Singapore: Introduction: Just Back From
Long treated as southeast Asia’s stepchild—overachieving, handsome and trying too hard—Singapore is often portrayed as a flyover destination. Perhaps this is one of the reasons the impressive Changi Airport is indeed a universe in itself, where weary travelers have access to a butterfly garden, free movie theater and swimming pools. But considering what an extraordinary gateway the city is, with direct flights to most of southeast Asia (including Myanmar and Siem Reap), and the many different experiences it offers, Singapore is perfect for a more extensive layover, both pre- and post-trip.
Here is a taste of the city in three days, whether you’re using the time to get acclimated to the climate and time zone or unwinding after a busy travel schedule.
Checking In: Read about the city’s top hotels.
Start at the Marina Bay Sands, the supersized resort-mall-casino-hotel-restaurant complex that cost $8 billon and opened on Marina Bay in 2010. Its three massive towers are connected on top by a long flat platform, making it look from afar like a Titanic-sized boat got stranded on top of three skyscrapers; the building is already a landmark of the new Singapore. Make a reservation for brunch at Justin Quek’s Sky on 57, one of Marina Bay’s forty dining venues with arguably the best view. Afterwards, continue to the Sky Park, designed by Moshe Safdie, which has incredible 360-degree panoramas of the city, the harbor and beyond (on a clear day, you can see Indonesia’s Batam island).
Continue to the excellent Arts Science Museum, housed in a wild structure that looks like an open hand (it’s meant to resemble a Lotus flower). Fashionistas and design mavens should also stop by the stunning Louis Vuitton Maison, which occupies one of two glass-and crystal pavilions that float in the bay.
Take a taxi back to downtown Singapore and have lunch at Lantern, the chic rooftop lounge of the Fullerton Bay Hotel, which opened in 2011. Those looking for a more elevated dining experience can also opt from Clifford, the hotel’s sleek French brasserie on the ground floor, but the views of Lantern are lovely and the loungy, poolside vibe is refreshing.
Take the 40- or 60-minute cruise down Singapore River (www.rivercruise.com.sg) to get a sense of the city’s layout along the harbor and quays. Afterwards, head to the Fullerton small but excellent gallery that showcases the history of the area in black-and-white photographs and artifacts. There’s a cake shop in the buzzing lobby of this grande dame hotel, or you can head to the nearby Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore for an iPod-led art tour (the hotel has some 4,000 pieces of incredible contemporary art, including works by Warhol, Hockney, Stella and Moore), followed by traditional high tea in the Chihuly Lounge.
If you have never been, head over to the Raffles’ Long Bar for a cocktail. The bar, with its old-world vibe, is the only place in all of Singapore where you will find trash on the ground: each table has deep bowls of peanuts and guests are encouraged to throw the shells on the floor. The ubiquitous Singapore Sling was created here by an intrepid bartender who wanted to give ladies a chance at a cocktail as well (it was unseemly for a woman to be seen drinking in public). Largely based around fruit juices, it can be quite sweet; opt for the one laced with fresh passion fruit puree. Before or after, explore the terrific Raffles Arcade, which houses the usual big-name international brands but also a handful of wonderful Singapore designer shops.
Foodies can walk to the Makansutra Hawker Center down by the Marina. It’s a good “starter hawker,” thanks to an edited number of stalls and the many boards explaining the types of dishes and street food traditions. Prelude on the roof of an old boathouse lends itself to a nightcap and for watching the Marina Bay Sand’s psychedelic light show (every night at 8 and 9:30pm).
Start with a walk at Fort Canning, a serene expanse of green in the middle of the city’s business district. It’s not huge but you can watch people practice Tai Chi and begin your day with some quiet reflection, not always easy to find in the city. Afterwards, head to the nearby Peranakan Museum, a fascinating little museum that focuses on this culture that’s only found in Singapore, Malacca and Penang. The Peranakans, formed originally by Chinese traders who married local women, tended to be quite wealthy, and they developed a cuisine and culture to match. They are well known for their beadwork and lace kebayas and for their food.
Dine at True Blue, the Peranakan restaurant adjacent to the museum. This fiery cuisine combines the flavors and herbs and spices of southeast Asia with Chinese cooking techniques, and the results are phenomenal. (The on-site shop is a nice place for interesting finds as well.) Those who prefer Western-style food can walk to nearby Restaurant Fifty-Three, which has an intimate, refined vibe: its ingredients are foraged, raised and grown with ecological sound and sustainable practices.
Several options: shoppers should head to Haji Lane, a tiny street in the Kampong Glam (Arab) neighborhood, which is home to cute independent fashion and accessories boutique (think of it as a small version of Nolita in NYC). Break for a coffee or cocktail at Bar Stories. Afterwards, continue on to explore Little India (a 10-minute walk or 5-minute taxi ride away). For more upscale shopping, take a taxi to the ION Orchard, a gleaming mall of Asian proportions: eight floors, 400 stores, perfumed air and one of the most acclaimed restaurants in town (Salt & Grill).
Nature enthusiasts, meanwhile, should take the MRT or a taxi to Singapore’s excellent Botanic Gardens whose orchid garden is simply breathtaking.
If the weather is not playing along or you are with kids in need of some downtime, reserve a Gold Class movie ticket at one of the Golden Village cinemas, located in Singapore’s upscale malls. The $25 ticket reserves you a spacious reclining lounger outfitted with a blanket and the friendly staff serves drinks and food off of a menu that includes popcorn, candy and Champagne. It’s a totally Asian movie experience and one that you will long for when you’re back in U.S. or European theaters.
Everyone loves relative newcomer Wok & Barrell, in the city’s Duxton Hill neighborhood, which serves typical Singaporean food (the type you would find at a hawker stall), but in a trendy and elevated setting. Before or after, have a drink at Prelude Wine Bar, a few doors down.
Alternatively, you can have an early dinner before heading to the Singapore Zoo-Night Safari, an open-air zoo that is only open at night and holds more than 1,000 animals (from flying squirrels to tigers). It can be explored via a tram or, in certain parts, on foot.
Check into the stunning Capella Sentosa resort, for a day of relaxing, pampering and beachtime. Don’t be shocked when pulling into Sentosa: the island, just a 15-minute taxi ride from Singapore’s business district houses Universal Studios and looks like Disney on steroids (the entrance is presided over by a massive castle and roller coaster). But the Capella is a beautiful, serene resort. Housed in an old colonial building with a sweeping annex designed by Sir Norman Foster, it has verdant landscapes where peacocks roam freely, a tiered layout that spills down to a beach and one of the city’s top spas where getting over jet-lag, preparing for the long-haul flight home or simply indulging in a some pampering can all be accomplished in an afternoon.
Contact Indagare’s Bookings Team for help planning a trip to Singapore.— Simone Girner 04/20/2012