Singapore wants to be known as the “City in the Garden” rather than the “Garden City” and it seems to me they are well on their way to achieving that. This impression starts from the first moment you step into the Airport Terminal as there are large containers of fresh flowering orchids in the centre of the walkways as you access the Luggage collection and Customs and Immigration areas.
It continues on the drive into the city. I reckon Singapore has the most beautiful drive in from the airport of anywhere I have been. The thing that strikes you most are the HUGE trees along the sides of the roads. They are mostly Raintrees, are fully grown, often heavy with natural ferns and orchids - and they are beautiful. In some places the branches almost touch over the top of the carriageway! I am sorry to say I have no photos to show you, as I was not yet in holiday mood, and my camera was stored safely in my backpack which was in the back of the taxi, so you are going to have to take my word or go see for yourself! I do not see why the rest of us can’t have BIG trees like these again beside our roads. (I say “again” because Cairns used to have them everywhere when I was a child.) The roads do not seem to be affected by the roots – which is the reason always given for why ours have been removed. (I am told it is a case of putting in root barriers so the roots have to go down the barriers and when they get to go under them they are so far down they don’t affect the roads. It also means they are ‘deep rooted’ trees so deal with high winds better.) But I digress….
I also find it fascinating to see the interesting, varied, innovative and sometimes scary architecture - especially of the new buildings. Some of them look interesting but I do not know how practical they would be to live in. The other thing I picked up was the condition of the roads and the vehicles on them. Wide, no potholes and no vehicle is over 10 years old. There is a high fine for keeping an old vehicle, so, at 10 they are either scrapped or exported – often to Philippines, India or NZ according to our driver. This would help explain why there is as little pollution as there is, despite the large numbers of vehicles I reckon.
The flight from Brisbane had been smooth uneventful and, as we had had a stiff tailwind most of the way we landed early. Customs and Immigration took no time at all so very quickly we were in the car and on our way into town. As we were early our room was not quite ready – but by the time we had enjoyed a lovely breakfast it was. I ate too much! I had eaten on the plane about 2 hours before, and really did not need much, but it was very tempting – and when it is a buffet and it is there waiting, and the bacon is crispy as I like it…..
We had a couple of hours kip, a freshen up and then hit the road. The weather was wonderful – not too hot and clear skies. The first thing I like to do is a tour of the city. I think it gives you a good overview of what is where, how things work and integrate, and some of the history - which helps you appreciate what there is to see and do, and prioritise what you can fit in to the time you have. The “Hop On/Hop Off” bus that came first gave us 24 hours of travel on 3 different routes for S$28 – which would be about the same in Aussie Dollars – a dollar or two more or less depending on the exchange rate that day.
We went all the way around the first tour. This took us through some of the poorest and oldest parts of the city, and later past some of the more affluent areas – including the Australian High Commission – through China town, past many of the large shopping malls and the Botanical Gardens. I am always intrigued how, in Singapore, the oldest most run down decrepit buildings can be alongside the most modern new buildings and seem to co-exist quite well.
There are tall trees, shrubs and gardens everywhere. They have special walls they erect around the building sites for noise and pollution reduction, which makes a big difference – especially in a city where it seems about 20% is under demolition, renovation, or construction at any one time. I was also taken with the way they encourage vines to grow up on the huge supports for the overpasses in the city – makes them a lot less obtrusive.
We had a quick (and late) lunch – mainly needed a coffee – and then headed off and did the full tour of the second of the routes offered. This one took us down the Marina way, including past the Hotel with the ship on the roof, (I kid you not) the new Gardens by the Bay, and the port facilities. I think we tend to forget that Singapore has a very busy seaport facility. There were a lot of the unloading facilities sitting idle the day we were there but we were told that is unusual. We went back through China Town, which being the year of the rooster has an enormous “rooster’ in the centre of the road. It is several stories high and is lit up at night. We went to slightly different shopping areas on this one. Those who like to “shop till you drop” are well catered for in Singapore let me assure you.
I only saw two petrol stations in all this touring. The Shell was fairly obvious, but the Caltex was tucked in behind huge trees and shrubs and well hidden from view unless you were looking for it or knew it was there. Despite that they were doing a roaring trade every time we went past. We also did not see anything much in the way of litter. There are huge fines for those caught so it is very unusual. We noticed a piece of can at the airport, later we saw a piece of paper in one of the gardens – caught up on one of the plants – and one very noticeable item – an old mattress that had been dumped in a section of the garden on a very busy road. The only other one was probably a tourist as it had been left on the bus. What town have you been to lately and only seen 4 pieces of litter in 2 days of looking? There is a requirement for all new buildings to have a roof top garden and we saw one where the plants including fully grown trees were being raised into place. Also saw one that has huge trees on large balconies on the side of the buildings. I noted also how the multi storey carparks all had 'window box' style of flower gardens along their sides. Flowers and trees and gardens are everywhere you turn it seems.
