Where do you go when…?

night in city

Lots of family and friends will want to visit this beautiful city you call home

I’ve had a LOT of visitors in the three or so years we have been living in Singapore. From people we barely knew who became lifelong friends after their visit, best friends from home, a friend’s daughter who came for a few days and stayed for two weeks, old school friends who moved to Australia and I hadn’t seen for years and of course, parents and siblings. Each visit has been different and each visitor has been given the ‘Jo tour guide’ treatment. Some more so than others, depending on how busy I was or how much they wanted me around.

So it’s not surprising that when other people I know have visitors they tend to ask me for “one of your itineraries.” I’ve got quite a reputation for my planning when it comes to visitors. I learnt early on that without a plan days can disappear and before you know it guests leave having seen barely anything. So I thought I’d share the three most used itineraries with you. All free of charge, no plus plus added and no forms to fill in. I just ask one – well two – favours. Please click the like button at the side of this page and at the bottom of the page add a comment about who you’ve got visiting. This kind of info takes a lot of time to put together so some feedback is always welcome.  If you could go so far as to follow the blog too you’ll get notified when I add more itineraries or reviews of places to go here in Singapore.

Oh, and if asked how you found out about an attraction or place to visit, please mention 5 Go Mad!

Singapore city at night

Singapore is a photographers dream!

Before you check out the itineraries, here are a few tips to help make the visits as much fun and as easy on you as possible.

Things to remember when you have visitors:
  • Everyone has different tastes and likes and dislikes. Ask visitors before they come if they have any ‘must-sees’ that they’ve heard about or anything they don’t like doing (for me, you’ll not get me near an aquarium).
  • That jet lag will affect them to one degree or another. This can mean they get barely any sleep at night and then want to crash during the day. Where possible encourage them not to sleep during the day, but it can be tough. Allow for rest breaks during the day though as don’t forget the heat hits people hard too.
  • Make sure you have spare bug spray and sun tan lotion. You’ll be surprised by how many people think they don’t need it.
  • Being a tour guide 24/7 can be exhausting, no matter how desperately you want the visitors here. So give yourself some time off too. If they are confident travellers you could suggest they do one more of the days on their own. If not, allow for some time out at some point – maybe just take a break from each other early evening.
  • Remember all friends and family want to see how your life works here so if you have a group you meet up with regularly, consider introducing them. Or if there’s a favourite coffee shop or cafe you go to a lot, take them. That way, when you’re talking to friends and family back home again next, they’ll be able to relate to your life here so much more.
What to do before they arrive:
  • Buy a couple of MRT cards for them and load them up with $10 – that way they can get around straight away.
  • When my nieces have visited I have made them up a goody bag as a welcome gift. I just go along to the markets and pick up some cheap souvenirs – a Singapore tote bag filled with things like a stuffed Merlion, a key ring, a notepad, a fan. etc.
  • Pick up a couple of Singapore maps or voucher books from the larger MRT stations or at the airport.
  • Prep your helper if you have one on the fact that there will be more people either staying or visiting and to adjust her shopping and cooking accordingly. I ask guests to leave money for a helper when I had one as it is extra work, but really that’s up to you ($50 per person at least is a fair amount I think). If you haven’t got a helper, prepare yourself – get some extra food in, start making up beds a few days before etc.
Once they arrive:
  • Once they’ve arrived, get your guests to download the MRT map app as well as Uber – that way they can figure out where to go and how to get there if you can’t be around the whole time.
  • Give them your address, phone number (add to notes on their phone or physically on a note) and point out a few local landmarks so that they feel they know where they are. You’d be surprised how many people forget to ask and head out for the day, not knowing where they’re coming back to! I always tell people what our nearest MRT and the line it’s on.
  • You could treat guests to a local sim for their phone – or point them to a shop that sells them.
  • Explain to them how the aircon works in their bedrooms, any water heaters etc. Also explain that electricity and water costs a fortune here and to turn air con and heater off when not using otherwise your next utility bill will give you a shock!

 

Merlion park, Singapore

The famous Merlion, one of the many must-sees in Singapore

Itineraries

Please click on the links below for the itinerary you want to see:

Itinerary for friends visiting for 5 days

This is for when your besties manage to get away from the kids and visit you. Lots of girlie fun and relaxing.

Itinerary for family or friends with children

Is your sister or brother heading over for a holiday with their kids in tow? Teenagers or toddler, this 14 day plan will have you covered.

