Old-meets-new glory in the Garden City.
Sir Stamford Raffles first set foot in Singapore 200 years ago. This bicentennial milestone is celebrated with events and festivities aplenty, chief amongst them a multimedia sensory experience at Fort Canning Centre that showcases key moments of Singapore’s 700-year history tracing back to 1299. But why stop here when you can experience the Lion City in all its old-meets-new glory?
To see the real Singapore, veer off the beaten path to the newly gentrified Tiong Bahru for local breakfast and to observe how Singaporeans procure groceries at the Tiong Bahru market (whilst at it, check-in for a cup of local “sock“-filtered coffee with beans roasted with margarine and sugar). No one leaves Singapore without first getting a bird’s eye view of it in all its cosmopolitan beauty. For that, head over to Marina Bay, now a symbol of 21st century Singapore, to witness the centre piece of the city’s successful urban transformation.
After a period of restoration and renovation, the historic Capitol Building and Stamford House in the civic district have re-opened as an ultra-luxe hotel, albeit after a three-year delay due to a dispute between the owners. Now re-branded Capitol Kempinski Hotel Singapore (15 Stamford Road; 00 65 6368 8888), the 157 rooms and suites are smart and elegantly appointed with lots of dark wood and muted tones. Book the 137-sqm Heritage Suite to pamper yourself.
La Terre is an austere 15-seat bar with a 500 label-strong list of mostly old world wines and a stash of 150 types of whiskeys catering to the city’s most prolific wine and whiskey connoisseurs - think various vintages of Domaine de la Romanee Conti wine and the ultra rare 48-year-old Karuizawa whisky. The bar’s clientele is decidedly low-key although the drinks list is anything but.
Insider tip | Attractions
Gardens by the Bay (18 Marina Gardens Drive; 00 65 6420 6848) is known as much for its ticketed Flower Dome and Cloud Forest as for its free spaces, amongst them the Heritage Gardens, to discover the city’s diverse history and culture through the array of plants on display; the Far East Organization Children’s Garden, for waterplay for little ones; and the Supertree Grove, which houses 12 of the 18 futuristic “supertrees” found in the park.
48 hours in . . . Singapore
Singapore is known for many things but, first and foremost, as a street food paradise. A trip here is therefore incomplete without a roaming hawker safari tour that takes in the city’s melting pot of cultures through its hawker food offerings.
Start with breakfast at Hong Lim Food Centre (531A Upper Cross Street; 00 65 6225 5632) - try the bak chor mee (minced pork noodles) from Tai Wah Pork Noodle and char kway teow (fried flat rice noodles) from Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee. Of course, don’t leave without having Singapore’s most iconic breakfast – soft-boiled eggs with kaya (coconut milk-enriched jam infused with pandan) and butter toast, all washed down with Singapore-style coffee brewed from beans roasted with sugar and margarine – your best bet is at Qi Xiang Cha Shi.
Make a beeline for Hong Lim Food Centre and order char kway teow (fried flat rice noodles) from Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee
Singaporeans are known to take shelter from the heat and humidity when the sun makes its daily appearance. You can do so at one of the mega malls along Orchard Road, a three mile-long stretch housing more than 22 swanky malls and six department stores.
Or better still take a cultural trip to the Asian Civilisation Museum (1 Empress Place, 00 65 6332 7798). Set in the neoclassical Empress Place Building by the historic Singapore River, this pioneering museum explores traditional aspects of pan-Asian culture, religion and people through exhibits of more than 1,000 artefacts – including porcelain figures, bronze sculptures, woodwork, prints, textiles and ornaments – housed in 11 thematic galleries.
For lunch, walk 10 minutes to Jaan (2 Stamford Road Swissôtel; 00 65 6837 3322), perched on the top level of Fairmont Singapore where executive chef Kirk Westaway serves his interpretation of reinvented British in a boutique space with panoramic views of the city's southern shores.
One of the major highlights of the Asian Civilisation Museum is the Ancestors and Rituals exhibit, which showcases unique and ancient artefacts from remote Southeast Asian communities.
For late night revelry, you can’t do worse than a trawl through Chinatown’s storied Keong Saik Road. Once a hotspot for brothels, the buzzy street now houses a cadre of great restaurants and bars. Start your evening at Olivia Restaurant & Lounge (55 Keong Saik Road) where elBulli veteran, chef Alain Devahive, dishes up a menu of rich and hearty mostly Catalan delights headlined by a Basque-style burnt cheese cake with molten insides crafted with a mix of cream cheese and blue cheese!
Before you call it a day, have a nightcap at the Singapore offshoot of the No.1 ranked bar on Asia’s 50 Best Bars – The Old Man (55 Keong Saik Road 01-04; 00 65 6909 5505). Named for Ernest Hemmingway’s Pulitzer prize-winning The Old Man and the Sea, this new kid-on-the-block is known for its progressive approach to swizzles. With only nine options on the menu, picking one is a cinch - we highly recommend Islands in the Stream, a refreshing take on gin & tonic where clarified and carbonated pink grapefruit juice is mixed with salty gin.
The Old Man is a progressive new cocktail bar with only nine concoctions on the menu
• The best nightlife in Singapore
Singapore’s “City in a Garden” vision is omnipresent but for the best of the city’s green efforts, you can’t do better than its botanical-themed gardens. The Singapore Botanic Gardens (1 Cluny Road; 00 65 6471 7138), which was founded in 1859, is the city’s only Unesco World Heritage site and the best way to explore it to do it like a local: go for a jog through the meandering pathways framed by lush greenery or take part in one of many complimentary exercise classes – daily tai chi at 8am is a highlight - then proceed to Casa Verde (1 Cluny Rd; 00 65 6467 7326), for refreshments before making a beeline for the National Orchid Gardens (1 Cluny Rd; 00 65 1800 471 7300) – the world’s largest display of orchids – where 60,000 plants and orchid plants are on display.
By about 10.30am, hop into a cab for Tiong Bahru wet market (30 Seng Poh Road) to observe how Singaporeans procure wet and dry groceries.
The best way to explore the Singapore Botanic Gardens is as the locals do: jogging along its meandering paths or joining a morning tai chi class CREDIT: JAY RUMPH
If you’re famished, make a pit stop at the 70-plus-year-old Hua Bee (78 Moh Guan Terrace; 00 65 6438 4567), which shares a ground floor shop space with hip yakitori joint Bincho, for a steaming-hot bowl of dry mee pok (flat egg noodles). Wash it down thereafter with a cup of joe, Australian-style, at 40 Hands (78 Yong Siak Street 01-12; 00 65 6225 8545).
Now that you’re energised, proceed to hipster bookstore Books Actually (9 Yong Siak Street; 00 65 6222 9195) and take your time to peruse their collection of fiction and literary books. After, Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice (71 Seng Pok Road 01-49; 00 65 6225 3762) is the place for a pick-me-up snack of wallet-friendly rice with dishes (don’t miss the Hainanese pork chops) – bear in mind that this stall attracts a long queue, get here before the crowd does!
To while away the afternoon, you can’t do better than to read a book with a glass of wine in hand at PS. Café (41 Blk 78 Guan Chuan Street; 00 65 9226 7088). For dessert, pop to Tiong Bahru Galicier Pastry (55 Tiong Bahru Road 01-39; 00 65 6324 1686), which serves some of the city’s most popular Peranakan kueh; try the kueh dadar (crepe skin with coconut filing).
Take time out to browse the shelves of Books Actually