decide which exhibits you want to see without too much walking.
Also, don’t miss the Botanic Gardens, which contains the National Orchid Garden. I’m normally not much of a garden enthusiast but one can’t help but be absolutely overwhelmed by the fantastic displays of orchids of every kind and colour you could imagine.

The beach and lookout tower at Sentosa Island

Another very popular spot is Sentosa Island. Sentosa is an island resort off Singapore’s southern coast, connected to the city by road, cable car, pedestrian boardwalk and monorail. The cable car ride is amazing and the views stretch out across the ocean as far as Indonesia on a fine day. There’s also a beach there and amusement park plus a huge aquarium featuring over 800 species of marine life. If you are travelling with your grand kids, you’ll also find Universal Studios theme park here.
If you are into shopping and need some retail therapy (and your retirement plan is working well and you’re cashed up) head over to Orchard Road in the CBD. Here you will find an endless array of shopping malls with everything from upmarket international brands to local designer labels.

Don't miss the night light show at Gardens by the Bay

And, whatever you do – don’t miss this:
Without doubt, the highlight of our Singapore visit was the Gardens by the Bay at night. This started with a visit to the flower domes – which are lit up and quite spectacular. Then, there is a stunning light show, with music and laser lights, followed by a visit to the top of the Mariner Bay Sand’s Skypark. This amazing building is shaped like a large boat on top of three 57 story skyscrapers, with an observation deck that offers a 360-degree view of the city at night. Built on top of an international hotel, it also boasts 3 roof-top infinity pools. It’s a truly mind-blowing experience you are guaranteed never to forget.
If you’re planning a stop-over on your way to or from Europe, I’d highly recommend Singapore. Or if you would just like to get away somewhere for a week or so, without travelling too far, this is the place for you. It’s only around 8 hours from the east coast of Australia and around 5 hours from Perth.

The spectacular fountain in the Jewel Shopping Centre at Changi Airport

PS: By the way, if you are flying to Singapore, you’ll be flying into one of the world’s busiest and best airports, Changi. This place is amazing, with driver-less trains to take you to your departure gate and its own shopping centre, which features a massive waterfall and nature trail, movie theatres and even a butterfly farm with over 1,000 butterflies. If you are ever going to get stuck in an airport for a while, hope it’s Changi.

* Read our Deputy Editor Dorian’s experience at Raffles – click here

Footnote: I’d highly recommend the Park Hotel in Clarke Quay. Ask for the Crystal Club Lounge package, which included the following benefits:

  • Buffet breakfast served at the Crystal Club Lounge
  • Complimentary Hors d’oeuvres and drinks from 1730hrs – 1930hrs
  • Light refreshments and non-alcoholic beverages at the Club Lounge throughout the day
  • Daily magazines and books
  • Complimentary 24-hour broadband internet access
  • Other benefits including some free laundry.

Please note: The above benefits were at time of writing. Check with the hotel for the current packages. Also note: For this story, the writer travelled at his own expense.