The Gateway To Asia
I once saw an article that labelled Singapore as “ Clean and Green, and so’s a Boiled Cabbage “.
Whilst it might seem derogatory, what it was suggesting was that Singapore since the 1960’s had certainly become a much cleaner and very modern city, but at the expense of it’s Asian character and in the process perhaps lost some of the excitement which had attracted so many to visit the city again and again and again.
The city which was supposedly founded by in 1849 by Sir Stamford Raffles was also known as the “ Lion City “ with the famous Merlion Statue in the Harbour, but the area had been occupied by Malay people for some considerable time.
Singapore’s original name was Singapura, which means Lion City and the Merlion is a mythical fish figure with a Lion’s Head.
It has since become the National symbol for Singapore.
19th century architecture
It was very much a colonial city, especially with it’s interesting 19th century architecture and stately private homes, but one of the most famous landmarks in Singapore is without doubt the Raffles Hotel, which has now been total renovated and reopened again as a 5 star hotel, still retaining it’s colonial charm.
One of the “ must does” for any visitor to Singapore was to visit that very grand Raffles Hotel and partake of a “ Singapore Sling “, the world famous cocktail, supposedly invented at the Hotel.
An afternoon spent in the Long Bar sipping on a Singapore Sling and eating the complimentary peanuts and discarding the shells onto the floor, is a very memorable occasion indeed.
Literally thousands of the cocktails have been served at the Hotel and at $22.00 a pop, it became a serious revenue source for the operation.
Singapore is an Island state with a lowland terrain and consists of the Main island and 58 adjoining islands. It is nestled snugly between Malaysia, just across the causeway and the many Indonesian Islands, some of which are managed and operated by Singapore on Indonesia’s behalf, such as Bintan Island.
Bintan is only 45 minutes away by fast ferry and is a wonderful golf resort, with several good quality hotels and 4 outstanding golf courses, which makes it a very popular weekend destination for Singaporean locals. The best golf course on Bintan, is without doubt the Gary Player designed Ria Bintan, which can hold it’s head high with any of the great golf courses in the world. If you are a golfer, then please make sure that you add Ria Bintan to your bucket list.
And whilst you are there, make sure to also play the Jack Nicklaus Sea View Course at Bintan Lagoon, also an excellent course and has the distinction on the 16th hole of having a creek running through the middle of the green dividing it in two. Now you don’t see that very often.
Singapore itself is a densely populated island with about 12,000 people per square mile and now boasts a population of around 5.7 million of which 77% are Chinese, 14% Malay and 8 % Indian.
It has an excellent education system and the population is multi lingual with most residents quite fluent in English. In fact there are supposedly 4 national languages.
Self government was granted in 1959 with Lee Kwan Yew becoming it’s first Prime Minister maintaining office until 1990, but then continuing to serve in various roles until 1990.
He had been a leader of the local underground during the Japanese occupation in WW2 and as Prime Minister was responsible for overseeing a massive transformation of Singapore from a somewhat irrelevant British Colony to a major Financial and political centrepiece for Asia. The transformation that he oversaw was simply stunning.
He was if you like a benevolent dictator and was a no nonsense leader who ruled with strong discipline and ideals, that saw the old and over crowded slums torn down and replaced with modern office and residential apartment towers across the entire island. This action led to a massive increase in the standard of living for all Singaporeans.
I always found it somewhat strange that Singapore had a Chinatown, as the majority of the population were of Chinese descent, but it did and although much of it was demolished, parts of it still remain and are now a large tourist drawcard for shopping, dining and nightlife.
Federation of Malaysia
It initially joined the new Federation of Malaysia in 1963, but soon realising that their plans and ideals for the future clashed heavily with those of the Muslim Malays, they quickly withdrew and became an independent Republic in 1965.
The Federation had created it’s own airline MSA ( Malaysia Singapore Airlines ) which was an expansion from the original Malayan Airways created following WW2, but this was also dissolved and in 1972, Singapore Airlines commenced operations in it’s own right. Singapore Airlines has gone on to become one of the most successful and largest Airlines in the world, much more so than it’s peninsula rival Malaysia Airlines.
This successful Airline had an enormous impact upon the tourism explosion in this island City, which coincided with the introduction of the wide bodied passenger Jet aircraft.
Singapore then rapidly became a mecca for Tourism, especially for Australians, with some regularly visiting numerous times.
Like Hong Kong, it provide Aussies with access to duty free shopping and wow, how they shopped and shopped and shopped.
One famous shop situated on Orchard Road, was operated by the Lim Brothers, one of whom was a Chief Steward with Singapore Airlines, who happily handed out “ Special Cards “ to the passengers onboard authorising his brothers to provide this special passenger with an extra special discount. That drove hundreds of eager shoppers to their shop, where they would always provide an Ice Cold Beer for their customers. The more they drank, the more they shopped. Pretty clever marketing campaign I thought.
For many Aussies, it was their first international trip and the lure, attraction and excitement of Singapore proved irresistible, they just had a WOW of a time.
Like Hong Kong, they were looking for 3 – 4 star hotels and frequented a number of the less expensive properties, such as – Equatorial, Cockpit, Marco Polo, York, Holiday Inn and the Ming Court to name just a few. The Ming Court was famous for the two very large Sikh Indian Doormen with their brightly coloured Turbans, who could have made a fortune had they charged for having their photo taken with the Australian guests.
With the amazing development of recent times, especially around the Marina area, there are now just so many luxury hotel choices that deciding which one best suits you becomes quite a challenge.
