HOT LITTLE RED DOT

Singapore is tiny compared to its neighbours in the region, but it’s packing gigantic fun and excitement.

There won’t be a mad scramble to flag down a cab by Friday night’s revellers stumbling out of clubs at Clarke Quay in the wee hours of the morning. Cabbies are just around the corner ready to ferry them home. Others who are lucky to have their flats within the Orchard area can just walk off the extra glass of martini.  No bruises or missing wallets to greet you in the morning in this clean and safe haven – just perhaps a colossal hangover.

Walking around the city at 3am is commonplace to night owls. Orchard, the city’s shopping district (think Tokyo’s Ginza or London’s Oxford Street), takes on a surreal ambience of hushed din and bright lights. Several hours earlier, it’s teeming with shoppers and Starbucks’ patrons. On hindsight, the graveyard hours are actually the best time to stroll down the shopping district without being elbowed and pushed by the maddening crowd. Sitting on the steps of the gargantuan Takashimaya Shopping Centre, you get a peek at what’s to unfold in the next couple of hours before it is roused out of its temporary hibernation.  In the meantime, you’re simply enjoying the gentle purring underneath the soles of your feet. This meditative moment – like power napping – gets you ready for the organised madness to come your way.

Regular days at Orchard are a walk in the park. It gets a little manic when sales like the Great Singapore Sale commence. This May-to-July shopping extravaganza has major malls at Orchard and beyond offering massive discounts on every conceivable item. Cynics would lament that it’s no New York or London in scale, which is true to a certain degree especially when we talk about size. Called Little Red Dot, a sobriquet worn as a badge of honour by the locals and the country’s leaders, Singapore does appear as a Little Red Dot at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula in major maps.

Indeed, the Little Red Dot has come a long way since its kampong (Malay term for village) and rickshaw days. The bucolic landscape of halcyon days has given rise to concrete-steel skyscrapers and a mosaic society with various ethnicities viz. Chinese, Malay, Indian and American and European expatriates living in one community with each retaining their own identity, traditional ways and religious beliefs.

TOURISTS’ HUB

Tourism is one of the major sources of revenue of the country. In the ASEAN Tourism Forum held in Bangkok, Thailand earlier in the year, Deputy Chairman and Chief Executive Lim Neo Chian of the Singapore Tourism Board announced that the tourism sector generated an estimated S$13.8 billion in tourism receipts in 2007, setting a new record for tourism receipts. It surpassed the target of S$13.6 billion, with a growth of 11.3 percent over 2006.  

It also set a new record of 10.3 million visitor arrivals last year, exceeding its target of 10.2 million and posting an increase of 5.4 percent over 2006. The top five markets were Indonesia (1,956,000 visitors), China (1,114,000), Australia (768,000), India (749,000), and Malaysia (646,000), which accounted for about 51 percent of total visitor arrivals.

According to Mr. Lim the Little Red Dot is on track to achieve its tourism targets of 17 million in visitor arrivals and S$30 billion in tourism receipts by 2015.

New developments for this year include the F1 race in September (Singapore acquired the rights to host the races for five years); opening of Changi Airport’s Terminal 3 last January; Singapore Flyer, a giant observation wheel giving a bird’s eye view of the F1 track, the city and parts of Malaysia and Indonesia; Peranakan Museum (opened in April); Marina Barrage; Orchard Road Rejuvenation program; Volvo Ocean Race 2008/09 where the city will be the South East Asian stopover;  Mandai, a new nature destination that will include the upgrading of the zoo and night safari plus a possible third animal attraction in the Mandai area; integrated resorts The Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World at Sentosa by 2009; Gardens by the Bay in 2010; Singapore Sports Hub, a 25-hectare site at Kallang, by 2011; and the National Art Gallery in 2012/2013.

“Singapore has re-invented itself and will continue transforming,” declared Mr. Lim.

MODISH ORCHARD

Orchard is possibly one of the most visible threads that connect all the groups together. Singaporeans will not bat an eye when they say that one of their pastimes is shopping (eating is the other one).  And the country’s muscling in on the shopping action, bringing in top brands viz. Prada, Lowe, Louis Vuitton and Salvatore Ferragamo. Miu Miu joined the block with a boutique store at Paragon, a mall right at the heart of Orchard, which coincidentally houses all the major brands that fashionistas would be looking for.  Rest assured you won’t be slapped a hefty fine when you step into Heathrow or Charles de Gaulle with your branded bags: The colour of your Louis Vuitton will bit be darker and The R in the emblem of Prada has the right leg of the letter curving. Other shopping paradises down Orchard include Takashimaya Shopping Centre, Wisma Atria, Centrepoint and Palais Renaissance. Venturing further, Vivocity near Harbourfront, which is a bus ride away from Sentosa Island, is the newest shopping enclave.

