Singapore is a different place than it was a few years ago. And for visitors that's a good thing.
New hotels -- including some architecturally stunning buildings -- and major attractions, are popping up with surprising frequency, dramatically changing the urban landscape of this modern Southeast Asian city-state. Cranes are everywhere, signalling there is more to come.
Among the most notable recent attractions are the world's largest oceanarium, a Moshe Safdie designed museum, and a new botanical garden that has attracted international attention.
MARINE LIFE PARK
The newest attraction in Singapore is Marine Life Park, which opened Nov. 22 on Sentosa Island, and includes the world's largest aquarium and a waterpark. The spectacular S.E.A. Aquarium contains 100,000 marine animals from over 800 species comprising 10 different zones with 49 habitats.
The Discovery Touch Pool, the Lens Aquarium and Floor Aquarium, all provide up-close encounters with marine residents. Visitors see manta rays, hammerhead sharks, bottlenose dolphins and other creatures on an underwater voyage of discovery that begins in Southeast Asia, and continues through the Arabian Gulf and the Open Ocean habitat, which is the aquarium's centrepiece. The world's largest viewing panel, at 36-metres-wide by 8-metres-tall, will make you feel like you're on a cavernous ocean floor.
The habitat is flanked by an Ocean Dome -- an all-round viewing area and the Ocean Restaurant, which adheres to sustainable seafood principles. Eleven Ocean Suites occupy the opposite site of the habitat, offering a twist to ocean-viewing by providing overnight guests the experience of waking to an under-the-sea vista.
Adventure Cove Waterpark, the other main attraction, promises more thrills with six adrenaline-pumping water slides including Riptide Rocket, the region's first hydro-magnetic coaster.
There's also a wave pool the chance to tube along one of the world's longest lazy-rivers, which meanders 620-metres through 14 themed scenes of tropical jungles, grottos, a surround aquarium and more. Visitors can also snorkel among thousands of fish at the colourful Rainbow Reef or sign up for ray-feeding. Interactive programs with sharks and dolphins will be introduced next year.
For more check rwsentosa.com.
Some say it resembles a lotus or a welcoming hand. Either way you can't miss it. The ArtScience Museum, with its 10 glass fibre-reinforced polymer "fingers" is home to several unique gallery spaces. The structure is the newest addition to the Moshe Safdie designed Marina Bay Sands (which includes three 55-storey hotel towers topped by the Sands SkyPark -- the world's largest public cantilever housing an observation deck). The museum building recycles water from its roof, and is surrounded by a 4,000-square-metre lily-pond reflecting pool that floats over a new urban terrace.
Inside are 21 galleries on three floors, including three permanent galleries containing its signature exhibition ArtScience: A Journey Through Creativity. An example of one interactive displays is in the Inspiration Gallery, where visitors create a work of art then see it projected -- along with work by others -- onto a large media canvas on what's called the "NEXT Wall."
The museum also features major travelling exhibitions from renowned collections throughout the world. Three shows are on now. Outside In: A Magnum Photos Showcase brings together 143 works by three lauded photographers -- Stuart Franklin, Mark Power, Jacob Aue Sobol -- from the prestigious Magnum Photos agency. Runs through Jan. 6.
Two other exhibits opened this month. Fujians: The Blue Ocean Legacy, through Feb. 28, traces the seafaring history of the Fujian people as they travelled from China and settled in Southeast Asia in the 1800s. Visitors learn about the Fujians impact on religion, commerce and culture in Southeast Asia, and see rare artifacts such as a 1,000-year-old Yuan Dynasty stone-carving of Chinese fairies holding a Christian Cross, and a huge Ming Dynasty porcelain plate with phoenix and peony patterns.
The Art of the Brick, to April 14, is the first major museum exhibition to use Lego as the sole art medium. New York-based artist Nathan Sawaya transforms the plastic bricks into 52 awe-inspiring and thought-provoking sculptures, including Yellow -- a 6-metre-long T-rex dinosaur skeleton -- and a sculpture of the ArtScience Museum. Check marinabaysands.com or marinabaysands.com/Singapore-Museum.
GARDENS BY THE BAY
There are plenty of flowers, plants and trees in this new extraordinary botanical attraction, but none compare to the 18 eye-popping "Supertrees," which are not real trees at all, but towering steel structures that stretch up to 50-metres-high and act as dramatic vertical plant displays containing thousands of real ferns, orchids and bromeliads. You can take an elevator to the top of one of these and walk between two of the structures on the 128-metre-long Skyway for a great view of the 101- hectare gardens and the city. The trees, which are embedded with photovoltaic cells to harvest solar energy, come to life at night with spectacular light and sound shows.
Elsewhere are themed gardens, such as the Chinese, Malay and Colonial Gardens; nine restaurants -- including Pollen, run by one of London's top chefs Jason Atherton -- and two domed-conservatories that house over 250,000 rare plants. The Flower Dome is a Mediterranean garden space that has Baobab trees, a thousand-year-old olive tree, and a seasonal Flower Field. In the Cloud Forest -- the other domed attraction -- visitors can get relief from the heat by entering a cool Tropical Montane climate with a misty 35-metre man-made waterfall amid a bounty of pitcher plants, ferns and orchids.
To see it all, plan to spend the day. For more, check gardensbythebay.com.sg.
Among the many new hotels that have cropped up in the last two years are the boutique 29-room Wanderlust Hotel in a converted school-house in bustling Little India; W Hotel on Sentosa Island (whotels.com); the landmark Marina Bay Sands with 2,561 luxury rooms and suites; the equally luxurious Fullerton Bay Hotel; and six new hotels at Resorts World Sentosa.
Art lovers will want to make their way to Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore, which has one of the finest corporate modern art collections in Southeast Asia. About 90% of the 4,200 pieces were commissioned for the hotel, including some 350 major "museum quality" works. The hotel offers a self-guided podcast tour of its collection that has work by Frank Stella (his 3-ton Cornucopia sculpture dominates the lobby), Dale Chihuly, David Hockney, Henry Moore and more. Check ritzcarlton.com.
NEED TO KNOW
For travel information, check the Singapore Tourism Board website at YourSingapore.com.