Marina Bay Sands Hotel
View from Gardens by the Bay. There are two restaurants on top of the building, Sky on 57 on the left and Ku De Ta on the right. In the middle there is the famous Infinity Pool.
I just returned to Germany after a year in Singapore. I worked extremely hard while I was there since I was doing three jobs at a time: consulting work for our Singaporean office, consulting work for our Kuala Lumpur office, and research for our German headquarter. So my job also involved a lot of travelling – to conferences to Hawaii, Paris, and San Sebastian and back and forth between Singapore and KL. At times I was in KL almost every week. There was loads of work to do. However, projects were diverse, super interesting and fun, so I did not mind the amount of work too much – also because I knew it would be for a limited amount of time.
Although I worked a lot I still managed to see a lot around the city of Singapore. There are many places I really love. When people hear about Singapore hardly anyone ever thinks of nature. However, the city has quite a few parks and nature reserves. All those of you who know me know that I love being outside in nature. Thus, I went to explore them all.
One of the most amazing
Apéritif at Sky on 57
... on top of Marina Bay Sands Hotel.
parks is certainly the Gardens by the Bay. They were built on a piece of reclaimed land right behind the Marina Bay Sands, the futuristic building that consists of three high rises that have a huge ship on their top. When looking at the Gardens from above they remind me of Star Fleet Headquarter in San Francisco from the movie and TV show Star Trek. There are two green houses. One, Flower Dome, has plants from the Mediterranean and semi-arid subtropical regions. The other one, Cloud Forest, simulates plant life from tropical highlands to tropical lowlands. Thus, you start your trip at the bottom of a huge indoor waterfall, then go up to the top of a mountain with vegetation from tropical highlands and gradually make your way down to tropical lowlands, while watching vegetation change. It is amazing. The other major attraction of Gardens by the Bay is the giant Supertrees. They are huge, up to 16 storeys high tree-shaped buildings made of concrete and steel with vertical greenery on them. A few of them are linked by a sky bridge and they are illuminated by night. There is also a light show that takes place every day. Other
Central Business District
View from Gardens by the Bay. In one of the buildings I used to work while I was in Singapore.
areas of the Gardens are really worth taking a walk in as well. There are three different theme gardens showcasing typical layout and plants from the three major cultures Singapore: Chinese, Indian, and Malay.
Another great park in Singapore is the Botanic Gardens. There are different areas. My favourite spots are the tropical rain forest with its huge trees where it is cool and quiet, the Evolution Garden where one can walk through the history of our terrestrial flora, and the National Orchid Garden with its most beautiful orchids, some of them named after heads of state or other celebrities. Moreover, there is a herbal garden that showcases plants and herbs that are used for treating various diseases, a grove with big palm trees, an outdoor stage, and different lakes. You can easily spend a day in the park and explore it.
A big nature reserve is MacRitchie Reservoir. The Reservoir holds fresh water and it is surrounded by jungle. On one side of the Reservoir there is Singapore Zoo that actually consists of three attractions: Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, and River Safari. In terms of animals you can see in Singapore Zoo
there is nothing special. There are
... in Gardens by the Bay.
animals from around the globe, many of which, however, are hard to spot because it is easy for them to hide in the rather large enclosures. But it is good to see that they have some room and totally fine for me not to be able to see them. A nice thing about the zoo is its layout and so it is very pleasant to go for a walk there. And the spectacular thing about this zoo is that they have ice bears. Remember that average temperature in Singapore is around 30 degrees and average humidity is around 80 percent. Other than that, I think the zoo is just a nice place, but not really spectacular. What I liked, however, was Night Safari. It opens in the evening at seven when it gets dark. You can walk or catch a tram. Most people catch the tram, but I walked when I was there. I enjoyed the quiet and was amazed by how many animals I could see: lions, a tiger, leopards, hyenas, wallabies, otters, bats, deer, and many more. Being in the park at night is also nice because temperatures are a bit more pleasant than during daytime. What I
... one of the huge green houses in Gardens by the Bay.
found super special was River Safari
. It showcases the wildlife of the great rivers of our world: Mississippi, Congo, Nile, Ganges, Mekong and Yangtze. Accordingly, there are two boat rides one can take, River Safari Cruise (not so spectacular, takes you out onto MacRitchie Reservoir) and Amazon River Quest (pretty cool, speedy and takes you to the animals that live around the Amazon River). The main attraction of River Safari is certainly the Pandas: there are Red Pandas and Great Pandas and to my knowledge the zoo in Singapore is one of the few zoos where you can see pandas. The Zoo is not the only place that is worth a visit in MacRitchie. There are also quite a few nice trails one can walk. One takes you on a Tree Top Walk, on a big suspension bridge. On another one, there is a watch tower one can climb. And there is a board walk that takes you along the shores of the reservoir. I explored most of the trails around the lake and even found a trail that connects MacRitchie to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.
