7 Green Spaces in Singapore

Nature is the best healing balm in the world.  So when city life gets overwhelming, I love to escape to Singapore’s green spaces.  From heritage gardens to beach parks, treetop walks and wetland reserves, these seven sanctuaries will lift the stress and fatigue, and magically restore you.

#1 Singapore Botanic Gardens

Picture via www.sbg.org.sg

Picture via www.sbg.org.sg

The only tropical garden in the world to be named a UNESCO World’s Heritage Site, this 157 year-old garden is home to more than 10,000 species of flora.  I love taking a walk in the Ginger Garden, unwinding at the Swan Lake, joining a workshop at the Botany Centre and enjoying a concert at the Symphony Lake.

Must-Do: Visit the National Orchid Garden, and discover the largest orchid collection in the world with 1,200 species and 2,000 hybrids!  Don’t miss the VIP Orchid Garden, with some 100 orchids named after celebrities, dignitaries and heads of states.  Look out for the Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher orchids.

#2 Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

Picture by www.nparks.gov.sg/sbwr

Picture by www.nparks.gov.sg/sbwr

First discovered in 1986 by a group of birdwatchers, this 202-hectare of mangroves, mudflats, ponds and forests are home to diverse wildlife.  I love strolling through the meandering wooden stilts, and spotting crabs, shellfish, herons, kingfishers and sunbirds.  From September to March, you could even catch sight of migratory birds on their way to Australia – some of them have flown all the way from Siberia!

Must-Do: For a deeper appreciation of the wetlands, book a free guided walk in advance to identify flora, as well as birds and other natural inhabitants.  Art enthusiasts may also join an art class and create nature-inspired pieces. 

#3 Jurong Lake

Picture by www.nparks.gov.sg/juronglakegardens

Picture by www.nparks.gov.sg/juronglakegardens

Surrounded by verdant parkland, this freshwater lake and reservoir is an excellent spot for jogging, cycling or water sports.  I personally love coming here for brisk morning or cool evening strolls to decompress and escape the city bustle.

Must-Do: Visit the Chinese Garden. Stroll along the stone bridges, explore the pagodas and rest your feet at the teahouse.  The garden really comes to life during Chinese festivals such as Lunar New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival, where children will light up the gardens with whimsical lanterns.

#4 MacRitchie Reservoir Park

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If you love nature, you’ll love this reservoir park.  Its 11km of hiking trail are lined with gorgeous trees, long-tailed monkeys, squirrels and monitor lizards.  Fringed by Singapore’s first reservoir, it’s also a great place for kayaking and canoeing.

Must-do: Take a morning walk with your head above the trees – the Treetop Walk is a 250-metre suspension bridge.  Linking two of the highest points within the nature reserve, it’ll offer you majestic views of the forest.

#5 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

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A mere 12 kilometres from the Central Business District, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is one of two tropical rainforests in the world located within city limits.  This ASEAN Heritage Park is home 840 species of flowering plants and 500 species of fauna.

Must-Do: Ascend to the summit of the Bukit Timah Hill.  At the height of 163.63 metres, it’s the highest hill in Singapore!  This summit trail is only open on weekends from 7am to 6pm.

#6 East Coast Park

Picture by www.nparks.gov.sg

Picture by www.nparks.gov.sg

50 years ago, East Coast Park didn’t even exist – all 185 hectares of this beach park is built on reclaimed land.  Today, it has become one of the most iconic hangout spots in Singapore, and my personal favourite.  With a cycling track lining 15km of gorgeous coastline, it’s the perfect place to enjoy the great outdoors.

Must-Do: Enjoy seafood and local cuisine at East Coast Food Lagoon.  Try the satay (spicy meat skewers), wanton mee (dumpling noodles), sambal stingray and barbequed wings.  Or, rent a pit and enjoy your own outdoor barbeque by the sea.

#7 Southern Ridges

Picture via www.yoursingapore.com

Picture via www.yoursingapore.com

Connecting some of Singapore’s most iconic green sanctuaries – Hort Park, Mount Faber Park, Kent Ridge Park and Labrador Nature Reserves – this 10km trail offers panoramic views of the city and nature.

Must-Do: I love walking along the Henderson Waves, which connects Mount Faber Park to Telok Blangah Hill Park.  At 36 metres height, this wave-like pedestrian bridge is gorgeous when alit at night.

