SINGAPORE   SWING

MANILA, February 18, 2005 (STAR) SHOPSIFTED By ANA G. KALAW  -  I feel like a philanderer writing about Singapore. I feel like a cheat, two-timing Manila as I express how enjoyable my Singapore experience was. I never expected the Lion City to have such a positive effect on me, never expected the high, never expected the lingering thoughts, never expected the strong urge for relocation.

I was warned of its pull before I visited. Singapore would spoil you, they said, work its charms as it did to the UK edition of Condé Nast Traveller who polled it as one of the "Best City to Visit" in the world. I didn’t give the recognition too much mind until I realized that it really was as world—class as promised.

At first sight, Singapore bombards me with its cleanliness, its order, and the perfect symmetry of its landscape. The utopian appeal of Singapore is so overwhelming that for the briefest of seconds I glimpse the contrast with my own country. The pace in Singapore seems so automated and so mechanical that it surprises with the friendliness of its people and the warmth of its attractions.

Singapore has every attraction imaginable despite its small land area. What its natural resources can’t afford, Singaporeans create. Within its perimeters, Singapore has a white—sand beach, a sizeable shark—filled aquarium, botanical gardens, a wildlife park, a nature reserve, and a snow—filled building.

Singapore amazes with how it has managed to put together fast-paced cosmopolitan living with the relaxed ease of a suburban lifestyle. Singapore, like a real entertainer, loves to work the crowd of tourists it welcomes each year. The city caters to every sensory indulge: It attracts the eyes and ears with its festivals, and its landscape of light, sound, and color, entices the taste buds and arouses the olfactories with its multi—racial fare, and tickles the touch with luxurious world-class treatments and accommodations.

I am unexpectedly, almost embarrassingly, smitten by Singapore. It’ll probably wear off by the time my second visit comes around, but for now I count the ways it has spoiled me in its favor:

• The luxury of six-star accommodations – Though the "six—star" classification is a standard termed by the locals, there are about three hotels in Singapore that merit it. One of them is the Ritz-Carlton Millenia, a Singaporean—owned franchise from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. Located at the heart of Marina Center, Singapore’s business district, it has 610 guest rooms replete with all the amenities and services to encourage lazy living: Twice-daily housekeeping, refreshment bars, large-screen TVs, fax machines, Bose sound systems, high-speed internet access, and (for suites and Ritz-Carlton club rooms) plush feather beds. The best feature of each room is its large marble-tiled bathrooms. Each bathroom is half the size of the room proper, has his and her sinks and tubs adjacent to large picture windows overlooking the city skyline. The Ritz-Carlton, truly deserving of its six-star label, has received quite a few awards, including "Best Hotel in Asia" by Asiamoney and "Best Business Hotel in Singapore" by Travel + Leisure magazine.

Other hotels afforded six—star status is the Conrad Centennial, also in the Marina district, and the Raffles Hotel Singapore, the city’s first hotel, having opened in 1887, historic for surviving wars and receiving famed guests, such as authors Rudyard Kipling and W. Somerset Maugham

• Excellent fusion cuisine – Singaporean cuisine is a mixture of all the cultures of its habitants and those of the expatriates that have come to call the city "home." There is a predominance of Eastern influences on Singaporean cuisine, tempered by Indian, Malay, and Western tastes. For a lavish gastronomic experience, most Singaporeans recommend the Ritz-Carlton’s Summer Pavilion. Voted "One of the Top Ten Hotel Restaurants in the World" Hotels magazine and "Best Dining Experience in Singapore" by the Singapore Tourism Board, Summer Pavilion serves excellent modern Cantonese cuisine prepared by chef Fok Kai Yee. Chef Fok’s specialties are dim sum made of unexpected ingredients, like steamed sea perch with goose liver mousse and mushroom, and a recent recipe, foie gras fried rice. As a non-meat eater, I enjoyed concoctions made from fresh mushrooms and bamboo shoots, and vegetable stir-fried noodles.

I also had my vegetarian tastes appeased at My Humble Home, a chic, Soho—worthy eatery popular with expats and Singapore yuppies. The food served at My Humble is a fusion of Chinese and Western cooking served in impressive presentations. (Soup is served in a coconut shell, appetizers are arranged to look like abstract artworks.) Located at the Esplanade Mall, My Humble Home’s interiors are as impressive as its food – sheer, white curtains and muted lighting enclose a hodgepodge of dark Thai-inspired wood furniture.

For a distinctly European flavor, Les Amis, the French fine-dining restaurant along Scott’s Road, is your best bet. French cooking here is very modern, avoiding heavy cream, and instead maximizing the natural flavours of the meats and vegetables used. Paris-trained Belgian chef Gunther Hubrechsen wants his cooking to look and feel simple, look appetizing, and taste exquisite. To my utter gratitude, chef Gunther is fond of working with vegetables, and whipped up a dish of sautéed fresh vegetables for me, while the others enjoyed their lamb stew and foie gras. The food at Les Amis is best taken with wine, and this restaurant has the biggest wine selection in Singapore, with 1,500 labels (predominantly New World brands, including French, Chilean, and Australian) and selections.

