Published: May 30th 2011May 2nd 2011
The first time I visited Singapore in 2003, it immediately felt comfortable, but now after six visits, it has become my second home. I again arrived at Changi Airport, the only airport in the world that I make an effort to head to as early as possible before any departure. Though there are bigger and more expensive equivalents, none exude that sense of homeliness that Changi possesses. When compared to Australian airports that charge exorbitant prices for everything except for sitting in a seat and using the bathroom, Changi Airport offers an endless amount of free services – Internet, feet massage chairs, butterfly garden and even a cinema. Other airports of the world should take note. There is even a moderately priced (for Singapore) transit hotel that is one of the great innovations for the long haul traveller who has half a day or less to connect between flights.
Travelling on the train from the airport one can see evidence that Singapore seems to embrace multiculturalism better than most countries – whilst many nations have theoretical ambitions toward this goal, it rarely translates into practice. One often sees signs around the city written in a combination of the four official
languages – English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil – and to have so many official languages in a country of five million people within such a small geographical area is impressive. There may be simmering tensions under the surface not obvious to the outside observer, but for all purposes multiculturalism appears to work in Singapore, and to work very well.
After repeated visits, the accommodation that I gravitate to (budget permitting) is the Pan Pacific
. Situated near the Marina it is one of those rare hotels that still manages to retain personal service despite its large size. Upon arrival, I was flabbergasted (pleasantly so) to discover that I had been given an upgrade of two room categories to savour the sumptuous Pacific Club on the topmost floors of the hotel. Prior to my current holiday, I have only ever received one room upgrade throughout all my travels, yet in these previous four weeks, this was my third one – the travel gods have been smiling on me.
I needed to use the glass elevator to reach the dedicated reception on the 33rd floor, and my fear of heights meant that I spent most of the ride facing the elevator
door rather than attempting to enjoy the view. Thankfully, the anxiety was more than worth it for the service at the Pacific Club was exceptional. The rooms had extra benefits such as free Internet, free non-alcoholic mini-bar, L’Occitane toiletries and a shower that gushed water onto every portion of the body from six showerheads. Outside of the room, one was able to witness the glorious sunset over the city from the aptly named Sunset Bar, complete with complimentary drinks, hors d’oeuvres and canapés. It is no surprise that I keep returning to this wonderful hotel.
Some people decry Singapore as being a sterile metropolis with tough regulations. It is true that they are strict on crimes and misdemeanours, but it is certainly not sterile – walk through Chinatown or any shopping mall after work hours and you will see, hear and feel far more energy than most cities of the world. Shopping is synonymous with Singapore, but the shopping orgy of Orchard Road is uninspiring, instead places further afield such as the Suntec Plaza (where on a previous visit I visited a Formula 1 exhibition) or the tech-inspired Sim Lim Square, which is to Singapore what the Low Yat
Plaza is to Kuala Lumpur; and like Low Yat Plaza, it is almost impossible for me to visit without walking away with a small pile of gadgets.
I usually do not condone zoos, but one must pay tribute to the Singapore Zoo as being the standard to which other zoos should aspire. With large enclosures and a minimum of fences (relying on moats instead), the Zoo is obviously more concerned for the welfare of its animals rather than just putting them on display and reap the income. Due to the usually humid conditions in Singapore, struggling with the heat and humidity can be tiring, so the Zoo’s Night Safari is the preferable option, with the bonus of being a much larger area to explore. This is an impeccably presented attraction where one can amble along dimly lit paths to quietly observe the nocturnal movement of animals, and listening to the roar of lions pierce the evening air whilst strolling through a heavily wooded path is indeed memorable.
My first visit to Singapore in 2003 coincided with the opening of the Asian Civilisations Museum. Back then it housed a modest number of displays with large empty areas where future
galleries were proposed – and it was possible to see everything within an hour. Eight years later, the Museum has been expanded into five complete galleries (West Asia, South Asia, South-East Asia, China and Singapore River) where one could easily spend a morning or afternoon. Tastefully presented, the Museum is a tribute to the diversity, history and achievements of a part of the world whose civilisations have been ignored by sections of the Western World.
Surrounding all of these activities is a nation of epicurean delights. Barring neighbouring Malaysia, there is nowhere else in the world that matches Singapore for the variety of tastes that so suit my palate. Influences from Europe, India, China and other parts of Asia all meld to provide a sumptuous array of culinary choices. Spend some time eating in Singapore, and it is no surprise that Singaporeans pack restaurants at all times of day when one considers the price, variety and quality of food on offer.
Singapore seems to be aiming to outdo other cities for records – it is home to the world’s largest fountain (Fountain of Wealth), the world’s largest observation wheel (Singapore Flyer) and the world’s most expensive hotel construction
"Where ever I lay my hat, that
Treansit hotel, Chanig Airport, Singapore
(the Marina Bay Sands) and it was this hotel complex that provided the main impetus for extending my stay. Built at a cost of 8.0 billion Singapore dollars (6.5 billion US or Australian dollars) and sporting a staggering 2,561 rooms, this triple towered construction dominates the Marina skyline. Inclement weather dissuaded me from touring the Sands SkyPark that straddles all three towers, but that was not the main reason for my visit. The adjacent Sands Theater was playing host to South East-Asia’s first ever performances of The Lion King. Fortuitously, I managed to discover that the tickets were released just as they went on sale to the public, and this resulted in me securing a centre seat in the front row, which had me almost breathless with anticipation.
Though the music of Elton John and Tim Rice is beautiful, the production’s most memorable aspect are the outstanding costumes designed by Julie Taymore, and by being in the front row, I was able to marvel at the intricacy and ingenuity of these incredible creations. The make-up was equally impressive and from my position it was possible to admire the elaborate work that went into this part of the show as
well. A nice touch was provided by the producers of this production who tailored some parts especially for the Singaporean audience – there was the mention of the Singapore’s symbol, the Merlion at one part, and the Mandarin words, Ni Hao
and Xie Xie
were added, all of which elicited an approving applause from those behind me.
If I was breathless with anticipation before the show, then I was equally so by the time the curtain closed on this stunning musical. It has been more than a decade since a piece of theatre has left me so enthused, and as I strode out of the theatre humming the Lion King’s tunes, my thoughts turned to the future, as my mind commenced planning for a seventh visit to Singapore later in the year.
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