Itinerary for parents visiting  

Got the parents or in-laws coming for the first or twenty-first time. Here’s some suggestions for things to do with them to keep you and them sane.

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Peranakan Museum

Peranakan museum

Peranakan Museum

Where: The Peranakan Museum, 39 Armenian Street, 179941.
Why? To finally find out what Peranakan actually means. To discover more about the history of Singapore.
When? Open daily 10am-7pm. Till 9pm on a Friday.
Cash heavy? Nope! Just $6 per entry, $3 for PR.
Kid friendly? Yes. there were hands on displays to keep them interested. There was a group of school children there whilst I was there and they looked like they were having fun. Strollers allowed in all galleries and there’s a changing room on level 1.
Dog friendly? No, but then why would it be?
Disabled access? Yes, all galleries have wheelchair access and there are disabled toilets and parking spaces nearby.
Getting there. The nearest MRT is City Hall. Alternatively it’s about a 5-10 minute drive from the centre of town and there are bus stops nearby.
Extra titbit. Look out for the poem about how to be a good daughter-in-law. When you’ve finished at the museum have a wander down the street and check out the amazing street art.
Website/Contact: http://www.peranakanmuseum.sg Tel: +65 6332 7591

The nitty-gritty:

The term Peranakan is talked about a lot here in Singapore. For quite a while I had no idea what it actually meant. I knew it referred to something – or someone? – local and that there were lots of lovely housewares you could buy in the ‘Peranakan design.” I figured it referred to the indigenous people of Singapore; the forefathers of this modern city. However, a trip to the Peranakan museum made me realise that there is so much more to it than that.

The imposing staircases either side of the central atrium.

The imposing staircases either side of the central atrium.

This small museum is in what used to be the Tao Nan Chinese School, one of the first modern Chinese schools in Singapore and is right by the city’s business district. With it’s dashing pastel coloured frontage, its arched verandahs and grand entrance way, the quietly imposing building catches you by surprise as you wander along Armenian Street. As you walk though the doors in to an atrium filled with light, you can’t help but notice the two huge symmetrical staircases that lead up either side of the building to corridors and galleries on the upper levels. As museums go, it’s very inviting – not stuffy or library like at all.

So, what is Peranakan? To quote the museum themselves “In Malay, Peranakan means ‘child of’ or ‘born of’ and is used to refer to people of mixed ethnic origins.” To put this in to context, years ago, way before Singapore was the high-rise city it is now, it was seen as a place of opportunity for many neighbouring countries due to its free port. This was mainly due to Singapore’s unique location on the major sea route between India and China. It quickly became a hub of trading and many Chinese immigrants came to make their fortune here – and never left. These travellers – although mainly Chinese, there were also Indian and Eurasian Portuguese – married local Malay (non muslim) women and their culture became known as Peranakan.

There are things displayed everywhere.

There are things displayed everywhere.

The first collection I visited in the museum was a series of photographs of modern-day Peranakan people accompanied by quotes about what being Peranakan means to them. There was a strong sense of belonging and tradition in most of what I read. Something that was echoed throughout other exhibits too. At the end of the room is a film showing the early Peranakan history.

I then went up to the first level where you can see art, clothing, furniture, traditions associated with the Peranakan culture. With nine galleries all themed with things such as Weddings, religion, food and feasting, it really does give you an insight in to how life would have been like years ago in Singapore. It also reflected on how this manifests in modern Singapore too.

The colourful Nonya ware.

The colourful Nonya ware.

My favourite exhibits included the amazing display of Nonya ware – the Peranakan design porcelain ware – including a full table laid for twenty plus guests. The fully dressed, parading wedding party was interesting too. There were artefacts all around the museum including at the top of the stairs and hanging above doors.

I'm not sure how far I'd walk in these...

I’m not sure how far I’d walk in these…

I was keen to learn about the Nonya (Peranakan lady), especially the rituals around getting married and was surprised by how many traditions there are. Many women it seems no longer follow these rituals to the book, but some do still survive. The room that focused on religion and in particular the rituals around death was fascinating – if a bit eery – and I can see that these customs are still in play today amongst modern-day Peranakans.

Other displays to look out for include the intricate beadwork, the fashion and the display about the many Peranakans who became cultural and philanthropic leaders.

They even have their own cat!

They even have their own cat!

