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Singapore fling

Neil Sowerby can’t resist the charms of an eastern classic

Written by . Published on April 1st 2011.


Singapore fling

SINGAPORE Airlines (SIA) is celebrating the 25th anniversary of flights from Manchester Airport to Singapore, one of 2011’s hottest destinations. This major gateway to the east has been transformed over the past quarter of a century while retaining its unique cosmopolitan mix and sense of history. Here travel editor Neil Sowerby provides you with 25 reasons to visit the independent city state that’s got the lot...

RAFFLES HOTEL
The quintessence of British colonial rule and a classy survivor amid the 21st century concrete and glass cityscape. Named after the city’s founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, and originally the residence of an Arab trader, this iconic building opened as a hotel on December 1, 1887 with 10 rooms spread across two wings. With its garden setting and classical architecture, it has traditionally been a literary haunt with the likes of Somerset Maugham, Herman Hesse and Rudyard Kipling staying. Its Long Bar is home to the legendary Singapore Sling, originally concocted by Ngiam Tong Boon, one of its bartenders. Today, Raffles Hotel continues to enchant with its majestic suites, fashion boutiques, spas as well as the arts space Jubilee Hall.

CHIJMES
Pronounced “chimes”, the initials stand for Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, a Neo-Classical style building which houses one of Singapore’s coolest dining and entertainment complexes, including the inevitable Harry’s Bar. Imagine Covent Garden but with lawns, marble waterfalls and old world style courtyards. It has expanded beyond the one-time nuns’ sanctuary and Mother Superior’s house into two more buildings – the Orphanage and a Gothic-style chapel with beautiful stained glass windows. Look out for The Gate of Hope which still stands on Victoria Street, where babies born in the year of the Tiger used to be abandoned.

SHOP TILL YOU DROP ON ORCHARD ROAD
Shopping central Singapore-style, the name comes from the orchards that used to encompass the area until the early 19th century, when a mysterious disease wiped out the nutmeg plantations. Since the Seventies towers of steel and glass have taken over the area. Tanglin Shopping Centre houses speciality stores selling an assortment of products such as beadwork, clothes, accessories, furniture and antiques. More modern is the ION Orchard, with more than 600,000 square feet of shopping space over eight floors. The ground level houses luxury brands such as Prada, Ermenegildo Zegna and Louis Vuitton, while the basement offers high street faves Topshop, Fred Perry and Armani Exchange. Orchard Central is an even newer shopping mall with its cosy Spanish feel. Dining on the roof gardens provides a breathtaking view of the city, as you admire the world’s tallest indoor Via Ferrata Wall.

SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX
September 2008 saw Singapore host its first Grand Prix, Formula One’s first night-time event. The tight bumpy track, illuminated by 3,000 lights threads through the city streets past colonial buildings and skyscrapers. This year’s event is on September 25. It’s hugely popular so it’s worth motor racing fans booking their flights now with SIA. For their special package to the event, visit www.singaporeair.com

ORCHID HEAVEN
Since 1859 orchids, the world’s most exotic cultivated flowers, have been closely associated with the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Over 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids are to be found in the their collection, with usually about 600 examples on display in the National Orchid Garden. A more modest but beautiful to see them is in the Mandai Orchid Garden. More than 200 varieties of the plant spread out in a blaze of colour across the hillside setting, where there’s also a herb and spice plot and water garden. SIA have regularly flown rare specimens to Britain for Kew Gardens’ orchid festivals.

NEW YEAR
Aficionados of turn of the year celebrations rate the Chinese New Year in Singapore higher than Hong Kong’s. It’s held in the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar (Jan-Feb). More than a million visitors attend. Once again, if you want be there book well ahead with SIA. In swarming Chinatown traditional chinese goodies are on sale, such as Mandarin orange shrubs, bak kwa (barbecued pork), potted bamboo stalks and home decorations. DJs and bands lead the countdown party which culminates in a fireworks display, best viewed from Marina Bay.

CHINGAY PARADE OF DREAMS
For many the most spectacular event from the festivities around New Year. The 2011 night-time parade featured the “Longest-ever Flying Dragon in Singapore”, kicking at 88 metres, 2,000 “Energy-Charged Hip Hop Youths” and 4,000 sky lanterns for the grand finale “Passing on the Lamp” before the usual all-night dance party under the stars. Expect even more of the same next year.

