Just like the perfect boardroom for an uninterrupted business meeting, yet as scenic and jubilant as any holiday destination you could ever fantasize, Singapore has simply grown into what the world perceives as a model city; an island country that makes both life and your lifestyle its 24 hour agenda
Words & Photography: Rahul Basu; Year of visit: 2012
Most people I know who have indeed visited Singapore in their lifetime tell me it’s great, and while I’ve heard many versions of what it is that really made it so great in their eyes, there’s nothing like getting down and figuring it for yourself. Frankly, visiting Singapore never really crossed my mind until one very interesting and colourful television advertisement came along in 2010, titled ‘YourSingapore’. The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has marketed its brand tirelessly and this was one of its many successful campaigns, capturing the city’s plethora of personalized services and exterior extravagance in just over a minute.
With due respect to the island city-state’s road to independence and subsequent sprint to prosperity thereafter, what really drew me to this visit wasn’t Singapore’s history and industry, but being an F1 enthusiast it was a peek at the Marina Bay Circuit, or whatever little I could visually map of the street circuit during an off season visit. That and Sentosa Island (Universal Studios) of course which I was really looking forward to seeing with higher expectations if I may add from what I had experienced at the Genting Highlands, Malaysia in October last year.
Carefully observing the picture perfect skyline as I flew over Singapore for the very first time, I won’t deny I was mighty impressed. But just like every famous destination in the world, I was on the lookout for something that stood out. That’s when I saw the stunning 165m Singapore Flyer, the famous Ferris Wheel in the South-Eastern part of the world. It set the benchmark, and from there on Singapore’s hospitality took over, settling for nothing less than prim, proper and perfect.
The East Coast where I resided was among the more peaceful suburbs in Singapore, nicely laid out for a comfortable and laid back residential experience. It is easy to settle down in these parts, where your home is an escape into relaxation and your workplace a bus or short train ride destination.
I was very fortunate to have had close family relatives who we visited there, quickly and very methodically acquaint us to our whereabouts on the city map, and provide us with the skeleton key a.k.a. an EZ Link Card that with sufficient credit can pretty much take you to the far corners of the city and back with just a few swipes. You would want to get yourself one of these as soon as you set foot in Singapore, and the destination is simply yours to pick once you’ve acquired it. Singapore has five major local train lines, besides its ultra efficient intra city bus (Iris NextBus) and taxi services. The EZ Link can be swiped for transport in any mode you choose all day every day.
The Good Life
Our first tryst with Singapore’s larger than life setting was in fact off shore and onboard the Super Star Virgo luxury cruise liner for a scintillating drift over the foamy South China Sea. This vessel was a floating palace with an in house casino, a movie theatre, couple of the trendy theme restaurants, a nightclub, a Pantheon (Greek) styled poolside, massage parlour, gaming arcade and much more. Standing on deck and watching the sunset later on that evening was the moment of truth, a bell that rang in my mind telling me that life was indeed good.
It’s not that hard to think of places you want to visit once in Singapore as the choice is simply overwhelming. There is a place to suit any kind of taste, and being the electronics and gadgetry buff that I am a visit to the world famous Mustafa hypermarket near Farrer Park on the NE (North East Line) was always on the cards. Anyone who’s ever been there (me included) would tell you it isn’t your one stop hardware shop but four separate retail fortresses, all of which combined will cater to your every need, be it electronics, groceries, a good deal on gold jewellery or even regular apparel and footwear. Best shopping deals in the city, Period!
If you’re looking to buy even more for less then go down to Chinatown just three stations away on the very same NE line or switch to the East West (Green Line) and pay a visit to Bugis Street, an equally captivating shopping destination for those tipping their purchase decision scales more towards quantity and lesser towards quality.
Nestled in between the retail hub of the city is Clarke Quay, a popular binge street that is located along the backwaters of the city and attracts a large number of youngsters, corporates and couples looking to spend a sunny afternoon sipping their favourite brew, some of which included Singha, Pure Blonde, Connor’s Stout, Schneider Weisse and plenty more. The walk from Clarke Quay down to the Esplanade (performing arts theatre) is particularly pleasing with a view of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, the gigantic Ferris Wheel and the nation’s Parliament edifice among other structures and local attractions along the way.
