Beauty and Culture All Wrapped up In One Exotic Package
By: Lily Jang
Singapore is a stunning, world-class, multi-cultural city, and my three-day visit there barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer. It’s the world’s only island city-state with a population of 6 million people. From the moment you arrive, it’s apparent why The Lion City (as it’s often referred to) is considered one of the safest, cleanest, and most welcoming places to visit. Although 74 percent of locals are Chinese, you’ll hear many other languages spoken, such as English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil. Because of the city’s multiculturalism, there’s a harmony of old and new in the architecture. Skyscrapers are juxtaposed with historic landmarks and heritage buildings. This, along with the warm nature of the locals, is why Singapore is so captivating. The country has a tropical climate with seasons varying between hot and dry and hot and rainy. And when it does rain, you better be prepared. The rain is heavy, to say the least. Although Singapore is mainly known for its shopping malls, celebrity chef restaurants, and unique attractions, such as the Marina Bay Sands Hotel or Gardens by the Bay, there are also countless temples, mosques, parks, and outstanding flora and fauna that you shouldn’t miss.
How to get there
Who wants flying to be a burden or feel like a chore? The journey to your destination should be exciting, comfortable, and fun. Currently, there are no non-stop flights between Houston and Singapore, so I chose EVA Airways, which included a layover in Taipei, Taiwan. I specifically flew Eva Air because of its reputation for an exceptional level of customer service whether you’re in Royal Laurel Class (business class) or Economy class (coach) on board their Boeing 777-300ER. Plus, EVA Air flies the ADORABLE Hello Kitty Jet exclusively from Houston to Taipei four times a week. No other U.S. city has the rights to the Hello Kitty brand. All items provided by the airline for your personal in-flight comfort, such as the down feather pillows, slippers, utensils, and even toilet paper, are embellished with the famous Hello Kitty icon. Being a huge Hello Kitty fan, this was my childhood dream come to life.
I took a 16-hour non-stop flight on EVA Air from Houston to Taipei and then another four-hour non-stop flight from Taipei to Singapore. The business class offers a pod that’s roomy enough for a tall man. Being only five feet tall, I was able to sprawl out as if I were in my own bed at home. At the push of a button, my seat converted into an approximately 6 ½-foot-long horizontal flatbed for a restful night’s sleep. This airline also splurges on the little things that matter, giving business class passengers comfortable pajamas, a hotel quality plush down comforter, and a Rimowa amenity kit. I’m mildly obsessed with the latter. It is basically a miniature Rimowa suitcase that contains sandalwood-scented moisturizer and lip balm from Harnn, Thailand’s leading spa product brand. The kit also includes earplugs, an eye mask, and warm socks. I was so relaxed and slept soundly for a solid ten hours. Good thing I had my own personal pod because I’m sure I was snoring.
Let’s talk about my favorite part: delicious airline food. Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? The meals served on EVA Air are photo worthy. Besides the variety of dishes served, the presentation is beautiful. It’s like artwork. They offer you multiple hot dishes from a specialized menu and snacks in between. I went to bed after a dumpling and noodle dinner from the world famous Din Tai Fung restaurant, and I was greeted by a hot breakfast of choice when I woke up. From cheeseburgers to Chinese porridge, the options are impressive, and the flight attendants constantly deliver and cater to your needs. It was almost like having a restaurant on board this plane.
When you’re not eating or snoozing, you can take part in EVA Air’s latest in-flight entertainment system, including HD touch screens, noise-canceling headphones, USB ports, and power sockets. Once I landed in Taipei, I had gotten a restful night’s sleep and was ready to hit the ground running. By the way, for those of us who are skittish about the friendly skies, rest assured about their safety record. AirlineRatings.com has ranked EVA Air among the world’s safest airlines for the third year in a row. It also ranked EVA Elite Class and Economy services in the top 10 “best for economy plus and economy class travel for 2015,” and, after evaluating quality of service, products, equipment and safety, counted the carrier among the world’s top 10 best airlines for 2016.
Where to stay
If you think everything is bigger in Texas, then you haven’t seen Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Talk about an architectural masterpiece. It is one of the most photographed hotels in the world, and its majestic exterior pales in comparison with its grand interior. At the top of the three 55-story towers is the world’s largest infinity pool shaped like a spaceship, and it is longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall. Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic would have loved this pool because you feel like you’re swimming on top of the world. The iconic pool overlooks the entire downtown Singapore skyline. In fact, you won’t find a more spectacular photo opp anywhere in Singapore. The infinity pool is part of the Sands SkyPark, which also includes Marina Bay Sands’ night club, Ce la Vi, and the Observation Deck. Stunning 360 degree views spanning the city to the ocean can be experienced here 57 levels above the heart of the city. Note: Access to the Infinity Pool is available only to guests of Marina Bay Sands hotel. The Observation Deck is open to the public for a small entrance fee. Check out www.MarinaBaySands.com or call ahead to make sure they’re open on the days you’re there.
You can visit Singapore and never leave the Marina Bay Sands complex for your culinary adventure. From 5-star restaurants to street food, everything you need is within walking distance. There are ten celebrity chef restaurants, including Wolfgang Puck’s CUT and Spago, Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen, Mario Batali’s Osteria Mozza and Pizza Mozza, and Daniel Boulud’s db Bistro & Oyster Bar. There’s also an extensive hawker-style food court (an open air complex that houses many stalls selling inexpensive food) that gives you 60 eateries to choose from inside the hotel. Foodies, come hungry.
In some ways, Marina Bay Sands is a small city. The hotel also includes a massive casino with three levels of gaming floor space and over 2,300 slot machines. Perhaps the best part? The second floor of the casino is smoke-free for those of us sensitive to cigarette smoke. Then there’s the mall and the rest of what the hotel offers. The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands consists of 300 stores ranging from Rolex to Ralph Lauren. There’s also a museum, two large theaters, two floating Crystal Pavilions, a skating rink, and even a canal that runs through the length of the Shoppes offering gondola rides in the same style as the Venetian in Las Vegas. From light shows to water shows to Broadway shows, Marina Bay Sands is the closest you get to Las Vegas in Southeast Asia.
What to experience
Singapore’s Chinatown is in the country’s traditional quarters. There’s so much to see, eat, and buy. You can either catch a cab for a quick ten-minute ride or take public transportation from Marina Bay Sands. From clothing to luggage to knick knacks, Chinatown is THE place to be for world-famous bargain shopping. It’s also a fantastic area to discover and explore. Hindu temples and mosques sit right next to Chinese temples. Don’t leave Chinatown without visiting the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum where you can learn about Buddhist art and culture.
Not far from Singapore’s Chinatown is Arab Street, which is Singapore’s Muslim district known as “Little India.” This area is a magnet for fashionistas. Colorful fabrics and textiles adorn store fronts. From beautiful hand-knotted Persian rugs to one-of-a-kind lighting displays, you’ll find plenty of souvenirs to take home. At the heart of this area is the Masjid Sultan Mosque, with a history that dates back 200 years. With its large golden dome and characteristic architecture, this place of worship is definitely worth a visit.
Gardens by the Bay attracts millions of visitors every year. It’s a unique green space and horticulture-themed leisure destination right by the ocean spanning 250 acres. To many visitors, the Gardens looks like something right out of the movie, Jurassic Park, because of the 18 massive Supertrees. These huge trees are vertical gardens covered in plants, with the highest one being six stories high. Two of the trees are connected by an aerial walkway. The park consists of three waterfront gardens built on reclaimed land and is also home to one of the world’s tallest indoor waterfalls, at 114 feet high. It houses over half a million plants from around the world. Impressive for anyone who loves the outdoors. For kids, there’s a water park and forest adventure playground designed to encourage them to interact with nature.
Singapore has the world’s first nocturnal zoo. Opened in 1994, Night Safari is located next to the Singapore Zoo that’s home to over 2,500 animals from 137 species, 30 percent of which are classified as threatened. Night Safari includes cultural performances, such as tribal dances, blowpipe demonstrations, and even the “Creatures of the Night Show,” which is always very popular. Take a tram ride with live commentary to explore the seven geographical zones of the park, where you’ll encounter the nocturnal animals in their natural habitat.
What to taste
Two words: JUMBO SEAFOOD! Order the Chilli Crab or the Black Pepper Crab and you’ll thank me later. These are Singapore’s star dishes. I should have eaten here every single day. There are a few locations for Jumbo Seafood, but visit the one at Clarke Quay. You’ll be able to walk around the outdoor pavilion and visit the local bars after dinner.
Hainanese chicken rice is another one of Singapore’s national culinary treasures. Slices of steamed chicken are served with hot rice that’s been cooked in a fragrant stock. The real pop of flavor is found in the condiments served on the side: dark soy sauce, fresh ginger, and a tangy, spicy chilli garlic sauce. As most locals will tell you, it’s the chilli sauce that makes or breaks the chicken rice.
Up for a bit of nightlife? The Clarke Quay area is great for casual outdoor spots. For something a bit more stylish, stop by 1-Altitude. Labeled as the highest rooftop bar in Singapore, it’s located on top of the Raffles building and is a popular tourist attraction. It’s also home to great food and drinks and the place for the “see and be seen” vibe in Singapore.
Last but not least / Final advice
Singapore does everything incredibly well. They have a low crime rate and amazing public transportation to help you explore and discover the city. Bring your sense of adventure, but leave your chewing gum at home (it’s banned in Singapore, except for those with a medical prescription). Allow yourself at least a week to unravel everything I love about this beautiful part of the world. Safe travels!
Photo Credits: Eq Roy, Miketanct, Boarding1now, Narmada Garat, Seban Enache, Chrishowey, Naruto4836, Imran Ahmed, Dhuongphoto, Salvador Manaois Lii, Viroj Suttisima, Serban Enache, Jpldesigns , Lily Jang, Dreamstime