Singapore,  Southeast Asia

Singapore Adventures: The Lion City, Home of the Singapore Sling!

Singapore was the first stop on a month-long adventure through SE Asia. After departing Singapore, we visited four other SE Asia countries. We experienced one incredible adventure after another. After it was all said and done, this was one of our favorite trips.

Singapore: The Lion City

Singapore is at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. It is about 85 miles (137 kilometers) north of the Equator. It consists of Singapore Island and 60 small islets. The main island occupies all but about 18 square miles of this combined area.

Singapore
Where is Singapore?

Singapore is the third most dense country in the world. It is a small country measuring 31 mi from east to west and  17 mi from north to south with 120 mi of coastline. To put this into perspective, Singapore is roughly 3.5 times the size of Washington, DC.

What’s in a Name?

The earliest mention of what we now call Singapore was in the 2nd century AD. Since then, the name has changed many times. In the 14th century, the name was Singapura: the Lion City. This name is thought to be derived from Sanskrit with Simha. It means lion and Pura translating to city. But why, the Lion City? There are many legends surrounding this name but the most accepted are as follows:

According to an ancient legend, in the 8th century, a sea monster appeared. It was half-fish and half-lion and made such an impression on a Malay prince. After that, he renamed the city Singapura meaning Lion City. The Merlion appears on postage stamps and has become the symbol of tourism for Singapore. There is a park on the waterfront of the Singapore River named Merlion Park. There are featured a huge rendition of this sea creature. The Statue spits water into the river which symbolized the preservation of good luck.

Merlion is 8.6 Meters Tall and Spits Water into the Singapore River.

Singapore Fun Facts:

Along with name changes and the many legends surrounding the way in which Singapore was named, there are several nicknames for the country and city. Aside from the Lion City other nicknames include:

  • The Sanitized City refers to the cleanliness of the city and the strict laws to keep it that way. 
  • The Litle Red Dot refers to the size of the country. Singaporeans see this nickname as a sign of the country’s resilience and excellence in spite of its small size.
  • The Garden City refers to the beautifully manicured parks and clean sidewalks.
  • Fine City is a nickname dubbed by tourists and refers to the many rules and regulations in Singapore and the plethora of signs threatening fines if the rules are broken. 

Arriving in Singapore

Living in St. Louis, our trip to Singapore can sum up with one word: BRUTAL! After a 4-hour flight to LAX, we had a 12- hour layover and then flew 15 hours from there to Hong Kong. After another layover for three hours, we were off to Singapore on a 3-hour and 45-minute flight. Thank God for Ambien as we managed to sleep through most of the flights and arrived refreshed and ready to go! To make things a bit more complicated, we crossed the International Date Line! So after enduring almost 40 hours of travel, we struggled to come to grips with subtracting an entire day!

We would be in Singapore for 3 days as part of a pre-cruise package. Staying at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, it seemed that we were close to everything. The hotel was gorgeous. It had a stunning rooftop pool and breathtaking views of the waterfront.

After check-in and refreshing showers, we hit the streets of Singapore.

Seeing the City

Despite being part of a pre-cruise package, we decided to check out the Raffles Hotel on our own before jet lag kicked in.

The Raffles Hotel

The hotel is known for the Tiffin Room buffet and the Singapore Sling cocktail created in 1915. Raffles Hotel was first established as a national monument in 1987 and again in 1995. The hotel began as Beach House, a private home built in the 1830s by Robert Scott. After undergoing many owners and restorations, only a few things have remained constant. Its legendary service, ambiance, luxury, and excellent food have survived the time. It was important to preserve the original exterior of the building and the famous Long Bar during the renovations. In pop culture, the Raffles Hotel has been featured in movies, books, and documentaries.

Singapore
The Raffles Hotel

Singapore

Enjoying the site along our 2-kilometer walk, we reached the hotel. At the lobby, a menacing-looking guard tods us that entry was for residents only. 

What to do? WE LIED saying we were residents. Fortunately, we weren’t asked for a room key or any proof and were immediately allowed entry. We looked around and took a few clandestine pictures. We leave after a few minutes to enhance the chances of a voluntary exit.

