Luminous pink and purple triffid-like sculptures loom over us as the Singapore skyline turns inky black with the clouds of an impending storm. We’re at the Gardens by the Bay, the Southeast Asian island’s version of the Eden Project, and there’s a definite carnival atmosphere in the balmy evening air as local people and tourists alike gaze up in wonder, waiting for the Marina Bay Hotel’s evening laser display to begin.
Singapore, which celebrated 50 years since independence in 2015, has often, unfairly, been regarded as the city-state you stop at for a night or two on your way to Australia or New Zealand; but it actually becomes more interesting the closer you look at it. Yes, it’s as spotlessly clean as you imagine it will be (this is the place that banned chewing gum, after all).
But staying here for a few days before we set sail on our Princess Cruises Southeast Asia voyage also gives us the opportunity to discover its thriving cosmopolitan culture.
We spend a whole morning in Little India, with its vibrantly painted shops selling everything from spices to gold and saris, and the Sri Veeramakaliamman temple, decorated with intricate carvings. We also visit a Chinese indoor market (although this is probably one of the cleanest markets I’ve ever been to, there’s still plenty to look at, including orchids in every conceivable colour).
It’s at night though that Singapore really comes into its own, when the temperature has dropped enough to take the edge off the heat. We have cocktails at the Marina Bay Hotel, with its spectacular city views, and at a bar on the river (there are lots to choose from). Singapore has a thriving culinary scene, and we also eat some extraordinarily good meals, including dinner at the Tippling Club, run by celebrity chef Ryan Clift.
A visit to Raffles for a Singapore Sling is a must (although the version served on board our Singapore Airlines flights is actually better). But it’s still interesting to see the iconic hotel, with its colonial architecture and impressive history.
Our resort, the Sofitel Singapore Sentosa, is on the island of Sentosa with its lush tropical greenery and spectacular sea views. Every detail of the hotel is exacting – the splendid lobby, a large swimming pool, fabulous buffet breakfast eaten with glorious views of the bay and in the company of free-roaming peacocks; and the delectable afternoon tea – including macaroons and tiny gateaux served in precious mini-wardrobes.
When the time comes to embark on our cruise to Vietnam, it’s fair to say we’ve all fallen a little in love with Singapore, but the next stage of our Southeast Asian adventure is about to begin.