Travel: A sense of calm prevails in Singapore

Known for its remarkable skyline and penchant for cleanliness, Singapore is so much more than a stopover city. Kate Preece reports

From the moment you land in Singapore, an ironic sense of calm descends.

While the country boasts a population of 5.79 million, it remains easy to wander the streets, attend the top tourist attractions, and visit the hottest bars without bursting that bubble of personal space – most of the time.

I hadn’t been to this intriguing country before, which is why I was surprised to feel so at home. Here, in South-east Asia, you are made to feel welcome through how easy it is to communicate and the willingness of all you meet to help you out.

I had been told it was a particularly safe destination for women, and, after spending three action-packed days traversing Singapore city, I believe this to be true.

Publisher Charlotte Smulders and I were hosted by Singapore Airlines to experience a new Christchurch-Singapore route.

While on the ground in Singapore we were determined to find the must-see places this island has to offer.

What follows are a few of the highlights.

Singapore Flyer – It’s Singapore’s version of the London Eye and it’s well worth a whirl. We had one of the 28 (4m x 7m) capsules entirely to ourselves and enjoyed the slow circuit that reached 165m (42-storeys) high at its peak. On Asia’s largest observation wheel you can also step things up a gear with the Premium Champagne Flight, Singapore Sling Flight, or Sky Dining Flight.

Sentosa Island – Consider this the Gold Coast of Singapore – albeit with a significant military history element. Here you’ll find everything from Universal Studios, Madame Tussauds, and the S.E.A. Aquarium, to a 47m (17-storey) A.J. Hackett bungy, indoor skydiving and one of South-east Asia’s steepest zip wires. You can see why families choose to make this their base, staying in one of the many hotels that make up Resorts World.

Gardens by the Bay

However, Sentosa, in Malay, means ‘peace and tranquillity’ and to truly find this it’s straight to Tanjong Beach Club you go. While Palawan Beach has the title of southern-most point of continental Asia, the quietest of the beach clubs goes to Tanjong. That’s not to say this European-flavoured locale is without atmosphere – momentum will do nothing but build as the hours go by. But, in the meantime, if you are happy to head there during the daylight hours, gather your friends, secure yourself a lounger ($53, redeemable on food and drink), and offer yourself up to the sun, while sipping on your favoured drop.

Singapore safari – Go wild at any of the island’s wildlife parks. Singapore Zoo is set in the lush Mandai rainforest; River Safari is, not surprisingly, river-themed, with the stars of the show being the manatees and giant pandas; and Night Safari will have you cruising past lions, tigers, elephants and more, under a cloak of darkness. All three attractions are ticketed individually and within walking distance of each other.

Gardens by the Bay – Be you a botany boffin or simply happy to stop and smell the roses, you’ll find yourself entertained at one of Singapore’s most iconic attractions. However, the trick to planning your visit to the 100ha nature park, is to not go until at least 4pm. This gives you enough time to jump on an audio tour, wander through the various displays, and head down to Satay by the Bay for a cheap and cheerful dinner, before getting back, tout de suite, to secure your spot to watch the Supertree Grove take on a whole new life. For 15min, at both 7.45pm and 8.45pm, the 22m plant-encrusted tree towers are engulfed in a light and sound show that no visit is complete without.

Hawker Centres –
Traditional Singapore fare will see you eating satay chicken skewers, laksa and chilli crab. What you will quickly discover, at any of the 100 hawker centres around town, is that to eat from these areas is to eat on the cheap. Consider them outdoor food courts, with not a McDonald’s in sight. They provide an opportunity to be adventurous and try things that perhaps you’ve never heard of … or just stick to the chicken and peanut sauce. You can’t really go wrong, as one of the other great things about Singapore is that it is clean. If it’s sounding a bit out of your culinary comfort zone, both Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle, and Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle, have been awarded Michelin stars. And you’re still talking about dishes that start at $3.

Three Singapore facts

1. You’ll need an umbrella. Yes, it’s warm, but a downpour can happen at any stage.

2. Taxis are cheap. Travel between 9.30am and 5.30pm and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the final flag fall. (There is an increase of 25 per cent after 5.30pm, and 50 per cent from midnight onwards).

3. Raffles is not your 2018 destination. The legendary hotel is currently closed for restoration, set to reopen at
the end of the year. If you truly can’t leave the island without that Singapore Sling, they’re being served at the nearby pop-up Long Bar (next to the gift shop).

How to get there

For direct flights from Christchurch – without even a stop in Auckland – it’s Singapore Airlines or bust.

From January 8, this route will be covered by the new Airbus A350, a next- generation aircraft with all the trimmings.