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Singapore: The Big Read

Raffles Hotel Exterior Singapore
Raffles Singapore Sling

Singapore: The Big Read

story by: Tom Ricketts

Singapore. It’s the ‘Gateway to Asia’, one of the world’s smallest countries, and the entire country is one big city. It’s known around the world for awesome shopping, great food, amazing attractions, and a unique mix of Western and Asian cultures. Once treated merely as a stopover destination on flights between Oceania and Europe, the city has easily shaken off that status, and now demands to be a destination in itself.

One of the first things you’ll notice about Singapore is how clean it is. Banished are any pre conceived notions you had of a hot, dusty and dirty Asian city. Hot it is indeed, but not dusty or dirty at all (sick of plying it off the footpaths, the city state has even famously banned chewing gum!) Perfectly manicured lawns and public parks are dotted throughout the city, perhaps enough to take the ‘Garden City’ status from our own Christchurch. And while there are some historic remnants of early colonialism, the city is now full of soaring skyscrapers and boundary pushing modern architectural wonders. Singapore is also all for public transport, and its subways leave London, New York and even Tokyo, with a lot to be desired. Citizens are encouraged against buying cars in the way of huge taxes and licensing fees. That being said, you do have to change lines when travelling between the airport and the CBD so take a taxi (they’re cheap) or have your House of Travel agent book you a transfer to start with.

Singapore was once home to native peoples, but their settlement was raided and destroyed by Portuguese in 1613. It wasn’t until 200 years later that Englishman Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles landed and established Singapore as a British trading post. His name would go on to become synonymous with Singapore, and remains so today in places such as the iconic Raffles Hotel. After World War II in which the city was spectacularly conquered from the British by Japanese, it became part of the newly independent state of Malaysia. However the more liberal thinking Singaporeans couldn’t agree with the Malaysians on many issues, and the island was eventually kicked out of the agreement and all but forced to declare independence. Since then, the nation has blossomed economically, culturally and politically, to become a real model of society.

The main issue that Singapore and Malaysia could not agree on, was race relations. The Malay are the indigenous people of Singapore, but thanks to decades as an important trading post, huge populations of Chinese, Indians and Europeans existed in the city. This has given the city a huge cultural mix. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in their food, and there’s plenty of it. Breakfasts are not particularly well done here, but you’ll most probably to be too hot to eat much anyway! So light breakfasts full of weird and wonderful tropical fruits, or brekkie in your hotel is the way to go. Your days out exploring will no doubt have worked up a massive appetite. Lunch is a good time to check out the more Western style restaurants. Jump aboard an iconic bumboat for a relaxing cruise down the river. At either Clark, Boat or Robertson Quay you’ll find a ton of restaurants, most with river views. Although restaurants are pricey, lunch is a cheaper option than dinner and most importantly, they have air conditioning! To help cool you down, there’s always Tiger on tap too (and it does really taste better in Singapore). Finally, evening the is best time to try some cheap eats from the vendors in Little India or Chinatown, again because of the heat. In the evening its cooler, so much easier to eat outside (not to mention shop and sightsee). There’s all types of curries you could ever want, plus plenty of delicious duck dishes, and the local favourite, chilli crab.

Ok, ok, now the important bit, the shopping. If Singapore is known for one thing, it’s the shopping, but it’s fair to say that Singapore might not quite have the bargain deals of old. While cheap shopping still exists, Singapore has evolved to a quality and variety based shopping experience (but that’s a good thing). Orchard Road is first on everyone’s list. The street is home to allllll of the world’s major brands, high-end and department style. This is the place to come for the likes of Zara and H&M, as well as Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton. Thankfully, most of shops are connected via malls and arcades so moving between shops is easy. Chinatown has the predictable souvenir trash, but dig a little deeper (and be prepared to haggle) and you can find some cool stuff. Techies need to check out Sim Lim Square and Funan DigitaLife Mall, where you’ll find a whole range of cellphones, cameras and computers. The biggest tip we can give you there, is make sure the warranty is valid in New Zealand. Finally, for cheap everything, head to Little India. The 24 hour Mustafa Centre can be rather intimidating to start with. Imagine all the contents of your local Warehouse, jampacked into your local dairy. Then multiply that by 100, and you’re begging to look like the Mustafa Centre. But persevere through the maze of ‘isles’, and you’ll definitely be coming out with a few bags full of treasures.

Singapore has been initiating some major new projects over recent years, and the result is some pretty impressive attractions! One of the latest to open is the Gardens by the Bay. This isn’t your normal botanic gardens… it’s gardens on steroids! A stunning space-like domed building acts like a greenhouse for several themed conservatories, and the Supertree Grove features several massive tree like sculptures (one with a restaurant) that tower 50 metres in the air and look like they’re straight out of Avatar. Just across the road is another bizarre building, the Marina Bay Sands complex. Here, three towers support a massive 340 metre long platform which has gardens, bars, and a 150 metre infinity pool. The three towers house over 2,500 hotel rooms and of course, a casino and shopping mall. From here you get awesome views of the Singapore skyline, and occasionally watersports events are held in the large basin. On the cityside of the basin you’ll find the iconic Merlion fountain. Another popular attraction is the Singapore Flyer, a 165 metre ferris wheel that takes about 30 minutes to do a rotation, and offers excellent city views.

Singapore has a conservative approach to alcohol, and tax most of the fun out of it. But it hasn’t stopped Singaporeans (and expats) from opening some great bars to enjoy a very cold drink or two. Yes most tourists in the city will be going there, but for views, you simply cannot beat the Marina Bay Sands complex. They have oodles of bars and restaurants, most notably Flight Bar and Ce La Vi, both atop the platform. However perhaps the most iconic drinking spot, is the Raffles Hotel. The historic five star hotel is an oasis in a desert of skyscrapers, and her plush restaurants and bars are the perfect place to rest your feet. Long Bar, where the Singapore Sling was invented in 1915, will never be overly peaceful, but do drop in to try one all the same. The above mentioned Clark, Boat and Robertson Quays are popular with visitors and often have a happy hour or 2-for-1’s to tempt you. Worthy of a visit is Haji Lane, where graffiti artworks and hole-in-the-wall bars attract the local cool kids and expats.

Lying just off the south coast of Singapore is the island of Sentosa, a name which translates to ‘peace and tranquillity’. That description however, isn’t entirely accurate; Sentosa is where Singapore, and Asia, goes to have fun! The entire island has been transformed into a resort with themeparks, zoos, tons of family friendly attractions, golf clubs, beaches, and a plethora of international chain hotels, restaurants and shops. Pride of place is Universal Studio’s which features plenty of thrilling rides based around movies such as Shrek, Jurassic Park and Madagascar. There’s also butterfly park with over 15,000 butterflies (not to mention other insects); aquariums with sharks, dolphins and turtles; Madame Tussauds, and so much more. If you have the kids in tow, a visit to Sentosa is a must.






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