Take time to smell the flowers: A giant living clock at the Gardens by the Bay.
On my first two trips to Singapore, I was there for just one or two days on my way to somewhere else, so there was no time to take in leisurely activities or crisscross the island. Call me slow, but I didn’t even know what the Marina Bay Sands was until this trip, and I finally realized that there is a lot of sightseeing, activities, and eating in that whole surrounding area.
The Supertree Grove at the Gardens by the Bay, the most visible and photographed part of the attraction.
One of the highlights is the Gardens by the Bay, a park spanning 250 acres of reclaimed land right on the waterfront. If you are staying at the Marina Bay Sands, you can see this from your window. The Supertree Grove, which I’ll tell you about in a bit, is the most visible part of the gardens and is gorgeous when lit up at night. Actually, the whole area is usually gorgeous during the day, too, but we had the unfortunate luck of being there during the annual hazy season.
If you love plants, you could dedicate a whole day or more to exploring the gardens. Most people are like us and can barely get through half of it. The Bay South Garden is the largest of the three in this area, at 130 acres. If you have the time and are so inclined, you can also explore the Bay East Garden and Bay Central Garden.
The Bay South Garden is also home to the Flower Dome conservatory, which spans about three acres. Think of it as a gigantic greenhouse, with trees, flowers, ferns and more from all over the world.
You’ll see some of the most unusual species of plants here, all beautiful, all perfect. There are a few tree sculptures as well — no, that dragon did not occur naturally!
At the time, there was also a big chrysanthemum display on the lower level, arranged to look like a very Asian garden.
After you exit the Flower Dome, you can duck out of the humidity and into the Cloud Forest, a two-acre dome featuring a 115-foot waterfall cascading off a 138-foot Cloud Mountain. It’s designed to feel like tropical mountain areas (around 3,000 to 9,800 feet above sea level) with very cool climates.
This is “the Lost World” at the top of Cloud Mountain. You can catch an elevator to the top and walk down a winding path on the outside of it. The path can feel a little scary at times, but not nearly as scary as the Supertrees!
Looks like a scene from “Avatar,” doesn’t it? The trees serve more of a purpose than just being spectacular to look at. They range in height from 82 to 160 feet, with “trunks” that are fitted with photovoltaic cells that harness solar energy, which in turn are used for lighting, like trees use photosynthesis. The trees also collect rainwater for use in irrigation and fountain displays, just like how trees absorb rainwater for growth. The Supertrees also mimic real trees’ air intake and exhaust functions as part of the conservatories’ cooling systems. Then the trunks are covered with unique ferns, vines, orchids, bromeliads and other plants to make them look beautiful during the day.
People can buy tickets to walk along the Skyway, a long, curved bridge that runs between two of the tallest Supertrees to get a panoramic view of the gardens and beyond. I’m not normally afraid of heights, and this photo doesn’t make it look that high, but it is. And to add to the anxiety, the flooring isn’t solid — it’s a bit … bouncy. Edwina and I were pretty scared, and by the end, my shoes were wet because my feet were perspiring overtime from fear.
Since it was Cat’s last day, we needed to get her to Little India to experience it, even just a little. We’re told that Singapore has the largest Indian population outside of India, so their part of town is definitely something to see. And taste.
The first place you should shop at is Mustafa Centre, a 24-hour department store that carries everything. And I mean, everything. Clothes, food, electronics, gifts, cosmetics, shoes, dishes, furniture, … no matter what you need at any time of day, Mustafa’s has it.
When was the last time (if any) you saw a store that sold these? Do any of you readers even know what this is? Now you know they sell everything!
Anyway, be sure to take a spin around the second floor, as there are many food items from India there, most of which you probably have never seen or heard of. I’m now hooked on the spicy cornflakes snack, the Indian version of Chex mix.
Our next stop — which was actually kind of a far walk because we were trying to find the right one — was Banana Leaf Apolo. Guarantee, people will tell you to go to “Banana Leaf,” but they will neglect to tell you which one. I’m telling you, they are specifically one of the two Apolo restaurants. We went to the one at 54 Race Course Road. Keep in mind, too, that there is a difference between North and South Indian cuisine, and this is from the South.