After the Raffles

Walking back towards the Mandarin we stopped for some street food. It was delicious, although I have no idea what it was! We debated about going to mass or hitting the pool. We decided on attending mass correctly thinking this would be our last opportunity for a while. While the mass was in Singaporean Mandarin, we didn’t understand a thing. Fortunately, our Catholic background guided us through. Somewhere between the Sign of Peace and Holy Communion, the “tired” set in after mass. We headed back to the hotel for a well-deserved sleep.

The City Tour

Included with our pre-cruise package was a city tour. Tours aren’t my cup of tea but for the entire SE Asian trip, we decided to take part in many of the tours offered. Why? The cities are dense and English is not well-spoken in all the regions. We wanted to make the most of our time using the transportation and guides that the tours provided

They picked us up at the hotel bright and early on a spectacular sunny day. Now, I ask you, what were the chances that the first stop on the tour would be the Raffles Hotel? As part of a group tour, we approached the lobby entrance, and behold that same menacing guard was on duty at the entrance! The anxiety of a confrontation built but he, to his credit, gave us a knowing nod and a half smile! Whew! No Singaporean jail for us!

After we left the Raffles Hotel, we drove by a few housing complexes. We learned about culture-driven peer pressure. It aids in policing the residents to live within the lifestyle expected. We also learned that the government owns all the properties. It gives them 99-year renewable leases. This revenue is one of the main sources of revenue for the government.

The Raffles Hotel of Singapore

The iconic Raffles Hotel has a long and interesting history. It is one of the world’s most famous luxury hotels.

It began as a private house, and then it opened as a luxury hotel, catering to a wealthy clientele, it had only 12 rooms. After two additions the total number of rooms, today stands at 75. In 1899, the addition of a new main building made the hotel stand out in the upper echelon of hotels. With a marble floor dining room, electric lights, and power ceiling fans, the Neo-Renaissance building was the first to offer such amenities. Tropical design, high ceilings, and huge verandas added to the hotel’s appeal. The Tiffin Room is known for its extravagant gourmet buffets. The Long Bar, where the Singapore Sling cocktail was invented and boutique stores became the spots for the rich and famous to see and be seen. Over the years,  Charlie Chaplin, Queen Elizabeth II, and Rudyard Kipling have been among the prominent guests.

The Markets

The outdoor markets of Singapore are a mecca for shopping. You can find there from flowers, produce, and meat, to clothing, art, and souvenirs. Shopping at these markets is an art form.
With haggling prices as an expected part of the buying process, the markets are fun, colorful, and huge!

Singapore
One of the Many Flower Markets in Singapore

The first market we went to was a flower market. The scents and colors are almost overwhelming. And there wasn’t just one flower market, there were dozens, one after another. We noticed that many people were making purchases of what appeared to be grave flowers. Our guide explained that the Singaporeans have ancestor altars and they replace the flowers daily.

Chinatown Market, one of the largest markets in Singapore and open late into the night was the next market on the tour. Stall after stall of merchandise from trinkets to clothing would tempt even the most ardent non-shopper. For me, the consummate shopper, I found myself on shopping overload. Rick had to continue to remind me that we had limited packing space, but his warnings did not affect me. He did all the price haggling for me and I was able to walk away feeling like I got some fantastic deals. We were only able to spend a couple of hours at the Chinatown market but I could have spent days there exploring.

*** Pro Travel Tip:

When shopping in the SE Asian markets for clothing, either try the item on or buy one or two sizes larger than your size. 

Before moving onto the waterfront and pagoda, we stopped at a street market for a delicious lunch on Saturday. At lunch, we had our first SE Asian coffee. A robust blend served with thick sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. It became our go-to while traveling the region. Often now, at home, we will enjoy coffee prepared in this fashion.

