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Top five ‘to do’ list – Singapore travel guide


Traveling to Singapore? My top five ‘to do’ list covers stay, food, shopping and sight-seeing. If you have the budget, chose from the hotels around the Marina Bay. I booked the Ritz Carlton Millenia through Tripadvisor. My daughter and I were spoiled silly by their gracious hospitality and stunning room views.

The stunning night views - Ritz Carlton Millenia

The stunning night views – Ritz Carlton Millenia

Next – eat. Start with an ice kachang at the Makansutra Gluttons Bay, next to the famed Esplanade Theatre.  Three – explore. Visit the unusual Gardens by Bay in the vicinity. Four – check out Bugis Junction and Little India for budget shopping. Throw in Haji Street for a whiff of the unusual. Five – go for a drink and dinner at the hip Ang Siang Hill (close to China Town) as an alternate to a night at Clarke Quay.

You could do more. But hey, take it easy. Stop to savor the sunsets or the occasional rain that drenches you without warning.

 

How to get there

While Emirates does a direct flight, a friend told me that if I could handle a Colombo stopover, then Sri Lankan Airlines was the best alternate. A business class ticket costs Dh 2900+ from and to Dubai. Getting a visa to Singapore was a breeze.

History was in the making when I left. The televisions at the airport showed Argentinan Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, stepping onto the balcony as the new pope and waving to the masses at St Peter’s Square in Italy. Sri Lankan Airlines employs some of the warmest flying and ground staff I have met in eons. The menu is excellent (try the curry bread), the hostesses are genuinely warm and I slept well.

Time flew at Colombo airport – I was determined to finish an article and email it before reaching Singapore. But on my way back, I realized that business class passengers get a free 15 minute Ayurvedic massage session using Siddhalepa products at the tiny spa room (hidden in a corner). I enjoyed a free neck massage but paid for the relaxing thirty minutes foot massage.  A must after all that walking around Singapore.

What to eat

The elusive fruity aroma wafted around my nostrils and would linger in my soul for the next few days of leaving Singapore. My first exposure to durian was in the form of a scoop of the yellow fruit sitting atop an ice kachang (a Malay dessert made of coloured and flavoured ice shavings, chendol, kidney beans and such). My foodie daughter who studies in Singapore said that I simply could not leave the country without trying an ice kachang; a great way to beat the heat and humidity in the country and akin to the Indian gola, which has less frills.

Ice kachang - durian atop

Needless to say, I fell in love with the durian and wanted more. My daughter also pointedly added that it was this very ‘enigmatic’ smell that made it a banned item on the MRT; like fresh fish on the Dubai Metro. We picked up the kachang and a chicken murtabak (a panfried stuffed pancake) from Makansutra by the Bay, which is a bustling foodie street outside the famed Esplanade Theatre. The place was packed to the gills with people wolfing down food as fast as they were served.

Singapore is foodie haven and I suspect that eating out is one of the national pastimes. During my stay, I ate a mind-blowing peanutty Sichuan style pork wanton noodle soup at the Crystal Jade restaurant in Bugis, a mean prawn Laksa with quail eggs whipped up for me by the chef at the Ritz Carlton, a deliciously chilled thai lod chong (green chendol in cold coconut milk and crushed ice with water chestnuts) at the Thai Express branch in the olde worlde Siglap residential area and a melt-in-the mouth moist paella at Los Primos, a tapas bar at Ang Siang.

What to see  

Start or end with the Gardens by Bay. If possible by night – though I did it by day. Apparently weekends are sheer madness in terms of visitors.  The project features conservatories but it is the Supertrees that take your breath away. “We knew that they had to be large, from the opening of the project, to counterbalance the impact of the conservatories and also to register in the local urban setting dominated by 200m high towers,” said Andrew Grant at Grant Associates, a UK-based landscape architecture consultancy when I interviewed him last year. “We could never achieve this using transplanted tree material and decided to develop an abstracted, artificial tree of a scale that would dominate the heart of the gardens.” It does. I was a bit awed, especially, when I went up the lift to the Supertree walkway (not recommended for those who do not have a head for heights).

Supertrees - Gardens By Bay

Supertrees – Gardens By Bay

If you are an art lover, it might stun you to know that the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore has one of the finest corporate modern art collections in Singapore and Southeast Asia, comprising  4,200 pieces. Valued at about S$5 million, 90 percent of the works were specially commissioned for the hotel including approximately 350 major, “museum quality” pieces. The collection includes David Hockney, Henry Moore, Andy Warhol and Sam Francis as well as artists such as Dale Chihuly. The lazy ones can take a self-guided podcast art tour. Ask the concierge.