SINGAPORE RIVER HONGBAO
Hot on the heel of New Year comes this frenetic 15-day festival, which celebrated is 25th anniversary this time withe theme “Year of The Rabbit; Many Returns” down at its Esplanade Park base. At this event unique to Singapore visitors are sprinkled with gold dust and confetti bearing lucky numbers. There are carnival rides and giant mythological figures; plus displays of acrobatics and martial arts

ESPLANADE – THEATRES ON THE BAY
Work began on this 10 acre waterfront entertainment complex in 1996, on reclaimed land at the mouth of the Singapore River and it officially pened in 2002. The design is said to express harmony with nature, reflecting the balance of Yin and Yang. But the spiky cladding on the aluminium sunshades have led to it being nicknamed the Durian, thanks to its resemblance to the skin of the notoriously smelly local fruit. It boasts a concert hall, theatre, recital and theatre studios, a wide gallery space and an auditorium. The Esplanade Mall that around it includes also the library@esplanade on the third floor, making Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, a gigantic cultural landmark.

LOOK AT THOSE CURVES
Linking Marina Bay to Marina Centre, the Helix Bridge has already become one of Singapore’s major landmarks. It was officially in April, 2010 and is the world’s first curved bridge. This 280-metre pedestrian linkway features the world’s first ‘double-helix’ structure. Designed by an international consortium and inspired by the yin and yang concept in Asian culture, its struts are said to resemble the structure of DNA.

IF YOU WANT MORE MODERN ARCHITECTURE
Just gaze in awe at Singapore’s cityscape. Limited land space meant that the only was was up. This best explains the country’s fascination with high-rise buildings and why architectural ingenuity is greatly valued here. As a result, renowned architects have constantly pushed the boundaries of design, often on land reclaimed from the sea. Planet Confidential’s recommended spot to view that legendary skyline? The Merlion Stautue in the Clark Quay/Singapore River area.

SINGAPORE AIRLINES AND THE SARONG KEBAYA
Up there with the best in the world by thinking BIG, like Singapore itself. Multi-award-winning, it was the first airline to operate the A380, the world’s largest passenger aircraft with business class seats that are the widest in the sky and can transform into a fully flat bed. Perfect for a nap after an in-flight meal developed by the likes of Gordon Ramsay! Served by a Singapore Girl stewardess clad in the iconic cobalt-blue sarong kebaya. For details of airline services visit www.singaporeair.com.

HAWKER CENTRES
These archetypal Singapore institutions were once wet, dirty and dim shelters crammed with all forms of street food. Often the hawkers were cooks with wooden pushcarts who sold by the roadside. As the city took on a more modern face, its food spots followed suit, with many of the island’s hawker centers upgrading or moving indoors in the 1990s to air-conditioned food courts. Foodies may bemoan the loss of authenticity, but such places are still the source of some of Singapore’s best street food. For a modern homage to the hawkers visit the Singapore Food Trail – a 12-stall, five-kiosk, three-cart, 800-seat, 1960s-themed hawker conglomeration inside The Singapore Flyer along Raffles Avenue.

THE GREAT MELTING POT
Singapore is one of the world’s great places to eat as the meeting point for many of the best Asian cuisines. The main ones are Chinese, Malay, Indian and Peranakan. Take a stroll around the diverse neighbourhoods and you’ll come across halal Malay food, South Indian vegetarian thali, North Indian naans and briyani, Cantonese dim sum, Hainanese chicken rice, Peking duck, Hokkien mee (fried noodles from the China’s Fujian Province) and popiah (spring rolls), available in food centres and restaurants across Singapore.Special to Singapore is Peranakan or Nonya food, offering a blend of Chinese, Malay and Indonesian flavours. It combines aromatic herbs and spices such as lemongrass, chillies, tamarind paste, shrimp paste and coconut milk to create a rich cuisine of braised dishes, stews and curries. You’ll have to try the ayam buah keluak, a chicken dish mixed with earthy-tasting buah keluak nuts and the laksa, a famous Nonya dish made with rice vermicelli and coconut milk and garnished with seafood or chicken.

HOLLAND VILLAGE
A favourite expat haunt, owing to the laidback charm. It offers a microcosm of Singapore, and provides an array of alternative shopping and entertainment options, just a 10-minute taxi ride from Orchard Road. Along Lorong Mambong, you’ll find an eclectic mix of live music joints, ritzy restaurants and casual wine bars. Visit a traditional coffee house, sip a cup of teh tarik (“pulled tea”) and watch the world go by. Holland Road Shopping Centre is a treasure trove of ethnic-inspired arts and crafts from across the globe. Also check out Chip Bee Gardens, full of quirky fashion stores, gourmet emporia and art galleries.