The museum is an interesting way to spend a morning or afternoon. You can get around it in a couple of hours quite easily. On your way out visit the gift shop and pick up one of their beautiful hand-made cards or find a replica of the beadwork you had previously admired. There’s even a foodie shop where you can pick up some traditional Peranakan treats. A very pleasant way to while a few hours for sure.

Oh, and then have a wander down Armenian Street, there’s some amazing street art on the building just next door and some lovely little shop houses with pots of tropical plants and canaries in cages hanging out front. There’s an interesting looking restaurant that I want to go back to as well serving traditional Peranakan food.

Well worth the visit.

Final 5 Verdict? 5 5 5  (out of 5)

Clarke Quay

quay

Where: 3 River Valley Road. 179024  to Clifford Pier, 80 Collier Quay, 049326.
Why? For a wander, a ride along the river and some great sightseeing.
When? Any time you like, it’s always there.
Cash heavy? Depends on what you do. To just walk is free. River boat tours are around $20 per person. Food is as much as you want to spend.
Kid friendly? Yes. Just keep an eye as you are by the river after all. But wide open spaces to walk along and easy for a stroller.
Dog friendly? Yes but only on a lead and not on the boats or in restaurants.
Disabled access? Yes, although it can be a bit tricky as you need to go around some buildings. Boat access check http://www.rivercruise.com.sg
Getting there. Clarke Quay MRT and Raffles Place MRT. 10 minutes from CBD by taxi.
Extra titbit. If you’re feeling really adventurous take the reverse bungee ride – not for the faint hearted!
Website/Contact: http://www.rivercruise.com.sg. http://www.fullertonbayhotel.com
The nitty gritty 

Whenever we have visitors the first place we take them, often jet lagged and little bit bleary-eyed is Clarke Quay. I’m not sure if it’s the colourful shutters of the MICA building (housing Government ministries) that I think will awaken their tired eyes. Or the towering city scape that comes in to view as you round the bend that I hope will impress them. Or the mix of bars, cafes and restaurants that can feed them whenever the need arises? Maybe it’s my old love, the Merlion – the original guardian of the city – who stands tall and proud at the mouth of the river, that I want to show off?

Who knows? I just feel it’s a great place to introduce anyone to this lovely city we call home. It has such a lot of history attached to it as the first port of Singapore. As recent as the 1970’s traders were still pedalling their wares on the banks of the river, and Clarke Quay was a noisy mix of bumboats (tongkangs) and lighters (twakows) unloading their cargoes. Ever since Sir Stamford Raffles step foot on the northern bank of the river and saw its potential as a free port it has been a hubbub for the island. But it hasn’t always been the lovely stretch of water it is now. With all the heavy traffic it encountered and the number of people living on, by and around the river it became heavily polluted and congested.

In 1977, the then Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew began a clean up operation that took ten years to complete. Involving relocating many hawkers, squatters, industries and immigrants, this clean up has got to go down as one of the biggest successes for Singapore. For the river is now beyond recognition with it’s attractive waterway walks, bustling restaurants and grand hotels that line the river. At the same time it has stayed true to it’s rich heritage and celebrates its history.

So, if you’re looking for a relaxing day out and don’t mind a stroll. Or, if you’ve visitors who have just arrived and you don’t have  a clue where to start, here’s my suggestion for a fab day by the river.

Take the MRT to Clarke Quay station, come out at the river, turn right and head towards Clifford Pier. On the way you will find many statues to catch your eye – from the large bird sculpture (symbolising peace, serenity, the joy of living and the power of optimism apparently!), to the often photographed jumping boys or ‘The First Generation’ to give them their proper names. In fact, if you are taking young children, make a game of this – challenge them to find the jumping boys, the cats, the traders, the bullock cart, and even Sir Stamford Raffles himself (on the opposite bank, but easily spotted if you are keeping a look out).

As you head under South Bridge you will enter Boat Quay which will be obvious from the plethora of eateries that spring up along here. You will be encouraged to sit down, relax, have a bite to eat or ‘just a drink madam?’ In fact, this is one of only a few streets in Singers where you will be approached by restaurant staff keen for your custom.  But this is Singapore, so don’t worry, you can easily say no thank you and they won’t be offended. There are many options, so if you are hungry give somewhere a try. Fresh fish and shellfish are on display too so you can even pick out what you’d like served up!

fish tanks

Fresh fish anyone?

