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Singapore - re-emerging

Hands up if you as a traveller have been avoiding stopping through Singapore because it just wasn’t interesting enough? I know that some of you are out there!  In fact a friend had said it would be a miracle if I could make time during a stopover in Singapore look like an interesting city to travel to.

Singapore has all the things that traditionally make it a perfect stopover point in that it is clean, ordered, easy to get around, English is widely spoken (in fact a major language), and the taxis are cheap, clean and generally don’t rip you off. However, there are extra elements I think that make it interesting in that the food is good, bars are funky, the local design stores are interesting and the boutique hotels offer an alternative to the 5 star chain hotels.

Much to my own surprise Singapore was not only an interesting stop but also I now find myself in need of writing two options those who wish to travel to Singapore. The first being a more traditional one for those who haven’t been to Singapore before;  the second one is for those looking for a funky new side to Singapore.

Traditional stopover

This is the tried and true suggestion for Singapore, which I think, is still well worth experiencing and for want of a better description contain items that should be ticked off the list. Start the day with a wander down to Little India.  Sure it’s not the dirty smelly India but sometimes that is a good thing. There are interesting markets, food stalls and streets to wander around in this area. Many of the old chinese shop houses have been renovated making this neighbourhood feel very authentic. Saawariya Restaurant on 22 Racecourse Road is very authentic Indian and perfect for a spicy lunch if you stop at Little India.

After this start you will probably be hot and sticky. If shopping in malls isn’t your thing then head to a spa and have a nice massage to work through the kink in your neck from the flight. St Regis has the best reputation at the moment (but is expensive so be warned) and has a handy location on Orchard Road.  This also happens to be the central shopping strip so you can take a stroll and marvel at the number of people out shopping or partake yourself.

A trip to Raffles is still a must in my view. The shopping arcade around this great old hotel is also well worth the stroll and includes many international designers including a Jim Thompson shop (the famous Thai silk shop). You have two options once your feet are tired. The first is head to the Long Bar on the top floor of the Raffles arcade, which is where the famous Singapore Sling was founded.  Here the tradition of throwing the peanut shells onto the floor around is still kept from its colonial past. The second option is to go for high tea at the Raffles Hotel. This is a gourmet treat and the buffet style high tea is more fitting for lunch than afternoon tea.

As the sun is about to go down you must race to one of Singapore’s tallest buildings and take in a sunset over the city. The location has traditionally been the 59th floor of the Stamford Swiss Hotel but the new Marina Bay Sands complex has surpassed this. You have to pay to sit on the roof but it’s worth it.

Now for dinner I think you have to stroll along the riverfront but I would personally avoid the Boat Quay and head to the opposite side of the river. Ask a driver to take you to the Fullerton Hotel and walk across the footbridge and you can then stroll along the riverfront and get a view of the amazing skyline Singapore has to offer. I would recommend booking the restaurant IndoChine Empress Place, which is an old favourite, and if you get a table outside the view across the river is worth it.

Staying

If the Raffles Hotel is not in your budget – and let’s face it not everyone can splurge on a room here – I would recommend a couple of good options.

The Fullerton Hotel

The Fullerton Hotel is right on the river and is a very graceful old building and one of the nicest hotels in town. The location is excellent for the CBD, Chinatown and obviously for strolling along the riverfront when the heat subsides.

The Conrad Hotel

This hotel is the perfect business hotel and is definitely geared up for making that work trip smoother.  The rooms are very comfortable and the hotel is well located for many of the underground walkways (which are good heat beaters for those struggling with the humidity).

Looking for something different – boutique travel

Singapore surprised me with its new artistic and boutique scene that has popped up in the last 10 years.  No longer are the large chain hotels the only option. It is also comforting to see what is left of the old parts of the city faithfully being restored and converted into a boutique hotels, bars and shopping areas – proving some in Singapore are shedding the conservatism seen in the past.

Chinatown is currently at the forefront of this revolution with a whole new scene developing.  This is definitely the place to stay at the moment and you could easily never leave this part of town. The day should start with a stroll around the boutique shops and also the temples. If you are at all interested in learning about Buddhism the city’s largest and a very interesting temple is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. It contains four floors and I found not only the main temple of the ground floor interesting but also the museum explained a lot of history and the meaning of the traditions and way of life of Buddhism.

In the area there are also Chinese temples and the bright and colorful Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple.  This makes Chinatown a culturally interesting suburb to stroll around as well as having many restored traditional shop houses.

One of the nicest examples of the streets and boutiques is in Club Street in Chinatown, where you will find a great bookstore, wine shop and interesting design stores. If your feet are tiring and you need to have a massage and/or some reflexology head to Wren Spa on Bukit Pasoh Road and the girls will be able to help with any of your day spa needs. On the same street is the restaurant Oso which has good European food.

In the afternoon if you want to check out another part of town try Purvis Street, which is a great little street not far from Raffles.  This street contains some grand old traditional shops which have been beautifully restored. Underneath is a great collection of interesting shops selling everything from fashion to home wares. P5 caught my eye; as it was full of Scandinavian style furniture but there is enough choice to take your pick there. If you need a glass of wine Garibaldi down at number 36 has a great selection and you can always stay for dinner.

A trip in this direction must include Arab Street and the surrounding streets.  This area has traditionally been known for fabrics and you can still buy these in Arab Street along with traditional smoking pipes from Turkey. The streets around are well worth exploring and if you are a bit more organised than me and find its opening times beforehand you can gain entry into the Sultan Mosque.  However definitely the boutique find of the area has to be in the emerging Haji Lane which is a great mix of fashion, designer furniture, coffee shops and funky bars. My favourite bar was a little place upstairs called Bar Stories at number 57. If it is late and you’re looking for music the Blu Jaz café is a perfect spot. Even if it isn’t late a drink under the veranda wouldn’t go astray.

Stay

Both of these hotels offer great food so you can always add this to your options.  The Club boasts a rooftop bar with nice skyline views and a courtyard bar downstairs.

New Majestic Hotel

The New Majestic is an art hotel in the centre of Chinatown. Each room has been individually crafted and therefore has its own character.  There is a small pool, which could come in handy in the hot and steamy weather that is Singapore and a gym in case you need to sweat some more. The food in the restaurant is excellent and they cook excellent examples of the local food.

The Club

The Club is a great option for exploring the local area and offers a bar scene in house which is always handy if you just want to relax in your hotel. The décor is very funky with a black and white theme but the staff are very friendly so it doesn’t feel too cool.

Travel photographs from Singapore. Including travel images of Chinatown, Raffles Hotel, Little India, Raffles Arcade, Haji Lane, and the Boat Quay. Also visiting the Temple of the Tooth in Chinatown. Shops and bars in Chinatown and around Singapore

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