DAY 1 don't mind the crowds and start your tour at the epicentre of singapore's commercial district, Raffles place MRT (Mass Rapid Transit, the local underground) station, its ceaseless hum of traffic and jungle of skyscrapers overhead a reminder that you're in one of the world's key financial centres. Let the rush hour traffic sweep you down to Lau pat sat Festival Market (18 Raffles Quay), a treasure trove of hawker stalls in a charming Victorian filigree cast-iron structure dating back to the country's early days as a colonial trading post, then breakfast amongst Ceos and blue-collar workers on your pick of a wide selection of inexpensive local and global options (average price sGd$3$5/1.753). Cross the road at Raffles Quay and you'll soon come to the waterfront at Marina bay, a sparkling example of how far the city-state has come: built on reclaimed land, Marina bay sands (10 bayfront avenue, +65 6688 8868, marinabaysands.com) dominates the skyline with its three futuristic, soaring hotel towers. part of the country's ambition to keep in the forefront of the tourism business, the massive 6,000,000 square-foot integrated resort was developed at a cost of 4.2 billion euros--and is still in the midst of completion: the world's first artscience Museum opens in the eyecatching white blossom-like building on February 17th. but you'll come back to that later. press on until you reach the mouth of the river, where the giant Merlion fountain sprouts into the seawater, the mythical halflion half-fish mascot representing singapore's roots and namesake, singapura or "lion city." From the Merlion park jetty, you can join a 30-minute tour by the singapore River Cruise company (sGd$15/9; +65 63366111) in a bumboat, the very same type of vessel from which the city-state's forefathers--traders from around the world--did a brisk business with merchants from warehouses along the river. Today, the colourful rows of restored shophouses and godowns are dining and nightlife establishments, in stark contrast to the steeland glass-cloaked skyscrapers behind them. Continue exploring the riverfront on foot to enjoy the skyline from a different perspective, watching out for the statue of sir stamford Raffles, which marks the site where he landed back in 1819, before founding the city-state. Rooftop cocktails at Ku Dé Ta Lunch is at Maxwell Food Centre (1 Kadayanallur street) in Chinatown, just a five-minute taxi ride away. This hawker centre is regarded as one of the best around, with stalls such as Tian Tian hainanese Chicken Rice and Zhen Zhen porridge packing long queues at lunchtime. don't park yourself at tables marked with tissue packets--this idiosyncrasy is how locals reserve their seats. Take the tempo down with a leisurely stroll: the neighbouring area between erskine Road and amoy street is a delightful option dotted with green spaces, designer boutiques and quaint independent stores. stop by at Thian hock Keng (free entrance, 158 Telok ayer street, +65 6423 4616), the oldest and most important hokkien temple in singapore, partially constructed with parts recycled from Chinese junks: the timber, stone columns and tiles are made from ballasts, while mosaic pieces used on the temple roof come from broken pieces of pottery and cutlery from ships. locals use a tissue packet to reserve a table in the market. FEBRUARY 2011 BLUE WINGS 23 ENG
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