Sparkling clean, graffiti-free and supercharged Singapore never ceases to exhilarate me. Despite my personal challenges heat and humidity, every time I swing through the island state, I’m always uplifted by the multi-sensory exuberance, pockets of tranquillity and unabashed innovation coursing through Singapore. Up at the crack dawn before the summer heat sparked up, the curving embrace of the Singapore River was still and sensuous, as the rising sun gilded the water in playful bolts of liquid gold. Alongside a clutch of early-morning joggers, I set off on the charming riverside trail wrapped around Boat Quay, Clarke Quay and Robertson Quay.
This area bustles with colourful waterside eateries and bars, hitting top-gear after dark as one of Asia’s hottest night-spots roars into life. But in the early morning calm, it was a vision of serene tranquillity. Across on the other side of the river, the trail rubs shoulders with the carefully conserved Historic District, faithfully paying homage to the state’s British influence. Grand old dames include Old Parliament House, Victoria Theatre, City Hall and the former Supreme Court.
The leafy precinct, thickly clad in rain trees, continues to cradle the timbered charm and village green loveliness of the Singapore Cricket Club, where the groundsman was up early with the heavy roller. After a lavish buffet breakfast at the Fullerton Hotel, I popped into the Asian Civilisations Museum, where are stupendous temporary exhibition on Angkor art is currently be staged.
Alongside that, the permanent collection underpins the museum’s reputation as a pioneer in showcasing pan-Asian art. I feasted my eyes on the Chinese collection of Dehua porcelain figures, Taoist and Buddhist statuary. The South Asian Galleries feature a dizzying range of pieces from across the ranges including some magnificent bronze and sandstone sculptures of Buddhist gods, from India. Don’t miss the Khoo Teck Puat Gallery, the permanent home for the cargo recovered from the Tang Shipwreck, a sunken 9th century trading ship bound for Iran and Iraq, discovered 20 years ago in the Java Sea. The recovered trove included over 60,000 well-preserved ancient ceramics, produced in China during the Tang dynasty.
After paying my respects to Singapore’s beloved water-spout mascot, the Merlion, overlooking Marina Bay, I ventured over to the jaw-dropping botanical blockbuster of Gardens by the Bay. Boasting over a million plants from 19,000 species, this architectural frenzy of aerial walkways, supersized steel trees and mega-conservatories is quite the head-turner, no matter how many times you visit it. The giant domed cloud forest and flower conservatories engage all senses, tripping you across the planet’s botanical wonders, while the current seasonal exhibition is devoted to the brilliance of begonias. Showcasing more than 50 varieties in a spectrum of reds, oranges and yellows, it’s a retina-burning spectacle of celebratory colour.
Gardens by the Bay is still my runaway favourite Singapore attraction, which of course is also swooned over come nightfall with the SuperTrees Grove unleashing an electrifying choreographed light and sound show, as an appetiser for Marina Bay’s free nightly light and water theatrics, Spectra. For a change of scenery, go wild. Singapore Zoo was at the vanguard of the global movement to adapt zoos to the open-enclosure concept. In fact, it is a wonderful irony that one of the world’s most high-density populations has accorded so much more room to roam, to their four-legged residents.
Some years ago, Singapore Zoo innovated the wildly popular Night Safari attraction, offering spectacular up-close encounters with a procession of 1000 nocturnal creatures, grouped into geographical zones, like the Indian Subcontinent, Equatorial Africa and Himalayan Foothills. The guided tram ride with rolling commentary is a great introductory, because some of the animals can only be glimpsed from the tram. Then I hit the four walking trails, where you’ll soon notice there are no cages, just low fences, glass-fronted enclosures and moats separating you from the roaming wildlife. It’s a wondrous way to revel in the nightlife.
Roof-top bars remain all the rage in Asia, and I headed to the Fullerton Bay Hotel’s Lantern Bar, for a post-safari cocktail. This undeniably sexy, chic establishment, built over water, is a seventh heaven perch to survey Singapore’s dazzling skyline, or to catch Spectra. It’s always fun staking out some in-the-know haunts frequented by the locals and a star specimen is the Coconut Club at Ann Siang Hill. It’s reputed to serve one of the best plates of nasi lemak in Singapore. Unctuous, fragrant, top-quality coconut milk is used to cook the rice and crispy chicken.
Nearby, stroll down Club Street to the recently opened Le Bon Funk where a carefully handpicked selection of organic wines beckon, purposefully chosen to suit Singapore’s sultry climate.
Across in Little India, if you fancy a second breakfast, head to the throbbing bustle of Tekka Market and order up an appam at Deen’s Food Stall. This traditional pancake is served with grated coconut and coconut sugar. In Singapore’s historic Muslim quarter of Kampong Glam, hipster boutiques are all the buzz if you’re hungry for a shopping fix. Then treat your taste buds to some Eurasian-Peranakan cuisine at Damian D’Silva’s Folklore restaurant. Plump for kari kapitan, an Eurasian-style chicken curry, before making tracks to a seriously glam Art Deco-style Bar, Atlas. With over 1000 gins and 250 varieties of bubbly in stock, it’s a trending glamour pad for a nightcap or two.