Singapore: Marina Bay Sands SkyPark

The next day was to be my niece Jaja’s wedding day but, since it was to be held in the late afternoon, Jandy and I still had the whole morning for sightseeing. After breakfast at our hotel, we took a taxi to the 20-hectare Marina Bay Sands, an integrated resort fronting Marina Bay officially opened last June 23, 2010, after a partial opening (which included the casino) on April 27.  Designed by Moshe Safdien Architects (with Aedas Singapore as the local architect of record),  its engineering was provided by Arup and Parsons Brinkerhoff (which had originally worked on such prestigious projects such as the Beijing National Aquatics Center and the Sydney Opera House) and the main contractor was Ssanyong Engineering and Construction. The resort’s architecture as well as major design changes along the way were also approved by the late Master Chong Swan Lek and Master Louisa Ong-Lee, its feng shui consultants.

Marina Bay Sands

Developed by Las Vegas Sands, this S$8 billion (including cost of the prime land) casino is billed as most expensive stand-alone atrium casino in the world, with 500 tables and 1,600 slot machines.  However, we were not visiting for the gambling.  Rather, we were there for the 360-degree Singapore skyline view atop its 340m-long (stretching longer than the Eiffel tower laid down or four and a half A380 Jumbo Jets), 1-hectare and 3,900-pax SkyPark, a sky terrace which connects the three 55-story hotel towers and is set on top of the world’s largest, gravity-defying public cantilevered platform, overhanging the north tower by 67 m..

Marina Bay Sand’s atrium lobby

Aside from housing the world’s largest casino, the resort features a 2,561-room hotel, a 1,300,000-sq. ft. (120,000 m2) convention-exhibition center, the 800,000 sq. ft. (74,000 m2) The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands mall (with over 300 stores and F&B outlets), the 200,000 sq. ft. (19,000 m2), lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum located next to the three blocks (currently featuring “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition”), two large theaters (the 1,680-pax Sands Theater and the 2,155-pax Grand Theater), two floating Crystal Pavilions (the 2nd houses the world’s largest Louis Vuitton boutique) and a 6,500 sq. ft. (600 m2) indoor ice skating rink (which uses artificial ice). There are also 7 “celebrity chef” restaurants (6 within the Shoppes) – Cut, Waku Ghin, Pizzeria and Osteria Mozza, Guy Savoy, DB Bistro Moderne, Santi and Rasapura Masters.

The lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum

Upon arrival, we entered the hotel’s huge atrium lobby, decorated with tall Christmas trees, and walked some distance to the SkyPark Box Office located at the Basement 1, Tower 3. After purchasing our entry tickets here, we proceeded to the porte cochere area outside the Tower 3 and took the elevator to 57th floor where the SkyPark is located. The SkyPark is also home to the world’s longest elevated outdoor swimming pool, perched 191 m. above  ground and with a 146-m. (478-ft) vanishing edge. However, we missed out to view the pool (as well as its lush gardens and rooftop The Sky on 57 restaurant) as it is available only to 50 observation deck guests that have registered for the 15-min. guided tours (available at 10 AM, 2 PM and 9 PM only). The pools were made with up to 422,000 pounds of stainless steel and can hold 376,500 gallons (1,424 cu. m.) of water.  Within the observation deck is the KU DÉ TA nightclub.

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The day, though slightly overcast, still afforded us a spectacular, unforgettable panoramic view, from 10 observation deck view points, of Singapore’s Central Business District, the Merlion, Old Supreme Court Bldg., New Supreme Court Bldg., City Hall Bldg., Esplanade, St. Andrews Cathedral, Float @ Marina Bay, Helix Bridge, the Singapore River, the Formula One pit building and racetrack, the Padand (Singapore Recreational Club and Cricket Club), Marina Barrage, East Coast Parkway, Benjamin Sheares Bridge, Changi Airport control tower, the Singapore Flyer (an observation wheel), Nicoll Highway, Little India, Sentosa Island, Singapore Port and, beyond, Kusu Island and Indonesia’s Batam Island.  Just below are the resort’s theaters, the Event Plaza, the Crystal Pavilions, the  Sands Expo and Convention Center, the ArtScience Museum, the Marina Bay Sands casino and The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.

The Singapore skyline

Marina Bay Sands SkyPark: Open daily, 9:30 AM-10 PM (11 PM on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays). Admission Fee: S$20 for adults, S$14 for children (aged between 2–12 years) and S$17 for senior citizens (aged 65 years and above).  Children under 2 years of age may enter for free. Ticketing Hotline: +65 6688 8826

Universal Studios Singapore – Hollywood

Jandy and I planned to spend our second day in Singapore at Universal Studios, Singapore’s second integrated resort and Southeast Asia’s first movie theme park (and the second in Asia after Japan).  This would be a first for both of us as it was still under construction during our 2009 Singapore visit (it only opened on March 18, 2010).  After our buffet breakfast at Amara Hotel, we took a taxi (S$14) to get there, dropping off at the entrance of Resorts World Sentosa.  At the entrance of Universal Studios is the large and famous revolving globe.

Universal Studios Singapore

We were in luck at the ticket booth as we got 20% off the one-day ticket when I paid via my BPI Mastercard (valid until November 18). We also received a S$10 retail voucher upon presentation of our charge slip at the Guest Services Counter.

Hollywood

The main entrance area of the park is Hollywood, a replica of the famous Hollywood Boulevard. Its only attraction is the 1,500-seat, indoor, Broadway-style Pantages Hollywood Theater which is fully equipped to host plays, musicals and performances.  The theater is accompanied by several restaurants, a variety of flagship shops and also features a replica of the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Pantages Hollywood Theater

Hollywood Boulevard, framed by dynamic architecture and palm trees, made us feel that we have landed in the center of the entertainment universe. Here, there are “Daily Meet and Greet” (10 AM-7 PM) special character appearances from  the wacky Woody Woodpecker, the  glamorous Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Beetlejuice, Betty Boop, Po (from Kung Fu Panda), Frankenstein’s Monster and Winnie Woodpecker (we posed with the last three).

