Singapore is Merlion, and Singapore is Marina Bay Sands. It’s Katong Laksa, Singlish, and itâs Orchard Road, Robinsons and Tangs. But beyond the brands and stereotypes which Singapore exports, you will find a culturally rich, and a surprisingly diverse country of fascinating sites to explore. But as is the norm, we decided put this to the test, and had all but 72 hours to confirm this.
But first, is Singapore – a city, island or country?
The short answer is all three. Â This Lion City (Singapura in Malay), located just off the southern tip of Malaysia happens to be the only island city-country in the world.
How do we get to this island country?
From our base in Dubai, we are blessed to have hit the geographical lottery and in the process being able to select from a plethora of airline options. But I for one have a penchant for traveling on Emirates â especially the much loved A380 ala Queen of the Skies.
To cosy up in the on-board bar, and share a story or two with like-minded individuals or just to sample some fine canapÃ©s over a glass of MoÃ«t makes for a wonderful start to onesâ journey. They say time flies when youâre having a good time; and this couldn’t be any more true given Emirates award winning ICE system. With a host of the latest movies and sound tracks available at a touch of a button, youâre truly spoilt for choice.
Changi Airport – does it house a Butterfly Garden?
Having touched down at Changi Airport, you canât help but be in awe of certain design elements that demand attention. Cases in point are the 1,216 polished copper raindrops that comprise a Kinetic Rain stand in Terminal 1. Or if youâre flying out of Terminal 3, you get to marvel at over 1,000 butterflies at possibly the only butterfly garden in an airport â a world first.
Tip: If your phone doesnât have roaming facilities or an international data package, it helps to visit one of many âtouristâ desks at Changi Airport and buy a tourist sim card. The one we purchased offered us 15GB data over a 7 day period â at 38 SGD (Singaporean dollars). Whilst there, we also purchased discounted Gardens by the Bay tickets (access to both the Domes) at 21 SGD per person, which could be used on any day.
PARKROYAL on Beach Road
Prior to traveling, Sid (my partner) and I make it a point to research sights and places â often it involves meticulous planning, weighing the pros and cons of living in a particular area, and striking a fine balance between visiting âmust-seeâ places and exploring off the beaten path. We zeroed in on PARKROYAL Beach Road, as it was perfectly located in downtown Singapore – bang opposite the very famous Haji Lane â in close proximity to the Raffles Hotel (home of the Singaporean Sling), BUGIS street, and a short drive to Merlion Park. After all, we only had 72 hours in this wonderful island country and wanted to make the most of it, yet retire comfortably for the night in the lap of luxury.
After a quick 15-min scenic drive from the Airport, we found ourselves being greeted by friendly hotel attendants. A quick glance at our watch â it was 9:35am. Official check-in time is 3pm. Do you see our dilemma? We figured we had to wait or simply head to the bar until our room was made available to us. But the beaming front desk staff had another plan altogether â she reminded us that we used our DISCOVERY Loyalty membership number at the time of booking. It just so happens that one of many benefits of this loyalty programme is early check-in; and if applicable a room upgrade. Yes, we were in luck â not only did we enjoy early check-in, we also got upgraded to the next room level â a spanking new Premier tier room.
Premier room upgrade and a travel buddy named HANDY â say what?
Upon stepping foot into our spacious abode – at 35sqm and featuring a very comfortable king-sized bed with an aesthetically designed workspace and warm inviting colours, we beamed ear to ear.
Our vacation was throwing up one pleasant surprise after another, and no sooner were we thanking our lucky starts – we heard the sound â the sound of thunder, and within seconds it rained. Scratch that, it was pouring cats and dogs. A quick look at the âWeatherâ app confirmed our worst fears; it showed a 100% rain probability for the rest of the day.
Dejected, I sunk into the arm chair and gazed out at the window. Pitter-patter, pitter-patter on the window pane – dropping, dripping, dropping can you hear the rain? Sid on the other hand, as industrious as he is, Â got around to unpacking our bags, and came across a smartphone styled device sitting pretty in the work space area of our room. Fiddling with it, he realised that it was a travel buddy (called Handy) that offered unlimited internet access, and free calls made locally as well as internationally.
The phone was loaded with information on all tourist spots (mainstream and otherwise) and was ours for the duration of our stay â to carry around, whilst out and about. When was the last time your hotel surprised you with something as cool and thoughtful as this?
