Singapore Stopover: a reasonable Far East luxury break

by GelS

Having visited Singapore on business in the past, I wanted to revisit to see if anything had changed. I was pleased to discover that standards were still high with plenty of bargains to be found.

My wife Trish and I were planning a trip to Sydney to stay with her sister and family for a few weeks. I suggested we stop in Singapore to break the journey and see how the place had changed since my regular trips there on business.

How to get around

By far the best way to get around Singapore is the air conditioned MRT underground train system that costs around 10 per cent of the equivalent journey by taxi (note that taxis are only allowed to stop when hailed - touting is illegal and 'guided tours' often include a 'friend's' jewellery showroom; so it's best to firmly say 'no thanks' and walk away).

Where to stay

Singapore has some of the best hotels around, with levels of comfort and service most of us dream of, and the Grand Copthorne Waterfront was up there with some of the best I used when I was on business. It is situated on the bank of the Singapore River, with a terrace where you can sit and watch the locals jog past as you sip a cold Tiger beer or cocktail. The rejuvenated Clarke Quay area, where godowns (warehouses) have been transformed into bars and restaurants popular with locals and expats, is within easy walking distance along the river path used by the joggers.

Where to eat

Do try a fish head curry at one of the two Banana Leaf restaurants in Racecourse Road (owned by competing brothers and serving huge fish heads to discerning locals and businessmen using a piece of banana leaf as the plate). The taxi drivers will know the places well. It’s a far better meal than the name implies and was a regular lunchtime pleasure for me on sales trips - equally, the Newton Circus Hawker Centre is an experience in itself; but be aware this is one of the few places credit cards are not accepted, so you need a few dollars in cash. Order from the stalls, give your table number and your repast will arrive from different directions in no time at all. Evening temperatures of 24C are perfect for an al fresco culinary delight. The Curry Laksa (a spicy noodle soup with chicken and seafood) in The Copthorne’s coffee shop was one of the best I have had and came with a 50% discount because we were on the stopover package.

Where to shop

Singapore is famous as a shopping destination and it has many bargains to be found in electronics shops in the many malls, though haggling is needed to get good prices at most shops (except for the few fixed price ones). If you plan on updating your camera or whatever, it is best to do research at home into the model you want and what it costs where you live. You should also be aware that the prices you negotiate in Singapore will probably be based on a cash basis and charges will be made for the use of a credit card - ask first and say how you intend paying (the charge varies according to what type of card you use). I always found the prices at the excellent Changi Airport Duty Free shops were a bit higher than I could negotiate in town.

Things to see

Singapore Zoo is, I think, one of the best in the world, with the more aggressive animals kept back by walls and water ditches - we saw white tigers, baboons (to which we threw food at the encouragement of the keepers) and a variety of other special animals with no cages to get in the way of the view and photos. There is a free road train running round the zoo if you find walking in the humidity a bit taxing and there are always plenty of taxis waiting to take you home.

We took advantage of the discount voucher in the stopover package to do a comfortable river boat tour that allowed excellent visibility of the Marina Bay hotels, finance district high towers, the ‘Durian’ Performing Arts Centre (built since my business trips there and a most impressive building) and the iconic Merlion (the boat is probably the best way to see the statue/fountain).

Clean as a whistle

Singapore is one of the cleanest cities in SE Asia I have ever seen, though a trip to Chinatown (deemed of historical significance years ago) and its interesting shop-houses gives a colourful reminder of what Singapore was like before it became a modern city - Little India also offers the most colourful buildings and temples you are likely to see, with little shops still selling spices and food in the side streets that could be in India itself.  Don't forget the camera!

A return to any favourite destination is always a potential disappointment, though Singapore came up trumps despite the many changes since our last visit. Singapore Airlines continue to outshine other airlines for service and in-flight entertainment, with the new T3 at Changi Airport proving that the high standards at the older terminals have not been forgotten; it’s probably one of the most efficient airports in the world from the passenger’s point of view. Apart from the other factors mentioned, Singapore has the significant advantage of having English spoken to a high standard almost everywhere, making it one of the easiest SE Asian experiences in the world.