 

Fed and watered? Then keep walking and you will saunter past The Fullerton Hotel – an iconic hotel that has been on the same site since 1928 and had previously dominated the city’s skyline (pre skyscrapers and MBS). Placed under conservation at the beginning of last century, The Fullerton is one of those hotels that oozes colonial Singapore. If you want to soak up some of its history you can visit one of its restaurants or bars. If not, just oggle those that are as you walk by.

Keep going and walk around the mouth of the river heading for the Merlion Park. Standing 8.6 meters tall, this is where the guardian of Singapore now lives after moving from further down the river in 2002. Join the other tourists and see if you can capture a photo of the Merlion spouting water directly in to your mouth. This really is selfie heaven so be patient with the many tourists that are around. It’s worth it though for that one good shot. Look out for the Merlion cub too that sits just behind mum. Always a nice photo opportunity for the kids.

Merlion

The Mighty Merlion

 

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Nearly mum!

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Just a bit more

Oh, and you may just notice another famous landmark or two whilst you’re there too. More photo opportunities as you try to lift the famous Marina Bay Sands with your bare hands, or push round the Singapore Eye. If you’re not sure what to do, just look around and take your cues from those in the know.

Once you’ve had your fill of photo taking head towards Clifford Pier and buy a ticket for a river boat ride. Yes, it’s worth it! Here you’ll get a chance to sail down the river you’ve been meandering past for the last hour or so. Jump aboard (or step precariously, depending on your sea legs – but it’s completely calm so no need to worry!) a traditional bumboat. They all have video commentary that will tell you more about the fascinating history of the river and Singapore itself.

bumboat

Take a bumboat ride along the river

 

This is a great thing to do come rain or shine as on a hot day you can catch the breeze as you sail along sitting outside the boat (though you don’t hear the commentary then) or sit by a window and enjoy some shade. It’s also the perfect shelter from the showers that can catch you out. Take a full round trip if you can and you will see many more famous landmarks such as the Old Parliament House, the Asians Civilisation Museum and Marina Barrage. Not to mention you get a full view of the CBD and the gob-smackingly tall skyscrapers. You can hop on and off if you wish or can choose to end your journey at any one of it’s 13 jetties.

city scape

Just a few of the skyscrapers you’ll see

 

Personally, I’d say go for a round trip and see as much as you can and end up back at Clifford Pier. This is purely because that way you can now gawp at, for me, one of the most splendid hotels in the area – The Fullerton Bay Hotel. I’m not sure of the technicalities, but the hotel is built on a public walkway (I’m also not sure they’ll appreciate my sharing this information so happily either). This basically means anyone – yes, even you in your comfy shorts and walking shoes – can stroll through the public areas. And these are public areas TO DIE FOR!

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The stunning Clifford Pier restaurant

I never tire of staring when I enter the lobby. The beautiful – and I mean stunningly beautiful – Clifford Pier restaurant just whisks you away to a place where you want to call everybody ‘dahhhling’ and quaff cocktails and sip Ceylon tea all afternoon. In fact, you can do exactly that as this one of the best places for afternoon tea (see Time For Tea, Fullerton Bay Hotel).

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A bar with a view to die for

 

Of course, if it’s later in the evening; ah hell, even if it’s not, you can head up to The Lantern Bar. Taking it’s name from Clifford Pier’s historical Chinese name ‘Red Lantern Pier’ this is one of my favourite spots for a drink or two as the views are lovely. Not so high up you feel sick, but high enough to take your breath away. There’s a relaxed vibe most nights with a DJ playing some nights – it can get busy so book if you’re keen to go on a particular night.

But, during the day it’s also great for a juice, cup of tea or cocktail too and you can get bar snacks if you haven’t partaken in any of the restaurants earlier. Now, sit back, relax and enjoy the view.

When you’re done – and had a good nose around the beautiful lobby – you can head to the hotel entrance and grab a cab back home. Or, if you’re feeling energetic, walk back along the river the way you came and jump back on the MRT. By the time you get there though you’ll be ready for another drink and some cake before heading home – look out for the cafe’s outside the shopping mall as they can tick the box no problem

For me, this is the perfect day out for newbies – and oldies – to Singapore. A great introduction to the city without being overwhelmed and a good way to check out what you might like to do next.

Enjoy!

