As one of the world’s busiest stopover hubs, Singapore has big ambitions. Chris Wiltshire reveals why it’s worth sticking around for a few days in the island city-state.
Perched high up in Singapore’s vertigo-inducing Supertrees, I’m struck by the scale of the island’s ambitions. Huge swathes of lush vegetation stretch out before me as part of a staggering $1bn project to turn the ‘Red Dot’ from a garden city into a City In A Garden. Off to my left, towering cranes jostle for position to build ever more skyscrapers in the financial district and, to the right, the busiest port in the world is preparing to make way for a new waterfront city.
After a 13-hour flight from the UK, I am immediately struck by the beauty of the rain trees that line the East Coast Parkway, like giant umbrellas offering shelter to passers-by.
Two enormous conservatories dominate the skyline, featuring a breathtaking indoor waterfall and plants and trees from just about every corner of the earth.
But it is the Supertree Grove that draws most attention, the enormous solar-powered structures sprouting up into the sky like a scene from The Day Of The Triffids. A lift inside one of the trees takes visitors 160ft up to an elevated walkway for a panoramic view.
Undoubtedly, the best view is from the SkyPark Observation Deck at the top of the iconic 55-storey Marina Bay Sands hotel complex, where guests splash about in one of the world’s most photographed infinity pools.
Those with deep pockets can indulge in modern Asian cuisine at the renowned Cé La Vi restaurant and savour the 360-degree panoramic view of the city’s skyline and Straits of Singapore. But for those with more modest means, the range of eating options in the city is almost as varied as the plants and flowers.
Food is something of a national obsession. The cuisine is truly diverse, with strong influences from the Malays, Chinese, Indonesians and Indians, who arrived in large numbers when the country gained independence from Malaysia in 1965. Every evening the drone of commuter traffic subsides in the centre of town and tables and chairs are hastily arranged outside. The aroma of sizzling satay chicken and prawns fills the clammy night air and ‘Tiger Beer’ girls bark out drinks orders. Lau Pa Sat is considered the best, having been in operation since the 1800s, and is a must visit.
My trips to Singapore’s Chinatown and Little India also had the taste buds salivating, and I loved the vibe at the Middle East restaurant, Artichoke. But the meal of the week – and easily among the top 10 of my life – was at the Peranakan family-run restaurant Candlenut in New Bridge Road. Imagine a perfectly-formed medley of your favourite Chinese food with the spicy flavours of an Indian curry, washed down by a very agreeable white wine. Simply heaven.
My memorable day was topped off with a trip through the modern-day skyscrapers to that old colonial architectural gem, Raffles Hotel. An overnight stay would have blown the budget, so I settled for a Singapore Sling in the iconic Long Bar even if I did almost choke when the bill arrived – £17 a glass.
The next day, we made our way to Singapore’s playground, Sentosa Island, for an afternoon of R and R, reaching the man-made beach and Disney-type theme parks in style via the new cable car sky network. It was worth the £16 cost of a pass to see the dozens of enormous ships from around the world heading for the port and harbour. Teng told me it was the best barometer of the world’s economy – the more cranes in action, the better the world was doing. Fortunately, it seemed like a busy place to me.
I made my way for a spot of people watching at the upmarket Sentosa Cove resort, where Tom Cruise is said to have splashed out millions on a bungalow.
I was more inclined to head to Marina Bay to watch the following day’s Singapore Grand Prix practise with a cool beer in hand. There’s something magical about seeing the world’s fastest drivers tear around the street circuit at night, their immaculate Formula One cars gleaming under the floodlights.
And I’m looking forward to returning one day to watch top-level sport at the wonderful new $1.8bn stadium. A FIFA World Cup final, maybe?