Sunday, April 24, 2016

Singapore, Marina Bay, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Sands Marina Bay Casino and Resort, Westin Stamford Hotel, Boat Quay, Clarke Quay, Hot Stone Restaurants, Durian fruit.

If you read my earlier Blog of  “My Top 10 Vacation destinations around the World” posted in January 2013, the modern and delightful country of Singapore was listed as #5 on that list.  Since then friends of ours recently invited us to Singapore for a 3 day vacation while we were traveling in Asia on business and pleasure.  The Singapore International Airport, in my opinion, is one of the finest in the world.  There is much to see and to do in this very large airport including fine shops, restaurants, lounges, etc., and when you eventually find your way past Immigration, your bags are usually there waiting for you.  So many other airports make you wait up to a half an hour or more for your bags. 

My previous visit to Singapore was in November 2008 strictly for business.  During that trip, I stayed at 5 star Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Marina Bay.  This was a wonderful hotel, and just across the bay was the new Sands Hotel/Casino resort under construction.  I knew then that I just had to come back and stay at the Sands Marina Bay Resort and visit their casino after it was completed.   More on the Sands Casino and Hotel Resort at Marina Bay in my next blog posting.

The photo below is from the Mandarin Oriental, Marina Bay website, and of course this was taken more recently after the Sands project was completed.
Walking the City at Night
City at Sunset

Courtesy of internet (Mandarin Oriental, Marina Bay)

My first of many trips to Singapore on business began in October 1995.  During that visit and most of the other 20+ trips to Singapore, I stayed at the Westin Stamford, (now owned by Swissôtel Hotels & Resorts and known as Swissôtel The Stamford).  When this hotel was completed in 1986, it was then the tallest hotel in the world.

Courtesy of internet (Westin Stamford)

I loved staying at the Westin Stamford because there was a large underground shopping area, a short walk to the subway as well as the Boat Quay along the Singapore River, and a quick taxi ride to the Clarke Quay.  Both the Boat Quay and the Clarke Quay are famous shopping, dining and night entertainment areas in downtown Singapore.  Each floor is circular and all rooms have a wonderful perspective view of the city.  The bar on the top floor is a great place to relax and enjoy a few cocktails after a busy work day.  The food and service was superb back then, and I can only hope that under new management, they continue to live up to Westin Stamford’s heritage in Singapore.

Courtesy of internet (Boat Quay at Night)

Courtesy of internet (Boat Quay)

Courtesy of internet Clarke Quay at night)

The Boat and Clarke Quays have great restaurants along the river. Two of my more memorable restaurants were outdoors on a boat docked along the Singapore River at Boat quay, and on River Valley Road at Clarke Quay, that served its meals on HOT STONES.   You simply order your uncooked steak, seafood, or other meats and vegetables, and they bring them to the table on a plate along with a HOT STONE, placed on a heavy wood platter.  The Hot Stone is heated in special ovens and when you place your food on the stone, the food “sizzles” and cooks quickly and you can cook your food until it is just right for you!

Courtesy of internet (Hot Stone)

Courtesy of internet (Hot Stone)

“Hot Stones Steak and Seafood Restaurant” located at Clarke Quay has a website and they state:
 “…… features a unique dining concept that involves cooking fresh meats and seafood on serpentine volcanic stone slabs. This method seals in the natural juices of the food, providing extraordinary flavour and taste. The restaurant prides itself for giving diners an unforgettable experience by letting the freshness of its produce do the talking.”

Durian on Sale at a Singapore street market

Most Americans and Europeans that have not traveled to Asia or know people that have done so are missing out on many interesting things to do in Singapore including eating fresh durian fruit after a nice meal at Clarke Quay.  On my second trip to Singapore, enjoying a nice meal with my business associates, they started talking about walking down the quay to buy some fresh durian.  When I asked them about durian, they of course started laughing and they answered in contradictions such as: “Delicious”, “Best fruit in the world”, “simply disgusting”, “YUCK”, and much more.  My closest friend, Shawn, was honestly candid and said to me, “…… durian tastes like HEAVEN, but smells like HELL”.  Now I was really curious and said how can something that tastes that wonderful smell that bad????  Now I did not know what to really believe, but I said in candor that we just had to go try this durian.