Bollywood Veggies

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Bollywood Veggies – Kranji

Where: 100 Neo Tiew Road, Singapore, 719026.
Why? To get a bit of countryside goodness, to smell the fresh air, to see another side to Singapore. For GREAT food.
When? Open Wednesday-Sunday, 9am-6:30pm. (Closed over Lunar New Year for 2 weeks.)
Cash heavy? Nope! A couple of bucks to get in and whatever you spend on lunch. Whatever it will be, it’ll be a bargain. Bring cash though as doesn’t accept cards or cheques.
Kid friendly? Yes. Paths lead around the gardens for those with strollers, and kids are encouraged to explore.
Dog friendly? I’m assuming so as they have a dog run in the garden.
Disabled access? Yes, although some parts of the gardens are not accessible it’s pretty much wheelchair friendly.
Getting there. The nearest MRT is Kranji and from there you can get a shuttle bus (check website for schedule). Alternatively it’s about a 25 minute drive from the centre of town.
Extra titbit. The owners of Bollywood Veg make a point of employing those from the local community who are physically or mentally challenged to help run the gardens and bistro. Look out for a particularly inspiring lady called May who has written a book called Scaling Walls.
And try the banana bread – it’s delicious!
Website/Contact: http://www.bollywoodveggies.com.sg. Tel:+65 6898 5001 .

 
The nitty-gritty:
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Subtle but well said

Sometimes, despite the fabulousness of this city, every now and then we all just want out for a while. It may be that you want a drive through the countryside? Or perhaps you’re sick of high-rise condos, traffic and swarms of people everywhere? Maybe you need some time to think, relax and chill? Or just that you want reassurance that there is somewhere on this island that grows something you can actually eat!

In which case you can’t do any better than a trip to Bollywood Veggies in Kranji. Started by self titled ‘farm-preneurs’ Ivy Singh-Lim and Lim Ho Seng, this couple have turned a pipe dream in to reality. What began as an idea for somewhere for their retirement has flourished in to a fully fledged farm, bistro, food museum, cooking school and a whole new future for Singapore’s aspiring farming community.

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Or, just do it out of the kindness of your heart?

We found Bollywood Veggies one Sunday afternoon after we had decided to visit Kranji War memorial and wanted to stop for a quick bite to eat. As soon as we parked up I knew this wasn’t your ordinary out-of-town cafe. The car park was pretty full for a start – always a good sign, but also makes you think “oh no, we should have booked.”

But no, Bollywood Veggie isn’t that kind of place. No reservations required.

Go through the entrance and you’ll enter a whole new world. You are welcome to stroll around the farm and get up close to a lot of what they do there. With the most fantastic and quirky little signs all over the place, that alone is enough to keep you interested for a while (and giggling at the humour of those who put them there). If you are the green fingered sort you’ll be enthralled by the number of plants, trees and flowers they have. From mangos to figs, curry plants to water lily’s. Most of which are helpfully labelled. Oh, and if you want to lend a hand, rake a few leaves for them and they’ll give you a drink on the house (non alcoholic I assume?)

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As a playground should be

We came across one area that, despite the warnings about snakes, is a must. (I’m sure they’re not THAT serious about the snakes). Hidden amongst some trees, lots of plants and behind an old hut type building is a seesaw. You know, the old-fashioned kind. Along with a swing fashioned from a piece of wood and a rope, tied to a tree. Also, a very quaint, if somewhat eerily abandoned looking table and chair set. It was almost as if someone had just finished playing there 200 years ago and time had stood still ever since.

Once you’ve finished pottering around the farm do stop for something to eat. The ever friendly staff will help you with recommendations. The banana curry is a favourite we were told so we were keen to try it and were not disappointed. They also serve fish and chips for the less adventurous little ones with you.

With a small, but perfectly formed, set of farm ‘toys’ to keep the kids amused, you’ll find hours may have passed without you realising it.

And as you take your leave, with shoulders less hunched and your head a bit clearer, you can even buy some of their delicious chocolate banana bread to take home. I bought a copy of the book Scaling Walls by one of the ‘farm warriors’ Siew May who, despite a tough start in life has achieved more than most of us and I look forward to learning more about her and her life. Sometimes you can get lucky and they’ll have some veg or fruit to buy too. But, I think they use most of it themselves in the bistro. With bike tours now being arranged to start and end there, Bolly Jolly weekends and guided tours it seems to me this couple are long way from retiring just yet. And Singapore is the better for it.