In Bukit Timah Nature Reserve there is the highest mountain in Singapore. It is
Inside Cloud Forest
... the other huge green house in Gardens by the Bay.
164 metres tall. However, since it is completely overgrown by rain forest one does not have a view of Singapore from its top. It is a nice area for walking and the mountain (well, “hill” might be the more appropriate word) can be accessed via different trails. Some of them are quite steep and it is good training. There are quarries on two sides of the Nature Reserve. Both of them have been turned into lakes and one of them has a board walk on which you can sit and watch animals like for example water monitors. On one side of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve there is Dairy Farm Park. As the name says there used to be a dairy farm and it was the one closest to the equator. Nowadays there are no more cows there.
Singapore is surrounded by a few small islands. One of them is Sentosa, just around the corner from where I lived while in Singapore. I wrote about it in an earlier post
. Another island is Pulau Ubin. It is in the northeast of Singapore and only accessible by boat. I went there with my colleague Ben one Sunday. We rented bikes and explored
Trail through the rain forest.
the island together. It is covered by jungle. There is a board walk along the coast from where one can see the wildlife in the water and on the beach. There is an old cottage from colonial times. There are also a few nice mountain bike tracks. And all the buildings on the island are quite old. Ben said it reminded him of Singapore 30 years ago or of Malaysia. This statement really made me laugh.
A park that one can see on the way from the airport into town is East Coast Park. It is a narrow strip of green land along the east coast of Singapore. It goes all the way from Marina Bay to Changi Airport. On weekends there are a lot of people there. Some even go there for camping. The best thing to do in the park is to rent a bike and then to cycle along the coast. You can cycle past Changi Airport and watch planes take off and land while cycling along the runway and then continue into Changi Beach Park and all the way to the jetty from where the boats to Pulau Ubin depart.
The most remote nature
National Orchid Garden
... in Botanic Gardens.
reserve in Singapore is probably Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve in the northwest of Singapore. You catch the MRT to Kranji. From there you have to catch a bus (that does not run very often) or a taxi. When I went there the first taxi driver I talked to pretended not to know where Sungei Buloh was. I was pretty sure he simply did not want to take me to this remote spot. But I found another taxi driver to take me there. In the Reserve there are mangroves and if you are lucky you can see all kinds of fish and amphibians and even crocodiles. However, I did not see many animals when I was there, only enjoyed the peace and quiet. On my way back I made a stopover at Singapore Race Course, which is located right at Kranji MRT station, and watched a horse race. The entrance fee was only 5 dollars, but it was a disappointing experience since people used betting machines, the floor was covered with lottery tickets, and the atmosphere was not fancy in any way. Interestingly, there were almost exclusively men.
As you can certainly see I spent a lot of weekends somewhere
Bukit Timah Nature Reserve
... where there is the highest mountain in Singapore: 164 m.
out in nature. But there is a lot more that you can do in the city. For example, there are quite a few interesting museums. The Asian Civilization Museum
gives a good overview of culture and tradition of all the peoples who used in the Southeast Asia region. There are a number of remarkable artefacts that one can look at. And there are volunteers that take visitors for tours around the museum – super interesting. If you are interested in the history and culture of Singapore the National Museum of Singapore
and the Peranakan Museum
are a must. The Singapore National Museum outlines the history of the nation from the early, pre-colonial times, when Singapore was called Temasek, until today. It is an amazing story, particularly the one from post-World War II until today. The nation started off as a small island, surrounded by potential threat through Indonesia and Malaysia, and with no natural resources and hinterland. I think in the 60s nobody really gave the young nation a chance. And just see where it is now, mainly through the ceaseless efforts of its great Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who died only recently. I read parts of his book “From Third World to First” and
was really impressed. Many of his ideas might be controversial, but what he achieved is just incredibly impressive. The book is definitely a good complement to a visit at Singapore National Museum. The Peranakan Museum gives an impression of Peranakan culture. Peranakan are the descendants of immigrants from China, India, or Europe who got married to local women. They have their own culture that is of course heavily influenced by the culture their ancestors originally came from.
Another museum I really enjoyed is ArtScience Museum
at Marina Bay. From the outside it is impressive because it is a remarkable piece of architecture. Inside it features different exhibitions, often on modern art, but also on all kinds of science. For example, once there was a Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition showcasing the variety of ideas and observations he had collected in his “Codex Atlanticus”. Another great exhibition was one showing photographs by Annie Leibovitz, who is well-known for the pictures she took of celebrities. What I found impressive was that before taking the pictures she often spent a lot of time with the celebrities so that they would almost forget about her being there. This made it possible for her to capture
MacRitchie Tree Top Walk II
View of MacRitchie Reservoir from the suspension brigde.
the celebrities on film in very natural states. Finally there was an exhibition of modern art by young artists from Singapore and the region and this exhibition was kind of interactive and I really enjoyed it.