For more cool ideas, speak to your personal assistant at Capella Singapore.

 

Singapore Festivals in 2016

If you didn’t manage to squeeze Singapore into your recent year-end vacation, you’ll be glad to know that Christmas is not the only time to enjoy the festivities in Singapore.  Thanks to our multi-cultural and multi-racial society, we celebrate many festivals round the year.  So if you’re visiting Singapore in 2016, here are three of my favourite festivals to plan your trip around.

Thaipusam
24 January 2016

Photo by www.yoursingapore.com

Photo by www.yoursingapore.com

The first key festival of the year, Thaipusam is celebrated by Tamils to commemorate the day Parvati (the Hindu goddess of love, fertility and devotion) gave Murugan (the god of war) a divine javelin to slay the demon Soorapadman.  During this two-day festival, Hindus fulfil vows, offer thanks and seek blessings for the year ahead.

If you’ve never witnessed Thaipusam, it’ll certainly be an eye-opener.  In Singapore, the celebration begins on the eve, with a colourful chariot procession from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple to Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple.

And at the crack of dawn the next day, devotees will walk from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple.  Women will carry a pot of milk to symbolise fertility and abundance, and men will balance kavadis, chanting hymns and playing music along the way.  Some devotees balance towering kavadis on their shoulders, while others may carry spiked kavadis that pierce the body and tongue and weigh more than 30 kg!  In other words, these processions are nothing short of spectacular.

Lunar New Year
8-9 February 2016

Photo by www.yoursingapore.com

Photo by www.yoursingapore.com

Also known as the Spring Festival, this is the first and most important day on the Chinese calendar.  Legend has it that the mythical beast Nian had been eating villagers until a visiting god revealed that the beast was afraid of the colour red and loud noises.  Since then, the Chinese have worn red clothes, hung red lanterns and scrolls, and set off firecrackers on this special occasion to ward off the beast.

In our modern society, Lunar New Year is simply a time to celebrate family, friends, good fortune and great food.  On the eve of Lunar New Year, family members from near and far will gather to share the most important meal of the year – the Reunion Dinner.

The following days will be spent visiting relatives and friends, and the littles ones will receive red packets stuffed with money.  The highlight for me, however, is the delicious snacks such as bak kwa (sweet barbequed meat), pineapple tarts and shrimp rolls served at these gatherings.  If you’re invited to visit a friend during Lunar New Year, take the opportunity to sample everything you’re served!  And don’t forget to bring a pair of mandarin oranges for your hosts – these are symbols of good luck!

Festivities begin a month before Lunar New Year, so visit Chinatown for the street light-up, festive markets and lion dances.  Or, watch the Chingay Parade, the largest multi-cultural street performance and float parade in Asia on 19 and 20 February!

Hari Raya Aidilfitri
6 July 2016

Photo by www.yoursingapore.com

Photo by www.yoursingapore.com

For the Muslim community in Singapore, this is one most important festivals.  As you know, during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, and devote their time to worship and charitable deeds.  This special day marks the end of fasting.

Also known as Hari Raya Puasa of Eid, it is a day of joyous celebration.  Families will put on bright new clothes and head to the mosque for special prayers.  They then spend the day visiting their parents, elders and relatives.

If you’re invited to a Hari Raya meal, you’re in for a rare treat.  Nothing beats home-cooked beef rendang and chicken rendang, spicy stews that will whet your appetite.  I’m also addicted to homemade sambal (chilli paste), as well as traditional cakes!

In fact, you don’t have to wait for an invite during Hari Raya Aidilfitri to enjoy these irresistible Malay dishes.  Geylang Serai offers a wide variety of mains and snacks, and they may be enjoyed even before Hari Raya Aidilfitri during the month of Ramandan!  Since I personally love spicy food, these are some of my greatest guilty indulgences.

For more information on festivals celebrated in Singapore, speak to your personal assistant at Capella Singapore.

4 Top Experiences On Sentosa Island

One of the best ways to discover a country is by talking to the people who live there. This month, I speak to four personal assistants at Capella Singapore to uncover their favourite haunts and hideouts on Sentosa Island. Read on for their best Insiders’ tips!

