Sunday, December 27, 2009

Nov-Dec 2009 Holiday Chronicle – The Runaway Singapore

The 44-day school holiday which started on 20th November is nearing its end, with just a week more to go. So far, we managed to cram in a few travel activities in the year end holiday programme, including a visit to the roaring Lion City down south.

Singapore is one of the two cities in South East Asia which are featured in John Julius Norwich’s The Great Cities in History. We spent five days there recently and saw first hand how the city-state is seriously transforming itself into a dazzling megapolis. The scenic Marina Bay along the Singapore River is set to sparkle even more when new glittering skyscrapers with sweeping one-hectare SkyPark are completed in a new integrated resort (IR) being developed by casino giant, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. A slew of new generation botanical gardens by the bay will leave many tourists and business visitors especially from the Middle East green with envy. The first Youth Olympic Games to be held in August 2010 will herald the brand new bewitching Marina Bay.

During the first three days, Papa had important business to attend to. After it was over, we all moved out from the posh hotel in Orchard Road to a delightful little hotel in Little India. And Papa spent the whole time with us exploring the city-state in the remaining days. Without a doubt, the Singapore Government leaves no stones unturned in making sure tourists are well looked after during their stay here. The guides who are tasked to make tourists feel welcome go about their jobs with enthusiastic aplomb every single second.

Papa raves about the hip hotel in Perak Road as it provides ample reading material and is adorned with simple and tasteful décor and an array of objets de art. While the rest of us were soundly asleep, he woke up early to have a quiet and solitude moment, enjoying breakfast while leafing through assorted travel magazines including CNN Traveller, Conde Nast Traveler and our own Travel3Sixty. We joined him several hours later and by then the other hotel residents had occupied most of the Peranakan-style dining tables.

To maximise the sightseeing opportunities, we bought the Singapore Pass which entitled us to an unlimited ride on the open-top double decker bus which stops at all the major city attractions and the heritage sites including Suntec City, Botanical Gardens, Raffles Hotel and the Esplanade (aka the Durians) - the theatres on the bay with its signature spikey domes, inspired by microphone top instead of the affectionate King of the fruits. The Singapore Pass also gives us free entrance to a slew of museums including the ACM, free cruise down the Singapore River on an authentic bumboat, free ride on the Singapore Flyer Ferris Wheel and the one of a kind Singapore Ducktours boat-on-wheels experience.

"Our" favourite makan and lepak area is Kampong Glam. Although Gelam is a tree, it is perfectly proper to associate Kampong Glam with a glamorous Malay Village. Any visitors who walk around the Arab Quarter in Kampong Glam are almost certain to be mesmerised by the trendy cafes, designer and assorted bric-a-brac shops teeming with ingenuity and flair along Haji Lane, Arab Street and Bussorah Street which are bookended by the alluring Masjid Sultan. My sister adores the nasi lemak at the alfresco Kampong Glam Cafe, Mama is particularly fond of the nasi ayam penyet at Hajjah Esah, Papa can spend endless hours sipping latte at Sleepy Sam’s and my brother who is not really a foodie, is perfectly happy just to keep company with his more than two-year old PSP.

In Kampong Glam, they were reacquainted with a Singapore family whom they befriended in Coventry from 1997-2001. Dr Ameen Talib and his wife Fatimah now run a successful café in Arab Street. In fact, Café Le Caire, opened in 2001, is a pioneer in Middle Eastern style café in Singapore, and is mentioned in the International Herald Tribune WEEKEND when we were there. Lonely Planet - Singapore Encounter (First edition, Sept 08, p.92) describes it as an absolute must (well almost):
Blink and you’ll miss it during the day, but at night this alcohol-free Egyptian café becomes a miniature scene, especially at weekends, colonising both sides of the street with tables and rugs, filled with lounging shisha-smokers and eager diners gorging on kebabs and superb dips. A must.

Another unmissable attraction in Kampong Glam is the Malay Heritage Centre. Old film magazines and Bangsawan Opera are among the nostalgic items displayed there. We had our nasi padang lunch at Sabar Menanti, situated along Kandahar Street in the vicinity of the palace belonging to the last Sultan of Singapore. As you can see from my Zzzz (ahem) photos, Kampong Glam seems to be the place where everyone wants to be, except me. TO BE CONTINUED ...