It has been nearly 25 years between Singapore Slings. I last set foot in Singapore in September 1986, and then just for a few days.More Singapore:
ALL THE SPICES
With that in mind, I took an attractive nine-day Singapore flight and hotel deal from my travel agent. Friends reckoned they'd seen what they wanted in Singapore in a couple of days. Would I run out of ideas in nine?
Arrived at Changi Airport. For user friendliness, efficiency and professionalism, it has to be the best. Within an hour of stepping off the plane I was unpacking in my room at the Albert Court Village Hotel, a colonial-style hotel handily positioned, with comfortable walking access to Orchard Road, Little India and the shopping and restaurant area around Bugis Junction.
As I arrived mid-afternoon, there was time for a walk to Orchard Road, its multi-storey malls packed with shoppers. I'd been in Singapore for less than three hours and had already made my first clothing purchase.
Singapore's Mass Rapid Transit rail system became a close ally. I walked to City Hall MRT station to purchase a fare card. There is the choice of a Singapore Tourist Pass or an ez-link card, depending on the length of your stay and how much you intend to use public transport.
As I was staying longer, I purchased an ez-link card, a train and bus pass which could be topped up as required. The MRT was safe and easy to navigate. First journey was to Raffles Place station in the CBD and a visit to the historic Lau Pa Sat Festival Market food stalls.
This impressive 1890s Victorian cast- iron pavilion has been a gazetted national monument since 1973. Raffles Place MRT station is also near Boat Quay where I joined a two-hour guided walk to hear tales from the era when it was packed with boats and coolies bringing merchandise ashore to 19th century trading offices and warehouses. These days, the old offices have been revitalised as pubs, bars and restaurants.
The day starts with a stroll in Fort Canning Park, generally revered as the most historic part of Singapore. On a hill with views to Orchard Road from one side and Clarke Quay and out to Marina Bay from other vantage points, the tree-lined paths have a series of plaques outlining Singapore's history.
Part of the house that Sir Stamford Raffles built as his official residence is still in the park, as are remnants of a fort built by the British colonial government about 1860.
In the evening, I joined a walk titled Secrets of the Red Lanternwalk, in Chinatown. With stories about brothels, gambling and opium dens, the creation of the labyrinth of back alleys, the tough life of coolies in slave houses and the curiously named Street of the Dead, it was two hours well spent.
Goodwill is in abundance at the elegant five-star Fullerton Hotel near Boat Quay. Established in a former 1920s public building, the Fullerton rivals Raffles as a landmark historic Singapore hotel.
Around the corner from the Fullerton, overlooking Marina Bay, a 9m-high Merlion - half- lion, half-fish - welcomes masses of visitors, particularly young couples wanting to have their photo taken by the landmark.
A packed day's sightseeing. I joined a full congregation in a Sunday service at St Andrew's Cathedral but couldn't understand a word of the sermon - it was in Chinese. A stroll through the nearby Padang (much like Langley Park), taking in City Hall and the Supreme Court building, put me in the mood to continue through the nearby Esplanade and across the futuristic Helix Bridge to the modern Marina Bay Sands Hotel.
Despite its quirky ship-in-dry-dock look, the five-star hotel is a brilliant achievement in modern building architecture and construction. To compare the new with the historical, I walked to the great Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling cocktail in the hotel's Courtyard bar.
This cultural day begins at the Asian Civilisations Museum, in which the Singapore River gallery documents the development of the river as a major centre for trade and finance, particularly after the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819.
The exhibition tracks the influence of the Chinese, Indians and British. The other half of the day was spent in Singapore Botanic Gardens, comfortable walking distance past the western end of Orchard Road and with a diverse range of plants.
Over 63ha, it features the National Orchid Garden, Evolution Garden, Ginger Garden, Swan Lake (complete with white swans) and a sizeable rain forest section.
Jurong Bird Park is not simply a matter of birds in cages. Most exhibits in the 20.2ha park are re-creations of open natural habitats or giant walk-in aviaries with birds flying freely. There are more than 4600 birds across 380 species.
The African Waterfall Aviary, with 1500 flying birds from more than 60 species, is said to be the world's biggest walk-in aviary, while the net-enclosed Lory Loft, home to many colourful parrot species, is nine storeys high. Jurong is easily accessible by MRT to Boon Lay station and then bus 194 from the nearby interchange direct to the park entrance.
A fun way to get views of the city, harbour and Sentosa Island is a round trip on the Mt Faber-Sentosa cable car. To reach the cable car in the first place requires a lift through 15 storeys to the station but the eventual ride in a gondola above the harbourside activity is rewarding.
Then it was off to Little India, where I enjoy a spicy meal eaten off banana leaves, explore lively side streets and shop at a 24-hour-a-day emporium known as the Mustafa Centre. For gold jewellery, clothing, DVDs even at 2am, the Mustafa Centre is the place.
A final opportunity to pick up some clothing bargains at some of the numerous sales in Orchard Road and some curios in Chinatown before heading out to Changi for the evening flight home.
My conclusion after nine days? Rather than a short stopover, consider visiting for a week or so. It is worthy of the extra time.To compare the new with the historical, I walked to Raffles for a Singapore Sling.