Lion City roars
Escape winter to warm weather and spectacular architecture
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.
◗ 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.