SINGAPORE IS A THRIVING METROPOLIS REACHING FOR THE SKY WITH ITS ENDLESS TOWERS, CITY GARDEN OF SUPERTREES AND PLANS FOR A NEW WATERFRONT CITY
Perched high up in Singapore’s vertigoinducing Supertree Grove, 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 one-billion-dollar 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 on reclaimed land.
Any visitor to Singapore cannot help but be impressed by the energy and enterprise of this steamy metropolis.
Those who stay for a few days are rewarded with sights and sounds, tastes and smells as potent as the famous Singapore sling cocktail that takes its name.
For a country situated just one degree north of the equator and being one of the most densely populated islands in the world, I had visions of being drenched by daily monsoons and stuck in endless traffic jams.
But, in my time there, I didn’t see a drop of rain or feel in any way harried or claustrophobic — although I was certainly hot.
The trees must have planted a seed in the mind of Andrew Grant, whose Bath-based landscape architects firm Grant Associates won an international competition to design Gardens By The Bay, the awe-inspiring 101 hectares of fragrant delight in the centre of the city.
It was hailed as a national icon when it opened four years ago, and has already attracted more than 20 million visitors, including Prince William and his wife, Kate.
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 horror flick.
A lift inside one of the trees takes visitors 50m up to an elevated walkway for a panoramic view, which is enough to test anyone – like me – with acrophobia. At night, they take on an altogether less sinister appearance, soft lights dance to choreographed music in a scene that would not look out of place in a Disney World production.
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 Ce 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 that cover the island.
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.
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 tastebuds 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 in one of the luxurious five-star suites would have blown the budget, so I settled for a Singapore sling in the iconic Long Bar – a throwback to a bygone age with teak furniture and opulent fittings – even if I did almost choke when the bill arrived.