Saturday, February 7, 2009

Singapore Top Ten

1 Riverside

The bulk of Singapore's historical attractions are by the river, so a great place to start a daytrip is at the mouth of the Singapore River. This area is a lovely for a walk, with small green gardens dotted amongst old-style bridges and historical buildings. Maybe take a late afternoon stroll and soak up the peaceful atmosphere before hitting the nightlife hot-spots of Clarke Quay and Boat Quay. Before you have a drink, Riverside is also a good area to get fed. The western end of the river, around Robertson Quay, houses a Japanese expat community, and consequently the Japanese restaurants nearby serve some of the best fare this side of Tokyo. The best places for a splurge with a view are Boat Quay and Clarke Quay, which have many superb and atmospheric riverside restaurants offering cuisine from most corners of the globe. Another good choice is Chijmes, the former Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus and now, since most Singaporeans have lost interest in Christianity, an alluring assemblage of high-end food and drink outlets near the Raffles Hotel. Travellers with refined cultural tastes will enjoy the nightly opera, dance and classical music on offer at the Esplanade Theatre.

There are two options for seeing the area from the air:

G-Max Reverse Bungy. Get strapped in and flung upwards by a giant rubber band at 200 km/h. Do this before, rather than immediately after, dinner.

Singapore Flyer. Singapore's newest tourist attraction, this 150-metre-tall observation wheel, modelled on the London Eye, is the world's tallest. If you can afford it then avoid having to share your capsule with dozens of other people by stumping up the $1,000 (GBP 370) for a private ride. Or maybe justify it as a valid business expense by taking along a business associate – just hope he or she doesn’t return the favour and take you for a ride, too.



2 Orchard Road

Orchard Road and neighboring Scotts Road form Singapore's top shopping district, with several kilometres of busy but fairly quiet roads lined on both sides by practically nothing but shopping malls. Shopping heaven, husband hell.

3 Merlion.

Singapore's official symbol, 8.6 metres tall and weighing 70 tons, spouts water on the south bank of the mouth of the Singapore river. The monument was commissioned by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board in 1964 to give tourists something to take photos of, as the city is somewhat lacking in spectacular sights. Many Singaporeans regard the monument as a bit of a joke: in Singaporean slang the verb to ‘merlion’ means ‘to vomit’. Popular mainly with Japanese photo-holics.



4 Bugis

Bugis has a colourful, even lurid, past, as the den of iniquity at the centre of the sin city that Singapore once was. Whilst the government’s imprisonment and execution of all the pimps and lowlifes has completely cleaned the place up, one can’t help but mourn the loss of the colour of Singapore’s history a little: the only lurid thing about Bugis these days is the neon signs. Originally named after the bloodthirsty race of pirates who prowled the Straits before their extermination by the British, for a long time the area was Singapore's equivalent of Bangkok’s infamous Patpong. After its sanitisation and conversion into a shopping experience for the whole family, it is now a place where pillaging and looting still occur, but only of the most gullible tourists.



5 China town

Chinatown's main attraction is the jumble of restored shop-houses full of strange boutiques stocking everything from plastic Buddhas to dried seahorses. It’s a great place to wander around at random and see what you can find. Temple aficionados may enjoy checking out the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, which towers above the area, although whether the Lord Buddha would approve of purported bits of his remains being worshipped is open to debate. Chai-curious tourists will enjoy a visit to the Tea Chapter, at 9 Neil Rd, for a spot of tea drinking, Chinese style. Why not spend an afternoon reading the papers and tea-tasting some of the fancier brands (“would sir care for some ‘Phoenix's Shrubbery’, perchance?”).



6 Little India

Little India remains one of the most colorful and attractive places to visit in Singapore. Ladies in saris and gold bangles sashay by while spices and incense waft in from the doorways and Bollywood's latest soundtracks blare from every other alleyway.

Have your fortune read by Pepe the parrot, but don’t get too jubilant when he tells you that you are about to become massively rich, meet a lovely other half, slim down and become younger – he tells everybody much the same story.

If searching for enlightenment then join the yearly festival of Thaipusam and attach shrines to your flesh with piercing hooks, then walk across town in a day-long procession, dribbling blood on the pavements. Female devotees usually just carry a pot of milk on their head, which is impressive, both because it looks impossible to achieve and because it demonstrates how the gentler half of the species don’t need to bother hang heavy objects off their flesh in their quest for enlightenment. After the festival you will have enough time to recover from your wounds before the festival of Thimithi, in which you can walk on red-hot coals – or alternatively, just marvel at how the David Blaine-style yogis and gurus can possibly do this without sustaining serious injury.


7 Balestier

Singapore Polo Club Dating back to 1886, the colonial-style clubhouse is a good spot to quaff a gin and tonic below lazy ceiling fans while watching the idle rich pootle about on the polo field. Riding lessons are available and, even if the horses leave you cold, the spicy tiffin lunches certainly won’t.

8 North and West


To find out what a sauna full of bugs feel like, go for a steamy jungle hike. These are five of Singapore’s best:

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is one of the last places in Singapore that is still covered by primary rainforest. Watch out for monkeys, who look cute but aren’t. Whatever you do don’t smile at them, as baring your fangs is an aggressive gesture and may result in them throwing something unpleasant and smelly at you.