Po (Kung Fu Panda)

Winnie Woodpecker

Frankenstein’s Monster

Outside Mel’s Diner, we also watched the 4:45 PM performances (other show times are 10:45 AM, 12:15 PM, 1:45 PM, 3:15 PM and 6:15 PM) of Daddy O’s (a boy band group singing classic surf  songs of the 1950s and 60s) as well as the 2:30 PM and 4 PM  shows (other show times are 11:30 AM, 1 PM and 5:30 PM) of Mel’s Dinettes (waitresses “shaking, rattling and rolling” to the high energy hits of the 1950s and 60s).

Daddy O’s

Mel’s Dinettes

After the show, we went inside Mel’s Drive Inn for snacks.  This classic 1950s-themed diner, based on the 1973 hit U.S. film American Graffiti, serves up all-American favorites such as delicious rocket sauce burgers, French fries, chicken sandwiches, chicken fingers, onion rings, root beer floats, thick and frosty milk shakes and Cokes the old-fashioned way plus golden oldies on the jukebox.  We both dined on crispy barbecue chicken burgers with French fries and Sprite (S$10.80 each).

Mel’s Drive-in

At the Pantages Hollywood Theater, we watched the 4:15 PM (other show times are 11 AM, 1 PM and 6:15 PM) showing of “Monster Rock,” a major Broadway musical featuring the infamous Universal Classic Monsters in  a live rock-n-roll style indoor revue show with pyrotechnics. The theater is fitted with cutting-edge cinematic technology, including state-of-the-art digital projectors.  This mega-monster spooktacular features great music, dancing, comedy, special effects, and enough pyrotechnics to wake the dead.

Pantages Hollywood Theater – Interior

Before leaving the park, we dropped by the Universal Studios Store, a shopping extravaganza which offers the largest variety of Universal Studios-themed collectibles, toys and apparel from all 7 themed zones of the park. Here, I bought 2 shirts (1 with collar and the other round-necked) for Jandy, using my S$10 retail voucher.

Universal Studios Store

Too bad we missed out on the Lake Hollywood Spectacular, one of the main highlights of Hollywood After Hours.  This special live pyrotechnics show happens every Friday and Saturday night (9:30 PM) and is set to a musical score over the central lagoon of Lake Hollywood in the park.

Lake Hollywood

Hollywood also has several other restaurants. Celebrity Cafe & Bakery is a 1950’s-themed food outlet where guests can dine on freshly-made gourmet sandwiches, coffee, puff pastry pies and classic desserts.  It serves all-day breakfast.  Hollywood China Bistro is a stylish yet casual Art-Deco restaurant where guests can feast on both traditional Cantonese favorites and “East meets West” cuisine in a modern setting straight out of a Hollywood movie set.

Celebrity Cafe & Bakery

There are also a number of retail outlets.  The Dark Room is a store that sells a wide variety of camera accessories for the photography needs of park visitors. Star Characters sells exclusive Dream Works Animation character merchandise and other fun products and keepsakes. Silver Screen Collectibles offers authentic collectibles of celebrities straight from the Hollywood Walk of Fame such as celebrity photos and posters, collectibles, books, as well as Betty Boop themed souvenirs and apparel such as photo frames, shirts, sexy lips pillow, cups, combs, bags, purse, etc..

Superstar Candies is a candy store that sells a wide variety of sweets and treats with star appeal such as candy floss and homemade fudgeto park visitors with a sweet tooth.  At Brown Derby, guests can shop for headwear of all types including visors, character hats, novelty hats, wigs, Universal Studios logo caps and other stylish lids.  That’s a Wrap, at the theme park exit, also sells apparel, toys, novelty hats and other souvenirs.

The Iconic Bridges of the Singapore River

Upon reaching the end of South Bridge Rd., Jandy and I were now at the banks of the historic 6-km. long (19,690-ft.) long Singapore River. Here, we viewed a  number of pedestrian and vehicular bridges that span this river, serving the needs of Singaporeans and visitors alike by connecting residential, commercial and entertainment areas.  They also add history (rickshaws, ox carts, cattle, horses, etc. used to pass here), high technology and color to the Singapore skyline. Three of these bridges – Anderson Bridge, Cavenagh Bridge and Elgin Bridge – were, on November 3, 2008, selected for conservation as part of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s expanded conservation program. The Anderson Bridge and the newer Esplanade Bridge also forms part of the Singapore Grand Prix‘s Marina Bay street circuit which debuted on September 28, 2008.

Singapore River

The Cavenagh Bridge, opened in 1870 (the third bridge to be built in Singapore) to ease access between the civic district on the north bank and the commercial district (now Raffles Place) on the south bank , is the oldest among the original bridges spanning the Singapore River.   It spanned the lower reaches of the Singapore River in the Downtown Core. Before this bridge was built, people could only get to the 2 districts via a detour over Elgin Bridge or by paying 1 duit (¼ cent) for a boat ride across the river.  Originally known as the Edinburgh Bridge (to commemorate the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh), it was renamed in honor of Maj.-Gen. William Orfeur Cavenagh, the last India-appointed Governor of the Straits Settlements (1859-1867). His family’s coat-of-arm scan still be seen atop the sign at both ends of the bridge.

