Exploring Singapore

Highlights of my ‘Singapore Fling’

Singapore is one of the most exciting cities in Asia. I’ve visited Singapore on two occasions, not as a main holiday destination, but as part of a cruise. Singapore is a small city state that is certainly big on personality. It was formerly a crown colony of the British Empire which went on to become a part of Malaysia before gaining independence in 1965. It is the world busiest port in terms of shipping tonnage and on sailing in our captain informed us that some ships can be anchored outside port for up to three months waiting to dock! On our first visit for a day in 2012, I wasn’t sure what to expect as my only experience of Asia at this point had been Pattaya in Thailand, which bears no resemblance except similar weather. I can honestly say it’s one of the nicest cities I’ve ever visited which is the reason why we took advantage of adding a 3 night stay to the end of another cruise which disembarked in Singapore. It is easily reached from the UK with several regional airports offering flights via Dubai with Emirates Airlines.

The city is clean and very modern, the local people are very friendly and it’s easy to get around which is great as there’s so much to see and do. From both visits, I have several fantastic memories and these are my highlights which you could easily fit into a 2 or 3-night stay.

Gardens by the Bay

Before we visited Singapore for the first time I researched where to go as our time was limited. The Gardens by the Bay were recently opened and sounded really interesting, so they were top of our list and we weren’t disappointed! It is a national garden and first class horticultural attraction for locals and visitors alike. The aim is to showcase the plant kingdom in a totally new way with garden artistry and horticultural innovation and to offer a calendar of exciting events to both entertain and educate including Christmas Wonderland of which I’ll cover more later.

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Admission to the beautiful and extensive outdoor gardens is free however, there is a charge to enter some areas such as the conservatories, flower dome and skywalk. The gardens are home to the ‘Super Trees’ and it was love at first sight for me (how can someone be smitten by giant metal trees? I don’t really know myself but I am!) hopefully you can see why from these photos! These Super Trees stand up to 16 storeys high and over 200 species of plants form a ‘skin’ growing vertically up the trees. It was wonderful to see the difference in growth between our first visit in 2012 and our second in 2015!

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Christmas Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay

On our second visit to Singapore we were joined by my son and daughter-in-law and we were keen to introduce them to some highlights of our first visit. So along with a daytime return to Gardens by the Bay we went along in the evening to enjoy the spectacular Christmas Wonderland…and wow! they certainly don’t do things by half in Singapore!

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The rather grand entrance to Christmas Wonderland

This was an extravaganza of all things festive including stunning light installations, an ice rink, Christmas market, fairground stalls, live musicians and more! Best of all admission is FREE although some attractions inside had a charge such as the ice rink.

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This picture below is of a really cool attraction where people were positioned on the floor beneath a huge mirror. This, in turn, produced the image you see in this photograph which could be purchased as a momento.

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This was Christmassy heaven and felt a bit like I was walking through Disney World, humming along to the festive music that filled the air and with a warm, happy feeling inside. We also enjoyed listening to a choir singing Christmas Carols in the most magical of settings! click here to see the video on my YouTube channel!

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Marina Bay Sands Hotel

This architectural gem of a building is located right next to Gardens by the bay with a elevated walkway into the Gardens. This is accessed from an external glass elevator which is an experience in itself!

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The hotel has its own retail experience too – The Shoppes – a luxury shopping centre with a canal running through it on which you can take a gondola ride. The MRT station here connects you to many areas of Singapore.

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The hotel has several appealing bars and restaurants which are open to the public.There is a viewing platform on the 57th floor too and from there you can enjoy spectacular views over the bustling shipping lanes of the Singapore Strait. Entry costs SD$23 Adult; SD$17 Children (Singapore dollars) at time of writing however, here’s my tip to enjoy most of the same view for FREE!  From the lobby take a lift in tower one up to level 57 where you’ll step out onto a smaller viewing platform right next to the bar and restaurant on the bay side.

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If, like us, you want to enjoy a Singapore Sling while in town then it’s a good idea to try one in the bar here. This way you get to enjoy the outdoor seating area which curves around to the other side of the hotel and offers fantastic views over the city itself and a chance to check out the 57th floor infinity pool.

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Newton Food Centre

This fantastic food court was a recommendation from a helpful Australian guy living in Singapore who we chatted to in the MRT station. How fortunate to have that chance encounter as we wouldn’t have known about this place. This is one of what are known as Hawker Centres, where you are approached by hawkers from each stall offering you a menu and asking you to sit at a table and…as there are lots of stalls, there are lots of them! We were approached almost immediately by more than one hawker and this can seem a bit overwhelming when you haven’t even had the chance to look around, especially as the atmosphere is quite bustling. If like us, you want to check out some of the stalls before making your choice, just politely decline.

