Everything is bigger in Singapore

The giant Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay.
Gardens by the Bay

The giant Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay.

I spend most of the flight to Singapore engrossed in Marie Kondo's minimalist manifesto - The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It's a book about how you should throw everything out, stop buying crap and only surround yourself with stuff you really love.

Eleven hours later, I find myself in a land of excess.

I'm staying on Singapore's Orchard Road, one of the most famous shopping streets in Asia.

The 2.2 kilometre stretch is said to boast almost 800,000 square metres of retail space, housing everything from luxury brands to fast fashion giants. All of my favourites are there, with supersized shop fronts - Victoria's Secret, H&M, Uniqlo, Topshop.

Shopping on Singapore's Orchard Road.
Singapore Tourism Board

Shopping on Singapore's Orchard Road.

I lie to the other journalists on the trip: "Nah, I'm not really into shopping."

But at every opportune moment, I slip out of the hotel and lose myself in retail heaven, returning guiltily with an armful of shopping bags each time.

As a visitor, everything about Singapore seems, well, perfect.

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Although it's the third largest financial centre in the world after London and New York, it's about as far from a concrete jungle as you can get. In fact, it sells itself as a "City in a Garden".

Singapore's Central Business District.
Singapore Tourism Board

Singapore's Central Business District.

Singapore is very green. Even the skyscrapers have trees growing out of them - all new buildings are required to have vertical gardens climbing up their walls. Feeding pigeons, spitting and littering is illegal. It's a sanitised version of Asia, so squeaky clean you can't even buy chewing gum there, lest you sully the pristine pavements.

They do seem rather big on the rules. The Singapore arrival card offers visitors a cheery welcome on one side, and a stark warning that drug trafficking is punishable by death on the other. Caning is not uncommon, and apparently there are even special automated whipping machines for this purpose.

Utopia, or police state? I'm not sure. But you can't deny there's something remarkable about this place, which manages to enjoy racial and religious harmony despite its kaleidoscope of cultures. In Chinatown, for example, you'll find a Hindu temple, an Islamic mosque, and a Chinese Buddhist temple within a few steps of each other.

Singapore's contrasts are almost never ending - old and new, East and West. I'm baffled as we sit down for a "traditional Singaporean breakfast" on our first morning, and find one main item on the menu - toast.

Kopi and kaya toast is a traditional Singaporean breakfast.
Siobhan Downes

Kopi and kaya toast is a traditional Singaporean breakfast.

Turns out, it's not just any old toast. Kaya toast was invented by Hainanese immigrants who worked on British ships as cooks. Their employers loved a classic English breakfast - toast and jam. But western-style jam was hard to come by, so the Hainanese replaced it with a local alternative - kaya, a spread made from coconut, eggs and sugar.

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Kaya reminds me of the gooey fondant inside a Cadbury creme egg, and appeals greatly to my sweet tooth. Paired with a slurp of kopi - a rich, syrupy coffee made with condensed milk - and I'm convinced this must be one of the best ways to start the day.

We need all the energy we can get for exploring Resorts World Sentosa, a $7 billion tourist playground made up of hotels, theme parks, a shopping mall and casino. We're visiting the S.E.A Aquarium, one of the largest aquariums in the world.

Singapore is obsessed with superlatives - everything is "one of the biggest", if not the biggest. When it opened in 2012, the S.E.A Aquarium enjoyed a brief stint as the world's largest aquarium by water volume, until it was overtaken by China's Chimelong Ocean Kingdom in 2014.

S.E.A Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa.
Resorts World Sentosa

S.E.A Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa.

The aquarium also boasts a massive viewing panel, measuring 36 metres wide, 8.3 metres tall and 70 centimetres thick. It was the world's largest viewing panel until Chimelong Ocean Kingdom came along and robbed it of yet another title. You get the feeling it's a bit of a sore point.

With all of this grandeur, the fish themselves almost seem like a secondary attraction. But they too are pretty awesome. The aquarium provides a watery home to more than 100,000 marine animals, from Finding Nemo characters to mean-looking sharks.

There's also an on-site Ocean Restaurant, with an underwater view of the tank (and yes, there is fish on the menu). You can even stay in one of 11 ocean suites - $3000-a-night hotel rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows peering right into the aquarium. It's a novel concept, but I'm not sure how I'd feel waking up with a giant, gormless grouper staring back at me.

Tourists enjoy the fish on display at S.E.A Aquarium.
Resorts World Sentosa

Tourists enjoy the fish on display at S.E.A Aquarium.

But there is something mesmerising about standing in front of that vast viewing panel, observing a manta ray perform a series of graceful backward flips. It's also a fascinating spot for people watching. One tourist is edging her way along the glass, forcing her boyfriend to take a photo of her every time a particularly interesting looking fish appears in the background.

Singapore's new National Gallery - the world's largest public collection of Southeast Asian art (see what I mean about superlatives?) - is also well worth a look.

