If you’re embarking on a family holiday down under and can’t face a full 24-hours in the air, a layover – or better still a slightly longer stopover – makes good sense. The likelihood is that your flight is stopping en route anyway to refuel and resupply so why not take the opportunity to break your journey. Stewart Longhurst and his family did just that but chose their hotel wisely.
Whilst Hong Kong, Bangkok and even Tokyo offer an enticing snapshot of a very different culture roughly midway to Sydney, Singapore gives you a taste of the modern Far East in a relaxingly familiar western setting.
The first thing to consider when planning your stopover in Singapore is where to stay, so let me make one thing clear straight away: However much you want to swim in the infinity pool that perches 57 floors up spanning the triplet-towers of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, you really shouldn’t try and justify the eye-watering hotel bill by how it would look on Instagram or Facebook. Don’t do it, Really. It’s not worth it.
With this in mind we booked into The Stamford Hotel named, as many things here are, for Sir Stamford Raffles who founded Singapore in 1819 as a trading post for the British East India Company. At 226m, The Stamford was the tallest hotel in the world when it was built but now only claims to be the tallest in Singapore. It forms part of the Raffles City Shopping Centre (that man again), which comprising hotels, convention centres, offices and a shopping mall. It sits conveniently above City Hall Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) station.
The MRT is a great value way to get to and from the airport, although you do have to change trains from the Changi spur onto the East-West Line at Tanah Merah. The trains are spotless – no eating or drinking is allowed on board – and the 30-minute journey into the city passes through typical Singaporean neighbourhoods and commercial centres.
Far from disappointed with our less profligate but still upmarket choice of hotel we got what we thought were unbeatable city views from our balcony facing out across the recreation field and “the big durians” theatre to the bay and central business district beyond.
We were in Singapore just a few weeks before the F1 Grand Prix and construction was nearing completion. It takes five months to build up the circuit’s barriers, fencing, lighting gantries and grandstands and it’s all done with minimal disruption to traffic right up to the first day of practice. From the vantage point of our balcony high above turn nine, we could see most of the street circuit route except for the area around the start-finish straight. What price would these rooms be during race week, I wonder?
The best way to get out to see all the sights is probably on foot but with Singapore being so close to the equator, daytime temperatures top out at around 30°C all-year-round with an average humidity of 80% – so be prepared for a shower and a change of clothes when you get back. One trick to avoid the heat is to descend to below ground level and navigate the deliciously air-conditioned but labyrinthine shopping malls to get closer to where you want to go.
First up on our self-guided walking tour is the Esplanade, taking in the iconic Merlion water fountain on the edge of the bay and the oddly named “bum-boats” puttering in and out of the Singapore River. Nearby is the luxurious, neo-classical Fullerton Hotel – apparently home to the Ferrari team during the Grand Prix – and the impressive white lattice steelwork of the Anderson Bridge.
Across the bay is the previously mentioned Marina Bay Sands Hotel and luxury shopping complex. If spending a small fortune on staying the night isn’t enough, the mall below offers retail opportunities from all the high end jewellery and couture brands you have ever heard of, as well as many more that you haven’t.
Persevere through the shops and the hotel and you come out into the Gardens by the Bay, a huge park with a unique mix of natural tropical planting and futuristic tree-like structures. A few of these “trees” can be climbed with an aerial walkway linking them, while another features a popular open air restaurant high up in its canopy. Here, in this artificial grove in the late evening, you can catch a fantastic musical light show; best viewed by lying flat on your back on the floor to look up at the pulsing, illuminated structures.
Back across town, just beyond The Stamford, is the historic Raffles Hotel; probably still the best known hotel in Singapore despite the bling of the young pretender. Visitors to this impressive colonial-style building tend to head straight for the Long Bar and, after crunching their way across the discarded monkey nut shells on the floor, sit on a stool and order the world famous Singapore Sling cocktail. At around S$30 (£17.50) it’s not a cheap drink but you’ve flown 13 hours to get here and saved a lot of money by not staying at the hotel with the incredible pool, so why not treat yourself?
Nearby there are plenty of options for places to eat, with all manner of Malay and Chinese street food sellers to tempt the adventurous or even familiar restaurant chains to guarantee the pre-flight stability of a tried-and-tested Italian meal.
Back in the hotel room, we can’t resist taking a last lingering look at the night-time view from the balcony before settling back into one of the most comfortable hotel beds I’ve experienced for a great night’s sleep.
Whilst the outdoor pool at The Stamford can’t compete with the views from the lofty boat shaped 150m long Marina Bay tank, it is a nice tranquil setting to relax in and a great place to while away the time between checking out of the hotel and checking in for the onward flight.
We stayed two nights in Singapore, which gave us a whole day and two half-days of exploring the city; more than enough time to do it justice. If you have longer, there are other attractions further out of the city such as the Night Safari nocturnal zoo to the north and Sentosa Island Resort to the south where Donald Trump met Kim Jong-un in the historic 2018 summit.
Singapore is one of those places that everyone should visit at least once; there is local culture and colonial history to be found in amongst the high rise and glamour. And as for posting that social-media, envy-inducing infinity pool shot – maybe next time?
The Stamford Hotel
2 Stamford Road, Singapore
Telephone : +65 6338 8585
Stewart Longhurst @SportsandGT