Singapore’s glorious gardens and luxury hotels

Inside the orchid garden

We could never be accused of taking it easy. On just one sweaty Singapore day we visited the Botanic Gardens, tucked into a fine afternoon tea at the legendary Raffles Hotel and spent an evening gambling at one of the city’s most extravagant new destinations, the Marina Bay Sands.

On another hot and humid day it was a relief to jump on the air-conditioned metro even though the gardens – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – were just a few stops away. I had my trusty towel and fan in tow in case of perspiration traumas.

A waterfall in the gardens
A waterfall in the gardens

There are numerous themed gardens within the grounds, with expanses of lawn and several lakes separating them. We walked to the Evolution Garden, a curious exhibit that took us on a journey through time from when the Earth was a lifeless rock to the dawn of algae, palms and giant trees. It wasn’t the most colourful of spots and an overheating Graham was more interested in finding shade than reading the information boards.

So we found a cafe where we could cool down, dry out and drink something ice cold. The courtyard was full of water features, tourists and signs warning us to beware of monkeys. Only the latter remained invisible.

We trudged on in the serious heat and found the Ginger Garden where, not surprisingly, a wide variety of gingers and related plants, such as turmeric, filled the beds.

Nearby was the star attraction, the National Orchid Garden. And a star it turned out to be too. There were thousands of the plants on show in a variety of habitats, including a wonderfully cool conservatory. The colours were vibrant, the planting imaginative. No wonder we couldn’t stop clicking our cameras.

One section was devoted to the VIP Garden, where a wide range of new hybrids were on show that had been created to honour numerous world leaders and royalty. From the look of it, the orchid garden is on the itinerary of every visiting dignitary – everyone from the Obamas to our Queen and the dreadful Margaret Thatcher have plaques recording their tours.

A Spanish moss arch in the orchid garden
A Spanish moss arch in the orchid garden

I could’ve spent all day among the plants, but for the heat and the fact we had afternoon tea booked at Raffles. So we dashed home to shower before crossing the road to the legendary colonial hotel and its Tiffin Room. Raffles is a beautiful low-rise hotel with a famous Sikh doorman and huge amounts of history. It’s as luxurious as the prices would suggest but they’re very strict on what you can visit so we were politely turned away from the lobby, as if we were not quite good enough.

Still, the Tiffin Room was swanky enough, packed with all sorts of people and the staff were excellent. Mum and my brothers had bought the tea for Graham for his up-coming 40th birthday so we made sure we had plenty of champagne on top of the carbohydrates. Strangely for afternoon tea there was a buffet to accompany the standard fare of delicate sandwiches and cakes, and we stuffed ourselves with clotted cream and scones.

Raffles
Raffles

We decided against a Singapore Sling and took a quick tour of the grounds instead. Half of the hotel was being renovated so there wasn’t much to see, and the on-site shop was full of a surprising amount of tat.

After a carbs-induced nap back at the Fairmont, we got a taxi to the Marina Bay Sands. The hotel had been unmissable throughout our stay in the city, whether at the Gardens by the Bay or bang in the middle of the view from our bedroom. Designed by architect Moshe Safdie, the hugely expensive building is audacious. exciting, graceful and completely over the top. It’s also massive.

Gardens by the Bay lit up at night
Gardens by the Bay lit up at night

The thought of staying there filled me with horror. It’s just too big, too industrial strength in its processing of its vast number of guests, but that didn’t stop us admiring the architecture and design. It really is an amazing place. The most remarkable achievement is the Skypark perched on top of the three legs of the hotel. It incorporates an infinity pool and various bars and restaurants and we queued to get up top, which was in itself a stressful experience.

One reason for visiting was so to see the Gardens by the Bay light show from a good vantage point, rather than having to go into the park itself on a such a sultry night. From the breezy Skypark we looked down as the lights of the Skytrees changed and danced to the music of Star Wars, which admittedly we could barely hear. Still, the show was enjoyable and the gardens looked wonderful at night.

Inside the Marina Bay Sands
Inside the Marina Bay Sands

We settled ourselves into the Ce La Vi bar up on the Skypark, taking advantage of the exceptional views and the light breezes, and then made our way into the basement to the casino. It was as familiar and as expansive as any big-time Vegas-style casino so we found the roulette tables and spent several hours quietly getting drunk and putting our money on the numbers.

We only stopped for a quick bite in a Chinese restaurant because, surprisingly, we did remarkably well to hold on to our cash for quite some time. Eventually, of course, it went the way of the casino’s coffers…