I did not go up the Singapore Flyer; also in the Marina Bay area. But it is worthwhile to explore the restaurants around the entrance. Or pre-book and join a foodie tour, which was in full swing as we walked around the area.  I preferred the impromptu version of a city tour led by my daughter over the guided ones.

We visited the LASALLE College of Art, near Bugis Junction, which was hosting an interesting exhibition – ‘Linking cities, designing experiences.’ I enjoyed the brilliant work, which was the outcome of a collaborative project between LASALLE and South Korea’s Sangmyung University; the aim was to offer an insight to unique visual narratives of the cityscapes of Singapore and Seoul.

An exhibition at LASALLE College of Art

An exhibition at LASALLE College of Art

Shop till you drop

Shopaholics will go crazy at Bugis Junction, the largest covered street shopping location in Singapore. Bags, shoes, clothes, vintage styled new t-shirts (read Audrey Hepburn themed) are packed cheek to jowl for the budget conscious shopper. Bargain to one-thirds of the price but do check zips and insides of bags. I brought a beautiful bag for SD20 but the decorative studs popped off in a day.

Shopping galore at Bugis Street

Shopping galore at Bugis Street

For the unusual, walk down Haji Street, which is a ten minutes walk from Bugis. You would find the same clothes at Bugis for less. But the unusual interiors of every store are worth a dekko – each one tries to outdo the other. Only suggested if you are fit to climb wooden stairs. Arab Street is so so.

Haji Street

Haji Street

Little India

Little India

If you have time and love unusual stationery, go to 313 Somerset Mall on Orchard Road and visit Typo on Level 1 – the mix includes retro Paris-themed items that can double up as show pieces. I bought an abstract metal tree with two birds on different branches. An empty cage hangs on a lower branch. Go figure.

Little India is a great place to pick up some unusual souvenirs for friends. I found some miniature chilli wall hangings. Get a quick henna tattoo for five dollars or less at Jayaram’s Creations. While we got our hands done, the skies started to pour. The weather in Singapore is very unpredictable. It can go from broody sky to bright sunshine to balmy breeze to hot and sticky within hours.

A gaggle of Chinese kids on a school trip suddenly materialized into the arcade. The teacher with a megaphone and the guide tried to channel them into some semblance of order. They finally gave up and allowed them ten minutes off to get a henna tattoo.

Henna cuts borders

Henna cuts borders

Talking of which, if you have to get your hair done, do visit the Team Salon at Siglap. Jean Tong, the gracious Creative Director is a truly enlightened soul who patiently guides you through the aromatherapy treatments based on your personality and connects from the heart with every client. The hair washes are transformative experiences where your scalp is massaged so gently that you may fall asleep. A rarity.

Where’s the party

The whole world talks about Clarke Quay. An old college friend asked us to take a cab and come over instead to Ang Siang in Chinatown for dinner. I was meeting him after 20 odd years. The Sikh cab driver who was third generation Singaporean said that Jaggis Parathas was the place to try some authentic dhaba kind food.

My friend walked us around the buzzing streets, which were akin to my memories of a walk down Mayfair street in London (many years ago). Office-goers, still in their formals, sipping sundowners and spilling out into the sidewalks. Bursts of relaxed laughter and chatter that preludes the joy of a weekend ahead. Once called Qing Shan Ting, today, Ang Siang features elegantly restored shophouses. Hunger pangs stopped the forays.

We chose to eat at Los Primos. Both the food and service are excellent. Despite the calamari and other starters, we shamelessly scraped the bottom of the paella dish for the last of the delicious rice laden with succulent prawns, calamari and mussels.

Maybe the best paella in town? Los Primos, Ang Siang

After dinner, we walked down to look at the rest of Chinatown. Closed for business! But I stumbled upon the Chinese Opera Teahouse and decided to save that visit, among other to-do-lists, for the next trip. What lah!

