MistyNites

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Archive for the tag “Gardens by the Bay”

Districts of Singapore

I’d read about a restaurant in Chinatown that took my fancy. After 4 days of hanging around Marina Bay, I was ready to see a bit more of what Singapore had to offer. The city was bustling at night when the temperature was much more pleasant and being a Friday, there were a multitude of bars spilling out onto the street as I headed from my hotel through the backstreets towards Chinatown. Unfortunately, the place I’d planned on grabbing dinner in was small and full so I headed into the nearby hawker food centre for what was a great meal anyway. These hawker centres are dotted about the city. Effectively a multitude of food stalls under one roof, they are a great way to try different foods and often a cheap way to eat out too. Feeling satiated, I headed to central Chinatown where there was a street full of food vendors surrounded by streets full of shops selling a myriad of souvenirs. It was packed full of tourists with a few locals intermingled and I grabbed some dessert to eat whilst wandering around. I rarely buy souvenirs, but these places are great for people watching, something that I do love to do, so I hung around for a bit before wandering off. I didn’t really have a plan of where to go, simply following alleys or lights or sounds. On a main street I found a collection of Chinese Lanterns depicting early settler life in Singapore.

 

I had one full day to myself before heading home on the Sunday evening, so I was glad to wake up to a gorgeous sunny day on the Saturday. The heat of this city in the daytime is incredible, but I decided to take a walking tour of the city’s districts. Whilst public transport can be a necessity in some places, it adds to the budget and I also feel like I see more of a place if I walk it, rather than disappear underground into a network of tunnels, so even in sweltering heat, I will often choose to stick to my own leg power. Heading down Raffles Place and around a corner, I started at the Singapore River outside the Fullerton Hotel. From here, the Cavenagh bridge and a collection of bronze statues dotted along the promenade provided regular distractions from watching the river boats heading up and down the river. There was just so much to look at, and I took my time to watch it all as I meandered upstream to a collection of old-fashioned shop fronts which were all bars. At nearby Elgin Bridge, I crossed the river to the far bank and started to walk back down river again. But shortly after crossing, I spotted a bench in the shade, and struggling with the heat, and an overwhelming tiredness, I lay down on the bench and promptly dozed off. I’d done a similar thing whilst on Sentosa Island, and whilst a little self-conscious about sleeping in a public spot, it was just what I needed, and an hour passed by before I knew it.

 

Finding my feet once more, I passed the Asian Civilisations Museum and found more bronze sculptures depicting different stages of settler life in Singapore. Cutting round the back of it, the distinctive Gallery of Singapore, Singapore Parliament and Supreme Court added to the nearby architectural gems. At the far end of Supreme Court Lane was the beautiful St Andrew’s Cathedral. It was open to the public so I took a look inside and enjoyed some much-needed air conditioning before touring the grounds and the nearby city streets.

 

At the far end of Coleman St, I cut up past a museum to enter Fort Canning Park, a hilly green space within the city skyscrapers. A walk-way halfway up the slope led me through herb gardens and artisan gardens towards an exceedingly distinctive and beautiful building. A variety of routes lead away from here, but I had so much to see that day, so I just stuck to the one side of the hill, heading back towards where I’d started and beyond there to the flagstaff and lighthouse. I spotted several squirrels in the trees as I walked, and enjoyed the sounds of the birds flitting around me. Down the steps towards the main street below I found a large stone carving depicting a multitude of historical scenes. From here I cut back to the Cathedral and followed North Bridge Rd towards one of the city’s shopping districts.

 

At the time of visiting in September last year, the famous Raffles Hotel was closed for renovations. The Long Bar, home of the infamous Singapore Sling had only just reopened and it seemed only right to head inside out of the heat to get one. I got sat at the bar and provided with peanuts whilst I watched the bar tenders mix a whole host of gorgeous looking cocktails. The Singapore Sling was probably the most expensive cocktail I’ve ever drank, but it was a novelty worth doing. I was a little tipsy by the time I headed out into the heat again, and the food that I ate for lunch from a nearby stall was the most disappointing meal I’d gotten on my whole trip thus far. I washed it down with Singapore’s version of an iced coffee from a popular store along the road, and continued on my way towards Kampong Glam.

 

Kampong Glam was a glorious neighbourhood with so much to see and so much bustle. I zig-zagged up and down streets full of gorgeous boutique shops selling all sorts of wares, making my way towards Masjid Sultan, the Sultan Mosque, one of the city’s most famous sights. Having a multi-national and therefore multi-cultural background, Singapore is also a melting pot of religion, with a variety of religious buildings catering to different faiths. I am an atheist but religious buildings are often the most stunning buildings in a city and irregardless of what faith they belong to, I love visiting them. I came prepared, knowing I would need to be covered up to go in, but I immediately started dripping in sweat with the extra layers as there was no air conditioning inside. A wedding was taking place inside and volunteers were on hand to answer questions, so I had a brief chat with one before the heat got too much for me.

 

Leaving Arabia behind, I headed towards Little India which was like a rabbit warren of streets full of stores that reminded me of my trip to India many years ago.  This area is known for its murals and I had a walking route planned to try and make the most of this, again zig-zagging through streets in search of them. There are some well-known landmarks here such as Tan Teng Niah and the Sri Veeramakaliamann Hindu temple, and there were cow references in many places, from the artwork to the statues. I even found another mosque and church within Little India too. Between Kampong Glam and Little India, I’d spent hours on my feet and as evening approached, it was time to start heading back, grabbing a cute little panda cake from one of the city’s many bakeries. I had to pack that night, and try and squeeze a ton of conference acquisitions into my bag so didn’t feel like eating out. Instead, I got some food from the 7 Eleven and watched a movie as I tried to rearrange my belongings.