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Beautiful reminders of the wildlife

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I cannot think of a better way to while a few hours than at Bollywood Veggies. Go explore yourself, you’ll not be disappointed.

Final 5 Verdict? 5 5 5 5 5

The island of fun

Bear with me whilst I have a little meander down memory lane won’t you?

Years ago when I was young, free and full of bullshit, err…I mean adventurous spirit, my BFF and I decided to give up our jobs, our homes (well, I left mine with my then boyfriend) and our families to travel to the wonderful land of Oz. We booked our flight and didn’t pay much attention to the stop over destination. We just agreed that a few days in some place called Singapore would be an ok idea.

I remember getting off the aeroplane, finding the bus stop then walking for miles looking for a hostel. We checked in to a not-so-great looking place where flip flops were a necessity when visiting the bathroom and downstairs was a cafe frequented all through the night by labourers. I have no idea to this day where we stayed I just remember my friend fell down one of the storm drains whilst we were crossing the road and I thought this was hilarious. What I do remember is taking the cable car one day across to Sentosa Island. We only went there as it was in the tourist guide and there didn’t seem much else to do (sharp intake of breath from everyone).

SilosoBeachSentosa

Siloso beach as I remember it.

It was all very low key. Some kind of nature walk and a mono rail, but that was pretty much it. What stands out  in my memory was discovering the ‘beach’. A line of palm trees in front of the Rasa hotel through which was the merest hint of sand. Walking through the trees revealed this magic patch of sand with a few straw umbrellas dotted around. My friend and I whiled away an hour or two chatting, planning, bullshitting no doubt. But it was lovely. Peaceful, serene even. And yes, there were tankers sailing by just across the way. That was 1996.

Years later, with a husband (the aforementioned house sitting boyfriend no less), a couple of children and a whole life time on I came back to Sentosa. We were there, again on a stopover to Oz. In that weird way that life has, we were actually on our way to visit my BFF who had never left Sydney all those years before. After saying ‘see you up the coast’ as she had a job that was keeping her in Sydney for a few more weeks, we bid farewell. Then my BFF met and fell in love with her now hubby and never made it.

giant-merlion-on-sentosa

The mighty Merlion

Anyway, I digress. So, there I  was with my little family and the beach was just as I remembered really – the line of palm trees, the patch of sand with the umbrellas shading just a few people, all still fairly low key. Except it was now called Siloso Beach, well that patch of it was anyway. This was 2004.

By this time there was also the aquarium on Sentosa – a big shiny attraction with dolphins to swim with, huge tanks, petting pools and so on. There was also a few other things to see such as the musical fountain and a butterfly park, there were a few restaurants dotted along the beaches too. There was even a tram that could take you from one end to the other.

My hubby, myself and our two young boys – took the tram to visit the Merlion. This 37m towering giant was a sight to behold – and a sight that catches your eye as you enter Sentosa across the causeway bridge. Well, it used to – more of that later. Night or day it looks amazing. Standing proud of all of its surroundings. Well, it used to – but more of that later! 

We went up to the observation deck at the top of the Merlion’s head, stood and roared in its mouth and had the obligatory tourist shot taken. We went back at night too when the Merlion takes on a whole new feel with it’s beady eyes shooting out laser beams, and its mermaid scales that twinkle with thousands of lights as the water gushing around it sparkles.

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A stroll along Merlion walk. 2007.

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The original Siloso

I know, I’m a little bit in love with the Merlion.

From that visit though it didn’t seem that that much had changed on Sentosa apart from the odd new place to eat and things were a bit more polished for the tourists. A few years later though and it was a whole new story.

With hubby’s work now bringing him to Singapore more and more we would come with him on work based holidays. By now we had a new addition to the family too. So, he’d work for a week whilst me and the kids holidayed – hubby would then join us for a week. Each time we chose to stay on Sentosa. Each time it changed a little bit more. First, the restaurants grew, then a few more attractions were being advertised – Songs of The Sea, Images of Singapore and so on. Then, my husband heard the rumours that there was going to be a Universal Studios resort built there. This was around 2008.

What? On our lovely serene Sentosa. Don’t be daft.

The next year when we visited we could see the skeleton of what was to become this mammoth building project taking shape. I didn’t like it.

