Sanjeev Bhandari, 36, procurement professional with Deloitte India, travelled to Singapore over the Christmas holidays with his wife Geeta and children— Karan, 7, and Hiya, 4. A fun holiday got a special fillip with Sanjeev being feted as the 10 millionth visitor to the island nation
This was our first foreign trip as a family. We decided on Singapore because many of our friends had visited the country and had come back with glowing accounts of what you could do there. Since our kids are young, I was also particular about the fact that our holiday destination should not be too far away, or too unfamiliar as far as food or language were concerned. Besides, I network a lot with people in Singapore in the course of my work. It was good to know there were people I could call should I need to.
Bonding with feathered friends at Jurong BirdPark
Being greeted as the 10 millionth visitor must have come as quite a surprise?
Oh yes! In fact, my wife refused to take the celebrations seriously— she said they were probably making a (MTV) bakra out of us! We had flown Singapore Airlines because we wanted a direct flight. On landing we found 14 girls lined up to greet us; there was an impromptu celebration at Terminal 2 and they announced an array of prizes.
Did the honour hijack your plans in any way?
Well, we had a very clear idea of what we wanted to do in Singapore. And the offers and gifts were a bit overwhelming. But the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) officials were very understanding about not dislocating our plans. So, yes, while we took up their offer of staying at the Shangri-La, for the rest, we preferred to stick with our itinerary—but the STB officials went out of their way to make every experience special for us. They also took care of all the meals.
While drawing up your itinerary, what was your guiding principle?
Definitely the kids. So we planned everything around them. Since my daughter is very fond of animals, anything that had to do with wildlife was top priority.
And did they like what they saw?
Hiya’s expression at the Merlion Park says it all
Oh yes—during an STB city tour on the first day itself, they announced that they didn’t want to go back to India! The following days only deepened that first impression. For instance, they had never seen a zoo without cages before. That was a hugely exciting experience for them: To get a real feel of a tropical jungle without, of course, any of the hazards. It is a 28-acre zoo, but there is a tram to take you around so there is no tiredness.
We were in time for “Breakfast with Animals”, which is basically watching orangutans and other animals have their first meal of the day. We also saw three shows with sea lions, seals and elephants, and finished off the day with a “night show”. This is basically a tram ride around the zoo: There is just enough lighting to see the birds and animals settle down for the night. One has to keep very quiet and not use the camera flash, but since this is not how we usually see animals, it was quite a treat.
Could anything match up to that experience for the kids?
Well, the next day actually did. We went to the Jurong BirdPark, an amazing experience for the entire family. My daughter had always been fascinated by penguins, so it was a huge thing for her to be able to feed a few at the park. There are four walk-in aviaries for some 8,000 birds of 600 species from South-East Asia, Africa, Australia and South America, and they are friendly creatures—fluttering all over the place, perching on our shoulders, eating off our hands. I even had an eagle pluck a piece of meat from my hand—that gave me quite a turn! The other highlight was the Pink Dolphin show at Sentosa Island. Again, it was a big thrill for the kids to be able to touch and feed the dolphins.
There are those who say Singapore offers a “manufactured” tourism experience.
The Merlion is a distinct symbol of Singapore tourism
I think instead of criticizing what they do, it is important to see how they do it. True, Singapore can’t match up to the natural attractions we have in India, yet look at the way they have combined the best talent with business sense to transform the island into a tourism hot spot. Everything in the country is geared to be visitor-friendly, from infrastructure to basic cleanliness. With a population of 4.5 million, they attract 10 million tourists a year. I know we will be going back this year itself: Not only because I want to use up the vouchers and business class air tickets we received as the 10 millionth visitors, but because my children had the most exciting holiday they have ever enjoyed.
Singapore Airlines flies from Bangalore (current fares upward of Rs12,000), Mumbai (Rs15,000) and New Delhi (Rs16,000). All fares exclusive of taxes
As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at firstname.lastname@example.org