ENJOY THE MULTICULTURAL MIX
You’ll never be alone in one of the planet’s most densely populated and cosmopolitan cities. The ethnic Chinese form 74.2 per cent of the population, with the country’s original inhabitants – the Malays, comprising of 13.4. The Indians make up 9.2, and Eurasians, Peranakans and others making up a combined 3.2. Singapore is also home to many expatriates, with almost 20 per cent of them non-resident blue collar workers from the Philippines, Indonesia and Bangladesh. To get the feel of this mix visit some of the historic ethnic quarters...

CHINATOWN
Singapore’s largest historic district. When Raffles announced Singapore as a trading post in 1819, many Chinese flocked to Singapore, and by the 1860s, the Chinese community made up 65 per cent of the population. Today Chinatown is made up of exotic pre-war shop houses, home to merchants who have been hawking the same wares for years – bales of fine silk, traditional handicrafts, and gold and jade jewellery. Make a visit to the large Chinese emporium Yue Hwa, It stocks a wide array of authentic Chinese products such as tea, medicinal herbs, antiques and traditional Chinese costumes such as the cheongsam. It’s surprisingly a great place for contemporary chic shopping, too, along Ann Siang Road and Club Street at local boutiques such as Asylum and Style:Nordic.

LITTLE INDIA
Head for Tekka Market, ia short walk from Little India MRT Station, and you’ll be greatd by a a cacophony of car horns, bicycle bells and chatter. The crowds come to Tekka to shop at its numerous stalls selling Indian, Malay and Chinese food as well as flowers, particularly jasmine, whose scent is signature aroma of Little India. In its inner lanes you’ll find Ayurvedic massage oils, gold, incense and fabrics in a variety of textures for sale. You can shop throughout the night at the 24-hour emporium, Mustafa Centre, located at the corner of Serangoon and Syed Alwi Roads, which has some of the lowest fixed prices in Singapore for eberyhting from spices to electronic goods..

KAMPONG GLAM
The name of this quaint historic district originates from the Gelam Tree, which used to grow abundantly in the area. In 1822, the land in Kampong Glam was officially allocated to the Malays and other Muslims, and it was also home to a small but successful community of Arab traders. Nowadays it’s a conservation area and most of the original architecture has been restored, including the historic Sultan Mosque. Many of the vibrantly painted shophouses painted lining Bussorah, Baghdad and Kandahar Streets are occupied by trendy design and IT firms, restaurants and art galleries. But alongside there are shops selling versions of the famed Singapore Airlines kebaya dress or traditional games such as the Congkak (involving marbles and a wooden board).

CITY OF CULTURE
The city-state has a plethora of museum and galleries – and as a sign of it commitment to contemporary art it is hosting the Singapore Biennale 2011 Open House from until May 15. More than 60 works by 63 artists from 30 countries will be represented at four separate venues, including Old Kallang Airport. T find out more visit their website www.singaporebiennale.org

DISCOVER ASIA’S SUNKEN PAST
Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Moonsoon Winds is a special exhibition at ther ArtScience Museum showcasing one of the oldest and most important marine archaeological finds of the late 20th century. It features an astonishing cargo of some 60,000 objects carried from China by a ninth-century Arab dhow, including exceptional items such as the earliest complete examples of Chinese blue-and-white dishes and intricate items of finely worked gold. Until its discovery near Indonesia’s Belitung Island in 1998, the cargo had lain undisturbed on the ocean floor for more than 1,000 years. The exhibition will stay in Singapore until July 2011 before embarking on a world tour.

BE A HUMAN CATAPULT
One step up on Gmax, the GX-5 Extreme Swing is the adrenalin junkie’s way to see the great city. You and four other brave souls are launched up to a height of 50 metres before being catapulted across the Singapore River. Doctor’s advice: don’t have a Sling before you Swing!

A PLACE TO CHILL
The city with everything, even snow! Snow City provides Singaporeans a chance to escape from the humidity. With temperature as low as -9 degree Celsius, these sub-zero temperature offer a cooling experience. There is also a three-storey high and 60 metres long snow slope for visitors to ski, snowboard and snow tube. They even ru courses on how to make ice cream.

AND A DAY TRIP...
The island resort of Sentosa translates as “peace and tranquility” in Malay, ironic since it now attracts more than five million visitors a year to its 2km sheltered beach, golf courses, five star hotels as well as the Universal Studios Singapore and Marine Life Park with the world’s largest oceanarium.

OH YES, THE AGGIE MACKENZIE AWARD!
Singapore is famous for being the cleanest city in the world. Singapore is so strict that gum is a banned substance. Caught with it and you could face a fine. Spitting, littering and jay-walking can also land you in big trouble.

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