We are in a green jungle, jet lagged, 9,649 miles from home and a little lost. Blame it on the 24-hour flight via Quatar Airlines via Dubai to Singapore … or the heat (85 degrees) … or the surreal sensation of standing in a prehistoric jungle with dinosaurs as your companions … but it is hard for me to rationalize that I am in the middle of a city. And not any city. Singapore, the city-state that earned its independence in 1965, is considered Asia’s financial hub. Long a stronghold of the British Empire, Singapore can trick you into thinking that you are staying in London (especially as it did for me during high tea but more on that later). I am here in Singapore on business with my son (Byron). We have one day before our conference starts for a 24-hour whirlwind city tour.
Our first stop is the Botanic Gardens. There isn’t even any question that we will spend the majority of our time here but I have an addiction. I am a travel junkie. And the Holy Grail of junkies is the UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO is comprised of 167 state-parties that work collaboratively to protect ancient lands, properties and heritage sites. The UNESCO website lists 1,092 properties including 845 cultural and 209 natural entities.
With much acclaim, Singapore joined this prestigious community in 2015 with the inscription of its Botanic Gardens as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Singaporeans are proud of this landmark. Located in the heart of the city, the Gardens are where parents take their toddlers to run with the dinosaurs, where young lovers pose for photographers for their engagement photos and joggers glide past the lakes and tree-lined paths. It is a behemoth of a city garden that rivals London’s Kew Gardens (another UNESCO World Heritage site).
But Singapore’s Botanic Gardens are more than a tourist attraction—like the obligatory city zoo you visit during a trip. According to UNESCO (which requires an organization to apply for acceptance as a World Heritage Site), it is a world-class scientific institution.
“The Botanic Gardens demonstrates the evolution of a British tropical colonial botanic garden that has become a modern world-class scientific institution used for both conservation and education. The cultural landscape includes a rich variety of historic features, plantings and buildings that demonstrate the development of the garden since its creation in 1859. It has been an important center for science, research and plant conservation, notably in connection with the cultivation of rubber plantations, in Southeast Asia since 1875.”
I don’t know anything about rubber but I can tell you that the Orchid pavilion astounds me. My son and I wander aimlessly around the circuitous path, marveling at the display of 450 different varieties of orchids. Now I know some people detest orchids with their elephantine petals, frail constitution and spindly stems. I think of the orchid as Asia’s jewel—natural, color-inflamed and exotic. Picture a slender woman dressed in a flowing lavender dress with dappled frills and you have the orchid.
So it turns out that Singapore is considered the orchid capital of the world. And the Botanic Gardens’ research is helping to save many orchid varieties that are disappearing or dying out. But I am not thinking about any of this scientific research. I am taking selfies with my son to remember the essence of this warm day. The air is perfumed by flowers at The National Orchid Gardens. Sweat beads drop on the side of my face.
The conservatory is a riot of colors—yellow, pink, peach, lavender, purple and every shade of green and I am swept into sensory overload. The rest of the day spent at the Botanic Gardens is now a distant memory. We easily walked 7 miles as the Gardens comprise 202 acres (82 hectres). We dawdled at Swan Lake; we lingered at the SBG Heritage Museum; we delighted at the Jacob Ballas Children’s Gardens; I slowed us down at the swings.
As Byron and I sat across from each other in an old-fashioned swing, rocking back and forth and scanning the vast expanse of flower and forest, we laughed about our fate. Here we were together in a mother-son adventure. Our past had yielded a few trips as a duo together. In particular, I will always remember the ill-fated ski trip to Breckenridge Resort in Colorado where my 8-year old son had to lead me down a steep icy mountain while I shook with fear of breaking my leg.
This trip yielded no such disasters. We were enveloped by the culture; America seemed so far away and distant. Visiting Singapore was a study of contrasts—history vs. modernity, British vs. Asian influence, rich vs. not-as-rich and nature vs. cosmopolitan.
But my favorite part was Byron and I partaking of afternoon tea at the iconic Raffles Singapore, a colonial-style luxury hotel on the final day of our trip. Scones, savory sandwiches, cakes, cookies and champagne … and of course the curated tea selection … were served on delicate bone china. We luxuriated in the Victorian elegance—crisp starched linens, extravagant floral displays, floor-to-ceiling pillars and grand lobby… ahh Singapore, you transport me.
If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe to my weekly email: