Lion City roars

Es­cape win­ter to warm weather and spec­tac­u­lar ar­chi­tec­ture

Central and North Burnett Times - - TRAVEL - BY Grant Ed­wards

OF­TEN ma­ligned as a stopover city, Sin­ga­pore has evolved not only into a global fi­nan­cial cen­tre but also a trop­i­cal hol­i­day­ing hotspot. Ex­cep­tional pub­lic trans­port and safe and uber clean streets make it a haven for fam­i­lies.

Yet there is much more to Sin­ga­pore than the well-trod­den path to Sen­tosa Is­land for those want­ing a tribe-friendly get­away.

The Lion City can be ex­pen­sive if you stay close to the key cen­tres, but ex­plor­ing beyond the norm un­cov­ers some cul­tural in­sights and out­stand­ing food which won’t break the bank.

Uni­ver­sal Stu­dio and SEA Aquar­ium of­fered great days out for the kids, de­spite the theme park rides be­ing tame by Aus­tralian stan­dards (Trans­form­ers is a must).

For those keen to cool off, it’s best to avoid Sen­tosa and head to Wild Wild Wet for a more af­ford­able day out where an­other bonus is shorter queues.

A trip to Chi­na­town re­veals re­fresh­ing low-rise build­ings in the shad­ows of the spec­tac­u­lar mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture for which Sin­ga­pore has be­come fa­mous. Au­then­tic food and 18th cen­tury build­ings are a high­light, and those who love the cheap knock-offs and sou­venirs will love the ar­ray of stalls.

Stay­ing away from the hus­tle and bus­tle, the Ra­mada at ZhongShan Park sits within the fas­ci­nat­ing Balestier district.

It’s an area piv­otal in the 1911 Chi­nese Rev­o­lu­tion, and of­fers a greater in­sight into how most Sin­ga­pore­ans live. The Balestier mar­ket is one of two within walk­ing dis­tance and of­fers wide-rang­ing de­lights.

Don’t be put off by the prim­i­tive fa­cade. The Thai, Chi­nese and In­dian unique to Sin­ga­pore are all there – and for about $5 you’ll leave sat­is­fied and im­pressed.

Chicken rice is the na­tional dish, with chicken steamed or roasted with rice cooked in chicken stock. Nearby Loy Kee is a fine ex­po­nent.

For cof­fee lovers it can be slim pick­ing. There are some nuggets of gold, in the Balestier area there is Mon­niker (only on week­ends) and the funky Wheeler’s Yard which com­bines retro cy­cling with a great brew.

Or­chard Road also has The Cof­fee Aca­demics, who live up to their name, in an area which is a shopa­holic’s heaven with all the big names. There is no short­age of malls in Sin­ga­pore – they are at nearly ev­ery train sta­tion, but it’s not a bar­gain des­ti­na­tion.

A must visit is the Ma­rina Bay Sands area with a mag­nif­i­cent shop­ping area com­plete with its own river, and of course be­neath the lux­u­ri­ous three-tier build­ing.

It’s all within walk­ing dis­tance of Gar­dens by the Bay, a 101 hectare na­ture park that has some amaz­ing nat­u­ral fea­tures, along with spec­tac­u­lar struc­tures like the Su­pertree Grove and two awe-in­spir­ing glasshouses.

While there, stay and en­joy the free wa­ter and light show which runs nightly in front of Ma­rina Bay. The 15-minute show com­bines mu­sic, wa­ter and laser lights to show­case the city’s jour­ney as a “mul­ti­cul­tural so­ci­ety”.

An­other trade­mark des­ti­na­tion is the Night Sa­fari which proved a bit­ter-sweet ex­pe­ri­ence. “Flexi” tick­ets are avail­able for the first three tram rides around the zoo, and you need to be early for the first ride.

This means spend­ing time out­side the zoo be­fore en­try, where seat­ing is lim­ited at the restau­rants and prices for food and drinks are high. There is no zoo en­try un­til your slot, which means spend­ing time out­side ... you can’t help but feel duped.

Avoid the kitsch and be­lit­tling show and jump straight on the tram where you can tour the park, and get off at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions for best bang for your buck. Our youngest be­came too tired af­ter all the early time wast­ing, which meant the ex­pe­ri­ence was lim­ited to the quick tram jour­ney.

Stay­ing at the Ra­mada pro­vided the per­fect get­away, en­abling the fam­ily to es­cape the over-hyped Sen­tosa re­gion. The rooms are mod­ern and spa­cious, while the 30-me­tre pool was per­fect for some lazy time. Ra­mada also has bril­liant “Handy” smart­phones. They are free to use and of­fer ho­tel in­for­ma­tion and links to great deals on lo­cal at­trac­tions. Not only that, you can make calls both lo­cal and over­seas with­out charge, and make use of the Google maps which means you don’t have to worry about data roam­ing charges on your own de­vice.

Reg­u­lar shut­tle buses to the two big lo­cal shop­ping cen­tres, Or­chard Rd and Novena, make it sim­ple to get to the Mass Rapid Tran­sit trains. The MRT is sim­ple and bril­liant, and be­tween four of us we spent about $40 over eight days yet trav­elled to all parts of the coun­try. The au­thor paid for all ex­penses.

MAIN PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

◗ The helix bridge by night, in Ma­rina bay in Sin­ga­pore; the Ra­mada at ZhongShan Park (top right), Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios (left) and the wa­ter and light show at Ma­rina Bay Sands.

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