A single day exploration of downtown Singapore; a journey from a 19th Century colony to a tiger economy.
A bit of history of Singapore
The island that is now Singapore has had a very turbulent history prior it becoming a British colony in 1819. It was, as it is today, and important port and was fought over and conquered by many influential sultanates and tribal powers. In 1818, Sir Stamford Raffles was appointed as the Lieutenant Governor of the British colony at Bencoolen. He was determined that Great Britain should replace the Netherlands as the dominant power in the. He soon recognized, as many had before, the potential of Singapore as a port. The island flourished and grew at an incredible rate as a Crown colony.
World War II saw Singapore captured by the Japanese in 1942 and it remained in their control until 1945. The Japanese invaders were extremely harsh on the local inhabitants and life was hard.
After the War the British ceded more independent powers to the Malay and Singaporian colonies and self-rule was established. There was a movement for the creation of a Malaysian federation consisting of Malaysia, Sarawak, Sabah and Singapore, and in 1963 this merger was realised. Almost immediately there was unrest which boiled over into sedition and violence. Finally, in 1965 Singapore was expelled from the federation and the Republic of Singapore was born. The rest is history.
Today, Singapore is a thriving and dynamic country. After a couple of days exploring some of the outer areas of the city we decided to head into the downtown area.
Exploring downtown Singapore
We decided the best way to explore downtown Singapore was on foot, but this comes with a warning! Located just about on the equator, Singapore is hot and very humid all year around. Just take a few steps and you are soon drenched in sweat. So, the order of the day is to drink lots of water and move slowly!
The downtown area is dominated by the towering skyscrapers of the financial district, but in their shadow, on the opposite bank of the Singapore River, are several buildings from Singapore’s colonial past. Today, these are used for government buildings and museums. Unfortunately, we did not have time to explore the museums, so we continued onward. There is also a splendid cathedral. We followed the Singapore River down to the bay, passing by some large reflective silver balls, which were a little incongruous in the setting of the colonial buildings. A short while later we reached the mouth of the river, where the famous symbol of Singapore, the Merlion – a mythical creature with a lion’s head and the body of a fish, shoots water into the bay.
On the opposite side of the bay from the Merlion is the very imposing looking Marina Bay Sands Hotel, a three tower building with a structure depicting a boat across the top. We decided it was too far to walk in the heat of the day so we caught the MRT across the bay.
Our plan was to meet an old school friend at the restaurant on top of the Sands Hotel. We were early so we decided to check out the Gardens by the Bay, a part of a strategy by the Singapore government to transform Singapore from a “Garden City” to a “City in a Garden”. One of the centre pieces of the Gardens is the “Super Tree Grove”.
The Supertrees are tree-like structures that dominate the Gardens’ landscape with heights that range between 25 metres (82 ft) and 50 metres (160 ft). They are vertical gardens that perform a multitude of functions, which include planting, shading and working as environmental engines for the gardens.
The Supertrees are home to enclaves of unique and exotic ferns, vines and orchids They are fitted with environmental technologies that mimic the ecological function of trees – photovoltaic cells that harness solar energy which can be used for some of the functions of the Supertrees, such as lighting, just like how trees photosynthesize; and collection of rainwater for use in irrigation and fountain displays, exactly like how trees absorb rainwater for growth. The Supertrees also serve air intake and exhaust functions as part of the conservatories’ cooling systems.
There is an elevated walkway Skyway, between two of the larger Supertrees for visitors to enjoy a panoramic aerial view of the Gardens.
Beyond the Supertrees grove there are two vast conservatories; the Flower dome and Cloud Forest. Both are very large (around 1 hectare (2.5 acres)) and the Flower Dome is the world’s largest columnless glasshouse. Sadly, we didn’t have time to look around these, they will have to wait for our next trip to Singapore.
Returning to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel we met with a friend and traveled up the 57 floors to the Sky Park. There is an observation deck, which costs, $23 SGD for adults. Alternatively, you can go to the CÉ LA VI bar, which is actually slightly higher than the observation deck. For Hotel Guests, a redeemable S$20 entry voucher is required from 12:00 pm to 10:00 pm daily, which is fully redeemable on any food & beverage purchases. This gives the best value. If you are lucky enough to be guest in the Marina Bay Sands Hotel you can use the roof top infinity pool, the largest roof top infinity pool in the world!
Below the Sands Hotel is a vast shopping mall with a collection of the world’s premier brands. This is not really our scene, so after a brief look around we left.
As night time came we returned to the Gardens By The Bay and the Supertree Grove, where after dark there are two lights shows accompanied by music. This is where the Supertrees are at their spectacular best. The shows are short and free, and we recommend checking them out.