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The large outdoor dining area is surrounded by a perimeter of stalls (over 50) selling a variety of Asian and Singapore dishes, so there’s something for everyone. When you’re ready a hawker will escort you to a table and from there they will look after you with all your food and drink orders. As it’s a while since we visited I can’t remember exactly what we ate but it was all lovely and reasonably priced. One of the most popular dishes is the chilli crab which I didn’t try but others in my company enjoyed it. On our visit this dish was priced by weight rather than by serving, so it pays to check before you order. The hawkers were friendly and the atmosphere was lively. Popular with locals and visitors, it’s a great unfussy place to relax with a cold beer and sample local food!

Chinatown

We had been recommended to visit Chinatown by relatives of ours. This historic area is a melting pot of old and new where you’ll find an abundance of traditional shops and markets alongside trendy stores and cool cafes all vying for your attention. This area is home to the colourful and ornate Sri Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. Here you’ll find Chinese temples sitting alongside Hindu temples and Mosques.

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On the day we visited China Town we weren’t really prepared for the amount of rain  we encountered which meant our exploration of the area took the form of hopping from one shop awning to another as we tried to keep dry. The rain soon developed into a ‘mini monsoon’ just as we’d decided to sit down in a cafe…phew! what great timing! It’s a shame we didn’t see more of this historic district however I was happy just to take in the atmosphere through a curtain of rain at this point!

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Little India

This is a vibrant historic centre where traditional trades rub shoulders with modern boutiques, hotels, restaurant’s, temples, churches and mosques. It’s very busy with a great atmosphere and fabulously colourful! If you like shopping or sniffing out a bargain then you could spend hours here. Shopping isn’t a pastime high on my list when on holiday but observing day to day life is something I enjoy, so a spot of people watching while enjoying some fabulous Indian cuisine was the order of the day after we’d finished exploring.

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It’s hard to know where to choose as there’s so many great looking (and smelling) options. Usually a place where you see several locals eating can be a good indicator, so that’s what we did! The dishes on the menu weren’t what you’d typically find in the UK, so we asked the server to recommend a good mix of dishes for the four of us. The result was that we enjoyed probably the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted. This wasn’t a flash place but that wasn’t the experience we were after. What we got, more importantly, was great authenitic Indian cooking.

Raffles Hotel

This is one of the most famous hotels in the world so while in Singapore we just had to visit out of curiosity! If you haven’t heard of the hotel here’s a potted history: This beautiful colonial style hotel opened its doors in 1887 and is named after British statesman Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles the founder of Singapore. It is synonymous with luxury and renowned for the famous faces who have frequented the hotel over the decades including celebrities, dignitaries and royalty. Azamara Asia Cruise 572.JPG

The popular cocktail ‘Singapore Sling’ was also created in the Long Bar of this hotel and to sip on this famous cocktail at bar is on many a traveller’s ‘Bucket List’. We didn’t do this for two reasons firstly, we’d already tried a Singapore Sling while enjoying views from Marina Bay Sands hotel and secondly, I don’t particularly like them so preferred to save my $15!

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The Long Bar

It is a traditional hotel which surprises you with its oasis of tropical planting around the central courtyard and grounds. Many of the bedrooms opening out onto verandas surrounded by exotic plants. It’s certainly a contrast to the modern high rise buildings surrounding it. Azamara Asia Cruise 587.JPG

It’s perfectly OK to walk around the public areas of the hotel and enjoy a drink or food in the beautiful restaurants, bars and coffee shop should you wish. If you like a spot of shopping (or window shopping in my case) The Raffles Arcade features around 40 speciality boutiques with beautifully decorated window displays. This is where I had my second ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ moment..the first was in New York..although I wasn’t eating breakfast at the time like Audrey Hepburn in the movie. We had a spot of brunch in the coffee shop Ah Tengs where you can choose from a visually appealing range of sweet and savoury treats.

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The stunning festive Tiffanys window display

At the time of writing the hotel is undergoing a restoration programme in certain areas so a quick of their website ahead of a visit I advised.

Clarke Quay

Hugging the banks of the Singapore river, Clarke Quay is a thriving hub of bars, restaurants, live music, street entertainment, shops and more. We visited twice enjoying a great value set lunch on one day however it’s in the evenings that it really comes alive and you are spoilt for choice with numerous restaurants featuring a variety of local and international cuisines and bars for enjoying a live music and entertainment or just conversation and a quieter drink. The atmosphere is fantastic with visitors being a mix of ages and made up of locals, city workers and tourists. There are shops aplenty too, although you’ve probably gathered by now that I don’t really shop much on my travels! In many of the bars the drinks were on the pricey side compared to other areas with a pint of lager coming in at around SD$15 (about £8.50 at the time) so it pays to ask first, especially if you’re on a budget. We could walk to Clarke Quay from our hotel however, you can reach the area by public transport such as taxi, water taxi or MTR (I won’t comment on the bus system as we did not use it).

