{summer series} – A Little Travel – Singapore

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(above: amazing views over the city and the bay from the Sands Skypark)

With all these beach breaks I’ve been sharing…how about a city break?  Actually…a city break that still offers a tropical holiday feel?  Singapore!

Singapore is truly an incredible place – clean and safe with so much to see and do, it is a real melting pot of cultures.  In my previous working life, I was fortunate enough to travel to Singapore a few times and I really fell in love with the country during this time.  Each time I went, I thought what a wonderful place it would be to take loved ones.  Two years ago, when I was seven months pregnant and had a two and a half year old in tow, we went with some friends and then again just last May.  In that short time between visits, the city changed dramatically…it does almost daily, so even some of the images and information from this post (I have combined both visits in the one post) may not exactly be up to date!  That, though, is the beauty of the place.  For a child, just travelling around the city is entertainment enough – with building works, buzzing traffic and buildings that look like works of art.  But Singapore truly is a family-friendly destination.

First of all, the restaurants!  The food in Singapore is fabulous and even street food needs to pass rigorous health inspections in order to trade, so you know that where ever you decide to eat, it will be pretty good.  Hawker markets are cheap and tasty options (many indoor ones are set up like a shopping mall food court) so you can dine in modern, air conditioned comfort and enjoy a great rice or noodle dish for about $4.  Restaurants, whilst roughly the same prices as back home (perhaps a little cheaper, and then cheaper again with the dollar conversion) will greet your family at the door with a high chair, kids menu and colouring books and pencils.  I don’t think I have ever visited a restaurant in Singapore and been frowned at for having little people in tow.

Then, there is the shopping!  At first it seems overwhelming, but you quickly realise that many of the shopping precincts stock the same brands…so visiting one or two large centres, combined with a wander underground between the MRT stations (more on that below) and then perhaps a walk down the infamous Orchard Road and you will cover all you need to.  The shopping centres are just awesome, most of them covering four, five or six levels and each level with it’s own offering (food court, electronics and gadgets, women’s wear, men’s wear, kids stuff, etc).  Normally, on the kids/maternity level you will find a cracking playground for the kids to enjoy.  Some centres offer childcare for a low rate and others have a roof top family play area complete with a mini waterpark (always handy to take a change of clothes!)  Needless to say, if you wanted to leave Dad and the kids on the top floor and then head downstairs to enjoy some shopping, then these centres have it covered for you.

And then there is the transport!  Buses, trains, boats, taxis…whichever way you choose to travel around Singapore you will find it clean and efficient.  The MRT (underground train system) is absolutely fantastic.  It seems scary at first as it moves quite quickly, but the staff are helpful (and so are the locals) and once you’ve bought a ticket for each family member, you can pretty much get to any major destination in the city with minimum fuss and in climate controlled peace.  I would recommend any visitor to get on one of the open-air, two-storey Hippo Bus tours on arrival though.  The kids LOVE it, and with the wind in your hair you can enjoy the sights and get your bearings.

I have flown with Singapore Airlines and Jetstar to Singapore and they are both great.  The Jetstar international flights are suprisingly roomy and comfortable and you don’t tend to eat as much when you buy your own food…also, with an iPad, there is little need to hire a screen.  The added bonus of Jetstar is price – we managed to score return flights from Melbourne for only $340 on sale which is AMAZING!  So keep an eye out for their sales.  Singapore Airlines is really lovely and their food is fab.  They also often have great deals, but I think the cheapest I have encountered was around $700 return (still not bad for an international flight).  The trip takes seven hours and is really easy.  Usually it’s during the day on the way there, and overnight on the way home…so you are a little bleary-eyed at the end of your trip, which is a shame.

If you’ve got the time (you could do an awesome long weekend trip if you were so inclined), I would recommend about 8-10 days to really relax and see the sights.  I would also recommend splitting your trip in two – half in the city, and the other half on that crazy little island called Sentosa!  Sentosa is a man-made island just over the bridge from the city (so Melbourne-ites, think the city over the Westgate to Williamstown).  You can catch a bus or a taxi over the bridge, or a cable car or monorail from Vivo City (the largest shopping centre in the city).  Sentosa is like one giant theme park.  Spotless and quite clearly man-made in parts, the island features a number of ‘beaches’ and little areas with entertainment, shops and cafes.  We stayed on the island at the Rasa Shangri-La which isn’t the fanciest resort there, but it is super family friendly…from the monkeys that swing past your windows, to the peacocks at breakfast and the fun waterpark and waterslide down by the pool (which is also an area just perfect for kids).  The newest addition to Sentosa is the area known as ‘Resorts World‘ which offers accommodation, restaurants, a theme park and casino.  It is there that you will also find the Singapore Aquarium, which is truly one of the most amazing and beautiful aquariums that I have ever seen.  We spent an entire afternoon there and the kids loved it…I was completely in awe by how beautiful it was and how much you really felt as though you were ‘under the sea’.  With minimal cars and free transport (buses, little ‘trains’ and the monorail) Sentosa is great fun and really relaxing compared to the hustle and bustle of the city.