JessicaJessica Bassig

The most romantic spot in Sentosa is… Palawan Beach. I love the fine white sand and golden sun during the day, and enjoy watching the sea come to life with a hundred dazzling lights from the ships in the evening. Stroll along the beach, have a romantic picnic or immerse yourself in a good book.

Don’t miss… the bridge leading to the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia. This is also Asia’s closest point to the equator and an excellent spot for Instagram-worthy photos.

To get there… take the monorail and alight at the Beach Station – you’ll find Palawan Beach on your left. If you are staying at Capella Singapore, simply take the private path that leads directly to Palawan Beach!

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Yoshie Furukawa 

Yoshie

One of my favourite places to unwind is… The Wine Company at the Sentosa Boardwalk. You’ll enjoy unforgettable views of Harbourfront and Resorts World Sentosa, as well as soft sea breezes.

Do try… their vast collection of old and new world wines. Or, if you’re undecided, ask the serving staff for recommendations.

The best time to go is… on weekday nights. I love how quiet and serene it is.

Wine

Nicky Koh 

Nicky

For a uniquely-Singaporean dining experience… the Singapore Seafood Republic offers exceptional local Chinese food, as well as waterfront views and top-notch service.

Don’t miss… the award-winning chilli crab and black pepper crab. I also love the salted egg golden prawns, deep fried scallop wrapped in yam ring and the dragon fruit lobster salad with lumpfish caviar. Since this menu is the result of a collaboration among several popular seafood restaurants in Singapore, most of the items are bestsellers and simply delicious.

Don’t forget to… make a reservation as this restaurant is pretty popular! It operates from 12pm to 3pm and 6pm to 11:30pm.

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Sophia Kim Sophie

My favourite outdoor activity is… surfing at the Wave House Sentosa. Since Singapore is known for its calm waters, this is the only place where you can enjoy waves and surfing. Even if you’re new to surfing, you may still enjoy this.

The best time to visit is… during the day, especially if you need to cool off from the hot weather. It’s also an excellent activity in the evening, as they offer a DIY BBQ by the beach with gorgeous views of the sunset.

Don’t forget to… bring your swimsuit!

Picture via www.sentosa.com.sg

Picture via www.sentosa.com.sg

For more interesting ideas, speak to your Personal Assistant at Capella Singapore.

 

24 Hours: What To Eat In Singapore

As Singapore turns 50 this month, our nation is in a grand party mood.  And one of our favourite ways to party is to indulge our palates.  We are in love with our food, and fussy to a fault when it comes to eating.  And you can hardly blame us.  Most of our dishes are born of our multi-racial culture, and the best dishes are Singaporean-ised over the years to perfectly suit our taste buds.

So if you are in Singapore for a short visit, join me on a food trail that is sure to impress.  This is 24 Hours: What To Eat In Singapore:

Prata for Breakfast

Roti Prata picture from Your Singapore (http://www.yoursingapore.com)

Roti Prata picture from Your Singapore (http://www.yoursingapore.com)

When I’m up bright and early, I usually make a beeline for roti pratas.  When done right, this South Indian flat bread is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and the perfect morning nosh.

My personal favourite is what we call prata ‘kosong’.  ‘Kosong’ means ‘zero’ in the Malay language and refers to plain prata, which tastes best when dipped with fish curry.

However, if you are craving something a little more sweet or savoury, many prata stalls also offer modern variants such as cheese, onion, chocolate and bomb pratas – a flakier dough with margarine, sugar and condensed milk.  Enjoy these with strong local coffee for the perfect early morning pick-me-up.

Chicken Rice for Lunch

Chicken Rice picture from Your Singapore (http://www.yoursingapore.com)

Chicken Rice picture from Your Singapore (http://www.yoursingapore.com)

Though chicken rice has its roots in the Hainan province in China, it is widely hailed as our national dish.  In fact, it’s rare to walk more than five kilometres anywhere in Singapore without passing a chicken rice stall with a row of cooked chicken hanging from the stall front.

While this may seem a little shocking to tourists at first, it adds to the distinct flavour of the cuisine.  In fact, Singaporeans tend to like to see our meat in its entirety, and associate this with freshness and wholeness.

Quirks aside, Singaporean-Hainanese Chicken Rice is very different from the original version from China, which tends to feature a bonier fowl with green chilli dip.  In Singapore, we prefer tender spring chicken served with fragrant rice steamed with chicken stock and ginger.  This is accompanied by a tangy red chilli dip, minced ginger paste and thick sweet soy sauce.

