Singapore is a tiny country with a penchant for living large. Everything in Singapore is big, bright, beautiful and…big. From the futuristic airport – all soaring ceilings, gleaming marble floors and stunning art exhibits – to the city’s spectacularly designed public spaces with their sweeping, airy walks and plazas, Singapore is over-the-top.
It’s also an immaculate place. This is, after all where some years back a teenaged tourist was sentenced to a caning for chewing gum. To my knowledge you still cannot buy gum in Singapore, although I didn’t try. The result is the noticeable absence of those big black marks that dot sidewalks in Canada and elsewhere from people carelessly spitting out their chewing gum. I’m not sure caning is still an acceptable punishment, if it ever was but whatever Singapore does these days to deter littering (it might be a jail term) it’s clearly working. The whole place is meticulous and perfectly groomed. Just gorgeous.
It was a case of going from the ridiculous to the sublime here as I decided that, after a couple of nights in ‘shared bathroom’ accommodation I would cash in all of my Hilton Honors points for just one night at the Conrad, Singapore. And what a lovely choice that turned out to be. I knew I was in for a treat when the host at reception didn’t just come out from behind the counter to give me my room key, she actually escorted me to the door of my 22nd floor room. And what a room it was – spacious; beautifully furnished with golden, burled oak desk, credenza and headboard; immaculately clean and furnished down to the finest detail (the TV remote control had its own leather jacket); and a nicely provisioned mini-bar that included cold milk for my morning cup of coffee. Now this was more like it!
The stunning and very shiny lobby of the Conrad.
The floor-to-ceiling windows gave me a priceless view of the Singapore skyline at night, one of the prettiest I have seen. And on this night, as I snuggled into the king-sized bed and reveled in the feel of high thread-count linens I was treated to a massive lightning storm over the city.
I offer this photo of the wash area at my Tokyo guest house, and the sumptuous bathroom at the Conrad as a testament to just how far I had come up in the world in just one night.
Singapore has long been considered a stopover on the way to someplace else but they have been working recently to reinvent themselves as a destination. There is a Universal Studios here, some good golf courses, world-class shopping on Orchard Road and the harbor walk around Singapore’s Marine Basin, with it’s cafe’s and attractions is a great place to spend at least a day.
I, for one regretted thinking of Singapore as a stopover. I would have liked at least a week here but with only one day, I had to make the best of it. Rainy weather precluded my usual walkabout so I decided to get the lay of the land from the excellent vantage point of the Singapore Flyer – a massive wheel perched at the edge of the harbor. I was mildly anxious about the storm clouds still lurking from the previous night. They seemed to me to be closing in as our capsule approached the high point of the circuit but I was assured that as we were all standing on rubber matting – nothing to worry about. Right.
This massive condo building dominates the harbor skyline. I think the penthouse here must have cost about a gazzillion cool ones.
Singapore’s Marine Basin. Most of the ultra-modern buildings are public venues. Note the gathering storm clouds!
Colorful spectator stands in the Marine Basin for water and boating events.
Having survived the Flyer unscathed I had thought I would spend a relaxing afternoon lounging in the oh-so-inviting swimming pool at the Conrad, re-constituting my suntan. But when the rain started up again I opted for a hop-on, hop-off tour of the City. I have done these kinds of guided bus tours all over the world and cannot think of a better way to learn a bit about a place. The convenience of getting off to explore and then just hopping back on when you’re ready to see more is fabulous, and I have used this kind of service almost like a taxi. On a trip to Paris I bought a three day pass and was able to get wherever I wanted to go, and learn something along the way by hopping on these tour buses. While in Singapore I also wanted to see Raffles, arguably one of the most storied hotels anywhere and I knew this would be on any city tour.
I had always thought I would one day have a G & T in the lobby bar of Raffles. But alas, ornate signs posted everywhere warned that the premises is for “Residents Only” and in case you slipped up, this guy would remind you. Here he’s escorting a group of trespassers to the City gaol.
Even in the rain the shopping malls and sidewalks were jam packed with people, but traffic in the narrow streets and roundabouts seemed relatively light. There are some good reasons for that. Firstly, the fact that Singapore has a very good transit system and fares to use it are cheap. Most importantly, though buying a car in Singapore requires a permit. If you get one you will pay crushing taxes – up to 100% of the purchase price – on your car. And if you’re not turned right off the idea by now then make sure you love whatever car you buy, because by law you won’t be able to replace it for ten years.
Color is everywhere in Singapore. This is a sculpture in the financial district…
…and this is a government building. How can you not feel cheerful coming to work here every day!
A charming corner.
Orchard Road, the famous up-scale shopping district all decked out for Christmas. Christmas!!
Gorgeous Little India. Indians make up about 7% of Singpore’s population, the majority of which is Chinese.
Some of these colorful buildings are government subsidized housing. Even construction cranes add color.
The ultra accommodating folks at the Conrad gave me as late a checkout as possible, given that my flight to Darwin was not until ten at night. But even then I had several hours before I needed to head for the airport so I did what I usually do when I have time to kill. I went for a pedicure in the plaza adjacent to the hotel. On the way back I came across a delightful shop run by the ‘Mother and Child Project’ that provided welcome relief from the usual name brands. The little shop offers a lovely collection of re-constructed clothing, creative bags made from used bluejeans, hand rolled paper-bead jewelry, charming hand-sewn paperweights and doorstops, and other environmentally conscious clothing and hand craft goods.
This small, socially responsible enterprise provides employment to twenty or so women who make the crafts in their homes. The retail space in the high-end shopping center is donated by the landlord. I knew anything I bought would have to be carried around with me for the next few months but I really wanted to show support for this venture, so I settled on a pair of earrings made with paper-beads and a ring and necklace to match. I sent photos home to my daughter who said she thought they would give me ‘sort of a gypsy look’. I’m good with that and felt very good about supporting this socially conscious small business.
I’m collecting Starbucks cards from each destination so I was pretty happy before leaving Singapore, to be able to pick up a “Singapore” card at this very pretty spot.
Well, Singapore the next time I am here it will be because it is my destination. But now, having been hedonistically pampered for twenty-four hours it’s time to get back to real life. I’m off on an overnight flight to Darwin, Australia and looking forward – I think – to trying out Quantas’ budget airline, JetStar.