The Road to Singapore (The Garden by the Bay and a boat that's high and mainly dry)

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Asia » Singapore » Raffles Marina
November 24th 2018
Published: December 20th 2018
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Marina Bay Hotel

We had a feeling this was going to be another long day. Roisin and I had a relaxing morning in our apartment as we hadn’t arranged to meet Adeline and Ashton until 2pm down by the Gardens by the Bay. We had a choice to either eat lunch in the neighbourhood of our apartment or nearer to our meeting point by the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. We both looked at each other and uttered those immortal famous last words in unison; ‘I’m sure there will be something to eat down there!!’ (In the same vein that Napoleon had said to his starving army: ‘Don’t worry men, I’m sure there will be something to eat when we get to Moscow!!’)

We had arranged to meet Adeline and Ashton somewhere near the Marina Bay Sands hotel but had not yet agreed a rendezvous point. We alighted at Marina Bay MRT and followed the appropriate sign. The Marina Bay Sands hotel is much more than just a hotel. It is a self-contained resort. It has three main towers topped by a 340-metre-long cantilevered platform known as the Sky Park that straddles the three towers. This looks like the shape of a boat from a distance. The Sky Park has a capacity for almost four thousand people and contains a restaurant/bar besides the well documented infinity pool. Apart from a staggering 2,561 rooms, the complex has its own convention and exhibition centre, a museum, the world’s largest atrium casino, two large theatres and a shopping mall. It is the shops Roisin and I headed for as this is the most likely place to find food!!!

It was like a rabbit warren at basement level. Most high-end designer stores seemed to be represented over an area so vast that there was a canal that ran from one end of the mall to the other. If walking wasn’t your thing, you could take a leisurely ‘punt’ around the shops. You didn’t even have to be the one doing the ‘punting’. This was all part of the service!!

We passed several restaurants. These were obviously set up for the high-end shoppers. Place settings; more than one glass per person and more than one knife and fork AND a table cloth are all indicators that scream: ‘Egg and chips not our speciality but if it’s a mini prawn wrapped in a lettuce leaf you’re after, we can do you one of those for about $56.00’ – you get the picture!!

After some further walking, we were just starting to get despondent when we stumbled on a name we recognised. Slightly out of place amongst all this bling and despite the line queuing to get in, we were grateful to have found ‘The Toast Box’. Most people were ordering ‘to go’, so it wasn’t long before we had placed our order and were seated in an almost empty dining area. I decided to be a little more adventurous than the ham and cheese toastie I experienced in VeloCity. I decided on a dish called Mee Goreng. Back home I have had a dish called Nasi Goreng so it couldn’t be that different, could it?! It was a chicken and prawn spicy noodle dish. I later found out that Goreng means ‘Fried’, Nasi means ‘rice and Mee is the Chinese for ‘Noodles’.

After lunch it was time to meet Adeline and Ashton. We followed the signs along the Lower Ground floor to the reception up at ground level. The inside of the Marina Bay Sands hotel was as spectacular as I imagined. The design is based on open space. Tower one, in which we found ourselves was hollow. There was a walkway on each level looking in to the hotel. The tapering of the tower gave the illusion of concentric shapes as I glanced up in to the void. I texted Adeline to advise her we were in the lobby. I assumed it was the lobby as we were stood next to the check in desk! I assumed wrong. The lobby is a specific area within the confines of tower two. I only realised this when, five minutes later I received a reply: ‘Where are you? We’re in the lobby and can’t see you!’ I learned later that I should have said, ‘We’re at the check in desk in tower one!!! Duh!!’

Adeline asked us if we were interested in visiting the observation deck of the Marina Bay Sands hotel. Only one of us stuck our hand up!! Adeline led me to Tower three (north tower) where I was able to buy a ticket. This was very much a solo trip. Whilst I soared the fifty-seven stories to the Sky Park observation deck, everybody waited for me in a small café also situated in tower three.

The observation deck in the SkyPark overhangs the north tower by 67 m (220 ft). It was turning into a fine day. The views were spectacular. Our next stop, the Gardens of the Bay was clearly visible with its unmistakeable twin biodomes and iconic super trees 200m below. A cluster of skyscrapers indicated the location of the financial district, whilst on the opposite side of the obersvation deck, the Singapore Flyer marked the start/finish line and the pit lane of the Formula One street track. Looking across to the Civic District stood the Temasek Tower. This 52 floor, 235m skyscraper was completed in 1986 and is still the tallest circular standalone building. It is no longer possible for those who have paid for this observation deck to walk the full length of the Sky Park. Residents who were enjoying a splash around in the infinity pool complained of the hoards of tourists ‘happy snapping’. There was no longer any privacy so three quarters of the Sky Park is now cordoned off from the rabble!! I spent about twenty-five minutes ‘up top’, finishing off with a cool reasonably priced Coke from the bar before returning to terra firma and the rest of my party.