 

I didn’t need to leave for the airport till the afternoon so after a morning swim in the hotel pool, I was quick to get out to complete my Singapore explorations. This time I had Chinatown in my sights, so headed to Raffles Place to start a walking route I’d been recommended. My first stop was the Yueh Hai Ching temple which was small and peaceful, and from here I followed Telok Ayer St into Chinatown proper. At Far East Square I went for breakfast at Ya Kun Kaya Toast. I’d read it was a great place for an authentic breakfast, and it certainly felt that way with a reduced comprehension of English, but as much as I like eggs, I struggled to eat the half-raw egg whites that were presented to me, and the iced coffee was gritty and bitter. I left feeling dissatisfied. Round the corner was the Fuk Tak Chi museum which I had to myself but as I continued deeper into Chinatown, a few more people started to appear.

There were so many photogenic buildings around here, and at Telok Ayer Green there were more of the bronze sculptures that I had become accustomed to. The nearby Thian Hock Keng temple got a quick look around and outside, on its back wall was an extensive mural depicting the history of Singapore. I cut up through Ann Siang Hill Park to find myself among street after street of beautiful buildings with shuttered windows. Eventually I found myself at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, one of the city’s most famous buildings. Beyond here there was a lot of construction work going on so it was a bit complicated to cross the road to get to it, but once inside it felt nice and cool although the crowds were heavy here. I didn’t fully appreciate everything I was seeing inside, and there was a phenomenal amount of buddhas within it, but I still enjoyed wandering around the inside of it and then out onto the roof terrace.

 

Heading up through the chaos of the construction sites, I cut down through Banda St where there were yet more gorgeous shop fronts, and then found myself back at the Chinatown Food Street and souvenir shops I’d seen on the Friday night. It was just as bustling in the daytime and I was hungry again so grabbed some fried chicken from a van that was parked up. Like the breakfast, it was really disappointing and half of it ended up in the bin. Nearby around Mohamed Ali Lane I found some more murals painted on the walls and took my last fill of the colourful and clashing buildings of the area as I left Chinatown behind. I’d spent more time there than I’d thought I would and suddenly had a bit of an urgency to get to my last port of call before leaving, so I hot-footed it through the business district. I called into the Market Street Hawker Centre for a drink, and ordered something that I didn’t understand what it was purely because it sounded intriguing and it was purple in colour. Sadly, for the third time that day I was disappointed with my choice. I’ve still no idea what it was but it was not pleasant, and again it ended up in the bin. Clearly this was not to be my day for food.

 

A trip to Singapore is not complete without a visit to the Gardens by the Bay, and whilst I’d certainly wandered around the outdoor space during the conference, I hadn’t actually done any of the paid attractions, and now I had just a few precious hours to pack them in. I headed straight to the SuperTree Grove and up onto the OBC Skyway, a raised walkway that connects several of the giant trees. The views were simply incredible and vast, with the Marina Bay Sands hotel, the Singapore Flyer and aspects of the garden all visible. There were plenty of people about but it didn’t feel crowded and I meandered slowly across the expanse of it. The grove is gorgeous at nighttime when it’s all lit up but the views in the daytime made me glad I’d saved the Skyway till the daytime hours.

 

Two domed buildings sit near the edge of the gardens and contain the Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome. It is cheaper to buy the entrances for both together than it is to buy them separately, and I started with the one I wanted to see the most, the Cloud Forest. This turned out to be one of my most favourite things in Singapore, and walking inside to be faced with a giant waterfall spilling down a wall of lush green vegetation was magical. Sometimes if you read about a place too much it can be a disappointment when you finally go there, but this place was incredible. Circling the flower displays at the base, I reached the far end to see a sign stating the wait to reach the top could be up to 30mins. I didn’t have time to waste in a queue, and suddenly regretted spending so much time in Chinatown that morning. Thankfully though, the queue was moving quickly and I was up within 5mins. Once at the top of the dome, a 1-way system leads down a series of walkways and escalators back down the levels. Intermittently steam is pumped out and it can at times feel like there are clouds in there. The whole concept was incredible and if I’d had the time I could have just gone round and round. There was so much to look at from the plants and sculptures to the views out the glass roof. Not to mention the waterfall that spilled off the one side. I spent over an hour there and really had to force myself to leave.

 

The Flower Dome was larger and busier and consisted of an upper concourse and a lower concourse with a couple of bridging gardens on a mezzanine level. The upper level was mainly arid or desert plants and there was an incredible dragon sculpture made out of wood at the far end. There was also some Alice in Wonderland sculptures hidden amongst the smaller plants too. There was a massive sunflower exhibit on whilst I was there which incorporated the Wizard of Oz. Upstairs this meant Dorothy outside her house in a small sunflower patch but on the lower level was a bigger spread where Tin Man, Scarecrow and the Lion were hanging out. A castle stood within it and standing out the front was the Wizard himself. The whole concept was impressive and the flowers and trees were beautiful. The wooden sculptures were so clever too, and whilst I much preferred the Cloud Forest, this place was still very much worth a visit.

 

I left the Gardens by the Bay reluctantly. I’d loved my week in Singapore and was totally in love with the city. Collecting my bags from my hotel, I took the metro out to the airport only for the train to break down on route. With it being the main line to the airport, I had confidence that something would be sorted soon, but there was still a good 20 minutes of not knowing what was going on before finally they announced a contingency plan and we were on our way. Singapore will remain firmly my favourite stopover spot on route to Europe and with the opening of Jewel a few months ago, I can’t wait to go back.

Singapore at Night

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.

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