They don’t attend to you until everyone in your party is seated, so if you’re wiping off your sweat, don’t expect anyone to come by until you are done.
Here’s a look at some of the things we ordered. Definitely get the naan, butter chicken (probably the best we’ve had), mutton curry, and saffron rice. You can pile these onto your banana leaf plate/placemat to eat with your hands, the traditional way. This restaurant caters to a lot of tourists, though, so you’ll be able to eat with utensils if you aren’t so good with your hands.
The butter naan was so good, we ordered seconds. Tip: The roti here is not like the chewy kind we usually eat, so you may want to pass on it.
The flower crab is one of their signature dishes, but I would also recommend you pass on this. The spiciness is too sharp and the crab-cracking takes too much work.
Ooops, I forgot to write this down, but I believe it was chicken masala (they serve extra gravy on the side).
Their food is pretty spicy, so I would recommend a nice lassi (yogurt drink) to go with it. I’d definitely go back!
We took a quick afternoon break to get a fish pedicure with my cousin Celia Lines, and her daughters, Emma and Jordyn. These are our feet with the “doctor fish” at Kenko Spa, which you can find all over Singapore. It’s $20 for 15 minutes, or $30 for 30 minutes.
It’s not as gross as it looks! They actually tickle more than anything. And they don’t necessarily swarm your feet; on this day, they were swarming my ankles.
Here’s an unedited recording of my Periscope livestream at the Kenko Spa. See? We didn’t scream. Much.
We ended our day with dinner at Wing Seong Fatty’s, a Cantonese restaurant at 175 Bencoolen St., at the recommendation of avid Flickr user Roger Lim. We were e-introduced to Roger via Kaimana Pine, who met him with photographer Cory Lum. Normally when I travel, unless I’m in China, I don’t feel compelled to eat Chinese food. But here, Roger assured us it was Cantonese “with a twist,” so it sounded intriguing.
If you Google Wing Seong Fatty’s, you will come up with various locations and owner names. Will the real Fatty please stand up? The one on Bencoolen, however, is the original. The owner, Au Chan Seng, is nicknamed Fatty and thus the name of the restaurant was created. His son, Ah Kiong, is nicknamed “Skinny” because of this, but he really prefers you call him Kelvin. No kidding. Call him Kelvin.
From left: Me, Roger, Doug, Kelvin, Cat and Edwina at Wing Seong Fatty’s. We were going to order some specialties, but Roger asked Kelvin to surprise us, and he did.
Not all bean sprout dishes are created equal! This one, bean sprouts dou miao, incorporates the whole plant, if I understood them correctly. It’s sautéed simply in oil, garlic and maybe some seasoning, but so delicious.
Prawns and tofu in a sauce similar to chili crab. This wasn’t as spicy as chili crab can be, but I loved its savory qualities and probably would have dredged a hot, deep fried bun through this gravy. Interestingly enough, the tofu was much more tasty than the prawns; I think they fried it in something else first to give it extra flavor.
This is called Straits beehoon with seafood. (Straits Chinese are named after the Straits Settlements, a group of British settlements in Southeast Asia.) Normally I’m more of a chow fun fan over beehoon noodles, but this was pretty addicting. It was well-seasoned, nicely balanced, and full of various seafood textures.
The spicy pork belly was a lot like bacon! I also loved that the spicy food here had complex and depth in their overall flavor, so you weren’t just getting punched in the mouth with heat.
Our big surprise was the off-menu, Thai-style fish tail (Roger thinks it is called “hong ka yi”) that Kelvin whipped up with gorgeous spiciness, peppers, and a lot of lime. I’ve never had a fish like that before, with so many unique flavors going off. I may never get to have it again (but I hope I do).
Our day ended the way it began, almost, with Roger driving us through Little India to see the Deepavali lights. If you are headed to Singapore or India soon, Deepavali — their version of the festival of lights — starts on November 10.
For more photos from this trip, click here.
Up next: Raffles, museum hunting, and chili crab!