In the city we stayed at the beautiful Mandarin Oriental.  Pricey, yes, but it is without a doubt one of the loveliest places that I have ever stayed (and it’s well worth searching around online…they will match any price you find online AND knock 10% off so we managed to stay for almost half price of what is listed).  When we arrived they had a little welcome pack for the kids (mini slippers and a travel pack of baby products) and their incredible pool offers beautiful views of the bay.  It isn’t on top of an MRT station so we had a walk next door to a shopping centre and then a walk underground to a station, or over the bridge and downstairs in the new Marina Bay Sands complex.  Either way, it wasn’t hard.  The Hippo Bus stopped right out the front though, so that was handy.  Walking distance from where we stayed is the gorgeous Marina/Esplanade area (which is quite similar to Southbank in Melbourne or Circular Quay in Sydney – lots of restaurant, cafes and free entertainment on the water’s edge) and we were also able to walk to the new Gardens By The Bay.  If you happen to make it Singapore, please make sure you get to the Gardens By The Bay.  Seriously.  I am not that ‘into’ gardens, and even though I’d been told to check it out, I couldn’t see what the fuss was about and I thought the kids would be bored.  It’s sort of hard to explain exactly what it’s all about, but check out the photos below for a bit of an explanation!

The other place I would absolutely recommend for families is the zoo – again, it was beautifully clean with all the animals well loved and the prices for food and drinks weren’t through the roof like they are like lots of zoos around the world!  We went for breakfast with the orangutans which was a huge hit (for me too!) and starting the day that early meant that we were done just after lunch and could beat the heat.  Which brings me to my last little pointer about Singapore…it doesn’t matter when you go!  It’s always hot, and it rains most days, but never for long.  The temperature is pretty much the same all year round and even though it is humid and hot, the city is definitely set up in a way to combat that.  I love that the locals will still dress for a summer (sandals, dresses) and a winter (coats, boots) even though there is no significant change between the seasons!

After all my visits to Singapore, and now two with the family, there are still loads of places that I am yet to get to…so I guess I will just have to go back again some day soon!  But if you’re thinking about going to a destination that is great for all ages, Singapore can absolutely be added to your list.

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(above: the view over the pool and Siloso Beach from our balcony at the Shangri-La)

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(above: even the main pool at the Shangri-La is kid-friendly)

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(above: but there is also a fab little waterpark and slide for the kids!)

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(above: Siloso Beach – not great for swimming, but lovely to sit and enjoy the sunset!)

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(above: another mode of transport at Sentosa)

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(above: riding the cable car over the Vivo City)

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(above: the Sound And Light Show at Sentosa runs twice each night and was a big hit with the kids)

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(above: I ticked something off my bucket list swimming with a dolphin at Underwater World…although Underwater World is a bit sad when compared to the shiny new aquarium on the other side of the island!)

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(above: my noisy number two was rendered speechless at the aquarium)

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(above: every display at the aquarium made you feel as though you were in the ocean…)

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(above: especially this one!  The amazing amphitheatre was a magical space…classical music piping through the speakers, dark, cool and just so big!  It was incredibly relaxing and calm.)

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(above: even the littlest guests were welcome at the Mandarin Oriental)

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(above: the fabulous pool at the Mandarin Oriental offered great views over the bay)

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(above: a Hippo Tour is the perfect way to see the city and get your bearings)

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(above and below: one of two amazing indoor gardens at Gardens By The Bay.  This incredible climate controlled space – that is built to completely sustain itself – was divided in to countries and native plants showcased accordingly…interesting, beautiful and a surreal feeling to be both inside and ‘out’.)

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(above and below: these incredible ‘super trees’ light up each night and a sound and light show is something to behold as the sun sets.  We ordered pizza, sat on the grass and watched in awe as the lights danced and flickered in time with the music…just wonderful!  A bridge links the trees and a restaurant sits atop the largest.)

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(above: breakfast with the orangutans was fantastic and such a surprise to get so up close and personal…the zoo is beautiful and well worth a visit.)