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Singapore has the ‘Wow Factor’


What a change. Everything is so bright and clean. The architecture is stunning and everything is so well ordered. After Penang with its dusty roads and the choking fumes of hundreds of bikes and mopeds jostling for position it seems like heaven. Gone are the shabby chic buildings of George town and the concrete jungle of uninspiring hotels. Gone are the bikers wearing their coats back to front- I never did find out why! Instead the air is pristine and the city glistens in the darkness of early evening. The storm through which we flew has now passed and the wet landscape duplicates the bright lights and makes everything shimmer.
Singapore by night
A short drive from Changi airport and we arrive at our hotel. Its grand and we receive a warm welcome from the ‘bell boy’. He is well past retirement age but my what a memory. He never fails to remember us, offers us great advice about everything and soon we feel we have known him for ever. We love this place. Some might argue that Singapore has too many rules and regulations but from a visitors point of view it means that your taxi driver will never over charge you, you won’t find the pavement covered in chewing gum and should you lose something nine times out of ten it will find its way back to you. Like the camera my husband left in the taxi.

All too soon we discover that our stop over is going to be far too short so when others opt to climb into bed we head for the Bay and the extra 11 pm laser, sound and light show. We eat pizza and enjoy a drink in the balmy warmth which engulfs Singapore at almost any time of year. Soon the 15 minute electrifying extravaganza engulfs us. Interweaving lasers join dancing coloured fountains and the story of life unfolds on giant streaming water screens. Like so many things in Singapore it is completely free.
Singapore by night
It’s getting late but as Christmas is only a month away the shopping and eating complex which adjoins the Marina Sands is still ablaze with activity and we wander over. The stunning architectural mall is complimented by its ribbons of water which are fed by a cascade of water which descends from a giant swirling bowl which can also be viewed from above. Bedecked with tasteful overtones of the festive season we enjoy its ‘over the top’ extravagance, even though our budget runs to just window shopping!

Next morning we wake in our enormous luxury room and step out onto the balcony to breath in the fresh morning air and listen to the birds. They say hotels in Singapore are expensive but the Equarius did not cost us an arm and a leg and we would be hard pressed to find such value for money in many other resorts. Our choice is on Sentosa Island because this morning we have a date in Sea World with the Indo- Pacific dolphins. ‘Would you like us to arrange a golf cart’ they ask at the desk but the entrance is just outside the hotel!

It is possible to swim with dolphins in so many places now but this has got to be one of the best places for those who have any kind of disability. They take such good care of you and provide an experience which is second to none. All the programs allow you to interact and get up close and personal. Just like people the dolphins have their own personalities and believe it or not each calls in a voice which is instantly recognised by our hosts.
Singapore
I was content to shake hands, feel their rubbery skin and accept a kiss but others went swimming and interacting with them in a shallower pool and even got pushed along by the swimming dolphins when they laid on their backs. Jonathan donned a helmet into which air was pumped and with the help of the trainer descended to the bottom of a deeper pool where he was able to meet and greet under water. There is something very special about these gentle intelligent mammals that seems to act in a very therapeutic way especially with anyone stressed or handicapped.

The marine trainers were also keen to share their knowledge about habitats, diets and migration patterns. They showed us what they are doing in areas of research and veterinary care and shared their thoughts on building a more sustainable marine environment together. If only there had been more time to explore Sea World. It looked amazing. Sentosa is also so much more. It is a whole fun resort with great rides and getting around it with the aid of free transport is easy

The Singapore Flyer is Asia’s largest giant observation wheel and like the London Eye it has become a great tourist attraction. We took a 30 minute ride in one of its fully air conditioned capsules and had we had more time we would have taken high tea or cocktails and Champagne on one of the Flyer’s special in-flight packages.

The Marina Bay Sands Hotel was designed by architect Moshe Safdie and it is one of the most complex innovative buildings ever built. Completed in the last decade It offers over two and a half thousand rooms with breath taking views across the city and the Gardens by the Bay and believe it or not, when we enquired, they did not have a spare room! It consists of three towers which stand 55 storeys high. It is capped by the Sands SkyPark, which is home to restaurants, gardens and the iconic infinity pool. We took the lift to check it out for ourselves. Unfortunately the skies darkened
and so we spent time in the bar watching the drama of the lightning as it flashed again and again above the city. Believe it or not some folks remained at the edge of the pool watching the lightning show in the warm heavy downpour. When the sun came out again we too took a closer look.

Early evening saw us with our guide Kaley – a great character, obviously a guy before she took on her
female persona. Her voice was deep, her wit sharp and she herded her brood like a mother hen. She was no longer a spring chicken and had been voted best Singapore guide on numerous occasions. We learnt that Singapore was a very small fishing village less than two hundred years ago. The modern city has been built on reclaimed land and within the last couple of decades has changed beyond all recognition. Three quarters of the population are Chinese with Malay, Indian and westerners making up the other quarter.

THE HAWKER STALLS
First stop are the Hawker stalls at the Singapore Flyer. The smell from every cart-shaped stall is inviting as pots steam and woks sizzle. There is satay, char kway teow, and satay celup to name just a few – whatever shall we choose. Everything is cheap and everything looks iviting. There is no time to dilly dally. It’s becoming a constant cry. Perhaps we need one of those tee shirts with ‘so much to do, so little time’ emblazoned across it! We have barely sat down at the wooden tables when we are summoned to board the bus but its hard to hurry with chopsticks so we pick up spoons. Next stop is Burgis village for a quick overview of the exuberant street market and on in time for the show at the Gardens by the Bay for a spectacular sound and light show.

GARDENS BY THE BAY
I knew this was going to be my favourite before we had even alighted from the bus. Like everything else in Singapore lifts provide easy access to everything. The ‘trees’ are awesome by day but when the sun goes down and the amazing light and sound show brings them to life it’s another dimension. As the festive season is just around the corner we enjoy a special captivating presentation. These manmade super trees are as tall as skyscrapers. They have giant steel and concrete trunks with thousands of thick wire rods for branches. In the daytime you can walk between them on high walkway
Singapore by night
When the historical bumboat arrives at the jetty we sit up front. It’s a great chance to see the cityscape by night in all its glory. We pass by all the major landmarks, get caught up in the light and laser show as it erupts into life for a new audience on the shore, pass under bridges, admire the lighted Christmas trees and finally arrive at Clarke Quay. Some leave us to party the night away but we re-board the bus and head for Orchard Grove Road.

I thought the USA knew how to decorate for Christmas but the major shopping zone is something else. Shoppers are everywhere and they make the journey down the main thoroughfare slow but it gives as more time to appreciate the lights and festive decorations, which if we stand up on the top deck of the bus, we can almost touch! Suddenly I hear the sound of birds. I think at first that it must be ‘piped’ but I am a little confused as to why they are playing bird song and not Christmas carols. Then I realise that it is actually thousands of birds singing. It is so light they think it is daytime! Half an hour later we take a taxi back to the hotel. In a few hours the birds will be singing again as we wake to their dawn chorus.

Day three dawns and we have got to catch the plane but I need more time. There is so much still to see and do. Another half dozen stopovers will not be enough. I’ve fallen in love. Can’t get the city out of my mind. I’ll be back but it won’t be for just a couple of days. I want to visit the aquarium, see the orchids and the botanic gardens, admire the temples, take a ride on the cable car. I want to go on the night time safari at the zoo, try more authentic food at the hawker stalls. The list goes on and on. I’ve lost my heart to Singapore. I need to get to know you better.
Singapore by night
All photos by John Myers.

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