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Singapore - Conrad Centennial Singapore, Singapore

 

The fingerprints of colony on the  Republic of Singapore are, in the context of the West/East binary, an historical map into the advantages that Western culture has wrought on particular niches in East Asia. The transformation of this tiny island oasis in a two-century span, from fetid and disease-ridden dark space to affluent parliamentary democracy, is a testament both to the traditions of trade and the potential for polemic change. The ‘Lion City’ Singapore, founded and so titled on a surreal whim by a Sumatran prince around 1250, was by 1819 a feared locale for European trading companies, but Sir Stamford Raffles’, acting on behalf of the British East India Company to strengthen the China – India trade route and forestall Dutch expansionism, infiltrated the island, and a flourishing, capitalist colony was quickly established. In the modern age,  independence and a fiercely pragmatic leadership quickly vaulted Singapore to the upper echelon of the world’s wealthiest per capita nations. Despite the recent Asian economic downturn, this nation-state, and the towering glass structures signifying its prolonged affluence, is an exciting and culturally rich oasis off the south coast of Malaysia.

In the center of the downtown core (20 minutes from the airport), amid blocks and blocks of shopping districts and convention centers, stands the Conrad Centennial Singapore, the nation’s 2002 ‘Hotel Of The Year’ and the perfect home base for a vacation unlike any other. Centuries of trade have rendered many of the country’s beaches and swimming waters less than attractive, but the world-class restaurants and shops, as well as the cosmopolitan collection of festivals and events that take place year-round, borrowed from the continent’s cultural flair, ensure that a myriad of opportunities await the business or leisure traveler.

Looking out over the city center’s dramatic fountain terrace, the 509-room, 31-floor Conrad Centennial is an edifice of impressive proportions. From the moment one steps into the vast, avant-garde styling of the lobby, complete with an obliquely circular stairway, broad contemporary furnishings and planters of towering bamboo shoots, the immediate realization is that this is a hotel that keeps elite peers around the globe. Rooms are spacious and tastefully decorated in an understated, minimalist style, and come equipped with all the modern amenities the discerning traveler demands: satellite television, direct dial phones, data ports for PCs and faxing and broadband wireless Internet access. On floors designated for business travelers, complimentary breakfast buffet by the pool and a daily laundry and dry cleaning allowance head a comprehensive list of perks.

With authority and little contest, Singapore is also widely considered to be the food capital of Asia, owing to the nation’s cosmopolitan culture and the integration of these culinary traditions. Various districts around the urban center such as Arab Street, Chinatown, and Little India portend the fine international cuisine available at the Golden Peony, the hotel’s sophisticated main dining room. Top chefs from Hong Kong have come together to build complex and innovative Cantonese dishes for the palate, with a menu grounded by a classic dim sum that is tribute to the region’s cuisine, and the Peony’s house specialty. At Oscar’s, open 24 hours a day, and Oscar’s Terrace, guests can grab a quick bite, enjoy a cocktail, or cool off from the humidity with an ice cream treat. The hotel is a great starting point for the culinary experience, but a great side trip to the shopping experience is some time spent in the markets. Indian, Malay, and Chinese influences abound, and some of the most exotic tropical fruits can be purchased from street merchants and shops: starfruit, rambutan, and zirzat among them.

There is a swimming pool and full-service fitness club and spa, but for a more exciting time, take to the streets, or rent a bike and go exploring. There is a fascination, moving away from the grand anonymity of the downtown core into various pockets of leftover culture, with the patchwork mosaic that is Singapore.

One moves in a single block from silk shops and feng shui prophets to crafts shops, cell phone stores, and popular Western name brand clothing outlets. Moving into the more rural parts of the city, there are a variety of day trips well worth your while. Ferries from a southern port take travelers to Sentosa Island, and others among the 63 islets found in Singapore’s territorial waters. Here and there are some gems, where swimming is pleasant and the beaches are pristine. To the north, a great afternoon can be had at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, a large section of undeveloped rainforest. But for the traveler looking to spend an afternoon on the golf course, Singapore surprisingly has more than a dozen excellent courses, most of which are accessible to the public; the recent economic downturn has forced many clubs to loosen their policies, and the move has been beneficial to all involved. Nevertheless, it is best to arrange access to some courses in advance, as guest policies can vary and are subject to change. Arguably the best layout is the Garden Course at the Tanah Merah Country Club, though the Singapore Island Country Club and Laguna National should be played if time allows for it. If visitors can avoid the rainy season in Singapore, an evening of golf under the lights at Jurong Country Club, in the republic’s west end, should not be passed up. Host of the 2003 Asian Senior Masters, it is a strong, classic layout, and playing beneath the floodlights, with the glow of the urban landscape on the eastern horizon, is a uniquely surreal experience, and truly a microcosm of the fascinating mosaic to be found in Singapore.

Where to Stay

Conrad Centennial Singapore - http://www.ConradHotels.com - Two Temasek Boulevard, Singapore 038982 - Tel.: (65) 6334 8888 - Reservations Tel: (65) 1800 432 7192 - Email: singaporeinfo@conradhotels.com  


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