By: Chad Merchant
Singapore is a fascinating place. It’s a country that’s also a city, and a city that’s also an island. Singapore is famously draped in concrete, steel, mirrored glass, and countless thousands of escalators, yet it still maintains a startlingly lush canopy of trees and an abundance of flora. Economically, it punches far, far above its weight class, outpacing every country in the region despite its diminutive size. The city-state is legendary for its cleanliness and efficiency, but also routinely derided for its soullessness and artificiality. However, if you look beneath the gleaming skyscrapers and modern convenience and efficiency, there’s another side to Singapore, one rich with heritage, culture, and tales to tell.
Despite its small size, Singapore offers visitors a variety of experiences. If you want a throwback visit to the past, the charming neighbourhood of Katong retains a great deal of its Straits Settlements heritage, a wonderful mix of Peranakan, Western, and Malay shops and restaurants. The Joo Chiat area in particular showcases a lovely blend of Chinese, Peranakan, Colonial English, and modern Singaporean architecture, so much so that it’s been named a National Heritage Conservation area by the government.
Of course, if it’s ultra-modern and chic you want, Singapore has this in excess. The entire south-central part of the island is a magnet for shiny skyscrapers, contemporary dining, shopping on a dizzying scale, and all the comforts and pleasures of 21st-century living. But it’s not all concrete and steel. Singapore embraces its tropical location, and though virtually all the gardens and parks are managed and landscaped, there’s still sufficient green space for the city’s residents to cool their heels from time to time.
WHAT TO DO, WHERE TO STAY
One such modern marvel that almost defies description is the impressive Gardens by the Bay, a lush 101-hectare park built on reclaimed land and opened in 2012. Two sizeable conservatories – Flower Dome and Cloud Forest – are complemented by a sprawling open-air park dotted with various gardens and dominated by the Supertree Grove, a collection of 18 tree-like structures that are both visually arresting and environmentally useful. The supertrees range in height from 25 to 50 metres, comprising a concrete core and steel frame, planting panels, and a wide-arcing ‘canopy’ topping the structure. The supertrees overlook the entire park and, along with the vast domed conservatories, are its most iconic elements.
Strolling the magnificently landscaped gardens is free of charge (though entrance to the conservatories is not), and Gardens by the Bay is accessed by the nearby Bayfront MRT station. Complimentary attractions and gardens here, enough to easily spend a day exploring, include the Bay East Gardens, the multisensory World of Plants, Dragonfly and Kingfisher Lakes (the former boasting a 440-metre boardwalk), Heritage Gardens, a Children’s Garden, and the Sun Pavilion, comprising a collection of desert- and dryland-dwelling plants. As Singapore’s showcase park development, a paradoxical manmade wonder of nature, Gardens by the Bay offers plenty of enjoyment for adults and children alike.
One of the most appealing places to stay in Singapore is its heritage-rich hotel, The Fullerton. Built in 1928, the hotel is a magnificent monument to neoclassicism, an enclave of sophistication and luxury from a bygone era. At the time of its construction, The Fullerton Building was the centre of Singapore’s commercial, social and official life. It was once home to the nation’s General Post Office, The Exchange, Chamber of Commerce, and The Singapore Club – all of which played pivotal roles in the history of Singapore. The Fullerton Building began a new chapter in its illustrious history with an S$400 million restoration into Singapore’s landmark hotel, The Fullerton Hotel Singapore, in 2001 and has been formally gazetted as the city’s 71st National Monument.
These days, The Fullerton Hotel is not only an icon of the city, but a perfect blend of Singaporean heritage fused with modern comfort and convenience. The hotel’s interior designers, Hirsch Bedner and Associates, have truly crafted a style of décor that while contemporary and stylish, never seeks to banish the building’s heritage and classic design from its past. The beauty and elegance of the public spaces translates seamlessly to the hotel’s guestrooms and suites, with streamlined fittings gracing the bathrooms, and sumptuous neutral colour palettes inviting relaxation and reflection. State-of-the-art features and complimentary broadband connectivity provide guests with high-speed Internet access. The building’s heritage and classic architecture make it eminently suited as a grand hotel. With distinguished Doric columns and monumental porte cocheres, The Fullerton Hotel represents the height of Palladian architecture in Singapore: indeed, only two other buildings in the city share the same architectural grandeur – City Hall and the Supreme Court.
Service at The Fullerton Hotel is uniformly excellent, from the airport limo pick-up to every point of contact once at the property. We especially enjoyed the elegant Straits Club, a luxuriously appointed enclave of refined service and comfort. Guests in Straits Club rooms or suites enjoy access to the Club, inclusive of daily Champagne breakfast, afternoon tea, and evening cocktails. Moreover, the Straits Club package includes full internet connectivity, laundry pressing services, and the use of a handy phone with unlimited local mobile data and IDD calls to 15 countries, which can be used throughout Singapore. We really appreciated this convenience!
The Fullerton Spa is an indulgence not to be missed. We luxuriated in a 90-minute Asian Heritage Signature treatment that drew upon a holistic approach and a range of massage techniques to melt away stress, invigorate the senses, and detoxify and energise the body and spirit. Highly recommended, and an ideal way to fully appreciate the refined elegance available at The Fullerton Hotel.
Today, Singapore continues to cleverly manoeuvre its way in the world of international trade, business, and entertainment. A significant part of its success is owed to its government’s pro-industrialisation policies and excellence-oriented, multi-ethnic people. It comes as no surprise then the country continues to establish itself as Southeast Asia’s financial and high-tech hub, with lifestyle and fashion fast becoming a part of its national repertoire. And apart from the commerce and business sides, Singapore is an excellent – albeit admittedly expensive – leisure travel destination, too. Apart from the beckoning malls and sparkling lights of the well-known Orchard Road, there are many other places to visit and experience here, too. So explore a bit. Book a comfortable room at the grand and elegant Fullerton Hotel, visit the incredible Gardens by the Bay, and step out in the Lion City – a place where colonial heritage and multiculturalism flourish side by side with unparalleled botanic experiences, all nestled within a uniquely modern, world-class city-state.