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Singapore harbour
Singapore harbour
The new theatre


Thursday, April 8, 2004
Catriona takes a shopping spree in a jam-packed 24 hours in the city that roars … Singapore!

Singapore's past has been moulded to fit political and economic demands, but not far below the surface lies an intriguing story of the rise and fall of local empires. In the 8th century, the British began looking for a harbour in the Straits of Melaka for trade between China, the Malay world and India.

Renewed war in Europe led to the French annexation of Holland in 1795, which in turn prompted the British to seize Dutch possessions in South-east Asia, including Melaka.

At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, in 1818, the British restored Dutch possessions, in turn disappointing many with the dream of British imperial expansion.

Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles was Lieutenant-Governor of Java and Governor of Sumatra and was instructed to negotiate with the Sultan of Johor for land which became Singapore — The Lion City — in 1819. He was fascinated by the enormous diversity of animals and plants of the East Indies and employed zoologists and botanists to discover as much as they could about them, paying them from his own pocket.

Today Singapore is a place where east meets west, old and new, traditional and modern. It is a city of five-star hotels lining Orchard Road, expensive shopping areas, glass and concrete skyscrapers, French and Italian food, Californian and Australian wines and European haute couture.

However a trip to Chinatown, Little India or Arab Street soon proves that traditions are still alive and well. Chinese fortune tellers, calligraphers, little shops selling mysterious medicines and temple worshippers are part of everyday life there. Shops in Little India trade in colourful sari silks, aromatic herbs and spices and pictures of Hindu gods. As you wander through the shops of Arab Street you will hear the voice of the muezzin coming from the nearby mosque.

Although it was once a notorious port city of rickshaws, opium dens, pearl luggers and pirates, these days Singapore is a well-controlled and orderly city. There are, however, patches of banyan trees, ceiling fans and gin slings to reflect the colonial ambience of days gone by.

There are plenty of escapes from the busy shopping and commercial areas. Numerous parks and forests give relief from the heat and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is 81 hectares of primary forest boasting the island's highest point.

Sungei Buloh Nature Park is 87 hectares of wetland nature reserve, home to 140 species of mostly migratory birds. Trails from the visitors' centre lead around ponds and mangrove swamps.

Mt Faber's 116 metres can be reached by cable car from the World Trade Centre and from there you have fine views over the harbour and the city. A visit there can be linked in with a trip to Sentosa Island.

The Singapore Zoological Gardens, considered one of the world's best, is home to more than 1860 primates, birds, amphibians, reptiles and 360 species of fish. Visitors can have afternoon tea and breakfast with orang-utans and co-diners might include a bear cat, spider monkey, gibbon, macaque or reticulated python.

There's an underwater viewing section where you can see polar bears, sea lions, penguins and crocodiles. There's also a dry African savannah ecosystem complete with jackals, mongooses, baboons, mud-walled villages and tribal artifacts. An elevated boardwalk crosses the elephant camp, which is a novel way to see the big creatures, and a night safari gives the chance to peep into the nocturnal activities of buffalo, bongos, blue sheep, striped hyena, golden jackal and the rare one-horned rhinoceros.

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew made drastic changes to his country and is known as the father of modern Singapore. High economic growth rates supported political stability and dissidents were exiled or jailed. Juke boxes, chewing gum and long hair on men were banned, and some feel a lot of the city's character was lost forever.

Bugis Street was famous as a noisy, late night transvestite playground. It was really just a food stall centre, but late at night people went there to drink beer and to watch the beauty pageant transvestites strutting their stuff. All that went with the building of the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport). New Bugis Street has been built but most agree it lacks the colour and life of its predecessor.

The hot new spot for young locals and ex-pats is Club Street. The renovated bars and restaurants are very popular and the clientele mostly sophisticated and affluent.

Some of the major department stores such as CK Tang offer personal shopping services. Call ahead and provide information about your proposed purchases and you will be accompanied by an expert, free of charge.

One of the city's most popular dining areas is Boat Quay, alongside the Singapore River between Cavenagh and Elgin Bridges. Restaurants, bars and nightclubs in restored shop houses and terraces buzz until the early hours of the morning. There are restaurants serving Greek, Thai, Chinese, Indian and Malay cuisine and music ranges from classic rock, hard rock, blues and of course karaoke.

A beautiful building which was once a post office, chamber of commerce and a club — making it a historic landmark — has been transformed into the Fullerton Hotel.

It was built in 1928 on the site of Fort Fullerton, named after the first governor of the Straits settlement. The neoclassical grey stone building with majestic Doric columns is impressively grand and suits the slick city Singapore is today. Its fixtures and fittings are by Philippe Starck and once you sink into one of his elegant chairs or beds, all thoughts of aeroplane seats disappear.

The MRT is ultra-modern and is a very quick, cheap and easy way to get around the city in air-conditioned comfort. It has 48 stations and costs just 80 Singapore cents.


An island off the tip of Malaysia.


Qantas files daily to Singapore.
Qantas Holidays has 4 night packages, staying at the Fullerton Singapore and including return economy airfares, transfers and a city tour starting at $1055 from Perth, $1291 from Brisbane, $1292 from Melbourne, $1297 from Adelaide and $1308 from Sydney, per person.
Please note prices are valid at time of filming.

More information

Fullerton Hotel
1 Fullerton Square, Singapore 049178
Ph: 65 6733 8388 Fax: 65 6735 8388

Singapore Zoo
80 Mandai, Lake Route, Singapore 729826
Ph: 65 6269 3411 Fax: 65 6269 8724

The Esplanade
Ph: 65 6332 0774 Fax: 65 6337 3633
60 Raffles Avenue Singapore 039800

Boat Quay

Personal Shoppers @ CK Tangs: Ph: 65 6737 5500

Qantas Holidays: Ph: 13 13 13

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