Birthday Excursion: Singapore

by - December 09, 2013

Christmas at the Raffles Hotel, Singapore
The Fullerton Hotel and Downtown Singapore
The family visit to East Asia had been split equally between Hong Kong and Singapore. Having been able to visit Singapore a few years back I gave them a headstart to visit the sites that I had already visited and turned up in the early hours of my 22nd birthday to our hotel on the edge of Chinatown - The Duxton.  The grandparents were in bed by the time I arrived so we saved the celebrations until the next morning over breakfast at the hotel.  The main event of the day was to be ‘afternoon tea’ at the Raffles Hotel, arguably one of the most well known hotels in Asia and named after Sir Stamford Raffles who founded Singapore in the 19th century and is revered enough to have hospitals, roads, squares, schools and the hotel named after him.  In the morning we wandered around downtown Singapore which is very clean cut and new looking, while at the same time preserving a whole lot more of its colonial heritage than Hong Kong.  This gives a beautiful contrast of steel and glass with marble and, as my Grandad put nicely, makes Singapore seem more sophisticated than Hong Kong.

Sir Stamford Raffles and the CBD
Our first stop was 'Merlion Park’, a small park at the mouth of the Singapore River which is dedicated to the new national symbol of Singapore - a combination of lion and fish.  The park has great views in all directions, particularly over to the new 'Marina Bay Sands’ casino complex which is the newest area of development in the city.  We walked around the harbour and the CBD along from where the Singapore River reaches the sea and where Raffles landed for the first time.  A statue marks the point outside what is now the Asian Civilizations Museum.  I have now walked past this museum twice without going in and it is on the long list of things I still need to do in Singapore.
Afternoon Tea
Having made our way around the city centre at a leisurely pace we walked back through the CBD towards Chinatown and our hotel where we got into our nice clothes and spent the afternoon at the Raffles Hotel having afternoon tea.  It arguably goes without saying, but it was a fantastic afternoon and the service was superb - having heard that it was my birthday they provided a complementary cake.  The tea was combined with a big selection of all you can eat sandwiches, dim sum food and cakes which we made our way through slowly for a few hours.  The hotel is a massive complex with a range of bars, restaurants and shops so after tea we were able to just wander around for a while, looking in the gift shop and the billiard room and having a bit of a photoshoot in front of the beautiful Christmas tree in the hotel lobby.  By now we were suffering from cake exhaustion so got cabs back to the hotel (Singapore taxis aren’t willing to let five squeeze in a cab like in Hong Kong).  In the evening we headed to the edge of Chinatown to one of the local bars for a birthday drink with some satay skewers.

Buddhist Tooth Relic Temple
The next morning we explored Chinatown a bit, looking inside the 'Buddhist Tooth Relic Temple’, a holy temple which supposedly contains one of the Buddha’s teeth.  I remembered from my last trip that there was a great museum in the temple which explained the beliefs, traditions and origins of the Buddhist religion which was well worth an hour or so.  I had done Chinatown last time and the others had spent the few days before my arrival doing the same, so in true Singaporean fashion we soon headed for one of the 'hawker centres’, the world famous food centres where stalls set up around the edge of a large covered hall, allowing diners to choose their food from different stalls before sitting down in the centre. We amusingly came across an Austrian man who had set up a German sausage stall which he declared was the 'last sausage stall before the equator’.  With the equator being only 16 miles to the south, he might be right and we decided it would be nice to have something a bit different.

Kampong Glam
Our afternoon plan (the last of the holiday) was to visit 'Kampong Glam’, an area of the city which is heavily influenced by Islamic and Middle Eastern culture.  The focal point of the district is the Sultan Mosque, situated next door to the old Malay Sultan’s Palace. The palace is now the Malay Heritage Centre, a museum that talks about the origins and current status of Malay people which is well worth an hour or so.  As with all museums that I have visited in Singapore (and I’m sure with the ones that I haven’t yet) the museum has obviously had a lot of money spent on it and is wonderfully interactively presented.  The Sultan was allowed to retain his authority under the British and the mosque was actually designed by Scottish architects and funded by the East India Company.  The Middle Eastern influence is obvious in the road names - Baghdad Street, Arab Street and Muscat Street are all present.  The area is made up of beautifully restored shops and restaurants selling a combination of traditional Islamic, Malay and Arabic souvenirs and serving their native food (my favourite in the whole world).  After dinner at a Turkish restaurant we headed back to my hotel in Bencoolen where I set farewell to the family who were heading back to London, while I was to spend another night before my flight back to Hong Kong in the morning.
Malay Heritage Centre with locals dress in traditional Malay costume
Sultan Mosque, Kampong Glam

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