Singapore was at the culinary crossroads of Asia and with it’s weather year round much more suited to outdoor dining than say Hong Kong, the attractions of the food courts were undeniable.
Newton’s Circus was always very popular as was the City block which operated as a car park by day and a food court at night.This food court was just simply called – The Car Park. Dishes such as satay’s, Murtabak, Hainese Chicken, Hot Pot and of course Singapore Noodles , all washed down with some icy cold Tiger beer. It was great fun and so enjoyable, party time every night.
Along East Parkway, half way to the airport was a series of restaurants and entertainment venue’s. I have very fond memories of dining at The Red House Restaurant on several occasions where I first became exposed to Chilli Crab and Black Pepper Crab , oh just thinking about it , such memories. Seriously, a life changing experience.
The restaurant is no longer located on East Parkway, but now operates 3 venues in the city area including one at Clarke Quay.
Clarke Quay, which is located along the riverfront was originally lined on both sides by numerous factories and warehouse and like Hong Kong the factories were known locally as Godowns, much easier for the Chinese to pronounce than factory.
Today the entire area is a very lively nights spot with the Godowns being replaced by restaurants, cafe’s and night clubs. Hundreds of tourists throng to Clarke Quay every evening.
The Clarke Quay area today is very highly recommended and is located quite close to Orchard Road.
Another absolute favourite was Fatty’s on Albert Road, which was started and owned and operated by Fatty Weng in 1967, who was also Head Chef. it still operates today, although in a different location, made famous by great food and Fatty’s boundless energy and bubbly personality, which saw him happily entertaining and engaging with his clientele every night.
Fatty no longer attends the restaurant and I suspect, although I haven’t had it confirmed that he is no longer with us, may he rest in peace, knowing that he has left so many contented souls behind.
The food was excellent, my first experience of Cockles in XO sauce and many other notable dishes.
There was also an excellent Indian restaurant in the early 1970’s called the Rang Mahal, which is still operating today, but is somewhat more upmarket than in 1972. It has also moved to new premises in the Pan Pacific Building in the Marina Bay area.
All tourists would have many great memories of a visit to Bugis Street, which was the go to place following dinner and a great night for people watching and having a few drinks. Hundreds of visitors night after night. More commonly thought of as Boogie Street, it was also the hang out for the Ladies of the Night as well as the Singaporean transvestite community and hundreds of tourists out to have a look and looking for a party. Everyone mixed happily together, smiling and laughing, watching goggle eyed what was happening.It was all a bit naughty really.
I vividly remember one evening when the British and New Zealand Navy’s were both there and ended up having a bit of a rugby match, with plenty of scrums, but no ball, which the Kiwi’s won before celebrating accordingly. There would have been a lot of very sore lads the next morning.
Orchard Road was the major artery of the city and ran for several miles from the Harbour up until Tanglin Circus. It was lined it’s entire length with Emporiums, Hotels, Restaurants, Office buildings and Duty free shops and shopping plaza’s – Lucky Plaza always springs to mind, a 30 story complex with over 500 shops.
Like most cities in Asia, Singapore has changed dramatically over the last 50 years and is now a very modern and upmarket city with many beautiful Hotels. The standard of living and lifestyle for the local population has also improved dramatically . It is now a very sophisticated city and has a large number of expats living permanently, mainly in the Finance Industry.
One significant addition to the city has been the establishment of the Mass Transit System ( MRT ) which fist opened in 1987 and has been continually expanding ever since. It now extends to the Airport, but personally I would still recommend taking a taxi or limo direct to the door of your hotel. The MRT now boasts some 119 stations, a very effective and very efficient public transport system.
Speaking about airports, the first airport in Singapore in the modern era was Paya Labar which opened in 1955 and operated until the world class Changi Airport opened in 1981.
They are only a few Kms apart and Paya Labar has since become an air force base.
Changi Airport, built close to the infamous WW2 prisoner of war camp, has been instrumental in the growth and development of Singapore. It is consistently rated as the best airport in the world. It is a pleasure to fly through Changi and has a well deserved reputation for consistently getting your baggage to the carousel, before you get there – seriously. Qantas and the airports in Melbourne and Sydney should pay close attention.
With such enormous development over the past 50 years, Singapore has evolved into 7 different Business districts such as Raffles Place Area, Marina Bay Area, Orchard Road Area and the River Valley Area.
The Marina Bay area is now famous for it’s range of stunning 5 star Hotels including the architecturally magnificent Marina Bay Sands featuring those 3 modern Hotel Towers with the roof top slab connecting all of them together, plus Singapore’s only Casino. I am sure everyone who has seen this building has been gob smacked by it like I was. It is truly an engineering masterpiece.
Let’s not forget Sentosa Island, which is now connected to Singapore by a causeway and has also seen huge development turn it into a wonderful Island Resort with lovely hotels, Golf Courses and Theme Parks. It also has a very popular Cable Car which connects to the Cruise Ship Terminal and the MRT.
Most importantly it is only 15 minutes at most from the Orchard Road Area, which allows guests the best of both worlds, an Island Resort and a major international city and shopping area.
Best of all from my perspective, Singapore is a great city to walk around. Very safe, no hills, good roads and wide and well paved footpaths. it can get a bit hot, but there’s nothing wrong with a good sweat, especially if you have over indulged the night before. There is also the cool drink and lovely swim to look forward to when you have finished.
Yes, Singapore is now clean and green, but it is certainly not a boiled cabbage.
So I have a very serious decision to make, when the Covid 19 travel restrictions are lifted, where do I go first, Hong Kong or Singapore – Simple, a few days in each city solves that dilemma.