by Marcel Proust
“Discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
by Marcel Proust
One of my husband’s hobbies is checking out reasonably priced flights and hotels. I am the lucky recipient of the great deals he finds, for which I am very thankful. One evening while sitting at his computer, he asked if I wanted to go to Singapore. For a short window of time United Airlines had affordable business class tickets and he found a luxury hotel for a competitive price. Bingo! Before I knew it, we had booked a vacation to Singapore. Maybe it had something to do with my one-day layover in Singapore en route to Bali in 1992 or watching the recent movie Crazy Rich Asians.
Anyway, I asked myself several times what the heck was I doing to embark on a 16-hour trans-Pacific flight and why Singapore. I was questioning my very sanity. But in the end, I am so glad I did because we had a great time and enjoyed the many cultural layers of ethnicity. Singapore is much more than the sum of its numerous attractions. Singapore is a wealthy city state in southeast Asia, adjacent to Malaysia. Different ethnic and religious groups live together in harmony and peace and seem genuinely happy to be where they are. The country is known for its transition from a third-world country to a first-world country in a single generation. It places highly in the key social indicators concerning education, healthcare, life expectancy, quality of life, personal safety and housing. When it comes to safety, we never once felt that we were in any kind of danger. I have never seen a cleaner subway than in Singapore. And you can use the restrooms, which has not been the case in any other country I have been to including the USA. I’d rather pee in my pants then go into a restroom in the subway in New York, Frankfurt or Paris. I realize that Singapore is a flawed democracy, with harsh sentences and limited free speech. Maybe I am just naive because I am not familiar with the nuances of the culture. But I liked what I saw and enjoyed this friendly city with its happy and helpful people.
Our outbound flight was pleasant because we went nonstop from San Francisco to Singapore. United’s new Polaris class is fine, and adequately comfortable as I could turn my seat into a small bed where I could stretch out with two pillows and two blankets. Since we flew at night, I was able to sleep for six hours and watched three movies. I loved Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. Our return flight was turbulent and not as comfortable. The new 787 Boeing airplanes are sleek airplanes, and the air circulation system seems to have been improved. However, everything seems to get smaller to add more seats. I miss the old 747 jumbo jets.
We arrived at 6 am, and after checking into our lovely hotel, walked to the Botanical Garden. The 184-acre garden opened in 1859 by the Agri-horticultural Society and was an important center to cultivate plants, especially the rubber tree. I could spend days there to enjoy the tranquility of this lush tropical garden. The garden is free to enter and became a Unesco World Heritage site in 2015. There are 10,000 different species of flora can be found in the garden.
The orchid garden is in the forefront of Orchid Studies and has been a pioneer in the cultivation of hybrids. Visiting heads of state and celebrities have orchids named after them.
This is the orchid named after Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. She is one of my favorite politicians at the moment.
There are several different restaurants located in the park. The corner house is a one-star Michelin restaurant. There are two other restaurants in the garden that are more casual. I didn’t eat in either, but I enjoyed a wonderful cup of ginger tea. It was the best I ever had, made with ginger from the garden.
And then there are the Gardens by the Bay, spanning 250 acres of reclaimed land. It has a fantastic futuristic design that would take days to explore. It is an enormous botanical garden, located right by the waterfront of Marina Bay, consisting of three parts: Bay South Garden, Bay Central Garden, and Bay East Garden. Like most tourists, we concentrated on the Bay South Garden with the Super Trees, Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome
The Cloud Forest Dome is absolutely amazing. It has the world’s tallest indoor 35-meter waterfall which descends through a mist-filled, temperature-controlled cloud walk and treetop walk. Both my husband and I were taken by this marvel of engineering and plant life that ranges from tropical highlands to ferns and hidden floral gems with an abundance of orchids. It is a jungle built on concrete that makes you feel like you are in an alien and surreal world.
Next to the Cloud Garden is the Flower Dome. It is the largest glass greenhouse in the world. Here you will find plants from the Mediterranean and semi-arid subtropical region. We took a little break in the California Garden and felt at home.
There is so much more to see and experience in this uniquely designed outdoor space.
We also decided to visit the ArtScience Museum which had an interesting light exhibit. I am interested in that because my niece is an architect in light design.
And then there is Singapore’s iconic hotel called Marina Sands with the world’s largest infinity pool on the roof, a casino with shopping and eating until you drop. We decided to visit the rooftop bar and had a Singapore Sling while enjoying the view, although we were not allowed in the pool since we were not guests of the hotel. I was going to go to the Raffles Hotel for my Singapore Sling, but unfortunately it was closed for renovations
Our hotel, the Saint Regis, felt like an old-fashioned luxury retreat in a very busy world. I was always happy when the doorman greeted me with a smile. I know I could relax, go for a swim after being immersed in the humid climate of Singapore. Almost every afternoon, I treated myself to a wonderful hazelnut dessert and at night we had a drink at the Astor Bar admiring the original Picassos on the walls. What a life! Oh, and let’s not forget the breakfast, with an astonishing variety of international dishes that made it difficult to choose. Every morning, I ate my fill.
On a late Sunday morning, we decided to take the local bus to Kampong Glam, an area with an eclectic blend of history, culture and a trendy lifestyle scene. It is a vibrant district, one of Singapore’s oldest urban neighborhoods. “Glam” is a local term for glamorous and “Kampong” derives from the Malayan word kampong which means “compound.” It’s a buzzing neighborhood with locals and tourists alike. The streets are lined with generations-old heritage stores, independent boutiques and craft shops. There are many local culinary delights to discover in this area, unfortunately I didn’t try any. Haji Street is the in most popular street visited by tourists. This is the only street where graffiti is allowed and you will find the trendiest boutiques and shops. We also liked the surrounding area, which I thought was more authentic. It was so interesting to observe the local culture here with its diverse lifestyle.
Singapore is a paradise for foodies. People are obsessed with their food and have a strong opinion on where and what to eat. I concentrated on the local food, even though they have everything else. It would take months to write about eating in Singapore. Each culture has their own specialties and for most of the population, they are affordable due to the Hawker Centers in town.These food stalls are true melting pots where you can share good, affordable Chinese, Indian, or Malayan food in one place. It is here where Singaporeans from across income levels and ethnicities gather to eat with dedicated purpose. Everyone has their own opinion on where to get the best chicken rice, chili crab, or other ethnic dishes. You will find pages and pages of recommendations.
I followed the advice of a New York Times article and ate at the Hawker Chan, a Chinese eatery in Chinatown. It was awarded a Michelin star in 2016, and I don’t know why. The chicken rice was very good, but the place had no resemblance to any Michelin-starred restaurant I have ever been to. Michelin stars are earned based on food, service, and ambience, at least that what I thought. Somebody, please explain this to me. I had a delicious Banh Mi sandwich in another stall at a different Hawker Center, which I thought was just as good.
We also enjoyed a great Chinese meal in the huge Marina Sands complex during a torrential downpour.
Unfortunately, because of the humidity and tropical climate, I could not eat a lot. I saw some fantastic food that I wanted to try, but it I didn’t have the necessary appetite to do so. Everybody recommended to try the chili or pepper crab, a specialty of Singapore. My husband and I shared one outdoors overlooking the Singapore River. It was delicious, as we picked out the live crab that was imported from Alaska.
One early afternoon we took a 45-minute boat tour on the Singapore River which was pleasant.
Was Singapore worth the trip? You bet it was. It was an interesting experience with many choices and lots to see. I travel because it gives me the opportunity to observe another culture and enjoy watching people. It makes me more humble and I hope gives me more understanding. I always learn something new. And I love mingling with the locals and in water falls on hot humid days.