From Vietnam to Singapore: An Expert Guide
Singapore is a small island city-state at the tip of the Malay Peninsula. It is about the same size as the island of Phu Quoc.
It is one of the most well known destinations in the world - its location makes it a hub for international long haul travellers, and it has developed a good reputation as a wonderful place in which to stop off. It is though, much more than a short visit destination and is working hard to develop its tourism industry.
What has Singapore got to offer?
The short answer here is, just about everything. It has always been known as a terrific shopping location with its many high-end stores and malls; Chinatown, serving the largest ethnic group in Singapore; Little India where you can buy interesting souvenirs and Arab Street, which is full of fabric shops.
The city is well known for its high class hotels: it was here, of course, that the famous Singapore Sling was created, by Ngiam Tong Boon, a Hainanese bartender working at the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel. The cocktail scene is growing rapidly here and a lot of speakeasy bars have sprung up over the last five years. They have won many awards and are growing in number all the time. Good examples would be Bitters & Love, 28 Hong Kong Street (named number one on the 2016 list on the World’s Best Bars website), and Jigger and Pony, which is a Japanese inspired bar.
The world famous Michelin Guide is about to be launched in Singapore for the first time. In addition to the many Michelin starred restaurants in town, they have made merit awards to many of the hawker stalls that sell high quality cheaper food to hungry visitors. These world famous Singapore street food stalls are based in hawker centres such as Tiong Bahru and Maxwell Road.
“The cocktail scene is growing rapidly here and a lot of speakeasy bars have sprung up over the last five years.”
The Singapore Zoo covers an area of 28 hectares (69 acres) and is located by the Upper Seletar Reservoir inside Singapore’s heavily forested central catchment area. It opened its doors in 1973 and cost S$9 million (US$6.6 million).
Wildlife Reserves Singapore, who run the zoo, also run the neighbouring Night Safari, the River Safari and the Jurong Bird Park. The zoo houses 315 species of animals, 16% of which are considered to be threatened species. It is highly regarded for the conservation work that it does and also its educational programmes for children. These include behind-the-scenes tours, where children accompany the keepers and interact with the animals. They provide an excellent way of teaching children how to take care of animals and the environment.
“The zoo houses 315 species of animals, 16% of which are considered to be threatened species.”
The S. E. A. Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa houses the largest tank in the region, in which you can see 100,000 different marine species. This has proved to be very popular among Vietnamese people. Here you can enjoy the experience of Ocean Dreams, an overnight camp.
This unique activity allows you to roam around the Aquarium at night, before retiring to your sleeping bag, right in front of the large viewing tank. It is a wonderful and informative adventure, especially for children. There are plenty of games in which they can take part. The guides speak English and Mandarin.
Also in Resorts World Sentosa is the Universal Studios Singapore theme park, the only one in Southeast Asia. Officially opened in 2011, it is hugely popular, attracting more than 2 million visitors in its first 9 months.
Sport and activities
On 18 September 2016, the fabulous F1 Grand Prix comes to town. In what has already been widely accepted by the drivers as the best race in the calendar, the city is transformed into a race circuit. This huge event draws massive crowds who come, not only for the racing, but also for the associated events. This year will see shows featuring Kylie Minogue, Queen with Adam Lambert, the American a cappella group Pentatonix and Las Vegas based rockers Imagine Dragons. The Singapore Grand Prix is one of only two night races in the calendar.
Other sporting events in the annual calendar are the Women’s Tennis Association Finals in October, featuring the top eight women tennis players. This year will be the third time this has been hosted in Singapore. April next year sees the return of the Singapore Rugby Sevens. In July 2015, the Barclays Asia Tournament took place for the first time in Singapore; it was considered to be the most competitive ever. In general terms, these are inexpensive events.
“In what has already been widely accepted by the drivers as the best race in the calendar, the city is transformed into a race circuit.”
Participatory events include many races like the Zombie Race, Hello Kitty Run, Color Me Run, and the Sundown Marathon. There is normally one huge event every quarter; these can be anything like food festivals or concerts, for example. On 25-27 November, Slide the City is coming. The 300 metre water slide has a terrific location right by the fabulous Marina Bay Sands Hotel, one of the world’s most expensive buildings and a true icon of the city.
iFly Singapore is the only indoor skydiving centre in Southeast Asia. Here you can experience the thrill of freefalling from the safety of the ground: the huge wind tunnel allows you to really test your skydiving skills.
The KF1 Karting Circuit is a superb karting facility in the heart of the city. Built like a full on F1 style circuit, it offers wonderful challenges for amateurs and pro racers alike. It can be booked for corporate events. With a theatre style viewing auditorium, a viewing gallery and podium, and the KF1 VIP Lounge, it offers excellent facilities in which to host your company event.
Culture and Music
The National Gallery houses the largest collection of Southeast Asian art in the region, consisting of some 8,000 exhibits. The building is unique in that it consists of two national monuments: the former City Hall and former Supreme Court Building. The combined floor space covers 64,000 square metres. It was here where the Japanese surrendered to the British at the end of the Second World War. This part of Saint Andrew’s Road on which it sits is known as the Padang Stretch and provides one of the long straights in the F1 Grand Prix. In 1965, the First National Day Parade was held here.
“The National Gallery houses the largest collection of Southeast Asian art in the region, consisting of some 8,000 exhibits.”
There is normally at least one large theatrical production on in the city at any given time. Currently Les Miserables is showing at the Esplanade Theatre. Meanwhile at the Marina Bay Sands Theatre, the original Broadway production of Annie will be on in late September/early October. In recent months, the Lion King and Phantom of the Opera have both made appearances. Most of the casts in these productions normally hail from the UK and Australia.
In December, party animals can enjoy Zouk Out, Asia’s premier music and dance festival, on Siloso Beach, Sentosa. Taking cues from the renowned motto, “One World, One Music, One Tribe, One Dance”, there will be two days of R&B, trance and 80s music, starting at 8 p.m. and finishing at 5 a.m. Past guest DJs include David Guetta, Tiesto and DJ Jazzy Jeff; this is its 16th year.
Christmas in Singapore
Christmas is a terrific time to visit Singapore, with the Gardens by the Bay area making a special effort. The two large climate controlled domes here change their themes every quarter. The “Cloud Forest” Dome contains includes the largest indoor, manmade waterfall in the world, standing 35 metres high. There are also tropical plants from the Amazon rain forest. The “Flower Dome” is cooler and dryer and contains plants from Europe and the Americas. Included is a 1,000 year old olive tree from Italy, which still produces olives. During August they feature a large and beautiful display of orchids, as they are the national flower, and 19 August is the National Day. During the Christmas holidays, they have Christmas night markets, colourful displays of lights, and a snow machine.
Singapore is one of the world’s best locations for offering such a wide range of activities. There aren’t many venues where you can go swimming with dolphins in the morning, shop till you drop in the afternoon and enjoy a fabulous romantic dinner at a Michelin Star restaurant in the evening. All this is just 90 minutes away from Ho Chi Minh City.
Want to read more from this author? Keith is a travelling writer and lover of all things Southeast Asian. Check out his other articles for more of his travelling tales