I’m in love with another city. Yes, there is another place in the world that I’ve left a piece of my heart in and it truly isn’t anywhere I ever thought I would.
When I received word that I was flying to Singapore to cover the opening of the Marina Bay Cruise Centre I sighed…and not one of those excited sighs either.
I had my worst travelling experience in my life in Singapore back in 2005 and I swore to whoever would listen that I would never return, unless it was to layover in the best thing that I believed Singapore had to offer…Changi Airport.
My luggage had been sliced open, my best friend had been yelled at and called fat in a clothing store (she was a size eight), it rained incessantly
and everyone I came across had an obnoxious air about them.
I just didn’t get what everyone was on about when they raved about how fabulous Singapore was…did I have the right city?
Given my experience thus far in Singapore the second time around though, it appeared I did.
From the greenery in the arrivals terminal at Changi Airport to the warmer than warm welcome in my hotel, the glittering city lights to the soft balmy night air…this must have been what they were talking about.
Reviewing my itinerary I found it hard to believe that there was so much to do on this island. When I visited last time, there seemed to be only three things recommended; shopping, Raffles and the Singapore Zoo.
The island of Sentosa was frowned upon by all I spoke to as it was too “touristy”, little did I know then of my penchant for “touristy”!
Opening my hotel room curtains via remote control (because that’s how they roll at the Pan Pacific Singapore) I stretch out in my luxurious bed, tempted to remain there all day but, alas, the glorious sunshine lures me.
Following a waterfall shower taken whilst overlooking the city, I wander to The Edge restaurant on level three, where a larger-than-life buffet greets me featuring seven open concept kitchens.
A traditional western selection of bacon, eggs and the like are on offer, along with Indian, Japanese and Chinese delicacies meaning that there is no chance of going hungry and a dumplings kitchen means this girl is in heaven!
The day is a balmy 36 degrees and I nervously meet my tour guide in a lantern-like seating pod in the lobby.
Would we get along? After all, we had two full days and evenings together!
The worry passed quickly when I saw Toon Hee’s beaming smile and eager disposition. This was a man who truly loved his home town and his passion was infectious.
We meet Bob, our driver, and jet off in the comfort of air conditioning to Sentosa.
One of Singapore’s 62 offshore islands, Sentosa is accessible via a thirty minute cable car ride from the city or by vehicle via a causeway.
Pulling up to the colourful sign, giving us no doubt as to where we were, we start exploring the island.
First stop, the Wave House which, whilst it wasn’t open yet (most attractions seem to open at 10am) gave me an idea of the sort of variety and adventure Sentosa offers.
With two flo-riders positioned alongside a beach bar, the Wave House gives guests the opportunity to surf in the midst of calm waters.
Akin to a desert island being a quiet non-school holiday Tuesday, this part of Sentosa is idyllic, well apart from the tankers positioned just offshore.
Toon Hee assures me that there is a master plan to reposition the port in the next five years, meaning that the outlook from Sentosa will be sparkling open seas from the myriad beaches, bars and restaurants dotted along the coastline.
Adventure activities pepper our stroll including; indoor skydiving at iFly Singapore, a zip line and we even catch a glimpse of Singapore’s first Red Bull Flugtag runway that is being prepared for its big day on 28 October.
Toon Hee laughs as he says that he thinks most of the adventure activities on the island are run by Aussies and New Zealanders…neither of us are surprised.
We sit and enjoy a chilled chai tea, at Starbucks no less, and Toon Hee takes me through the progress that his beloved home has made since gaining independence in 1965.
He praises the current government and lists all of the improvements they have made to take Singapore into the future on all levels but especially in regards to tourism.
The Merlion (papa Merlion as Toon Hee dubs the 33-storey high statue that was built after the original, much smaller, white Merlion in Singapore) stands proudly between the trees and I spot flashes as people take photos from their prime position in his roaring mouth admiring the view.
Flanked by yet another colourful ‘Sentosa’ sign, we take the recquisite touristy shots and head to Resort World that is much busier than the rest of the island.
