Singapore is often overlooked by regular travelers. As a major airline hub, many see it as just a layover between West and East. Those who explore the city/state beyond the sanitized Changi Airport find a fascinating mix of cultures: Chinese, Indian, Malay and European ex-pat. It’s a taste of exotic Orient, with all the Occidental comforts.
“The Food Capital of Asia” celebrates this hodgepodge of ethnicities by boasting every possible kind of cuisine. Hamburgers and pies are found in the ex-pat filled Boat Quay and Holland Village neighborhoods. Indigenous food is called nonya; it’s a mixture of Chinese and Malaysian styles, and is spicier but tastier than western “Chinese food.” The best place to try a nonya meal is at one of the thousands of food carts, called “hawker stalls,” lining the streets. Don’t be put off by their chaotic appearance—they are clean and well maintained. Smith Street is the best place to experiment.
Good bites can be had at sit-down restaurants, too. Lei Garden Restaurant (01-24 Chjimes Centre, 30 Victoria Street; tel.: 65-339-3822) is widely considered the best Cantonese restaurant in town, while Indian food lovers rave about Samy’s Curry Restaurant (Block 25 Dempsey Road, tel.: 65-6472-2080), a casual place where food is served on banana leaves. For a swanky night out, try the 69th-story, Asian-fusion Equinox (2 Stamford Road, tel.: 65-6837-3322) where you’ll get the best views of the city.
While eating may be a national pastime, Singaporeans are also champion shoppers. Everything from Chanel to cheap Chinese textiles can be found for a good price on Orchard Road. Glitzy department store Takashimaya (391 Orchard Road; tel.: 65-6738-1111) is a must. Nearby, Funan The IT Mall (109 North Bridge Road; tel.: 65-6336-8327) is a computer geek’s dream.
If you’re more into nature than lucre, check out the tiny monkeys along the trails at Bukit Timah Reserve (National Parks tel: 65-6471-7808). The Singapore Zoo (80 Mandai Lake Road; tel.: 65-6269-3411) has a cage-free philosophy—visitors can, if they are so inclined, share their meals with orangutans. Nocturnal wildlife roams free among the tourists at the Night Safari (80 Mandai Lake Road; tel.: 65-6269-3411).
Culture vultures should head to Chinatown for the teahouse evenings at Chinese Theatre Circle (5 Smith Street; tel.: 65-6323-4862). Professional actors explain the ancient art of Chinese opera, and audience participation is welcome.
Nightlife in Singapore is a burgeoning business. Wine drinking hasn’t been popular in the past, but it’s starting
to take hold, and at least one new wine bar opens each month. The most atmospheric place for a glass is Emerald Hill, where tables spill out onto a lantern-lit sidewalk. Locals know Qué Pasa (7 Emerald Hill, tel.: 65-235-6626) because it has the largest wine list in town. Nearby, the aptly named Ice Cold Beer (8 Emerald Hill, tel.: 65-6735-9929) sells brews from around the world. Harry’s Bar (28 Boat Quay, tel.: 65-6538-3029) is the one-time hangout of Nick Leeson, the infamous Barings Bank rogue trader. It’s still a favorite of financial types, and has happy hour and late-night jazz.
Other ex-pats gather in the Colonial District at the legendary Raffles Hotel (1 Beach Road, tel.: 65-6337-1886). There are several places to drink here, but the Long Bar—the home of the famous Singapore Sling cocktail—is the most fun. Get a taste of Imperial Britain while sitting under swinging bamboo fans.
While shopping and eating can be cheap here, sleeping in Singapore can be expensive. The price tag at Raffles Hotel is well deserved. Its style and service are unmatched in the world. Chain hotels like the Marriott (320 Orchard Road, tel.: 65-6735-5800) offer more than the usual comforts. Budget travelers should check out shophouse hotels in Chinatown. Hotel 1929 (50 Keong Saik Road, tel.: 65-6347-1929) is one of the best.
So whether it’s a 12-hour stopover or a longer vacation, get yourself out of the airport and into delicious and decadent Singapore.