Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore, Serious Luxury and an Awesome View

After living in Singapore (not at Marina Bay Sands!) for nearly one year, frequently gazing up at the majestically modern building shaped like a ship that is easily the most striking feature of the Singapore skyline, I finally got a chance to experience one of the most luxurious hotels in this metropolis, Marina Bay Sands hotel. Marina Bay Sands by night

A guest was visiting me and my husband in Singapore and I recommended her to spend one night of her trip at Marina Bay Sands. She was given a free upgrade to a suite, which was massive, with a large sitting room, meeting space, kitchen area (though no cooking facilities), two bathrooms (well, actually one bathroom and one powder room, ahem), a suitably plush bedroom, and a large balcony. The suite was not on the more expensive city-view side, but looked out over Gardens By The Bay, also a pleasant view. There was also a surprise in the suite; apparently each suite has something a bit special, its own room. My guest’s suite had its own karaoke room!

Chilling out watching one of the large flatscreen TVs, lounging on the massive soft sofa, drinking coffee made from the espresso machine, it would have been easy to spend a long time in the suite. We tried the room service, ordering dinner, and it was exquisite. But, Marina Bay Sands is certainly not all about the rooms. From outside, staring up at the top of the MBS building as I frequently did, you can see some palms trees, but not much else. In fact there is a long swimming pool running most of the way along the top, with plentiful sun-loungers, and quite simply the most spectacularly breathtaking view in Singapore. With my guest’s single booking we got swimming pool vouchers for me and my husband as well.

The view was stunning; I could have spent weeks just admiring it. And swimming while gazing at it was wonderful. But the water was freezing cold! I guess that’s the effect of being so high up in Singapore’s typically cloudy weather. Despite the low temperatures and strong winds, it was totally amazing. Known as the Skypark, as well as the long pool there are several hot jacuzzis, a chocolate bar which I didn’t try, a viewing area, and free drinking water. Towels were of course provided, and we, like many other guests, simply wore the hotel-provided dressing gowns over our swimming costumes to travel upwards in the lift. The atmosphere was of decadent relaxation, and I felt I was seeing how “the other half” live. Although it was back to reality after just one day, always a stickler for a good view, I’m pleased I had the opportunity to indulge in Singapore’s best. Pool and view


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Singapore Chinatown in Pictures: Pagoda Street, Buddha Tooth Relic Temple


This gallery contains 18 photos.

Singapore Chinatown is a vibrant, colourful neighbourhood, with plenty of eye-catching sights to be photographed. These images stood out from my recent visit to Pagoda Street, the Chinatown Heritage Centre and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.

Chinatown in Singapore: Museums, Temples and Cheap Souvenirs

We stepped out of the MRT station on to Pagoda Street, right in the centre of Chinatown in Singapore. This pedestrianised street is lined with souvenir shops in the ground floor of colonial buildings. The atmosphere is instantly different to other parts of Singapore I have visited, touristy, yes but in a fun way.

Pagoda Street

Pagoda Street

Despite having visited Singapore several times, I had never been to Chinatown. Perhaps I assumed it would be the same as the Chinatowns in other cities around the world, and of course there are similarities. However, Chinatown in Singapore has a great atmosphere and is a fun place for wandering around, browsing for very cheap and tacky Singapore souvenirs, and cultural tourism.

Chinatown Heritage Centre

A little way down Pagoda Street is the Chinatown Heritage Centre. This museum, set in two adjoining colonial buildings, tells the history of Chinese people in Singapore, from the hardships endured by the first immigrants to the success stories of Singapore’s Chinese business people. Combining personal biographies with historical reconstructions of living conditions it was fascinating to think that we were standing in the very area being described.

I learnt a lot about Chinese culture in Singapore, from clan names and their significance to Chinese foods and festivals. The authentic reconstructions of cubicle living and shophouses also reminded me that in other parts of the world, people still live in these conditions, that here in Singapore can be shown as a museum’s historical exhibit.

Me in a historical kitchen reconstruction

Me in a historical kitchen reconstruction, but outside Singapore this is not so different to the kitchens people use every day.