You pay by the weight and grade of the durian fruit
Durian Fruit after the first BITE!

Selected Durian available for take home
Opening a Durian for our friend

Ready to eat

OK, now that I have your attention, Wikipedia states that: “the durian is distinctive for its large size, strong odour, and formidable thorn-covered husk. The fruit can grow as large as 30 centimetres (12 in) long and 15 centimetres (6 in) in diameter, and it typically weighs one to three kilograms (2 to 7 lb). Its shape ranges from oblong to round, the colour of its husk green to brown, and its flesh pale yellow to red, depending on the species…….”.   Durian trees are large, growing to 25–50 metres (80–164 ft) in height depending on the species…….”.

As we approached this small stand/stall at the end of Clarke Quay, there was a long line of at least 15-20 people waiting to buy a fresh durian.  Behind the stand under a tarp covering was several large groups of tables where people ate their durian.  As we got closer to the stand, I certainly did not smell anything at all so I was convinced this “tastes like HEAVEN, but smells like HELL” was a trick or sham.  The seller reached behind in large crates of durian and selected a fruit.  The outer husk is thick and hard so it took a very sharp and long machete knife to hack through the husk to expose the “meaty” fruit inside.  The customers used their fingers to poke the fruit inside to determine its ripeness.   The vendor did put aside a couple durians and open another for a few customers and once they were satisfied, he opened the rest of the fruit to eat.  Inside there are several “pockets” surrounding the fruit so he had to cut open the durian fruit in three or four times.

Once it was our turn, I politely stood behind my friends as our fruit was opened, and I still did not have any indication of an unpleasant odor.  We paid for the fruit and he put it on a tray and set it on the table behind him.  As we walked around the stall…….”POW”….”WHAM” …… “OMG” …. the odor/smell/stench was totally overwhelming to me.  

I have never experienced such a terrible smell in my life and I was not expecting this at all.  In that moment it smelled about as bad as stagnant swamp gas, foul sewer gas, or a dead, decomposing rat.  I immediately turned around and announced that I was not going to join in and eat durian.
Now, I do not want to offend any of my readers, because I have since gone back to these durian markets with my friends and my wife, and sat down at the same table as they consumed this fruit.  I have become somewhat tolerant of the odor, but it still is not on my list of favorite fragrances!  

 Just so you know, Wikipedia has the following text describing a durian:
“The edible flesh emits a distinctive odour that is strong and penetrating even when the husk is intact. Some people regard the durian as having a pleasantly sweet fragrance; others find the aroma overpowering and revolting. The smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust, and has been described variously as rotten onions, turpentine, and raw sewage. The persistence of its odour, which may linger for several days, has led to the fruit's banishment from certain hotels and public transportation in Southeast Asia.”

On every subway entrance in Singapore, as well as other public including hotels, etc., have signs such as the one below that indicates that durian fruit (and other products) are not allowed.

Courtesy of internet

In Singapore there is an area, not too far from the red light district, that has open markets and stalls lined up on both sides of the street for more than a mile or so.  (Sorry I do not remember the name of the street.)   But below are actual photos I took of some of the markets along with many other interesting Southeast Asia fruits that I DO enjoy eating….

Rambutan Fruit ...... Delicious

Red Dragon Fruit and other fruits of my FAVORITES

Coourtesy of Internet - Inside a Mangosteen

Lychee and Mangosteens...Yummmmmm

In my next blog post, find out more about our stay at the Sands Casino & Resort at Marina Bay and more!!!!

Courtesy of internet
Marina Bay Sands Resort from a car Ride around the city

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