Country Life - Singapore Fling
Winter 2015-2016

Singapore has gone through extraordinary changes since independence 50 years ago. Michelle Jana Chan recommends a proper stopover to enjoy its delights.

For a half-century, Singapore has been a contrast of the colonial and cutting-edge. The former British colony is celebrating 50 years since independence, when it was ejected from the Federation of Malaysia amid social unrest. In March, its founding father Lee Kuan Yew passed away making 2015 especially momentous.

Travellers interested in seeing the heady mix of old and new Singapore should base themselves around Marina Bay with historical landmarks such as Raffles Landing Site, where Sir Stamford first stepped on the island in 1819, as well as the quays where trade flourished and helped make Singapore one of the world’s wealthiest countries. There are some sensational conversions, including the former City Hall and Supreme Court buildings, now The National Gallery showcasing South-East Asian art from the 19th century to the present day. There is also The Arts House, which has taken over the 200-year-old building once used by parliament; it\s now a hub of film, literature and performance.

On the Bay is the pioneering ArtScience Museum, the futuristic Esplanade concert hall, which organises free daily performances on the waterfront, and, best of all, the 130-acre Gardens by the Bay. Built on reclaimed land, there are two spectacular domed conservatories, one representing cloud forests and the other flowering plants, including a grove of baobabs. The open gardens include the Supertree Grove, a man-made forest of 18 striking steel structures which light up at night using solar power.

In contrast, in a throwback to the past is the renowned Singapore Botanic Gardens, best known for its collection of orchids and recently awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Just a 15-minute hop in a taxi from Marina Bay, it is the world’s most visited botanic gardens with more than four million visitors each year. To continue exploring the island’s green spaces, further north is Singapore Zoo, considered one of the world’s best.

Back at the bay is where Singapore comes to feast. One evocative dining destination is Lau Pa Sat Food Market, one of the city’s last late-night hawker centres. Housed in a filigree cast-iron Victorian building, there are open-air stalls serving chicken rice, satay and spicy curries, as well as tropical fruit juices.

For something less rowdy, the Clifford Pier Restaurant serves up signature hawker-style food in refined surrounds, including the Two Generations of Rickshaw Noodles and Kong Bak Bao, pork belly steamed buns with chilli. The Art Deco-inspired building was once the major landing point for immigrants arriving in Singapore.

The restaurant is wedged between two hotels, which also perfectly represent the past and present. The Fullerton Hotel is a conversion of the General Post Office, a grand neo-Classical masterpiece sitting amid glassy skyscrapers. Here, the Post Bar is one of the city’s buzziest spots for deal-making and dates.

The slick, contemporary Fullerton Bay Hotel is built entirely over water and the rooftop pool bar has expansive views of the gigantic stilted construction that is Marina Bay Sands; its triple towers are linked at the top by a dramatically-cantilevered sky garden. After dark, there is a light, sound and water show, Wonder Full, spearing lasers across the bay and projection lighting upon sprays of fountains, a fitting bedazzling finale to a Singapore stopover.

Michelle Jana Chan travelled with Cox & Kings (