Surprise yourself with a DISCOVERY Local Experience Award
Oh! To be young and restless – equipped with HANDY and an umbrella, we braved the rain and walked around the neighbourhood to get a feel of the place. After all, to travel also means being agile and flexible enough to adapt plans and itineraries at the drop of a hat. Speaking to a few friendly locals, inquiring about taxi fares and cursing the weather; all the while sipping piping hot teh tarik on the go (Hot Milk Tea) we got back to the hotel after an hour or so. Â One thing was certain, all that walking around surely kicked in a voracious appetite.
Thankfully, we sorted out lunch by redeeming a Platinum Local Experience award against Plaza Brasserie’s signature Best of Asia buffet. Just another reason, why we always make it a point to subscribe to loyalty programmes.
The restaurant was bustling with activity â after all, it featured a selection of local favourites from the gourmet capitals of Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan and India. In fact, there was something for everyone leaving you spoilt for choice. I for one, absolutely loved the spicy Laksa station (made to order) and the Cantonese Roast Duck. The extensive desserts counter also proved popular with the rest of the patrons.
Come rain or snow – you’re only one swim away from a good mood, right?
As the afternoon panned out, the rain gave way to a short stint of clear skies. But another glance at the âWeatherâ app reminded us rain was only playing hide and seek. So instead of chancing it with the mischievous rain gods, we decided to catch some sun (momentarily) by checking out the in-house swimming pool. Like they say, a swim a day keeps the worries at bay.
The rest of the day, was spent chugging down one margarita after another and having impromptu rain dance sessions with the other hotel guests. Suffice to say, the pool bar proved to be extremely popular and made for an ideal spot to relax and unwind – top notch friendly bar service, with spectacular views of the Singapore Flyer to boot. With rain showing little to no respite, we decided to call in an early night â we now had only 48 hours to explore Singapore, and went to bed with our fingers and toes crossed â wishing for clear skies.
1. Sultan Mosque â sight to behold
With our alarm clocks shattering the silence at dawn; we quickly freshened up and made our way to historic Kampong Glam â located just across the street from our hotel. Looking up at the sky, we murmured a prayer â for there were no dark clouds, and an orange glow filled up the heavens. Therein, we came across the Sultan Masjid.
Located in a quaint Malay quarter, this golden domed mosque is the centrepiece of Singapore’s Muslim community. With friendly guides on hand to greet non-Muslims and answer any questions it made for a very enriching cultural experience.
2. Stroll through the Arab Street and Haji Lane
Marrying tasteful Instagram worthy graffiti designs, and chic architecture youâd be hard-pressed to find an area that oozes contemporary hippy-happy vibes like Arab Street and Haji Lane. As the name suggests, Arab Lane is Singaporeâs Arab culture hub. The street is lined with century-old shops, packed full of fabrics, traditional footwear and fragrant oils made from flowers, fruits, leaves and herbs.
Parallel to Arab Street is Haji Lane with its eclectic mix of specialty restaurants and vintage fashion boutiques (at affordable prices). But what grabs your attention almost immediately is graffiti art at every nook and corner; very unusual in this pristine island country; and thatâs what makes this particular area one of the trendiest in town.
So if you’re craving for a slice of culture, visual arts immersion and or wish to embark on a culinary journey then look no further than this street.
3. To Merlion or not?
To visit Singapore, and not pose against the backdrop of the Merlion is sacrilegious â itâs an absolute must-do, and should figure in every travellers list. But what exactly is a Merlion you may ask? Well, it is mythical creature with a lion’s head and the body of a fish. It is considered as the national personification of Singapore – an unmissable icon.
After flagging a taxi from Arab Street, we requested the driver to take us to Merlion Park â so that I could capture this mythical creature spouting water from its mouth. Standing at an imposing 8.6m in height, it cut quite the picturesque imposing figure â as proved popular with the hordes of tourists who had descended around late afternoon. Unfortunately for us, this particular Merlion was under renovation. But I wasnât prepared to leave without getting hold of my prized photo. Lucky for me, my partner Sid had researched that there are 5 official Merlion structures recognised in Singapore.
4. Say hello to Marina Bay Sands
Given our current location, we decided to hunt the Merlion located at Mount Faber â a mere 15-min drive up Singaporeâs second highest peak. But not without a tete-a-tete with the Marina Bay Sands (more of this beauty, later).
5. Fabulous views to be had atop Mount Faber
Upon trekking your way to the summit of Mount Faber, you are presented with a panoramic view of the southern part of Singapore and the southern islands.
Or if youâre like me, you would appreciate gazing through one of many telescopes at various lookout points and admire the all-round natural beauty on offer.
