In the last 20 years, the island-nation of Singapore has transformed itself from a bustling commercial city into a vibrant cultural one – a leading Asian centre of art, music and design. It boasts remarkable museums and galleries, a vibrant music and theatre scene, and an energetic and outward-looking culture. In contrast, George Town on Penang Island in Malaysia offers a remarkable historical window on a colony founded at the same time as Singapore. Our carefully considered itinerary spans both traditional culture and the contemporary scene through history, art, architecture and food.
Five-star accommodation in historic hotels, Singapore’s The Fullerton and Penang’s Eastern and Oriental
Singapore’s excellent National Gallery and the Asian Civilisations Museum, both world class institutions
A survey of Singapore’s outstanding contemporary architecture, located around the island
A performance by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, one of Asia’s leading ensembles*
Dining at Raffles and other notable restaurants
The UNESCO World Heritage streetscape of George Town, Penang, one of Asia’s best preserved historical cities
Temples, family compounds and house museums illustrating the Straits Chinese (Peranakan) culture
Day 1: Gather in the early evening over canapes and drinks at a riverside restaurant in Singapore.
Day 2: Visit the Asian Civilisations Museum and the National Gallery of Singapore, with lunch in an upscale venue serving classic Singaporean dishes.
Day 3: Visit the famed Botanic Gardens then stroll the enclaves of Singapore’s Malay and Indian communities before lunch at Raffles. Evening performance by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
Day 4: Contemporary architecture coach and walking tour. Visit the WWII bunkers at Fort Canning Park, where the Fall of Singapore occurred in 1942 before flying to Penang in the early evening.
Day 5: Walking tour of George Town’s World Heritage zone and drive to the tropical spice garden at Batu Ferringhi.
Day 6: Visit the clan jetties and compounds of Penang’s original Peranakan families. Visit Georgian Suffolk House on Penang Hill before heading to the airport for homeward flights.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L, D, and (C) for canapés.
Thursday January 21: Arrive Singapore
Many day flights from Australia arrive in the late afternoon. At 6.00pm we meet in the hotel reception and head to a nearby venue for welcome drinks and canapés. (C)
Friday January 22: Singapore in its south-east Asian context
We begin our program with the Asian Civilisations Museum, housed in the historic Empress Building close to our hotel. The museum’s beautiful displays survey the decorative arts of various South East Asian cultures, much of it collected and donated by Singaporean patrons. A highlight is a beautifully displayed 8th-century Tang Dynasty shipwreck, an outstanding piece of maritime archaeology. We then head to the nearby National Gallery of Singapore, opened in 2016 and a spectacular ‘adaptive reuse’ of the colonial-era City Hall and Supreme Court buildings. A local guide shows us the south-east Asian collection, the best in the region and featuring works ranging from the colonial era to the Vietnam War and beyond. We then have lunch at the National Kitchen restaurant inside the museum, featuring a tasting menu which showcases Singapore’s ‘Peranakan’ cuisine. After lunch we visit the National Gallery’s current rooftop installation, before heading back to the hotel. This evening there is the option of enjoying fine views over sunset drinks atop the UOB building, adjacent to our hotel. (B, L)
Saturday January 23: Colonial Singapore and its communities
This morning there is an optional early morning visit to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, carved out of a remaining section of Malay forest not far from the city centre. The gardens have played an important role in botanical research and house a renowned orchid garden. After returning to our hotel for breakfast we visit the Kampong Glam district, which since the earliest days has housed Singapore’s Muslim community, whose origins span the Middle East, central Asia and neighbouring Malaysia. The streetscapes are among the best preserved in Singapore from the colonial period, and we visit the main mosque complex and the small but informative Malay Cultural Centre. We also take a brief look at neighbouring Little India with its temples and covered markets. We then explore the layout of the British colonial settlement by coach before ending the morning at Raffles. Recently re-opened after an extensive renovation, the hotel has come to epitomise the British period in Singapore. We enjoy lunch at the Alain Ducasse casual dining restaurant at Raffles. This afternoon there is the option of returning to the National Gallery to view the excellent collection of Singaporean art or a major visiting international exhibition. Tonight has been set aside to enjoy a performance by the excellent Singapore Symphony Orchestra at their concert hall in the Esplanade Theatres. (B, L)
Performance details Venue: Concert Hall, Esplanade Theatres
Performers: Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Program: to be announced October 2020
Sunday January 24: Contemporary architecture and World War II
