How to see the best of Singapore in less than 24 hours? That was the question facing us, as the first part of my group tour was coming to an end. I booked one long trip, lasting 4 weeks, but it’s composed of two shorter ones, and the group and leader would be changing for the second half. This also meant I couldn’t book any extra time in Singapore, as I had to fly on to Indonesia immediately. We left Melaka in the morning, and took the public bus down to Singapore, which of course meant crossing the border, by disembarking the bus twice to pass out through Malaysian immigration, and in through Singapore’s. We arrived at the hotel in the middle of the afternoon, and only had the rest of that day to explore, as my next flight was first thing in the morning!
Our tour leader took us for lunch first, at a local food court not far from the hotel, which in turn was near Little India. Just from this area, and the bus and taxi rides through the city, it was clear that Singapore is a vast, modern, international city (not unlike Hong Kong in some ways, but even more modern, since it’s only 50 years old as a country). We didn’t linger long for lunch though, as we were all eager to see as much of the city as possible in the time we had! We caught the MRT (though I kept incorrectly calling it the MTR, the same as in HK) to Raffles Place, named for Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who founded Singapore, and owned much of the land the buildings in this area are on. There was a statue of him there, discussing trade with Chinese merchants. We walked along the river, where we could just make out a clocktower and the park where the Victoria Monument is. One of the most famous buildings along this part is the Fullerton Hotel, a 5 star hotel where important guests in Singapore stay. It looked very impressive, with its colonial style architecture, and the other side of it has views looking on to the bay.
We continued towards the bay ourselves, passing the hotel and crossing the road, eventually arriving at Merlion Square. The merlion is part lion, part mermaid, and the national animal of Singapore – this makes me feel much better about Scotland’s national animal, a fellow mythical creature, the unicorn. At least we don’t have gigantic fountains of it around our cities, though I must admit, the huge merlion statue spouting water into the bay isn’t a sight you’ll forget easily! This was also a great spot for views all around of the Singapore skyline; the Fullerton, and various tall banking buildings were beside us; the Esplanade, including the ‘durian fruit’ stadiums; and directly opposite, the Marina Bay Sands, a vast hotel of three towers topped with a boat-like deck, which has an infinity pool overlooking the bay. We neither had the time nor the funds to visit that one (apparently there’s one price for only the observation deck, another for access to all the facilities up there), but it’s definitely an impressive and memorable structure even just to view from below! We walked around the bay, starting from the Merlion Square, passing the Esplanade, and crossing the Helix bridge, leading towards the hotel. It was a fun one to walk across, with its metal strands twisting over us, and we noticed there were circles on the ground with the letters t, a, c, and g, which are the nucleobases that make up DNA strands (hence the double helix). Fittingly, the bridge also led towards the flower shaped art & science museum next to the Marina Bay Sands shopping centre, the lower building in front of the hotel. Neither was our destination though!
Instead, we headed behind the hotel, to where the Gardens by the Bay lay in wait. This was my top priority for Singapore, as I’ve been dying to see the Supertrees in person for years! There are three groves, and we passed the Silver trees as we entered the gardens, getting our first glimpse of these massive, iconic structures. I assume the plants growing up their trunks will eventually cover their branches too, but for now these are bare, standing out against the sky, and I still think it looks pretty cool. We could see the tops of the main Supertree Grove over the tops of other trees, but first we headed to the two conservatories, which require entrance tickets. We visited the Flower Dome first, which is home to various tropical and temperate plants, with gardens themed around various climate zones, including Australia, Africa, South America, and the Mediterranean. We browsed in here for over an hour, stopping to take photos of the prettiest blooms and most unusual plants, especially the cacti and baobab trees. We were also fascinated by the wood carvings, gnarled and twisted pieces made to look like different animals, the most impressive probably being the dragon, surveying the dome from up high. There was also an autumn harvest themed display happening in the basin of the dome, which clearly is changed seasonally. There was a a huge vegetable man in the middle, surrounded by hundreds of pumpkins, and various seasonal flowers, in hues of orange and yellow. Some of the pumpkins served as scarecrow heads, and others were even carved into jack-o-lanterns. I did prefer the flowers and other garden areas in comparison, as this seemed a bit more artificial, but I guess having changing displays like this is good for regular visitors, like those with annual passes.
