An art and science museum, fine dining, a splash in the infinity pool… Marina Bay Sands has a lot in store for tourists

The bus enters the heart of Singapore's Central Business District, zipping through avenues chock-a-block with skyscrapers. Twenty minutes later, the driver announces that we've arrived at Marina Bay Sands. Asia's largest business, leisure and entertainment destination, he says proudly. Our hosts rush forward to greet us, but we're oblivious to the pleasantries. We stand transfixed, jaws dropping, taking in the futuristic structures that comprise the resort — the three, gigantic, 57-storeyed hotel towers capped with a SkyPark, The Shoppes, and the flower-shaped museum.

Developed by the U.S.-based Las Vegas Sands Corporation, and designed by the Israel-born-U.S.-based architect Moshe Safdie, the over 5.5-billion-dollar casino property, sprawls over 20 hectares fronting the Singapore Bay. Besides being a potential job-spinner and boosting tourist arrivals, what green-lighted the project was its concept of integrating Nature with architecture, art with science, the commercial with the creative. But, with recession delaying its completion, the resort was opened in phases, commencing with the casino in April 2010.

February 17, 2011, 3.18 p.m. — an auspicious moment (Feng Shui approved!) for a Grand Opening of Marina Bay Sands and its ArtScience Museum, apparently the world's first, by Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong.

March to progress

A museum in a resort? Just as everything else at the Sands revolves around the theme of harmony, the ArtScience Museum too melds the spirit of enquiry with the passion for innovation — the foundation of both art and science. Its compelling architecture is likened by some to a hand of welcome, by others to a 10-petalled lotus. Some see in its structure geometry and mathematics, an integration of order and complexity, yet others regard it as a symbol of Singapore's march to progress. With its base embedded in the earth, surrounded by a lily pond and the Bay, the giant lotus seems to float in the water, its petals pointing heavenward. Skylights at the tips allow natural light to filter through, illuminating the exhibits. Recycled rainwater, collected in a dish-like roof, drops from the centre to the pond below in a swirling cascade.

Set to become the premier venue for major international touring exhibitions, the museum draws visitors into the creative process as they tour three unique interactive galleries: Curiosity, Inspiration and Expression. We fathom the connection between art and science as we visit the international exhibitions, on at three levels, expertly guided by their curators. The conquests and achievements of warrior-statesman Genghis Khan, a force to reckon with in 13th Century Mongolia, come to life through a rare collection of 200 artefacts. At the next exhibition, we traverse the ancient Silk Road, joining a camel caravan laden with exotic goods. We learn about ancient weaving techniques, the secrets of sericulture, and engage our senses with the heady fragrance of spices. The exhibition on shipwrecks unveils the lost treasures of the Tang Dynasty that ruled China around the 7th and 8th Centuries, showcasing metal ware and gold artefacts found in an Arab dhow, dating back to 1,100 years.

Sound and light

Night falls softly over Singapore, and lights blaze in the scores of skyscrapers dotting the Bay, creating an ink blue and gold backdrop — perfect for the launch of ‘Wonder Full', promoted as the largest Light and Water Spectacular in South-East Asia. Produced by Australia-based Laservision, the theme of the 13-minute multimedia show is the legendary Louis Armstrong's chartbuster single of the Sixties — ‘It's A Wonderful World'. The song takes us on an emotional rollercoaster through life from infancy to adulthood, a life filled with innocence, wonder, drama, change and enduring love. The story is illustrated through giant water screens, lasers, search lights, surround sound, strobes, bubble factories, LED lighting, HD video and special effects. What lends the show its local flavour is, the sound score has been written for the occasion by Singaporean composer Iskandar Ismael, with Singaporean conductor Darrell Ang providing the soundtrack. A couple of verses are also rendered by young voices that are currently making waves in Singapore.

The celebration continues with five of the resort's celebrity chefs presenting signature dishes and desserts — the world on a platter! As if that's not enough, we get a sneak preview of the much-awaited Broadway musical ‘The Lion King', which premieres early in March at the Sands Theatre in Marina Bay.

A splash in the infinity pool at the SkyPark is a great way to unwind. Those not inclined to hit the water can find a place by the poolside to sit back and enjoy panoramic views of the Bay and the Singapore skyscape.

We're at the departure lounge, Terminal 3, Changi Airport, homeward-bound. A couple of friends, who've been part of the excitement, recall the fun moments of our whirlwind trip.

As for me? The celebratory mood lingers, a bit of nostalgia too. Louis Armstrong's voice rings in my ears… ‘And I think to myself, what a wonderful world… Oh yeah!'

(For details, visit www.marinabaysands.com)

(The author was in Singapore at the invitation of Marina Bay Sands.)

STATS AND FACTS

Marina Bay Sands features a 2,561-room hotel, a 120,000 sq.m. convention-exhibition centre, ‘The Shoppes' mall, an ArtScience museum, two Sands Theatres, seven "celebrity chef" restaurants, two floating pavilions, a casino with 500 tables and 1,600 slot machines.

The 340m-long SkyPark can host 3,900 people and boasts lush gardens, restaurants and a 150m infinity swimming pool with a vanishing edge, set atop the world's largest public cantilevered platform.

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