Singapore is gilded temples stood shoulder-to-shoulder with skyscrapers. It is steaming bowls of assam laksa and soft, squidgy dim sum that will never look as good as it tastes. Singapore is paint box Penang shophouses and the ethnic alleyways of Little India. It is scarlet-sailed bumboats against a neon sky and it is clouds illuminated above billion-dollar gardens. When Singapore comes calling, you answer.
All the humidity in the world couldn’t stop Senior Sales Consultant Francesca Hurst from joining Holland America Line for a ship visit in Singapore.
As I sat with a glass of champagne and a tub of Singapore Sling-flavoured ice cream, I knew my trip to Singapore wasn’t going to disappoint.
We had been upgraded at check-in and fast-tracked through security. Now I was making the most of the Singapore Airlines’ SilverKris lounge at London Heathrow Airport, relaxing in style before my 13-hour flight.
We arrived to 30-degree heat at 7.00am on a Thursday morning and were whisked away to the Oasia Downtown Hotel, which was to be our base for the next four days. The hotel was beautiful. Our every need was catered for and with a stunning rooftop pool with views out to the cruise terminal, it was ideally located for us to make the most of our time in Singapore.
My first trip out saw me venture into the Colonial District, where Sir Stamford Raffles landed in 1819 and founded modern Singapore. The beautiful white buildings stand proud against the river and frame the monument of the city’s founding father. Lunch today was at the Empress found at the Asian Civilisation Museum. We tucked into the best dim sum I have ever tasted, followed by peanut butter ice cream with steamed molten custard buns. A real taste sensation!
After a short rest, we were all excited and eager to see what else Singapore had to offer.
I certainly wasn’t disappointed as I explored the streets of Chinatown. The brightly coloured lanterns and the painted buildings were a sight to behold, and we later had the chance to explore the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. It was quite humbling to wander around and take in all the sights and sounds of a place littered with dazzling golden Buddhas and fresh flower garlands.
Later that night, we headed over to the Marina Bay Cruise Centre for our tour of Holland America Line’s ms Amsterdam. The mid-sized ship, which carries just 1380 passengers, was part way through a world cruise. With an overnight stay in the city, most guests were off the ship and enjoying everything Singapore has to offer.
I have seen plenty of cruise ships over the years but never a Holland America ship. This one certainly didn’t disappoint. The Planeto Astrolabium, a commissioned signature sculpture, soars skyward in the three-storey atrium and invites you into the ship. As you sail, it tracks constellations, the planets, world time and ship time. You are never short of artwork to admire throughout the ship, with an Art Deco theme running throughout. The usual array of bars and lounges can be found dotted around ms Amsterdam, with plenty of staff on hand to help. A highlight of the night was being able to listen to a pianist, who was playing out on the lido deck, whilst admiring the skyline of Singapore. We dined that evening in the Pinnacle Grill, one of Holland America Line’s speciality restaurants serving dishes inspired by America’s Pacific Northwest. I opted for the steak, followed by the baked Alaska, and can honestly say that it was the best meal I have ever eaten at sea.
Our second day in Singapore was spent wandering through the awe-inspiring Gardens by the Bay, an attraction which should not be missed if you are in the city. My favourite part of the experience was the Cloud Forest. As you walk through the doors, you are faced with a huge waterfall and a backdrop of the lushest greenery. As you make your way around, the ‘mist’ starts to rise and you truly get a sense of what it would be like in the tropical highlands 2000 metres above sea level, where the types of plants and shrubbery contained here naturally thrive. We also went back in the evening to watch the Garden Rhapsody light show, which was a real spectacle.
Lunch that day was served in Little India at the Banana Leaf Apollo, a real favourite with the locals. We were served an array of local specialities, including the Singaporean favourite, fish head curry. I would love to say that I was brave enough to try this, but the fish staring straight at me from across the table saw the dish destined to become the only one I declined. I am told that it is very good and that the bones in the head of the fish give the curry all its flavour, so maybe this is one for next time! Later, as I walked through the streets of Little India with its pungent smells and brightly coloured stalls, I couldn’t help but fall for Singapore.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in Kampong Glam, in the trendy Arab Quarter. With rows of boutique style shops and trendy cafes and bars, it is a real mecca if you’re hunting out something a little bit different. We had the pleasure of sitting in on a perfume masterclass at Sifr Aromatics, before heading over to Selfie Coffee. This peculiar coffee shop does exactly what it says in the tin, so to speak. The little cafe has plenty of props with which to take your ‘selfie’, before having it printed on your coffee. Kampong Glam offered lots of quirky things like this and I could have gladly spent hours exploring there. Unfortunately, our tight schedule meant we drank our coffee and were on our way.
That night we took a relaxing bumboat tour down the Singapore River to Clarke Quay, where we dined at Red House, a Singaporean restaurant specialising in seafood. When you walk in you can’t help but notice that everyone is wearing a bib. Now, I am ever so slightly OCD with messy food and I instantly knew that this wasn’t the night for me! The restaurant’s speciality is chilli crab, which arrived at the table in a huge bowl with only crab crackers to break the shell. It is safe to say that the bibs were most-definitely needed, however the crab was amazing. We finished our evening off in a much more civilised manner at a rooftop bar called Lantern. As we drank champagne mojitos and admired the dazzling Singapore skyline, there was nowhere else I would rather have been.
Saturday morning came and we visited the Singapore Cruise Centre for a quick tour, before heading across to Sentosa Island, a purpose-built island resort just a 15-minute gondola ride away from Singapore. Arriving into Sentosa reminded me of driving into Disneyland; everything was perfectly presented, magical even. We were lucky enough to have a tour of the island’s aquarium and then spent some free time on the beach, before hitting the shops.
A real highlight of my trip was visiting Raffles Hotel, where we had a wonderful time with their resident mixologist learning how to make and shake the signature Singapore Sling. The landmark hotel, which is currently undergoing a staged refurbishment and is due to reopen fully next year, is a must-see for anyone travelling to Singapore. We had dinner that evening at Coriander Leaf, an Asian restaurant at Chijmes, which is a beautiful old monastery. The atmosphere was wonderful, with people sat around the terrace areas listening to live music. We finished off our evening at 1-Altitude, the highest al fresco bar in the world. The view of Singapore was out of this world and the bar is well worth a visit.
On my last day in Singapore we had a leisurely walk through the beautiful National Orchid Garden, where orchids dedicated to Lady Diana, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge were among my favourites. In the afternoon, we visited the smallest museum in Singapore, The Intan. The Intan belongs to a gentleman called Alvin, who collects all things Peranakan. His house is crammed full of everything from beautiful china, to hundreds of pairs of wedding shoes.
I finished my time in Singapore indulging in some shopping on Orchard Road and reluctantly readied my case for the journey home. It had been some trip.