Something else that is very special about Singapore is the variety of cuisines you can enjoy. You can eat dishes from all over the world, including not only Asia, but also Europe, the Americas, and even Africa, and all kinds of fusion cuisine. The cheapest places to eat in are hawker centres, where you pay between 3 and 4 dollars for a meal. You buy your meal at a stall and then find yourself a table somewhere in the centre. During lunchtime this can be really challenging and people tend to reserve their tables using tissues, key cards, or other items before buying their food. The most famous ones in Singapore are probably Lau Pa Sat
in the Central Business District (the oldest hawker centre in Singapore) and Gluttons Bay
(an outdoor hawker centre) next to Concert Hall at Marina Bay. However, these are already the more “fancy” hawker centres in the sense that they are a little bit more stylish and maybe not as original
River Safari I
Great Panda having lunch.
as other places like for example Golden Shoe (where I went with my colleague Ben quite often).
However, there are also extremely fancy and expensive places to dine in. My favourite places where: Sky on 57
, where you eat fusion cuisine by chef Justin Quek, on top of Marina Bay Sands in the back of the big ship; Ku De Ta
, where you eat sushi variations, again on top of Marina Bay Sands, but in the front of the big ship, with the most spectacular club lounge right next door; Equinox
on top of Swissôtel the Stamford, where you dine with a spectacular view of the city; and the Champagne brunch at Raffles Hotel where you have the most amazing brunch buffet I have ever seen and can drink as much champagne as you want (do not make any plans for the rest of the day!). Be prepared to pay a lot, but the unforgettable experience is definitely worth it. Last but not least there are dumplings at Din Tai Fung
. Be prepared to eat a lot and be really full at the end of the meal. Finally, let’s not forget my favourite Indian restaurant on Boat Quay, Maharajah
, where I went about once a
River Safari II
Red Pandas climbing trees.
week and where I got the best Indian food I can think of.
When talking about Singapore people also have shopping in mind. And clearly Singapore is a shopping paradise. Malicious gossip has it that Changi Airport is a shopping mall that happens to have an airport attached to it. Of course there is Orchard Road that you could consider one huge shopping mall. The malls are designed in a way so that you definitely get lost. My sense of orientation is not too bad, but it even happened to me more than once. On weekends Orchard Road is so crowded that it is almost scary. The entire city has countless huge shopping malls. What I find surprising is that there are so many designer shops – almost every mall has one. The clothes are super expensive, but there must be enough people who buy stuff there, otherwise the shops would not sustain. Of course every shopping mall has several food courts as well!
I am not a great shopper, but every now and then of course I went clothes shopping as well. The frustrating experience was that it is very hard to find clothes in “European” sizes.
Singapore Zoo I
White Tigers relaxing in the afternoon.
I remember buying a pair of jeans and in the first shop I went to (Esprit; deliberately chose it because I thought they are international) they did not have anything in my size. Then, in a Levi’s shop, they had exactly one model of jeans in my size, which was the biggest size they had altogether. I am not skinny, but I am not big either. I refrained from trying to buy new bras…
Now we’ve been to all the places. But how about the people? This is another thing I find fascinating about Singapore. There are people from around the world, from all kinds of different cultures, and they live very close to each other. And it works. Of course people stay amongst each other. As an expat you will almost exclusively hang out with other expats. I was very fortunate to be invited to a Chinese New Year lunch by a Singaporean lady in February. This was very special. Other than that, however, I mainly spent my free time with other expats and also many of our clients were not Singaporean. People really come from all over the world. There are many Australians, but also Europeans, North
Singapore Zoo II
Show in which mahouts demonstrate how elephants move logs.
Americans, and people from other Asian countries. Interestingly, it is like in the cliché that all construction workers come from India or Bangladesh, maids come from the Philippines, and all the more qualified workers come from Europe, North America, Australia, or the more developed countries of Asia.
Now I’m back in Germany. Originally I had been supposed to stay in Singapore for nine months, from early April till the end of the year. I extended my stay by three months because I was in the middle of projects and there was no successor for me at the end of last year. But early this year I was able to complete the projects and also there was someone to take over my role. So I could leave Singapore, knowing everything was in good hands. It was an amazing year in which I learned a lot, not only professionally, but also personally. I had a great time with my wonderful colleagues John and Ben in Singapore and Sharma, Tishal, Joyce, and Kaval in Kuala Lumpur. I am grateful for having had this amazing experience. But I am very happy to be back in Germany, in Hamburg, the city I love so
... the small island just off the coast of Singapore. There is an old cottage from colonial times.
much, close to family and friends here in Germany, and back with my team in the office.
After returning from Singapore I had six weeks off. What I did during these six weeks will be the next posts. Stay tuned.
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