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Singapore MRT Trains

The MRT (mass rapid transport system) is modern, clean and efficient and a fast way to get around the city with many of the major attractions of Singapore within walking distance of an MRT station. It really was a pleasure to travel on the bright and airy trains. The stations themselves are spacious and clean with most featuring colourful décor and interesting artwork which make your journey to the train a more enjoyable experience. We bought an EZ-Link card which gives you unlimited travel on the MRT and bus network for 1, 2 or 3 days at a great value fixed rate, find out more and current prices here.

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There are a multitude of attractions to explore in Singapore but there’s only so much you can squeeze into a 3 night stay!. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my highlights and that I’ve given you an insight into this amazing destination. Have you visited Singapore? I’d love to hear your about your favourite things to do so drop me a comment.

Thanks for reading and bye for now. June x

 

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Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, Yorkshire

A Jewel in Yorkshires Crown

Driving to Yorkshire in the glorious sunshine, I was glad we’d chose this weekend for our stay at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, a luxury Scarborough Hotel. We left home early on the Saturday morning to enjoy some delights of North Yorkshire and Scarborough before heading to the hotel later in the afternoon.

Exploring the North Yorkshire and Scarborough area

My husband Ron and I love Yorkshire and have visited many highlights of the area including Scarborough, a fantastic seaside resort with an amazing array of attractions and only 2 miles from Ox Pasture Hall Hotel. We had decided in advance to visit somewhere new and being lovers of a countryside walk, chose Forge Valley Woods National Nature Reserve, a short drive from the hotel. Heading along the A171 toward Scarborough and knowing we were nearing Robin Hoods Bay, we realised we couldn’t continue without paying another visit to this beautiful seaside town. It’s picturesque twisting streets, which tumble down toward the family friendly beach, were once the scene of cloak and dagger smuggling operations.

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These days it’s the perfect place for a day out with breath taking views towards the sea at every turn. There’s an informative visitor centre along with a good array of independent shops, pubs and places serving fish and chips and ice cream.

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After standing to soak up the glorious views, we took an unexplored path down toward the bay where the tide was out. We passed people sitting on benches sketching the coastal scene, while others were enjoying beach and perhaps looking for fossils, as Robin Hoods Bay is home to the Dinosaur Coast.

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We visited an interesting shop selling fossils and marvelled at the displays of real and replica dinosaur bones. It’s hard to believe these creatures once roamed our planet.

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After we’d finished exploring, we continued our journey to Forge Valley Woods National Nature Reserve where we planned to enjoy the scenic trail along the river Derwent. It’s only a short drive from Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, which we passed on the way. We initially parked in the wrong spot which meant we had an unexpected but pleasant uphill walk and back through a different part of the woodland.

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When we arrived at the correct location and joined the trail via a bridge over the river, we were so pleased we’d decided to visit. The linear route of 2.7km (there and back) is a wooden boardwalk which skirts the river as it winds its way through spectacular woodland. It’s an enjoyable, easy going walk with many seats along the way and passing points which are also used as viewing platforms. The sun shining through the trees cast a beautiful dappled light on the clear water creating a peaceful atmosphere.

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The woodland has an abundance of plants large and small and is a haven for wildlife including the elusive deer. The area also forms a link to the ancient wildwoods of the past when much of England was hidden beneath broadleaf woodland. We weren’t lucky enough to spot any wildlife on this occasion but that didn’t take away from our enjoyment. During our walk we chatted about the many interesting places we have visited in Yorkshire which include the coastal delights of Scarborough, Whitby, Staithes, Fountains Abbey, Rievaulx Terrace and Goathland with its gushing waterfall ‘Mallyan Spout’. All these and more are easily accessible from Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, making it an ideal base for exploring. There really is something for everyone. Leaving the woodland feeling happy and looking forward to the next part of our adventure, we made the short journey to Ox Pasture Hall Hotel.

Ox Pasture Hall Hotel

On arrival we were certainly impressed by the look of the hotel where a lovely pathway led us through the gorgeous front garden toward the hotel entrance. At this point I instantly felt that we were in for a real treat staying here.

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Entering the reception, I noticed it was well stocked with leaflets and literature regarding local attractions. We were quickly checked in by friendly staff who confirmed our dining preference before escorting us to our suite and explaining the hotel facilities along the way.

