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You can find almost anything your heart desires in Singapore, but you have to know where to look. If you want unique souvenirs, skip the megamalls and stick to street markets and specialty stores. You can bargain hunt at the Chinatown Night Market near Pagoda Street and stuff your suitcase with lacquered bowls, fancy chopsticks, and silk robes. For brightly colored porcelain vases and antiques, head to Katong, a traditional Peranakan neighborhood in the east. And if you’ve always wanted a taste of Bollywood, check out sari specialist Jinder’s on Selegie Road just south of Little India.
Chinese New Year, based on the lunar calendar, falls in late January 2014. As the celebratory weekend approaches, Chinatown will once again be dressed to the nines and the prominent animal this time will be the Horse. Last year, a huge friendly snake made of lanterns floated above South Bridge Road. A visit to Chinatown to see the decorations and soak up the happy holiday vibes is a must.
Devout foodies flock to the hawker stands in Singapore, one of the world's cleanest cities. Check out the tasty Hainanese Chicken Rice at the famous Maxwell Food Centre; you'll want to find the Tian Tian stall. Explore the other stands and salivate over the combination of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and European flavors with such items as barbecue pork, steamed pork buns, fish cakes, and Hokkien mee (seafood pasta infused with special flavors). —Susan Sparks This appeared in the August/September 2013 issue. Image: William Cho/Flickr
Singapore’s largest Muslim house of worship, the gold-domed Sultan Mosque, is the focal point of the Kampong Glam neighborhood east of Little India. Walk along the nearby pedestrian-only street to browse trinket stalls and then head over to Haji Lane for its hipster clothing boutiques. A popular evening destination, the area becomes lively with bar goers and hookah smokers who linger at sidewalk tables. Along Arab Street, you’ll find fabric shops, a reminder that the area was once a textile district. After exploring the neighborhood on foot, take a break at one of the many sidewalk cafés for some fresh mint tea and homemade hummus with ground lamb. You can find authentic Lebanese cuisine at Beirut Grill on Bussorah Street.
Gardens by the Bay is a complex of theme gardens and steel-and-glass-domed conservatories located in the Marina Bay area of Singapore. The stars of the complex are undoubtedly the Supertrees: man-made, tree-like structures that serve several purposes, including being vertical gardens housing a myriad of tropical plants. Collectively known as the Supertree Grove, the eighteen trees range in size from 25 to 50 meters. As in nature, no two trees are the same. Just below the "canopy" of several of the trees, held up by dozens of very thin cables, is an elevated walkway called the OCBC Skyway that takes you through one part of the Supertree Grove. Walking among and looking up at the Supertrees is like being in a futuristic forest with trees from another planet. As dusk falls they light up and cast a warm glow over the grove—enough to light the way for a relaxing stroll. There are two 10-minute sound and light shows each night. If you make it up to the OCBC Skyway before it closes you can watch the second show from there. Besides the show, the Supertree Grove is a great spot to catch a nighttime view of Singapore's amazing skyline and shimmering lights.
Singapore is known for its orchids, and the National Orchid Garden is one of the best places to see them. Singapore's National Orchid Garden is home to the world's largest collection of tropical orchids—more than 1,000 species, including one named after Princess Diana. The National Orchid Garden is part of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Admission is $5 for adults and $1 for students or senior citizens. Several buses and taxis serve the area. Parking is also available.
For that elusive wow factor, head straight for Singapore's highest rooftop bar, 1 Altitude, on the 63rd floor of 1 Raffles Place. The views from this expansive space are amazing in every direction. It’s a great spot for a sunset cocktail or, once the DJ gets going, a late-night dance party. Note that there is a smart casual dress code—no flip-flops–and a cover charge after 6pm. After 10pm there’s an age limit of 21 for women, 25 for men. Another sky-high option for late-night partying is New Asia Bar at the top of the Swisshotel. Photo by William Cho/Flickr.
If you are eager to try the famed Singapore street food but don't know where to begin, come to Gluttons Bay by the Esplanade for a tutorial. Here you'll find lots of signs explaining the various options and friendly hawker stall uncles who will walk you through your choices and recommend their favorites. I always order the sambal stingray (skate with a spicy red coating), the chicken wings (impossibly juicy and delicious with a squeeze of lime) and black carrot cake (a white radish omelette). Get a fresh lime juice or a coconut to cut the heat and don't forget to bring your own tissues or napkins. Bon appétit!
In a city with abundant skyscrapers and year-round heat, it’s no wonder that rooftops have become a popular place to hang out. It seems that every high rise in the city has turned its roof into a bar, restaurant, swimming pool, or all three. Hotel guests at the Fullerton Bay or Marina Bay Sands can do laps far above the hustle and bustle of the financial district below. If you aren't staying at either hotel, go up to the Fullerton Bay’s Lantern bar or the MBS SkyPark for a sunset cocktail. Other sky-high locations for a tipple include Level33 in Marina Bay Financial Centre, Kinki’s rooftop bar in Customs House, the Screening Room on Ann Siang Road, and—the highest of them all, on the 63rd floor of One Raffles Place—1-Altitude. Photo by Lady May Pamintuan/Flickr.
