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Standing guard at the mouth of the Singapore River is the Merlion, a mythical beast that is a cross between a fish and a lion. The fish symbolizes Singapore's close association with the sea while the lion head refers to the legendary sighting of a lion during the discovery of ancient Singapore. Created in 1972 as a tourism icon, the Merlion is especially attractive in the evenings when it is illuminated and spouts water from its mouth. Today, it has moved 120 meters (393 feet) away from its original spot, adjacent to One Fullerton. A stroll through Merlion Park yields great views of Singapore's colonial district.
Although largely scarred by redevelopment, Chinatown today still contains pockets of genuinely old shophouses where age-old trades like clog-making and calligraphy continue to be practiced. Paper effigies of cars, houses and other material objects are still being made for the deceased; these are then burnt, in the belief that they will raise the standard of living of the deceased in the next world. The many tea houses are a wonderland for the tea connoisseurs, as they do not just enable one to taste the authenticity of Chinese tea, but also promises an insightful escape into the the traditional art of tea-brewing. A stirring nexus of pleasant sights and aromas, Chinatown, at once, strikes as a bright scarlet canvas which is a soulful amalgam of history, culture and ancient architecture. Sheltering a treasure trove of religious places of worship including the Thian Hock Keng temple and Sri Marriaman Temple, Chinatown is embellished with various winding thoroughfares adorned with vibrant, historic establishments which have captured the imaginations of many. This teeming quarter also hosts a hive of hawkers, markets and restaurants serving up delectable, traditional cuisine. Its buildings awash in an amalgam of traditional, Victorian and Baroque architectural styles, Chinatown is especially enlivened with a million lights and fiery hues of red and golden during the Chinese New Year.
Said to be Singapore's oldest Hindu temple, Sri Mariamman Temple stands gloriously under a resplendent gopuram which bears elaborately crafted Hindu deities. Nestled amid the cultural cacophony of Chinatown, this temple is a magnificent canopy of color and culture. Initially a structure made from wood and attap, the temple bears the finer nuances of the ancient Dravidian architectural style. Built in 1827, the temple has braved many ravages of time, and was rebuilt with brick and plaster in 1843. Guarded by a doorway framed with banana fronds, the temple is replete with many structural nooks and corners, housing an auditorium which is let for events, meetings and functions. Dedicated to the Hindu goddess Mariamman, the goddess revered for her ability to cure epidemic illnesses. The temple is the ground of the annual the Thimithi Festival, a fire-walking ceremony when devotees perform penance by walking on a bed of burning coal, and emerge unhurt. Complete with ornamented dome roofs, frescoes, a magnificent mandala illustration and shrines sheltering Hindu deities, the temple is as much steeped in social history as it is in religious importance. Sri Mariamman Temple is not just cloaked in the profundity of Hinduism, but is also a moving locus of ancient cultures and social benevolence.
A towering, scarlet canopy of magnificence and might, this grand Buddhist temple inhabits the very heart of Chinatown. Constructed to enshrine the tooth relic of Buddha, this temple is considered to be one of the most sacred places in the whole of the country. The temple is awash in an ornate, resplendent architectural style unique to the Tang dynasty, and is complete with five elaborate floors bearing a library, a traditional tea house and a museum bearing stirring Buddhist art from across Asia. Boasting a tapestry of gilded ornamentation, vibrant sculptures of deities and a glorious altar, the temple is a breathing, heaving canopy representing a profound sense of religious fervor and the finer nuances of a culture which is alive and thriving, even after hundreds of years. With its roots deeply entrenched in the philosophy of Buddhist Mandala, this iconic temple reverberates with the eternal teachings of Buddha.
Named after the first Sultan of Singapore, the imposing structure that is the Sultan Mosque was built with a SGD3,000 grant from the East India Company. This is the largest mosque in Singapore and the present building was constructed in 1928. With its massive gold-topped dome and spacious prayer hall, the mosque has one particularly interesting feature; the base of the dome is made up of glass bottles. In the evenings, residents gather at the garden to enjoy the cool breezes and let the hassles of the day slip away.
Awash with scents and sights reminiscent of the subcontinent, this is a microcosm of India where every imaginable Indian product can be found: trinkets, sarees, spices, sweetmeats, nose studs, flower garlands and anything else that an Indian household needs. Traces of Hinduism are found everywhere, from the elaborate temples to wall calendars with pictures of Hindu deities. On Sundays, Indian locals and foreign workers flock to the streets of Little India to eat, chat, shop and worship. Hard though it is to walk through the crowds, this is a unique spectacle you should not miss.
Singapore Botanic Gardens have proudly found a place on the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage list. The gardens are a paradisaical expanse replete with lush, blooming greens that were founded in 1859 with a mission to cultivate plants of economic potential. Today, with more than 600,000 plant specimens, it is clearly one of the world's largest botanical reserves. The park provides a comprehensive introduction to plants in a variety of settings, from rolling lawns and orchid gardens to tropical droves and a rejuvenating rainforest. The grounds of the botanic gardens also harbor various other attractions including options for dining and garden's specifically designed for children.
Featuring more than 700 species of orchids, the National Orchid Garden was opened in 1996 and boasts the largest orchid display in the world. The 2100 hybrids found here are the result of an orchid-breeding program, which began in 1928. Catch a glimpse of Singapore's national flower (Vanda Miss Joaquim) and the diverse breeds of its family in stunning orchid terraces. Publications, orchid plants and other orchid-related items are available at the Entrance Pavilion. Orchid jewelry, made by plating real orchids with gold, makes for great souvenirs and gift ideas.