Singapore Sling: Caught between a merlion and a sky garden

2019-06-25 12:00 - Selene Brophy
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Singapore is fascinating. And overwhelming. But mostly it’s exhilarating.

Coming from a country like South Africa where wild, open spaces form such a naturally broad part of daily life, it struck me front and centre how this city-country, smarting for space, is so future-focused in its architecture and design.

At 50kms long and just 28kms wide (quite literally my daily commute to work), they are rising higher and higher in their buildings but are ever mindful of the need for eco-spaces, green spaces - to ensure the very well-being of its people.

READ: Quick Guide to Singapore: Visa-free travel for South Africans

What jet lag?

Arriving at 05:30am on a Saturday morning on a one-stop flight from Cape Town (via OR Tambo in Johannesburg), I was both enthralled and alarmed - only because it felt like a time-warp into what futuristic buildings will look like - as we spin towards a warmer future with finite resources.

Landing this early certainly requires a bit of planning (fortunately there is no visa-schlep), keeping in mind the 6-hr time difference - so either ensure you arrange an early check-in, or that your bags can be stowed at your hotel - many establishments are more than happy to do the latter.

Lockers at the airport could also be an easy alternative - irrespective the journey to the main attractions, the airport or your accommodation, is unlikely to be too long. 

WATCH: A first-hand look inside Changi's Jewel, making Singapore the ultimate layover destination

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The 40m High rain vortex at Changi Airport. (Photo: Anthony Ang)

The legacy of LKY

The aim to establish itself as a gateway to China, sees a frenetic energy about this place, possibly on par with New York City - except with layers of ancient eastern culture adding a different depth to your experience. 

Yet it is still such a young nation - gaining full independence in 1965 - with Lee Kuan Yew, as a charismatic leader largely attributed for the success of Singapore and its Passion Made Possible point of view.

You'll note off the bat the gentrified buildings as the country preserves its heritage and mixed culture - with Peranakan being an interesting fusion of Asia’s Malay and Chinese, with tinges of European too. 

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Traditional street shops. (Photo: Selene Brophy)

There is no rock and a hard place for Singapore- t

(Peranakan tiles are a mark of Singapore's melded cultures. (Photo: Selene Brophy)


Beauty and functionality

A continued ode to LKY, means there are rules for rules, yet I didn't get the sense I would be arrested on the spot for j-walking (smokers might not be so lucky though). And I have to say I'm simply in love with the gentle, ego-less nature of Singapore's people, who for the most part are friendly, kind and so accommodating of the travellers who add to their thriving society. Everybody speaks English, with signage in English too. There is no rock and a hard place for Singapore- they want the world to visit and they're making it as enticing as possible.

There is no rock and a hard place for Singapore- t

(Photo: Selene Brophy) 

There is no rock and a hard place for Singapore- t

(Photo: Selene Brophy)

If you are short on time and want to check off a few major highlights, and there are many despite Singapore's diminutive size, I’d suggest building an itinerary around a few of the following attractions.

Expect crowds and enjoy doing all the silly poses for your Instagram. 

Singapore City Gallery

Here's you'll gain excellent insight into how this tiny land-scarce island became a dynamic world-class metropolis. It is multi-levelled with interactive installations, built to scale as it showcases Singapore's architectural development and heritage of today and where they plan on going in the decades ahead. It's also extremely child-friendly. 

 There is no rock and a hard place for Singapore-

(Photo: Selene Brophy)

River Cruise around Marina Bay

You can board at Merlion Park Jetty, thronging with travellers even at 09:00am in the morning.  From here your electric bumboat, with indoor and outdoor seats, gives you superb views of the must-see highlights of Singapore on a single 40 minute cruise.

You'll see the landing site of Sir Thomas Stamford, the founder of Singapore under British Rule. He bought the island from the Dutch for the British East India Company in 1819 and shaped its heritage as a free port.

The Merlion at Marina Bay is a coveted site to visit. As Singapore's official mascot, this mythical creature, combines "mer", meaning the sea, and "lion".  This encompasses Singapore's origin as a fishing village when it was called Temasek, meaning "sea town" in Javanese as well as its original name—Singapura—meaning "lion city" or "kota signa". 

Once you've done the cruise, you can explore more on foot along the colourful traditional shop houses of Clarke Quay and Boat Quay.

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'Drinking' from the Merlion. (Photo: Anthony Ang)

Gardens by the Bay

Located next to Marina Reservoir, Gardens by the Bay offers expansive waterfront views as well as IRL look at the modern skyscrapers of the Central Business District and Marina Bay (instead of the scaled versions of the City Gallery). This multi-award winning horticultural destination spans 101 hectares - giving your imagination inspiration for what indoor, green spaces across the world might look like in years to come.

READ: TL;DR landmark UN Climate Change report: Close to 1 million species at risk

Don't miss the Garden Rhapsody as music and lights transform the treetops into an enchanted forest. Dance along with the Super Trees as they present a run of varying waltzes. There is literally a light show for everything in Singapore.

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(Photo: Selene Brophy)

There is no rock and a hard place for Singapore- t

(Photo: Selene Brophy) 

Taste some spicy crab, chicken rice and durian 

Food was such a highlight, from the make-shift street food spots, many markets as well as high-end, long standing restaurants. If you have to try at least one - head to Eng Seng. It might look basic in appearance but the food and flavours are complex. Expect to get your hands well and truly dripping with sauce. And if you're a fan of crispy chicken wings this place is dynamite. 

Make a point to check out the infamous durian sold along the streets too. It has a foul smell many cannot deal with - probably as intense as blue cheese - and as rewarding with a delicious creamy texture once you get over it. 

There is no rock and a hard place for Singapore- t

(Photo: Gillian McLaren) 

There is no rock and a hard place for Singapore- t

(Photo: Selene Brophy)

There is no rock and a hard place for Singapore- t

(Photo: Anthony Ang)

Art Science Museum

As with the Super Trees at the Gardens by the Bay, this creative space is awash with interesting installations involving technology, lights and tons of creativity.

The Art Science Museum looks at the creative processes at the heart of art, science, technology and culture, and their roles in shaping society.

Designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie, the iconic museum hosts international exhibitions as well as permanent exhibitions across three floors of gallery space. The latest permanent exhibition, Future World, is Singapore's largest interactive digital playground and brings out the child in you it is so much fun.

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(Photo: Anthony Ang)

Ce La Vi, Marina Sands 

An upmarket spot to enjoy some cocktails with residents and celebrity DJs usually on the line-up. Offering up one of the best views of Singapore from 57 floors above - including the famous infinity pool view, which is open to guest of Marina Bay Sands only.  

 There is no rock and a hard place for Singapore-

(Photo: Selene Brophy)


 READ: This Asian carrier, aiming to be the world's leading digital airline, has just upped capacity to SA

If you're planning on going... 

Singapore Airlines' passengers who are in Singapore for 24+ hours are eligible for a Singapore Stopover Holiday (SSH), including a one-night hotel stay, round-trip airport transfers, complimentary rides on the SIA Hop-on Bus & free admission to 15 attractions.

All you have to do is book a “multi-city” trip to access this deal. Click here for more info.

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*Disclaimer: Traveller24 Editor Selene Brophy was hosted by Singapore Airlines for flights and by Singapore Tourism Board for the duration of her stay.