City, state and country, all rolled into one — Singapore, the chameleon nation of Southeast Asia, is many things all at once. Its colourful history as a trading settlement influences all facets of modern life, harmoniously, in innovative ways.
The population of 5.8 million is a vibrant mix of Chinese, Indian and Malay cultures — Peranakans (locally born Singaporeans) descended from people who began immigrating to the Malay Archipelago 400 years ago — and more than 145 years of British rule left an indelible mark. As a result, there are four official languages — English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil — but you will also hear many other tongues, including the colloquial “Singlish.”
This island nation is also an architect’s paradise, with cutting-edge skyscrapers coexisting with colonial-era buildings meticulously revived and infused with modern elements. Streets are awash in colour, thanks to the lively façades of the iconic mixed-use traditional shophouses, where retail stores are on the main floor and, above them, one or two storeys of apartments. Well- preserved places of worship anchor almost every neighbourhood, such as the Sri Mariamman, the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore, and Thian Hock Keng, a Chinese Hokkien temple.
It’s also worth noting that, for a country that has been evolving for centuries, Singapore boasts a surprising number of green spaces where visitors and locals alike can saunter through and relax. One of these is the Botanic Gardens, which showcases the world’s largest collection of orchids. Gardens by the Bay, a futuristic eco- architectural park, features two biomes and a “forest” of tree-like towers covered with tropical flowers and ferns. In addition to running tracks and dog-walking parks, as well as yoga and tai chi class venues, these urban oases also offer a wide range of dining options for foodies keen to sample Singapore’s glorious fusion cuisine.
Hot Spots: The Singapore Sizzle
Where To Stay
Although it will be tempting to book into the glitzy, massive three-towered Marina Bay Sands, if only to swim in the world’s largest rooftop infinity pool, there are other chic environs you can choose from.
Andaz Singapore, launched last fall, is a dazzling hexagonal-windowed skyscraper whose understatedly luxurious reception lobby is on the 25th floor. The front desk, bars and restaurants in the public areas are laid out in an “alley” to mirror the neighbourhood’s meandering laneways. The hotel’s 342 rooms have incredible views, either of the city or Marina Bay, and décor elements take their cues from the past. Plaques outside the doors, for example, which accept room-access key cards, echo the look of mailboxes in Singapore’s traditional shophouses. And guests keen to explore the city will find the hotel’s location convenient; it’s right on the subway line.
The 37-room Warehouse Hotel, which is located on the waterfront, on Robertson Quay, is affiliated with Design Hotels Group. It began life in 1895 as a spice warehouse in what used to be a rather shady part of town. Now meticulously restored, it pays homage to its heritage via style details such as light fixtures in the lobby with whimsical pulleys hanging from the original ceiling beams. The building’s original façade is countered by a slick interior hinting at mid-century modern. Definitely a must-not- miss is Pó, the hotel’s restaurant, well known for its gourmet take on popiah, Singapore’s traditional chunky, stew-stuffed fresh spring roll.
With its “hotel in a garden” motif, Parkroyal on Pickering reinforces Singapore’s image as the Garden City. This 357-room hotel features more than 15,000 square metres (161,500 square feet) of lush sustainable greenery, terraced plantings, waterfalls and reflecting pools — indoors and out. On the fifth floor, perched right on the rooftop infinity pool, are birdcage cabanas that overlook the cascading gardens below and the cityscape outside
Where To Dine
An amalgamation of multiple cultures overlap- ping in delectable ways, Singaporean cuisine tells the story of its people, past and present. Traditional dishes sold in the hawker-stall food courts lay the foundation for mod-Sin (modern- Singaporean) fare served at top-tier restaurants. At Wild Rocket in Mount Emily Park, the omakase (tasting) menu will net you a couple of hours of mod-Sin small-course delights, from the amuse right through to dessert. The subdued ambience evokes a Japanese teahouse — a nice backdrop for dining on tantalizing ravioli (filled with crab-prawn or laksa pesto), deep-fried oysters, curried red snapper and lychee sorbet. The Michelin-starred Candlenut in the Dempsey Hill neighbourhood serves innovative elevated Peranakan fare that retains its homey comfort-food quality. Stick around for the creatively complex black-nut and Valrhona- chocolate ice cream, garnished with chili flakes and chocolate foam and crumbles. Drop by Open Door Policy in the gentrified Tiong Bahru residential enclave for a totally gluten- and dairy-free lunch made with sustainable ingredients, many of them grown in the restaurant’s micro-gardens.
Meanwhile, Singapore’s deep British colonial roots are in evidence in the plethora of after- noon-tea venues — primarily at the hotels, like The Clifford Pier in The Fullerton Bay Hotel; Colony in The Ritz-Carlton; and Anti:dote in the Fairmont Singapore. Avail yourself of those requisite tea sandwiches, scones and sweets if you must, but also on offer are masterfully executed local takes on traditional tea accompaniments.
Where To Shop
Make time also for street-market experiences in Singapore. Stroll through Little India and Chinatown, where traditional Asian businesses, small coffee shops and little bakeries blend in with hipster-cool galleries and artisan crafts stores. Explore Kampong Glam, the Muslim quarter, and its eclectic independent fashion boutiques on narrow Haji Lane. Then pop around the corner to Supermama, a gallery shop on Beach Road, to browse artisanal ceramics and crafts for souvenirs. Proceed to hip ’hood Tiong Bahru to check out BooksActually, an independent bookstore big on local authors, and Woods in the Books, a treasure trove of care- fully curated children’s picture books.
Final stop — Orchard Road. At one time a small lane flanked by fruit trees, nutmeg plantations and pepper farms, Singapore’s renowned grand boulevard is perhaps the ultimate destination with its dizzying range of options for shopping, dining and entertainment to suit every taste and budget across the board. Spend an hour here, or the whole day, or every day for a week. Then return to make sure there’s nothing you’d missed.