At S$10 per adult the Chinatown Heritage Centre is not cheap but we felt it was worth the ticket price.

Perfect for a Wander

Walking back out on to Pagoda Street the old buildings around us had a new significance thanks to what we had learnt at the museum. We wandered around for a while and came upon a public dance aerobics session with people of all ages joining in.

Food stalls and endless souvenir shops continued to line our path, and there were a fair number of Chinese medicine shops selling remedies for everything as well as traditional Chinese teas.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Although I don’t know much about Buddhism, I had been intrigued by this temple since I first heard its name, and as we approached from a side street, passing table upon table piled high with offerings, we knew we would see something special. In my brief temple-visiting experience, the peaceful but friendly atmosphere is a welcome retreat from a bustling cityscape.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Fortunately we were not wearing very short shorts or hats and so we were allowed to enter the temple. Chinese Buddhists were arriving for a ceremony, mingling with tourists like us. We walked around the sides, where thousands of Buddhas are displayed. Information about the displays is given in English as well as Chinese.

We learnt about the Imperial Life Protectors who protect followers according to the animal of the year of birth. For example, I was born in the year of the pig so mine is Amitabha Buddha. Followers can pay to consecrate their Imperial Life Protector.

Upstairs in the Temple

We went upstairs to the top floor where we saw the Buddha Tooth Relic, which the temple is named after, along with many other Buddhas. To enter this room we slipped off our shoes. Platforms on either side were reserved for meditation and there were some people meditating, despite the tourists coming to see the relic.

Climbing the last flight of stairs we came out at the roof garden, a square with lush, green plants and in the centre, a prayer wheel. We watched the people in front of us walk round, pulling the prayer wheel until it had rung three times, and we did the same.

Buddhist Prayer Wheel

Buddhist Prayer Wheel

A Buddhist Ceremony

There are more floors in the temple, between the ground floor and the tooth relic, but it was closing time. We made our way back down to the ground floor and were just in time to watch a ceremony taking place in the front courtyard.

Buddhist monks chanted and played percussion instruments and the congregation, wearing black robes, joined in at certain point. The rich aroma of incense filled the air.

Temple Ceremony

Temple Ceremony

Heritage and Religion of Chinatown

The combination of visiting the Chinatown Heritage Centre and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, although the most touristic places of Chinatown in Singapore, really gave a flavour of the area, showing us the history and religion of the area.

Wandering around the narrow streets and alleyways gave us a taste of modern Chinatown in Singapore, and now we know where to go for cheap souvenirs!

South Sulawesi in Pictures 6: Stilt Houses


One of the elements of the South Sulawesi landscape that really caught my eye were the houses and their architecture, from the curved rooftops of Torajan traditional homes to the stilt houses that line the road around Bira on the … Continue reading

Bira Beach (Pantai Bira): White Sand Spoilt by Litter

A friend’s opinion that Bira was the most beautiful beach in Indonesia secured my decision to visit as the endpoint of my South Sulawesi trip, which had taken me north to Tana Toraja and to the city of Makassar.

Bira Beach, a few hours drive from Makassar, has become one of South Sulawesi’s most popular traveller haunts, with domestic and international tourists coming to enjoy the powdery white sands and crystal clear waters.

White sand at Bira BeachTourism = Litter

Unfortunately, as happens in many places that become tourism’s new best friend, the main part of the beach, where the road finishes abruptly at the seashore, was covered in litter. Plastic bags, food and drink containers and other random objects had been churned up by the waves and dumped on the beach, and the situation did not change during our three-night stay.

Rubbish on the beachYes, the sand is some of the most powdery soft white sand I have ever set foot on, but the need to constantly watch my step to avoid treading on broken glass rather spoilt the moment.

The sign on the right tells people to keep the beach clean. Beside it is a pile of litter.

The sign on the right tells people to keep the beach clean. Beside it is a pile of litter.

A Changeable Sea

On our first day the sea was relatively calm; people buzzed back and forth on banana boats dragged by speedboats. Other boats anchored near the beach, with passengers from nearby islands alighting. I swam in the sea, and as long as I avoided the boats, it was pleasant for swimming.