But I was here for the elusive Merlion, and I got hold of it sitting pretty in the adjacent park. Suffice to say, my partner was more than trigger happy and captured many a happy memory whilst there. Fruits of my labour, yep trekking up that 105metre hill. Hard work, but worth it.
6. Hendersonâs Wave Bridge
Whilst at Mount Faber, it pays to walk down the secondary rain forest trail and come out the other end â and loâbehold you come face to face with the Hendersonâs Wave Bridge – possibly one of the most beautiful pedestrian bridges in the world.
This also happens to be the highest one in Singapore, and is frequently visited for its artistic, distinctive wave-like structure consisting of a series of undulating curved ‘ribs’.
Made for a very pretty sight, and a good opportunity to soak in the peace and beauty of the country.
Room service par excellence
Tired, with weary legs but with utmost satisfaction at a job well done, we trudged back to our abode located on Beach Road. And just like that, the heavens opened yet again and it started to pour. This time around though, we had no complaints â for we spent the major part of the day visiting much more than we had originally intended. So much so that, we covered aspects of the day we lost out to rain.
A bubble bath or two later, we got around to making ourselves comfortable and ordered from the extensive selection of room service delights. Someone rightly said that are three very good reasons to travel: see the world, meet new people, room service. The last one rings true, especially when the rain gods are up to mischief.
7. Gardens by the Bay â absolute must visit
Like they say, keep the best for last. Having heard a myriad of only positive things about Gardens by the Bay we decided to dedicate an entire day to checking both the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest Dome; along with doing the SuperTree SkyWalk. The plan was to end the night by shopping at Marina Bay Sands â after all, Singapore is a shopperâs paradise.
Flower Dome â this isnât your average garden
If you decide to purchase Gardens by the Bay tickets at the entrance ticketing booth, youâll need to fork out 28 SGD per person â not to mention have the patience of a saint to brave the endless queue of fellow tourists. Or be smart about it, and buy tickets at the airport at a 25% discount.
Stepping foot in the Flower Dome, you are literally gobsmacked at the sheer size of the place – about as big as 2.2 football fields put together. Spectacular and innovative, it is the largest glass greenhouse in the world and is meant to replicate the cool-dry climate of Mediterranean regions like South Africa, California and parts of Spain and Italy.
3,332 glass panels of 42 different shapes and sizes were needed to cover the whole 16,000m2 surface area of the dome.
An amazing selection of diverse flowers and plants, inclusive of a wide variety of cacti, aloes and crassulas, baobabs and bottle trees are to be enjoyed. You also get to admire the ancient olive trees in the Olive Grove. Some of these gnarled and twisted trees, estimated to be over a thousand years old were moved from Spain.
Other names such as Kangaroo’s Paw, King Sugar Bush, Monkey Puzzle Tree are all found here. All it needs is an open mind and lots of time, to absorb the many wonders this place has to offer.
Cloud Forest – a world of its own
Entirely different from the Flower Dome, the Cloud Forest showcases plant life from tropical highlands up to 2,000 metres above sea level.
It features a 35-metre-tall mountain covered in lush vegetation, shrouding the worldâs tallest indoor waterfall.
There areÂ 9 unique zones within this Conservatory, where one can enjoy learning about unique biodiversity and geology of cloud forests and the environmental threats they face.
Thereâs nothing quite like a stroll along the OCBC Skyway
At a height of 22 metres and surrounded by panoramic vistas of the Gardens and Marina Bay skyline, this 128-metre-long aerial walkway is an experience not to be missed.
A stroll along this aerial walkway presents glorious photo-taking opportunities to capture the scenic beauty of the surrounding flora. And as dusk falls, the captivating Marina Bay skyline emerges and the entire area comes alive during the twice-daily Garden Rhapsody light and sound show.
We were lucky enough to find ourselves on the Skyway whilst the Rhapsody kicked into action â and words cannot describe what a beautiful mesmerizing sight it turned out to be.
8. Shopping galore at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
I reckon we may have spent a good 6+ hours at the Gardens before we walked through the SuperTree park and made our way to the shopping paradise that is, Marina Bay Sands.
Whilst there, youâve got to try out the gondola ride, right in the middle of the mall. And if hunger pangs kick in, fret not for this place has an enviable choice of eateries to cater to your needs. Itâs a destination by itself.
At the end of it all, even though we packed our Singapore itinerary to the hilt and loved every minute of it – you get the sense that this little island country deserves multiple visits. It has reeled us in â not only because it is progressive, but because it has soul. Whatever the reason may be â ranging from super chilled out locals, delicious food at every nook and corner, underground art scene or nature at its best â there is something for everyone to make Singapore your next travel destination. We will be back for sure.