As recently as just three years ago, the widely-held opinion was that Singapore was – despite being a modern, efficient, and overall decent place – quite boring. Evidence to counter that belief is becoming ever more prevalent, especially in the area around Marina Bay where we spent a bit of time a few weeks ago.
Anchoring the change is the Marina Bay Sands, a casino, hotel resort, and shopping complex on the southern edge of the bay. The trio of towers, connected by a roof deck, is visually arresting and provides the city with a signature element to what was an otherwise bland skyline.
Looking back at the Singapore financial district on the other side of Marina Bay from the Marina Bay Sands. In the next few years, the existing financial district area will double in size, spreading south around the bay and meeting up with the Marina Bay Sands complex.
As a sign of future growth, you can see the Bayfront MRT station just west of the Marina Bay Sands. Within the next few years, these blocks will be developed as the financial center spreads south. All of this is reclaimed land.
Despite the heat, humidity, and rainfall, the attractions around Marina Bay seem designed to lure people outside at least some of the time. In the shadow of the lotus-shaped ArtScience museum is a reflecting pond and waterfront promenade.
Part of the Marina Bay Sands complex is a massive shopping mall (because Singapore has a shortage of malls!) with more than 800,000 square feet (74,000 square meters) of shops and restaurants. In addition to an ice skating rink, the mall features a canal on which you can take sampan rides.
The complex also features a 1.3 million square foot (120,000 square meter) convention center. We stopped by to visit our friend Otto Fong, the author of the Sir Fong’s Adventures in Science comic book series, as he launched his fourth book at the Singapore Toys, Games, and Comics Convention. A former science teacher at Singapore’s prestigious Raffles Academy, Otto left to follow his passion drawing comics.
I’ve known Otto since the mid-90s and am happy of his success. I was also tickled because he invited Tawn to be a character in this book, playing a fashion designer in the not-too-distant future, designing clothes for a K-pop superstar’s tour. You can see Tawn’s cartoon self just above his head, to the left of the bunny.
A close up of how Tawn looks when cartoonized. Otto captured him quite well. Here, he explains to the K-pop star how the scientific process applies to costume design.
One of the most exciting changes to Marina Bay is Gardens by the Bay, a trio of parks bringing 250 acres of parkland to central Singapore. The highlight of the gardens are the two climate controlled conservatories: the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.
The Flower Garden, the larger of the two, covers three acres and replicates the semi-arid region. The inside temperature is a pleasant 74 F (22 C) and flora from around the world populate the garden.
The gardens have been open only a few months and the plants are still taking root. We were there on a weekend that coincided with Malaysia’s national holiday so the gardens were too crowded. I look forward to my next visit, though, when I will be sure to visit the gardens on a weekday afternoon and take the self-guided audio tour.
The second conservatory, the two-acre Cloud Forest, recreates the cool, misty conditions of a tropical mountain. In the center of the conservatory is a lift that takes you seven stories up, then you can stroll down a meandering skywalk that weaves in and out of the “mountain”.
At the base of the 115 foot (35 meter) waterfall, a rainbow appears in the mist. Despite the crowds, the Cloud Forest was quite a treat, lush but comfortable. If you make it to Singapore, be sure to go to the Gardens by the Bay.
Singapore is a young country, one that continues to reinvent itself. Despite a British colonial heritage dating back almost two centuries, Singapore is developing a unique, distinct identity, one that is increasingly sophisticated and ever more interesting. Because it is the first country outside of North America I visited, way back in 1995, Singapore holds a special place in my heart. It is especially nice, then, to see it maturing into something more than the neat, clean, but boring relative into that cool cousin that is always up to something new.