On day two, however, the waves were bigger and it was impossible to do proper swimming. Sunsets along the beach were beautiful, but not of the sun-dropping-into-the-ocean type.

I found that walking further along the beach, away from the hubbub of Bira with its souvenir stalls and rubber ring hire shops, led me to cleaner sand with fewer people, and I swam there on day three.

Not a Peaceful Idyll

So, Bira is definitely not the peaceful idyll that some guidebooks and people would have you believe. It’s a small but bustling tourist place, with plenty of places to stay and eat, and lots of shops to buy your Sulawesi t-shirts.

With this kind of under-planned tourism, where places just sprout up to cope with demand, there is often a lack of thought for keeping an area clean and pleasant. I hope that this issue will be addressed by the local businesses who rely on a steady stream of beach-going visitors. And for the time being, I suggest avoiding Bira – there are plenty of better beaches in Indonesia (here’s one example).

Bira Beach Hotel Hell – Dirty, Smelly, Rat-Infested and Poor Service!

We had phoned ahead to confirm our late arrival at Bira Beach Hotel at Pantai Bira, South Sulawesi, and were assured that someone at the hotel would be up. However, on leaving our rental car in the midnight darkness, the hotel door turned out to be locked. We knocked and banged for a while and tried phoning the hotel number. Eventually someone woke up who sleepily showed us to our bungalow.

Pantai BiraOur Night in Hotel Hell

We were exhausted from our long journey all the way from Tana Toraja, and just wanted to have a shower and go to bed. But there was no running water. A sign informed us that during the night there was indeed no water, and that guests should save some water in the large plastic bucket provided. There were only a few centimetres of water in our plastic bucket.

The leftover sachet from someone else’s shampoo littered the bathroom and this rubbish, along with the ants and hairs in the bed, suggested that the room had not been cleaned. We used our limited water to wash our faces and brush our teeth before quickly retiring to bed. There wasn’t even water to flush the toilet.


It was nearly 1am and we were so tired. Just as I was nodding off I was woken with a start by a scuttling sound beneath me—a rat’s footsteps! We got up again but couldn’t find the culprit and so returned to bed. I was almost ready to believe that my mind was playing tricks on me. Then suddenly there was a much louder noise. We immediately leapt out of bed and saw a large rat in one of the two holes above and below the air conditioning unit.

Rat holesAlthough not scared of rodents, we didn’t want to wake up to find holes chewed in our bags, let alone have rats running across our bed in the night. We expected better from a hotel that isn’t the cheapest in the area.

We returned to reception and after much banging and several tries at phoning we finally succeeded in rousing somebody who agreed we could move to a different bungalow, without a word of apology.

Moving Bungalows

We were offered no assistance in moving our luggage to the new room; indeed we were just given the new key and the staff went away. While we were moving our belongings there was a power cut and we were plunged into pitch black. Slowly and carefully moving by moonlight we moved to the new bungalow.

It was similar; a double bed, wooden veranda area with chairs, a cold water only bathroom with no running water at night, and an air conditioner. The new room was possibly slightly cleaner, with only one obvious piece of rubbish, a half-empty water bottle on the veranda. We were relieved that there were no rat holes.

Unfortunately the bathroom door was on its last legs and wouldn’t close. The smell from the bathroom permeated through the bungalow. When the electricity at last came back on we turned on the air conditioning to try to get rid of the bathroom smell. When we woke up in the morning it had mysteriously switched itself off.

Excuses and Apologies

The next morning we were given towels, toilet tissue and soap. When I asked why we didn’t receive them upon check-in, I was told that the hotel had run out of towels at that time. I explained our complaints, from poor service to rats, but the member of staff seemed disinterested and did not offer an apology.

A while later, another staff member came and heard our complaints. She did apologise and said she would make a note that the bungalow with rats should not be used until the problem was fixed. She offered us a discount, which she honoured when we checked out later that day. We had had enough of Bira Beach Hotel and nothing would make us stay there again.