SINGAPORE has been a regular stopover for many Australians over the years as they have travelled off to exotic locations in Asia and Europe.
Prior to last month I had been in Singapore on four occasions, but each and every time it was just for a brief 24 hours or so.
It was just enough time to get to a hotel, take a shower, grab a nice local meal and then take in some shopping, before getting back on the shuttle bus and heading out to the airport.
It always struck me as a nice clean city where the people were polite, but it seemed to lack that destination status.
An investment by two major casino operators to pour almost $10 billion into Singapore two years ago has turned all that around.
But, as I discovered, it is not the casinos that are the drawcards, it is what has been built around them that has changed the face of this city.
Before the Singapore government gave the casinos the green light to open, tourism figures for the city sat at around Australia's numbers of just under six million a year.
That number has now ballooned out to 11 million and the forecast is it will keep growing and exceed 17 million by 2017.
One of Australia's richest men, James Packer, recently commented: “Singapore, a country renowned for being strict, made an assessment on casinos and decided that the benefits massively outweighed the costs, and the result of that is it has had the greatest rebranding success story in the world.”
“With high rollers rich enough to bet $30 million in an hour – and the mini fortunes they spend on jewellery, clothes and bags, food, health services and more – it is more than a dream,” Mr Packer was reported to have said.
I was intrigued enough with the new changes to return to Singapore for my last break, but this time I would spend five days discovering the city.
Not because I wanted to go to a casino, but because I wanted to see what differences this massive influx of development dollars had made to a once peaceful and in my view uninspiring city.
If I could go back and make my decision again it would only be to extend my five day stopover to at least seven.
Singapore has now become a bustling cosmopolitan city that reflects a blend of culture, cuisine, arts and architecture; you can even say that Singapore embodies the best of East and West.
For the first three days we stayed at Resorts World at Sentosa where I had a choice of four hotels to pick from.
Resorts World is just a 20 minute taxi ride from the airport and sits on reclaimed land in the middle of what was the harbour, joined to the mainland by an overhead rail link and bridge.
All hotels at Resorts World are ultra modern and they offer a good choice of rates. We decided to stay at the Festive which caters predominantly for families with the likes of funky colours in the rooms and bunk beds.
Surrounding Resorts World is an impressive array of celebrity chef's restaurants including Osia which is the signature restaurant of top Aussie cook Scott Webster.
We showed our patriotism by going along there for lunch and it was a wonderful choice. We had a beautiful meal and still had change from $70.
One of the key attractions for Resorts World is the Universal Studios theme park.
It's a slightly smaller version of our Dreamworld and was fun without being outstanding. More rides are opening in the coming months and once that happens it should provide better value for patrons.
Our only venture on a thrill ride was cut short when a lightning bolt hit the top of the roller coaster as we were charging around at 100kph plus.
No one was hurt, but all rides at the park shut down for three hours until the storm had disappeared.
If you plan to go to Singapore and have kids in tow you won't be disappointed if you stay at Resorts World. In fact I recommend it.
The second casino to be given the go-ahead is located at the Marina Bay Sands hotel which is another amazing development.
Swimming in an Olympic-sized infinity pool on the 54th floor is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and thousands of visitors even pay $20 just to go up and look at it.
You have to be staying at the hotel to take a dip.
The rooms once again cater for all groups. Ours was a deluxe suite which was modern, comfortable and quite spacious.
We did get a peak at a presidential room and to say it was impressive is a massive understatement.
Four double bedrooms, a massage room, kitchen, hair salon, karaoke/theatre room were just some of the features. The price, I was almost too scared to ask, but I was told around $2000 a night.
As I said we just looked at it.
This hotel is another must-stay for those going to Singapore. The shopping centre attached to the Marina Bay Sands is first-class and it even has an ice-skating rink located in the middle of the food court.
We tried a number of restaurants during our five-day stay and that included the famous Long Beach chain.
The first Long Beach restaurant was opened in 1946 and their signature dishes are their chilli and black pepper crab.
This was our spend-up night and we tried both.
Write this one down in the “must do” list as well.
But make sure you book your table when you arrive in town, because even though they now have opened up four more restaurants they are difficult to get into.
Once you try their seafood dishes, you'll understand why they are so popular.
Beyond the history, culture, people, shopping and food, there are many more facets to Singapore's thriving cityscape for you to discover. And these can only be experienced as you immerse yourself in the exploration of this once fishing village turned cosmopolitan city.
IF YOU GO
Resorts World Festive Hotel $235 per night
Marina Bay Sands $250 per night.
NOTE: Check with your travel agent for current price deals.
Long Beach Restaurant
Osia Restaurant, Resorts World Sentosa