Five hotels (including a Hard Rock Hotel), a Universal Studios and an array of gift stores and restaurants present a different side to the island and I mentally add Universal Studios to my bucket list next time I visit.
I could always pretend I spent the day there and take a photo outside the sign though!
Toon Hee accepts my love of shopping and I salivate in the Hershey’s store before my ever-faithful guide reminds me we are yet to visit Chinatown where souvenirs can be purchased at a quarter of the price.
He was so helpful on so many levels!
I admire the Elvis paintings in the lobby of the Hard Rock Hotel as we wander through to meet Cheryl from the Singapore Tourism Board who is my date for lunch at the Tanjong Beach Club.
We catch the free Sentosa tram and take a seat in this 1950’s-style restaurant right on the beach.
All I want to do is strip down to my bikini and order a pina colada, but a scrumptious lunch (fully clothed) and a fresh coconut juice will suffice for the moment.
Tearing ourselves away from the view…and the air conditioning…we board the tram to meet our driver who takes us to Gardens by the Bay, one of Singapore’s newest attractions.
Two glass fish-like domes lie majestically along the shoreline and are surrounded by what will be 101 hectares of gardens when the project is complete.
Opening in June, the SD$1 billion dollar project was funded by the Singaporean Government “for the good of the people” to cultivate love and compassion.
With a majority of the gardens accessible for free, the only charges applicable are for the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest, available for SGD$28 inclusive and the Skyway through Supertree Grove costing a mere SGD$5 for tourists.
The Flower Dome takes my breath away and I am surprised to see a Halloween-themed Autumn garden and an area dedicated to Australian flora with the bottle brush thriving.
Wandering into the Cloud Forest, the sound of rushing water echoes through the entry hall where I bear witness to Singapore’s largest man made waterfall.
The gushing water splashes passers-by who welcome the cool break from the humid day outside and I protect my camera as I work my way up the mountain past hibiscus flowers of all shades and oh so much green.
The Cloud Forest is impressive beyond belief and I learn the bitter truth about the true direction our environment is heading in as we make our way through the Dome to Supertree Grove.
These vertical gardens truly command the attraction and we enter an elevator to walk across the Skyway that weaves between the trees offering a spectacular view of Gardens by the Bay and its surrounds.
I feel like I am Alice stumbling upon Wonderland with oversize trees and bright colours almost as far as the eye can see, this couldn’t be the same Singapore I had visited all those years ago!
An afternoon dip at the Pan Pacific pool is welcome before pre-dinner drinks at Ku De Ta at the top of Marina Bay Sands.
Toon Hee meets me at the hotel before guiding me through to Sephora at the impressive expanse of ‘Shoppes’ at Marina Bay Sands for a quick spot of shopping…we did have fifteen minutes before needing to meet the rest of the group on the roof top after all!
We are ushered into the VIP lounge at Ku De Ta which is positioned on the ‘ship-like’ structure that sits atop the three Marina Bay Sands towers and I feel like I am back in Las Vegas with the vibe, sparkling lights and private seating areas.
My new friends gather to share our Singapore experiences over cocktails before heading, surprisingly, to Pizzeria Mozza downstairs.
I was hoping for a more traditional dinner after having had pasta for lunch but, one of the many things I was discovering about Singapore, was the similarity to Australia with such cultural diversity.
Whilst it wasn’t the best Italian I had ever experienced, the company was fabulous and we all make a pact to meet at Clarke Quay for a drink and a dance.
Screams emanate from the bungee swing attraction as I get out of the car and I consider…for a moment…whether I should strap myself in and
slingshot into the Singapore sky.
When my sensibilities kick in, we wander through the maze of restaurants and bars that all lead to a central piazza-type area where children (and some adults) frolic in the dancing fountains to cool off.
Toon Hee joins me in a Singapore Sling at the Highland Bar and we plan our next day before I convince my new friends from India to join me on the dance floor.
The band is pumping and we have to tear ourselves away…after all…there is so much more to experience in Singapore and sleep is needed to make the most of our next day in the city that seems to surprise me at every turn!
Originally written by Natalie Aroyan for e-Travel Blackboard