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A layover in Singapore makes long-haul travel easy

Certain destinations are a pain to reach. I had always wanted to travel to Bali, but the flights from Los Angeles are lengthy and expensive. I heard the same complaints from friends in Canada and in Europe. But, reach Bali we did! And it proved to be fairly easy and not nearly as expensive as a trip to Bali without a layover. The remedy: have a layover in Singapore and then fly to/from Bali on either Jetstar or Asia Air. Both airlines offer inexpensive and reliable commuter jumps. And, surprisingly so, Singapore is a lot of fun for a few days’ respite.

150916img_0086-3The state-of-the-art air terminals in Singapore are a welcoming sight. They will soon open their fourth terminal. Like many other things I found to be true about Singapore, the airport is a master of efficiency. It is clean, modern, and the employees are eager to assist the weary traveler. A couple of hotels offer free shuttle to/from the hotel to the airport, and I chose Village Changi mainly because of this curb-to-curb service. It is about a 25 minute ride so one feels far enough away from airport congestion and enough in the city center to call the visit authentic. Better yet, the complimentary breakfast is fantastic, the rooms modern, multiple food courts just a block away from the hotel lobby and public transportation nearby that is a snap to use.

Singapore is hot and humid, no doubt about it. My first night there I booked a tour with Buffalo Tours to visit Chinatown. From their office, we took a local bus to the heart of Chinatown. There, we wandered the colorful streets and ate, drank, and became quite merry. We sampled char kway trow (stir fried noodles) and satay (barbecued meat skewers.) A sampling the many varieties of jerky proved to be a favorite destination. And Singapore Ice puts any 7/11 Slurpee to shame. Our guide, June, passionately told tales of the local goldsmiths and teahouses. We stopped by medical halls to hear about eucalyptus balms and crocodile oils. Hindu temples and mosques sit adjacent to Chinese temples. Services go pretty much non-stop at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, a must stop for every visitor to Chinatown. The destination proved to be a good introduction to Singapore and its variety of activities and sights.

The next day I went to Sentosa, a man-made island that is definitely A Fun Zone. The name Sentosa means “peace” and “tranquility” in Malay, a name the island has kept since the 1970s. It was once referred to as “Pulau Belakang Mati” (Island of Death from Behind.) Likely, this name is a relic of the pirates and bloodshed that lingered there centuries ago. Now, its Universal Studio Park might conjure up pirates on rides and bloodshed from make-up artists in its seven movie themed zones. Close to Universal Studios lies the S.E.A. (aquarium) where more than 100,000 marine animals call home. And if the heat and humidity are doing their job, one can find relief at Adventure Cove Waterpark. Here, one can dash down high speed water slides, drift down a lazy river, snorkel with 20,000 tropical fish over a colorful reef, come face-to-face with sharks, and wade with stingrays. The modern shopping mall in Sentosa is home to the city’s metro, which provides a quick and easy ride back into the center of town.

150916img_0104-3If I had to narrow it down to one favorite day in Singapore, it would be my next: visiting the Singapore Botanic Gardens and Gardens by the Bay. I took a city bus first to Singapore Botanic Gardens, an easy drive of about half an hour from my hotel. More than 60,000 plants welcome joggers and picnickers, dogs, and ducks. It is a long tradition for Singapore to name orchids after visiting dignitaries, and here one can rub shoulders with VIP orchids such as the Vanda William Catherine and the Paravanda Nelson Mandela. With over 200 VIP orchids on display, there’s bound to be a number of them to suit your company. Except for the climate, one feels as if a bit of England has come to Southeast Asia at the Gardens. Here, the natural plants hug the meandering paths and sprawling grounds. Founded in 1850, the gardens were designed by Lawrence Niven, whose work reflects the influence of British gardens. About every other week the Singapore Symphony Orchestra holds free concerts in the Gardens, blending classical with contemporary music to mesmerize all in attendance.

I was definitely in a WOW state with my visit to the Botanic Gardens and thought nothing could surpass its beauty. Then I jumped on the metro to go to Gardens by The Bay and found them even beyond WOW. This award winning horticultural destination spans 101 hectares of reclaimed land. It consists of two main areas: Bay South Garden and Bay East Garden.

An orchid inspires Bay South Garden. One cannot miss the massive Supertrees here. These tree-shaped vertical gardens are between nine and sixteen stories tall. Enjoy walking on the suspended walkway between the two Supertrees to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the gardens. In the evening visitors can enjoy the sky show of chorographical light and sounds to the Garden Rhapsody amidst the Supertrees. The Bay East Garden provides the perfect picnic setting with its lush lawns and tropical palms. Unique to Gardens by the Bay is the Cloud Forest. Within the enclosed compound a 35 meter tall mountain is veiled in mist and covered in lush vegetation amidst the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. Horticulturists attend to every detail and one is sure to remember fondly the visit to Gardens by the Bay.

150916img_0078-3I also went to the Singapore Zoo. During the late afternoon its best attractions were its Giant Panda Conservation and its River Safari. Two giant pandas are on loan from China. They live in a climate controlled enclosure so they have it pretty good in comparison to residents and visitors to Singapore who must fend off the heat and humidity. The best adventure at the zoo is its Night Safari as only at night time are the animals active and out for prowling. One can enjoy walking trails and tram rides, though I made the mistake of going on a weekend and the crowds were horrendous.

I flew on via Jetstar to Bali the following morning. Here, I relished the breeze and the distinct culture, but my mind often returned to the few days of adventure in Singapore. Balinese traffic is chaotic at best; Singapore’s is organized and methodical. Bali’s public transportation is often hailing down a taxi and bartering over the price. Singapore’s is catching a bus with hardly a wait and jumping on the metro with ease. Bali continues to be plagued by trash, both from visitors and locals. Singapore can barely spell the word “trash,” let alone know its presence. Diversity makes for good travel, and probably that is reason enough to claim, “Singapore is worth a lay-over.”


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