A Small, Multicultural City-State An Orderly Country of Rules and Beauty That Works – News-Herald
Perched atop three 57-story towers and much like a surfboard, Marina Bay Sands Resort features a casino, restaurants, a museum, and an infinity-edge pool above Singapore. (Janet Podolak – for The News Herald)
Measuring only 17 miles wide and 30 miles long, the independent island-state at the tip of the Malay Peninsula is smaller than Rhode Island but densely populated, home to more than 5 million Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians.
Southeast Asia’s smallest country, it’s a clean, urban, English-speaking, largely law-abiding nation of rules and stunning beauty.
Before my arrival in February as a cruise ship passenger I knew it was safe and orderly and also that chewing gum was prohibited and littering and roadside walks were punishable by heavy fines. Caning and death await those who bring drugs, even marijuana.
Officials attribute its rules and enforcement to the country’s indisputable safety and success.
Just 85 miles north of the equator, sultry Singapore is hot and steamy year-round, but there are plenty of air-conditioned spaces.
We knew that cheap, efficient public transportation was less than a half mile from where Nautica docked in Oceania, but my daughter and I wanted context for our one-day visit. We chose the Iconic tour out of dozens offered by the cruise line because it included a visit to the famous Raffles Hotel.
Contrasts are a constant in Singapore, largely due to its diverse population with temples, mosques, shrines, and churches set against a backdrop of stunning, ultra-contemporary skyscrapers. Multiculturalism is supported by government policies, including those that require its citizens to speak English along with another Chinese, Malay or Indian language.
Modern Singapore was founded in 1819 by the English Sir Stamford Raffles, who recognized the small fishing village for its strategic location as a trading post for the East India Company. The island’s ports and many miles of coastline provided good sea access between China and India, making it one of the leading ports in the world today.
Singapore’s ruins feature the ornate Thien Hock Keng Buddhist Temple, which was built entirely without nails. This temple started along the waterfront on the edge of Chinatown but today is far from land due to a land reclamation project that has extended to the coast of Singapore and created more land for development. Since becoming an independent nation five decades ago, Singapore has grown by 20 percent – from 224 to 277 square miles due to land reclamation.
As can be seen from the Beach Road address, the historic Raffles Hotel was also originally along the waterfront but is now inland. Built in 1887 in honor of Sir Stamford Raffles, it has been fully restored after a two-year closure that ended in 2019. Charlie Chaplin, Queen Elizabeth II and Rudyard Kipling have all slept in this lovely colonial hotel, which features in the novels of W.B. Somerset Maugham et al.Little Singapore is an anomaly.
“Appropriate attire”, including high heels and no shorts, is required to enter the elegant Raffles Lounge. We weren’t, so our group took the elevator to the second-floor Long Bar to enjoy a cold-sweet Singapore Sling right where it was invented.
Little has changed in the century since it began, Long Bar has old-fashioned paddle-board propellers with bags of peanuts dotted around the seats. Their shells tumble underfoot, and they are usually swept away by shepherds in apparent disregard of the country’s waste disposal laws. But here, Singapore Sling is served, priced at $26 a pop but included in the ship’s shore excursion, along with the rituals of the past several decades.
In 1915, when the drink was created, etiquette decreed that ladies should not drink alcohol and limit themselves to fruit and tea. Seeing an opportunity, Long Bar bartender Ngiam Tong Boon mixed a pale pink blend of gin, pineapple juice, lemon juice, Curacao and Benedictine with grenadine and cherry liqueur and poured it into a pretty glass. Women could now enjoy the cold brew without revealing its alcohol content and compromising their reputation.
Not far away, on reclaimed land near the Singapore River, the top of three 57-story towers of Marina Bay Sands looks from below like a heavenly surfboard complete with palm trees. The flat area that spans all three towers contains a casino, an infinity-edge pool, restaurants, a museum, and dozens of upscale shops. This gravity-defying platform – one of the largest in the world – includes a 3-acre SkyPark, large enough to park four Airbus A380 jumbo jets.
Only guests in the hotel’s 2,500 rooms can use the infinity pool to view Singapore from its watery edge, but others can visit the SkyPark Observation Deck to enjoy the view.
We had seen Marina Bay Sands from the river cruise included in our shore excursion, but after we were back on board that evening, we heard all about it from fellow passengers. Many also visited the shopping areas along Singapore’s legendary Orchard Road and the 10-storey Jewel shopping mall at Changi Airport with its 130-foot indoor waterfall.
Singapore has many beautifully manicured gardens and public spaces, including the 130-acre Singapore Botanic Gardens, with its 3,000-plant National Orchid Garden. The Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo is a humid tropical rainforest that is only open at night for exploration on foot or by tram. Bird Paradise at Mandai Wildlife Sanctuary is home to a flock of 1,000 flamingos, while the 250-acre Singapore Gardens on the bay have become Asia’s hottest in the 11 years it’s been open.
The Singapore Tourism Board has information on attractions and trip planning at visitingapore.com.
The city-state was a port near the end of my 33-day Oceania cruise earlier this year between Cape Town, South Africa, and Bangkok, Thailand. Visit OceaniaCruises.com for more information.
See stories from that journey: bit.ly/grandvoyage-pt-1, bit.ly/grandvoycage-pt-2, and bit.ly/grandvoycage-pt-3.