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New attractions boost Peninsula City

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Singapore, this lively country within a city has long been a handy stopover en route to the Antipodes. Now this little SE Asian dynamo is boosting its short stay appeal, with the world’s biggest wheel, to add to the city’s long time attractions of temples, a real urban jungle, great shopping and fiery food. With all year round cheer-you-up temperatures, it’s just the place to escape a British wet winter week. Photo; www.sandiego.edu

Tall turn.

The Singapore Flyer, the world tallest observation wheel, began turning for business in 2008. It is one of Asia’s most conspicuous tourist attraction. From the top, 541 feet above ground, you feel you are looking down from half way up a mountain, with fine views out over Marina Bay and across to Malaysia. The wheel, at 492 feet (the height of a 43 storey building), overtops the London Eye by 42 feet. It is 16 ft taller than China’s Star of Nanchang, previously the world’s biggest wheel. But the Flyer stands on a three-story terminal, making it higher still. One stately circuit in a bus-sized capsule - UV protection in the glass shields passengers from the hot sun - takes 30 minutes.

Night fantastic

The Singapore Grand Prix (September 25th and 26th 2010), through the city’s streets, is quite unlike any Formula One race there has been. They stage it at night, the first place where this has happened. But don’t expect the pitch dark of the Le Mans 24 hour race. They flood the 3.1 mile circuit with powerful lighting to replicate daylight. And this is no urban dawdle. Cars race flat out - 200 miles per hour along Raffles Boulevard, and an impressive zip across the century-old Anderson Bridge. There are seats for only 80,000 spectators, so you must book early. However, in addition to the race itself, the second practice and the qualifying session, on the two previous days, also take place after dark. And there’s a grandstand view from the Singapore Flyer.

Take the taxi tour

Time is short and you have a whole city to see – temples, wow-factor modern buildings, stately Victorian architecture, the bustling harbour and the markets. Where to start? Cabbies will show you around any city, the world over. But how do you tell a dud from the best guides in town? In 2004 Singapore pioneered the Taxi Tourist Guide scheme, guaranteeing a trained guide who knows his city and can explain it in good English. He will also be a good driver and a safe chaperon. Leave the driver to serve up a trip, or tell him where you want to go. You are free to step out to see what you please. They also do highlights itineraries for transit passengers short of time, with an airport pick up and drop off.

Raffles draw

No hotel on earth attracts more visitors who aren’t actually staying there than Raffles. Opened in 1887 by the Sarkie brothers, and named after the British colony’s founder Sir Stamford Raffles, it became the top stop for celebrities travelling out east, such as Joseph Conrad, Kipling, Chaplin and Noel Coward. Now it is back to its best, with its grand arches, moulded ceilings with gently spinning fans, teak walls, and Oriental carpets on marble floors refreshed and restored. Dress your best, and call in for that sacred fixture, high tea in the Tiffin Room. (Wise to book.)

Or launch your evening in the Writers’Bar or the Long Bar with a Singapore Sling, the legendary hot pink cocktail made with cherry brandy and multiple spirits, invented here in 1915 by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon. Ask them to mix it for you: don’t accept one ready made.

Glorious food

Short-stop transit passengers can erase the memory of bland airline fare in the unofficial food capital of Asia. Singapore offers a range of cuisines - Indian, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese. Chinese, Malay, and Nonya - that would keep the United Nations catering manager happy. Find some of the most authentic Singapore street cusine in the hawker centres, such as Lau Pa Sat Market and the Newton Hawker Centre, with a dizzying choice of food and drink stalls under one roof. There’s a huge choice of restaurants, many of them in hotels. An up and coming dining-out district is the Rochester Park heritage area, where whitewashed colonial houses have been turned into high end restaurants: look for Graze, Min Jiang and One Rochester. Take a pre or post dinner stroll on tree-lined paths through grassy lawns.

Wild City

In Singapore that old cliché the urban jungle is literally true. Within the city limits there is a big piece of genuine primary rainforest, predating this city by many eons and teeming with enough precious and exotic wildlife for an entire Attenborough programme. Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, set up in 1883, is one of the oldest in the world. Clearly marked walking trails (from 35 minutes to two hours) wind under creeping vines and giant ferns. The keen-eyed may spot the common tree shrew and the flying lemur. And you can get there by bus. There are more natural riches at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, a vital refuelling stop for migrating birds. Take the short wooden walkway into the mangrove swamp (one of three guided walks) and spot the four resident sunbirds.

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