It was with much excitement on the part of travelswithadiplomat that the Diplomat announced we were off to Singapore for four days. She to work, me to investigate the general environs. Given its reputation as the “Garden of Asia”, this was definitely a must-see place on my general life experience journey. It didn’t disappoint in the slightest (bar the Jurong Bird Park, but that’s another blog to come) and is a perfect place for anyone trying hard to conceal an OCD. Everywhere is clean. Everywhere is neat and tidy. Not a speck of dust, not a crisp packet carelessly tossed into the spring breeze. The usual pavement mosaic stains of chewing gum don’t exist here. Verdant gardens keep to their herbaceous borders, shiny new skyscrapers are humanity’s symbiosis with the sparkling waterways, the charming little lanes by the waterfront, the lush green that is everywhere. The old town is preserved with its pastel colours, the area that is Fort Canning (another blog) a solicitous amble of organic luxury merged with palpable history.
Am I eulogizing too much? Probably. But this city is simply fabulous. In every way that matters to me. Friendly, environmental, conscious of its heritage, modern, tasteful, adventurous, exciting. I can see why F1 brought their night Grand Prix here. Wandering round the track area has instantly confirmed my desire to come and see a night race. Anyway, enough geysering platitudes and gushing sycophancy . This blog is to tell you all about our visit to the ‘Gardens By the Bay‘ a botanical experience opened in 2011, comprising three stunning waterfront gardens – the Flower Garden, the Cloud Forest and the Super Tree Grove (there are other sections, like the Heritage Garden, Dragonfly Lake, and Kingfisher Lake). Isla, the Diplomat and I arrived with a another companion – The Ginger Diplomat – having taken a short ferry hop from Merlion Park to the new Marina Bay Shops (by way of the Science Museum stop). What was meant to be a walk through the cool air conditioning, over a road, through the centre of the SkyPark hotel via their “bridge”, and onto our destination, became a more leisurely meander as we got lost, got waylaid by a man promising the Diplomats that a dab of chilli and gold cream on your right eye region would make you look years younger. Of course, they only ever do one eye. The other will set you back a few hundred Singaporean dollars – something most sane people balk at. That, of course, meant the ladies happily sauntered off with one eye “aglow”, the other dark and moody. Think Patch.
Eventually we found the escalator, emerged two storeys up and crossed into the centre of the SkyPark hotel. Walking through it we descended some steps and found ourselves at the Dragonfly Lake where a $2 per person got you a 5min ride to the centre of the gardens to buy tickets (Seeing both domes set me back $20ea.) The lake itself has a 440m walkway for an aspiring photographer to pause and snap happily away, but as we were on a ride I didn’t manage it. I did read, however, that this lake (and the Kingfisher one) are designed to demonstrate the rich variety of aquatic life from fish to plants. The aquatic plants are in situ to help maintain the right amount of nutrients in the lake by helping to absorb excess nitrogen and phosphorus. It is meant (like a lot of things in Singapore) to be super eco-friendly so the plants act as a natural filter to cleanse water that has been captured from run-offs or pumped in from the connecting Marina reservoir. Filter beds comprising aquatic reeds are strategically located where the water enters and discharges from the lake system. What I did find odd was a super-enormous sculpture (in white) of a baby. It was balanced on a single point and the artwork was called “The Planet”. It was impressive, but was seriously out of place.
Given our time was running short we gave the Ginger Diplomat the chance to pick our first dome as she could only manage one, having to race back to checkout in order to catch an earlier flight back to Bangkok. She chose the Flower Garden. In hindsight, I think she picked wrong. The Cloud Forest is the pearl in this particular oyster. Anyway, we went in. Having been to the Bio Domes in Cornwall, England, I had some idea what to expect and this was very good. It had a regulated, cool-dry climate. The first sections were Mediterranean (but not Levantine). Flowers hailing from France, England, Spain and Italy bloomed. There wasn’t much scent, unless you rammed your nostrils into a rose, but the colour – all of which was artfully done to reflect the coming Easter with a colony of faux rabbits trying to be part Easter bunny, part Peter Rabbit. There was plenty of opportunity for you to take a photo whilst seated in one of the many bowers. As you descended the gently curving slope, plants from deserts all over the world were shown; such as baobabs, surrounded by fascinating succulents. I was also able to gallop gleefully amongst the roses, the petunias, the hyacinths and camellias – in fact it was like being in Windsor Great Park in May.
We left the Dome, passed through the gift shop. At least it wasn’t crass enough, like so many places these days, to force you through a gift area. You had an option of ignoring it. Delicately done, as the reverse psychology meant you then promptly went in. I got three bookmarks to add to the collection.
The Ginger Diplomat scarpered leaving us three to go into the Cloud Forest Dome. It was i-m-p-r-e-s-s-i-v-e. Seriously. You enter on a huge waterfall, cascading seven storeys. The entire place is a hollowed cone which you perambulate up or down like a helterskelter. This particular one, however, sometimes throws your trail out in huge curving arcs into nothing but thin air so you can get a sense of scale. I hope this gives a sense of what I mean:
The place dripped water but wasn’t humid. You could walk amongst tree tops if you wishes, or duck inside to an ice zone where natural stalactites and stalagmites grew. At the bottom was a small river and a small auditorium that lectured you on temperature and climate change. The top level had plants that harked back to pre-cambrian era; it also had a variety of flesh eating plants. Think Venus Flytrap. Two levels down you could almost step out into the waterfall as it cascaded down to the tiny figures below. At another point the walkway took you out to the very edge of the dome and the views across the harbour were simply stunning. A blue sea dotted with huge ships. Beneath us the gleam of twenty-first century technology becoming almost an art form.
Everything exuded grace. If I am being overly obsequious, it is intentionally so. The place is the world’s largest indoor waterfall; it showcases plants from ground to 2000m above sea level and is designed to show you bio-diversity.
Here are some photos just from this dome:
After this we had to go which meant we zipped past the Supertree Grove, pausing only to understand what they were. They are artificial “trees” about 16 storeys in height – twelve at the Supertree Grove, while the remaining six are placed in clusters of threes at the Golden and Silver Gardens. They are designed to create height to balance the skyscrapers in the Marina Bay. You can pay to walk the OCBC Skyway, a 128-metre long walk that connects the two 25-metre Supertrees at the Supertree Grove. Of course, like all these places, full advantage is taken of the tourist with a 50-metre tree-top cafe. By now it was baking hot, we were all dripping and we had agreed to meet the Ginger Diplomat for some laksa – the name derives from the Persian word laksha (noodles) and is of Melakan origin as it was a major port city in the 17th century with a significant number of Persian traders and Chinese immigrants. The latter brought noodles, incorporated local ingredients, and became laksa. Macao has a similar dish called lacassa. It consists of thick, roughly processed rice-flour noodles, in a spice based gravy with coconut milk served with belacan (shrimp paste, cockles, and bean sprouts). It is accompanied by a spicy chilli paste made from dried shrimp. The fragrance of the dish comes from the garnish of chopped knot-weed or laksa leaf. Whilst the dish is usually associated with the Peranakan community it is now commonly sold by the Chinese with prawns, fish cakes, and deep fried bean curd.
Enough culinary deconstruction. I’ll leave you with a final slideshow on some of the stunning flowers on display…
Is this what diplomacy is all about?