Asian Affair: Vibrant Vietnam & Sizzling Singapore
I simply love aircrafts and long haul flights. We board award winning Singapore Airlines with about 30 hours to go. With 8 magazines, 6 movies, 4 meals and a sleeping pill, I arrive relaxed and ready to explore. American airports are still not people friendly. Singapore’s ultra-modern airport invites you to linger with free internet terminals, a cinema, rooftop swimming pool, aromatherapy spas, oxygen bars, indoor nature garden with waterfalls and koi pond. I’m escorting my smallest group yet with 28 singles.
Over 60 had begged me to offer these destinations, but most bailed last minute claiming fear of bird flu. So it’s like a vacation for me with this quality over quantity entourage of culture-vultures. We begin with an orientation tour at the top of Mt. Farber with spectacular views. I can see the group is impressed with this sparkling metropolis located between Malaysia and Indonesia.
Here is the leader of S. Asia, a bustling port that was modernized by the British Empire. It’s called the “Lion City” and inhabited by 4 million souls. 76% are Chinese and the other minorities blend harmoniously. Singapore is a city, state, capital and country all in one and draws 8 million visitors per year, yet few Americans have yet to discover it. We check into the opulent Regent Hotel of the Four Seasons. I’m given a suite and swear this wins the award for the most gracious staff on the planet. We’ve arrived at a perfect time now with the “Great Shopping Festival” on. There is nothing like some retail therapy to soothe our jet lag.
Orchard Road, like a tree lined Fifth Avenue is a block away and center of all life. Shopping is the national obsession and bargain hunting can become a blood sport here. There are 150 mega-malls with some that never close. I’m a label slave and purchase a used authentic Rolex with documents for a fraction of it’s original cost. We have only 4 days here. So much to do 24/7, its like Hong Kong on steroids. The Arts Festival is on with a multitude of venues. After dark, it becomes party city at the trendy Clarke Quay area by the river. We have an astute and friendly guide named Farida who shows us all the sights along with a great sense of humor. We visit the lush National Orchard Gardens with 60,000 orchids, China Town with its markets and temples as well as Little India with its intense aromas and vibrant colors.
Then on to the ultra-contemporary financial district, Merlion Park with its landmark fountain and the historic colonial area that was established by Sir Stanford Raffles. We stop to sip a Singapore Sling at the famous Long Bar of Raffles Hotel where rooms start at $700 per night. Other tours included Jurong Bird Park and the Night Safari at the zoo, considered the best in the world with its free roaming enclosures for 2500 animals. In free time, we ride rickshaws around town and take the cable car over to Sentosa Island. Some of us opt to head back to the zoo for a Jungle Breakfast with the Orangutans. At night Terry & I dine on jumbo chili crabs and rice cakes. This vibrant island-state of Singapore is glistening clean with purple bougainvillea bushes lining the highways. All cars are equipped with alarms to sound if one exceeds the speed limit. No graffiti, no gangs and in this tightly “controlled democracy”, it’s the death penalty for drug traffickers. We all make jokes about getting caned for chewing gum or jay-walking.
Its been a leisurely visit here. I usually feel like Jack Bauer on the TV series 24 on my trips with non-stop itineraries. I feel rested as I board our 3 hour flight to Vietnam. We arrive to another world with rice paddies, sampans, lotus blossoms, coconut milk and noodle soups. It’s like time machine travel back to the 15th century in this graceful land that is steeped in history. It is far poorer than I anticipated. There is however, an alluring charm which is found in the gentility of these people with the sincerest of smiles. I am a fan of the Third World. Whereas Singapore was dynamic, Hanoi is culturally stimulating.
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