As the sun continued to lower, I walked in the slightly cooler air from my hotel to Marina Bay. This was my first sighting of the city’s famous hotel, the tri-towered Marina Bay Sands and it was just as impressive to see for myself as it had been in photographs. The next few days were to be taken up by the conference that I had come to the city for, and the conference centre was within the mega complex that includes a multi-level shopping mall. I needed to sign-in ahead of it starting so I made my way round the marina edge and into the air-conditioned mall. Thankfully there were signs telling me where to go because it was massive, and as I continued through the labyrinthine mall, I was shocked to discover a Venice-inspired canal in the middle of it, complete with boats to go punting on. This was one of many things that utterly amazed me about Singapore, and once I’d done the formalities at the conference centre, I was quick to venture outside to one of the city’s well known attractions, the Gardens by the Bay.
I had arrived at the end of a festival which had seen the gardens filled with lanterns, and this was the last night it was running. The sun had set by now and as dusk grew darker, the lanterns I came across glowed brighter. Filled with lakes and gardens and giant trees, the Gardens by the Bay is spectacular. I followed a vague trail through it, trying to see as many of the lanterns as I could before finding a large food market and entertainment area at the foot of the incredible Supertree Grove. Every night at set times, the giant trees here light up to music and I found myself a spot on a hill above them, away from the crowds to wait and watch. As I sat on the grass in the dark, I was befriended by a cute little cat, and I smiled as some families joined me, inwardly laughing at one woman’s failed attempts to shoo the cat away from her. When eventually the light display started, I was enthralled from start to finish, a grin on my face in the still-warm night, as I had one of those pinch-me moments that I get when I’m somewhere foreign and exciting, and feel truly in the moment. Afterwards, I joined the crowds to get dinner at a food stall and parked my butt on a bit of grass to eat a delicious meal. I am a massive fan of a variety of Asian cuisines, and with a multi-cultural influence, I knew that it would be an easy city to eat well.
Each subsequent morning I would rise and walk with the locals heading to work, taking that same walk round Marina Bay, feeling the impending heat that was to come before hiding away in the air-conditioned conference hall for hours on end. I always love attending conferences, but the long days can be tiring and it can be easy to forget where you are each day, as you get shepherded from lecture hall to lecture hall to exhibition room. Finishing around 5.30pm each evening though, I was at least grateful that the outside temperature was starting to cool a little by the time I was leaving, and every night, Singapore proved itself to be just as incredible in the hours of darkness as it is in the hours of daylight. In fact at times, it could almost feel like visiting a different city, with some places coming more alive after nightfall.
I headed straight out into the Gardens by the Bay for a second night. The lanterns were in the process of being removed, and I cut round the gardens to the promenade that runs along the water’s edge. Here it was packed with locals out jogging, couples walking hand in hand and tourists intermingling with them all. Across the water, the Singapore Flyer observation wheel flashed a multitude of colours. Past the distinctive structures of the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest, I joined the throngs of people at a mass of food stalls. I was in heaven, wandering round and round in a sea of indecision at all the choice. Eventually I opted to try a few places, getting dumplings from one, beer at another and satay at yet another and I enjoyed every little morsel.
Once satisfied, I returned to the promenade and continued to the Barrage, a large structure that played a functional part in the watercourse, and had some lit-up water features nearby. I crossed the bridge to the far side but the gardens on this side weren’t very well lit, so I decided to retrace my steps back to the main gardens. I spent another evening ogling at the Supertree Grove, wishing my night-time photography skills were better. I followed a few of the paths through the gardens before heading back into the mall. Following a different concourse than I had to reach the conference hall, I passed a Formula 1 store complete with F1 racing car in the window, and walked the length of the Venetian canal to discover an incredible vortex waterfall at the far end. This indoor waterfall was stunning and I couldn’t help but admire it from all angles. Passing high-end shops with security guards, I found myself at another annex where the main food court was and here there was a giant light display complete with motion picture projected onto the floor. I got some dessert here before heading back to the hotel.
I had an extended lunch break on the second day of the conference and used it to head round to the far side of the bay to see the city’s famous Merlion statue. Smaller than the one I’d seen on Sentosa Island, it is probably the city’s most famous Merlion, complete with water spout coming from its mouth. I had been worried I wouldn’t get the chance to see it in the daytime, but even with an extended lunch break, it was still quite a distance to get all the way round the bay and back and still have time to look at it. The heat and humidity of the hottest part of the day blasted me in the face the minute I left the air conditioned building behind. I hot-footed it there, and joined the mix of people grabbing lunch at the nearby eateries, and the mass of people trying to take photographs at the Merlion. It was hard not to become one of them, and I too mingled for a while, trying out different angles and compositions to capture the essence of the place.