Cavenagh Bridge

Cavenagh Bridge, originally designed as a drawbridge, is also Singapore’s first and only steel suspension bridge, with elaborate suspension struts. During construction, numerous steel rivets were used and steel casting methods commonly used during that era were employed. Its parts were manufactured by P & W MacLellan, Glasgow Engineers (Scotland ) at a cost of S$80,000, built and tested in Glasgow to withstand a load 4 times its own weight, shipped to Singapore in parts and it reassembled by Indian convict labor. Subsequently, in the late 1880s, the bridge became overloaded due to the flourishing trade on the Singapore River and vehicular traffic volume overtook the capacity of the bridge.  Added to this was its low draught which was insufficient for the passage of boats during high tide.

Cavenagh Bridge

The bridge was  eventually spared from demolition by conversion to a pedestrian bridge.  In the 1990s, lighting was added to accentuate its architectural features at nightfall. It now complements the renovated Fullerton Hotel (formerly the Fullerton Building) beside the bridge. At the southwest abutment of the bridge are sculptures of a family of Singapura cats (kucinta or drain cats), recognized as one of the smallest breeds of cats in the world. At both ends of the bridge are preserved police notices  restricting the passage of vehicles that weighed beyond 3 CWT (152 kgs. or 336 lbs.), including cattle and horses.

Anderson Bridge

Cavenaugh Bridge’s replacement was the century-old Anderson Bridge, near the river’s mouth, which provided sufficient clearance for vessels to pass under during high tide. Connecting the financial district directly to City Hall, this bridge is also located near the Fullerton Hotel and the former Merlion Park.  An excellent combination of intricate plaster and metalwork, this elegant bridge has 3 steel arches with supporting steel ribs across them, 2 rusticated archways and a fluted pier on each end.  The abutments were built by the Westminster Construction Company Limited. Started in 1908, it was officially opened on March 12, 1910 by Sir John Anderson (Governor of the Straits Settlements and High Commissioner for the Federated Malay States from 1904–1911) after whom the bridge was named. During the 1942-1945 Japanese Occupation, the severed heads of criminals were hung on the bridge as a warning to discourage citizens from breaking the law.

Anderson Bridge – Western Approach

The slightly younger, concrete Elgin Bridge, a vehicular bridge in the Boat Quay area linking the Downtown Core to the Singapore Planning Area located within Singapore’s Central Area, was named after India governor-general (March 21, 1862-November 20, 1863) Lord James Bruce, the 8th Earl of Elgin.  Elgin Bridge is believed to have existed, as early as 1819, at its current location as an unnamed footbridge linking the Chinese community, on the southern side, to the Indian merchants of High St. on the northern side.  As this was the first bridge across the river, the two roads leading to it were named North Bridge Rd. and South Bridge Rd. accordingly.

Elgin Bridge

In 1822, this footbridge was replaced by the Presentment Bridge, a wooden drawbridge (also called the Monkey Bridge, as its narrowness limited the number of people crossing at a time, therefore using it required some agility) was built by Lt. P. Jackson. In 1843, a wooden footbridge, built by John Turnbull Thomson replaced the drawbridge (also called the Thomson Bridge).  In 1862, an iron bridge was built but, in 1925, the iron bridge had to make way for the new, existing bridge which was opened to traffic by Sir Hugh Clifford, Governor of the Straits Settlements, on  May 30, 1929.

Elgin Bridge – Approach

At one end of the bridge is the crest of the Singapore Municipal Commission. Its elegant cast iron lamps, on both sides of the bridge, were designed by the Italian sculptor Cavaliere Rudolfo Nolli whose signature graces the bronze plaques beneath the lamps, each with a lion standing in front of a royal palm tree engraved on it. Elgin Bridge is known as thih tiau kio in Hokkien, meaning “iron suspension bridge.”

Esplanade Bridge

The 260 m. (850-ft.) long, 70 m. (230-ft.) wide, low-level concrete arched Esplanade Bridge, a vehicular and pedestrian bridge along Esplanade Drive, in front of the mouth of the Singapore River, was built, from early 1994-1997, to provide faster access between Marina Center and the Shenton Way financial district.  After completion, it was found out that the bridge blocked views of the iconic Merlion statue from the Marina Bay waterfront, causing the statue to be transferred from the back to a more prominent place at the front of the bridge.

Esplanade Bridge

The Esplanade Bridge has 7 spans and supports two 4-lane carriageways and walkways along both sides.  The bridge offers panoramic views of Marina South, the rest of  Marina Bay and both sides of the Singapore River.  As such, it is often subject to occasional road closures during National Day and New Year’s Eve and the street lamps along it are shut off to allow spectators, pedestrians and revelers who pack all 8 lanes of the bridge a pleasant and unadulterated view of the fireworks.

Helix Bridge

The Helix Bridge, next to Bayfront Ave., was opened on July 18, 2010.  Previously known as the Double Helix Bridge, it is the world’s first curved bridge. This 280 m. (918-ft.) long pedestrian bridge is (Singapore’s longest) is located beside the Benjamin Sheares Bridge and is accompanied by the Bayfront Bridge, a vehicular bridge. The Helix Bridge links the hotels, commercial buildings and shops of Marina Center with Marina South in the Marina Bay area (a body of water formed through land reclamation at the mouth of the Singapore River).

Helix Bridge – Approach

The bridge has 5 strategically located viewing platforms sited at strategic locations.  They provide stunning views of the Singapore skyline and events taking place within Marina Bay. The bridge also functions as a gallery where children’s paintings and drawings are exhibited for public viewing.  The bridge is illuminated at night by a series of lights that highlight the double-helix structure, thereby creating a special visual experience for the visitors. Pairs of colored letters “C” (cytosine), “G” (guanine), “A” (adenine) and “T” (thymine), representing the bases of DNA, are lit up in red and green.