Singapore is famous for a lot of exotic foods, and to Westerners, few seem as strange as frog. But the spicy, moist meat makes for a lovely Singaporean meal ingredient.
The Library is a speakeasy in the grand old style. You'll need a password to get in, but they give it to you next door in Keong Saik Snacks, which, by the way, is a delicious Jason Atherton date spot. If you're overwhelmed by the long and complex drinks menu, just have a chat with the friendly bartender and they'll make you something to suit your fancy.
Robertson Quay is a section of the Singapore River that is perfect for a morning or evening jog. You can crisscross the river via several bridges—some colorful, some striking in style, all different. If you're more interested in a leisurely stroll followed by dinner and drinks, it is easily done here—this section of the river is lined with restaurants serving everything from Belgian mussels and frites to Thai and Indian curries.
I always take a deep breath as I enter the Fullerton Bay. The hotel's signature scent, a fresh and alluring mix of white jasmine and ylang ylang with hints of red rose and a musky base note (I know because I'm so obsessed with the fragrance I asked what it was), sets the tone for the entire Fullerton Bay experience. A gleaming glass box floating in the Marina, the Fullerton Bay is a sleek and sophisticated choice in the heart of modern Singapore. While there are several restaurants in and around the hotel, the jewel in its crown is undoubtedly Lantern: a rooftop bar with views out over the Marina next to the Fullerton Bay's 25 meter infinity pool. Tented in white silk and studded with chandeliers, this is where I bring out of town guests for a memorable "welcome to Singapore" drink. There is no shortage of diversions around Marina Bay. Shops, restaurants, bars (many of them on rooftops), museums and theaters are all on your doorstep. For amazing local food, head to the hawker center next to the Esplanade (appropriately called “Gluttons Bay”) or, my favorite, Lau Pa Sat at 18 Raffles Quay (temporarily closed for renovations). Image courtesy of the Fullerton Bay Hotel
The “farmpreneurs” in the northwest Kranji district grow organic produce and educate Singaporean city dwellers about its merits. At Bollywood Veggies, a farm and public garden, you can see how big a jackfruit grows and taste other exotic produce, including rambutan, crystal fruit, and 20 types of banana. The durian is one of the most unusual local fruits. Protected by thorny flesh, the soft fruit inside elicits strong reactions. Every bite is different—sometimes sweet, other times as pungent as onions or garlic. This smelly fruit is banned in most hotels and on public transport.
I fell in love with this independent bookshop in Singapore. Browse hard-to-find magazines, art books, and novels plus vintage sunglasses and Pez dispensers at this independent shop. You’ll also find handbound notebooks and letterpress postcards produced by the shop under the brand name Birds & Co. I could have spent hours here. This appeared in the August/September 2013 issue.
Gardens by the bay would be the closest one would get to being in Pandora, the fictional planet in the celebrated film Avatar. Awe-inspiring would be the most succinct way to describe the place and it's worth spending your entire afternoon there, reading a book, to escape the humidity of Singaporean weather.
You know you have found Tian Tian at the Maxwell Road Food Center when you see the line of people waiting for tender chicken. If there is one dish that can be considered the national dish of Singapore, this is it. The chicken is boiled until it is ready to fall off the bone. The water is used for the rice, allowing the rice to soak in the flavor of the chicken. The condiments are key—each person chooses a personal combination of sweet and spicy to flavor their chicken rice. A tour of Singapore is just not complete until trying this dish, and Tian Tian is the place to do it.
The Fountain of Wealth, located in Suntec City Mall in Singapore's central business district, is the largest fountain in the world. Based on a Hindu mandala representing the universe, the fountain is lovely in the afternoon, when you can enjoy its ambience with a lunch on the terrace. Or come in the evening when the lights come on and a laser performance dazzles.
Singapore’s newest garden is also the most whimsical. Gardens by the Bay offers two conservatories that resemble armadillos; giant steel-frame trees put on solar-powered light shows at night. The Singapore Botanic Gardens, established in 1859, house the world’s largest orchid collection and a Healing Garden with more than 300 medicinal plants. Photo by Maik Ter.
When I asked some locals where to eat late-night, I was directed to the Lavender Street Food Court. I passed on the turtle soup and instead feasted on dim sum and the famous Singapore chilli crab.
