The mood was festive, the occasion auspicious and the opportunity to return to discover places to visit in Singapore was a God-send. Literally.
Traffic in Singapore — which is celebrating its golden anniversary of independence in 2015 — was still choked, though in an orderly fashion and the streetscape had drastically altered, of course.
The skyline, naturally, was barely recognisable with a proliferation of high-rise buildings, in particular, the attention-grabbing S$8 billion Marina Bay Sands casino resort.
Places to visit in Singapore
Perched 200m above the sea is the one-hectare ‘SkyPark’, which spans the three towers of the hotel.
Described as resembling three cricket stumps and crowned with a boat-shaped deck, the colossal, integrated, five-year-old resort has a huge infinity pool right at the top.
It also has an indoor canal, a museum shaped like a lotus flower, shops and restaurants, theatres, a museum and a casino.
The complex project had challenges, but architect Moshe Safdie’s ingenuity was limitless. He said the design was a “great homage to the sea”: separating the 55-storey hotel into separate buildings in order to avoid forming a wall separating the city from the sea.
In addition to the towers and SkyPark, the resort features the ArtScience Museum in the shape of a lotus flower. Its unique form channels rainwater into a reflecting pool at the building’s lowest level.
SkyPark is longer than the Eiffel Tower and is large enough to park four-and-a-half A380 jumbo jets! Now the mind boggles when you put that into perspective.
Special occasions in Singapore
I had returned to Singapore after nearly 10 years and it was at a propitious time when the Hindu festival — Ganesh Chaturthi — was being held to commemorate the birth anniversary of Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati.
An estimated 9% of Singapore’s 5.3 million population is made up of Indians — and a large number of them were seen shopping in ‘Little India’ which was buzzing with a festive atmosphere.
Serangoon Road, and its many tributaries, was congested with traffic, both human and motorised, as revellers were swept up in the tide of devotion.
Little India was an explosion of hues and the whole area was vibrant with revelry! For atmosphere, it’s one of the best places to visit in Singapore.
Shimmering decorations and lights were in abundance, shops overflowed with people buying various essentials including colourful Ganesh statues in all shapes and sizes, flowers were in great demand, as were sweets, fruits, vegetables, garlands, banana leaves and coconuts.
The festival is observed with piousness — just like in India. Lord Ganesha’s blessings are invoked at most sacred ceremonies, being reminded that He is the God of wisdom and prosperity and the remover of obstacles.
He is the giver of fortune, helping to avoid natural calamities, the one who can remove all impediments to success.
The reverence is uppermost as idols of Ganapati are entrenched in homes and temples and worshipped for 10 days amid chanting of shlokas.
I felt privileged to have been part of the merriment that featured pooja, bhajan and darshan — all of which have left an ineffaceable mark.
Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple — Sri Mariamman — is captivating, not only because of its multi-hued gopuram (entrance tower) in all its kaleidoscopic colour, but also for it’s richly embellished six tiers of sculptured Hindu deities and ornamental decorations.
Located at 244 South Bridge Road, it is an agamic temple, built in the south Indian Dravidian style, produced by skilled craftsmen from the Nagapattinam and Cuddalore districts of Tamil Nadu.
Due to its architectural and historical significance, the temple which was founded in 1827 has been gazetted a national monument.
Celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi took on added significance because the official opening of our hotel — Sofitel So Singapore — coincided with the August festival.
Housed within the iconic former telecommunications building at 35 Robinson Road, Sofitel So Singapore redefines luxury boutique accommodation in the heart of the Lion City.
A swanky blend of culture and cuisine, art and architecture sees a chic Singaporean twist that blends seamlessly with a mix of French elegance.
The hotel was designed by MIAJA Design Group, Singapore’s only French design house, led by award-winning Isabelle Miaja.
Spotted throughout the hotel are ‘The Lion’s Seal’ emblems made especially by fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld.
Stimulating features include a light-filled atrium where lobby guests can view unique works of art, a hexagonal light installation (L’Hexagone), a plush ‘bed-table’ within the functional restaurant and a striking golden-tiled rooftop swimming pool with unsurpassed views of the urban city.
Endless Sightseeing in Singapore
You’ll be spoilt for choice with a seemingly endless list of tourist attractions. If you’re travelling with extended family, Singapore is a versatile destination that caters to family members of all ages, from young children to senior citizens.
However, gaining an insight was not a problem as Sofitel So’s affable and dynamic chief city guru, Xavier Kok, more than capably filled us in on the must-see sites. His observations still reverberate!
Always obliging, nothing was too much trouble; he even went to the bank to exchange foreign currency for us!
On the priority list was a visit to the 8.6-metre-high Merlion statue that “welcomes all visitors” to Singapore.
An imaginary creature sporting the head of a lion and the body of a fish, the Merlion weighing 70 tonnes, is located in Merlion Park, next to One Fullerton, overlooking scenic Marina Bay.
Xavier’s descriptions were apt for all the explored sights. His recommendations for places to visit in Singapore kept me busy.
Singapore Zoo (“make sure you go on a night safari”)
National Museum of Singapore (“presents history in a way that redefines” a conservative museum)
Gardens by the Bay (“this $1 billion superpark, spans 101 hectares, houses over a quarter-of-a-million rare plants”).
Spinning around on the world’s largest observation wheel we “catch a glimpse of Singapore’s past, present and future” onboard the Singapore Flyer
Enjoy the vivid floral displays at the Singapore Botanical Gardens; immerse yourselves “in the movies” at Universal Studios
“Stimulate your brain” with more than 800 interactive rides at the Singapore Science Centre
Visit the transformed Clarke and Boat quays
On the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay is Singapore’s “premier performing arts space”
Take a leisurely cruise on a bumboat along the Singapore River and admire the spectacular view of old colonial buildings, old shop houses with the contrast of Singapore’s modern skyscraper-dotted skyline.
Returning to the sovereign city-state in south-east Asia was akin to stepping back to the future. A wistful journey that placed the spotlight, 137km north of the equator, to a point near the southern tip of the Malaysian Peninsula.
Highly urbanised with consistent expansion through land reclamation (area: 716.1km²), Singapore in a few decades has admirably been transformed from a humble fishing village to a pulsating, exhilarating and inexorably changing metropolis!
Rama Gaind travelled to Singapore at her own expense.
Getting to Singapore
Qantas Holidays has special holiday packages to Singapore. Several airlines fly to Singapore, including Singapore Airlines and Scoot Airlines.
Staying in Singapore
Sofitel So Singapore (35 Robinson Road, 068876 – Singapore, Phone:(+65) 67016800)