Helix Bridge – Approach

The Helix Bridge was designed by an international consortium including the Cox Group of Australian architects, Arup engineers, and Singapore’s Architects 61 and was fabricated and erected by TTJ Design and Engineering.  The bridge’s design features a series of connecting struts that hold together two spiraling steel members that resembles the structure of DNA (the building blocks of life), symbolizing life and continuity, renewal, abundance and growth, with the aim of attracting happiness and prosperity to Marina Bay.

Helix Bridge – Detail

It used approximately 650 tons of duplex stainless steel and 1,000 tons of carbon steel tubes to create the bridge’s major and minor helix that spirals in opposite directions. To provide shade for pedestrians, canopies made of fritted glass and perforated steel mesh were incorporated along parts of the bridge’s inner spiral.

View of Marina Bay From Helix Bridge

The Coleman Bridge, a vehicular bridge linking Hill St. and New Bridge Rd., near Clarke Quay, was the second bridge built across the Singapore River and the first built in masonry.  Part of the bridge demarcates a boundary between the Downtown Core and the Singapore River Planning Area, both located within the Central Business District. It first started out as a 9-arched brick bridge, built in 1840, designed by and named after Irish architect (Singapore’s first) George Drumgoole Coleman (1795–1844). It was referred to as the New Bridge, lending its name to New Bridge Road, the roadon its southern end.

Coleman Bridge

In 1865, the brick bridge was replaced by one made of not well constructed wood and, in 1886, an ironbridge was built to replace it. Considered one of the most attractive spanning the Singapore River, this iron bridge, however, was unable to cope with the increasingly heavy traffic flow between New Bridge Road and Hill Street and was finally demolished in 1986 and was replaced by the present concrete bridge. However, in recognition of its historical significance, the new bridge incorporated several features of the iron bridge such as the decorative lamp posts and iron railings. The Coleman Bridge is known, in Cantonese, as yi ma lo khiu (“the bridge at the second road”).

Singapore: Chinatown District

From Tanjong Pagar, we crossed over to the Chinatown district via South Bridge Rd.  This traditional Chinese precinct is bounded by South Bridge Rd., Kreta Ayer Rd., New Bridge Road and Upper Cross St..  South Bridge Road is unique, being an example of Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-religious community, with the Sri Mariamman Temple (1827), Jamae Mosque or Masjid Chuliam (1830), Fairfield Methodist Church and  Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum (2007) are all located here.

South Bridge Road

In 1843, the area was leased or granted to the public for the building of shophouses, many of which doubled as shops, warehouses, family quarters and workers dormitory.  They display strong Fujianese, Teochew and Cantonese influence.  Today, relatively little has changed with the original buildings in the area.

Colorful Chinatown Shophouses

Jandy and I first visited the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. This S$62 million temple, its architectural style based on the Tang Dynasty, was built in 2007 to house the tooth relic of the historical Buddha found in 1980 in a collapsed stupa in Myanmar.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum

Sri Mariamman Temple, with its landmark ornamental tower entrance (gopuram), is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore.  More popularly known as Mariamman Kovil or Kling Street Temple, it was first built in 1827 by immigrants from the Nagapatnam and Cuddalore districts of South India.  However, unlike my first visit here in 1992, I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside.

Sri Mariamman Temple

In 1843, the temple was rebuilt in plaster and brick and, in 1962, a new temple structure with intricate sculptural works reminiscent of temple architecture in India was built. The original gopuram, built in the late 1800’s, was rebuilt in the 1930s and, in the 1960s, was repaired and restored with elaborate proliferation of sculptures.

Jamae Mosque

The nearby Jamae Mosque, on the other hand, was built in 1826 by the Chulias (Tamil Muslims). Its unique architectural style is eclectic. The entrance gate is distinctively South Indian while the 2 prayer halls and the shrine are in the Neo-Classical style typical of George Drumgoole Coleman. The mosque was gazetted a National Monument on 29 November 1974.

Chinatown Heritage Center

Kreta Ayer, considered by many to be the heart of Chinatown, houses the Chinatown Heritage Center, Chinatown Night Market and Chinatown Food Street.  The newly-restored Chinatown Heritage Center, occupying 3 shophouses along Pagoda St.,  houses memories and untold stories of Singapore’s early forefathers. The Chinatown Complex, along Smith Street, houses a wet market and shops selling sundry goods. At its second floor food center, Jandy and I indulged in some authentic Singaporean hawker food fare for lunch.

Trengganu Street

Shophouses do not have a single classification, combining different elements of Baroque and Victorian architecture with narrow wooden jalousies (often with adjustable slats) and decorative fanlights over the windows and pilasters, balconies and plasterwork seemingly Mediterranean in flavor.  Many of them are painted in a variety of different pastel colors. Trengganu St. (converted into a pedestrian mall transformed into a night market after dark), Pagoda St. and Temple St. as well as development in Upper Cross St. and the houses along Club St. are examples of this type of architecture.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum: 288 South Bridge Rd., Singapore 058840. Tel: 6220 0220. Fax: 6220 1261. Open daily, 7 AM-7 PM.  E-mail: services@btrts.org.sg.  Website: www.btrts.org.sq.

Singapore: Tanjong Pagar Conservation District

After a Big Mac lunch at a nearby MacDonald’s outlet and a short nap at our hotel room, Jandy and I started our own walking tour of the city. The Amara Hotel Singapore was within walking distance to the Tanjong Pagar Conservation District, along the fringes of Chinatown and Raffles Place.  Characterized by soaring skyscrapers and rows of exquisitely preserved pre-World War II shophouses, it is bounded by Neil Rd., Maxwell Rd., Peck Seah St., Wallich St., Tanjong Pagar Rd. and Craig Rd..  This was first in our itinerary.

