Modern skyscrapers blend well with the traditional surroudings of Clarke Quay. Picture: Leyanne Baillie

I first fell in love with Singapore after reading Noel Barber's epic tale Tanamera, set in the Lion City during the 1930s and 40s. As a 17-year-old lass, I pictured myself living in the colonial splendour of the time, sipping stengahs on the veranda of a grand bungalow overlooking lush tropical gardens, taking tiffin at Raffles Hotel and meeting friends at the Cricket Club.

In reality, coming from a working-class family in chilly Scotland, even had I been born in the right era, the chances of me ever experiencing that lifestyle were slim. The closest I ever got to the steamy humidity of South-East Asia was a visit to Edinburgh Botanic Garden's hothouses. Also, despite being Scottish, I don't like whisky, so a stengah - a weak one topped up with soda - didn't really appeal. However, I did promise myself a Singapore Sling in Raffles one day.

Fast forward 14 years to 2001 and my first visit to Singapore lived up to the pictures in my imagination. I was captivated by the colonial architecture, tropical vegetation and exotic hustle and bustle of life on a different continent.

I spent the majority of my trip wandering among the pillars of Raffles, the orchids and greenery of the Botanic Gardens, and enjoyed the colourful scenes of shop houses and restaurants along Boat Quay. And I had my first Singapore Sling, sitting in the luxurious surroundings of the Billiard Room in Raffles, because only tourists drink in the Long Bar.

In 2010, on my family's migratory trip from Edinburgh to Perth, we spent a three-night stopover in Singapore and I confess I was a little less in love, feeling the old colonial charm was becoming lost among the modern skyscrapers that were flying up and dominating the skyline.

But here we are today, back in the city again. Having heard about the new developments that have sprung up in the past three years, I'm curious to see how Singapore is shaping up.

We check into the Swissotel Stamford and are given a room with a spectacular view. Our floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the Cricket Club and St Andrew's Cathedral. The original church was built in 1834 but, contrary to the belief that it never strikes twice, the cathedral was rebuilt two times between then and 1856, due to damage by two lightning strikes.

Behind the old, I see New Singapore in the shape of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, the distinct three-tower building, topped with its long boat-shaped Sands SkyPark. In front of this, the Esplanade Theatres on the Bay. The two-domed spiky building is set close to the Marina Bay Sands complex on 6ha of reclaimed land. The city skyline is constantly changing and the new structures that are going up are imaginative and creative.

This is especially true at the Gardens on the Bay. An award- winning horticultural attraction spanning 101ha, you can easily spend the day at the stunning gardens. The innovative Supertrees are one of the most appealing views I enjoy during my stay.

It's interesting to see how much has been built on reclaimed land, especially with the new development taking place at Elizabeth Quay here in Perth. If they get it right, our city could be revitalised just as Singapore has been. Of course, land reclamation is nothing new in Singapore - Raffles Hotel used to sit beside a sandy beach until the land in front of Beach Road was reclaimed from 1834 onwards.

I may have more money in my pocket than I did when I was 17 but I still can't afford to stay in Raffles. I can, however, stretch to a cocktail and dinner. This time we decide to go down the tourist route and order our Singapore Slings in the Long Bar. The popular cocktail was reputed to have been created by Raffles bartender Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915 and there are more than a thousand served each day.

While the Billiard Room oozes old-style charm, the Long Bar is a bit more rustic and the rules a little more relaxed. The drinks are expensive at $22 ($S26) each but the whole experience is worth it. The look on your children's faces when you tell them they can eat as many monkey nuts as they want and can throw the shells on the floor . . . priceless.

We have reserved a table in the Tiffin Room, an elegant dining room which harks back to the colonial days - crisp linen, white pillars, flashes of pink orchids and impeccable service. The North Indian-style buffet costs $S75 ($64) for adults and $S40 for children and is served from 7-10pm.

The spread is substantial, with fresh zingy salads, an amazing array of pickles, dressings and chutneys, hot and cold starters, meat and vegetarian curries, rice, pappadums, naan bread and, if you have any room left, delicious hot and cold desserts and fruit.

I have two pieces of advice. One: drink tap water, or ask for one bottle of mineral water to sit on your table. When the waitress suggests still or sparking water at the start of the meal, we decide on still water and she efficiently tops up our glasses from the ice bucket of bottled mineral water behind our table. But we are unpleasantly surprised by the $S42 charge for water when we receive the bill.

My second piece of advice is to take your time and savour every delicious morsel. The curries are out of this world and there is such a vast choice - you will want to try everything but don't. I do my best but can't eat half of what's on offer. At the end of the meal, I can barely walk and need a half-hour lie down in my hotel room before contemplating what to do for the rest of the evening. My eyes won't stay bigger than my belly if I eat like that too often.

Having digested enough of my food, we head off to see another innovative modern part of Singapore. Our hotel is attached to the Raffles City shopping mall, and with three levels of shopping including Robinson's department store, the centre has plenty choice. However, if you don't find what you are looking for and can't face the humidity outside, you can walk through the air-conditioned underground CityLink Mall, a corridor full of shops and restaurants which will take you to Suntec City Mall, Marina Square and even the Esplanade Theatres on the Bay. It's a very pleasant way to get from A to B.

There are several restoration projects underway, transforming old colonial buildings into new attractions. One is the former Supreme Court, which was the last classical building to be built in Singapore in 1935. Together with the old City Hall building, it will be opening next year as the National Art Gallery of Singapore and with 60,000sqm of space, will be the largest visual arts venue in Singapore. When finished, along with the stunning National Museum of Singapore, they are sure to be as striking outside as they are interesting inside.

Singapore is finally coming together, respecting the old and embracing the new. It is all working together to make the city a place to fall in love with all over again.

The West Australian

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