What can one see and do in Singapore with 48 hours?
Allowing 5 hours each for arrival and departure hall activities, and 8 hours for jet lag nap and sleeping, I had 30 hours to fill - with digital camera shopping, visiting Chinatown markets, museum and garden visits, and food sampling at the hawker markets. I even managed a nightcap at the gay club across the street from my hotel, where I chatted with young women and gay couples about Pink Dot that had just happened. (20,000 Singaporeans and foreign visitors gathered on June 28.)
In her groundbreaking book, Mobilizing Gay Singapore, Lynette Chua uses in-depth interviews with gay activists and observations of the movement's activities to tell the story of gay pride - including "Pink Dot" events.
Pink Dot SG is an annual event that started in 2009 in support of the LGBTQ community in Singapore. Attendees of Pink Dot events gather to form a "pink dot" to show support for inclusiveness, diversity and the freedom to love.
But I digress; back to visiting Merlion and The Lion City as a first-timer.
Most surprising? To find a clean, modern city with Mercedes-driving, English-speaking taxi drivers. Also, to find the Annie Liebowitz Photo Exhibition at the lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum - and to discover a rooftop pool and spa at "the World's Best Airport for 2014."
This jet lag recovery spot plus a visit to the free Butterfly World were some of the delights found while exploring Changi International's three terminals. I was intrigued that the Duty Free Liquor Shops offered sample tastings of the local signature drink, Singapore Sling. I did not imbibe, having arrived early after a Red Eye from Perth. After breakfast at the Hong Kong Dessert Bar, I made my way to Chinatown via taxi.
I arrived the day the downtown food market on Raffles Quay reopened after refurbishment. I enjoyed a cheap, filling meal at Lau Pa Sat Festival Pavilion, where a melting pot of street food like hot chilli crabs and cold mugs of Tiger Beer were on tap. Singapore is known as the food capital of Asia for good reason!
I walked to the waterfront for dazzling night lights above the Marina Sands Casino Complex and the Singapore Flyer, and acted like a camera-mad tourist to the iconic Merlion. (With the head of a lion and the body of a fish, it is a mascot and national personification of Singapore.)
Back on Temple Street in Chinatown, I dropped into the Backstage Bar, for Happy Hour which extends till 9 pm. Backstage Bar is a great place to meet, socialize and chill out on the outdoor, Rainbow-flag-drapped terrace, or dance to some upbeat tunes indoors surrounded by pictures and posters of iconic movies, musicals and stage shows of the past.
The bartender offered me a copy of the local rag, PLU (People Like Us), and mentioned the imminent opening of a sister bar, Two Fat Ladies. If I had more time in Singapore, I would have dined on the gay bar belt at the South Australian-owned Broth restaurant and had drinks at DYMK. (DYMK comes from the initial letters of ‘Does Your Mother Know?’ If she found you in this bar, she probably would.)
It seems Singapore with its mega structures next to historical buildings and acres of activities is a photographer's paradise. The next day I went to Cathay Pacific Photo Store at Marina Sands and purchased my belated birthday gift: a sleek, black Olympus Stylus 1 mirrorless, compact camera. (Tip: I pre-ordered the camera online and negotiated a cash price inclusive of taxes and an international warranty, so picking it up at the store with quote in hand was hassle-free.) I crossed the river to the ArtScience Museum and went in to see my idol photographer's exhibition, Annie Leibovitz: A Photographer's Life 1990 - 2005. I didn't know in advance about the show, so it was a bonus to view more than 250 inspiring portraits and moving war scenes mixed with intimate family snapshots - a good luck charm for my new shutterbox!
Singapore is one of the world's wealthiest countries and is also the world's most populous tourist location, a niche holiday destination for all escapers. The Gardens by the Bay will leave you speechless, like the $34,000 price tag I saw on a wristwatch! The city is filled with fascinating contrasts, diverse attractions and experiences like no other.
I always thought of this destination as just a stopover for shopaholics and casino junkets, but now I can recommend fabulous attractions when Singapore is more than a stopover. 48 hours is not enough!
Changi Airport Tip: When you are leaving, be sure you head to the airport with plenty of time to explore the terminals, packed wtih free cinemas, free gardens, free leg massage machines, and plenty of rest areas and TV kiosks. If you are not an airline club member, you can enter the Rainforest Lounge for a modest fee and enjoy the perks and have a shower before your long-haul flight home.