Unless you are a masochist – or up the front of the plane it’s an uncomfortably long way from Australia to Europe. If you have the time it’s a great idea to stopover somewhere along the way.
What you want on a stopover is a good hotel, some great food and enough activities and sights to keep you occupied. On that score Singapore reigns supreme.
For hotels Singapore has remarkable modern edifices like the Marina Bay Sands or classics like Raffles and the Fullerton. The Fullerton, by Collier Quay was once the GPO and the home of the very exclusive, extremely pukka Singapore Club. It’s a grand Neo-Classical building that has been converted into a 400 room heritage hotel. The setting and the service can’t be beaten.
The iconic Marina Bay Sands
A particular joy of Singapore is that it is so remarkably clean and safe. While the hawkers’ carts of other countries can be regarded as mobile germ warfare, in Singapore they are affordable healthy dining options. Some have been rated by Michelin as offering some of the best meals in the world. Singapore is a cosmopolitan city and a crossroad and that’s reflected in its food. It’s home to exceptional Singaporean Chines, Malay and India dishes in all their many regional variations. You’ll never go hungry and you’d have to be quite lazy to eat badly here.
It may once have been true that Singapore was a bit too, well regimented, and maybe there wasn’t that much to do. It’s certainly no longer the case. Each evening, after sunset, there’s a lightshow to music that turns the giant “flowers” of the nature park Gardens by the Bay into a fantasy land – or a scene from “Avatar”. By day, the gardens are a pretty escape but after dark they are magical.
Singapore's stunning Gardens by the Bay
Allow time for drinks at the highest al fresco bar in the world, 1-Altitude on the 63rd floor of 1 Raffles Place that offers 360 degree city views, a nightclub and restaurant.
One of Singapore’s greatest attractions is found in Gardens by the Bay by day when the Cloud Forest Biome is open. The Cloud Forest is an indoor mountain with a 35 metre-high waterfall, all inside a 12,000 square metre glass dome, Walkways that extend high above the floor below, ponds featuring pitcher plans and lush, cool tropical vegetation everywhere make this a “must see”. The Flower Dome next door takes you through the plants of a range of temperate and sob-tropical regions.
Gardens by the Bay lights up into a magical wonderland at night
For more plants head to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a World Heritage site, that is very large – – it’s more than 1.5 km from the MRT stop to the far end. It’s a pretty walk through the well-maintained lawns and groves. But the highlight for most visitors is the Orchid Garden, the world’s largest collection. Here you’ll find over 1000 species of orchids and 2000 hybrids. Make sure to seek out the Mist House and Cool House. It’s fun browsing the Celebrity Orchid Garden too, where you’ll find orchid hybrids named after those who have visited the gardens.
It’s quaint that the now hugely-rich nation had so little money when it was established that plans for a national zoo turned into a bird park because bird seed was cheaper than meat. Jurong Bird Park opened in 1971 but is a vastly different place today with a lot of giant walk-through aviaries, including one with a towering 30 metre waterfall. So you meet lots of birds not separated by wire or fences. There are many flamingos and pelicans and some wonderful exotic birds of the tropics in the new Wings of Asia aviary. The Penguin Coast offers a chance to cool down and view several species of penguin and the Breeding Centre shows often-rare hatchlings and chicks.
The beautiful flamingos at Jurong Bird Park
Today, Singapore Zoo is widely regarded as one of the very best in the world. Not only are the animals treated well but the money raised from the 4.5 million annual visitors goes into conservation locally and around the region. The zoo makes the most of its tropical location to hide fences and moats with lush vegetation so it can be easy to forget that the 2800 animals across more than 300 species are captive. The orang utans are in the world’s first free-ranging habitat. The jungle setting and lots of shade keep the zoo relatively cool, too.
Then there’s the adjoining Night Safari that’s divided into seven geographical zones that can be seen on foot, by tram and by private buggy. It does a good job of replicating a wildlife drive in the wild, not a zoo.
The most recent addition is the River Safari that opened in 2014 at a cost of $160 million. It’s divided into iconic rivers of the world with huge tanks for the manatees and a Giant Panda Forest with two pandas on loan from China. While much of the exhibits are visited on foot, the fun part is the 10-minute ride, complete with descents and splashes, through Wild Amazonia.
Most of all Singapore is relaxed and fun, the perfect escape for a few days or to simply explore as a worthwhile break on the way to somewhere else.
Where is your favourite stopover?