A birthday, Supertrees and a Merlion in Singapore

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November 11th 2014
Published: December 21st 2014
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A comfortable flight, an efficient entry through Changi Airport in Singapore and a taxi took us to the Ibis on Bencoolen Hotel. We've stayed there before on previous trips and it felt a little like coming home. We were heading into our final week of this trip - the previous eight weeks seemed to have gone by very quickly! We ordered room service and decided to leave any more sightseeing until next day.

It was very hot and humid next morning when we left the hotel. We started the day with a walk through the nearby streets of Little India. It was great to be surrounded by the colours of India again. The shop houses were painted in bright colours and the streets were still strung with banners celebrating Deepavali (the Hindu festival of lights which is celebrated every November). Vibrant saris, sparkling glass bangles and garlands of marigolds and jasmine decked the shops. Loud Bollywood music was the soundtrack of choice in Serangoon Road (the main street of the area) and the air was scented with smell of spices. A thoroughly enjoyable few hours was spent exploring the shops before we visited Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. This highly decorated temple was built in 1881 and is the oldest of the Hindu temples in the city. Brightly coloured deities cover the roof of the entrance tower. Within the inner hall many people were praying and one of the white robed, bare chested priests was bathing one of the statues with milk. He emptied cartons of milk into a silver urn which was then poured over a simple white marble statue. He then washed off the milk with water before drying it. The only similar practice we have seen before was at another temple in India where bowls of milk were left out to feed the hundreds of white rats which covered the temple floor.

From Little India we walked to the Muslim area known as Arab Street where Arab traders settled in the early days of the colony. Today it is a bustling area lined with shops selling carpets, fabric and dried fruits. Many restaurants, bars and souvenir shops attracted locals and tourists alike and the large Sultan Mosque dominates the area. This building was built in 1826 and was currently undergoing some form of renovation. We enjoyed a meal in a Turkish restaurant and spent some time exploring the shops.

From there we caught a taxi to the Merlion statue at Marina Bay. This statue of half fish, half lion stands tall at 8.6 meters and weighs 70 tonnes and has become the symbol of Singapore. From it's mouth spurts a fountain and it overlooks (on the opposite side of the bay) another iconic building in Singapore - the three towers of Marina Bay Sands. This incredible building, considered one of the most expensive ever built, is topped with the Skypark, in the shape of an ocean liner. We watched the sunset behind the towers whilst enjoying the cooling spray from the fountain. Later we also watched the nightly light and sound show (from Marina Bay Sands) as we enjoyed a drink at the verandah bar of the Clifford Pier, a newly opened restaurant in the 5* Fullerton Hotel. It was an absolutely stunning restaurant situated on what was originally the landing jetty for ships from the 1930's onwards. We made a reservation for a meal on the last night of our holiday (and my birthday!) before heading back to our hotel.

Next morning we went back to the Arab Street area to book bus tickets onwards to Kuala Lumpur before we ventured onto the MRT to catch a train to Chinatown. We wanted to visit the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. The tooth that this new temple houses supposedly came from a stupa in Myanmar which collapsed in 1980. Built at a cost of $62 million it was too new and too perfect for me - I much prefer colour and gilt covered in a bit of grime and dust. We spent a short time pushing through the crowds in the shops surrounding the temple before catching a taxi to the Gardens by the Bay.

We were really looking forward to visiting these gardens, the first of which only opened to the public in October 2011. We had seen the stunning Supertrees from a distance on a previous visit and had been wanting to visit the site ever since. We spent hours there and loved every minute of it! And we only saw a small part of the overall complex. It is situated in the centre of the city, on reclaimed land adjacent to Marina Bay Sands. First we visited one of the conservatories, the Cloud Forest. It replicates the cool misty conditions found in forests 1000 to 3000 meters above sea level. The conservatory itself was an enormous glass structure with no internal support and the 'mountain' was over 40 meters high - you 'climbed' to the top via a lift then walked down via an amazing circular pathway as the spray from a 35 meter waterfall cools you. From the conservatories you regularly get glimpses of the 'ship in the sky' on top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel.

The Flower Dome though was our favourite. It held seven different gardens from the dry climates of the world plus a central changing display flower garden which was being set up with a Christmas theme whilst we were there. I loved the garden from Africa - weird cacti and full grown bottle trees. It was also great to see the Australian garden with it's flowering grevillea trees. The central garden display was being planted with a Christmas theme - it was nearly finished and massed with greenery and red and white flowers. it also included snowmen, decorated christmas trees and topiary reindeer, complete with red noses! We had planned on visiting the Supertree grove and walking the elevated walkway between them as the sun set but this plan was initially thwarted by an electrical storm that passed over the city. The Supertrees are vertical tree like structures which have been planted with ferns, orchids and bromeliads. They serve many ecological functions within the gardens as well and are very impressive, ranging in height between 25 and 50 meters.

We decided to have an early dinner at one of the park restaurants and luckily fifteen minutes before their usual closing time the trees reopened and we were able to spend half an hour on the walkway watching the sun set and the city lights begin to glow. The trees look their most spectacular after dark as they glow with an LED lit changing colour scheme. As it was Christmas the lighting show featured Christmas songs and twinkling lights as well. I absolutely loved it - I felt like I was a little kid again! The whole afternoon was a highlight of our trip - don't miss these gardens if you visit Singapore. They will also only get better...

Next day we caught a bus up to Kuala Lumpur where we were to spend three nights (next blog). Upon our return to the city a few days we celebrated my birthday in style at the gorgeous Cliffords Restaurant at Fullerton Hotel. Beautiful art deco surroundings and very tasty food. The staff presented me with a chocolate birthday cake and the jazz band sang 'Happy Birthday' - what more could I ask for? After dinner we walked along the edge of the river until we reached Clarke Quay where we checked out the Christmas decorations before gojng back to our hotel.

The last day of our trip arrived and we planned to go on a hike along the Southern Ridges of the city. A quick walk through Little India and Chinatown markets picking up a few small gifts to take home before we caught the MRT to the beginning of the walk. This walk is 9 kilometres in length and connects three separate parks within the city. It was far too hot to walk the whole distance but we planned on walking 5 kilometres of it. The walk started at the HarbourFront MRT station (opposite Sentosa Island) and we had fabulous views of the waterfront and islands from the trail. The footpath was paved and under shade nearly all the way but it was still very humid. We walked for a few hours with regular stops to admire the view and enjoy the surroundings. Both of us loved the Henderson Waves - a 300 metre pedestrian bridge which was architecturally pleasing to look (it got its name from the seven curved wave like structures built as shelters along the bridge). The canopy walk was impressive as it was 16 meters above the ground. However as we reached the end of the canopy walk it started to rain very heavily so we went down to the main road to flag down a taxi.

We waited quite a while before one stopped for us and because there was no sign that the rain would stop decided to collect our luggage from the hotel and go straight to the airport. It is always very easy to fill in a few hours at Changi airport so after a shower there we took our books and iPads, bought a glass of wine and settled in to wait for our flight back home to Australia.

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