To mark the bicentenary of Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival, the Singapore Tourism Board and Singapore Airlines hosted a five-day February fam trip. Karl Cushing reports.
Weaving through the colourful, crammed streets of Kampong Glam, our convoy of vintage Vespas draws envious smiles and waves from all we pass.
A scooter sidecar proves the ideal vantage point for gaining a glimpse of Singapore’s bygone days and, as we putt-putt along its skinny thoroughfares such as Arab Street and Haji Lane, I feel a lifetime away from our previous stop, Marina Bay, with its futuristic skyline.
Little India and Chinatown, with their colourful shops and street stalls, offer further fascinating insight into Singapore’s seamless blend of old and new, while a “bumboat” tour along the Singapore river yields shots of former merchant houses clustered by the riverfront, cowering in the footsteps of the vertiginous blocks towering behind.
Singapore, it transpires, is very much a destination in touch with its past, and this year sees the destination mark the bicentenary of the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles, who established it as a British port back in 1819.
The bicentenary is a focus for our February fam trip with the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and Singapore Airlines. A more pressing objective, however, is to encourage us to recommend longer stays for UK visitors, up 13% in 2018, and to consider Singapore as more than a brief stopover option for clients heading to Australia – or indirect Asian destinations such as Myanmar.
The resort island of Sentosa forms a central part of the STB’s case, its family-friendly hotel stock offering an alternative to mainland stays.
Here we road test the new four-star Village hotel (which officially opened this month) and spend a day sampling attractions featured in the Sentosa Funpass, from AJ Hackett’s bungee operation to the MegaZip and Skyline Luge.
Dipping into Resorts World Sentosa, we visit S.E.A. Aquarium and Universal Studios Singapore where agents try out Transformers and Battlestar Galactica rides. For a more relaxed vibe, Siloso and Tanjong beaches deliver with their sheltered waters and casual beach clubs such as Ola and Tanjong.
We also appreciate Singapore’s green spaces, its ‘city in a garden’ status set to reach new heights on April 17 with the opening of Changi airport’s stunning new tropical-inspired zone, Jewel.
A key trump card is the historic Botanic Gardens whose impressive Orchid Garden we stroll before finding zen at an outdoors tai chi class – a fun option that agents can book via New Age Tai Chi.
At Gardens by the Bay, we explore the spectacular biodomes before watching the resident supertrees – tree-like structures that generate solar power – deliver their popular evening sound and light show.
Alternatively, a Floating Donut tour on Marina Bay – a trip on an inflatable ring-shaped raft complete with meals and drinks – proves a great option for clients looking to take in the nightly Spectra light and water show.
With Singapore increasingly known for its high-end mixology, we drink in two top contenders – Native, which focuses on regional ingredients, and the swankier Manhattan Bar at Regent hotel.
And how could we miss a short visit to Raffles’ Long Bar for a cheeky Singapore Sling?
For me, it’s Singapore’s gastronomic offering that gets the juices flowing, from the growing band of Michelin-starred operations to affordable hawker centre bites such as chicken rice, popiah and satay. Our Hawker Centre Discovery tour in Tiong Bahru with Wok ’n’ Stroll (£55 for two-three hours) proves a tasty grounder.
Armed with our newfound knowledge, we descend upon Telok Ayer Market and Newton Food Centre, featured in the film Crazy Rich Asians. Devouring Chinese, Indian and Malaysian dishes alongside those spawned by Singapore’s Peranakan culture, we all leave with a taste for Singapore – and when better for your clients to do so than in this, its bicentennial year?
Book it: Premier Holidays has a five-night break at Raffles, from £2,249pp between September 23 and December 11, including flights.
Helen McCrae, support assistant and homeworker, Brilliant Travel, Barrhead
“I was impressed with Sentosa island. It is a great family resort with so much to do and see, not least Universal Studios Singapore — an excellent theme park with thrilling rides for all ages, lots of nice restaurants and close to hotels. I would highly recommend Sentosa as an amazing place to holiday.”
Liz Penn, Travel Counsellor, Tonbridge
“My takeaway from the trip is that Singapore should be given a little longer for British tourists to appreciate it fully. I’d strongly recommend three nights’ stay, giving an opportunity to explore Kampong Glam and some of the food centres, and I can see families and maybe young couples enjoying Sentosa.”
Aliah Shindler, travel consultant, Flight Centre, London
“Whether you position yourself on adrenaline-filled Sentosa island or the centre, this oasis is a year-round destination for all. This trip impressed upon me that using it just as a stopover to a further destination doesn’t do Singapore justice. There’s so much to see and do that, in my mind, it’s a destination in its own right.”