After a few years of being away, in 2012 we returned and the change was amazing. In fact, it was jaw dropping. My husband had given us updates each time he’d been over. That the park was pretty much taking over the whole of Sentosa. That you could see it as you came up towards Sentosa Gateway.  That it was now a fully fledged tourist attraction. But nothing could prepare us for this amazing new mini town with its huge fairy tale castle, sky scraping hotels and  hair-raising rides, restaurants, shows and much more.

You could see it as you drove across the causeway. In fact, it kind of hits you around the gob full on.  And here I quietly stifle a sob.IMG_1257

My poor majestic Merlion no longer stands proud and tall over Sentosa. Instead, he has been hidden away behind the buildings, rides and general stuff that make up a world famous theme park. Now, you’re lucky to spot him as you drive around the bend towards the beach.

But, I have to say, it is spectacular and for Singapore it does add an element that was missing. Or, an element that tourists couldn’t see or find before so easily. Fun!

Nowadays if you head to Sentosa you are going knowing full well you’ll be spending the day having fun. Whether it’s visiting the Images of Singapore exhibition (wonderful), skimming the treetops on the 450m long megazip ride (my Son tells me it’s amazing), flying down the luge (the best fun ever), cooling down at the Port of Lost Wonder (great for younger kids), watching the stunning water and laser show (worth the $15 or so) or meandering around the butterfly park (good fun).

There is so much to do you need a whole weekend at least. And that’s without stopping for food. On that note, a mention to one of our favourite spots in Singapore – Coastes restaurant. The best place to kick off your shoes, sink your feet in the sand, grab something cold to drink and chill. We go there often on a Sunday after taking our dog for his Sunday morning dip at Tanjong Beach. The fish and chips is always fab, the all day brekkie is good too.

USSAnd what of Universal Studios; Singapore’s answer to Disney land? It is fab, I can’t deny it. My kids love it and would go every weekend if they could. It has some great rides, is clean, well laid out, easy to access and never so busy you want to scream (well not much anyway). It does add an element to Singapore that was perhaps missing. I just wish they’d given some more thought to the poor old Merlion and his view. Still, he seems quite happy as he now has an even sparklier walk up to see him.

And, this, as it turns out is just part one of my Sentosa story. A friend of mine recently moved to Sentosa so I went for a little wander around the residential area one day whilst waiting for her to let me in for a cuppa. Oh my. It’s a whole new world! And, there’s another story…

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I couldn’t resist it…. 2014

Super Tree Grove

Super Tree Grove at Gardens By The Bay

Where: 18 Marina Gardens Drive, 018953.

Why? To gawp at ‘super’ trees as they light up and sing. From an afternoon stroll to floating above the ground on the 22m high skyway there are lots of other ways to spend your time at Gardens By The Bay.
When? Open every day. The ‘Garden Rhapsody’ is on twice an evening, check website for timings.
Cash heavy? Some parts you pay to enter, for example it’s $5 to go on the OCBC Skyway, but you can go and marvel at the super trees for free. 
Kid friendly? Yes, plenty of space to walk, push a buggy and let them wander (keeping an eye near the water areas of course). There is a specific children’s garden (that I’ll cover another time).
Dog friendly? Dogs are allowed on lead in the outside gardens but not on the Skyway, children’s garden or in the conservatories.
Disabled access? Yes, lifts, ramps and barrier free routes. Wheelchairs can also be hired here.
Getting there. MRT or bus easily enough. Can also drive as large car park.
Extra titbit. When the Singapore heat gets too much, Supertree Grove offers a shady respite.
 
The nitty gritty:

When I had a friend visiting on a quick weekend stop over I was really unsure where to take her, especially as she’d spent her childhood in Singapore.

I opted for Supertree Grove at Gardens By The Bay as it’s close to Marina Bay – and the wonders of all that’s new and sparkly about Singapore. Also, we wanted to eat so I booked us a table at IndoChine in (yes ‘in’) one of the Supertrees. Wandering around the gardens is always fascinating. There’s always something interesting to see. In this instance it was lots of what looked like abandoned carnival floats with a theme I couldn’t quite make out. It turns out they were there in preparation for the Carnival of Lights festival that was coming up.

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Anyone for fruit?

The Supertrees themselves are truly amazing. Covered in plants with an inverted umbrella atop each one, they look unlike anything else you have seen. The plants that cling to them look fake. It’s only when you look closely (or read it in the guidebook), you realise they are actual living plants.