• The chocolate – One indulgence I can’t seem to give up is chocolate. While in Singapore, I had my fill of every cocoa—filled treat. The Raffles Hotel has sinful liquor-filled truffles made especially for events, such as the Mid-Autumn Festival in September. Dessert is also a specialty of the Conrad Centennial; their chocolate truffles are also must-tries. Chocoholics will be placated by the Fullerton Hotel’s weekend chocolate buffet. All-you-can-eat chocolate come in every form: Soup, starter, and main course. You can skip dessert

• A thriving arts and culture scene – Singapore probably has the best arts program in Asia, showcasing traditional and modern visual and performing arts from both the East and West. The city has about seven museums, six theaters, and a smattering of art galleries. The most popular show venue is the Esplanade, a set of theaters on the bay. The Esplanade holds Asian and Western performances, presently housing the Australian cast of the Broadway hit musical Mamma Mia (set in the Greek isles and presenting the songs of the legendary Swedish group Abba), and is now the venue for artist Fernando Botero’s hefty bronze sculptures. The different city landmarks are also venues to the country’s art programs, such as the recent SingArt—A Brush with Lions exhibit, which commissioned popular figures from the arts, entertainment, business, public service, and medicine industries to design and decorate their own life-sized cast lions in any way they wish. One of the participants was the late Pacita Abad, who painted her lion in splashes of bright festive colors that has become her signature. Pacita Abad’s lion, called "Simba," was exhibited at the Raffles Hotel.

• Opportunities to experience nature – Despite its urbanite topography, Singapore offers experiences for nature lovers. The Bukit Timah nature reserve "contains more species of trees than the whole of North America." The popular night safari takes visitors on a nocturnal train ride through an enclosed wildlife park. Sentosa Island is also a premiere spot for nature freaks. The white-sand beach (one of which is named Palawan) is a prime spot for soaking up the sun’s rays. Sentosa is also home to Singapore’s Underwater World, an oceanarium with 2,500 different fishes from 250 species. Different kinds of sharks, eels, rays, and even dugongs can be seen. Another must-see attraction in Sentosa are the pink dolphins at the dolphin lagoon. Born gray, these Indo—Pacific humpback dolphins turn a pale bubblegum pink as they age in reaction to the tropical climate.

• Stomach-lurching thrills – Right smack in the center of the city is G-max, a must for those who want to prove they are tough enough to handle this gravity—defying activity. Described as a reverse bungee ride, G-max lurches three brave souls strapped on a swing from the ground to the next frontier. As if having yourself thrown up in the air is not bad enough, the swing impartially spins in mid—air.

• Endless shopping – It has been a misnomer to equate Singapore with expensive shopping. Though the city is a haven for designer labels, more affordable stylish clothing can also be found. Prime spot for shopping is Orchard Road, which is home to department stores, shopping complexes and hotels. Luxury buys are at Ngee An City and Paragon Plaza, where every known hit designer from Paris, Italy, Spain, and the US reign, such as Miu Miu, Zara, Dior (as an ode to the shopping prowess of Singaporeans, two Dior boutiques lie within blocks one another), and Big Star. The Hereen has funkier and trendier Singaporean and Asian labels. Bargain shoppers will find good buy at Tang’s department store and Far East Plaza. The latter is a bazaar—style compound with affordable finds for the trend lover.

• Relaxing spa treatments – The ultimate indulgence in Singapore can be found at the lush Spa Botanica on the grounds of the Sentosa Resort and Spa. Inspired by the concept of a botanical garden, Spa Botanica offers traditional massages and non-traditional treatments to quiet the mind and ease the body of stress and pain.

One of the spa’s signature treatments is the galaxy steam bath, a one-and-a-half hour treatment that had me entering a steam chamber where my entire body was encased in a cast of medicinal chakra mud, which was supposed to exfoliate and purify my skin. For about 20 minutes, I was asked to relax as steam infused the room. All I had for company were the lights on the ceiling, which were arranged to look like the stars in the Northern Hemisphere. As I was trying to find Orion, a warm shower (to replicate rain) drizzled from above to wash off the mud. The treatment was followed by an aroma massage. Though one of the most bizarre treatments I’ve ever had, I knew that it was one of those rare moments where I can truly indulge.

* * * For more information on Singapore, contact the Singapore Tourism Board marketing representative c/o Nancy Harel and Associates Inc. at 632-0258, e-mail stbphils@pacific.net.ph or log on to www.visitsingapore.com.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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