Tanjong Pagar Street

This historic district was formerly a Malay fishing village and, from the mid 19th century, an enclave for thousands of immigrant Chinese  and Indian dock workers (Tanjong Pagar was where Singapore’s waterfront used to be before reclamation). It was also once the lucrative center of operations for rickshaw pullers awaiting clients and their presence was so prevalent that, in 1904, the government established a Jinricksha Station, Singapore’s last reminder of the once ubiquitous rickshaw, at the junction of Tanjong Pagar Rd. and Neil Rd..

Jinricksha Station

On July 7, 1989, Tanjong Pagar became the first area to be gazetted under the Singapore government’s conservation plan. Many of the area’s more than 200 2 and 3-storey shophouses of the Early, Transitional and Late Shophouse Styles, built between 1870 and 1940, were beautifully restored to their original appearance. Today, it has become a fashionable district, her rows of shophouses filled with thriving businesses such as cafes, bars, a large number of bridal saloons and restaurants.

Duxton Hill

The slopes of Duxton Hill was the site of a 13-hectare nutmeg plantation owned by Dr. J.W. Montgomerie (1797–1856), who was an Assistant Surgeon in the service of the Government.  Upon his death, the land was auctioned off and 14 acres went to Syed Abdullah bin Omar Aljunied, an Arab who divided them into 4 lots which were leased to wealthy Straits Chinese developers who, by the 1890s, had built 2 and 3-storey shophouses.

Shophouse Windows

The earlier shophouses, of Chinese design, feature low, squat proportions and minimal ornamentation while later ones combined colonial and ethnic elements such as Chinese panel frescoes and Malay timber fretwork.

Singapore: Sentosa Resort

After our Singapore Flyer “round” trip, we had a  late lunch at Seafood Paradise. Next in our itinerary was Sentosa and, to get there, we again boarded 2 taxis and dropped off at Sentosa Imbiah Station.

Tiger Sky Tower

Upon arrival, we all first tried out the Tiger Sky Tower, Singapore’s tallest free-standing observatory tower, opened on February 7, 2004.  Once inside the large, 72-pax air-conditioned, disc-shaped cabin fitted with glass windows all round, it then revolved slowly as it ascended the column of the tower to a maximum height of 131 m. above sea level (110 m. above ground). On the way up, we enjoyed panoramic views across Sentosa, Singapore’s southern islands and neighboring Malaysia and even Indonesia.

View of Sentosa and Outlying Islands From Tiger Sky Tower

After our tower ride, we walked to the nearby Images of Singapore building to try out Singapore’s award-winning attraction – the Images of Singapore. A quick peek into Singapore’s history, culture and heritage, this walk down memory lane was the second for me and Grace and the first for the rest.  A journey to the very soul of the nation, it brings the country’s past back to vivid life using multimedia displays, multi-screen theater presentations and life-sized tableaus depicting local history.

Images of Singapore Building

Here, legend, facts and folklore are creatively interwoven into an “I am there” experience as we journeyed from the earliest days of Singapore’s founding, when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles stepped along the banks of Singapore River, to today’s modern Singapore where cultural diversity, unity of values and adventure converge. We were also amazed by the many colorful festivals celebrated in Singapore.

Images of Singapore

After our Images of Singapore, Jandy, Cheska and I tried out the non-motorized Luge, a self-steering, gravity-driven 3-wheel cart, originally from New Zealand, that is part go-cart, part toboggan. Here, we all navigated 650 m. down the Jungle Trail or 688 m. down  the Dragon Trail with the option to go thrillingly fast or to cruise slowly as we went down the hill to Siloso Beach. Truly a unique outdoor experience.

The Luge

After the Luge, we next boarded the Skyride, along the way taking in the panoramic and breathtaking scenery of the city skyline, harbor and beautiful coastline. The used luges are also slung underneath our seats for transport back up the hill.

The Skyride

Come evening, we proceeded to the S$4.5million Cineblast, opened in June 2007, to watch “Extreme Log Ride,” Singapore’s only cinema ride. This thrilling, 4-dimensional, motion-simulated “ride of your life” combines the virtual “roller coaster” rides with high-definition wide-screen projection.  Here, we all sat inside a cyclone unit that is mounted onto a 6-axis system and then experienced amazing real-life thrusts and motion unlike any other as we felt the exhilaration of flying to the top of the highest mountain, the stomach-churning virtual thrill of rushing into the deepest valleys, and the gripping excitement of being tossed about by whitewater rapids.

Cineblast and 4D Magic

Next, we moved on to the S$3.5 million Sentosa 4D Magix Theater, opened on January 2006, to watch the comedy “Pirates!”   This whole new generation in movie magic, the first in Southeast Asia, is an interactive movie experience with 4-dimensional digital effects, using a state-of-the-art digital projection system and a DTS 6.1 sound system.

Cineblast and 4D Magic

We were seated on a motion-based chair equipped with a wide spectrum of special visual, sound, motion and environmental effects such as built-in speakers as well as environmental effects like water features, seat vibration, leg ticklers and base shakers, placed us right in the middle of the action. During the 3-D show, visual effects kept popping out of the big screen, we were tossed about in our seats, felt the wind blowing in our face and the water rushing our way, all environmental effects that provided a life-like feel.

Songs of the Sea (Palawan Amphitheater)

We again met up with the others at the 2,500-pax, open-air Palawan Amphitheater for the 7:30 PM showing of the mesmerizing “Songs of the Sea.” This one-of-a-kind entertainment spectacle, with a live cast, features dramatic effects, pyrotechnics displays, water jets, flame bursts and lasers amid captivating music.  Truly, a performance we didn’t want to miss.  Designed by Yves Pepin, this show was started on March 26, 2007, replacing the 25 year old Magical Sentosa show. The water jets, water screens, lasers and projectors are hidden at the back of the 120 m. long Malay kampung (or kelong) by the sea. The show runs twice nightly.