The second conservatory is the Cloud Forest, and we conveniently managed to arrive just as it was being misted, as the flowers in here are from cooler, wetter climates in tropical mountains, such as from South East Asia, and South and Central America (I was certainly reminded of my time in the actual cloud forest in Costa Rica). When you first walk into this dome, the initial view is staggering; a 42m high mountain stands before you, decked in greenery and flowers, with windows on to its different levels, and waterfalls cascading down in front of the whole thing. Walking around it allowed us to get a closer look at the array of plants growing out the sides of it, which definitely included some more unusual blooms. We had to queue for a while to take the elevator to the top of the mountain, but the line was even longer later on as we were leaving, so our wait time wasn’t too bad in comparison! We whizzed to the top, where we were met by the Lost World, which included a display of carnivorous plants – entirely constructed from Lego bricks! This level also gave us an impressive view of the Marina Bay Sands, as the sun was setting behind it. We wandered along the cloud walks – not going to lie, my fear of heights was sorely tested here! – which had you suspended near the roof of the dome, and took you up close to the walls of the mountain. There were some other displays on the different levels of the mountain too, like the crystal cave, full of rock formations and sparkling geodes. At the base of the mountain, there is also the Secret Garden, hidden from view on the ground level.
We exited the conservatories, with a brief stop in the gift shop, and headed for the Supertree Grove as it started to get dark. This grove is home to more than a dozen trees, the tallest of which has a restaurant on top, and two of the others are linked by the Skywalk. While the other, smaller groves are Gold and Silver, these are mainly purple in colour, from the flowers blooming up their trunks. The Supertrees are more than just interesting to look at though – they also function like real trees, and serve to help the whole Gardens, by harnessing solar energy to light themselves, collecting rainwater for irrigation, and acting as vents for the conservatory cooling systems. We sat and waited for it to get darker, watching the trees start to light up, ahead of their light show ‘Garden Rhapsody’. This was a 15 minute sound and light display, set to musical theatre tunes, as the trees glowed in different colours, and their branches twinkled with fairy lights in time to the music. It was a very fun display, and certainly made the trees look even more spectacular than they already did! We then legged it over to Marina Bay Sands again as soon as it finished, crossing the bridge and passing through the hotel, to reach the roof of the shopping centre. Another light show takes place in the bay, but since it starts almost immediately after the Supertrees finish, we missed the start of the second one. It was a little hard to watch from the roof too, as there are wooden beams cutting across it, but we saw enough to get the general idea, and didn’t feel the need to stay for another hour for the next showing. It involves lights, music, and fountains on the water, glowing in different colours, and projecting images on to the sprays of water sometimes; it was interesting, but I still think the Supertrees were more impressive!
We were more than ready for some dinner by this point (the light shows took place at 7.45pm for the Supertrees and 8pm for the Marina Bay Sands), and earlier our tour leader had pointed out a street of restaurants and bars along the riverside near Raffles Place. Rather than walk all the way back around the bay though, we went in search of a boat instead. There are cruises up and down the river, but we only bought a short cruise ticket, as we wanted to get off at the jetty near the restaurants. Although our journey was shorter, it was still a great way to take in Singapore at night, with all those same structures we saw by daylight lit up at night – the helix bridge was bright red it turned out! The boat had some commentary about the city too, and if I ever return to Singapore I’d quite like to do the whole circuit, to learn more about it, but we were quite content to disembark at our stop when it came – I think our ride lasted around 20 minutes or so. We wandered along the riverbank, browsing the available restaurants, which have all sorts of cuisines available, fitting for such an international country, before settling on one to have dinner and one last drink together, before catching the MRT back to Little India and the hotel.
My time in Singapore was short but sweet, and I’m pretty pleased with how much we managed to see in just one day! The Supertrees were my main priority, but I’m glad we paid to explore the conservatories too, and since there are so many famous sights situated around the bay, we were able to see a lot of them quickly and easily. There are plenty of other areas of Singapore to explore too, which I would have if I had more time, but I definitely think I ticked off the most iconic locations for this trip! And that brought the first half of my Intrepid to a close; the next morning I caught my flight to Jakarta, to kick off the second half, in Indonesia, which is also the final country of my summer of travel, and where I’ll be spending about two and a half weeks in Java and Bali.