The Gardens by the Bay

From the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, we strolled across a walkway that led to dragonfly bridge from which we cross the dragonfly lake. We had now entered an area, 250 acres of reclaimed land known as the Gardens by the Bay. These outdoor gardens host a multitude of flowers and fauna species but as there is already a botanical gardens further in to the centre of Singapore, someone had to come up with a catchy name for this conservation area. Nobody could think of one so they settled on the gardens by the bay. Simple and effective!! The free to enter outdoor gardens are home to twelve super trees. These towering manmade super sculptures range between twenty-five to fifty metres in height. They are a collection of vertical gardens that are home to enclaves of unique and exotic ferns, vines & orchids which have been sculptured to give the super trees their characteristic shape. The trees have been entwined with hundreds of thousands of LED lights. The trees come to life after nightfall (metaphorically, not literally – I hope) in a spectacular light and sound show.

There are two biodomes in the Gardens by the Bay. For a small fee we bought a ticket giving us admission to both the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. Adeline and Ashton qualified for the resident’s rate. She tried to negotiate the same discount for Roisin and I. The teller asked if we had flown Singapore airlines. I said, ‘No’ without hesitation but on reflection I’m wondering what would have happened if I had have said ‘Yes!’

‘May I see your boarding card, Sir?’

‘No sorry. My dog ate it!!’

‘May I see your dog then?’

‘No, sorry. I ate it!!’ (this gag would have worked better if it was Korean airlines!!!)

On entering the Cloud Forest, we were greeted by a thirty-five metre manmade mountain that dominated the majority of the dome. From the top, cascaded the world’s highest indoor waterfall. After the humidity of the day, it was a pleasant change to walk around the cool ambient temperature of this biosphere. We slowly followed everyone else as the path swung around the mountain slightly uphill. We now found ourselves in a line for the elevator to the top of the mountain (level six). For the first time Roisin started to look apprehensive but Adeline assured her everything was going to be fine!!

We exited on level six and followed at path around to a look out point. I never knew you only needed a height of thirty-five metres for the people below to look like ants!! Roisin was staying well within the confines of the mountain. However, that didn’t last for long. In order to progress to the next level, one had to navigate a series of walk ways that extended out from the mountain. Roisin froze. Adeline stood one side of Roisin and I stood on the other. With Ashton leading the way, despite having to navigate around a number of inconsiderate tourists who insisted on stopping every few yards for selfies causing congestion, we managed to shuffle Roisin along the walkway to the safety of level five.

The Cloud Mountain itself is an intricate structure completely clad in orchids, ferns, and mosses. Each level had a different theme. We safely moved down from the Lost World, through the cavern to the Waterfall View. I approached one of the guardians of the Dome and, pointing to a rather colourful orchid I said, ‘That’s pretty. It is the Paphiopedilum maudiae by any chance?’

‘No’, came the reply. ‘That is the Paphiopedilum rothschildianum’.

On closer inspection I realised she was correct. How could I have made such a basic error? I felt such a fool!!

We exited the Cloud Forest and had forgotten how humid it was as our glasses immediately steamed up to the amusement of Ashton. It was only a few minutes though before we entered the controlled cooler temperature of the Flower Dome. We entered on an elevated terrace that gave a panoramic view of the entire dome. Christmas had most definitely arrived here. Several highly decorated Christmas trees were the central focal point. Like Orchard Road, Disney was also the theme here. Dispersed in between and around the trees were an array of Disney characters. However, these were ovoid shapes (similar in shape to a capsule tablet) made from fibre glass and painted in colours that represented a specific Disney character. For example, Tigger was represented by an orange ovoid with black stripes. Eyes and a nose were present on the Xmas decorations but no mouth giving the statuettes an expressionless look. (Similar to Roisin when I watch her reading this blog!!) Tigger’s mates, Pooh and Piglet were there painted in their respective colours as were Mickey and Minnie.