The gallery, which opened in November last year, is housed in the city's original Supreme Court and City Hall buildings, and is as much of a destination for history geeks as it is for art lovers.

Singapore's National Gallery opened in November 2015.
Singapore Tourism Board

Singapore's National Gallery opened in November 2015.

Parts of the buildings are so special they have been left completely untouched, like the City Hall Chamber, where the Japanese signed the surrender document in 1945, and founding father Lee Kuan Yew was sworn in as the country's first prime minister in 1959.

Even if you're not into art or history, it's still a beautiful space to spend a few hours escaping the sweltering heat. There's a fantastic rooftop area, complete with a bar and restaurant, where you can enjoy sweeping views of the city.

Singapore's skyline is full of sights that will blow your mind. Like the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel that looks like a great big ship in the sky. Or the majestic "Merlion" statue, half lion, half fish, spouting water from its mouth.

The Singapore Merlion, with Marina Bay Sands in the background.
Singapore Tourism Board

The Singapore Merlion, with Marina Bay Sands in the background.

But nothing can compare to Gardens by the Bay, a 101-hectare enchanted forest, smack-bang in the middle of the city.

It's a botanic garden on steroids. It even has its own McDonald's.

There are two enormous conservatories in the $1 billion nature park, which appear as giant, space-age bubbles on the skyline.

The Cloud Forest, with its vertigo-inducing walkway.
Gardens by the Bay

The Cloud Forest, with its vertigo-inducing walkway.

One is the Cloud Forest, and consists of a 35 metre-high artificial mountain, and the world's tallest indoor waterfall (there we go again). You take an elevator to the top, and make your way back down via a twisting, elevated walkway, pausing to admire exotic orchids and terrifying Venus fly traps.

The other is the Flower Dome, which claims the title of the world's largest glass greenhouse (this is the last one, I swear), and houses a dizzying rainbow of blooms. It's like stepping into a psychedelic, flower-power dream.

But the main attraction is the Supertree Grove, where you'll find 12 "trees" made from concrete and steel, towering above the gardens like oversized cocktail glasses at 50 metres tall. Each one is fitted with solar panels and vertical gardens. It's the epitome of man-made nature.

The Supertrees put on a light show.
Gardens by the Bay

The Supertrees put on a light show.

Every night, the Supertrees put on a light and sound show. We lie back on the spotless ground, looking up at the sky as these bizarre giants twinkle in time to retro hits by the likes of Abba and the Bee Gees.

I can't decide if they're a symbol of Singapore's rampant extravagance, or an incredible feat of the human imagination.

There was one thing left to do. I was determined to visit the famous Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling, despite much eye-rolling and protestations that it was a tourist trap.

But I love the story behind the signature drink. In colonial Singapore, the hotel's Long Bar was a popular watering hole among the well-heeled.

Unfortunately for ladies, it wasn't proper to be seen drinking alcohol in public, so they had to settle for fruit juice while the men knocked back gin and whisky.

Until 1915, when bartender Ngiam Tong Boon came up with a sneaky plan to create a cocktail that looked like juice, but was actually infused with gin and other liqueurs. With that, the Singapore Sling was born.

Even though it's a Saturday, we manage to get a seat right away in the bar, which oozes old world charm. Rows of punkah fans wave from the ceiling, keeping us cool as we toss peanut shells on the floor (the only place in Singapore where littering is permitted).

The famed beverage arrives, obnoxiously pink against the dark mahogany timbers of the bar. We each take a gleeful photo of ourselves brandishing the cocktail, and sit back, drinking in the experience.

Then the bill arrives, and I realise I've just spent $40 on a single cocktail. It's the most expensive drink I've ever had.

I think of my Marie Kondo book, buried deep beneath the shopping bags in my suitcase. Singapore is no place for a minimalist.

MORE INFORMATION yoursingapore.com

GETTING THERE
Singapore Airlines flies direct from Auckland and Christchurch. From September 21, the airline will fly from Wellington to Canberra to Singapore. Visit singaporeair.com.

STAYING THERE
The Grand Park Orchard puts you right in the centre of the Orchard Road shopping district. It's a dangerously good location. Visit parkhotelgroup.com/orchard

EATING THERE
Singapore has more than 100 open-air hawker centres, which are closely monitored by government authorities to ensure they are clean and safe. This is street food at its best - some of the stalls are so good they have been awarded Michelin stars. Try the Newton Food Centre, near Orchard Road, or La Pau Sat, Singapore's oldest hawker centre. A plate of hokkien mee (fried noodles) will set you back about $5.

SHOPPING THERE
If you're hitting the shopping malls on Orchard Road, don't forget your passport - some offer special tourist discounts. Looking for something a bit different? Head to Haji Lane, a hipster enclave in the heart of the Muslim quarter. You'll find everything from vintage dresses to durian earrings.

The writer was hosted by Singapore Airlines and the Singapore Tourism Board.

 - Stuff

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