Songs of the Sea (Palawan Amphitheater)

After the “Songs of the Sea” presentation, Grace accompanied Dad and Mom back to the hotel while Jandy, Cheska and I tried out the after-dark Go Green Segway® Eco Adventure, a first for all of us.  Here we tried out the Segway, a futuristic personal mobile transporter and mobility device, along a secure circuit.

Segway

After the Segway ride, we had a late dinner at a 7-Eleven outlet and loll around, for some time, at Palawan Beach. We, as well as many other tourists leaving Sentosa, waited a long time for the arrival of the monorail to Vivo City.  From Vivo City, we took the MRT to Dhoby Ghaut and then a taxi back to our hotel.

Sentosa Resort: 33 Allanbrooke Road, Sentosa Development Corporation, Singapore 099981.  Tel: 6275 0388.

Singapore: Singapore Flyer

After breakfast at the hotel, we all left, on board 2 taxis, for the Singapore Flyer, a giant observation (management refuses to use the word “Ferris”) wheel at the Marina Promenade, located at the southeastern tip of  Marina Center, near the shore of Marina Bay. We wanted to get a breathtaking and panoramic view of Singapore’s magnificent city skyline and what better place to do that than being 42 stories up in a 165 m. (541 ft.) high observation wheel.

Singapore Flyer

The tallest in the world, it is 5 m. (16 ft.) higher than the Star of Nanchang (People’s Republic of China) and 30 m., (98 ft.) higher than the London Eye (United Kingdom).   Designed by Arup and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the actual wheel has a diameter of 150 m. (492 ft.).  It was constructed from 2005–2008 and its final capsule was installed on October 2, 2007.

View of the Observation Wheel From the Terminal Building

The wheel started rotating on February 11, 2008 and it was officially opened to the public on March 1, 2008. Its grand opening was held on April 15, 2008. Initially, the wheel rotated in a counter-clockwise direction until, on the advice of Feng shui masters, its direction was changed on August 4, 2008.

The Rainforest at the Atrium

It was almost noon when we all arrived at the 3-storey, 16,000 sq. m.(172,000 sq. ft.) terminal building on which the wheel sits.   The terminal houses shops, bars and restaurants, an adjacent open-air Greek-inspired theater along the waterfront, a jetty, roof gardens and a recreated rainforest (Rainforest Discovery) with waterfall in the terminal’s atrium.

The Airconditioned Exo-Capsules

After paying the S$29.50 admission fee, we entered one of the 28 airconditioned, 28-pax, 26 sq. m. (280 sq. ft.) exo-capsules which, like those of the London Eye, are attached outward of the wheel structure, offering a continuously unobstructed view when the capsule is at the peak, unlike the more common endo-capsule.

Flyer Theater

A complete clockwise (when viewed from Marina Center) rotation of the wheel takes approximately 37 minutes. During all that time, we had a breathtaking, vibration-free view of Singapore’s iconic and historical landmarks, views from the Marina Bay to the Singapore River, City Hall, Raffles Place, Merlion Park, the Supreme Court Building, Empress Place and the Padang.

Singapore's Magnificent Skyline

We also had great 360 degree views of the Marina Bay Golf Course, Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort (under construction) and the Float at Marina Bay; the Esplanade (Singapore’s performing arts venue), the 280 m. high UOB Plaza One Building (1 of Singapore’s 3 highest buildings) and the Flyer Theater below.  Beyond, about 45 kms. (28 miles) out, are the Indonesian islands of Batam and Bintan, as well as Johor (Malaysia).

The Esplanade

The Flyer also afforded a great view of the Marina Bay Street Circuit of the Singapore Grand Prix (the first Formula One races were held last September 2008) as it is located beside the straight, between turns 21 and 22, and near the pit area.

Singapore Flyer: 30 Raffles Ave., Singapore 039803.  Tel: (+65) 6333 3311 and (+65) 6734 8829 (Corporate Office).  Fax: (+65) 6339 9167.  Website: www.singaporeflyer.com.  Open daily, 8:30 AM-10:30 PM. Visitors can take a free shuttle bus from City Hall MRT Station, which operates every half-hour to and from the Singapore Flyer.

Singapore: Jurong Bird Park

We decided to spend our second day at Singapore all day at the fresh and interesting Jurong Bird Park, a first for all of us.  At first glance, I did not think that a park with just birds would interest me (that’s why I didn’t go there during previous visits to Singapore), but I was to be proven wrong. Again, the park being very far from the city, we all went there (and returned) via 2 taxis, arriving there by noon after a 20-min. trip.

Main Entrance of Jurong Bird Park

Managed by Wildlife Reserves Singapore, this world-famous S$3.5 million, 202,000 sq. m. (50 acre) bird zoo and landscaped park, built on the western slope of Jurong Hill, within the Boon Lay Planning Area of the Jurong District, was opened on January 3, 1971. In 2006, it  completed its S$10-million makeover.

Souvenir Shop at Main Entrance

The well-maintained Jurong Bird Park, currently the world’s largest bird park in terms of number of birds and second largest in terms of land area, after Germany’s Vogelpark Walsrode, is home to an impressive collection of 4,600 exotic birds of 380 species, (29 of which are endangered) from South East Asia, Africa, South America and Australia. Some exhibits are fully open (Flamingo Lake, Swan Lake and Pelican Cove), some are cage-based (Parrot Paradise) and 4 are large walk-in aviaries.

Birds and Buddies Show (1 PM, Pools Amphitheatre)

Upon arrival, we opted to first watch the 1 PM Birds and Buddies Show (formerly called the “All Star Birdshow”) at the Pools Amphitheater. This lively and entertaining, 25-min. bird show, professionally presented with an environmental message, showcases a large number of species of performing birds, trained to such amazing levels, interacting with humans in a single act.

