SINGAPORE IS SYNONYMOUS with big business and Hi-Tech exports. The Lion city is a major business hub in Southeast Asia boasting the fifth highest per capita GDP in the world. Interesting? Yes but what can it offer the tourist? As guests of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) Tiger Airways and Image Impact Co.Ltd we were about to find out.
We boarded our Tiger Airways flight at Chiang Mai International and were soon winging our way on the two and a half our flight to Singapore. On arrival we decided that Changi Airport alone was worth the trip: immaculate and efficient with every facility a traveler could wish for; even saunas!
We were met by Ms.Josephine a pretty Thai- speaking representative of the Singapore Tourist Board and ushered aboard a coach for the short drive to our hotel. Singapore has some of the world’s finest hotels from the legendary Raffles to the latest and most expensive establishment The Fullarton with its colonnades lit up against the night sky looking for all the world like The Parthenon. Our hotel The Gallery was a little further down the road in trendy Robertson Quay; less opulent perhaps but an excellent example of post-modern architecture and very comfortable.
Arriving as we did in the late evening on the way to The Gallery Hotel we stopped the van at the first food market for a swift foray in search of a late-night snack. We could of course have used room service but having heard so much about the variety of food to be found on every corner of the city we ventured out. Within minutes we were supping tom yum goong spicy noodles goat satay and a dessert of sliced peaches and basil seeds in crushed ice. Suitably satisfied and a bit sleepy we returned to The Gallery for a comfortable night’s sleep. In our room we found a bottle of champagne cooling and serving of fresh fruit.
The Gallery Hotel is Singapore’s first Hip-Art Design Hotel the creative hub of the trendy and historical heritage areas. Nearly everywhere can be seen beautiful sculptures buildings with glass elevators multicolored bridges and restored vintage buildings.
The following morning found us in a branch of the city’s famous Ya Kun Kaya coffee houses where we sampled a delicious breakfast of bread toasted on charcoal grill spread thickly with the special kaya mix of egg and coconut. The serving staff spoke Thai at least enough for us to be able to order breakfast. Suitably fuelled up to meet the new day we boarded our coach for the trip to nearby Chinatown.
Our STB guide Josephine took us seamlessly from the early years of Chinese traders trying to eke out a living in the squalor of filthy shophouses to today’s up-market restaurants and flourishing trading businesses. This she did by taking us to the Chinese Heritage Centre housed in restored shophouses on Pagoda Street. Here we were shown photographs and video clips tracing the lives of the first Chinese settlers as they struggled to survive amid opium dens brothels and the ubiquitous Triad society whose members had a stranglehold on the city’s Chinatown all those years ago.
The city fathers in their infinite wisdom have lifted a fifty year old ban on food hawkers and today’s Chinatown is alive with these unique roadside eateries. A huge selection of fruit is very tempting to buy and to taste.Take a walk down Smith Street (or Food Street as it’s best known hereabouts) and you’ll find stock brokers sitting cheek by jowl with labourers as they wolf down the magnificent fare on offer amid the cries of waiters passing orders to cooks behind steaming urns.
Walking along the streets of Chinatown amid the pungent aroma of incense wafting from the temples it is easy to get a feel for life as it was for the early nineteenth century Chinese settlers. The shopping is great in Chinatown lots of variety and many signs such as “three for the price of two”. After finding a money changer very early in the morning we loaded up on Chinese silks souvenirs and postcards. Josephine showed us the shops that sell all types of replicas for the afterworld such as paper bras golf clubs washing machines refrigerators and so much more.
Tempting though it was we had to forego the exotic food on offer at the hawkers street eateries as we had booked tables for lunch at the Long Beach Restaurant in Marina Bay. Nearly 20 aquariums with sefood from Canada Australia and all over the world are awaiting the adventurous.
A rain squall swept across the river as we settled down to our midday repast of black-pepper crab and spindle clams in a spicy black pepper broth. Additional famous dishes were served such as steamed fish and a unusual dish of wok fried sliced lotus roots short snow beans and macadamia nuts.
A few cold beers later we head for Singapore’s Suntec City the largest shopping mall where we boarded the colourful Hippo buses taking many visitors on city tours. These double decker buses have an open upper deck to allow tourists to film the sights as they travel around the city. This would be a great ride in August when the country celebrates its 40th anniversary with all the colorful banners and flags flapping in the breeze. It’s a great feeling to be riding among the treetops to view the oustanding buildings and major sights with no smelly air pollution to contend with.
The guide points out a construction site. Nearly 70% completed is southeast Asia’s largest library at a cost of 200 million $Sing. The location of the library is at Parro and Malay Streets. Also from the posted signage this is the neighborhood of backpacker lodgings.
We stroll a street of restaurants to the dock to board our wood tug boat at Clark Quay and we are soon drifting along the river taking in the sights as a recorded commentary in Thai highlights the many places of interest such as the twelve bridges spanning the river and the new arts centre the Esplanade its twin domes resembling a pair of durians. As the sun sets the streetlights and neons are more promiment. It’s a colorful atmosphere to be part of.
We disembark at Boat Quay and take a stroll through extensive restaurant row. It’s fun to stop and chat with many Thai who are residents operating Thai restaurants in this area. We arrive at the The Sundanese an Indonesian restaurant with an extensive menu.
On the road again after dinner for the evening’s entertainment a visit to Singapore’s fabulous Night Safari park (Chiang Mai’s will open soon we are told) home to twelve hundred animals many of which are endangered species.
However while ninety percent of tropical animals are nocturnal we are not and it was back to The Gallery for us and another most welcome night’s sleep.
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