Bold and fun Singapore
Looking down Singapore city from Marina Bay Sands hotel's Skypark. Picture: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

Singapore used to have a reputation for being a bit sterile and boring but that's the past.

Guide to Singapore:

Singapore has changed completely from the city visitors might remember even a few years ago. It has a new vibrancy; it is bold, a little bit brash, fun, sophisticated and quite breathtaking.

In fact, it has been changing so fast and so dramatically that locals repeatedly tell me they don't recognise some areas from one month to the next.

Singapore has been committed to reinventing and fragmenting itself, to give it a competitive future in the tourism and hospitality industry - and it is paying off. In the 132-city survey that is the Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index, which was published mid-June, Singapore came fourth for its number of visitor arrivals and fifth in terms of their spending.

It is projected that 11.8 million people will arrive in Singapore on direct flights this year.

And while the index expects spending to be $14.2 million, Singapore Tourism Board is predicting $18.6 million when sea and land arrivals are taken into account.

And part of the increase is a result of the fragmentation. And what do I mean by that? Well, I simply don't think "Singapore" is a single destination any more.

Capella Singapore Hotel: The old bungalow style building. Picture: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian
The size and sophistication of the tourism developments make them destinations in their own right.

So, rather than just thinking about "Singapore", I am thinking about it as three destinations.

Singapore city

At the heart of it all - and typifying old-style Singapore for me - is still Raffles Hotel, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary. Based on classic Colonial white bungalow architecture; teeming with class.

Then Orchard Road, Chinatown, Little India and the Arab Quarter. The Peranakan Museum and trawling myriad shopping malls. Funan Digital Life mall is still the place for electronics and cameras (about a quarter cheaper than Perth's best prices for some cameras).

Back for high tea at Raffles Hotel, Goodwood Park Hotel, The Regent or The Fullerton Bay Hotel. Later, when the city's lit up, perhaps a rooftop bar or two, like Orgo at 8 Raffles Avenue, 1-Altitude in One Raffles Place, Loof on the Odeon Towers extension rooftop at 331 North Bridge Road, Helipad at 6 Eu Tong Sen Street or Lantern on top of Fullerton Bay Hotel in Collyer Quay.

More Singapore:

Marina Bay Sands

With 2561 rooms, an infinity pool overlooking the city from the 57th floor SkyPark, more than 60 dining options, the award-winning Shoppes mall with more than 300 retail outlets, the three-towered Marina Bay Sands hotel is certainly a destination in its own right. It's rather like a vertical cruise ship.

Dining ranges from six celebrity restaurants by the likes of Paris chef Guy Savoy and Sydney's Tetsuya Wakuda, to modern, multinational food courts.

There's an indoor synthetic skating rink, the ArtScience Museum which has Harry Potter: The Exhibition until September 30, and two theatres.

"It's like a city in itself," a senior member of its 9000 staff tells me. And she's right. And then she tells me the story of guests who stay for seven days and never leave the building.

Surrounded by roads, it is connected to the new Gardens by the Bay, the first phase of which opened on June 29. This section, the 54ha Bay South Garden, has taken five years to make, and has two water-cooled conservatories covering 1.2ha, Dragonfly Lake full of fish and water plants, 18 trees between 25m and 50m tall, and four heritage gardens. The full 101ha of the gardens will be open by 2015.

But, perhaps, not the most remarkable, for that honour must surely live with Sands SkyPark, up there on the 57th floor of Marina Bay Sands. Covering 1.2ha - the size of three soccer pitches - it is home to 250 trees and 650 plants, and a 150m infinity pool. It's a bizarre spectacle, seeing the water's edge and city beyond.

And it's not often that you get to look down on helicopters.

Sentosa Island

Sentosa Island is a stone's throw across the water from Singapore city, but self-contained and different; a destination in itself and almost as much green park as theme park, with tropical landscaping and the South China Sea framing all.

The environment is scripted and sculpted but it is intriguingly well done.

Visitors can easily get around the island using the Sentosa Express and buses.

Up at Fort Siloso, there's history and Asia's biggest collection of World War II memorabilia, but also Combat Skirmish Live for laser warriors.

There's Underwater World Singapore, Sentosa Nature Discovery, Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom, Skyline Luge, Singapore Cable Car and iFly Singapore, where visitors can skydive indoors.

There's Resorts World Sentosa, with its combination of Universal Studios and other attractions, and six hotels. Then there are Siloso, Palawan and Tanjong beaches.

The Sentosa Play Pass allows entry to 16 attractions, and a saving of more than 60 per cent over the standard entry prices. The Day Play Pass is valid from 9am to 7pm and $50.40 for an adult, $38.15 for a child on weekdays. It includes Singapore Cable Car, Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom, the Maritime Experimental Museum, Extreme Log Ride, Songs of the Sea, Tiger Sky Tower and Fort Siloso Laser Battle.

Part of me thinks that I wouldn't even try combining even two of these on one trip - it might just be exhausting.

Singapore Airlines flies direct from Perth to Singapore in five hours and 25 minutes, three times a day, and is increasing that to four from October 28 until March 30.

Just go up for a few days for each. Or just pick what might suit you best. They are completely different experiences and holidays.

I'll give you an example. I stayed on Sentosa for a few days, with the idea of still going to places in the city but I didn't. The tall buildings are there, only just beyond your fingertips and a few minutes taxi ride away, but somehow I just couldn't bridge the gap.

But if you do want to combine, say Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands, I'd aim for about three days each.

It's supposed to be a holiday, after all.


• Singapore Airlines: Travel agents and
• Raffles Hotel:
• Marina Bay Sands hotel:
• Gardens by the Bay:
• Sentosa Island:
• Resorts World Sentosa:
• Capella Singapore hotel, Sentosa:

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