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March 28, 2008

Merlion Park, Singapore: Recommended All Year Round For Everyone

Merlion Park, Singapore

Whenever I’m overseas, there’s an over-riding urge to visit famous places of interest, snap scenic photographs, sample local delicacies, shop for souvenirs before checking-off those items on my must-see list. Yet when I’m back home, the local version of our places of interest cannot conjure similar levels of enthusiasm in me. I name it the CSI Anytime (Can See It Anytime) syndrome. That is the reason why for many years, I have procrastinated and postponed any visit to the Merlion, until now.

The Merlion Park on the Esplanade has undergone several transformations since my absence. This park with the Tourist Promotion Board’s marketing icon of a Merlion is a favourite hunting ground of visitors to Singapore. The Merlion, consisting of a lion head attached to the body of a fish, is the raison d'être to visit this man-made all-concrete park. The spray of water from its oral cavity has invited unbecoming labels to describe its function but nevertheless, it is a uniquely Singaporean sculpture (excluding three replicas on Hakodate in Japan’s Hokkaido)

There are two Merlions on this park. The larger lion-head-fish-tail Merlion has shifted location to the other side of the Esplanade Bridge. A toddler version, about human height, stands guard behind the adult version, for kids, for me and for the young-at-heart to hug. Throughout the day, hordes of tourists on half-day tours of the city swarm the area, which includes rows of swanky eating establishments to satisfy hungry stomachs.

Across the bay, the larger Merlion faces an empty property currently littered with tall cranes and slender pillars. By 2009 mortar and bricks should rise up to become Singapore’s first of two Integrated Resorts. Las Vegas Sands Corporation won the tender in May 2006 and promised to put up an Artscience Museum and a Sky Park on the rooftops for a panoramic view of the entire bay.

The bay is also a magnet for spectators of the F1 Powerboat Race, the Wakeboard World Cup and the World Water Ski Championships in the past. With the Formula 1 Singtel Singapore Grand Prix coming up in 26 to 28 September 2008, the Merlion will soon witness another piece of history take place with the staging of the world’s first Formula One night race. Catch top racers like Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso zip past the Merlion in their McLaren-Mercedes, Ferrari, and Renault engines.

Along the Esplanade Bridge, the annual SAFRA Singapore Bay Run & Army Half Marathon (previously called Sheares Bridge Run) will go into its 17th edition on 24 August 2008. On-line registration for the run has already started. The start point for Singapore’s largest mass-running event is at Esplanade Drive and will end at the padang. Runners and families participating can catch a pre-dawn sight of the Merlion as they make their way across the Esplanade and Sheares Bridges.

What completes the transformation is the spectacular firework staged and performed at the Fireworks Festival on the Bay during National Day and other festive occasions. If luxury is your cup of tea, check-in to nearby Fullerton Hotel for a grand rooftop view of the fireworks beside an open-air lap pool. The underground passage linking the Merlion park to Fullerton Hotel has arguably the island’s most attractive gallery-like ambience with framed pictures of history lining walls on both sides of a long travellator.

Indeed much has changed and there should be plenty of opportunities for Singaporeans and foreign visitors to acquaint themselves with the Merlion Park.

This park is recommended for families, romantics, runners, racers and almost everyone.

Take care, be happy.

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