Nautica diary: Our two days in Singapore feature a tour and then exploring on our own

Days 5 and 6: Singapore

ABOARD OCEANIA’S NAUTICA –– The name Singapore derives from the Sanskrit for Lion City. According to legend, a local prince was hunting on this jungle-covered island at the tip of the Malay Peninsula when one of his retainers spotted what he swore was a lion. Of course, lions never inhabited this area although tigers once roamed here. Nevertheless, the name stuck, and this cosmopolitan, one-of-a-kind place, is still called Singapore.

The island’s small Malay village later became Portuguese, then Dutch, then English, growing to become a major trading center. It was briefly part of newly independent Malaysia before gaining its independence as a city-state in 1965.

All the while, Singapore attracted immigrants from China, India, the Middle East and Europe to become perhaps the first truly global city. Since independence, Singapore has prospered on trade, finance, hard work and efficient government, so this 716 square kilometer island with 5.3 million people has become one of the world’s richest countries — on a par with the U.S. It’s also no bargain for visitors.

Singapore's legendary Raffles Hotel
Singapore’s legendary Raffles Hotel

We got our first look at Singapore with the guidance of Bernard, our very fluent English-peaking tour guide who led our group on Oceania’s “Spirit of Singapore” excursion. The National Orchid Garden (located within the larger Botanic Garden) must be the best of its kind anywhere. We got brief photo stops at the renowned Raffles Hotel, the Merlion fountain, iconic symbol of the city, and at the top of Mt. Faber for a view of Nautica, docked at the cruise port.

We lingered a bit longer in Chinatown where we shopped in stalls lining a narrow pedestrian lane and enjoyed refreshing coconut water served in the shell with two straws.

Glad to have two days in this legendary port, we took the second day to wander on our own without much of a plan. Singapore may be the cleanest, safest, most orderly city of five million on the planet — and most people speak English. Of course this comes at a price — smoking, chewing gum and hugging in public are crimes! We didn’t mind leaving the chewing gum in our cabin, but no hugging?

The clean, punctual, air-conditioned subway, here called the MRT, has a station at the cruise terminal so we navigated the crowds and the ticket machines (in English) and rode to Little India for a look around. This neighborhood, centered on Serangoon Road, seemed from an earlier incarnation of Singapore with colorfully painted two and three story buildings, most with retail on the ground floor and residences above. It seemed as though the majority of storefronts were occupied by restaurants. Regrettably it was too early for lunch, so we jumped back on the MRT and headed for Orchard Road.

Singapore’s symbol, the Merlion Fountain
Singapore’s symbol, the Merlion Fountain

Lined with multi-story malls, this legendary, upscale shopping street reminded us of Rodeo Drive on steroids. We mostly window-shopped in the air conditioned malls and lingered long enough for lunch in one. Then we jumped back on the MRT for the Asian Civilizations Museum. This excellent museum is housed in the Empress Place Building, an old colonial administration building dating from 1867. It’s on the Singapore River’s north bank just across from Raffles Place and the Fullerton Hotel, so we traversed the historic Cavenagh Bridge — now pedestrian-only — to get there.

The museum features a number of galleries in four themed zones — Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia/Islam and China. We spent most of our time in the first — it’s where we are after all — but especially enjoyed the Singapore River Gallery where we learned much about Singapore’s history and the roles of various immigrant groups.

We were strolling along Boat Quay on the opposite bank of the river when loud thunder claps and imminent rain sent us scurrying for the MRT station and back to the harbor, Singapore Customs, port security and Nautica. Then we took a much needed rest for tired feet before dinner.

April 9 and 10, 2013

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