Food hounds will find their haven at the newly launched Paragon Market Place at Paragon. The 17,000 sq. feet designer shopping space features 500 exclusive products that run the gamut of O’organic, Green & Blacks to Hediard. Hosting a party? Its unique Lamb Spit service that has a chef roasting and carving the whole lamb would be the talk of the town

SENTOSA FUN

Sentosa Island is Singapore’s answer to a mini-resort vacation without leaving the country. Connected by the causeway bridge to the mainland, visitors can get to the island via car, taxi and the Sentosa Express monorail, which links HarbourFront, Vivocity, St. James Power Station to Sentosa in less than four minutes. The cable car from Mount Faber is another way to get to the island as well as public buses. There is also the orange Sentosa Bus that ferries passengers to and from Sentosa and the Harbourfront Bus Interchange frequently. Getting around the island is easy with the Sentosa Express, beach trams and buses viz. Fort Siloso, Open Top and Sentosa.

The island’s appeal was more strategic defence for Singapore in the 19th century, providing passage protection into Keppel Harbour. Plans to fortify the island were realised in the 1880s as concerns over the protection of the coal stocks against enemy attack grew thus four forts were built on the island: Fort Siloso, Fort Serapong, Fort Connaught and Mount Imbiah Battery. In the 1930s, it became the base of the Royal Artillery and during World War II was transformed into a British military fortress. With the surrender of the Allied Forces in 1942, the island became a prisoner of war camp for Australian and British prisoners of the Japanese forces. By the 1970s, the Singapore government developed it into a holiday resort and in 1972 renamed the island Sentosa, which means serenity and tranquillity in Malay.

“Sentosa is themed as a destination on the island and round the island. Shopping, entertainment, leisure and lifestyle are covered. It offers a little difference because we’re an island resort. We have resorts such at Rasa Sentosa and Siloso Beach Resort, which are beachfront resorts. The newest addition is Amara Sanctuary Resort and Capella will be ready by the end of the year,” said Patricia Chan, Manager for Communications of the Sentosa Leisure Group.

She added: “We’re 25 min from the airport and 15 min away from the city. We’re in the midst of the airport, the Central Business District and Orchard.”

The island is divided into the Western part and Eastern side. The Western area contains majority of the attractions found at the Imbiah Lookout, which pointed out Ms. Chan, is the best way to start the Sentosa adventure. Take your pick: the Sentosa Luge and Skyride (part go-cart and part toboggan ride), Sky Tower for a panoramic view of Singapore 131 metres above sea level or The Merlion, Singapore’s half-lion, half-fish emblem, standing at 37 metres high. Beach lovers will enjoy sea sports or simply basking under the sun along the 3.2-km beaches stretching across Siloso, Palawan and Tanjong. According to Ms Chan, the beaches are also thematic viz. Siloso is for beach volleyball and other outdoor activities such as canoeing, mountain biking or rollerblading; Palawan is for chilling out with friends; and Tanjong is for solitude or romantic rendezvous.

A new attraction will be ready in 2009. Skydiving enthusiasts will be able to enjoy the sport in the world’s largest vertical tunnel, iFly Singapore. The air-conditioned skydiving simulator will measure five metres in diameter, flying height of 17 metres and will allow up to 20 professional flyers at one time. The transparent tunnel will also offer views of South China Sea, Siloso Beach and nightly fireworks display from Songs of the Sea.

On the Eastern side are the high-end hotels and the posh ONE°15 Marina Club where, as Ms Chan put it, “the mood is quieter”. ONE°15 Marina Club is the brainchild of Arthur Tay, Chairman and Group Managing Director of SUTL Group of Companies. Its name is derived from its strategic location one degree 15 minutes north of the Equator in nautical terms. “It’s the only marina in Singapore with purposely-built berths for mega yachts,” said Ong Fei Fei, Senior Marcom Executive of ONE°15.

Nestled in the exclusive Sentosa Cove, this luxurious neighbourhood is positioned to become one of the world’s most well integrated waterfront lifestyle communities. And it’ll be the host venue of the Volvo Ocean racers when they dock into Singapore, their only stop in the Southeast Asia region.

Exclusive is the password at ONE°15. Only bona fide members – all 3,850 – have access to the marina and land facilities. If you own a yacht, park at one of the 270 berths and avail of the other marina facilities. If you’re not into sailing, the land facilities that run the gamut of two tennis courts, infinity pool, fully equipped gym and the Marina Sanctuary Spa will keep you occupied. Or you can laze in the bathtub in one of four luxurious Club Suites to enjoy the scenery. If you’re hungry, get your fill at the Latitude Bistro that has an international buffet menu or something Chinese at the Imperial Treasure restaurant. (Aside: Latitude Bistro has a deli that can prepare a picnic basket for you if you’re in the mood for a picnic.)

From shopping to dining or basking under the sun, Singapore knows how to crank up the fun factor. Let your hair down and jump into the excitement at the Little Red Dot.

Top 10 Things to Do in Singapore

WHEN AT SENTOSA…

1) TUCK IN WITH GUSTO

You’ll be spoilt for choice with the dining options at Sentosa. Barnacles Restaurant & Bar at Rasa Sentosa Resort serves Western and Chinese specialities while il Lido at Sentosa Golf Club offers an Italian menu. Nogawa Japanese Restaurant, also at Sentosa Golf Club, offers fantastic Japanese delicacies. For a taste of French, Braise on Palawan Beach is the newest outlet to open. Want something soupy? Try steaming hot pots at Mega Tian Siang Hot Pot at Sijori WonderGolf.

2) PAMPER THY SELF

Relax and rejuvenate at Spa Botanica set within The Sentosa Resort & Spa. Indulge in signature treatments such as Tropical Glow – a body treatment using tropical fruits and spices to create a glowing skin dovetailed with a rhythmic massage – or Five Elements Cleanse and Purifying Ritual, a detoxifying body treatment using Tibetan and Traditional Chinese Medicinal techniques. This tropical garden destination spa also features mud pools, float pools with cascading waterfalls and Galaxy steam baths.

Try the new Fish Reflexology, which will have you dipping your feet into a school of Turkish spa fish that will gently nibble at your feet leaving you with smoother and healthier skin. Afterwards, a foot reflexologist will knead your feet to good health.

3) FLY LIKE A BIRD

Be a trapeze artist for an hour or two at The Flying Trapeze at Siloso Beach under the watchful eye of the resident trainer.

4) IMMERSE IN HISTORY

Take a tour of Fort Siloso and browse through more than 245 photographs, documents and film clips on display. This restored 19th century British fortress is the biggest repository of World War II memorabilia and is the only preserved coastal fort in Singapore.

5) WATCH THE NIGHT’S EXTRAVAGANZA

Sentosa’s Song of the Sea, which was awarded the 2007 Outstanding Achievement for Event Spectacular, dazzles you with a live cast and dramatic effect pyrotechnics, water jets, brilliant laser, special computer imaging, music and stunning flame bursts. It’s a rain or shine event.

WHEN ON THE MAINLAND…

1) EAT LIKE THE LOCALS

For local cuisine, a melange of Chinese, Indian and Malay dishes, head to Coffee Lounge at Goodwood Park Hotel. Their Local Degustation Menus showcase the best of Singapore in four, five and six-course sets served in tasting portions. For a local repast in a typical setting, head to Lau Pa Sat at Shenton Way. The popular savoury snacks of roasted chicken wings and stingray are available at night – best eaten hot and with chilli sauce.

For authentic North Indian cuisine and Chinese-Indian cuisine under one roof, go to Jade of India on Race Course Road in Little India. The seven chefs present a delightful selection of tandoori, curries (20 of them!), briyani (rice dish accompanied by mutton, fish or chicken) and naan (Indian bread).

For seafood done in Thai-Chinese cooking, Seafood International Market & Restaurant at Playground @ Big Splash in East Coast Parkway will titillate your palate with their menu of more than 200 dishes.

2) DRINK AND BE MERRY

Orchard transforms into party zone when the shopping stops. Take your pick of clubs: Ballymoons Spirits Bar, a contemporary Irish Spirits bar at Orchard Hotel Shopping Arcade; Acid Bar at Peranakan Place Complex, which is sandwiched between Orchard Emerald and Centrepoint, with its open-bar concept and a more modern approach to music; or the martini bar mezza9 of Grand Hyatt Singapore, which showcases 30 martinis including the must-try Lychee Martini. For live entertainment while sipping your favourite poison, Bar None and Brix respectively at the basements of Singapore Marriott Hotel and Grand Hyatt Singapore feature bands performing top tune, hip hop, R&B and more.  Another option is the new Heat Ultralounge at Royal Plaza on Scotts.

3) LEARN ABOUT A NEW CULTURE

The Peranakan Museum, which houses the world’s finest and most comprehensive collection of Peranakan artefacts, officially opened on April 26. Located on 39 Armeniam Street, it’s the first museum to explore the Peranakan cultures in the former Straits Settlements of Singapore, Malacca and Penang, and their links with other Peranakan communities in Southeast Asia. The Peranakan life is explored in 10 permanent galleries that include the 12-day Peranakan wedding, the role of the Nonyas and favourite pastimes of food and feasting. (www.peranakanmuseum.sg)

4) INDULGE, INDULGE & INDULGE

Head down to Clarke Quay, Singapore’s riverside festival village, to get your favourite drink, taste your favourite cuisine and purchase German woodwork figurines and dollhouses, digital and electronic products, and pewter accessories. You can also take a cruise down Singapore River on the Hippo River Cruise or experience an adrenaline rush with the GX5 Xtreme Swing, located next to the G-MAX Bungy. (www.clarkequay.com.sg)

5) BE ON TOP OF THE WORLD

Enjoy a 30-minute flight on the Singapore Flyer observation wheel that stands at 165 metres from the ground. Take in the picturesque skyline of Singapore, Marina Bay to the Singapore River, Raffles Place, Merlion Park, Empress Place, the Padang and beyond. (www.singaporeflyer.com)

(Published in VOLVO OCEAN RACE | LIFE AT THE EXTREME, Issue 28) 

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