Last week I went to Singapore to attend a conference. As glamorous as that may sound, the practicalities of business travel are always much less fun, and I had to head to the airport at 9pm on the Sunday in order to attend the conference first thing on Monday morning. I can’t usually get more than a short snooze on planes, and so when we landed in Singapore at 5:30am I was already exhausted. Even at 5am the weather was hot and very humid, but fortunately I was to discover that Singapore is not shy of air conditioners, and the real battle was trying to keep warm whilst indoors rather than be baked to a crisp outdoors. We were whisked by bus to an island to the south of the city called Sentosa. This small island has been developed as a tourist destination and features several large hotels, a theme park, a casino and innumerable expensive gift shops and restaurants. I had a room in the Hard Rock Hotel, a destination as gaudy as it was noisy, with a constant soft-rock soundtrack in every public area, but fortunately not in the rooms (although I’d bet money they thought about it). The hotel features a huge outdoor pool area complete with beach made from real, white sand. I made a note to rush back for a swim as soon as possible, dropped off my bags and went straight into the freezing cold conference centre.
Surprisingly, I managed to make it through the first day without falling unconscious during any important speeches (although I did have to take an emergency 40 minute nap between sessions as at one point exhaustion was beginning to make me feel like Natalie Portman in Back Swan). After the business stuff was concluded we were taken away for some team-building fun at a place called MegaZip Adventure Park, an activity centre based around strenuous climbing on an aerial assault course some 40 feet above the ground in 30º heat and 90% humidity – exactly what I’d hoped for after an overnight flight and a full day of conference attendance! Fortunately we were all wearing safety harnesses, so I would have been saved if I accidentally fell asleep whilst blinking as I leapt across a narrow gap in the treetops. The afternoon ended with a trip down to the beach below on a zip-line, almost half a kilometer long. By the time I was clipped onto the cable and shoved off the tower it was dark, it was a very exciting experience, to be swept along at almost 40mph just above the tree tops.
Over the next couple of days all of the conference and evening events were based in or close to the Sentosa resort and I didn’t really think I was getting much of an impression of Singapore. However, on the final evening there was a big party held in an old power station closer to the centre of the city. I left the party early and joined a group of my Japanese colleagues in heading out in search of some food. Near the party venue was a hawker market, which is a collection of stalls selling ‘street food’. It was a wonderful array of dishes and ingredients, most of which were heavily spiced. A couple of my colleagues were rendered silent and watery-eyed after a particularly hot dish of stingray. I played it safer with a huge plate of chicken satay and a bowl of noodle soup with dumplings. It was all delicious and dishes were all priced around 4 Singapore dollars (£2). After this a group of us went on a modest bar crawl and ended up at an open rooftop bar, where we were afforded a great view of the Singapore skyline and the onset of a dramatic thunderstorm.
On the final day I had no more conference events to attend and had a few hours to explore the city before heading to the airport. Much of what I saw of Singapore was quite generic, it was modern and clean with lots of huge shopping centres dominating the downtown area of the city. It all felt like a modern American or Australian city, and it was hard to feel as if it were in South East Aisia, as there is so little to see that could be identified as ‘Asian culture’. Having said that, we did end up in a part of town called ‘Little India’ and that felt very authentic and we had an excellent curry for lunch!
In the afternoon we went to Marina Bay Sands, a modern hotel complex that dominates the harbour area. It is comprised of three massive hotel towers, all linked at roof level by a huge bridging span that sits atop of the whole complex and provides great views across the city. We enjoyed cocktails on the roof, and walked beneath the palm trees that line what must be one of the most spectacular infinity pools in the world. Swimmers can enjoy an uninterrupted view from the invisible edge of the pool at over 50 storeys high.
On the way back to the hotel I visited one of the huge shopping malls and bought a couple of shirts in my size (one benefit of visiting a generic, Westernised city!). At the hotel I finally managed a quick swim in giant pool before heading off to the airport and yet another overnight flight.
Singapore is a really nice city to visit as it’s very safe and modern, has an abundance of nice bars and food options, and has cheap shopping too. However, considering the wealth of diverse countries that surround Singapore, each with its own unique culture, it’s hard to imagine why you’d choose to go there when it’s hard to identify a culture of its own. Great street food though!