Singapore Zoo If you have written all zoos off as sad, inhumane places then maybe consider having your mind changed by Singapore Zoo, which was endorsed by the late Steve Irwin and is used by Animal Planet for some of its documentaries. The animals are kept in spacious, landscaped enclosures, separated from the visitors by dry or wet moats. Most, except the poor old panting polar bear confined to his air-con den by the blazing heat outside, seem happy with their lot and no more psychologically damaged than some of the creatures on the other sides of the moats. For a cooler experience, board the little train that trundles through the park. Kids will love the Jungle Breakfast, where visitors are joined at a 9am buffet by a host of exotic animals such as orangutans, otters and elephants.

Night Safari A part of the Zoo but located on completely separate grounds that are closed during the day, this is the world's first wildlife park built to be viewed at night. The grounds are in fact larger than the main zoo and only parts are accessible to visitors on foot, so most people opt for the guided tram tour instead. There is a 30-minute animal show at an amphitheatre three times per night: sit in the center section three rows from the front for a big surprise. Stopping at the second tram station is a must as there is a walking path for viewing giraffes, flying squirrels, leopards and lions. Other animals you can expect to see include various types of tigers, elephants, bats, flamingos, porcupines, leopards, otters, badgers, and storks. Child heaven and pretty good for adults too.

Jurong Bird Park The Park specialises in the more exotic and colorful birds from southeast Asia and has a collection of more than 8,000 birds from 600 species. To avoid becoming a soggy mess in the tropical heat, you can circle the park on the Panorail monorail.

The Botanic Gardens This has walking and jogging trails throughout. Outdoor sculptures dot the gardens. Look for the girl on the swing who appears to hang from an invisible chain in the air.

Here are a few things to do that don't involve stomping about in the jungle:

Singapore Turf Club Betting is allowed.

Snow City Interesting enough for residents of the tropics but probably not on the top of the agenda for pallid Europeans escaping their own winter. Sledding, snowboarding and other wintry pursuits, including the inevitable subzero bar.

9 East Coast

Whilst the main attraction is the beaches, the East Coast also offers Singapore's solitary flashback to the past, the rustic little island of Pulau Ubin.

East Coast Park 20 kilometres of free beach on Singapore's southeastern coast: very popular on sunny weekends, despite the rather murky water. The main attractions are the imported white sand and palm trees, plus the locally-grown roller-bladers zooming scantily-clad around. A good choice for families with skate-boarder sons, as skates are available for hire.

Pulau Ubin Singapore's flashback to yesteryear, a little island off the northern coast where people still live in fishing villages on stilts. The island is covered in biking trails and is an excellent spot for a little steamy jungle off-roading.

10 Sentosa

Long a bit of a joke — Singaporean wags like to quip that ‘Sentosa’ actually stands for "So Expensive and Nothing TO See Actually" — Sentosa's attractions have received some much-needed upgrades in recent years, with the worst of the kitsch unceremoniously demolished. Offerings of interest to adults are still quite limited, but there's enough to keep children amused for a day or two. The best way to get there is by the cable car.

Dolphin Lagoon Cute pink dolphins up to their usual tricks.

Fort Siloso Formerly the largest WW2 British naval base in Fortress Singapore, its guns stare balefully out towards the sea in preparation for an enemy attack. Unfortunately, however, the Japanese didn’t oblige by staging a kamikaze assault from the sea. Instead, they rode bikes down the Malayan peninsula. Despite hastily turning the guns around, this was something the British had not prepared for and, after less than a week of fighting, Singapore ignominiously surrendered and the colony's erstwhile rulers were packed off to Changi Prison. The return of the British in 1945 was less than triumphal and it was clear that their time as Singapore’s rulers was up. Granted self-rule in 1955, Singapore briefly joined Malaysia in 1963, but was expelled because the Chinese-majority city objected to the pro-Malay racial biases built into Malaysian legislature. The island became independent in 1965 and the Malaysians haven’t stopped kicking themselves ever since.

Images of Singapore A kitsch and corny child-friendly rendition of the Singapore story, where people of many races have come together to live in harmony. Renovated in 2006, the show now uses the latest technology, but there is not all that much substance under the glitz.

Sentosa Merlion A 37-metre-tall version of the statue by the Singapore River, this one lights up at night and shoots lasers from its eyes. Admission enables you to take the elevator up into its mouth and gaze out over the nearby Port of Singapore, as well as take in some seriously cheesy exhibits downstairs.

Sentosa Luge Up the hill in a ski lift and down again in a steerable bobsled. A good attraction for younger kids, but not very exciting for those over 15.

Songs of the Sea. Multimedia extravaganza with live cast, pyrotechnics, water jets and lasers. Very popular, so book ahead, especially on weekends. Kitsch, but fun.

Underwater World. Features a walk-through aquarium with lots of sharks. Impressive.

Beaches By the standards of the region, these are mediocre, but if all you need is some sand for the children to play in, they will suffice - just make sure you don’t swallow any of the murky water.

Fish Reflexology For a spa treatment with a difference, have fish nibble the dead skin off your feet. You have a choice between ‘gentle’ Turkish fish and ‘aggressive’ African ones: neither will cause damage, but the African ones are really ticklish. The treatment concludes with foot reflexology or head and shoulder massage, performed by masseuses of the more customary species.

Sentosa Golf Club The only golf club in Singapore open to the public, it features two famously challenging 18-hole courses and hosts the yearly Barclays Singapore Open.

Spa Botanica. Singapore first self-proclaimed ‘tropical garden spa’. Out of this world.





After your trip to Singapore, maybe check out some of southern Thailands's beaches : www.andamanadventures.com


Simon Ramsden runs Sky Co., Ltd, specialising in climbing and diving trips to Thailand's best beach destinations.


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