Small price for Singapore high life
Small price for Singapore high life

It's probably the best $50 I have ever spent. It paid for a two-hour all-you-can-eat-and-drink sundowner in the spectacular rooftop garden of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore - surely one of the world's most astonishing buildings.

Did I mention that we were 57 storeys, or 200m, up and just paces away from an infinity pool which looks down on Singapore's skyscrapers? I don't remember what I ate or drank but I will remember the views for a long time.

The Marina Bay Sands Hotel is the picture which defines Singapore for me.

It has three shapely legs, a massive foyer and rooms curling back over your head. Then, plonked on the top, is what is meant to be something resembling a ship - but Australians are more likely to think of it as a surfboard.

To rent one of its 2500 rooms costs a small fortune. We didn't have a room but we knew someone who did. So, as "guests of a guest", we were allowed up to the $50 sundowner.

Visitors can pay $20 for a look around a small observation deck on the 340m-long SkyPark but the infinity pool is strictly for hotel guests only.

When we stepped out of the lift on the 57th floor, my fear of heights hit me. With only a waist-high fence separating me from the 200m drop, I kept close to the wall initially but later, calmed by a couple of drinks, I was able to enjoy the amazing views and appreciate another beautiful sunset on another humid Singapore day.

Looking west into the sun, you were able to see across the bay and look down on some of Singapore's tallest buildings. Then south over a fast-expanding docklands area and the mass of tankers and container ships waiting in the South China Sea for a berth. East to the still-under-construction Gardens by the Bay complex, which will become Singapore's main outdoor recreation area. And north over a mass of apartment blocks stretching into the distance.

The first section of the 101ha Gardens by the Bay, the South Garden, opens tomorrow and is set to become another not-to-be-missed feature of Singapore.

The South Garden aims to showcase tropical horticulture and gardening artistry and features two cooled conservatories and several sculptured "supertrees" 25-50m tall with an elevated walkway between some of them.

But, from the hotel's rooftop, the eye is always drawn back to the 146m infinity pool, which gives a realistic impression that there is a sheer drop over the side.

The hotel complex has more than its share of quality shops and restaurants while, across the road, there is a big casino complex - which costs $100 to get in unless you present your passport and go in the "foreigners" door - a convention centre and an arts and science museum in a new building shaped like a blossoming flower.

Another "must-see" attraction was Sentosa Island just 15 minutes from the city centre. Since the 1970s, Sentosa has been a popular holiday island with its hotels, golf courses, beaches and resorts.

A day pass is $64 but we settled for a half-day pass at $43, which restricted us to four of 15 attractions. We travelled over by monorail, bypassed the popular Universal Studios and Luge racetrack and spent time climbing the Merlion, visiting the Butterfly Farm and trying the Tiger Sky Tower - a glass-fronted cabin which revolves slowly around a central tower as it rises to about 100m.

I was getting used to heights by now - but my final and worst hair-raising experience was only minutes away.

We returned from Sentosa by cable car to Mt Faber on Singapore Island. Some dark clouds were gathering but it seemed OK. As we swung high over the ocean, I felt I was getting my "sky legs". Then, in no time, there was torrential rain and a violent thunderstorm.

I was once told that each second between the lightning and the thunder represents the storm being a kilometre away. Soon, there was no time to count anything between the next flash of lightning and the clap of thunder. It was on top of us.

Suddenly, the cable car lurched to a halt - and its momentum left us swinging wildly for a few seconds. I was already hot and sticky, now I was very hot and very sticky and gripping the seat with both hands. I had a vision of the cable snapping and us crashing down. It seemed an age before we started to move again but then we had two more "bad weather stops" before finally reaching dry land.

Forget the women and children, I was first out, but I didn't sleep well that night after a Google search revealed that in 1983 an oil rig being towed from Keppel Wharf struck the cable and brought down two cabins, killing seven people.

After all these high-flying experiences, it was definitely time to keep my feet on the ground for the rest of the week.

We stayed at the 476-room Swissotel Merchant Court a few minutes' walk from Chinatown and a stone's throw from Clarke Quay, which is a great example of how to transform a rundown waterfront.

By the 1970s the warehouses were empty and the riverboats had found another spot to drop their anchor. But today it is a mix of shopping centres, cafes, restaurants and bars - including a Hooters and a Fremantle Seafood Market (yes, in Singapore) which served up a tasty John Dory with chips.

On our last day, we visited the Changi War Museum out near the airport on the east of Singapore Island. Having previously walked part of the notorious Thai-Burma Railway and attended the ANZAC Day dawn service at Hellfire Pass, it seemed appropriate to see where the ill-fated journey began for many Australian soldiers captured in Singapore.

The museum has a fine variety of letters, photographs and artefacts to highlight the compelling story of how both prisoners of war and civilians suffered at the hands of the Japanese after they had overrun Singapore all too quickly in 1942.

Our final port of call was Singapore Zoo's Night Safari. It was a Thursday night but the place was still packed. We joined a long queue for a tram ride around the park which occupies 40ha of rainforest. The animals in the open-air zoo are made visible by lighting which resembles moonlight.

So ended our week. Singapore leaves you feeling that there is so much more to see and do - and there is. So you promise to return.

I don't remember what I ate or drank but I will remember the views for a long time.

The West Australian

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