Birds and Buddies Show (3 PM, Pools Amphitheater)

During the show, we were enthralled by the antics of talented birds like the mimicking cockatoos, parrots and macaws singing , playing basketball, doing stunts etc..   We liked it so much, we attended the second show at 3 PM, also at the same venue.

In between these 2 Birds and Buddies Shows,Jandy, Cheska and I climbed up a couple of flights of stairs and hopped aboard the relaxing, airconditioned Panorail (S$5), the world’s only monorail that runs through an aviary.

The Panorail

We dropped off at the Lory Station were we visited the 3,000 sq. m. (32,000 sq. ft.), 9 storey high Lory Loft, the world’s largest walk-in flight aviary for stunningly colorful lories and lorikeets.

Lory Loft

Here, we walked on suspended bridges at tree top level, surrounded by over 1,000 free-flying lories. The ambiance here is said to be similar to that of a rainforest vale in tropical Northern Australia. Cheska, wanting an up close encounter, tried to offer the lories a specially concocted nectar mix in a little cup (S$3) so that the birds would flock to her.

Up Close and Personal With a Lory

We also visited, on foot, the 32 aviaries (housing 92 species of parrots) and the interpretative pavilion at the 1-hectare Parrot Paradise; the impressive colony of 1,001 roosting, flamboyant flamingos at the beautifully-landscaped Flamingo Lake; and Pelican Cove.

Flamingo Lake

At Pelican Cove, we observed a cosmopolitan colony of all 7 species of pelicans, including the endangered, 11-15 kg. Dalmatian pelican (the largest of the 7), while strolling along a boardwalk. However, we failed to catch them at the world’s first underwater viewing gallery for pelicans, where the birds scoop for fish at feeding time.

Pelican Cove

Next to Pelican Cove is Swan Lake where, from an observation deck close to the water edge, we observed, at close quarters, graceful Black-necked Swan, Black Swan and the Mute Swans roosting, fishing, bathing and swimming amidst the tranquil ambiance.

Swan Lake

Jandy and I again hopped aboard the Panorail and dropped off at the Waterfall Station where we visited the African Waterfall Aviary, the world’s largest walk-in aviary with more than 1,500 free-flying birds from over 50 species from Africa. Species here include the golden-breasted starling, turacos, bee-eaters and the hoopoe.

African Waterfall Aviary

Here, the birds tend to stay further away and we needed to move slowly round the jungle landscaped paths to avoid spooking them. Later, we met up with Mom, Dad, Grace and Cheska at the 30 m. high Jurong Falls, the world’s tallest man-made waterfall in an aviary and a popular photo-ops.

The 30 Meter High Waterfall

At 4 PM, we watched the Birds of Prey Show at the Fuji Hawk Walk. Here, we watched majestic birds of prey such as eagles, hawks, vultures and falcons fly in aerial loops and soar above, moving from one treetop to another. We also learned about falconry as these birds were put through their actions in a simulated hunt.  The birds sometimes swoop just 6 inches from our head.

Birds of Prey Show (4 PM, Fuji Hawk Walk)

After the show, Cheska and Jandy had a cool time having their pictures taken with a live owl, first putting on gloves so that the owl can be transferred to their hands.

Up Close and Personal…. This Time With an Owl

After the show, we next visited the 1,600 sq. m. (17,000 sq. ft.) Penguin Coast which houses 6 species of penguins. Featuring a 21-metre (69 ft) tall Portuguese galleon facade designed to resemble a ship, the interior of Penguin Coast, a great place to escape to during a hot day and one of the few places where you can see live king penguins outside of Antarctica.

Penguin Coast

Constructed with wooden beams and flooring,  Penguin Coast has 2 displays, one indoor and the other outdoor.  The Humboldt, Rockhopper, Macaroni, Fairy and King Penguins live indoors in a captivating, climate-controlled den while Jackass penguins, one of the few species that are adapted to the tropics, can be viewed, with Cape Shelducks and gulls, at an outdoor penguin enclosure.

World of Darkness

At 5 PM, we dropped by the 400 sq. m. World of Darkness, Asia’s first nocturnal bird house, opened in April 1982. It features a system of reverse lighting, converting day to night and vice versa, thereby inducing night-active creatures to come alive during the daylight hours. It is akin to a quiet nocturnal walk along a starlit jungle path, watching birds in a simulated “moonlit” night and hearing them beckon. On display are 31 birds (mostly owls) from 9 species: Black-crowned Herons, Stone Curlews, Lesser Whistling Ducks (Javan Tree Ducks), Snowy Owls, Malay Fish Owls, Eurasian Eagle Owls, Barn Owls, Great Grey Owls and the Bobook Owls.

Royal Ramble

Next, we dropped by the 800 sq. m. Royal Ramble where we had an unobtrusive view of the world’s largest pigeons.  It has a 40 m. long walkway and 3 separate aviaries housing the 3 species of Crowned Pigeons found in the world (Common Crowned Pigeon, the Victoria Crowned Pigeon and the Scheepmaker’s Crowned Pigeon).

Dinosaur Descendants

Finally, at the 4,579 sq. ft. Dinosaurs Descendants we were greeted by a huge rock with a relief of feathers and ostrich eggs. Here, we learned the similarities and intriguing facts which link ratites (flightless birds such as ostriches and cassowaries) to dinosaurs, amidst the simulated grassland habitats of these birds.

Dinner at Bongo Burgers

Come evening, we dined at Bongo Burgers’ delectable but quite pricey choice of pure and lean patties in generous, American-sized servings.

Jurong Bird Park: 2 Jurong Hill, Singapore 628925. Admission: S$18.00 (adults) and S$12.00 (children, 3 – 12 years). Tel: (65) 6265 0022. Fax: (65) 6261 1869. E-mail:info.jbp@wrs.com.sg. Website: www.birdpark.com.sg. Open daily, 8.30 AM-6 PM.