The elevated terrace led down to ground level where we saw many exotic plants and flowers. This time I was not going to let my Dianthus barbatus get confused with my Cyphostemma juttae. I decided just to stroll around the displays admiring the colour, beauty and exoticness (not sure if that is a word but I’m sure you know what I mean!!)

By the time we left the Flower Dome it was already dusk. Time to eat. There is a food court at the Gardens by the Bay called the Satay Bay. This, like most other Singaporean food courts contains a large number of food stalls with space for a vast amount of seating in a central area. I accompanied Adeline to a number of stalls whilst Roisin kept a watchful eye on Ashton who had been remarkably good today with no complaining but just going with the flow. Roisin and I had started to feel the burn. It had been a long day that was not over yet. Food had come at about the right time. We needed the fuel to keep us going as I’m sure there was still more ‘Wowzer’ moments ahead of us.

I selected several dishes that I knew Roisin would eat. Adeline chose a few local delicacies for me to try. One of these was Stingray. Hmmm! The meat was very flaky. I scraped the flesh from what looked like the bone but Adeline assured me it was cartilage; edible, but Adeline advised me to leave that to the experts!! The stingray was barbecued in a mild spice and, although somewhat chewy and dense, in my opinion tasted like a mix of fish and lobster.

Another ‘first’ was a dish called Otah. This is mackerel marinated in tapioca in spices then barbecued wrapped in a banana leaf. Mmmmm! (as opposed to Hmmmm!!) Very tasty!! The third and final dish was a vegetable called Kai Lan. This is a green vegetable also known as Chinese broccoli. It looks nothing like broccoli but comes from the same Brassica family of veg. To me, it looked more like cabbage leaves (which we have in the UK!!) but I was soon corrected on that score!!

After dinner, as a treat, Adeline took Ashton off to the children’s play area for half an hour whilst Roisin and I revisited the flower dome. As it was now dark, across the bay, the Sands Hotel and the flyer were lit up like the proverbial Christmas trees. Other attractions illuminated like Christmas trees, were not surprisingly (and not in the least proverbial!!), the Christmas trees in the Flower Dome to which Roisin and I returned to view this piece of festive magic at close quarters.

We met Adeline and Ashton at just after 7:15pm where she took us to the Super tree grove in preparation for the light show. There was still half an hour to go yet people were already starting to gather, trying to get an advantage of the best position. Some were lying on the narrow walls looking upward whilst others were sat on the small grass lawns. There were even those who just squatted where there was space on the concrete. It was these people we had to be careful not to trip over. We found space near the mama of the super trees and made ourselves as comfortable as we could…and waited.

Finally, at exactly 7:45pm, the electro synth sound of Jean Micelle Jarre started to bellow out and the super trees sprang to life. The thousands of lights that covered each tree started at ground level and slowly crept up the trunks of these monster structures until they reached the branches then fanned out until each spur was effectively illuminated. As the music changed from one rock classic into another, the lights started to dance in time to the music whilst rotating from one colour to the next. The lights continued to pulsate for the next fifteen minutes and then slowly dimmed as the music faded. Whilst the show was spectacularism at its most artistic, the first five minutes was very similar to the second five which, apart from the change of rhythm was difficult to tell apart from the third five minutes. With one light show over, it was time to move on to the second light show of the evening. It was just after 8pm. We walked back through the Sands Hotel to the quay where the mouth of the Singapore river flows in to Singapore Bay. Steps leading down from the plaza to the quayside acted as makeshift seats. Like the Gardens by the Bay light show, this performance was also a daily occurrence, playing out several times every evening at hourly intervals. This light show though, couldn’t have been more different. Perhaps this one started with the unmistakeable sound of Jean Michael Jarre but I could be mistaken!! One of the performances definitely started with JMJ, I’m certain of that although now I think of it, I could have heard him while walking through a mall. As you can see, these light shows certainly had an impact on me!!

The Singapore bay light show started with green lasers emitted from a contraption on a floating platform ten metres or so from the quayside. Soon, the whole Bay was awash with colour. New shapes began to appear. A bird, completely created from coloured light appeared to fly across the Bay. This was so different from any light shows we had ever experienced (apart from the Northern Lights of course!!)

After saying our goodbyes to Adeline and Ashton, we took the MRT back to Little India and from there the five-minute walk back to our apartment for a well-earned beer. My Fitbit showed that we had walked 9.58 miles today. We both slept soundly this evening. We feared (in a good way) that we’ll be experiencing more of the same tomorrow.

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