The Chinese Opera Tea House, Singapore

The Chinese Opera Tea House, Singapore

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Posted by on June 27, 2013 in Art, Foodie reviews, Travel

 

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Bridging the generation gap – a tale from Fujairah, UAE

Bridging the generation gap – a tale from Fujairah, UAE


The stone house in the mountains is a stark contrast to the village dotted with modern villas. The white graffiti on a wall says Amna in Arabic and Suzuki in English.
Last year, I had gone to stay with my Emirati friend Amna, who is from the Asmah village in Fujairah. Her family has always welcomed me with open arms on my sporadic visits — making it an extended home in the UAE. The trip has always involved a leisurely drive through the village and mountains — to their farms and other areas. Till then, I had not seen this stone home — just farms full of lettuce, parsley, papayas, roses and many other fruits and vegetables (sometimes oranges). When asked if it was abandoned, I was told that this was the home of a relative, Amna Khamis Ahmed Alshehyari, an 88-year-old woman who chooses to live here during the daytime. Despite her children’s numerous pleas and requests, she will agree to stay in their modern homes only for the night. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Travel

 

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It is so nice, they had to name it twice – Baden-Baden

It is so nice, they had to name it twice – Baden-Baden


If you are an innately lazy human being, take a horse-drawn carriage to experience the old world charm of Baden-Baden. Else lace up your sneakers and pick from the many tours at the local tourist centre of this beautiful city in Germany, once the summer capital of Europe.

Culture fanatics can follow the music trail to Brahmshaus or choose the novelists’ route to the Dostoyevsky House, which was the Russian writer’s retreat during the summer of 1867 when he incurred colossal losses while gambling at the famed casino. Nature lovers can try the ‘With the Gardener in the Park’ tour or pay one euro and walk into the Rose Garden on Beutig Hill, open daily from June to September. Or visit the Fabergé Museum, which opened in May 2009 and holds the last Fabergé egg ever made.  Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Travel

 

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Jazirah Aviation Club – my first microlight flight in UAE


Saw a microlight plane whizzing past as I was returning from a trip to Ras Al Khaimah over the Eid holidays.. On a lark, I drive down the dirt road and sign up for a 15 mins chakkar at the Jazirah Aviation Club, which has all the necessary government approvals. Heart thudding. Thought of running back to the safe confines of the car… After all, I did not know how to swim.  And sea was very much a part of this trip.

But having forced my friend to sign up, my gargantuan ego forced me to sit smiling and examine the grey sky with what they call studied casualness. Ask for mint and sat ruminating on life, the universe and other random incidents.. We both choose the yellow planes. The control room said that there was a 30 percent chance of a storm alert.. Did I make a mistake? A group of five men are studying the brochures in the reception and debating whether to sign up..

Moi strapped down

sona option 3

Now there was no going back. I strap up.. The pilot says that the engine oil needs to warm up to above 50 degrees. I nod. He explains how the control panel works. I nod. Through the headphones, I can hear the control room conversations and his cheerful attempts to infuse me with some courage. But I am praying… So much for fantasies of flight while reading Richard Bach and St Exupery..

Friend ahoy…

And we take off..  The earth slowly drops away. Vast expanse of sky all around and blue waters below. Air comes whooshing in from two small holes on the side. This is not an Emirates Airlines flight insulating me from the sky – with a small window showing me pretty clouds. This is a microlight that leaves me defenseless, exhilarated and suddenly aware that I need to start taking pictures and ignore the mild fearful twinges in my solar plexus.. I take the lens off my Nikon D60, which as you can see is a great camera considering I am an amateur photographer..

I steady my hand and understand the problems of photographers taking aerial shots. My pilot is describing the projects below. Their names. Wasted. Trying to be many things but the mind blanks and only the photographer in me remains.

He asks if I want to see some stunts. That is when I tell him in one outburst that I did not plan on this trip, I did have a huge breakfast an hour ago and to save that rush for the next trip when I would come back with just a slice of toast in moi..  and that’s that. Phew..  He laughs and shows me how to use the controls.. Even scarier. One of the most scariest things in my life and yet.. I did not want to stop.. tilted to the left, right, upwards and then nose-dived and he asked to go it solo… that was short though time seemed to slow down and I asked him to take over..

The sea never looked so emerald

Vistas unfold.. projects, luxury villas, protected areas… RAK Free Zone.. The mind tries to grab at some anchor but the ground is far, far away…

The Ras Al Khaimah Government has protected this stretch

15 mins later I experience the smoothest landing..  The five men are still  looking at their brochures and ignore us.. Pointedly. I try to give them an encouraging smile but know just how they feel. And stagger back to the car with my friend.. knowing I will be back..  A five year old kid sits howling in the carpark.  With the storm brewing in the sky, the parents are reluctant to send him up alone with just the pilot.. And microlights seat only two.. Mind it..

The Jazirah Aviation Club

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2011 in Travel

 

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