Heading to the tree where Indochine is based, we decided to go for a drink at the rooftop bar first. After being radioed in – Mission Impossible styley, as if we were either high risk security or top celebs – we got in the lift. Coming out of the lift you are ushered up a staircase (again with someone radioing ahead, and… WOW!

That is pretty much the word I heard everyone say as they did the same over the next hour or so. The view is fantastic. In this little bar atop a fake tree you can sit, have a (not cheap admittedly) drink and take in the full wonder of Singapore. From the port to the bay, the city and beyond you can see it all on a clear day. Even if you’re not eating, it’s worth the $10 or whatever it is they charge you just to go up to the bar to enjoy the stunning view. Great photo opps aplenty.

After dinner at IndoChine (restaurant reviews in another part of my blog) we went back down to the foot of the tree to enjoy the Garden Rhapsody. As night falls, the Supertrees come to life. Set to music that drifts on the evening air, and with a voice over that lulls you, all I can say is lay back – yes, lay down, it’s much better experienced this way – and watch the trees dance with light.

Undoubtedly there’s something very strange about lying under a huge pretend tree covered in real plants listening to classical music watching a light show. You may wonder if drugs have been ingested by mistake. Afterwards it takes a while to come round to the fact you’re laying on the floor – or the base of a tree if you’ve been lucky enough to get a spot – as you really have been transported by light and sound out of the bustling city. It’s a lovely feeling, so hang on to it.

People start moving away slowly – almost embarrassed to have enjoyed it so much. You can then carry on your wander around the gardens, or, like us, head over to Marina Bay and find yourself another amazing bar with a view.

Final 5 Verdict? 5 5 5 5 5

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Enjoy the other worldly nature of the light show

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Part of the 128m Skyway – get there early if you want to watch the show from here.

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Flat on my back looking up at the super tree – you can see just see the lights of the restaurant at the top.

Final 5 Verdict? 5 5 5 5 5

Park Life

Bishan Park – or Ang Mo Kio Park

Where: Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1.
Why? For fresh air, fun and time to chill.
When? Every day of the week (anyone else breaking out in to song?)
Cash heavy? Nope, don’t need a penny, though you could take some to spend in the  cafe/restaurants if you like.
Kid friendly? Hell yeah!  There’s a playground, water playground (open at weekends only), acres of grass as well as loads of interesting nooks and crannies to explore.
Dog friendly? Yes! With it’s two designated dog runs this is the place for your pampered pooch to stretch his or her legs. Though it does get busy. Outside of the run, keep your dog on a lead.
Disabled access? Yes, the paths are wide and clear.
Getting there. There’s a large car park with coupon parking. Lots of bus routes go past Bishan Park.
Extra titbit. The water in the river and ponds that run through the park are kept clean WITHOUT chemicals apparently. Some clever plants do the job instead. 
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Stepping stones for the brave. During heavy rain these can become inaccessible though so watch your step!

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And always cautious, the local council put up a few warning signs.

The nitty gritty:

Bishan is my local park and lucky me. It is sprawling, lush, stunning and a fascinating place to wander around. Every morning the place is swarming with local people keeping fit – many in large groups (wearing matching t-shirts) – doing all kinds of exercise from Tai Chi to fan dances, jogging to meditation. I’ve even seen a few backward walkers. Who knew? At one end of the park is a fitness area where many congregate to do a series of push ups, sits ups, chin ups and every other kind of up you can think of. They take their fitness seriously here obviously. And of course there’s the joggers, walkers and roller bladers following the parks 3k route.

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Exercise is for wimps!

An amazing lily pond that stretches further than any frog prince could hop is a pleasant discovery around one bend and there are a large number of sun loungers big enough for the whole family to sit on. Add to this a great play area for big and little kids alike and a splash park to cool off in (weekends only) this place really rocks as far as parks go. And, to top it all, if you get a bit peckish you can head for one of the cafes. I have yet to eat in one of them but will try it out and get back to you.

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Woody looking for his Prince?

Taking the dog for a walk is definitely a lot more interesting in Bishan than it used to be back in the UK (think circling a cricket pitch over and again). It is a great place to take the kids when they want to let of some steam and a fab place to meet a group of friends for a picnic. You can even learn to roller blade if you like…

Final 5 Verdict? 5 5 5 5 5

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5 out of 5 – woohoo!