More than just a stopover destination, this island nation offers culture, history and affordable luxury
This year, Singapore, a former British trading post, celebrates 50 years of independence. “Long dismissed as little more than a sterile stopover, Singapore has reinvented itself as one of the world’s hotlist destinations,” writes travel hub Lonely Planet. They ranked this metropolis, that exhibits strong multiculturalism arising from Chinese, Malay and Indian influences, as one of the top destinations for travel in 2015.
Because of its geographic location and being the hub of Singapore Airlines, one of the world’s top airlines, a large number of visitors land in Singapore to stopover for a day or two when flying from East to the West or vice-versa. People generally gravitate around Orchard Road and the Esplanade precincts for retail therapy and degustation delights, or jump into one of those bright yellow hop-on buses for a quick glance of the cityscape.
My past visits have been no different, but during my recent stop there I decide to go beyond tradition to discover some other key attractions that keep leisure travellers busy in this exotic domain. With some help from my omniscient concierge at the newly opened One Farrer Hotel & Spa, I would recommend the following itinerary.
Stretching couple of kilometres along Serangoon Road, Little India is the city’s buzzing historic area that shows off the best of Singapore’s Indian community. Here you’ll find vibrant culture and colourful lifestyle to incredible shopping and tasty eating.
During the colonial era the area had a racecourse, cattle herders and brick kilns. While these places and people are gone, time stands still in pockets of this district.
People crowding the streets are largely dressed in traditional Indian costumes like saris and dhotis. The air is filled with the aroma of curries blended with the fragrance of flowers and burning incense sticks. All around is an acoustic fusion of loud Bollywood music and multi-lingual conversation, at times interrupted by the ringing of temple bells and calls to prayers from the mosques. Colour and flashes from adjoining sari and jewellery stores draw the crowds.
The two storey shop houses with their ornate and colourful plasterwork facades draw your first attention. They give the quarter its unique character. These shops sell everything that you can think of as “Indian”, from rice, lentils and spices to framed pictures of Indian gods and goddesses and stacks of India Today, Stardust and Femina to keep in touch with the politics, cinema and fashion in Mother India.
“Indulging” is the best expression to describe your intriguing experience in Little India; getting admired in a colourful sari, having hands and palms painted with intricate Henna, pitching a bindi on the lower forehead or trying glittering bangles from a jewellery shop are some of the spoils that women always enjoy in Little India.
Museums and Galleries
The city boasts of almost a dozen museum and galleries of high repute, with the National Museum of Singapore ranking at the top. Established in 1849, its 10,000 square metre space presents several galleries, but the crowd puller is the History Gallery that showcases the story of a land from almost the 14th century to the present. The use of state of the art modes of presentation including narrations inspired by contemporary film and theatre, is impressive.
The 14th century Singapore Stone, which contains the earliest inscriptions of the region is part of the prized collection. However, what imposingly draws visitor attention is the architecture of the white-painted Neo-Palladian and Renaissance styled edifice with two rotundas.
Other museums of significance are the Peranakan Museum, which possesses one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of Peranakan (meaning locally-born) cultural artefacts; the Philatelic Museum, where the world unfolds through postage stamps; the Singapore Art Museum, which features an amazing collection of contemporary and modern Singaporean and Southeast Asian paintings and sculptures; and the Asian Civilisation Museum which is Singapore’s largest and most spectacular icon, comprising of 10 thematic galleries where over 1,300 artefacts, present 5,000 years of Asian culture from across South Asia, Southeast Asia, West Asia and China.
Singapore’s playground for all , Sentosa is a pleasure island totally dedicated to recreation. Visited by some 20 million people a year, 500 hectares of Sentosa Island boasts various attractions from golden sandy beaches, and award-winning spa retreats to lush rainforests, world-renowned golf courses, a deep-water yachting marina and luxurious residences. It’s said borders here are open for everyone, but shut to boredom.
As having fun is the most important theme, a visit to the Universal Studio is obvious. Featuring 24 movie-themed rides and attractions, 18 of which are unique to Singapore, thrill seekers and families experience many new rides and shows based on blockbuster hits. While the young and young at heart are entertained by Shrek and the gang on an incredible 4-D adventure in the world’s first Far Far Away Castle, thrill seekers face warrior mummies on the Revenge of the Mummy, a psychological thrill ride in total darkness. Adding to the excitement, Madame Tussauds Museum has opened its doors recently giving visitors an opportunity to pose with many dignitaries and celebrities from the Queen of England to Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Sachin Tendulkar.
Marina Bay Sands
It’s now Asia’s most spectacular and versatile destination for business and leisure that dominates the city’s skyline with a trio of soaring hotel towers ascending skywards, crowing 200 metres above the bay level. The Sky Park features a tropical oasis of lush gardens, top restaurants and the world’s highest outdoor infinity pool with an uninterrupted 360 degree view.
It’s also home to one of the world’s largest collections of coveted designer boutiques from Dior and Ralph Lauren to Prada and Louis Vuitton. Celebrity chef restaurants offer an epicurean journey of many choices and there is hordes of entertainment from musicals to theatres.
While there, visitors can also enjoy a ride in the Singapore Flyer, the world’s largest observation wheel and trundle at the Gardens by the Bay, one of the Top 10 Indoor Gardens of the World, arguably the nation’s most beautiful creation.
As Singapore celebrates its golden birth anniversary, the famous Raffles Hotel rejoices in the centenary of its famous drink the Singapore Sling, first mixed at its Long Bar in 1915.
Not just a hotel, Raffles is a treasure trove of over 100 years of history linked with class, elegance, colonialism and freedom. Recommended by Eyewitness Travel Guidebook as one of the top 10 attractions in Singapore, this hotel was founded modestly by the Armenian Sarkies brothers in 1887 in a small colonial bungalow, with food soon becoming its high point.
This inspired novelist Rudyard Kipling, one of the hotels early visitors, to say “Feed at Raffles and sleep at Hotel de l’Europe”. His opinion would have been different if he now stayed at the property which boasts of 103 elegantly decorated luxury suites and several dining options, food still being a major drawcard. Several other writers from Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maugham to George Bernard Shaw, James Mitchner, and Pablo Neruda have also marked their footsteps inside this “Grand Lady of the Far East” and the Writers Bar at the lobby serves as a tribute to them.
In a museum upstairs, collection of old posters, photographs and letters makes it an interesting stopover for history buffs.