Bam, slap, thwack. Woosh, woosh, sss. Ee, zzz, clang, plop. Thank you, auntie! Szrkst, szkst. Aaahh. This is the audible life cycle of Mr. Mohgan's Super Crispy Roti Prata. The libretto of the above prata operetta goes something like this: Mr. Mohgan throws a round lump of dough he's made last night before slamming it flat with his palm. First flip hits the aluminum countertop, then three consecutive flips in the air follow. It drops onto the hot griddle gleaming with ghee. Iron spatula fries the prata with loud scrapes, the only sign of authority from a mild-mannered man. Finally, it lands on top of a mountain of its brethren, and Mrs. Mohgan delivers it with dahl, mutton curry, or assam fish (the latter is best). She is so lovely you'll want to hug her—then you bulldoze the round bastard love child of Indian sub-contentinal paratha into your mouth. Here in prata spa, you sigh in contentment. If commercial prata, defrosted from factory dough at most food courts and coffee shops in Singapore, is as substantial as Justin Bieber, then Mr. Mohgan's is the sound of soul and the gospel of ghee. He must have sold his soul to the devil, at the crossroads of Crane and Onan in Joo Chiat, to ply prata with fingers light enough to inject strata of fluff encased between lightly seared, flaky surfaces. A flatbread normally regarded as a gut bomb that tastes like cloud nine? Right flippin' on.
Wandering around Singapore's Chinatown, I stumbled upon the city's oldest Hindu Temple. Somehow both beautiful and creepy, it is full of intricacies and mystery.
I’m used to chefs telling me they’ve made everything I’m eating: the butter, the bread, sometimes even the wine. But Singapore’s André Chiang takes the handmade ethos to the extreme at his Restaurant André. He proudly claims responsibility for the slightly uneven edges of my unglazed clay plate, bowl, and saucer. He molded and fired half the dishware in his restaurant. “I used to take pottery classes. I kind of like the imperfection,” he says. Menus are decorated with Chiang’s rough line sketch of the three-floor townhouse the restaurant occupies. For items the chef doesn’t make with his own hands, he collaborates with other experts. He worked with a Danish carpenter to design the dining room chairs and with a Japanese artist to create the porcelain bread baskets. His French nouvelle dishes, like artichoke barigoule with grilled needlefish shine the spotlight on a different sort of craft. “My goal is to highlight the produce that the farmers labor over,” he says. “The ingredients have been grown and harvested with care. That’s an art worthy of recognition.” Restaurant André. 41 Bukit Pasoh Rd., 65/6534-8880. This appeared in the May/June 2012 issue. Photo courtesy of Restaurant André.
The best fast food in Singapore's central business district can be found at Lau Pa Sat (Raffles Place MRT stop). This 150-year-old former fish, fruit, and veg market was converted into a collection of hawker food stalls in the 1970s. The market is shaped like an octagon with eight alleys emanating from the center. There are about 75 different stalls to choose from, selling everything from curries and dosas to dumplings and pig organ soup. You are sure to find whatever it is you are craving. When in doubt, do what the Singaporeans do and join the longest queue! Here are my top picks: Shanghai deep-fried pork and spring onion buns from the stall in the center at the top of Street Six. These are to die for. Help yourself to a little plastic saucer of chili paste for dipping. Thunder Tea Rice at Stall 12 on Street Two. Mohamed Restaurant at Stall 61 on Street Five. Get a plate of murtabak (stuffed roti prata) to share. Fresh lime juice or iced kopi (coffee) from the beverage stand in the center.
Serangoon Road, the main thoroughfare that cuts through Little India, is crowded with vendors selling saris, chai, and marigold and jasmine garlands, which residents deposit at the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. The Mustafa shopping center, home to the Gold Mart, is open 24 hours a day, should the need for a bangle or a necklace strike at an odd hour. —Jessica Battilana 320 Serangoon Rd., 65/6295-5855. Photo courtesy of AmAn Khan, Istock. This appeared in the March/April 2011 issue.
In a city obsessed with food, you’ll find some of the best, most authentic, and most inexpensive dishes at the hawker centers. Singapore resident K.F. Seetoh’s Makansutra guidebook shepherds you through thousands of stalls, pointing out “die die must try” dishes, including fish-head curry and roti prata flatbread. —Jessica Battilana Photo by France Ellen Pe-Aguirre. This appeared in the March/April 2011 issue.
Head to Ann Siang Hill near Chinatown when you want to get away from the crowds in the city. During the day the open doors welcome you into restored shop houses with intricately designed tiles leading the way to chic and stylish clothing. At night enjoy the happening bars, the rooftops with views, the great vibes, and the bursts of color.
Tour the spice garden at Fort Canning Park with a botanist to see and smell chilies of all types as well as lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, curry leaves, limes, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Fort Canning Park is bounded by Hill Street, Canning Rise, Clemenceau Avenue, and River Valley Road. —Jessica Battilana Photo courtesy of National Geographic Image Collection/Alamy. This appeared in the March/April 2011 issue.
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