Marina Bay Sands in Smoke // Singapore
Our tour started at the climax, then worked backwards. When the elevator doors whooshed open I was immediately in awe. I’d always hoped to see the famous rooftop infinity pool at MBS (Marina Bay Sands) in person but never had the budget for a room- a spendy $600/night during my time in the city. Sneaking in is impossible since the pool, the largest draw to the hotel, is only permitted for use for the hotel guests. Badges are strictly checked upon arrival to the 57th floor.
It was just as pictured in the travel mags, except in leu of the tranquil model sunbathing there were packs of children pitter-paddering down the aisles and a heavy haze covering the city. Despite the smoke caused by Burning Season in Indonesia (more on that in a bit), the view was spectacular and the pool itself is absolutely massive, a legitimate body of water floating high above Singapore.
Our guide explained, to my surprise, the goal for MBS isn’t to just be a world-class hotel but a world-class destination all in itself. With it’s one-of-a-kind architecture, looking like a cruise ship placed gingerly across the top of 3 high rises, on the premises there’s just about every shop, restaurant and activity you could wish for – including a snazzy casino that later set us back a good $50. Since visitors technically don’t need to leave MBS during their entire stay in Singapore it ends up being a great family resort for the super-wealthy. That’s where the children come in.
After a brief visit to the pool, we descended a few floors to one of their higher-end luxury suites. A two bedroom apartment containing everything from a butler’s kitchen, private massage studio, game and fitness rooms. The majority of my time was spent gawking. When it comes to ultra-luxury I can’t hide my amusement and asked our guide endless questions about the lifestyle of the guests. “So, they can’t share an entrance with the maid? That’s crazy.” I truly don’t understand this type of vacationing but loved exploring the space for the same reason I loved watching MTV Cribs.
After the tour we headed outside to the nearby Gardens By The Bay, ignoring the public notices to stay indoors. Why? The haze caused by Burning Season has horrible health affects.
A bit on Burning Season: Illegal forest fires set in remote areas of Sumatra, Indonesia, to clear land usually to grow oil palm trees (aka palm oil). The fires burn endlessly during dry season, fed by the dried out peat just underneath the top soil. This slash-and-burn practice causes a heavy haze over Malyasia and Singapore for weeks with severe health affects (killing as many as 110,000), school closures and cancellation of any outdoor activities. While in Singapore we were advised repeatedly to stay indoors and suffered intense headaches and sore throats. Unfortunately the Indonesian government has repeatedly rejected any international support to prevent, control or fight the fires. Singapore offered to send aircraft and helicopters to disperse the blaze but the Indonesian government refused. “We will first strive to overcome [the fires] by ourselves. So far, there has not been any agreement with Singapore [about dealing with these fires],” cabinet secretary Pramono Anung was quoted as saying. (The Guardian, October 5, 2015)
With flu-like symptoms slowly creeping in, we wandered the Gardens until sundown, opting to stroll the skywalk at dusk. The alien-trees are actually quite beautiful, shrouded in flora. Just before we departed, we were treated to the nightly light and sound show, thousands of speakers and lights create an amazing display of made-made beauty. Dan and I were both apprehensive about the event but by the end we were so grateful to have stayed, it was unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. (We recently stumbled upon a light and sound show at a strip mall back in Virginia and felt like pretentious brats because… “this isn’t as good as The Gardens by The Bay”.)
From the skywalk the view looking back at MBS makes it appear monolithic. The infinity pool from this perspective is on the far side, looking towards the city. From my spot on the skywalk I could almostttt envision myself returning to the 2 bedroom apartment for a fancy evening cocktail. A Singapore sling, perhaps. Almost.
With the haze finally taking it’s toll, we headed back to our real hotel, took aspirin and went to bed. I love Singapore and would love to return but hope that something is done about the burning in Indonesia to mitigate the environmental and human impacts it causes. Dan and I both care about the environment A LOT so since this was the first time we’ve been physically affected by environmental conditions we were really disappointed with our time in the city, even though we spent the majority of it touring the lap of luxury.
If you’re planning a trip – avoid visiting September and October, the peak of the burning.
(zoom out to see Indonesia in relation to Singapore)