Letters from Abroad
By Marianne Gray
Most people visiting Singapore rush to the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel to drink a Singapore Sling and then fly on. However, Singapore has far far more to offer than a sugary cocktail.
Of course, it’s not the end of the world going to the handsome 1887-built hotel with its liveried Sikh doormen. But Singapore spouts cocktails in gorgeous places like the Marina Bay Sands, with its infinity pool high in the sky, or One Fullerton, previously the handsome Post Office, where roof views are awesome in the true sense of the word.
Singapore, an island city-state off southern Malaysia, is a global financial centre with a tropical climate and multicultural population of about 5.5 million. The language is English and the local people are unexpectedly friendly . . . slim and comfy in their skin as they glide around calmly in that elegant South East Asian manner. It has many areas, such as Little India, the 1820s Chinatown and the expat Brit section with its intriguing Black and White houses that look like Reigate.
It’s all very green, very clean and blissfully well organised. The buses and metro work and the taxis are cheap.
The centre of town has old colonial buildings dwarfed by stunning skyscrapers. The surrounding areas are full of high-rise apartment blocks and townships that are modern and good-looking.
Having the climate it does, the vegetation is exotic and brilliant flowers tumble over walls, in the middle of the road and around any piece of stray earth. The 158-year old tropical gardens in Tanglin is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is so gorgeous. If you love flowers don’t miss the Flower Dome, the world’s largest glass greenhouse which is utterly remarkable with its towering vertical garden.
People tend to think Singapore is madly expensive but you can eat very cheaply, especially excellent “pavement food” in cafes and in food streets like Bencoolen Street where at places like Fatty’s a frenzy of harrassed waiters will serve you mountains of delicious food for surprisingly little. Or go north to the labyrinthine Mustafa Centre and find your way up to Level 7 and the rooftop Indian restaurant which has simply sublime food. Or go to Chinatown’s Kreta Ayer for great hawker food. If it’s a reviving gin you’re after, the lovely art deco Atlas Bar in Parkview Square has zillions of different kinds.
There are so many things to see – museums like Changi, about WW2 and the Japanese Occupation; Peranakan, about the local people and their culture; and The Battlebox, where you walk around the former British underground command centre where the decision to surrender Singapore to the Japanese was made in 1942. It is complete with models of the real people in their offices. There is also the ArtScience Museum which is constructed like an iconic lotus.
But keep your eyes open. You might spot something eccentric, like BooksActually (www.booksactually.com) with its three cats sitting on top of heaps of the latest books. Or the even more dotty, The Cat Cafe (www.thecatcafe.sg) where you can drink your coffee surrounded by dozens of remarkable cats taken in from a sanctuary to live in the lap of luxury and entertain the punters.
In Singapore there’s never enough time to have your fill of adventures! Singapore might be hot but it is a really cool place.