Singapore’s ultra-modern airport invites you to linger with free internet terminals, a cinema, rooftop swimming pool, aromatherapy spas, oxygen bars, indoor nature garden with waterfalls and koi pond.
I was escorting my smallest group yet with 28 singles. Over 60 had begged me to offer these destinations, but most bailed last minute claiming fear of bird flu. So it’s like a vacation for me with this quality over quantity entourage of culture-vultures.
We began with an orientation tour at the top of Mt. Farber with spectacular views. I can see the group is impressed with this sparkling metropolis located between Malaysia and Indonesia. Here is the leader of S.E. Asia, a bustling port that was modernised by the British Empire. It’s called the “Lion City” and inhabited by 4 million souls. 76% are Chinese and the other minorities blend harmoniously. Singapore is a city, state, capital and country all in one and draws 8 million visitors per year, yet few Americans have yet to discover it.
We checked into the opulent Regent Hotel of the Four Seasons. I was given a suite and swear this wins the award for the most gracious staff on the planet. We’ve arrived at a perfect time now with the “Great Shopping Festival” on. There is nothing like some retail therapy to soothe our jet lag. Orchard Road, like a tree, lined Fifth Avenue is a block away and centre of all life. Shopping is the national obsession and bargain hunting can become a blood sport here.
There are 150 mega-malls with some that never close. I was a label slave and purchased a used authentic Rolex with documents for a fraction of its original cost. We had only 4 days here. So much to do 24/7, it’s like Hong Kong on steroids. The Arts Festival is on with a multitude of venues. After dark, it becomes party city at the trendy Clarke Quay area by the river.
We visited the lush National Orchard Gardens with 60,000 orchids, China Town with its markets and temples as well as Little India with its intense aromas and vibrant colours. Then on to the ultra-contemporary financial district, Merlion Park with its landmark fountain and the historic colonial area that was established by Sir Stanford Raffles.
We stopped to sip a Singapore Sling at the famous Long Bar of Raffles Hotel where rooms start at $700 per night. Other tours included Jurong Bird Park and the Night Safari at the zoo, considered the best in the world with its free-roaming cages for 2500 animals. In free time, we rode rickshaws around town and took the cable car over to Sentosa Island.
Some of us opted to head back to the zoo for a Jungle Breakfast with the Orangutans. At night, I dined on jumbo chilli crabs and rice cakes. This vibrant island-state of Singapore is glistening clean with purple bougainvillaea bushes lining the highways. All cars were equipped with alarms to sound if one exceeds the speed limit. No graffiti, no gangs and in this tightly “controlled democracy”, it’s the death penalty for drug traffickers.