12 June 18 The Straits Times by KOR KIAN BENG
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un took time out from planning for a historic summit with United States President Donald Trump to take in some of Singapore's iconic sites yesterday evening.
Mr Kim, who has publicly left his country only three times since taking power after his father's death in late 2011 (twice to China and once to South Korea), gamely posed for selfies with Singapore politicians and smiled for the camera as he was taken on a whirlwind tour of the city. The two-hour jaunt took in some of its best-known sights such as Gardens by the Bay and the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) integrated resort.
At around 9.10pm yesterday, his motorcade left The St Regis Singapore in the Tanglin area where his delegation is staying, before driving past the Raffles City area towards Marina Bay.
Mr Kim, who arrived in Singapore on Sunday ahead of his historic meeting with Mr Trump today on Sentosa, stopped by first at the Gardens by the Bay. The award-winning nature park features sights such as the Supertree Grove of 18 vertical gardens up to 50m tall, and two conservatories - the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest - that are among the world's largest.
His presence provided unexpected excitement to some visitors, such as chef Tiara Rodrigo, 20, and her friend Joash Corea, 19, who joined the media scrum to try and catch a glimpse of Mr Kim.
"He is staying at the hotel near my house, so it is funny that I would bump into him here, at such a touristy location, the night before the big meeting," said Ms Rodrigo.
Added Mr Corea, a bartender: "Not much is known about North Korea and you don't see figures like him out a lot, which makes it more exciting to try and spot him."
After spending about 20 minutes there, Mr Kim, who was accompanied by his sister Kim Yo Jong, Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, visited the observation deck of MBS' 57th-storey Sky Park. His presence stunned many patrons at the bars and restaurants near the deck. But when they whipped out their cameras, they were told not to take photos of Mr Kim and the entourage.
An early sign of a VIP arrival at the deck, which offers panoramic views of Marina Bay and the Central Business District, surfaced when MBS told visitors that the deck would be closed at 8pm, two hours earlier than usual. MBS staff were seen polishing fingerprints off the glass panels of the observation deck and sweeping the driveway on the ground floor.
The Straits Times also saw a heavier security presence at MBS ahead of Mr Kim's arrival - a sight also seen at the Jubilee Bridge, which overlooks the Marina Bay area and the Esplanade. Mr Kim was seen strolling on the bridge - surrounded by men in dark suits - for about five minutes, before leaving in his motorcade at 10.25pm. He arrived back at the St Regis hotel at about 11.20pm.
The mini-city tour capped a rather quiet public schedule for Mr Kim yesterday, compared with his officials' and Mr Trump's. Apart from meeting Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana on Sunday evening, he has not been seen stepping out of St Regis.
In contrast, Mr Kim's officials met Singapore and US officials yesterday - making courtesy calls or engaging in last-minute talks before the one-day summit.
Mr Trump called on PM Lee yesterday before meeting members of the American community in Singapore.
• Additional reporting by Linette Lai, Tiffany Fumiko Tay and Fabian Koh