Monday, January 14, 2013

From the Top of Singapore

The Pool at the Skypark atop the Marina Bay Sands Hotel


I'm writing this post while my laptop imports the pictures from our trip to Singapore, Thailand and Bali (with an unexpected detour to Kuala Lumpur), and I'm sure I'll be done with this post before the import is done. Even after I deleted at least 200 photos, I still have 555 from the trip. What a photogenic place our world is.

We started in Singapore on December 30 and celebrated New Year's Eve at Marina Bay. I don't have any pictures right now of the fireworks. I was certain it would rain, so I left my camera at the hotel. It did not rain. Well, it did rain fireworks. It also danced and sang fireworks. Singapore does fireworks miraculously. It was more like a ballet of light than a fireworks display. It brought tears. And I know I'm a sap.

Have you been to Singapore? And if you have, how did you pay to eat out? We travel a lot, but we don't spend a lot of money in comparison to all the people I see eating at restaurants for 300 Singapore dollars a pop. We grab something to drink at a 7/11 and eat far away from the expensive (really nice) restaurants. You can eat inexpensively in Singapore if you eat where the locals eat. On New Year's Eve we splurged and had a few ciders before the fireworks (80 dollars).

The same day we also headed to Sentosa, the beach. The weather was not good. It was a day of ducking under roofs and jumping over puddles. The pearl of the day, however, was the Aquarium. We'd been there before, but it's always worth a visit. I love animals. And silence. I should have become a monk-slash-vet.

We left Singapore the next day for Phuket, but I'm going to fast-forward to the end of our trip when we returned to Singapore, leaving Thailand for another post. After almost two weeks of mosquito-ridden climes, we treated ourselves to an indulgence that was really worth (almost) every penny. Actually, it was my birthday present, Christmas present and anniverary present rolled up into one . . . for the next few years. We stayed at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, an amazing place.

The Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore
Humor me: we almost never stay in nice hotels, let alone world-class ones; we travel too much to do this. In Cuzco, Peru we had coffee at the Hotel Monasterio, ranked as one of the world's best small hotels, and pretended we were staying there. It was so peaceful . . . and around 700 a night. In Puno, Peru we had dinner at a grand hotel on Titicaca Lake but only because I refused to eat any more bacteria-infested chicken. I was pretty sick, and this post isn't about Peru . . . onward.

The Marina Bay Sands Hotel is a work of architectural and engineering genius. I was genuinely excited to be there (the last time we were in Singapore, we couldn't get reservations to eat in the restaurant at the top). The longest hotel swimming pool in the world sits atop the hotel on the 57th floor. The sun was broiling, but I stayed. It was such a treat to be there that I risked skin cancer. And I ordered wine (once I heard it was my birthday/Christmas/anniversary present--well come on) for 16 dollars a half-full glass. And a salad for 18. Wine is exorbitantly expensive in Southeast Asia.

We stayed only one night in the hotel; longer would have split our budget right up the seat of the pants. We did, however, have a full day in Singapore before our flight at 11.55 p.m. There were two places we absolutely had to see: the botanic garden and the new Gardens by the Bay. Both are free, and each is a MUST SEE.

The Singapore Botanic Garden was created in 1822 by Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore, but closed just seven years later. The grounds were used mainly for experimentation with crops at first but now provide Singaporeans with one of--if not the best--botanic gardens in the world. Spread over 183 acres, the gardens are too much for just one day.

When it comes to orientation, I'm not an over-achiever. I rarely know (or care) where I am. Getting to the Gardens By the Bay was a feat, and we are already at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel directly across from the Gardens. It took us 30 minutes to find the passage, but as fate would have it we found the Gardens at exactly the right time: two minutes before the Light Show started.

The Light Show at The Gardens By the Bay, Singapore

The Gardens By the Bay are new, 250 acres grand and destined to become Singapore's newest symbol next to the Marina Bay Sands and the Merlion in the bay. In five or six years the "Supertree" towers will be covered in plants and look more like the designers intended: a mix between the technical and natural worlds. This is a magical, beautiful place with one problem: the sewage system runs directly beneath the main tower, so when you're sitting there watching the fascinating light show, you're also wincing away the smell of Singapore's crap wafting up from the vents. Still . . . amazing.

I've been home in Munich for a few hours now, but my thoughts are still in Singapore. I wish I could pull this city a bit closer to Europe.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type.