The city’s 122-year-old Raffles on Orchard Road still attracts the glitterati
For the uninitiated, Singapore’s existence can be a little confusing; the city, with a population of nearly 5 million people, sits at the southern tip of Malaysia and is less than 200 miles from Kuala Lumpur. It is also a self-governing city-state, the size of Rhode Island, that was once part of the British Straits Settlements.
But actually, “Singapore is an easy destination to start a trip, especially for those who’ve never been to Asia,” says Goh Kershing, regional director, Americas, Singapore Tourism Board. “It’s very cosmopolitan, everyone speaks English, it’s easy to navigate. It has always been a migrant state, and this shows up beautifully in the architecture, the cultures, the food…all on this tiny island.”
Visitors who’ve been here will know Raffles Hotel, of course. The stately manse from the city’s colonial days does not disappoint the active imagination. You can still see the glitterati (Maurice Chevalier, Charlie Chaplin and Jean Harlow stayed there as well as Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, Noel Coward) stepping out of their carriages with the help of a regally turbaned valet. The Long Bar, a legendary meeting place for the white-gloved crowd, still sports its dark mahogany interiors lit by low green nautical lamps, and is the home of the sweet Singapore Slings.
Fashionable Orchard Road, anchored by Raffles at one end and by the new St. Regis Singapore two miles away at the other, has plenty for strollers and the fashion-fixated to check out—including Ion, a brand-new cavernous shopping mall. There you can find an Apple Store, a sales and service desk for Singapore Airlines and the usual big-name chains of Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Prada, Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabbana and Giorgio Armani, among others.
Travelers can also dip into a Kenko Wellness Spa, a highly reputable day spa chain on Orchard Road near the St. Regis, for a foot massage, shoulder massage or a “fish-biting session.” While the two types of “skin-eating” goldfish imported from Turkey go about their business, the visitors are left to enjoy the sweet sensation of having their skin vacuumed and cleaned.
Ask Singaporeans what there is to do in their country and chances are that dining would come a close second to shopping. The culinary artistry of the city is almost a religion in how it is regarded and cherished. The city has a word for its type of gourmet: Peranakan, referring to the blend of Indian, Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesian and British cultures that have called Singapore their home. Today that culinary creativity plays out in cooking classes that can be arranged through hotels (Raffles has an onsite culinary academy, for instance, which offers three- and four-hour hands-on sessions for around $60-$100 per person) as well as when chefs battle it out in a competition, apart from a food festival that takes place every July across the city. Singapore Tourism Board organizes food tours as well.
Top palette picks include the quirky My Humble Houseoverseen by Singapore star chef Sam Leong. Also, the Sunday Brunch at the St. Regis (from lox and bagels to foie gras brulees to imaginative dim sums—it’s all here, plus French champagne, for about $70 per person) is a draw for tourists. Another unassuming place is Wild Rocket, where a lawyer-turned-chef serves his signature black pepper soft-shell crab in a spot attached to an international hostel with a classy view. Finally, there is the must-try street food. At Big D’s Grill, a rocket scientist-turned-chef presents wagyus and crab linguini on the menu but, off the menu, he fills plates with his mother’s best Peranakan concoctions.
Singapore is a city made for walking. And the convenient underground train system and easy-to-navigate bus system make short work of far-off places. Taxis are affordable and traffic flows sensibly most of the time.
Where to Stay
The world-renowned Raffles was built in 1887 and lovingly restored through its 122 years. It’s an oasis in its own right, of marble floors and expansive colonnades, with an atmospheric inner courtyard of white wrought-iron furnishings, fountains and palms. Each room is a suite dressed in period furnishings with 14-foot ceilings, signature ceiling fans and detailed moldings. Raffles should be the choice for dreamers and writers. Rates start at around $500 per night.
The St. Regis opened in April 2008 with one of the most extensive private fine-art collections in the country (think oeuvres by Chagall, Botero, Frank Gehry, Gu Gan and famed Singapore artists filling the walls and garden spaces). Rooms are of tasteful and plush elegance overlooking the city. Down comforters and pillows, 350-thread-count sheets, a large writing desk and French marble bathrooms are de rigueur in guestrooms that start at $555 per night. Contact Director of Sales & Marketing Ashley Hansen (011-65-6506-6888, [email protected]).
The Capella Singapore offers sleek, modern design in a boutique hotel
The centrally located Grand Hyatt Singapore, near the Orchard Road shopping area and the Suntec City Expo Center, is often the preferred hotel for business travelers. Dining here is convenient and delicious, especially with the new StraitsKitchen, which serves Singapore street food in cutting-edge buffet stations. The property recently renovated its Terrace Wing in light woods with functional workstations and luxurious soft goods. Among frequent travelers, the tailor shop off the lobby is the secret store of choice for 24-hour couture in a selection of quality textiles. Savvy agents can arrange for creative Singapore-themed keepsake gifts for their clients to be delivered on turndown. Rates start at $231 per night. Contact Director of Marketing Zulki Othman (011-65-6738-1234, [email protected]).
Swissotel Merchant Court hosted a Peranakan buffet of more than 100 dishes during the Singapore Food Festival
With a great location just above the nightlife of Clarke Quay, across from an upscale shopping mall and right on a stop along the subway route, Swissotel Merchant Court works well for both business and leisure travelers. Sensible contemporary rooms come with Wi-Fi, foyers for espresso-making and refreshments, marble bathrooms and windows facing the Singapore River. Daily papers, an executive club for breakfast buffets and hors d’oeuvres, a popular buffet restaurant serving Peranakan cuisine by a notable local chef and possibly the best Singapore Slings in town make this property a wise and cost-effective choice. Rooms start at $173 per night. Contact Director of Revenue & Marketing Jack Chua (011-65-6337-2288, [email protected]).
The Singapore Flyeris recommended to visitors for the best orientation of their surroundings. Each cabin in this Ferris wheel, the tallest in the world, can hold 28 passengers for an air-conditioned, 30-minute rotation, giving a bird’s-eye view of the city. There are prix fixe dining-car options available for around $20. They come with a white-gloved service dinner above the lights. Each cabin can accommodate up to 10 people.
Singapore thrives as a destination in its own right, with symphonies, art and culture museums, shopping malls, celebrity dining and even a world-class zoo with a wonderful night safari program. But many visitors use the city’s locale as a stepping stone to further Asian exploration, whether to Panang and Malacca, Malaysia spa resorts, Thailand or the rivers of Cambodia and Vietnam.
STB’s Kershing says the city is awash with new development, much of which is slated to open by year-end. Recent updates include the opening of the boutique and design-heavy Capella Singapore on Sentosa Island, and a Universal Studios theme park (which promises 18 brand-new attractions and rides) within the $4 billion integrated Resort World megaproject, slated to open in 2010.
For travel agents, Singapore Tourism offers the Singapore Specialist program that has been running since 2003 but was recently relaunched. It won the 2009 PATA Gold Award for Education and Training.
Contact STB at 011-212-302-4861. Find out more about becoming a Singapore Specialist at www.singaporespecialist.com.