Just Back: Singapore

Lauren Kroger of Huffman Travel has just returned from Singapore and is back with this report on the Southeast Asia destination.

Southeast Asia is back, and Singapore is the perfect reentry point for the luxury traveler. The island city-state with a reputation for cleanliness and safety reopened to fully vaccinated travelers in the spring and, when the Grand Prix returned to the home of the Night Race in September, it brought an estimated 150,000 visitors to test the capacity of its tourism infrastructure for the first time in three years. As one of the visitors relishing in the excitement of that shared experience, I can attest that Singapore was more than ready for us.

I was invited to Singapore to represent Huffman Travel’s owner and Travel + Leisure Travel Advisory Board member, Shawna Huffman Owen, on a five-night immersion led by the Singapore Tourism Board and Travel + Leisure. We were hosted in Business Class on Singapore Airlines, voted the world’s best airline by T+L readers for more than a quarter century. The airline’s “Book the Cook” service, which allows passengers to order dinner from a lengthy gourmet menu, was much more impressive than the average Business Class offering. We were also grateful that many of the country’s COVID-19 restrictions were lifted a month prior to arrival, allowing for a maskless experience onboard one of the world’s longest flights. (Masks are now required on public transportation within Singapore only.) 

The tourism board designed a sort of “city and country” itinerary for us, with our time split between the heart of the city and Sentosa Island. Lush Sentosa is connected to mainland Singapore by bridge and is no more than 25 minutes from our first hotel stay: The Fullerton Hotel, a former post-office-turned-grand-dame on the banks of Singapore River. It’s a beautiful property connected by tunnel to its more intimate and contemporary sister hotel on the water, The Fullerton Bay Hotel. From the balconies of the recently renovated Marina Bay View Rooms at the Fullerton, hotel guests could watch F1 drivers attempting a particularly challenging turn on the racetrack directly below them while sipping champagne in their bathrobes. Who needs Paddock Club tickets? (Only kidding. Splurge for Paddock Club!)

The Fullerton Hotel
The Fullerton Hotel is a former post office-turned-grand dame. (The Fullerton Hotel)

Other hotels to consider nearby: The iconic Raffles Hotel, birthplace of the Raffles brand and Singapore’s longest-operating luxury hotel. The hotel’s turban-clad doormen have welcomed guests including Rudyard Kipling, Charlie Chaplin and Queen Elizabeth II since 1887. Whether staying at this hotel or not, be sure to stop by The Long Bar, birthplace of the Singapore Sling, for a bucket-list moment. By contrast, the Capitol Kempinski a stone’s throw away represents the newest offering in the city. It opened its doors just five years ago and was welcomed to the Virtuoso network shortly afterwards. The hotel is comprised of two heritage buildings with fresh and contemporary interiors that nod to their history. 

It is easy to explore the city’s must-see sites from any of these centrally located hotels. We engaged private guides to focus on three themes, and they’re what I love most about the island country: Its richly blended culture, world-renowned culinary scene, and unique position as “City in Nature.” While Singapore is often used as a stopover en route to other Asian destinations like Thailand, Indonesia, and the Maldives, having a full five nights here allowed us the opportunity to see what can be done with more time for a deep dive.    

On our first morning in Singapore, we were whisked away in vespa sidecars to the first of several cultural enclaves we would visit that week: Chinatown. Singapore is a blend of old and new, borrowing from traditional Chinese, Malay and Peranakan Indian cultures to inform its modern identity. Our sidecar tour was the perfect introduction to an area we would later revisit for a foodie experience of Singapore Hawker Culture, recognized as UNESCO Intangible Culture. When I imagined myself in Singapore for the first time, the image of a bustling Hawker Center is the one that always came to mind. These Hawker Centers are essentially communal dining halls where vendors serve street food from neatly lined stalls. It’s a gathering place for all: friends of every socioeconomic class, coworkers on their lunch break, and families with heads bent over plates of roti prata bread. The Chinatown center is particularly well known for serving what was, until last year, the world’s cheapest Michelin-star meal. (Hawker Chan, Soya Sauce Chicken Rice, $2.50.) 

The tourism board also arranged a focused visit of the National Orchid Garden, where we were introduced to Singapore’s tradition of “orchid diplomacy;” forest bathing in a nature reserve; a tour of the world’s highest urban farm led by its Head Gardener; a peek inside the charming and colorful Peranakan shophouses on Joo Chiat Road, and a curated shopping experience at an integrated retail and workspace for local Singaporean designers called Design Orchard. While the go-to attractions like Gardens by the Bay are also not to be missed (especially the twice-nightly light show in the Supertree Grove), I loved having the opportunity to see and do these things that are not on most travelers’ radar.

Singapore Hawker Center
At Singapore's Hawker Centers, vendors serve street food from neatly lined stalls.  (Courtesy Lauren Kroger)

Singapore is an urban jungle in the most literal sense—with giant cyborg trees providing a green lung for the city, biophilic skyscrapers wrapped in leafy green foliage, an entire cloud forest encapsulated in a glass dome, and the world’s tallest indoor waterfalls (yes, that’s tallest indoor waterfalls plural). It’s impossible to visit the city without wondering what New York City might have looked like had it been built 50-odd years ago, when the idea of sustainability was just making its way into public consciousness. The island country is devoted to creating wild spaces for the enjoyment of its own citizens as well as the protection of biodiversity. That is particularly impressive when you consider the fact that it’s half the size of Rhode Island. For true nature lovers, however, a city break in Sentosa is a must. Set amongst 30 acres of lush tropical rainforest, the Capella Singapore is close enough to the heart of the city to act as a home base for the duration of your time here. However, I would prefer to use it as we did: A restful stop at the beginning or end of a busy touring itinerary. My perfect day at the Capella would be divided between the hotel’s Forbes 5-Star spa and its tiered infinity pools. 

Whether visiting Singapore for three nights or a full week, it’s important to end on the right note. Instead of rushing to the airport when it’s time to say goodbye, leave an extra hour or two to explore Jewel Changi. The photos most often published of Singapore’s airport are actually of Jewel, an entertainment and retail complex linked to Changi Airport through Terminal 1. This is where the Jurassic Park-like Rain Vortex is located, along with lots of stores, restaurants, kid-friendly “Foggy Bowls” mimicking clouds, canopy bridges, and more. Check in for your international flight a couple of hours early, drop your bags, then walk or tram over to Jewel for dinner and one last adventure. 

The Singapore Tourism Board is an excellent resource for travel advisors. Contact Britt Sorensen Ulrich ([email protected]), senior manager of leisure tourism.

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