I don’t take photographs specifically for Instagram or social media, instead I take photographs that try to capture the essence of how I see or feel about a place. I’m well known among my friends and family for being terrible with memories, and I’ve become increasingly reliant on photographs to keep previous travels alive in my mind. I can remember conversations very well and things that I read well, but when it comes to names of faces, or locations I’ve been to and places I’ve stayed or eaten at, I sadly can forget all to easily. The large Merlion fountain and the cute little Merlion statue behind it were much more attractive than the stone Merlion on Sentosa, and whether it was shot with the Marina Bay Sands in the background, or the city skyline in the background, it was almost impossible to take a bad photo here. I could have hung out for much longer if it wasn’t for the heat and the need to get back to the conference. I meandered past the bars and restaurants that lined the promenade, Clifford Square and round the Fullerton hotel before returning to the much-needed air conditioning.
That evening as the sun prepared to set, I legged it across the road to the Marina Bay Sands hotel to visit the SkyPark Observation Deck on its roof. This hotel is famous for its rooftop infinity pool but as it is only accessible to guests, and the hotel’s price tag put it out of my budget, I had to make do with this one portion of roof that was open to the general public. Obtaining a frozen daiquiri from the bar, I proceeded to spend the next few hours chilling out watching the sunset. From the view over the Gardens by the Bay and the incredible number of ships offshore beyond it, to the city skyline full of skyscrapers, there was a lot to take in. Only the haze from the humidity dulled the view, but as dusk became night and the lights of the city turned on, a whole new city view came alive.
From the rooftop I watched the light and water display that takes place on Marina Bay. I could barely hear the music, but the light and laser show was impressive. The rooftop bar was by now spilling over, and eventually my hungry stomach dragged me away. I’d previously spotted and been recommended Black Tap which was in the mall below me. Famous as much for their shakes as their burgers, it was hard not to order both, especially as there had been quite a wait to get a table, but I was pretty full by the time I’d finished my burger, so when my monster shake arrived, I felt sick within just a few mouthfuls. I’m a glutton for punishment though and hate wasting food so I soldiered on, stuffing spoon after spoon of cream and chocolate and sauce into my mouth. I very much waddled home and rolled onto my hotel bed to wallow in my food coma.
The sun was a little higher when I got out of the conference on the third day, and I was able to take my time walking the long way back to my hotel, this time crossing the Helix bridge to the Grandstand where a man with a cart was selling ice cream. It was the perfect time of day to indulge in some as I slowly walked to the far side of Marina Bay as the lowering sun cast pretty colours on the reflective towers of the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel. The crowds at the Merlion were still present and after a while I left them behind to take a dip in my hotel pool. Up high among a mass of skyscrapers, it felt a little weird taking a swim with office workers visible in some of the nearby office blocks. I was lucky to get it to myself for a while before others arrived shortly before I needed to get going. I had booked a spot on the Singapore Flyer and needed to make sure I made it there on time.
I hadn’t initially planned on going on the Flyer, but after watching it from a multitude of vantage points during my stay, I’d changed my mind. It was a bit of a walk to get there, but I make a point of using my feet to explore cities wherever I can, so this was nothing unusual for me. I ended up sharing a pod with a group of friends but there was plenty of space for all of us to enjoy the view. Standing at 165m (541ft), it takes just over half an hour to do the full revolution, rising up in view of the east marina, and lowering down in view of Marina Bay and the city skyline. There was a commentary running which I paid very little attention to, and as we lowered down towards the base, the group of friends offered to take my photo, amusing me by mocking up a mini photo studio, using their camera torches to make sure I was perfectly lit for the photograph. The eateries at the Flyer didn’t really whet my appetite so instead I headed to the food court inside the mall across the water. The food I got looked the part, but it wasn’t as good as what I’d eaten the previous few nights. In the darkness, I took the now familiar route back to my hotel, gazing over the now familiar view.
With the conference wrapped up after 4 days of lectures, I stepped outside to a beautiful Friday evening where locals had draped themselves along the seating areas along the waterfront. The reflections on the pool outside the mall were stunning, and as the sun lowered, the colours of the sky reflected on the water changed with it. A mass of lotus flowers were in bloom and lily pads broke up the reflections in places. I watched the sun set once more as I crossed the Helix bridge and as I reached the Esplanade area, a multi-cultural dance theatre was taking place so I joined the crowds to watch some flamenco dancing. This is the kind of thing I love to just stumble upon, and why it is important to just go with the flow sometimes. I really vary between trips that are planned to the day, and trips that I make up as I go along, and whilst Singapore certainly had more to offer than I had time to do, I was thoroughly enjoying myself just winging it each day.
The crowds on the Jubilee bridge and around the Merlion were the biggest yet. There was no mistaking that it was the weekend with locals and tourists alike out enjoying the warm but not oppressive temperature of the darkness. In every direction there was some kind of light display, either from lit-up skyscrapers to lasers and water features, and after several nights of enjoying these scenes, this was to be the last time I’d see Marina Bay at night. After making the most of what the marina area had to offer, it was time to delve more into the city itself and experience what the different districts had in store for me.