South-east Asia's smallest country looks smaller still from 72 floors up. The view from the New Asia Bar puts Singapore in perspective, from its futuristic buildings to its pockets of colonial calm
The lift takes only a few ear-popping seconds to reach the New Asia Bar on the 72nd floor of the Swishotel. As the doors slowly part, you are treated to one of the best views in Southern Asia as Singapore appears to unfold around you. Order a drink and request a table by the window to make the most of it. The floor slopes down slightly to the bar's floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows, to make the vistas even more jaw-dropping. As my beer arrives, I am reliably informed by the waiter that the hotel – at a sky-rocketing 226m – is proud custodian of the dubious title "Sixth-tallest hotel in the world".
From this height, the city looks as if it were lifted from a sci-fi comic book. Skyscrapers, snaking highways and spotless utopian public transport all reflect Singapore’s obsession number one – the future. Flash Gordon could land his ship on the cricket pitch and feel right at home – but, looking down at the new Supreme Court building, you would think the ship had already landed. It is topped by a disk shaped like a flying saucer, which houses the Court of Appeal along with a viewing gallery, entry to which is free. The Supreme Court’s design is perfectly Singaporean – a futuristic re-working of old colonial style.
Close to the flying saucer sit the giant prickly domes of the Esplanade theatre – though, from this height, you might mistake them for mutant tropical fruit. Earlier in the day, I had watched the gardeners and cleaners pruning and polishing down there – this time a reflection of Singapore’s obsession number two: cleanliness. It was wonderfully calm and quiet, with a group of elderly Singaporeans practising tai chi in the cool shade.
Over the bridge, past the Merlion fountain, stands the elegant Fullerton Hotel. Earlier on, I had ducked in here looking for some respite from the sticky heat. The lobby was wonderfully airy and oozed sophisticated charm. At that time in the morning, the aroma of roasting coffee was delicious.
Not far from the Fullerton, across Anderson Bridge, sits the Asian Civilisations Museum and the statue of Singapore’s founding father, Stamford Raffles. Sitting in the New Asia Bar with a drink in my hand, enjoying a bird's eye view of the island, my gut feeling is that he would be pretty happy with the way his master-plan has worked out.
Back on the super-slick MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) metro system, I head back to the colonial quarter with a "Singapore Sling" on my mind. There are a number of bars in the Raffles Hotel where you can order this town’s favourite tipple – though the drink was in fact first mixed in its two-storey Long Bar. At first, a Singapore Sling tastes like a rather cheap mouthwash – but by the third or fourth sip, you are contemplating whether to order another.
Raffles is a truly distinguished hotel. Genteel and elegant, it is as if Somerset Maugham never left. The hotel sits in a calm, palm-filled oasis nestled between high-rise hotels and sprawling malls, and as such is pure Singaporean.
A short walk from Raffles, I find the Suntec City development which epitomises Singapore’s obsession number three – feng shui. At the centre of the development stands the enormous Fountain of Wealth, looking like one of HG Wells’ Martian invaders. It pours a torrent of water down to a large pool below, and is believed to bring prosperity to the tenants. The five buildings in the development have been positioned so as to resemble a cupped hand from above – which, in Singapore, is often the best vantage point.