Celebrating Mom’s birthday with a special getaway can truly be memorable and calls for another special holiday treat on her next natal day
By Dr. Jun Ruiz
Birthday celebrations are special occasions when we can demonstrate our love to members of our family. We wanted to give our Mother Ely an advance birthday present and a destination celebration a couple of years ago. As my mother is suffering from osteoarthritis, we wanted her to be very comfortable during travel and touring. The chosen destination had to be compact in size, transportation needs to be very accessible, and walking during tour be kept minimized. We wanted a regional Asian destination, a place that could be conducive for family bonding, and yet the journey could bring maximal fun, excitement, and new experiences.
We pictured some fantastic place like Disneyland but something different – as we all had visited the so-called happiest place on earth, either the one in Hongkong or in Anaheim, United States. After an extensive family discussion, we finally narrowed down the choice to Singapore – our neighboring Southeast Asian country that is only three and a half hours away. We planned for three full days to tour.
Singapore’s total land area is only 721 square km. The country became a fully sovereign country in 1965, yet it has roared into one of the top industrialized economies in Asia.The people of Singapore consist of a multicultural population of more than five million, predominantly Chinese, with significant Malay and Indian minorities.
Singapore is among the top tourist cities in the world, attracting more than 17 million visitors last year. The recent Hollywood movie Crazy Rich Asians will definitely bring in more tourists in the coming years. The combination of the cosmopolitan development of soaring skyscrapers in downtown Singapore with tropical greenery characterizes this lovely country.The environmental-friendly atmosphere, the very low crime rate, convenient public transportation, and English being among the dominant means of communication – all attract visitors from all over the world.
In 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles established a tax-free trading port at the mouth of Singapore River under an agreement between the British East India Company and the Malay sultan of the island. This ancient city was initially called Temasek, but was later named Singapura, which means “Lion City” in Sanskrit. Singapore became a British possession in 1823, and became an independent country in 1965.
My sister Cherry Pie and her husband Peps were booked at the famous Marina Bay Sands as he was attending a convention there. My mother Ely, sister Helen and I made reservations at a highly-rated hotel near Orchard Road for its price, convenient location, and easy access to public transportation. As we arrived in Singapore in the evening, we were able to find a good restaurant nearby, and we later rested as a busy day awaited us the following morning.
The following day, all of us were very excited to go around Singapore. My first visit in this country was in 2009, and Cherry Pie had been there multiple times because of her work assignments. It was my Mom and Helen’s first time to visit this destination. Yet, I was still excited as Singapore continues to build more cosmopolitan tourist attractions since my last visit. In contrast to my prior travels around the world where my itineraries were always packed as I am on the go all the time, this time we wanted to tour at a more comfortable and slower pace to make it easier for my Mom.
The three of us first picked up Cherry Pie at the Marina Bay Sands in the heart of Singapore’s business and entertainment district. This resort hotel fronting Marina Bay is impressive – an architectural wonder of three beautiful 55-storey hotel towers linked by a park at the top that bridges all three towers. The design was said to be initially inspired by decks of cards. The 2,500 rooms and suites in the hotel are all luxurious with beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows and interior design. I was impressed with the rooms, as the hotel reminded me of the luxurious hotels in Las Vegas and Macau.
The main attraction for us is the SkyPark, which is a three-acre park at the top that spans all three towers. There is an observation deck open to the public and the admission requires a fee. This is the hottest ticket in town that captures the most stunning views of the city. We were mesmerized by the unrivalled and spectacular panoramic views we witnessed both during the day and at night. For the hotel guests, they can swim in the world’s highest and largest infinity pool, gaze on the skyline of Singapore, and relax under the palm trees.
The Marina Bay Sands Resort has more to offer. There are theaters that showcase world-class Broadway hits; the luxurious Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands for the shopaholics; over 80 restaurants that offer the best of local and international cuisine; a convention center; and the lotus-shaped Art Science museum. Do not miss the magic of Spectra, the outdoor light and water show along the promenade. You will be captivated by the lovely symphony of water, light, and music in the display of lasers and fountain jets.
Like in the other big cities, there are usually hop-on hop-off bus companies that offer tourists convenient and affordable city tours via open-top double decker buses. The one we recommend is the City-Sightseeing Singapore that offer 57 stops scattered along seven lines. You can visit the different attractions at your own pace.