Widely available at humble hawker centres and renowned restaurants, this national dish has inspired our nation so much that we have named movies such as Chicken Rice War after it!

Kaya Toast for Tea

Kaya Toast picture from https://yakuntoast.wordpress.com - a national favourite

Kaya Toast picture from Ya Kun (https://yakuntoast.wordpress.com) – a national favourite

As far as Singapore’s tea culture goes, the Kaya Toast probably sums it up.  Kaya is a local jam made from coconut milk, eggs, sugar and pandan leaves, which lends it a unique fragrance and distinctive green hue.  Served with toasted bread and generous slivers of butter, it the perfect mid-day energy booster.

Singaporeans love enjoying a Kaya Toast even when we’re not hungry.  It is most commonly savoured with local milk tea, or what we call ‘teh’ during a casual catch-up with friends, especially on a lazy weekend.

Chilli Crabs for Dinner

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Whenever I host overseas friends for dinner, I love to take them for some authentic Singaporean chilli crabs.  Usually served with the shell intact and drenched with a savoury chilli-tomato gravy, this is a messy eat.  Be ready to get your hands dirty, and expect a lot of splatter.  However, if you ask any Singaporean, this simply adds to the flavour of the crabs, and makes it a unique bonding experience for diners.

My three tips for enjoying the iconic chilli crab: 1) Never wear white or pricey clothes for this unless you are prepared to go home with stains.  2) Request for a female crab if you enjoy roe.  3) Always order mantou (fried buns) to soak up the chilli gravy after you’ve polished off the main!

Satay for Supper

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Think of this as the Southeast Asian version of the ubiquitous kebab, marinated in a piquant bouquet of local spices.  Satays tend to be sweeter than your regular kebabs, and served with a distinct sweet and spicy peanut dip.  Usually available as bite-sized chicken, beef and mutton sticks with a side of raw cucumbers, onions and ketupat (rice cakes), they are my favourite after-dinner snacks!

Since the best satays are freshly grilled over an open charcoal fire, they are usually only available from evening till late night.  Bear in mind that you can’t order one or two sticks of satay – nor should you.  Stall owners offer satay beginning from 8-10 sticks. And believe me, once you’ve tried it, you’ll wish you had ordered more.

 

Capella Singapore serves many of these delightful local cuisines.  Alternatively, if you are spending time around town, ask your Personal Assistant for recommendations.

 

Asia’s Gemstone: Jade

Yesterday my colleagues and I were having an interesting conversation about the “Feng Shui Trail” on Sentosa Island which features one of the largest Jadeites in Singapore.  This led to an insightful discussion on the significance of Jade, an ornamental stone, commonly worn as jewelry in Asia.

Jade

Jade is very fascinating and has much mystique surrounding it.  Known to be a “living” stone because it is said to turn greener when worn by a person, according to Chinese superstition, how green the stone appears depends on how much it “likes” you.

Following that notion, Jade is also thought to absorb the feelings of its owner and if the previous owner had a lot of “negative energy”, it would be transferred to the new owner. This is why when buying the gemstone, it is important to go to a feng shui or fortune master to get a reading.  They will then prescribe the appropriate pieces to suite your personality.

Jade is also believed to ward off evil. One story holds that if you were to have a fall, the Jade would crack, absorbing the injury you would have sustained from the fall.  Furthermore, it is believed to ward off bad dreams and to bring good luck in games of chance.

The word “Jade” in Chinese is written as 玉 (yu), but did you know it is actually two different stones?  In Chinese it is given two separate names.  The first,  硬玉 (ying yu) or “hard Jade” is the term for Jadeite and 軟玉 (ruan yu), meaning “soft Jade” describes nephrite or the common Jade you would find in most Chinese stores.  As you might have guessed, Jadeite is the more refined and exclusive of the two.  One key differentiation is the color.  Nephrite  is usually dark green or grey-green in color.  Jadeite on the other hand shows more color variations, including yellow, lavender-mauve, pink and emerald-green.

Next time you are travelling to Singapore, be sure to stop by the Merlion Plaza on Sentosa Island where the giant Jadeite is located.  You can also visit some of the Feng Shui Masters for more insight into the properties of Jade.  Your Capella Singapore Personal Assistants would be more than happy to recommend a few good stores.