TRAVEL: Raffles PRIZE; SINGAPORE'S COCKTAIL OF CULTURES.
Mrs Julie Robinson, by email
A DESPITE Singapore's glossy high-rise image there are still plenty of open spaces on the island. Within 20 minutes of the bustling city centre you can find yourself among lush tropical rainforest teeming with exotic birds and macaque monkeys.
And the weather? Well, temperatures rarely drop below 21C (70F), even at night. The rainy season is technically between November and January, but even then there's plenty of sunshine between the showers.
Rare among Asian cities, Singapore has invested a fortune in public transport.
The MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) is a comprehensive, clean, air-conditioned underground system which covers most of the island's built-up areas. Buses are a good way to get around, too.
You can buy a tourist day ticket from any MRT station, which gives you 12 rides on either the MRT or buses for 10 Singaporean dollars (there are currently S$3 to the pound).
Another good bet is to buy a ticket for the SIA hop-on tourist bus (pounds 1.60), which does a circular tour of Orchard Road, the Colonial District, Chinatown and the Botanic Gardens every 30 minutes. You can buy this at your hotel.
Singapore is unique in that you can get a taste of most Asian cultures - and Britain's colonial legacy - within a fairly small area.
When Sir Stamford Raffles - the then British governor of Java - arrived in Singapore in 1819 to secure the island as a trade route, he split the swampy, tiger-infested island up into various districts, bringing in workers and tradespeople from all over India and the Far East. (Raffles acquired a reputation as a rake, but in fact he vehemently opposed slavery and respected the customs and religions of those who settled in Singapore.)
These districts more or less survive and are easy to get around. From the colonial district, now mainly known as the Central Business District, with its old government buildings and leafy parks, it is just a short walk to the narrow, bustling streets of Chinatown. Across the river around Serangoon Road lies Little India, packed with shops selling brightlycoloured materials and spices. A lunchtime curry here is a must. The predominantly Muslim District centres around nearby Arab Street.
Singapore isn't all high-rise and back-to-back housing. Take a trip to the zoo at Mandai Lake Road in the north of the island (pounds 4 adults, half-price children) and you can take high tea with an orang-utan. There is also a night safari attached to the zoo (pounds 5 adults, half-price for children) where you can see the nocturnal antics of more than 1,200 animals.
The 120-acre Botanic Gardens (admission pounds 1) off Orchard Road are also worth a visit, particularly for the National Orchid Garden, with the world's largest collection of orchids.
Take a hike up Fort Canning Hill for a good overview of the city. The fort at the top is a former barracks which has been converted into the Singapore Dance Theatre.
Nearby is the Battle Box (admission pounds 2.50), which was the allied forces' HQ during the Second World War until the island fell to the Japanese.
If you fancy a dip in the sea, take the cable car from Mount Faber across to Sentosa Island (about pounds 2.50). You'll pay another pounds 2 entrance fee to the island which has a free monorail, a pleasant manmade beach and loads of themed attractions. These may not particularly interest couples without kids, but the best of these is Fantasy Island, with more than 40 water rides.
Changi, on the east coast of the island, is also worth a visit. It is the site of the notorious prison where allied troops and civilians were tortured, starved or executed by the Japanese. A visit to the museum and chapel in Upper Changi Road is often moving.
For eating and drinking try the bars and clubs along Boat Quay. Kick off at Harry's for happy hour, then move on to Penny Black English pub.
You can get a great curry in the Little India Arcade, on Serangoon Road, which has stalls and cafes where Indians, Pakistanis and Sri Lankan workers come for their Sunday evening nosh. In fact, because of its multi-cultural heritage, Singapore caters for every taste. Chinatown is noodle city, while any of the restaurants along the river bank at Boat Quay and Clarke Quay make great outdoor eating venues.
Try a Singapore Sling, a cocktail of gin, cherry brandy and cointreau invented by a Raffles barman in 1915. Drink it in the hotel's Long Bar.
Shopping is good and the prices are half that of the UK. Hit the large malls in the CBD district for clothes. Raffles City is one of the best.
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TOURIST DRAW: Raffles Hotel and its Singapore Sling cocktail' CURRY HEAVEN: Temple in Little India district
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Dec 30, 2006|
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