In this third instalment of our Exploring Singapore series, Claire and I spent the better part of a day exploring the reclaimed area that forms one of the feature locations of Singapore: Marina Bay. With an array of facilities and activities on offer to suit all travel budgets, this is a ‘must’ on your Singapore travel itinerary.
Marina Bay Sands Hotel
An iconic feature of the Singapore skyline, the prestigious Marina Bay Sands Hotel’s three towers curve out of the ground; with views across both Marina Bay and the Gardens by the Bay, they are topped by a bulbous deck which has the distinct profile of a cruise ship.
Whilst – like the majority of hotels – most of this exclusive hotel is out of bounds to non-residents, there is a viewing platform that links from The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, through the hotel to Gardens by the Bay. To access it, use the Marina Bay Sands Hotel exit from the Bayfront MRT Station, turn right at the top of the stairs and use the elevator to get straight up to the sixth floor bridge.
If you want to experience more of the hotel’s stunning location (without paying to stay there of course), there is an observation section on the top deck available for a fee.
Gardens by the Bay
One of the signature locations at Marina Bay Sands, this 101 hectare site contains a variety of free as well as paying attractions to suit all. Furthermore it is also a local park for many Singaporeans so you will find joggers, walkers and picnic goers throughout the site. Like me (Claire), you may not be particularly interested in plants and yet you are bound to find something of interest here. There are a number of free gardens including the Chinese, Malay, Colonial and Indian gardens which you can walk around and learn more about these cultural influences in Singapore. We spent most time in the Chinese garden as we were interested in learning more about the culture we are about to live amongst for 6 months! Here we entered through “moon gates” which are circular openings found in the walls of the garden. They are designed to force people to walk in single file so that when you enter the garden each of you is able to take in the view individually.
As you delve further into the park you will also come across its main attractions: the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome. The entry price allows you into both of these giant greenhouse structures (unless you come on a maintenance day when you can only access one at a reduced price – check the website for more details). The cloud forest is cool on entry and may be worth bringing a thin jumper or similar. It’s most striking feature is the 35 m high man-made waterfall. You can then ascend the ‘mountain’ learning as you go. The flower dome, as it suggests contains flowers but there is often a theme – when we visited it was the Year of the Goat to mark the Chinese Lunar New Year. As backpackers on a budget (and due to the fact I had been before) we didn’t enter the paying he attractions seeking those sections of the park that was free – even so there was still plenty to do and even we didn’t fit it all in.
Please note that there are a number of eateries to suit all tastes and of course there is plenty of space for a picnic. The site is also wheelchair and child friendly (having a separate garden just for children).
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands
This premium mall adjoins the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and is targeted specifically at the desired clientele of such a prestigious establishment. From Tiffany & Co and Pandora to Dolce & Gabbana, this mall is home to the high-end designer shops at the designer prices. With restaurants and bars included, this mall is open until reasonably late every night of the week.
Whilst not somewhere either Claire or I would ordinarily visit, it is a well-designed facility, has free toilets to use (for that inevitable call of nature) and provides a quick, air-conditioned route from the hotel viewing bridge down to the waterfront promenade. For the geek/child in you, the whirlpool water feature outside the front door is not to be missed. Even when the whirlpool is not flowing, the parabolic glass dish itself is still great fun, allowing you to apply the laws of physics and talk to each other across the dish using reflected sound waves!
We didn’t actually go into this facility as it was closed by the time we got out but the building itself is staggeringly beautiful with its petal-like form suspended in the air above the promenade. With exhibitions specific to tastes, it’s probably somewhere worth reading up prior to going to so you can avoid being disappointed.
DNA (Helix) Bridge
Yes it’s a bridge. However, it isn’t just any bridge but the world’s first curved bridge. Designed to represent DNA – the blueprint for life – this bridge spans the entrance to Marina Bay allowing for excellent views of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, ArtScience museum, Singapore Flyer and Singapore skyline. As a geek I loved how the lighting on the floor represented the correct base pairs that make up the DNA code. I also recommend visiting at night as then both the bridge and Bay Area are alight making for a better view!
Part mermaid, part lion – the symbol of Singapore. You’ll find it displayed everywhere on T-shirts, mugs, postcards and just about any other item of tourist tat you can name. However, down on the bay front at the mouth of the Singapore river as it enters the bay you can see it in statue form. It represents the importance of Singapore as a port (mermaid) but also recognises the former name of the area Singapura, meaning ‘Lion City’.
Makansutra Gluttons Bay
Walking away from Marina Bay Sands towards Esplande along the waterfront, you will come across the famous outdoor hawker centre, Makansutra Gluttons Bay. Like fellow hawker centres across Singapore, this offers a range of stalls offering various cuisines from which you choose what you want, with most things cooked to order. This is the way that Singaporeans dine and a must to experience the real Singapore from the local perspective. Add to that the cheap price (we had two meals, a fruit ice and a soft drink for less than $20) and this is a sure way to a great and affordable night out.
Whilst there are so many dishes to choose from, we selected Chicken Mee Goreng and Pork Sasig (sizzling pig’s cheek) – delicious!
As darkness falls on the bay, this isn’t the end of the opportunities and activities on offer. Each evening, the Gardens by the Bay comes awake with a music-accompanied light show focused on the Supertrees, the manmade structures that stand above the natural treetops. At 19:45 and 20:45 these alight in colourful concert for about 15 mins, changing in appearance before settling to glow through the evening. For a good view without being deep within the Gardens themselves, we used the observation point at the end of the hotel link-bridge; though slightly quieter, the view is still spectacular.
Immediately following the displays in the Gardens by the Bay, a light and laser show takes place on the waters of Marina Bay, just in front of The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands mall. This is very popular and lasts about 15 mins, with projections onto water fountains and choreographed lighting.
Top Tip: Marina Bay Sands is a premium resort with many of the activities, shops, bars and restaurants at a premium cost. Whilst this may put many budget (and some non-budget) travellers off going, everything we did was free of charge and there are plenty of cheaper alternative places for food and drink etc within walking distance.