Singapore has spent a fortune making itself a city in a garden rather than a city with gardens. And one of the stars of the transformation is the amazing Gardens by the Bay.
It’s the city-state’s answer to the Eden Project in Cornwall, but on an even grander scale, and it was top of my list of things to see on our week-long holiday. Its tempting and towering Supertrees were visible from our hotel room, lying just beyond the extravagant Marina Bay Sands Hotel.
So after a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast we caught the metro to Bayfront and jumped on the little shuttle to the heart of the gardens in the sweltering, sultry heat. The Marina Bay Sands towered over the site, looking mightily impressive, futuristic and absolutely bonkers all at the same time.
Sweating profusely, we walked around the lakes, landscaped grounds and some of the smaller Supertrees. The planting was exceptional and exceptionally well tended, whether climbers or shrubs, trees or grasses.
But the heat made it nigh on impossible to stay outdoors so we dived into one of the air-conditioned shops to recover and dry out. I bought a small towel to mop my sweaty parts, partly because I was expecting the two giant glass conservatories on the site to be like an oven.
But the Cloud Forest turned out to be a wonderfully cool oasis, which was pretty obvious in hindsight. Forests in the mountains are bound to be both chilly and damp.
The centrepiece is a mountain peak covered in great planting, including orchids, ferns, mosses and bromeliads, plus a dramatic waterfall and a collection of footpaths that linked everything together. Periodically, mist was pumped out to simulate the clouds while inside the peak we stopped at a display of stalagmites and stalactites gathered from cave systems around the world. All in all it was amazing.
The neighbouring Flower Dome, an even bigger glass house, had a lot to live up to after the Cloud Forest but was refreshingly cool despite its Mediterranean theme.
Beds full of glorious cacti and plump beobabs greeted us as well as ancient olive trees and giant palms. The task of transporting these giants from around the world must’ve been immense.
Other gardens in the dome were themed around South African and South American plants. Elsewhere, a twee French garden featured lupins, agapanthus, hydrangeas and delphiniums, looking every bit like an English country garden. A riot of colour, it was a treat.
Back outside, and in the intense heat, we walked to the Supertrees grove, where a skywalk links a couple of the towers to give great views of the park. The trees, one of which rises to about 50m, are vertical gardens draped in orchids, ferns and other plants, but they also serve as exhaust and air intake engines for the gardens’ environmentally friendly cooling and heating systems. Futuristic and captivating, we’d see them as the centrepiece of a light show later in the week.
The gardens were astonishing and a remarkable achievement but in the humidity we didn’t have the energy to explore all of the grounds so we returned to the hotel to spend an hour or two reading by the pool.
The new National Gallery was our destination for the evening, an historic building that’s actually made up of the former City Hall and Supreme Court. Full of colonial grandeur on the outside, it’s sleek and modern on the inside and has some interesting food and drink options.
Up top we stopped at the Smoke & Mirrors bar for drinks, sitting on the balcony to enjoy the views over Marina Bay and the extensive green space known as the Padang, another colonial hangover. Under floodlights and in the humidity, folk played tennis and practised cricket in the nets beside the Singapore Cricket Club’s handsome pavilion.
For dinner we’d booked a table at National Kitchen by Violet Oon elsewhere in the building. One of several restaurants run by this Singaporean celebrity chef, it was decorated in the French bistro style but the menu was distinctly Peranakan, the name given to descendants of the Straits-born Chinese.
The starters were stunning – Coronation chicken with wantan leaf and deep-fried prawn, chicken and crab. I followed it with a local classic, Hainanese Chicken Rice. It was delicious but the chicken itself was wetter than I was expecting. Overall, I was mightily impressed.
We finished the evening at City Space, 70 floors up in the Swissotel next-door to the Fairmont. An intimate cocktail bar, it certainly offered fine views of the city all lit up at night. Sadly, it faced north towards Fort Canning Park and Orchard Road rather than Marina Bay but, with a few drinks inside me, I wasn’t too bothered.