Forget Dubai. It seems the shoppers’ paradise is Singapore. There are so many malls it’s mind boggling. The major three-story mall, “The Shops at Marina Bay Sands” is attached by bridges to the Marina Bay Sands Resort & Casino, which boasts 2,500 hotel rooms. Every major brand name I’ve ever heard of plus some I didn’t recognize are represented.
On the rooftop of the Marina Bay Sands is the famous boat that overlooks Marina Bay, complete with an infinity pool. Here’s a tip. If you want to go up to the top, just tell them at the desk that you’re going to C’est La Vie, a bar that’s actually one floor above the observation deck with outdoor views of the Gardens by the Bay on one side and the city skyline on the other. There’s no charge to go up the 57 floors to reach C’est La Vie, nor is there a drink minimum.
Singapore was the beginning of an Asian sojourn, and it took 28 hours of travel time to get there. I flew there by myself and was joined the next day by my parents. Upon arrival, I cleared customs extremely quickly and was met by a driver from the Ritz-Carlton, who whisked me to the hotel in a Mercedes Benz, making me feel more chic than jet-lagged. “I’m taking the slightly longer, scenic route since you haven’t been here before. That way you can see the city at night,” he explained. This was the first introduction to the hospitality of Singapore.
Located approximately 70 miles north of the equator, Singapore is hot and humid. The city is also extremely clean and relatively easy to navigate. The traffic is smooth, mostly due to the vehicle import tax of 100%. To buy a new car, one needs to obtain a permit, and they are limited. There is also Electronic Road Pricing (ERP), which are automated tolls, and, overall, it is two to three times higher to own a car in Singapore than anywhere else In the world.
Staying at the Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore was on my bucket list, and it did not disappoint. The hotel is home to some 4,000 plus art pieces, including two major Chihuly installations on the main floor—in The Colony Restaurant and the appropriately named Chihuly Lounge. Breakfast and lunch in The Colony consisted of an overwhelming buffet selection of seafood, American and Asian selections, desserts, fruits, breads, made-to-order omelette and pasta stations, and even crepes Suzette. I booked a Club Level Room with the most sublime views of Marina Bay.
The first day, I purchased a ticket for the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus and saw most of the city. The bus stops at all major attractions, including The Flyer (160 foot Ferris wheel with pods that takes 30 minutes to make a complete turn), the Marina Bay Sands, Chinatown, Little India, Clarke Quay (fabulous restaurant selection along the Singapore River), and Orchard Road (all the major stores line this boulevard so think of Fifth Avenue in New York). The diverse food selection is quite impressive, with the national speciality being spicy chili crab. In Chinatown, be sure to disembark and visit the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Take the elevator to the rooftop garden.
Speaking of gardens, the botanical garden has a special section devoted to orchids, as Singapore is the largest exporter of orchids in the world. Additionally, be sure to visit the Gardens by the Bay, which has nightly light shows, set to music, in the man-made tree-like structures.
Also be sure to alight the tour bus at the Fullerton Hotel, where you can stroll to see the giant Merlion fountain spraying water into the bay. I purchased a small Merlion statue for my bookshelf as as souvenir of good luck. You’ve probably seen images of Singapore’s national icon, the mythical Merlion with the head of a lion and the body of a fish. The body symbolizes Singapore’s humble beginnings as a fishing village when it was called Temasek, meaning ‘sea town’ in Old Javanese. Its head represents Singapore’s original name, Singapura, or ‘lion city’ in Malay. Today, you can glimpse this legend at Merlion Park. Spouting water from its mouth, the Merlion statue stands tall at over 28 feet and weighs 70 tons. This icon is a must-see for tourists visiting Singapore, similar to other significant landmarks around the world. Built by local craftsman Lim Nang Seng, it was unveiled in 1972 by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at the mouth of the Singapore River, to welcome all visitors to Singapore.
Another must-see is the Raffles Hotel, which boasts the Long Bar, where the Singapore Sling was invented. The year was 1887 when the doors to the Raffles Hotel Singapore first opened. Since then, this luxury five star hotel in Singapore has become an icon that epitomizes the romance of the Far East – an intoxicating blend of luxury, history and colonial design.
Situated in the heart of the business and civic district, Raffles Singapore is a veritable oasis in the city. Its classic colonial architecture has been perfectly preserved and provides a stark but lively contrast against its modern-skyscraper neighbors. Stroll the courtyard, gardens and shops, which include a French boutique with more Hermes bags than I’ve ever seen in one place in my life, including the Hermes boutique, itself. Apparently, Singapore attracts wealth, and it’s skyline boasts the name of many world renowned banks.
Singapore is divided into four major cultures: Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Eurasian. The major religions include: Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, and Hinduism. The country attracts 15 million tourist annually, who contribute $16 Billion to the economy. Singapore is also known as a destination for medical tourists who come to have elective, cosmetic procedures as well as necessary operations.
While there are four national languages–Malay, Mandarin, Tamil, and English–English is the official language For business. For that, I was grateful, as I was told by some friends who had visited the Orient that you are basically illiterate.
Overall, Singapore is one of the world’s major ports, and it is extremely cosmopolitan with shopping and dining choices galore. The Esplanade is a pair of half-golf ball, honey-combed shaped buildings along the bay that attracts world class entertainment. Whether Singapore is itself a destination or an entrée into the Asian culture, it’s sure to impress, entertain and enchant.