Jo Cooke spent two dazzling days in this glitzy city-state
If plenty of razzmatazz with a side order of relaxation is what your clients are looking for in a stopover or exotic city break, then Singapore could be just the ticket.
Often described as the Little Red Dot, because of its compact size and Chinese influence, it may be a mere pin prick on the world map, but Singapore packs a punch like a heavyweight champion.
A shopaholic’s nirvana, you can barely turn a corner without bumping into another super mall. Throw in an awe-inspiring skyline, tropical beach, world-class theme park, gloriously green gardens, a sprinkling of temples plus colonial treasures and you soon have a packed itinerary.
The sights in this small city state are conveniently close to one another. And when you can’t strut between them, a squeaky-clean metro whisks you there, or you can take a taxi – the fares are metered and drivers are among the friendliest I’ve encountered.
Singapore is also great for those new to Asia. Signs are in English, the folk speak it and they even drive on our side of the road.
In addition to classic must-sees, new wonders include Marina Bay Sands. This integrated resort has a huge rooftop infinity pool on its 57th storey. Look down from the Observation Deck and you’ll see Gardens by the Bay. Its 101 hectares of lakes, hot houses and floral artistry are like a giant version of the Eden Project dotted with Diarmuid Gavin-style items.
08.30: Kick that jet lag into touch by breakfasting at Ya Kun Kaya Toast in Chinatown. A bowl of very soft-boiled eggs, which the locals smother in soy sauce, is served with kaya toast, bread stuffed with chunks of butter, sugar and coconut milk. It’s a great hangover or jet lag cure.
09.00: Since you’re in the heart of it, wander the streets and courtyards of Chinatown soaking up the frenetic goings-on.Shops and market stalls sell an array of inventive gadgets and cheap-and-cheerful souvenirs beneath a canopy of red and gold lanterns. In between them you’ll find numerous mosques and temples including the colourful Sri Mariamman with its tower of deftly-carved deities.
10.30: After that touch of culture, catch the MRT (Singapore’s metro) from Chinatown station to Orchard Road – Singapore’s answer to Oxford Street. More than 20 shopping malls, studded with Times Square-style animated billboards, lure you to hammer the plastic in designer emporiums and high street fashion chain stores.
13.00: Hail a cab and swap urban cool for colonial splendour, taking lunch in the Courtyard at Raffles. This grand dame of hotels still brims with charm. Stroll through the leafy gardens, then take a peek in the museum which reveals the hotel’s rich and famous guests.
14.30: If you’re ready for some down time, jump back on the MRT and change at Harbour Front on to the monorail that heads out to Sentosa Island. Singapore’s seaside playground has a tidy stretch of sand running around its southern shoreline.
16.00: Explore Sentosa’s varied attractions. Visit Fort Siloso, a Second World War defence, sign up for the zip wire, brave the iFLY simulated skydive or head to Universal Studios Singapore, a smaller version of its US siblings.
18.30: Grab yourself a ringside seat for sunset at the Fullerton Bay Hotel’s swanky Lantern Bar on Marina Bay. Brush shoulders with the in-crowd while sipping mojitos and tucking into the bar snacks, including fries with truffle oil.
09.00: Check out Marina Bay, the hippest part of downtown. Start with a bumboat ride along the Singapore River. These traditional wooden craft take you past old warehouses beautifully-restored as bars and restaurants. Make a mental note of Clarke’s Quay (pictured above), a bustling centre for nightlife you may want to head back to later.
10.00: Have your picture taken beside the water-spouting Merlion statue: half lion, half mermaid, it’s the city’s mythical mascot. Then walk around the bay, across the funky Helix Bridge to the Art Science Museum to view its permanent exhibition showcasing the fusion of art and science.
12.00: If you’re not shopped out, pop into the Louis Vuitton concept store, a striking glass building set on a floating island. It’s across the promenade from Marina Bay Sands’ giant shopping and entertainment complex, with theatres, gaming and plenty of places to grab a spot of lunch.
14.00: Spend the afternoon in Gardens by the Bay, just a short walk away, or take a taxi across town to the delightful Singapore Botanic Gardens, home to a forest of delicate blooms in the National Orchid Garden.
18.00: After heading back to your hotel to freshen up, make a beeline for the Singapore Flyer. The glass capsules of this Ferris wheel offer unrivalled city views.
19.30: Go local for supper, grabbing yourself a picnic table at Makansutra, Glutton’s Bay. Stalls selling mountains of satay, fried rice, seafood noodles, carrot cake and husks of coconut water line this outdoor food court that’s super-popular with Singaporean families.
21.00: Step towards the water’s edge at Marina Bay and end your day watching the twice-nightlylaserlight and dancing fountains show.
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