This morning is dedicated to a survey of Singapore’s remarkable contemporary architecture. In the last 15 years the skyline of Singapore has changed dramatically, with beautiful commercial and public buildings created by some of the world’s leading architects. For early risers there is a pre-breakfast excursion to Mount Faber Park, with views across to Daniel Libeskind’s soaring Reflections complex before crossing Henderson Waves, a walkway suspended 36 metres above parkland and forest. We return to our hotel via German architect Ole Scheeren’s Interlace building, awarded Building of the Year at the 2015 World Architecture Festival. After breakfast and check out, our investigation continues with the inspiring 2017 Marina One complex and Sir Norman Foster’s Supreme Court building. In the afternoon we visit Fort Canning Park to tour the Fort Canning Bunker. It is here in February 1942 that the Allies surrendered to the Japanese. The complex includes a telephone exchange, signals and operations rooms, sleeping quarters and a cipher room for coding and decoding messages. It was used from 1936 right up to the Fall of Singapore. Our visit to Singapore wraps up with cocktails at the striking neo-Deco Atlas Bar in the lobby of the eccentric Parkview building, after which we travel to Singapore Airport for our short flight to Penang, arriving at approximately 8.30pm. We transfer to the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in George Town. (B)
Monday, January 25: Explore George Town
After breakfast, we take a walking tour of the colonial architecture of the UNESCO World Heritage areas of George Town, the first British settlement in South East Asia, established by Francis Light for the British East India Company. Notable buildings include the Town Hall, Supreme Court, Fort Cornwallis and St George’s Anglican Church. Our walk continues along Armenian St where we can see many fine examples of George Town’s famous street art, and experience Chinese and Peranakan cultures at the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion and Peranakan House Museum. This afternoon we drive along the scenic north coast to the beaches of Batu Ferringhi and explore the 500 species of plants at the tropical spice garden. We return to our hotel for canapés and cocktails before a dinner of classic Nyonya dishes in a restored Anglo-Chinese terrace. (B, D)
Tuesday January 26: Clan jetties and Penang Hill
This morning we travel by trishaw to a series of waterfront piers known as the clan jetties. These villages float on stilts above the water and have existed since the 19th century. Today they still house the descendants of Chinese immigrants, with each jetty forming a village, complete with its own temple and is named after a single family. After check out, we head to the beautifully restored Suffolk House, an 1800’s Georgian mansion that served as the home of successive British governors. Our final destination is Penang Hill, the highest point on the island, which affords lovely views across the island and to the mountains on Langkawi. We continue to the airport and check in for the flight to Singapore with onward connections to Australia. (B)
A cultural historian and founding director of Academy Travel, with a strong interest in visual arts, architecture and music.
Robert Veel is a cultural historian with over 20 years’ experience leading tours to Italy, the USA, Scandinavia and Turkey. He has a strong personal interest in the visual arts, architecture and music, and is a founding director of Academy Travel.
Robert holds a BA, Dip. Ed and M.Ed, all from the University of Sydney. He worked as a lecturer at the University of Sydney before a long stint at the University’s Centre for Continuing Education, lecturing in Italian history and culture and working as Assistant Director. Robert continues to teach occasionally in Continuing Education courses.
Robert’s historical and artistic knowledge stretches from the Middle Ages through the early 20th century. In Italy he has led many tours focusing on the Medieval and Renaissance periods. In the United States he likes to focus on the founding of the Republic and the Gilded Age of the early 20th century. In Scandinavia he is particularly interested in national identity and its role in Scandinavian literature, design and architecture. Robert speaks fluent Italian.
Robert led his first tour to Italy in 1990 and has not looked back! He has led more than 50 tours and designed many of Academy Travel’s most popular tours, including Sicily, New York, Rome and Venice residential tours, and our Scandinavia tours. More recently Robert led the first offering of Academy Travel’s tours to Tasmania and New Zealand.
We asked Robert, what do you enjoy most about leading tours?
“I really enjoy travelling with like-minded, interested travellers who are up for a bit of an intellectual adventure. It’s often the unexpected things that create the ‘shared joy’ of group travel”, says Robert “a wonderful, but little-known painting, a great performance or a fabulous meal. These are the things we travel for.”
“Over the years travellers have commented on my seemingly boundless enthusiasm. It’s true that I am curious about most things – people, places, history and artistic expression. There’s a kind of alchemy when this enthusiasm rubs off on others – hopefully with a bit of useful information as well!”
The Fullerton Hotel was commissioned in 1919 as part of the British colony’s centennial celebrations. The neo-classical style building was opened in 1924 and housed the General Post Office, the Exchange, the Singapore Club, the Marine Department and the Import and Export Department. Today it is a five-star hotel and is perfectly located within walking distance of the major galleries and museums which form the core of our itinerary. The hotel has bars and restaurants, an outdoor pool, fitness centre and spa. www.fullertonhotels.com/fullerton-hotel-singapore
The Eastern and Oriental Hotel, George Town
The E&O was built and managed by the Armenian Sarkie Brothers, who also created Singapore’s famous Raffles Hotel. Located on the seafront, the hotel’s heritage wing features atmospheric timber-built suites. There are fine public areas and the historic precincts of George Town are at the hotel’s doorstep. www.eohotels.com
What is included in the tour price?
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate, taxis or public transport are also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required and when stated as included
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity