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|Volume 10 |Issue 17 | April 29, 2011 ||
A First Timer at Fun City
They say few Asian countries split opinions as sharply as Singapore does. For some people, it's the ultimate benchmark to judge a modern state, while others find it a bit of a drag–compulsively neat and clean and in order.
That there isn't much to do in Singapore unless you are a shopaholic or a foodie is now a well-worn cliché. A friend of mine who's been there more than once has said it takes only a couple of hours to travel the length and breadth of the country. To make things even duller, he has quipped, the authorities are stickler for discipline and paranoid about the pettiest of crimes.
With such views playing in the back of my mind, I boarded the plane for a four-day trip to the island republic on March 23. After around four hours, as a voice over the PA instructed us to buckle up, I looked out the window. And what I saw beneath was unreal: scores of brightly-lit ships lay moored in a harbour bathed in a strange pre-dawn glow. Not a bad start, I told myself.
We were a team of three scribes and a photographer visiting the city state at the invitation of its tourism board. As we got out of the ever efficient Changi International Airport, we were greeted by a gust of warm wind.
The first place on our itinerary was Sentosa. It's a popular getaway island more famous these days for one of the two brand new integrated resorts Singapore has opened to charge ahead of the competitors like Hong Kong and Malaysia.
Linked to the mainland through a causeway, cable rail and a boardwalk, Sentosa boasts a sprawling casino, Singapore's first since gambling was legalised in 2005. It also has Asia's first Universal Studios Theme Park. Apart from these multi-billion dollar properties, it has sublime natural surroundings to justify its name, which in Malay means peace and tranquillity.
As we walked along an exquisite nature trail zigzagging through the rain forest, the constant chirps of the birds reminded me of our even greener and gorgeous Lawachhara forest. If only could we have a third of this infrastructure!
Of the myriad outdoor pursuits available on Sentosa, some are quite strenuous. Some on the other hand are tailored to the needs of lazy travellers like me.
The best one for me was the Megazip–a ride along a 450-metre wire that starts from a 75-metre high hill-point and ends on a pristine beach island. All I needed to do was agreeing to be pushed down onto the cord, and gravity did the rest. Perhaps, I'm making it sound a little too easy. Despite repeated assurances from my zip assistant that it was absolutely foolproof, I couldn't help thinking about the worst. What if the cord snapped...what if the hook came off...what if the straps frayed?
Anyway, I summoned all my courage. After all, I was Everest conqueror Musa Ibrahim's colleague, right?
As I rolled down–strapped into a harness and suspended from the cord–I could feel a strange mix of fear and elation. Before I landed, a stretch of jungle, a lagoon and a beach teeming with sunbathers flashed beneath me.
At a speed of 50km/h, the ride would surely get your adrenaline pumping unless you are a bungee jumper with no time for anything less vertical.
After the Megazip, we had a great time driving luge along a long and winding jungle trail. Navigating luge–kind of a go-kart–is easy to master and so a fun for all ages.
Skyride, the next on our day's programme, offered a breathtaking view of the island's lush greenness, the coastline and a silhouette of Singapore skyscrapers standing out in the distance.
Sentosa is not all about outdoor sports though. It has several luxury hotels, chic restaurants and spas, and Singapore's most exclusive golf course for those who want to indulge in an extravagant vacation.
Our next day's programmes began at Singapore Airlines Training Centre in Upper Changi. A guided tour through cutting-edge training facilities including simulated flights and emergencies showed us how the airline prepares its cabin crew and pilots. No wonder, I thought, Singapore Air is rarely out of the top three airlines of the world [passenger choice awards].
After lunch, we were taken to Marina Bay Sands, the other one of the two integrated resorts in Singapore. The Sands, opened in April last year, is a stunning landmark that has added that extra zing to the cityscape. A boat-shaped skypark platform connecting three 55-storey hotel towers gives it a unique look. Standing in the heart of the metropolis dwarfing the other skyscrapers, the Sands houses a world-class casino; two state-of-the-art theatres; Singapore's largest hotel and convention centre; a sprawling outdoor plaza; a lotus-shaped art-science museum; celebrity-chef restaurants; and over 300 upmarket shops.
The skypark spread over a hectare atop the hotel towers will just take your breath away. An architectural wonder, it has beautifully landscaped gardens and a 150-meter infinity pool where the water seems to be flowing over the edge. From its lookout deck, you can have the best panoramic view of the city and the bay. Given a clear sky, your eyes will stretch as far as to an Indonesian islet. As I gazed in awe at the sea, half-lying against the observation deck's wall, the words of an Otis Redding song kept ringing in my ears: Sitting in the morning sun/I'll be sitting when the evening come/Watching the ships roll in/And then watch them roll away again/I'm sitting on the dock of the bay/Watching the tide roll away...
We were at the Sands till late in the evening. We wrapped up the day with Broadway's globally-adored musical Lion King at the Sands theatre. Two hours flew by like a racehorse, as we watched spellbound the theatrical tour de force–stage adaptation of Walt Disney's award-winning animation film of the same name.
In the last two days of the trip, we visited museums and traditional tourist points including Singapore's mascot Merlion, the mythical creature made up of the head of a lion and the body of a fish. We also sampled the island's famously diverse cuisines and the night life in Clark Quay.
So, now that the tour is over, what is my take on the Lion City? I guess the abundance of adjectives in this write-up is quite telling. Singapore may not be an ideal place for thrill-seeking backpackers, but it surely can have a first-timer like me riveted. To those who say there's not much happening, I'd say their views about the city may change if they go through the latest additions to its expanding tourism portfolio.
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