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If you're looking for more than beaches and buffets for your next tropical family holiday, think about Singapore.
When planning a long-overdue trip to Europe to see family, we researched a few Southeast Asian locations as the stopover, eventually settling on Singapore because, as everyone said, it was great for kids.
Not just any kids - we have to cater for a moody 15-year-old and an even more temperamental toddler.
We needed somewhere warm, safe and relaxing, but still active and entertaining for all ages.
We also wanted to get out of the bubble of Queenstown by finding a contrast - humidity, city life, public transport, lots of people, clothes shopping (for the teen), but also the seaside.
That is exactly what we found in Singapore. We were there for five nights and four days, and were thoroughly entertained without feeling exhausted, enjoyed all the sites, got our shopping fix and had a swim in the sea.
But more than that, we found we could get around with ease, were helped before we realised we needed help, and always found the necessary amenities close by - food, shade and change tables. It was hot, though. I will say that.
• Gardens by the Bay is a large nature park with a number of jaw-dropping man-made attractions showing off nature's horticultural beauty. We only visited two attractions, but there's plenty more to keep you in awe for a couple of days and well into the nights. As well as the now-iconic canopy of solar-powered ``super trees'' that you can view up close on the skyway walk, there is the conservatory cloud forest, holding a central 35m-tall ``mountain'' of hanging plants that you can walk around. As well as the world's biggest indoor waterfall, the conservatory creates clouds at set times during the day. We enjoyed this so much we walked around it twice! That meant we left in the heat of midday. We cooled down in the Far East Organisation's Children's Garden, a large water park catering to different ages that is way more fun than the name sounds.
• The ArtScience Museum, located at Marina Bay Sands. There are several exhibitions, both permanent and temporary. We opted for one in particular on the advice of a friend. FutureWorld, where art meets science, was a digital sensory delight with oversized lit balls, a slide with moving digital murals, a chill-out wave room, curtains with changing light patterns and an interactive moving digital artwork that you could feed your designs into.
• Sentosa Island - the man-made island of fun! Accessible by monorail, which we took in the morning, and cable car, which we took at sunset, this park is set by the sea with a 3.2km white sand beach. We flagged the indoor attractions, Universal theme parks, luge and bungy (we have them at home!) to chill out on Malaysian-imported sand, and float in the cool sea, although next time we're hitting the Adventure Cove Waterpark and the Butterfly Kingdom. On the way to the gondola, we stopped for a beer on the beach front to watch the sun start setting, which was blissful. The long sunset really enhanced the perfect 360-degree vista across Singapore and the ocean on the cable-car ride home to the mainland, ending a wonderful day.
• The boulevard at Robertson Quay is a lovely riverside walk taking in al fresco bistros, wine bars and cafes that are slightly more upmarket and therefore pricey - it's a one-off when you're on a travel budget. The Alkaff Bridge running across the Singapore River makes for a lovely background to your Instagram snaps.
• Plan to visit Singapore Zoo on a cooler day because much of it is outside. It's like a lot of zoos except here you can get up close. The orangutans were a highlight, as was the Fragile Forest biodome where we were in touching distance to tiny mouse deer, tamarin and sloth monkeys, parrots, cheeky lemurs and marmosets, as well as butterflies, beautiful birds and flying foxes.
Here are my top five reasons to visit Singapore.
• People were oh so friendly, and helpful, too.
Landing in a foreign country hitting high humidity late in the evening with a toddler that barely slept on the 10-hour flight would otherwise be a recipe for disaster. Not so in Singapore. Our first taste of local hospitality after leaving Changi Airport was the delightful narration of our taxi driver on the way to our Airbnb apartment. Singaporean taxi and Uber drivers seem to have a friendly answer for everything, and the cars are all new, clean and air-conditioned.
• This is truly the overarching theme of Singapore
Neat and tidy, with friendly people. Combine that with the most astounding architectural engineering feats, zero litter and a clockwork transport system, and it reminds you of a futuristic movie where everything is perfect. Many of the plots in these blockbusters reveal a sinister twist, but that didn’t worry us. When everything is efficient and effortless, and everyone is enjoying the sightseeing, there are no complaints here.
• The flora
I did not expect such a pretty place. It absolutely abounds with lush green trees, verdant parks and colourful flowering blooms, all fastidiously manicured to keep from cracking floors and overtaking buildings.
• The Singaporean dollar was very similar in value to the New Zealand dollar at the time of travel, reducing the mental stress of converting everything
And the public transport and taxis as well as food were all cheaper than home!
• Singapore is extremely safe
Not for one moment did we worry about our and our children’s safety, nor of being ripped off, pickpocketed or lied to.
Recommendations to make your stay in Singapore easier. —
1. I recommend looking into accommodation with a pool. Our Airbnb apartment had a rooftop pool with views over the city. Singapore is hot and humid almost all the time, so having somewhere to cool down is ideal.
2. Check the weather conditions. Singapore has a dry and wet season rather than four distinct seasons. We had little choice about our travel time because of school holidays, and were lucky it didn’t rain much at all, which is common in December. The hottest months are May to June, so you’re best to avoid those unless you plan on spending your time indoors with air con.
3. Take public transport in the morning, but a taxi or Uber at night when you are tired and want to get home quickly. Or if your destination is far. Taxis, but Ubers especially, are very cheap.
4. When visiting attractions go early to avoid the heat and plan to eat in an air- conditioned mall at midday.
5. Don’t pay on the metro as you go. Buy a Singapore Tourist Pass and load money on it. We bought the equivalent of around $10 that covered us for three days of travel on bus services, MRT and LRT trains. We then simply topped up again. Whatever is left will be refunded when you leave Singapore.
6. When it comes to food you can’t go wrong with Food Republic food courts across the city. They are easy and offer a lot of choice. For something really special find a sushi train! Great for the kids.