Our accommodation, the Skipton Suite, was located on the ground floor with sweeping views across the hayfields from the separate lounge area.

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The spacious suite was neutrally decorated with quality oak furnishings providing a classic country feel. We felt immediately at home in the comfortable lounge which featured a flat screen TV and music system. Complimentary bottles of still and sparkling water were a welcome touch.

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Centre stage in the bedroom was a gorgeous king size sleigh bed which was longer than some we’ve slept in making it comfortable for Ron who’s tall. The storage was impressively plentiful too, making this ideal for a longer stay.

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The luxurious feel continued into the fantastic bathroom. I was delighted to see one of my favourite features, a twin vanity area along with a lovely deep bath, walk in rainfall shower and a plentiful supply of quality toiletries from Gilchrist and Soames.

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Tempting as it was to just relax in our suite, we were eager to explore the beautiful hotel grounds which feature well maintained gardens and courtyards.

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It is evident the gardens are designed to be fully enjoyed by guests. There are numerous well placed seating areas to enjoy a relaxing drink, the company of friends or to read the Sunday papers as we did.

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Pathways featuring rose covered pagodas lead you around the gardens toward interesting sculptures and views of the surrounding countryside.

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As we’d checked in early afternoon we decided to relax in the bar/lounge area which was comfortably furnished and featured a welcoming inglenook fireplace. It’s a great place for a social gathering or relaxing conversation.  The Bistro can be found just off the bar area too. We found the drinks to be reasonably priced and  chatted with staff who were very friendly including Jay, the operations manager, who explained the hotel has just had plans approved for a luxury Spa at the Hotel. I’m sure this will be a popular facility once completed.

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After spending the remainder of the afternoon enjoying the comfort of our suite we headed to the Courtyard Restaurant, our choice for our evening meal.

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We were shown to the lounge area by Jay where we made our choices from the menu. While the description of the dishes was unusual, we were offered an explanation of any dishes when presented with the menu.  The restaurant, with its vaulted beamed ceiling, wonderful feature tree and courtyard views, felt like a special place to dine.

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On being shown to our table, I noticed the tables were well spaced out allowing for great conversation. This restaurant, which is recommended in the Michelin Guide, is known for its innovative menus and the quality of its food and is regarded by many as the best restaurant on the Yorkshire coast. The restaurant holds 2 AA Rosettes for culinary excellence and head chef David has worked in top Michelin star restaurants.

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David has an ethos of creating simple dishes that showcase the flavours from ingredients which are mainly locally sourced. We certainly agreed that all our courses were wonderfully flavoursome and of a size that allowed us to enjoy all three courses along with Amuse Bouche and great bread with homemade butter.IMG_8175 (3).JPG

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I enjoyed: Yorkshire Carrots with Hay, Goats Curd and Olive; 100 Day Salt Aged Beef with Onion, Miso and Seaweed; Opal White Chocolate with Vanilla and Green Tea

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Ron enjoyed: Pig Head with Preserved Vegetable, Apple and Coriander; North Sea Pollock with Leek & Potato, Yeast and Hens Egg; The Summer Pudding with Clotted Cream

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The Courtyard Restaurant has a lovely atmosphere which added to our wonderful dining experience and I can understand why it is so popular. Feeling relaxed and happy we headed back to our beautiful suite.

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Following a great night’s sleep, helped I’m sure by the quality bedding, we arose to the peace and tranquility of our countryside setting. We headed off for an early breakfast to allow time to enjoy the gardens. This was served in the Courtyard Restaurant and offered a simple but inviting continental buffet to compliment the hot breakfast menu. Ron chose the full Yorkshire breakfast while I opted for an omelette which we enjoyed immensely along with the quality fresh coffee…perfect!

We collected our pre-ordered newspaper from the reception and headed into the garden to enjoy a relaxing read. We’d got our eye on the perfect spot the day before and fortunately for us no one had beat us to it!

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Looking out over the peaceful gardens, we could easily have spent the whole morning enjoying the tranquility of our gorgeous setting however, we had an hour and a half drive to get back home to attend a surprise birthday party that afternoon, so feeling both disappointed to leave mixed with looking forward to the party, we said our goodbyes to Ox Pasture Hall Hotel.

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I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone looking for a relaxing break, to explore the surrounding area or host a celebration. Ron and I even mused that it would be amazing to hire the full hotel for a special celebration for family and friends.

Have you visited Ox Pasture Hall Hotel or enjoyed special days out in North Yorkshire? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Thanks for reading and bye for now, June xx

Our stay and meals at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel were complimentary in return for an honest review. All opinions are my own.