Fourteen years ago, the first time I came to Singapore, I came away thinking Singapore was really nice but really boring. I loved Singapore Airlines; I loved the food, and thought the city was like Disneyland because the streets were so clean. Well, the streets are still really clean, I still love the food and the airline but there is whole lot more going on in Singapore than there used to be.
Over the last fourteen years Singapore has gone through a transformation so to speak. They have evolved from trying to establish themselves as the “Asian Tiger” nation and a regional economic power. They have come full circle and are really branching out and aiming for tourism dollars.
A lot of places say they are focusing on tourism, especially in Asia, but Singapore is really doing something about it. They are building things and places that make people want to come to Singapore. It used to be I would fly through Singapore to get somewhere else and if I had to spend a night I would. Now I want to go back to Singapore because there is a lot to do. Even though I’ve been there over a dozen times, there is still much I haven’t done.
A few years ago Singapore decided to allow gambling to compete for the tourism dollar with Macau. If these casinos didn’t go to Singapore they would have gone somewhere else so it was the right move. The Chinese are big gamblers and the lure of new and exciting casinos is a big draw to them. It’s also a draw to other nationalities, including Americans.
For me, a casino alone isn’t enough to draw me in but attached to a building like the Marina Bay Sands then we’ve got something. Just look at this building above, it looks fake in person and still looks fake in pictures. It’s one of those buildings you just stare at in awe.
The Marina Bay Sands is the most noticeable part of the new Marina Bay district that Singapore is really developing into an environmentally friendly, cool place to be. The centerpiece though, is the Gardens by the Bay.
Gardens by the Bay occupies about 250 acres of prime real estate, right on the water and close to the Marina Bay Sands. Singapore is touting Gardens by the Bay to be the “Central Park” of Asia. It is an integral part of their “City in a Garden” vision that they are launching. The goal is to transform Marina Bay into Singapore’s new downtown, with the garden as the centerpiece of the integrated residential, business and entertainment facilities.
I took a tour of Gardens by the Bay and I have to say I was really impressed. I actually went into it thinking it was going to be boring and not something I would like but I was definitely wrong. It is really cool.
The complex houses two domed conservatories. One is called the flower dome and the other is called the cloud forest. Ironically prince William and Duchess Kate were there visiting just a few weeks ago.
The flower dome houses flowers and trees as it sounds like but it is done in a cool way and is very pleasing to the eye. The cloud forest was awesome though. There is a massive man made waterfall in the conservatory and there is a sky bridge that you can walk around and get views of the complex. The temperature is also pre-set so it’s actually pretty cool; which is a nice way to escape the Singapore heat.
The other unique aspect of the gardens complex is the super-trees. These funky looking structures look like trees but perform a variety of functions. They are environmental engines for the garden and they hold a variety of different species of plants within them. They also have a sky bridge; which is over 100 feet tall, that offers you amazing views of the entire complex and the Marina Bay Sands right next door. It’s a great spot to check out.
Marina Bay is just one area of Singapore that is developing rapidly into a tourist hotspot. Sentosa Island has long been the epicenter of Singapore tourism. Even Sentosa has outdone itself in recent years with hip hotels, a casino, theme parks, bright lights and every chain restaurant you can think of.
Of course there are still the cultural neighborhoods like Chinatown, Little India and the Arab Quarter but there are also new up and coming neighborhoods in Singapore that are worth checking out. Have a look at Dempsey Hill, Yong Siak Street, Duxton Hill and Tiong Bahru next time you’re in Singapore. They’ve got a little bit of an edge to them, a little Williamsburg, Brooklyn if you will.
Though much has changed, the basics still remain the same in Singapore. It is still clean, there is still zero tolerance for crime and it may be the world’s safest city. It has also become one of the world’s great cities. Just look at this view from my room at the Ritz-Carlton of the Marina Bay Sands and downtown. It is as spectacular as it looks.
If you’ve never been to Singapore, what are you waiting for? If you’ve been there before and had a so-so opinion of it-take a few days there the next time you’re in Southeast Asia, trust me, you’ll love what it’s become and is becoming.