Our priority during the tour was to see the Merlion up close and personal. It is the most famous icon of Singapore and symbolizes the country’s reputation as the “Lion City.” The Merlion is a mythical creature with a lion’s head and the body of a fish. The fish body symbolizes the country’s origin as a fishing village. The lion head represents the original name Singapura.
The 8.6 meter-tall Merlion statue is located at the park fronting Marina Bay. We saw a lot of tourists in the marina, joined the crowd as we took turns for our own souvenir photos with the Merlion to make our visit to Singapore official. There are four other official statues of Merlion throughout Singapore.
We stopped by the Singapore River that was once the lifeline of the island’s early settlers. It is now lined by countless waterside dining and leisure establishments, most in old converted warehouses that retain a magical nostalgia. A stroll along the historic river is tantamount to a walk-through Singapore’s past, present and future. The statue of Raffles is situated on the precise spot where he landed. A great way to learn the history of Singapore is to take a river cruise in a Chinese bumboat.
On our second day, we headed to the most popular attraction on the island that most Filipinos go to Singapore for – the Universal Studios. My mom, Cherry Pie and I had been to the one in Los Angeles, and we were thus familiar with the theme park and all its rides, film-set recreations, and other attractions. This park is located in the mustsee island of Sentosa, and is Southeast Asia’s only Universal Studios theme park. It officially opened in March 2010.
Sentosa is considered Singapore’s most popular playground and favorite leisure destination. You can ride a cable car from Mount Faber to go to Sentosa, but we took a cab for convenience so Mom could avoid too much walking. At the Universal Studios Singapore, you go beyond the screen and ride the movies. Experience the ultimate shows and cutting-edge rides based on your favorite blockbuster movies, including The Mummy, Jurassic Park, Shrek, and Transformers. We screamed during our indoor rollercoaster ride in total darkness of the Revenge of the Mummy ride, and we were thrilled with our fast plunge in a wet descent into the water to escape the dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure.
On the third day, we went back to island of Sentosa to enjoy the rest of the crowd-pleasing attractions outside the Universal Studios. Sentosa means peace and tranquility in Malay. Among the top attractions is the S.E.A. Aquarium that features 100,000 marine animals, including manta rays, hammerhead sharks, and other gentle giants of the sea. You can also see the 37-meter-tall version of the Merlion, the only one where you can enter its body. You can enjoy the breeze and the sunshine at Siloso Beach, explore the aquatic adventures at Cove Waterpark, or go celebrity-sighting at Madame Tussaud’s. Taking the Singapore Cable Car from Mount Faber and then around the island offers great views of Sentosa and Singapore. In the evening, we tasted the popular street food of Singapore in hawker centers.
We planned the best for last as we explored the Gardens by the Bay later that evening. It is at the Gardens where “wonders bloom in a world of perpetual spring”. It is a showpiece of the best of horticulture, architectural design, garden artistry, and diverse plant life. As I took biology as my premedical course, and my mother loves plants and gardening, this attraction served as the perfect climax of our Singaporean tour.
The Gardens by the Bay realizes the dream of Singapore to be the premier tropical Garden City. This must-visit destination will awaken and satisfy all your senses. The iconic Supertrees, rising to 22 to 50 meters above the ground, sparkle like gems adorning the panoramic skyline at night. Be enchanted with these towering vertical gardens, which also serve as environmental engines of the gardens. You can have the most amazing walk 22 meters above the ground through the aerial OCBC Skyway.
There are two cooled conservatories, among the world’s largest greenhouses. The innovative Flower Dome houses plants from the Mediterranean and other semi-arid tropical regions. The Cloud Forest replicates the flora from the tropical highlands of Southeast Asia and South America. Enjoy the sight of the world’s tallest largest indoor waterfall, and trek behind it as you walk through the clouds in a cool forest canopy. It was a surreal experience in Supertree Groove to witness the spectacular display of the coordinated light and popular music program known as the Garden Rhapsody at night, when these Supertrees become alive. Music from blockbuster movies, like E.T., Star Wars, and The Lion King, makes the experience feel like living a fairy tale!
We felt like we were still in heaven when we were heading to the airport three hours later. We had so much fun and family bonding celebrating Mom’s special birthday as I reflected the memories of that trip while writing this travelogue. Today, we look forward planning her next birthday gathering and she requests that we celebrate her next birthday in Switzerland where my brother Robert lives. That will be another family birthday occasion we will never forget.
Oct 2018 Health and Lifestyle