Singapore
We Stopped for Lunch and had our First SE Asian Coffee
The 5-Story Pagoda

The pagoda is a Japanese-style structure located close to the markets in Singapore. Each of the five stories is representative of the elements in Buddhist culture; those being earth, water, fire, wind, and void (sky, heaven). The final (crown-like structure forming the roof) is also divided into five parts. Shoes off, shoulders and knees covered, we entered the awesome structure. There was an overwhelming scent of incense. A Buddhist monk blessed anyone who chose to take part in the ritual. You might say that this was our indoctrination into the religious culture of SE Asia.

The Waterfront

It had been a long day but we still had the waterfront to explore as part of the tour. Although we were getting tired, we were anxious to be guided through this area. We had a spectacular view of the waterfront from our hotel room.  We were so excited to get the rundown of what we had been admiring.

In 1969, 360 hectares of the prime waterfront were reclaimed and the plan for the waterfront was put in motion. With a 2-mile promenade, this area is the “new downtown” of Singapore. It includes Marina Bay and is surrounded by Downtown Core, Marina East, Marina South, and Straits View.

Singapore Financial District

In this area, you will find Merlion Park, the Helix Bridge, Marina Bay Sands, the ArtScience Museum (part of the Marina Sand complex), and the Gardens by the Bay. I was especially enthralled by the floating Louis Vuitton store.

Louis Vuitton
The Floating Louis Vuitton- Part of the Marina Sands Resort Hotel Complex
  • Helix Bridge was officially completed and opened for pedestrian traffic in July 2010. In the shape of a double helix, it connects the Marina Center with Marina South. Fabricated from approximately 650 tons of Duplex Stainless Steel and 1000 tons of carbon steel, construction took about 3 years.
  • Marina Bay Sands is a resort hotel with 2500 rooms and a 4-story gaming center in the middle tower. Included in the complex are seven restaurants, nightclubs, and banquet facilities. Decks of cards inspired the complex. It is globally famous for the ship built atop the towers that connect them. The resort boasts the world’s largest infinity pool.
  • ArtScience Museum opened in 2011. It features the world’s first ArtScience museum. It is compounded by major exhibitions that blend art, science, culture, and technology. Reminiscent of a lotus flower, known as “The Welcoming Hand of Singapore” with the 10 flower petals representing the fingers. Each petal/finger houses a gallery of exhibits. Currently, the museum is closed for a revamp but when open only displays are touring exhibits. There are plans in the future for permanent exhibits.
  • The ArtScience Museum is Part of the Marina Sands Complex
  • Gardens by the Bay is located in the heart of Singapore’s downtown area. It is home to a diverse collection of over 1.5 million plants that come from every continent. Several activities such as an observatory combine pleasing horticulture scenery with education.
Our Last Day in Singapore

We spend our last day in Singapore getting massages at the spa and lounging at the rooftop pool at the Mandarin Oriental. We ordered a gourmet meal from room service for dinner and went to bed early. The following day we would be boarding the cruise ship. It would be home for the next three weeks as we explored four additional countries in SE Asia.

Mandarin Oriental
The Rooftop Infinity Pool at the Mandarin Oriental

Final Impressions

Although getting to Singapore from our home in St. Louis was long, it was the perfect destination to begin our journey through SE Asia. We found Singapore to be an exciting city while at the same time, laid back. English was well spoken and made our time spent very easy. Impressed with the cleanliness and perfection of the city is an understatement. Crime is almost non-existent in Singapore. This makes us feel very safe on our evening walkabouts. Rules are strict in the city and heavy fines are imposed if you are caught breaking them. We saw signs all over warning of these fines. Directing a person on the legalities, so to break a rule would be by flagrant disregard. We appreciated the warning signs and didn’t find them to be restrictive to our enjoyment of the city. The rules are the same for everyone and the pristine condition of the city exemplifies that.

We love Singapore, and leaving was somewhat bittersweet. Sad to go but anxious for the coming adventures.

Until next time friends, remember “To Travel is to Live!”

Sources:
  • http://meridian103.com/issue-7/history/merlion/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_Singapore
  • https://www.visitsingapore.com/see-do-singapore/architecture/historical/raffles-hotel/#:~:text=Charlie%20Chaplin%2C%20Queen%20Elizabeth%20II,the%20height%20of%20its%20glory.
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helix_Bridge
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ArtScience_Museum

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