We stayed on the bus when we had completed our Tour, and went back to the stop for the new Gardens – The Gardens by the Bay as they call them. I can’t speak too highly of them. In fact I think they are worth the trip to Singapore just to see them. (If I tell you I took 336 photo’s and will have a big job deciding which ones to share with you, that may give you a bit of an idea.) There are more than 1 million plants from 5,000 species. There a different sections and each is so well done. They cater for kids with lots of special areas and activities just for them – many featuring dinosaurs - many of which roar as you go by. Those ‘not so able’ are also catered for as there is a small open sided “bus” that for S$8 will take you for a tour all around the site and point out and explain the different aspects as you go. Then there is a similar vehicle that does a “shuttle” drop off to different areas for those who need it. I do not know what that costs as we did not use it and I forgot to ask. There are lots of places to sit down and enjoy the different aspects of the gardens and there were quite a number of places where you could get drinks, snacks or restaurant service – including alcohol. It is open 5am to 2am every day. There is also a huge outdoor amphitheatre where many events are held.
I was struck by the number of pieces of petrified timber used in the landscaping, and sometimes smaller ones used as ‘stools’ to sit on. The latter looked very “polished’ on the top where people had been using them.) Sometimes it looked like the entire tree had been cut into three or four sections, and they were arranged in such a way that at first they looked like a tree had fallen, broken up and these were decaying logs. It was only when you looked more closely (and the guide then confirmed it) that you realised it was petrified logs. I do not know where they got them all – there really were so many it was staggering – but they have done a lot of reclamation of land (increased the area by nearly a quarter one guide told us) so I am wondering if they were found during this process.
The first things you see – even before you get anywhere near the place – are the two strikingly modern buildings that house both the “Cloud Forest” and the “Flower Dome” and the artificial trees. The latter are still rather bare in the branch sections, but the trunks are well covered with all sorts of plants. They use them to dispose of some of the excess water from other parts of the garden. It is pumped up there and ‘rains’ down on the plants growing on it. My reaction when I first heard about them was not enthusiastic – but when I saw them I changed my mind. I will be interested when I go back next t see how the ‘branches’ are filled in. At night they are lit up and can be seen for miles.
The idea behind the “Cloud Forest” is to replicate the climate in the rainforest areas and show how the plants grow and thrive in the ‘natural’ conditions of mist and moisture. There is a 35m waterfall and as you walk in you are confronted by this cascading off the sides of the structure where the plants are growing all within the controlled environment under the dome. The structure would be, I would say at least 10 stories high with the dome over the top of it.
On the outside sections there are plenty of places to sit, and there are lots of panels to explain many aspects of what they are doing, or how the plants operate at different levels etc.
They also have some great places for "photo ops".
Once you have walked around the structure you go inside it. They then take you up 3 levels in a lift. Once you get out you can see out through various cleared areas and can appreciate the waterfall from ‘inside’ it.
Next you walk on these suspended walkways outside the structure so you can better appreciate the plants and the way they interact and flourish. Many of them were in flower, others just have multi-coloured leaves, but the overall effect is mind blowing. I sometimes struggle with heights, but it was so fascinating to see it all so close that I coped very well.
You descend internally via escalators or the lift again. Inside there is a display of stalactite and stalagmite and again, lots of explanation and places to sit. Perhaps my photo’s will help to explain it better as I am struggling to explain it for you. Is definitely a case of “you have to see it for yourself’.
Next we went to the Flower Dome. It is not as high as the Cloud Dome, but as it has two levels and there are some very tall trees on the top level it would not be much lower at its highest point.
However it has a bigger “foot print” as it is more widespread. There are sections - like the one for succulents, then there are ones for different countries.
In the Australian section they have a Wollemi pine – only a few metres tall at this stage, but the first one I have seen in real life until now. The Japanese section had a vast array of Cherry Blossom, in full flower. With many different colours it was very beautiful. There was a large contingent of Japanese tourists going crazy about it. You would have thought they had not ever seen them before.
Before I go on I have to say that I have never in all my life seen so many “selfie” sticks. They were everywhere and so many people putting themselves in poses with some of the flowers and plants. There are signs up everywhere asking you not to touch the flowers, but it seems some do not consider holding it close to their face or behind their ear qualifies as “touching” them!!! Neither, in the areas where it says “Do not step in the garden” does putting just one foot in there to get a better angle for your ‘selfie’ qualify as “stepping” it seems. It must be very frustrating for the curators. They do have a couple of specially organised places where one can take photo’s and ‘selfies’ to great effect. While these are popular because there is always a queue to use them many prefer to make their own opportunity. I found it very hard to “hold my tongue’ and let the attendants deal with it let me tell you.
It was also nice to find some childhood friends hiding out in the exhibits, and some very different modern sculptures too.
By this time it was dark and the lights were on. How lovely it looks then – both inside the Dome and out. The Flower Dome and Cloud Dome exhibits close about 9pm, but the rest of the gardens are open as I said till 2am. When we went to find a taxi to go back to the hotel about 9pm there were more people arriving for a ‘night out’ than were leaving. There were several restaurants spread throughout the facility and theyseemed to be doing a roaring trade.