Singapore is my very first Asian country. Though I found the combination of heat and humidity oppressive perhaps 90% of the time, it at least hammered home the remoteness of Singapore in sensation as well as distance from anywhere I’ve ever been before. Especially from home!
The gleaming, green city
Arriving into Singapore in the middle of the afternoon, we were weary from two long flights but itching to discover this shiny unfamiliar city. We decided to abandon any ideas of ticking things off our “to do” list and went wandering instead.
At Clarke Quay we stopped to watch the tourist riverboats drift across watery reflections of skyscrapers towards the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. The hotel is really monumental – three vertical towers with what looks like a slender ocean liner balanced on top.
There’s a harmonious juxtaposition in the city between the lush plant life and polished urban architecture – two very different aesthetics – without either aspect ever feeling artificial.
With the sun setting, we followed joggers and people on motorised scooters (which look terrific fun, by the way. I want one!) along the river promenade towards the Marlion Park area. There we sat and watched the sky grow a deep cobalt blue. What had been impressive and sterile buildings in daylight took on a merrier feel after dark. The lights twinkled and the heat eased off. As the city grew sleepy so did we, retiring back to our Airbnb to gather energy for the next day.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
For our first full day, the “list” came back into play.
We took the metro. Buying 3-day tourist transport passes for 2 people turned out to be harder than we thought (the lady first tried to give us 3 passes for 3 days and then to sell us 2 passes for only 2 days. Luckily she had a good sense of humour!). We then hopped a train to Botanic Gardens.
I was a little wary of catching the train lest it be overcrowded and hotter than outside, as has been my experience in some cities. I don’t know why I was worried. Like everywhere else, it was meticulously clean, cooled throughout with air con and so much more spacious than your average metro.
The Botanic Gardens are a huge public space. I had expected a formal entrance, maybe even tickets. There was nothing like that, just a path leading onwards into the greenery.
We most wanted to see the National Orchid Garden, but took opportunities to stop at other places en route. The tiny Fragrant Garden had a wonderful scent in the air, but strangely no matter which plants we sniffed more closely, none of them seemed to have a particularly strong smell. It must have been piped in! The Healing Garden was a lot larger (we got lost trying to find the right exit), and the board for each plant showed its origin and what traditional medical uses the plant has been ascribed over the years. Many plants seemed to treat a surprisingly diverse array of ailments, if you believe the traditional usage. My favourite part of this garden was discovering growing pineapples! I’ve never seen the plant before, and naively had no idea they grew the way they do, so close to the ground and such a bright red colour.
We followed our very own yellow brick road to the Orchid Garden — the “Red Brick Path” — hugging the shade in order to avoid the harsh sun and enjoying ourselves spotting local wildlife (one small lizard, one very large lizard and a very vocal rooster). The garden itself was impressive. I had no conception of how many species of orchid there are until I visited. Thousands, and so varied in colour, shape, sizes and pattern, each one somehow looking more extraordinary than the last. The orchids are mostly spread over sprawling paths, but there are some more focused locations, including a mist house, cool house and VIP orchids (named for foreign dignitaries).
After a late lunch at Casa Verde in the gardens, we made a conscious decision to cut our day short and tramped on back to the MRT (metro) and home to the Airbnb for much needed rest. As it happened, popping back for siestas became rather habitual over our time in Singapore. Whether due to jet lag, the heat, tiredness from over-exertion I’m not sure, it was always blissful to return to deliciously cold air and catch a few Zs.
In part two: more green (the Gardens by the Bay) and more shininess, in a manner of speaking (Universal Studios)!