Lion city sheds its shackles at night
The first thing that hits you about Singapore, especially when travelling from the aridity of the Gulf, is the lush greenery.
The island city is situated almost on the equator and gets its fair share of monsoon-type rain, while remaining at a constant temperature all year round.
The result is a gardener's paradise, with exuberant blossoms and verdure everywhere. It's quite a change from the desert, and a welcome one. The downside is that humidity is high virtually all year.
Singapore's architecture, seen on the 20-minute taxi ride from Changi Airport to the central business district, symbolises its history as a Chinese settlement, with a British colonial heritage, turned 21st century commercial and financial hub. Ornate Chinese buildings nestle beside English Home Counties-style houses next to glass-and-steel skyscrapers.
The name means "Lion City" in the Malay language, and lions - or at least statuesque representations of them sometimes with a fish-tail (the "merlion") - are everywhere.
It is the second most densely populated country in the world, after Monaco, but despite this people-crush Singapore still manages to preserve open spaces, parks and gardens. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in the middle of the island is the last of the primary rain forest that used to cover it.
The rough rule of thumb is industry to the east and west, commercial and residential in the centre; the south of the island, looking across to Indonesia, now has two big leisure resorts at Sentosa and Marina Bay.
There are international-standard hotels aplenty on the island, with all the big chains represented there. Many are located strategically around the main thoroughfare of Orchard Road, a mixture of hotels, malls, restaurants and smaller retailers. There is some expensive high-rise accommodation on the avenues and boulevards running off the main road.
Night life is vibrant. The city used to have a reputation for being heavily regimented and controlled, but during the evening Singaporeans seem to throw off the image of dourness in a hubbub of outdoor street restaurants, bars and cafes.
The area around Orchard Towers, a multi-storey retail and leisure development, is particularly lively.
The Quote: "The city of Singapore was invented by a man who said ‘here is where we must have a city, half way between India and China." Author JG Farrell
Published: August 8, 2011 04:00 AM