But I wasn’t going to settle for a microscopic view of the Marina Bay after having travelled this far, and one train ride to the southern tip of the Circle Line (Yellow Line) and I had reached my most sought after locale in Singapore. This particular neighborhood hasn’t put Singapore on the world map for nothing. You’d have to stand at the Marina Bay and watch Ferraris’ pass by the streets, the lights that illuminate the evening sky and the buildings that rise into the heavens to know that you have arrived at the heart of the city’s financial district. The walk down Marina Bay was especially spectacular thanks to the ongoing Marina iLight show, Asia’s first and only sustainable light art festival. It is also the location of one of the world’s largest Louis Vuitton stores, which is not like any other store in a shopping mall, but is in the form of an island with crystal pavilion architecture.
After having ogled at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel from a distance it was now time to step inside and more importantly to the very top, 57 floors above the ground, where for the first time I caught a bird view of the famous F1 street circuit whose exact layout was hard to imagine as the most of the roads were now open to the public. The Singapore Flyer was one of the highlights of the iLight initiative and glittered with pride and glamour for all the skydeck visitors running out of charge on their digital cameras in their efforts at getting the perfect shot.
Sentosa and Universal Studios
Taking pride in being even just one of the 5 million visitors that are drawn to the famous resort island each year, I finally paid my first visit to the world famous Sentosa Island with an entire day reserved for my amusement part indulgence. A look at the resort map and you’ll know what makes it a global attraction. There’s something here for everybody not matter which part of the world you come from. You would probably head for a face to face meeting with the 37 metre Merlion statue as soon as you walk through the park entrance gate, which isn’t a bad idea. But don’t walk out till you’ve visited the Underwater World famous for its Dolphin show and countless other major attraction like the Tiger Sky Tower, Butterfly and Insect Kingdom, the Megazip Adventure Park, the one of a kind Songs of the Sea sound and light show and last but not least one of the world’s largest themed wind tunnel and indoor aerodromes at iFly Singapore located close to the EcoAdventure park.
Considering the endless array of engaging activities on at Sentosa, you would probably be better off circling another day for Universal Studios located on the island itself. This isn’t a place you would want to experience half heartedly or with bare minimum stamina. Just like its larger replicas in the far west, where the idea was born, Univesal Studios at Sentosa Island is a magical journey through world’s that for most of us only exist in only in virtual 3D. From a New York styled street to a re-creation of the Jurassic Park with creatures from a pre-historic era, at Universal Studios your wildest childhood fantasies come to life. A horrifying rollercoaster ride at the Battlestar Galactica Park, the Waterworld show, a boat ride through the Madagascar ship and Steven Spielberg’s very own special effects demonstration show are must visits and in a sense are your reality escape bubbles executed to perfection all at one single destination.
Mall Maze Megacity
Developed economies are the trend setters for global consumerism and in Singapore, there isn’t a street without a Mall that isn’t scratching your knee to go ahead and swipe that credit card. Whether you come out of a train station, or are waiting at a SRS Transit bus stop or even taking your dog out for a evening walk the temptation to spend is just so ever present.
But, sooner or later you realize that it is a lifestyle statement rather than a credit clearing enterprise, where you earn enough to spend on things that matter and don’t in fact have to traverse too far in order to get it. It’s a thriving business but also caters to every citizen’s most basic need for comfort, order and easy travel and consumption.
I say this because these malls don’t just cater to your groceries and cosmetics, but provide for a working crowd’s daily nourishment at affordable and reasonable rates, while offering cuisine that is nothing short of the deadly delicious and hygienic to the T. Just like in any noteworthy restaurant in a city, you’ll find the food of your deepest cravings in any one these malls and for chocolate and pastry lovers, well you needn’t look too far.
Of the many malls and gigantic retail enclosures I visited throughout the city, the one that stood out for me was the Vivo City Mall located at Harbour Front, not too far away from the city docks, which incidentally is the largest operation in the world after Shanghai. I visited my first ever exclusive National Geographic merchandise store here, but what makes this mall so very special is that it gives visitors a direct link to the Sentosa island via a cable car on the roof, a train service at the top floor and a even a 1$ boardwalk at the ground level making for easy entry and exit from the resort.
Humbled by the Shore next door
My Singapore visit was as exciting as many who have visited before, and I am sure I’d find plenty more to do even if I decided to re-visit in the near future. But, my perspective on the third richest nation in the world has been stretched to a ground reality not merely by my visit to the island alone, but the South Eastern isles at large and one city in particular called Johor Baru in the southern part of Malaysia that I had the opportunity to take a day off and visit while I was on this trip.
My four hour visit to Johor Baru was an eye opener at the reality that even the most seemingly developed nations in the east have their share of poverty, underdevelopment and economic disparity. However with long-term goals that make provisions for the less privileged, it’s an economy that is just going to get better and like present day Singapore turn into a role model for urban economies of the future.