Singapore: Night Safari (Singapore Zoo)

After our hotel check in, we rested a bit before all leaving, via 2 taxis (a 30-min. drive), for the world-famous Night Safari, the world’s first nocturnal zoo. The Night Safari opens at 7 PM, only after the zoo itself has closed for the day (6 PM) and, because it takes place at night,  everything was dark and the habitats are only illuminated, if at all, by soft, indirect lighting that resembles moonlight.  The paths between sites are very dark.

Night Safari

Built at a cost of S$63 million, the 40-hectare Night Safari, adjacent to the Singapore Zoo and Upper Seletar Reservoir and managed by Wildlife Reserves Singapore, was officially opened on May 26, 1994. It currently houses a total of 1,040 animals of 120 species (29% of which are threatened).

We availed of the 45-min. night tram ride which took us past areas only accessible by tram, passing lots of wild South American and Asian animals roaming free in naturalistic enclosures that simulate the animals’ native habitat. On the first part of the trip, those seated on the right side of the tram had  the best views (opposite on the second leg).

Tram Ride

Carrying anything too bright is prohibited, and pointing lights at the animals is not allowed. I wasn’t able to get pictures of the animals because it was very dark, and all flash photography is prohibited so as not to freak out the animals. We were dropped off at a “jungle station” where some explored, on foot, the walking trails to get a closer look at some of the animals.  Later, we were picked up again for the second half.

"Creatures of the Night" Animal Show

Later, we attended the “Creatures of the Night” animal show where we saw the animals in action.  At one point, a night barn owl, on cue, swooped over the audience at hair top level.

Back at the main entrance, we checked out the food and beverage outlets there for our dinner. Choices include very tasty satays, noodles, fish and even burgers offered by Ulu Ulu Safari Restaurant, Bongo Burgers and Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop.  We decided on Bongo Burgers.

Singapore Zoo: 80 Mandai Lake Rd., Singapore 729826.  Tel: 6269 3411.  Website: www.zoo.com.sg. Open daily, 6 PM-12 midnight. Admission: S$22.00 (adults) and S$11.00 (children 3 to 12 years old).

Singapore: Raffles Hotel

On our fourth and last day in Singapore, I undertook, after breakfast at the hotel. another lone city tour, this time the famous Raffles Hotel along Beach Road, Singapore’s equivalent to our Roxas Boulevard but no longer flanked by the sea due to land reclamation.  I decide to just walk for the exercise.

Raffles Hotel

Reminiscent of our very own The Manila Hotel, this hotel has played host to famous authors Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling (who once said, “Feed at the Raffles”) and Somerset Maugham, film stars Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, Alfred Hitchcock and Elizabeth Taylor, and royalty and world leaders.

Raffles Hotel - Lobby

This Grand Old Lady of the East, one of the last great 19th-century hotels, was established by the Armenian Sarkies Brothers in 1887 and, in 1987, was designated as a National Monument. In March 1989 it was closed for an extensive major $160-million renovation and restoration program to bring her back to her former 19th-century glory. The original cast-iron verandah at the main building’s front, removed in 1919 to make way for an extension, was faithfully reconstructed, complete with the lovely stained glass.

Raffles Hotel - Lobby

The hotel was reopened in September 1991. Today, it has 104 tastefully appointed – and now airconditioned – suites, each with a unique décor that recreates the heyday of the 1920s using period furnishings and amenities. Eighteen of the State Rooms are housed in the hotel’s Bras Basah Wing, built in 1904. The lobby features three magnificent Persian rugs, all handwoven in the early 1930s by master craftsman Saber. The hotel has also acquired a collection of 70 pieces of Oriental carpets, all used to their best advantage, at public areas, staterooms and suites.

Raffles Hotel - Lobby

Raffles also has 11 food and beverage outlets, all maintaining the turn-of-the-century ambiance. They include Raffles Grille, Tiffin Room (serves the famous curry tiffin), Empress Room, Empire Café, Raffles Courtyard, Ah Teng’s Bakery, Seah Street Deli and Doc Cheng’s. Singapore’s ethnic cuisine, as well as Raffles’ signature dishes, are also featured at the cooking classes of Raffles’ Culinary Academy.

Raffles Hotel - Lobby

The hotel’s elegant architecture is complemented by many courtyards and gardens that occupy over a quarter of the estate and host more than 50,000 plants comprising 82 species of trees, palms, ferns, shrubs and flowering plants. The Palm Court, a garden for residents, still retains its tropical charm. The Palm Garden, on the other hand, features a beautiful ornamental cast-iron fountain dating back to the 1890s. The Lawn, an outdoor function area, is flanked by a lily pond and a timber pavilion.

Civilian War Memorial

Also near the hotel, within the War Memorial Park, is another famous iconic landmark – the Civilian War Memorial, designed by the late Singapore architect Leong Swee Lim (1935-2002) of Swan and MacLaren Architects. Unveiled on February 15, 1967, its 4 identical, 70 m. high pillars represents the shared experiences and unity of the 4 major races of Singapore – Chinese, Malay, Indian and other races. The remains of the unidentified war victims are said to be buried beneath the monument.

Changi International Airport

From the hotel, I dropped by the office of DP Architects Pte. at the Golden Mile Complex where I visited friends Oliver “Papot” Venegas and Felipe “Philip” Carrillo.  After this, I retraced my way back to the hotel. Once packed, we all checked out of the Cockpit Hotel and, by noontime, boarded our van for our transfer to Changi International Airport where we were to take our Singapore Airlines flight to Bangkok (Thailand).

Raffles Hotel: 1 Beach Rd., Singapore 189673.  Tel: 6337 1886.