The first stop on my second trip to Sri Lanka is of course, Singapore, and a dawn visit to its World Heritage botanic gardens.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been there and I always find something beautiful in flower. This time it was what is probably my favourite tree – the aptly named Cannonball Tree.
Named after its fruit which are unsurprisingly just like cannonballs … this a truly spectacular tree, but not one you’d want to sit under once the fruit has ripened! Nearby was a Sausage Tree (no prizes for guessing what its fruit looks like) sadly neither tree was fruiting.
Some four hours and over a hundred photos later I stumbled out of the gardens in search of an iced tea and a blast of chilled air.
If food is music for the soul, then the food markets of Provence are classical music and Tekka Market is heavy metal.Be prepared for a barrage of smells, sights and sounds if you visit Tekka Market at the start of Serangoon Road, and Little India.
On the ground floor is a hawker centre with stalls selling Indian and Chinese vegetarian, North Indian and Malay food. At the wet market which is on the same level, stalls sell fresh seafood, especially crabs from Sri Lanka, and and what looked disturbingly like baby white pointer sharks. There are “fresh” meat stalls which should be avoided – nothing that smells like that should be eaten.
It would probably kill you !
On the second floor Shops sell traditional Indiancostumes and inexpensive casual clothes. Dazzled by the glittering jewel encrusted costumes, I was in the midst of negotiations to buy a shimmering purple sari when I came to my senses, much to the disgust of the stall owner. When it all becomes too much for you, you can wander the streets of Little India, eat a vegetarian meal on a banana leaf, or catch the MRT home from the Little India station nearby. Another warning – don’t go anywhere near the public toilets…. !!
If you are not interested in shopping for out-of-season high-end European designer clothes and think therefore that Singapore has nothing to offer – here is a short list of this trip’s non-shopping highlights in no particular order …
The Altitude Bar
Fabulous 360 degree views of Singapore – go just before dusk to miss the crowds and see the city gradually light up. Entrance is the price of a drink but definitely worth it. Closed during thunderstorms – so don’t bother to go if one is forecast.
Singapore Botanic Gardens 74 hectares of tropical inspiration … This is probably one of the best botanic gardens in the world, and if you are a tropical gardener it is a source of both inspiration and frustration. You could easily spend several days exploring and taking photos, but this would be too exhausting. My suggestion would be to split it into two or three visits and get there as early as possible in the morning (it opens at 5am !!) to avoid the midday heat and afternoon thunderstorms. For me, the ginger and heliconia gardens were the highlight.
Lau Pa Sat
Satay heaven … Dating back to 1898 this octagonal food market was constructed from pre-fabricated panels shipped out from Glasgow. Satay Street is an outdoor section where you can order the most delicious chicken, mutton and prawn satays. Be very careful when pointing at the menu though – it is possible to order 50 satays by mistake !!
Goodwood Park Hotel
More understated and less touristy than the Raffles. At L’Espresso I ordered coffee with durian puffs because I hadn’t tried durian before. A very strange experience – the flesh is a lovely creamy texture, but you need to be prepared for the vaguely rotten taste! It’s not something I think I will order again.
Emerald Hill Road
Preserved Chinese Baroque housing – This is a lovely little oasis of calm just off Orchard Road. The entrance is a little hard to find – it’s opposite Orchard Central Shopping Centre and down the side of the Peranakan Palace Restaurant. This former nutmeg plantation was subdivided for houses in 1901 and is now a conservation site with attractively painted terrace houses. I was the only tourist there – but be prepared to move wheely bins around to get a good photo.
Martini Bar at the Grand Hyatt
Martini-lover’s heaven – I counted 53 martini variations on the menu. My favourite so far is the Ginger Martini – Vox vodka, french ginger liquer, lemon juice, and fresh ginger. Another hidden away place – ask at the concierge desk for directions. Great nuts and snacks and large comfortable chairs to recover from your day’s walking – but be warned, happy hour lasts from six to nine pm and it can get really hectic and noisy so go early and pay full price if you want some peace and quiet.
Jones the Grocer
Finally, a good cup of coffee!!
The only good cup of coffee I could find. Located at Dempsey Hill – 18 former army barracks converted into a complex of restaurants and shops – this branch of the Australian providore serves really good coffee and breakfasts.
I’ve come to the end of my visit, and steamy Singapore has lived up to its reputation, with a tropical downpour every afternoon. I’ve had a great time, walking for as long as I can manage each day and then retiring to the Martini Bar for a late afternoon refreshment. I cannot believe how many shopping centres and European designer outlets have been built, and I am so glad I first visited Singapore in the late 70’s when it still had quite a bit of colonial character. Still, if you go looking, you can find plenty of interesting things to do, none of which involve shopping. One of my favourite spots is the Botanic Gardens which I visited three mornings in a row and still found something new to photograph each time. I tracked this honey eater (which was only the size of my big thumb) from ginger to ginger until he held still long enough for me to get this shot. My list of favourite spots and non-shopping things to do will follow soon.