FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Singapore: A Bore No More

Oct 1, 2010
2010 / October 2010

It has long been fashionable for travelers to disparage Singapore. On the backpacking trail around Southeast Asia, I have heard people condescendingly refer to the little island nation at the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula as “Singabore.” They argue that it is too clean, too efficient, too boring to merit a visit. And so their prejudices remain untested by reality.

They would think again if they were to take a dip in the swimming pool of the newly opened Marina Bay Sands Hotel. The dimensions of the pool provide the first superlative: It is three times the length of an Olympic swimming pool. But it is the location that is the real clincher. The pool is situated on the roof of the 55-story resort, 650 feet above Singapore Harbour. And it is an infinity pool, a rippling sheet of water seemingly suspended in midair above the high-rises of the Central Business District.

On second thought, this swanky resort is probably not the natural environment for backpacking tourists, but it is perfect for families. In the resort’s extensive shopping mall, visitors can voyage along an artificial canal in traditional sampan boats. Beginning in March, the Sands Theatre will premiere a lavish production of The Lion King. Bridging the hotel’s three towers is the rooftop Sky Park, with its incredible swimming pool, landscaped gardens and observation deck. Even the Xbox generation will be impressed.

At a cost of $5.7 billion, the Marina Bay Sands is the most expensive hotel ever built and is emblematic of Singapore’s confident emergence as a leading business and leisure destination. Of all the adjectives you can use to describe this tropical city-state, “boring” is no longer one of them. For visiting families, the biggest challenge is finding the time to do it all.

Singapore was established as a trading post in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles of the British East India Company. Strategically occupying one main island and 62 smaller islands between Malaysia and Indonesia, it has become one of the world’s most densely populated territories, with a population of 5 million people, approximately 42 percent of whom are foreign nationals. Since the beginning, Singapore has been a dynamic cultural and economic melting pot.

The country’s trading success was forged around the Singapore River, which is the logical starting point for first-time visitors. A bumboat ride with Singapore River Cruise & Leisure, departing from Raffles Landing Site opposite the CBD, is the perfect way to get your bearings.

Bumboats are wooden sea-going barges. Until 30 years ago, the river jostled with them as they shuttled cargo between the ships docked in the harbor and the riverbank warehouses. Today, the bumboats serve as tourist boats, and the banks of the river have been transformed beyond recognition. A few warehouses have been preserved, especially at Clarke Quay, where they have been converted to shops and restaurants, but the river is now mainly fringed by skyscrapers and modern shopping malls.

The flavor of colonial Singapore survives around the old Padang Cricket Ground, a large open field at the heart of downtown Singapore. The Padang, as it is now more commonly known, is surrounded by classical 19th-century buildings, including City Hall, the Old Supreme Court, Saint Andrew’s Cathedral and the Singapore Cricket Club.

A short walk from the Padang is a living vestige of the colonial era, Raffles Hotel. The hotel’s Empire Café, modeled on a traditional 1920s coffee house, provides an atmospheric setting for a mid-morning coffee break (though bear in mind that the café has a dress code: smart casual).

A more recent beloved institution is the Night Safari at Singapore Zoo. Opened in 1994, this 98-acre park, exhibiting more than 1,000 animals, was the world’s first wildlife park for nocturnal animals. The park is divided into eight geographical zones which can be explored on foot, by tram or by personal buggy accompanied by an expert guide. Open from 7 p.m. to midnight, the Night Safari is a quintessentially tropical experience. Cicadas screech, and the warm, humid air is heavy with the scent of verdant vegetation.

Of all the attractions you would expect to find in Singapore, perhaps the very last one on your list would be a ski slope. In a country where the lowest-ever recorded temperature, set in 1934, was 67 degrees, snow has never fallen naturally. Yet at Snow City Singapore, an indoor slope is covered with 150 tons of the white stuff, created by combining water with liquid nitrogen. Special clothing, equipment and lessons are available.

Next door to Snow City is Science Centre Singapore, which indulges Singaporeans’ innate love of all things high-tech. The exhibition halls contain a wealth of interactive exhibits, and there are regular participatory science-related events. The Science Centre complex is also home to the Omni Theatre, showing IMAX movies.

A place as small and as crowded as Singapore can sometimes feel oppressively confining. Fortunately for locals and tourists alike, escape is easily at hand. A short cable car ride across an expanse of water will take you to Sentosa Island, which bills itself as “Asia’s Favorite Playground.”

Situated immediately off the south coast of the main island of Singapore, this 1,200-acre landscaped island, which can also be accessed by train or road, offers a wide array of family attractions, including the Universal Studios Singapore theme park; Underwaterworld and Dolphin Lagoon; Tiger Sky Tower, with its panoramic observation deck 300 feet up; Butterfly Park & Insect Kingdom; Sentosa 4D Magix, a “4D” theatre; and Fort Siloso, a museum that tells the story of the Japanese occupation of Singapore during World War II.

Two miles of sandy white beaches provide lazy respite from Sentosa’s frenetic attractions, while a mile-long nature walk through the island’s thickly forested interior offers an undemanding introduction to the vibrant jungle habitats of Southeast Asia.

Back on the “mainland,” enjoy a more extensive wilderness adventure in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, which protects Singapore’s last remaining expanse of primary rainforest and is reputed to be home to Singapore’s answer to Bigfoot, the Bukit Timah Monkey Man. Although there have been regular Monkey Man sightings over more than 200 years, naturalists suspect that in most cases the creature in question was actually a crab-eating macaque, a large monkey that is common in the forest.

From the exotic wilderness at the very heart of Singapore, you can be back downtown within 30 minutes. Where else can you flit between jungle wilderness and air-conditioned shopping malls so effortlessly? Such is the multifaceted joy of this remarkable little nation. Not Singabore, then. Rather, Singamore.


Info To Go

Flights arrive at Singapore Changi International Airport (SIN), which has won innumerable “world’s best airport” awards since opening in 1981 (how many other airports boast their own butterfly garden?). The airport is located 12 miles from downtown, with easy links by taxi, shuttle bus and Metro. Visit http://www.visitsingapore-usa.com .


Lodging

Hard Rock Hotel

The funkiest option on Sentosa Island offers opulent rooms designed to give you a taste of a pampered rock star’s lifestyle. Resorts World, Sentosa Island, tel 65 6577 8888, $$$

Marina Bay Sands
This brand-new 2,500-room resort offers glitz plus plenty for kids to do, including the Qube Kids Club with video games and foosball. 10 Bayfront Ave., tel 65 6688 8868, $$$$

Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore

Set within 15 acres of tropical gardens, this sumptuous hotel is convenient to downtown attractions; its serviced apartments are an attractive option for families. 22 Orange Grove Road, tel 65 6737 3644, $$$$


Dining

The Banana Leaf Apolo
At this very popular Indian restaurant, the food is not served on a plate but on a freshly cut banana leaf. 56/58 Race Course Road, tel 65 6297 1595, $$

Raffles Creamery

Ice cream “artists” tailor-make your treat from more than 30 flavors and infinite combinations of add-ons — the perfect antidote to Singapore’s sweltering heat. Raffles Hotel, 1 Beach Road, tel 65 6412 1816, $$$

Ulu Ulu Safari Restaurant

An essential Night Safari experience is a meal at this al fresco restaurant overlooking the animal enclosures. Evening Bornean tribal performances add exotic ambience. Night Safari, 80 Mandai Lake Road, $$–$$$

 

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FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

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