As one of the world’s busiest stopover hubs, Singapore has big ambitions. Chris Wiltshire says it’s worth sticking around for a few days in the island city-state
Huge swathes of lush vegetation stretch out before me as part of a staggering one-billion-dollar project to turn the ‘Red Dot’ from a garden city into a City In A Garden.
After a 13-hour flight from the UK, I am immediately struck by the beauty of the iconic rain trees that line the East Coast Parkway, like giant umbrellas offering shelter to passers-by.
The best view is from the SkyPark Observation Deck at the top of the iconic 55-storey Marina Bay Sands hotel complex, where guests splash about in one of the world’s most photographed infinity pools.
Those with deep pockets can indulge in modern Asian cuisine at the renowned Ce La Vi restaurant and savour the 360-degree panoramic view of the city’s skyline and Straits of Singapore.
It is said Singaporeans live to eat, rather than eat to live, with food something of a national obsession.
The cuisine is truly diverse, with strong influences from the Malays, Chinese, Indonesians and Indians, who arrived in large numbers when the country gained independence from Malaysia in 1965.
Every evening the drone of commuter traffic subsides in the centre of town and tables and chairs are hastily arranged outside hawker centres. The aroma of sizzling satay chicken and prawns fills the clammy night air and ‘Tiger Beer’ girls bark out drinks orders. Lau Pa Sat is considered the best, having been in operation since the 1800s, and is a must visit.
My trips to Singapore’s Chinatown and Little India also had the taste buds salivating, and I loved the vibe at the Middle East restaurant, Artichoke.
But the meal of the week - and easily among the top 10 of my life - was at the Peranakan family-run restaurant Candlenut in New Bridge Road. Imagine a perfectly-formed medley of your favourite Chinese food with the spicy flavours of an Indian curry, washed down by a very agreeable white wine. Simply heaven.
My memorable day was topped off with a trip through the modern-day skyscrapers to that old colonial architectural gem, Raffles Hotel.
An overnight stay in one of the luxurious five-star suites would have blown the budget, so I settled for a Singapore Sling in the iconic Long Bar - a throwback to a bygone age with teak furniture and opulent fittings - even if I did almost choke when the bill arrived - £17 a glass.
My travel guide, Toon Teng, certainly enjoyed scattering his peanut shells on the tiled floor, seeing as it is one of the few places in the city where he could happily throw litter without incurring a £1,000 fine. In fact, it’s tradition here.
The next day, we made our way to Singapore’s playground, Sentosa Island, for an afternoon of R and R, reaching the man-made beach and Disney-type theme parks in style via the new cable car sky network.
It was worth the £16 cost of a pass to see the dozens of enormous ships from around the world heading for the port and harbour.
After an agreeable meal at the Tanjong Beach Club, I made my way for a spot of people watching at the upmarket Sentosa Cove resort, where Tom Cruise is said to have splashed out millions on a waterside bungalow.For those who like to strut their stuff wearing the latest beachwear and listening to high-decibel music, the Splash & Dash pool party at the smart W Hotel must seem like utopia.
There was a time when I would have been among them, but I was more inclined to head to Marina Bay to watch the following day’s Singapore Grand Prix practise with a cool beer in hand.
I’m no petrol head, but there’s something magical about seeing the world’s fastest drivers tear around the street circuit at night, their immaculate Formula One cars gleaming under the floodlights.
And I’m looking forward to returning one day to watch top-level sport at the wonderful new 1.8 billion dollar national stadium.
Judging by how ambitious the country is, it could even be for an Olympics or a FIFA World Cup final.